blue flamingos

Outcast outtake

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, PG

Year/Length: 2008/ ~6269 words

Pairing: John/Cameron

Spoilers: Outcast

Disclaimer: No, I don't own them, for which I should think they're profoundly grateful.

Series: Outtake from Never As Bad As Anticipated (Until It Is)

Author's Notes: This fits somewhere just before the epilogue, and is some John/Cam comfort and some Cam, Teyla and the Athosian boat builders...

Feedback: Yes please. Even if it's bad. Especially if it's bad.

hr

The news came in a private message at the top of the data–burst, two weeks after John and McKay came home with news of a successfully extended trading partnership and a slightly skewed fairy–tale journey through a forest, and Cam's first thought was that he shouldn't have been so surprised that it was bad news. He'd been lulled by the calm: Replicators dealt with, Athosians happy and settled on the mainland, off–world teams returning on time and in one piece, science labs still intact, John in his bed more nights than not. He'd forgotten that he was working for the SGC, where a run of good luck just meant that bad luck was coming.

"Chuck?"

"Yes, sir?"

"Any idea where Colonel Sheppard is right now?"

Chuck looked up at the screen displaying life–signs, along with labels in Ancient that no–one had been able to decipher yet. "Ninety percent sure that's him," he offered, pointing to one of two dots moving down the military residential corridor.

"Thanks. I'm on the radio if you need me."

Cam walked instead of taking the transporter, wanting the few extra minutes to figure out what to say. He hoped the other dot with John wasn't McKay, and only partly because the man was supposed to be getting his kit together to go fix the Ancient device on M7G 677. If he was really honest, he hoped the dot would be gone when he found John, so he wouldn't be breaking the news with an audience neither of them wanted.

The only slight saving grace was that the dot turned out to be Ronon, who was probably the best choice after Teyla; Cam could have lived without the way they were both laughing, though.

"Sheppard, hold up."

John turned, still smiling, his hand over the door sensor. The door to his quarters slid open, and he must have gotten a good look at Cam's face in that time, because his own fell. Next to him, Ronon stiffened, obviously picking up on it.

"What's going on?" John asked.

"We just –" Cam started, but two scientists walked by as he did, both greeting the three of them. "Let's go in here," he said, touching John's arm quickly.

John looked down at where his hand had been for a long moment, then up. "Okay. Ronon, you wanna..."

"I'll stay," Ronon said firmly, and John just nodded, stepping inside and letting the door close behind them.

"So?" John asked.

Cam fought the urge to put his hands behind his back, or to borrow the words he'd used the handful of times he'd been sent to inform family members of a death. "We received a message from Stargate Command," he said. "I'm sorry, John, your father suffered a heart attack last night. He passed away."

John went very still, his gaze sliding away to somewhere between Cam and Ronon, and Cam just wanted to reach out. He couldn't though, not with Ronon standing there, and not with John looking like he was suddenly behind a six inch thick barrier.

"The Daedalus is in orbit round Earth, they'll beam you in close to your father's house," Cam said. "We'll dial the gate when you're ready to go."

John looked up, giving Cam a brief, meaningless smile and not meeting his eyes. "Thanks. We're – the team's meant to be going out in a couple of days, I need to..."

Ronon reached out to clap John on the shoulder. "I'll go tell Teyla and McKay. First contact, right, it can wait till you get back."

"Thanks," John said again, with the same smile. Cam really wished he'd stop; it made him look even more stunned, painfully lost.

Ronon nodded to John, who wasn't paying attention, then gave Cam a long look. Cam offered his most reassuring smile, which seemed to be what Ronon was looking for, because he left.

"Hey," Cam said quietly. John was still standing by his bed, looking down at his feet. "You okay?"

John shook his head slowly, like he didn't even realize he was doing it. "I'm fine," he said blankly. "I need to pack."

"You need some help?" Cam asked, not surprised when John shook his head again. He didn't move. "John..." he started, not sure what was going to come next. He couldn't remember John ever saying anything about his family; Cam had never given it much thought, but he'd assumed John's parents were dead and that he didn't have anyone else. Apparently, he'd been wrong.

"I'm fine," John said. He sort of shivered, maybe shaking himself, and looked straight at Cam, his expression clearing slightly, like he was starting to get over the shock. "Really."

He still looked lost, and Cam couldn't stand the thought of sending him back to Earth, to his father's funeral, by himself, not when they obviously hadn't had a good relationship to begin with. "Look, McKay's supposed to be going off–world to fix an Ancient device, but I can send Zelenka, McKay can go back with you."

John blinked, then shook his head. "No. Thanks. I don't – Rodney being there won't help." He smiled, actually looking amused for a moment.

"You sure?"

"Yeah." John looked away, his voice quiet when he spoke again. "Would you come with me?"

"I –" Cam started, confused, and John looked up and said, "I know you can't, people would, would talk, and we can't both be out of the city, but –" and Cam got it.

"Yeah," he said, going over and putting his arms round John. He didn't relax into it, like usual, but he did lean in slightly, stiff and still. "John, of course."

"You promise?" John asked quietly, sounding young and lost and unsure, nothing like the person Cam was used to. He hugged John harder.

"I promise."

"Okay," John said on a sigh. He leant against Cam for a moment longer, then pulled back slowly. "I'm all right," he added as Cam let him go, reluctantly.

Cam opened his mouth to offer to hang out till he went through the gate, but his radio activated at the same moment. "Go ahead."

"Sorry to disturb you, Colonel," Chuck's voice said. "Major Lorne and his team just dialed in, they need to speak to you about negotiations on P9Z 217."

Cam swallowed down his sigh. "I'll be right up," he said, cutting the connection. "I'm sorry, I've got –"

"I heard," John said, smiling slightly. It still looked like it hurt. "Go on. I'll be in the gate–room in a bit."

"Yeah. Okay." Cam hesitated, then wrapped a hand round the back of John's neck and pulled him close for a swift, soft kiss. "Say goodbye before you leave."

John nodded, turning away, and Cam thought about the length of time the gate could stay open, and forced himself to leave.

He was halfway back to the gate–room when Ronon fell into step with him. "I want permission to go with Sheppard," he said.

He'd been to Earth before, a couple of times, so Landry wasn't all that likely to have a problem with it; John didn't want Rodney along, sending Teyla would probably cause a lot of questions that neither she nor John wanted to answer, and Cam couldn't go. "Fine by me," he said.

"Good," Ronon said. "Don't let him leave without me."

"I'll do my best," Cam promised.

Lorne was up on the video screen when Cam got back to the gate–room, half–turned away to speak to someone off–screen. At least it didn't look like they were under attack. "What's up, Major?"

"Sorry to disturb you, sir," Lorne said. "We've made contact with the native people here and they're eager to trade with us."

"Sounds good. What's the problem?"

"Ah, there you are, Colonel," McKay's voice said abruptly behind him. Lorne did a mild double–take, obviously picking up the voice without being able to see its owner.

Cam held up a hand for him to hang on. "Can it wait a minute, Doctor? We've got a limited amount of time for this call."

"Gosh, really? Being the foremost expert in Ancient technology, I never would have known that without you telling me," McKay said. "And, no, it can't wait."

"Sorry, sir?" Lorne said on the screen. "Should I..."

"No, go ahead," Cam said firmly, turning his back on McKay. "What's the problem?"

"Like I said, they're happy to trade with us, but apparently they've heard of the people of Atlantis before and none of us are senior enough for them to trade with," Lorne explained with a wry smile.

"Tell them the more senior leaders are otherwise engaged and you're all they're getting," McKay suggested, barely looking at the screen. "Look, Colonel, this will only take a minute and then you can get back to your vital negotiations with the backwards culture of the week. I assume you're the one who told Sheppard about his father, and I need you to grant me leave to go with him."

Which was what Cam had been afraid he wanted to talk about. "Not now, Doctor. Lorne, I assume you've told them we can't make it today?"

"Yes, sir. But they're not willing to let us leave until you or Colonel Sheppard show up, and I'm not that keen on trying to shoot our way out."

"First time for everything," McKay muttered.

Cam ignored him. "Right, no, I'd rather keep the gunfire and bloodshed to a minimum. Is there some kind of time limit on this?"

"Look," McKay said, actually stepping between Cam and the screen. "All you have to do is say yes, you could have gotten it over already, actually, if you'd just listen to me."

"Maybe it'd be better if we let you deal with the good doctor and call back," Lorne suggested, sounding like he was somewhere between frustrated and amused.

"No, it's fine," Cam said firmly. "Because Dr McKay here is going to sit down in my office and wait for me to finish arranging for you and your team not to be taken captive again, and then I'm going to talk to him about appropriate moments to make holiday requests." McKay opened his mouth, clearly about to protest, and Cam pulled up the voice that he hadn't used in years, the one that made young airmen flinch and run to obey his orders. "Isn't that right, Doctor?"

"I –" McKay started, but something must have shown in Cam's face, because he cut himself off and stepped away. "Yes, fine."

Ten minutes later, visit to P9Z 217 arranged for later that afternoon, Cam found McKay pacing the width of his office, fairly radiating anger and hurt pride. "Oh, finally, now you have time for me, I see. Because we're only talking about your –"

"That's enough," Cam said sharply, closing the doors firmly on the end of that sentence. "My relationship with Colonel Sheppard isn't open for discussion, here or anywhere else."

"For the record, I was going to say 'military commander'," McKay said sulkily, clearly lying. He'd been so good about not letting on that he knew anything, Cam figured this really was a sign of how upset he was on John's behalf.

"Well, now we've sorted that out," Cam said dryly. "Can I do something for you?"

"Yes." McKay finally stopped his pacing. "I want to take some leave and go with Sheppard to Earth."

"No," Cam said. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but we need you on M7G 677, to fix their shielding device. They're completely vulnerable without it, and there's no knowing when the Wraith might drop by."

"I'm well aware of that, since I was there the last time it happened. But Zelenka's almost as good as me at this, there's no reason why he shouldn't go and fix it."

"Dr Zelenka's busy with his own projects," Cam said, hoping McKay wouldn't be able to remember what these were, since he had no idea if they were important or not. "I'm sorry, Doctor, but we need you to go out and deal with this. I know it's not perfect timing, but few things are round here."

"You don't think John might like to have someone go with him?" McKay asked, mostly sarcastic. "Rather than being sent to a strange planet by himself, for a strange ritual with a bunch of people he hasn't seen in years."

"I think," Cam said, trying not to think about the easy way McKay called Earth a strange planet. "That he'd rather struggle through on his own than come back and find out an entire planet was culled because the person who could help save it was on Earth with him." He smiled, the most reassuring smile he could manage. "There are other people who can go with him, there's no–one else who can fix this problem."

McKay gave him a long look, then nodded. "Fine. I assume I can take a few minutes to go see him before I dash off to save the children from imminent demise at the hands of the Wraith?"

"Of course," Cam said graciously, and didn't even wince at the awful, unintentional pun.

hr

"Excuse me, Colonel Mitchell?" Teyla said, stepping into his open office doorway, three days after General Landry had contacted them from Earth to say that a Replicator had been found loose on Earth, and that John and Ronon might be detained assisting with its recapture. Mitchell was staring at the screen of his laptop, one arm bent to rest his hand under his chin. He started at her voice, and smiled.

"Yeah, Teyla, what's up?" Though he did not sound much different from usual, Teyla noticed that his smile took a moment longer to come; he was, like her and Rodney, concerned for John, though he did not show it.

"I am sorry to disturb you, Colonel, but I arranged some time ago to visit the Athosian settlement today – enough days have passed for us to undertake the ritual of renaming on our new home, and it is my duty to attend as leader."

"Right, sure," Mitchell said, clearly waiting for Teyla to say something further.

"John was to fly me to the mainland," she explained. "There are many among my people who look to him as a personal friend, and would welcome his presence during the ritual."

"You need another pilot assigned?" Mitchell guessed. His expression gave away little, but Teyla suspected he was wondering why she had come to him for something so minor.

"In fact, I was hoping that you might be free to make the flight, and stay for the ritual," she said, keeping her own expression clear. It would not do for him to suspect she had other reasons for making the request of him. "As leader of Atlantis, you would be a suitable replacement for John within the ceremony, and it would be a chance for you to get to know the Athosians better, and they you."

"I don't know," Mitchell said slowly. "I'm not great at rituals."

"It is very simple," Teyla assured him. "You need only to stand witness, and follow the words spoken by the others." She took a further step into the office. "In truth, I have already asked Rodney to accompany me, but he claims to be too busy, after spending two days on M7G 677. You would be doing me a great favor by accompanying me."

"Well, how can I say no to the leader of her people asking me for a favor?" Mitchell asked rhetorically, smiling as he stood from behind his desk.

Teyla hid her own smile, ducking her head slightly. In many ways, he was terribly like John. "Thank you, Colonel. I am very grateful."

Mitchell shrugged. "You want to leave now?"

"If it is not too much of an inconvenience," Teyla said. They would be early, as she had allowed herself some additional time, in case of refusal, but that would give Colonel Mitchell and the Athosians some time to speak with each other.

She waited until they were away from the city, the mainland not yet visible on the horizon, before asking, "Have you heard anything further from John and Ronon, about the Replicator?"

Mitchell kept his eyes on the view–screen as he shook his head. "Not so far. I guess they're still looking."

"At least it is only one," Teyla said, with a calmness she did not entirely feel. Though it had become more familiar of late to watch her team go out without her, and though Ronon and John were together, she still felt uneasy at the two of them facing a Replicator without her and Rodney beside them. Particularly John, who had seemed so distracted in the few moments she had spent with him before he left for Earth; she was glad that Ronon was there to watch over him.

"I'd bet on our guys over the Replicators any day," Mitchell said, smiling grimly.

"As would I," Teyla agreed. "They will be returned to us very shortly, I am certain."

Mitchell did not say anything in response, but Teyla thought that his smile this time was easier, as though her words had given the desired comfort.

She kept a careful eye on him nevertheless when they reached the settlement. The children did not seem to feel the same draw to him that they did to John – perhaps because their first meeting with him had lacked some of the drama of their first meeting with John – but the adults responded to his charm warmly, and it was not long before she saw Rathel draw him away to look at the building yard they had begun to set up.

She excused herself from Exenne and Faran, sending them to make the final arrangements for the ritual, and went to join the two men.

"It is not a perfect solution," Rathel was saying as she drew closer. "Obviously, the ideal would be to have our own gate, but this will be a suitable compromise until that may become possible."

"How fast will they go?" Mitchell asked. He turned slightly, maybe hearing Teyla approach, and stepped aside to allow her to join them, looking down at a plan drawn in the soil which she had not been able to see before.

"We are hoping that you will allow some of your engineers to look at our plans," Rathel said. "And perhaps to lend their expertise in designing both the boats themselves and the engines, so that they will achieve a high speed."

Teyla shuddered at the thought – though she greatly enjoyed travel in the jumpers, she did not relish the thought of being in the open sea in such a small craft, no matter how much closer the city and the mainland were to each other on this new planet.

"It sounds like a great idea," Mitchell said, clasping Rathel's shoulder for a moment. "Just let me know when you need some time with the engineers and we'll set it up."

"Thank you," Rathel said warmly. "That is most gracious of you."

"Don't sweat it," Mitchell said, then, as though correcting a mistake he had made in his speech, "It's no trouble."

"Rathel is right," Teyla said. "The project will benefit greatly from the knowledge of the people in the city. It will be wonderful for my people to be able to pass so much more easily between the city and the settlement."

"Indeed," Rathel agreed. "And it will be easier for us to maintain our trading links with other worlds, when we are not constantly asking your men to collect and return us to use the ring."

Mitchell shifted his feet, apparently hearing the note of resentment in Rathel's voice. It had not been easy, that first year, for the Athosians to adjust to being unable to access the ring freely, something which Teyla suspected the people of Earth would never truly understand. "Well, the boats sound great," Mitchell said again. "And maybe there's something we can do about getting a second gate set up over here for you to use."

"There will be time later to speak of such things," Teyla said hastily. Having come so close to losing her people to something which came through the ring, she was not eager to put them at a similar risk again. "I believe the ritual will shortly commence."

"Right," Mitchell said, beginning to look nervous again.

Rathel smiled warmly at his discomfort. "Stand with me, Colonel. I will make sure you do not go wrong."

"Great," Mitchell said, smiling back, though his nervousness did not seem to have abated. "I can't wait."

hr

"I told you you didn't have to wait for me," John pointed out when Ronon gave him yet another pointed look as they waited down in the mess for Sergeant Harriman to let them into the gate–room to go home.

Ronon shrugged. "Said I'd come with you, I couldn't go back without you."

That didn't make as much sense to John as it clearly did to Ronon, but he hadn't exactly gotten a lot of sleep over the last few days, and he was willing to chalk it up to that. Plus, he'd been kind of grateful to Ronon for sticking around. "We'll be home soon," he said, though it was starting to feel like wishful thinking. They were already an hour past the time they'd been supposed to go through, held up by some kind of crisis off–world; between that and lack of sleep, Atlantis felt like an impossibly faraway dream, something longed for but unattainable. It'd be early evening already before they made it back.

"Good. Beds on the Daedalus are too small," Ronon said.

"I hear ya," John said, not that he'd noticed much difference between the cots on the Daedalus and the beds on Atlantis.

Ronon lapsed into silence after that, which John was happy to leave him in. He didn't close his own eyes, not quite, just let everything slide out of focus, thinking about Atlantis and his team, and Cameron, and how much he wanted to be back there. How much he wanted to be able to check on them all with his own eyes.

"Teyla said I shouldn't ask," Ronon said abruptly, making John start, pulled back from not quite sleep. "But I figured you asked me, so it must be okay."

"Ask what?" he asked when Ronon didn't say anything else, just looked kind of shifty and awkward.

"You and Colonel Mitchell. You're –" Ronon made a hand gesture that could have meant absolutely anything, then, presumably off John's lost expression and sounding like he was quoting someone, "Dating each other."

Quoting him, John realized a moment later, from months ago when John had asked if Ronon was seeing anyone in the city. Then he realized what Ronon had actually used the phrase in connection to, and looked quickly round the mess, relieved to find it mostly empty, and no–one close enough to have overheard. "You can't say stuff like that where people might hear," he said, forcing his own voice to stay quiet.

Ronon gave the room an exaggerated once–over. "There's no–one to hear."

"That's not really the point," John said, then gave up with a groan. "God, does this mean everyone knows?"

Ronon shook his head. "Just me and Teyla. Unless she told Kanaan. And Cadman keeps making jokes about it, but I don't know if she knows. Major Lorne, probably."

John, who hadn't actually been asking for a list, added, "And McKay," automatically. He was too tired to deal with this.

Ronon patted his arm, which was pretty weird in itself. "Gate sergeant's here. Come on."

Home. God, finally. Even if home was currently populated by a bunch of people who, it turned out, knew somewhat more about his personal life than he was entirely comfortable with them knowing.

"Coming."

hr

John stirred awake, momentarily unsure where he was. The room was dark, but there was too much space for it to be his cabin on the Daedalus, too familiar to be his old room in Dave's house, the one he'd only spent a single night in, and then only because it was easier than trying to explain why he didn't need a ride to a hotel.

Close by, someone snorted in their sleep, and it came back to him. He was on Atlantis, in his own quarters, and the strange lumps were his team: Rodney on the sort–of–leather chair by the window, Ronon on the floor at the foot of John's bed, and Teyla curled against John's legs where he was sitting at the head of the bed, against the wall. The laptop they'd been using to watch Dr Who, against Rodney's protests that it wasn't the same as the old episodes, had been shut down, which John didn't remember. Someone must have done it after he'd dozed off, worn out from too little sleep, finally able to relax with Atlantis in the back of his head and his team around him.

It wasn't that unusual for the four of them to wake up together in someone's quarters – some days, they just needed to be close to each other, even though no–one ever said anything about it. Usually, it made John feel warm and safe and home, particularly since he was usually the one who'd been going through something unpleasant; usually he'd close his eyes and be asleep again in moments.

He tried it, shifting slightly to lie down next to Teyla, the bed barely wide enough for both of them, and closing his eyes. Teyla's breathing was slow and even, and he tried to match it, to focus on just that. He'd done it before, but it wouldn't come this time, his thoughts circling round to Teer and her people, to his failed attempts at meditation, at teaching it to Rodney.

He opened his eyes again, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling, or where the ceiling would be if it wasn't too dark for him to see it, silently cursing himself. He was tired, damn it, plenty tired enough to fall asleep, and he was on duty again at 0700, he needed the sleep. His body didn't agree, humming with restless energy, the need to be out and moving.

He was on his feet before he really thought about it, reaching for his boots and his sidearm. Rodney shifted where he was curled over the chair, but didn't wake, and for once Teyla and Ronon seemed to have switched off the hyper–vigilance that had both of them awake in seconds at the slightest noise.

He froze at the sound of the door hissing open, absurdly loud in the quiet, but no–one moved, and then he was through and it was sliding shut behind him. If that woke anyone, hopefully they'd know well enough to leave him be.

The corridor was dim and quiet as he crouched down to lace his boots on, though it wasn't much past midnight when he checked his watch; pretty early for some of his people. Even with everybody apparently busy elsewhere, the city still felt lived in as John made his way through it, not like Dave's house. John had gotten up in the early hours the night he'd slept there, wandering through the hallways, filled with the same restless energy as tonight. If he hadn't seen Dave go up to bed, he'd have had no trouble convincing himself he was the only living person there, it had been so empty. In the end, he'd spent the last of the night out by the stables, watching the sun come up and itching to leave.

John was surprised to find, when the door to the shooting range slid open, that the lights were up, and even more surprised to find two lanes already occupied: Lorne at the far end, totally focused on the target in front of him, and two of the lieutenants standing together in a middle lane, ear and eye protectors off as they studied the gun one of them was holding.

They both looked up at John's entrance. "Evening, sir."

"Lieutenants," John said, picking out his own gear from the cupboard. He'd been hoping the room would be empty, most people preferring to get their practice in during the day, but it would be easy enough to block them out.

When he turned back around, Lorne was still shooting, not appearing to have noticed him at all, and the two lieutenants were focused back on what they were doing. John hoped that meant they'd picked up how much he didn't want to be disturbed.

He took the lane closest to the door, the furthest he could get from the other three, and lifted his side–arm. The P–90 would have been better, the rattle of bullets and the vibration up his arm the best way to burn off tension that he knew, but his hand, when he raised his weapon, was trembling.

He fired anyway, watched the bullet tear through the edge of center mass. Not too bad, considering. It'd do in a fire–fight, anyway.

His next shot went wild, barely clipping the target's shoulder. He lowered his weapon, shaking out one hand then the other, trying to ease a cramp that didn't exist. Shifted his stance slightly, took a deep breath, and fired three shots in quick succession, not looking too carefully at where they landed.

The hand on his shoulder made him jump, and he turned too fast, weapon still raised.

Lorne took a quick step back, both hands coming up in defense before John lowered the weapon with a muttered apology, removing his protective gear. Lorne smiled. "No problem, sir. Just wanted to let you know we're leaving for the night, and you shouldn't be disturbed."

John looked round, realizing the two lieutenants had gone. He wondered what Lorne had said to them. "Thanks, Major."

"Goodnight, sir."

John waited for the door to close behind him before turning back to his target. Christ, one of the shots hadn't even hit the paper. The team was supposed to be heading out in a couple of days, on the mission his trip to Earth had delayed, he'd have to get it together before then.

He tightened his grip on the weapon, even knowing it wouldn't help, and fired again. That shot grazed the edge of the outline; the next clipped its shoulder, then its upper arm.

The next one went completely wild, missing the paper again.

John lowered his hands, feeling the tremors skating up his arms. He pressed both hands into the wall beside him, watching the skin round his knuckles turn white with pressure. He should give it up for the night, go back to his room and maybe try to sleep again, or go down to the mess. There'd be coffee out at least, and it would give him an excuse to be sitting on the balcony.

Except he had to do better than this – he could do better than this, and he couldn't trust himself to take the team out until he did.

He took a deep breath, then another, remembering his first instructor telling him to relax, think of the weapon as an extension of his body, a part of him that would do as he wanted, not something he had to control.

The shot hit right between where the target's eyes should be.

He couldn't hear the door open through the ear protectors, but he felt the change in the air as it did. He sighted the target again, ignoring whoever had come in, and fired a second shot into its head.

Someone was standing behind him, not quite close enough to touch, but mirroring his stance; John could feel the line of warmth all along his body, and he knew it was Cameron. He wondered if Lorne had called him, or one of his team, if he'd woken them.

The trembling was back in his hands, worse than before, but Cameron didn't say anything when John's next shot was off, didn't try to touch, and John was grateful, because he felt fragile, breakable, like one touch in the wrong place would be enough to shatter him. He couldn't stop thinking about Earth, about Dave and the wake, and Ava Dixon, trapped in a virtual world she didn't even know she was in, and Dave saying, Dad regretted what happened, an endlessly repeating loop.

He fired blindly, barely aiming for the target at all, not looking to see where the shots hit, just wanting to hit something, and then the gun clicked, empty, and he didn't have a spare clip with him.

He let his hand drop, feeling the shudders running up his arms and down his spine, and drew in a ragged breath, closing his eyes. Just for a second, he wished he was back on Earth, not in Atlantis, where he was responsible for everyone, for keeping them safe, for keeping Earth safe, and it was too much, too much responsibility, too much pressure –

"John," Cameron said quietly, right in his ear; when had he lifted John's ear protectors away?

John shuddered, hard, helpless to stop it, and Cameron's arms went round him from behind, pulling him back, close against his body. John heard his gun drop somewhere with a hollow thud, wrapped his own arms round Cameron's and hung on, hard. He wanted to turn around, press his face against Cameron's shoulder and hide, but it was too much effort, so he just kept his eyes closed, soaking up Cameron's warmth and strength behind him while Cameron didn't say a word.

"Come to bed," Cameron said eventually, still close to John's ear. "You're exhausted, you need to sleep."

John nodded, forcing his eyes to open on the brightness of the shooting range. He'd almost forgotten where they were.

Cameron rescued his gun, sliding it back into his holster, and checked John's protective gear back in, one arm round John the whole time, holding him up, or just holding him close. Maybe the former, since John felt himself sway when Cameron let go as they stepped out into the corridor. Christ, he was so tired. The prospect of a bed, of sleep, sounded amazing, more than enough motivation to get him back to Cameron's room under his own power, though he couldn't have said, later, who they passed if his life had depended on it.

He didn't really remember getting undressed, too close to sleep to really focus, only that, when he finally climbed into bed, he was wearing sweatpants and a soft t–shirt, neither of which were his, and his feet were cold. Cameron climbed in after him, and John pressed his feet between Cameron's warm legs.

"You need some socks?" Cameron asked.

"M'good," John said, too tired to mock Cameron for his mother hen act, and Cameron laughed quietly, pulling John down so his head rested on Cameron's chest, Cameron's arms round him.

He'd expected to drift off to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, figuratively speaking, since his head was currently resting on Cameron, in just the right place to listen to the steady thump of his heart, but his body, as usual, had other ideas.

"Ronon said you stayed a couple of extra days so you could visit your brother," Cameron said quietly, apparently realizing as well as John that John wasn't going to sleep.

"Yeah," John muttered. He hesitated, not sure if he wanted to talk about it or not. Cameron was an only child, and he had a great relationship with his parents, with all his family. He wouldn't be able to understand the way John had walked away from his own like they'd never existed after the last fight with his father. "I thought about writing, when we were on Earth," he said, only half–intending for the words to come out, and even then, not those words, even if they were true. "I made a deal with myself – if we were still on Earth after three months, if the Ancients wouldn't let us back, I'd do it."

He'd promised himself he'd do a lot of things if it turned out they were stuck on Earth for good, and he had no idea if he'd have actually done any of them.

"Would it have helped?" Cameron asked.

John shook his head. "Maybe." He thought about what Dave had said, again; it had sounded like an admission, but John thought it was as much meant to make him feel guilty as it was anything else. And what was he supposed to do with that knowledge now he had it? Dad obviously hadn't regretted things enough to do anything about them, except Dave was never going to see it that way.

"I wish I hadn't stayed," he said, the words muffled against Cameron's t–shirt. "I thought –" That they could fix things, or start to; that they could have some kind of relationship, now that Dad wasn't between them, but he'd been wrong. In that house, with both of them being who they were, Dad was always going to be between them, no matter how long he'd been dead. "I thought –" he started again, except he didn't know how to finish that sentence.

Cameron's arms tightened round him, holding him almost painfully close, and John pressed into it, so unbelievably grateful, and even more so when Cameron didn't say anything, just let him fall asleep there, home and safe.

 


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