blue flamingos

World Without End

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, R

Year/Length: 2008/ ~7364 words

Pairing: Cam/John

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

Warning: Being apocalypse fic, it involves the pre-story death of some major SG1 characters (not Cam)

Summary: If you've got nothing left, is it worth going on?

Author's Notes: Written for [info]apocalypse_kree for the prompt "he thought that if they flew far enough, it might all fall away"

Beta: by [info]skieswideopen

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

hr

John's in the locker room when Cam gets down there, and Cam's late so of course John is already kitted up, nine millimeter strapped into his thigh holster, because no-one goes anywhere without a weapon these days, not even up in fighter jet. He looks up at Cam's entrance, then goes back to tucking his injector into the front pocket of his jacket without even a nod.

Cam thinks about smiling, or saying, "Hey," but he's too tired to manage either, just heads over to his locker and starts digging through what's left of his worldly goods for the sunglasses he knows are in there. It's blisteringly hot outside, and he knows he's going to need them.

They fly three kinds of missions these days, and today's is the worst kind, enough to make Cam wish he wasn't as good a pilot as everyone says he is. Not that it's likely to make a difference, not now.

"You ready?" John asks, leaning in the doorway.

"Nearly." Cam turns back to his locker, blinking against the image of the old John, overlaid on this new version. If he closes his eyes, he can remember that morning, John leaning in his kitchen doorway, in jeans because his uniform was back at the Mountain, coffee cup in hand, grin dancing over his face. Come on already, you're going to make us late. Landry already hates me.

Cam focuses hard on the back of his locker and doesn't let his mind drift. He's pretty sure that should be getting easier to do, after six months, but it's not. He wants to drift now, a hell of a lot more than he ever did then.

His hand closes round his own injector, finally, and he shoves it into his pocket, tucks his sunglasses into the neck of his t-shirt, and slams his locker closed. John's still waiting, leaning against the doorframe like it's the only thing holding him up. His eyes are open just a little too wide, like he's fighting not to close them or lose focus.

Cam's not the only one who doesn't want to remember.

"Let's go," he says.

hr

They're flying out of Area 51, first time in – a month? Two? Cam would ask John, but they don't talk about this; the missions, the fighting, the fucked-up mess of what their lives used to be. It's still strange to be at Area 51, somewhere familiar when Cam's gotten used to not even being able to read the signs at some of the bases they've bunked down in.

They walk past a row of labs, the open doors letting out raised voices and the smell of burning metal. Cam tries to glance in as they pass, looking for Sam; he hasn't seen her since three days after, when the SGC's scientists were beamed en masse to a secure location. He's pretty sure he'd know if anything happened to her, or at least he tells himself he would. It's better than imagining any of the alternatives.

The hanger's brightly lit by the sun outside when Cam and John walk in, the doors flung wide open, allowing the light to bounce off bright metal and white concrete floors. Over in the back corner, three engineers are crawling over Johnson's 302, same as they were when Cam and John flew in two days ago. It doesn't look salvageable, to Cam's eye, limping home after a run-in with a missile fired from the ground, only to land in a barely controlled crash outside the hanger. Johnson's fine, but Johnson is probably more easily replaced than the fighter. People are easy. Technology, not so much.

There are three other 302s in the hangar, alongside John's and Cam's F-16s, more than usual. The SGC's fighter pilots are theoretically designated Green Squadron, flying missions in a mix of 302s and F-16s, but no-one bothers with squadron numbers any more; it's hard to keep track, when the squadron's spread across seven continents. The only member of his squadron that Cam can ever find with any certainty is John, and that's because they work together, now.

Cam runs the pre-flight checks on auto-pilot, barely watching what his hands are doing. Watching John in something he can fly is still – Cam's not sure what the word is for what it is, because 'hot as hell' is just wrong, when John's gray with exhaustion and hasn't smiled in weeks. There's something about his certain, easy competence that gets Cam every damn time, and he'll never not want to watch.

"Ready?" John's voice asks over his radio – John's staring at the open hanger door, not looking at Cam.

"Yep," he says into his radio, then, "Flight, this is Green leader, requesting permission to leave the hanger."

"Affirmative, Green leader," Flight says. Cam doesn't recognize the voice. "Coordinates have been uploaded for both of you. You've got an overnight at Cheyenne Mountain."

"Roger that," Cam says, hoping none of his sudden tension is translating into his voice. John's enclosed himself in his fighter while Cam's been talking, and the bit of his head that Cam can see is giving nothing away. He reaches for a joke about empty houses and parties, for Flight, for John, maybe even for himself, but the words aren't there any longer.

He's not sure exactly where they're flying – somewhere on the North American continent because it's not a long flight, somewhere they've been often that Cam can track their past visits by the scars on the landscape as they fly over, low enough that their speed doesn't make a difference. Cam hasn't asked what they're targeting today, doesn't want to know anything more than the necessary: buildings, a compound, not a village, nothing else in walking distance and the train line out of order weeks ago. He knows what that means, but the only defense he has is in not hearing it, so he doesn't ask, just takes his F-16 up for target acquisition; up too high to see people between the buildings.

John's over on his right wing, absolutely steady; John hadn't flown an F-16 in years, before this, but he looks like he's been doing it all his life. Cam thinks, but will never, ever say, that this is part of why Landry refused to let John go back. People *are* easy, but not so easy that Landry won't hold onto them if he gets them.

"Target acquired," John says in his ear, voice utterly flat.

"Roger that," Cam tells him, arming his own weapons. "Cleared hot. Fire at will."

They fire together, like he knew they would, and he makes himself watch the missiles slam into the buildings, the ball of fire and smoke as the whole compound goes up. It's as familiar as breathing, as old nightmares, the only penance they have for trying to save the world.

They break, heading home, and Cam tells anyone who's listening on the radio, "Target is destroyed."

hr

When they finally make it to the Mountain, they're escorted into a briefing room and told that Landry's running late. Cam doesn't care – there's coffee, still hot, and it's cool so far underground, and dim, and he can lean his forehead on his hands and close his eyes and no-one will care. He hates driving now, hates being driven more; remembers cursing traffic jams and stupid drivers, and can't make it fit with being able to drive down the middle of the road, no oncoming traffic for miles. At least from the air it's easy not to see all the empty spaces where there used to be people; on the ground, it's impossible to ignore what no-one says is coming.

Cam tilts his head slightly, till he can see John through his interlaced fingers. John's sprawled in his chair, one arm slung over the back, just like Cam remembers from SG1's single trip to Pegasus. Except – not really like at all. Every line of his body is tense, his gaze fixed on the empty table-top in front of him. He barely looks like he's breathing, and Cam wants...

He doesn't let himself think about that, because the list is endless, and starting it is a sure-fire way to drive himself crazy.

Crazier. Because there's still a part of him that thinks, in some messed up backwards way, that they could be good, here, in the middle of a disaster that they can't stop. It's a smoke dream now, lost in a hundred moments of John stepping out from under his touch, away from Cam's eyes, from any comfort he might have offered. A hundred moments of John shutting himself away behind walls that Cam can't crack, when he'd been one of a very small number of people John would let in. The worst part is, he gets why John's doing this; he understands loss, the way it breaks down everything until it's easier to snap the rest yourself. He understands that this is about survival, that it's not about him, but he hasn't managed to turn off the part of him that keeps reaching out. It means something that they still spend more time together than not, even if he doesn't know what it is yet.

Landry turns up after a while, waving them both down when they move to stand up. It could almost be funny, how fast John got back into that habit when he had to.

Landry doesn't say anything about their mission earlier in the day, as usual. Cam doesn't know if this is because Landry doesn't like to think about what they're doing, or because he knows that Cam and John don't. He'd bet on the former: Lam's out there, somewhere, maybe, probably, hopefully. They haven't heard from her in a while, but she's with Teal'c, the only guard Landry would agree to for his daughter, and Cam knows Teal'c will bring her home.

If he can.

"The two of you are due at Peterson tomorrow," Landry tells them, pushing over identical blue files. Some things never change. Cam reaches for his but doesn't open it. John leaves his where it is, a few inches from his fingertips. "There have been reports of a cell growing in Scotland for a while now, and the latest images suggest they're brewing up more of the virus, and creating some kind of air-borne distribution system."

"Great," Cam says under his breath. It's always been only a matter of time before one of the cells of infecteds figures that out. He's just been hoping for a longer reprieve; they've killed enough people that they should have been bought more time.

"Why can't British forces deal with it?" John asks, barely managing curious.

"Because they don't have the specialist knowledge that the SGC has," Landry says with one of his trademark smirks. "You'll be dropped near the reported location of the cell, make your way in under cover of darkness, and gather what intel you can. You are not, under any circumstances whatsoever, to make contact with *any* members of the cell. We cannot afford to have any more members of this force become infected."

He's looking at John when he says it, but Cam knows he's thinking of Vala, who died before they even figured out she was sick, and Jackson, who's locked away God knows where with the other SGC infecteds, waiting for a cure that – waiting for a cure.

"Yes, sir," John says. Cam doesn't think he has the energy for anything stupidly heroic right now; he certainly doesn't have the conviction.

Landry looks at him for a long moment, John still looking down at the table, then turns his gaze to Cam, who nods automatically. You can rely on me, sir, I won't let him endanger the mission. He doesn't need to say it; he has no idea if he really means it or not.

"All right." Landry stands. "You're both off-duty until the morning. You'll have a driver to Peterson, 0700 tomorrow; your quarters are ready for you."

Cam's already on his feet, file in hand, when John says, "General? I wanted to ask about the mission earlier –"

Cam doesn't hear the rest; it's a breach of protocol to leave before Landry, but Landry won't care, and Cam doesn't want to know who they killed earlier in the day.

hr

Cam still hasn't decided if he likes being in the Mountain or not, now. It's familiar, after four years, and it still feels safe, even after all the attacks he's helped fight off. It's almost normal, or it could be, if he didn't know what he'd find behind doors that didn't used to be closed: abandoned projects, empty offices, personal quarters belonging to people who aren't ever going to use them again. If not for the sheer, overwhelming *emptiness* of the corridors, now, the ghosts of all the people he's never going to see again. It's no more home than his old apartment – gone now, destroyed by the SGC in a controlled explosion, just in case.

The corridors are dimly lit, a nod to the late hour in the form of lack of power. With huge swathes of the workforce gone, there's a lot less of everything, and the military still gets more than their fair share of it.

There's no-one in the control room, of course. No need, now. It looks more abandoned than anywhere else in the complex, all the computers removed when the gate was disabled. Cam sits on the edge of what was Walter's desk and doesn't think about the glare Walter gave him, the one time he tried that before. There's no space left for thinking about all the people who they've lost.

There's someone down in the gate-room, and Cam doesn't need to look to see who it is (three times before Cam learned that even his silent presence was too much. Three more for John to get that Cam *will* stand in the control room all night, if John stands in front of the gate all night. Cam's clinging to every connection he can find, and John's broken homesickness won't change that. He won't let it.) The control room lights shining down through the window barely cast enough light for him to see the man stood at the very bottom of the ramp, inches from stepping onto it. He knows John won't, even if he doesn't know why John comes here, whenever they're in the Mountain. The gate's been dark since the day after the outbreak, though it took a month, and the theft of the Apollo by a group of infecteds, for it to become official.

Cam remembers standing next to John in the briefing room – after John got drafted into Green Squadron, before they lost so many people that no-one had to stand any more – listening to Landry announce that they were officially suspending all gate travel, including the passage of data-bursts through the gate, indefinitely. The two of them were standing close enough for John's arm to be pressed against Cam's, close enough for Cam to *feel* John's defeat, the understanding of the unspoken 'for good' in Landry's words and what it meant for John. The melodramatic streak in Cam's soul claimed that moment as the end of the two of them, divided by the different shades of loss when they ought to have been pulled closer together by all the ways in which it isn't different at all.

Atlantis still doesn't know what's happened, why their military commander came back to Earth for a week of meetings and never returned, why the Daedalus didn't show up, why they can't get a lock on the gate for data-bursts. They don't know that they're lucky; the day before the outbreak, the SGC dialed Laqos to send a thirty second transmission to a research team out there; two days later, Laqos dialed back with a request for help, two thirds of their population gone, the last third sick. It was the last time the gate was active after the outbreak, and Cam thinks it's probably the last time the gate will be active, ever.

John was supposed to go back that morning; Landry smiled and reassured him that, as soon as they were sure he hadn't contracted the infection that had swept through the SGC literally overnight, he'd be good to go. That was before they figured out it had come through the gate on the air, survived outside a host. Cam can't imagine being so close to home and not able to get there, even if a tiny part of him envies John for having a home he can still get back to. Cam's parents' phone rings and rings when he calls, and no-one ever answers. He wants to believe it's a problem with the phone lines, or a sign that they're somewhere else, somewhere safe, but he's not got a lot of blind optimism left. No-one knows why everyone at the SGC wasn't killed, like on Lagos; everything about the virus is unpredictable, and if they have some kind of natural immunity, no-one's been able to figure it out. They're all on a slow path to the end, and going out fighting isn't much consolation for everything they've lost in the traveling of it.

hr

Scotland is – not like the US. It's empty, but not in the raw, new way that the US is, not enough people left to fill it up, but empty like it always has been, like everyone left decades ago.

It's almost enough to make the whole thing feel familiar. Not that SG1 ever went to many abandoned planets, or stuck around long on them – most of the deserted planets SG1 went to had been razed to the ground – but he's in mission gear, minus the automatic weapons and tac vest, in a strange place, hyped up on awareness. He's had long enough to get over the phantom sense of his team around him, replaced with a constant low level awareness of where John is, the two of them moving silently up the side of an empty road, heading for the house where they can hole up. The world's still grayed out by the dawn light, but it won't be long before the sun's up, and Cam has no intention of creeping up on an abandoned castle with nothing but bushes to hide them.

They've never been officially assigned to work together. Like a lot of things with the SGC – with John – it just happened, John tagging along with Cam and Teal'c when the others were gone, filling a hole, then staying there after Teal'c left with Lam on a data-gathering mission. Landry's never said a word about it, but Cam catches the way he looks at the two of them sometimes. Like he's watching for John to crack, checking that Cam can still keep him from doing something self-sacrificing and heroic. Cam can, but only because John's too defeated to put much effort into trying in the first place.

Not for the first time, Cam wishes that John was still in Pegasus, cut off from Earth, wondering, thinking that everyone on Earth – Cam – is dead, because John would refuse to accept it, and break things, and grieve, and move on, and he'd still have his home, his family. He thinks this might be a sign that he's losing his grip; he also thinks that losing your home and fighting to save another one that's already beyond saving – even if no-one ever says this – might actually cause his grip to spontaneously snap, never mind losing it gradually. It says something that John is still here, still fighting like the rest of them, even if he's choosing to do it with minimal connection to any of them, three strikes and you're out, because things didn't work out with his family, with the Air Force, and now he's lost Atlantis as well, traded for the planet that stopped being home years ago.

"That's it," John says from Cam's right, pointing to a single house in the dip created by the small rise they've just crested.

"You sure?" Cam asks. The plants in the garden are flowering, still tied back against the wooden fence surrounding the house, the curtains drawn closed. It doesn't look empty, and even if it is, they'll clearly have to break in, something Cam's not wild about on the best days. It looks like America, tens of thousands of houses waiting for the return of someone who went out for milk and died before they could come home.

"M'sure," John says, and sets off down the road, not waiting to see if Cam will follow. Not that Cam has much choice; John has the map, so even if he wanted to check, he can't.

The front door doesn't open when John tries it. He looks at the door for a second, then the rapidly lightening sky, then Cam, who tips his gaze away, looking for a spare key. This house, even from the outside, looks lived in, loved; it already feels like a violation to be going in without permission. They've both done it before, nearly forty years in the Air Force between the two of them, but this feels different in some indefinable way.

"Check the back door," Cam says, suddenly exhausted. Too tired to smash the door in, or shoot out the lock. Too tired for the look on John's face that says he hates this as much as Cam does.

The back door is locked as well. Cam's seriously thinking of trying the windows, even knowing it's a waste of time, when John pulls out a bandana, wraps it round his hand and smashes one of the small panes of glass, the one closest to the door handle. He closes his eyes, reaches in, and there's a click, the door already starting to swing open as John withdraws his hand.

He holds it open, looking just to the left of Cam's face, and says, "We're in," absolutely expressionless.

There's a routine to this: clear the house, secure the doors and windows, report in; breakfast of power bars and coffee, using as little of what's been left in the house as possible. They haven't hit the point of needing to take what they can get from civilian housing, not yet; it's coming, though, and Cam can see the remembered distaste for it on John's face.

It's early morning, but neither of them sleeps well on airplanes, and they're going to be up all night. There's only one bedroom, the bed still neatly made, though there are gaps in the rest of the room where what Cam assumes are personal items were taken. Not abandoned, then; left behind. They sit on opposite sides of the bed to remove their boots in the gloom, the curtains not thick enough to keep out the sunlight. John's nine mil thunks down on the bedside table a moment before Cam's does, and then John's there, pushing him down into the bed, straddling him and kissing him hard.

Cam doesn't fight it, just closes his eyes and kisses back, straining for the connection between them. John's tense against him, his hands tight in the material of Cam's t-shirt, and Cam knows what he'll look like. He forces his own body to go loose and relaxed, John's leg sliding between his, belt buckle pressing uncomfortably into Cam's stomach. He doesn't mention it. He hooks one leg round John's thigh instead, dragging him down and close, sliding one arm along John's lower back.

John makes a wordless noise against Cam's mouth, grinding his hips down for a few seconds, still kissing him too forcefully. It doesn't matter; they're both getting hard, and Cam's not surprised when John peels one hand away from Cam's shirt to press a tube of lube into his hand. He nods and opens his eyes to watch John roll away from him, shove his pants and boxers off, and lie down on his stomach, head down on his folded arms.

Something burns in Cam's throat for a moment; he wants to lean down and kiss the back of John's neck, where his hair's growing too long, trace the edges of the tan he still has from too much time off-world. He wants John to take off his t-shirt. He wants John to look at him while they do this.

He wants a lot of things, though, and what he's got is this. He swallows past whatever it is that's trying to choke him, pushes the last of his clothes off, and slicks a single finger.

John hisses when Cam pushes into him, too tense until he forces himself to relax as much as Cam did before. He's still tense, but this is as good as it's going to get, and Cam knows better than to suggest they stop, or do something else. He adds a second finger, going as slow as he can, knowing he's skating the line of John's patience when John pushes back against him. He bites down on the urge to slow down even further. He's marching to the beat of John's drum, here, but he wants to follow.

John's still on the edge of too tight when he pushes in, but he relaxes a little further when Cam gets a rhythm going. Enough for Cam to slide a hand under him, wrap it round his cock and jerk him off to the same rhythm. John shifts fractionally, rocking into the contact, his breathing gradually speeding up, a half-second ahead of Cam's own.

It doesn't take long for Cam to feel the tell-tale shudder running down John's back, the one that means he's close. He shifts his own hips slightly, getting a better angle, tightens his hand on John's cock, and presses his forehead against the damp material of John's t-shirt over his shoulders. He tells himself that John's too lost to know he's doing it, and doesn't let himself think that John lets him do it. John jerks under him, coming in Cam's hand, and Cam pushes into him for a half-dozen more thrusts before coming with a harsh gasp for breath.

They lie like that for a while, Cam's hand still on John's soft cock, John's body going brittle and tense under his all over again. He pushes it, waiting for John, and it doesn't take long.

"We should clean up." John's voice is as expressionless as it was when they broke into the house, and Cam thinks guiltily about the stain they'll be leaving on the sheets. They won't be the last SGC people to come through the house, not if it's a real cell, not if the house is really safe. He doubts anyone's going to care, beyond flipping the quilt over.

Cam pulls out, dropping one arm over his eyes so he doesn't have to watch John walk away from him, pants over his arm, in search of the bathroom. The silence echoes in his own head, edged with the fading sound of John's harsh breaths as they fucked.

This is what they do now: recon missions, bombing missions, occasional – very occasional – extractions, and silent, grieving, desperate sex in houses that have been abandoned. Cam lies awake sometimes, chasing memories across the ceiling of whatever house they're in that night: John in his kitchen, steam from his coffee curling in front of his face; John in his bed, laughing and teasing, kisses that lasted forever, going nowhere slowly; John lying against him on the sofa, half-watching Sunday afternoon movies while Cam jerked him off slowly. John, in bed beside Cam, relaxed and easy in sleep. He wonders, sometimes, if any of it's real, if they were ever really together before or if it's all a dream to make real life seem less awful than it is. He'd believe it, except... Except for the way John's breath catches when he comes, some nights, half a breath from a sob. Except for the way he half-wakes up in the night, sometimes, to John's fingers, so light, on his face, just touching, silent and careful. It reminds him so sharply that it aches of John Before, wanting to go home and not wanting to leave, the only part of Cam's Before that still exists, even if it is only in the dead of night when Cam should be asleep. It reminds him that his John is still there, as hard as this John is pushing it down.

The truth is, he knows they're falling apart – him, John, the SGC, Earth – and it doesn't change anything. John's still the only thing he's got left to hold onto, and it's no different for John.

hr

Cam's not surprised to find that the crumbling castle in which the cell is working is lit up brightly enough to be seen for miles around. He gets, then, why the house's residents left; people infected with the virus look and act completely normal, until suddenly they're not, filled with the same kind of crazed fervor as the Priors, only more with the frenzied attacks and less with the genocide via mystical staff.

He never thought he'd miss the Ori.

One thing he will say for the members of this cell: insane levels of lighting aside, they're making it pretty damn easy. Cam's read all the reports, that people who haven't gotten so bad that they're into the crazy phase don't like sunlight, even though they like being outside. They tend to work at night, sleep during the day, and no-one's made a single joke about vampires. He'd call it some kind of minor miracle, if he didn't know how hard it is to make jokes when you've shot dead the guy you used to nod to in the corridors, before he could do the same to you and yours.

He edges round the break in the outside wall again, peering through a convenient gap where the stone's crumbled away. Thirty people, maybe, in jeans and suits and one in a bartender's uniform, heads down, utterly focused on the work they're doing at a series of what look like lab tables. It makes him think of work parties in high school, except that these people are completely silent. They won't look any different, really; it's a little too much like the Goa'uld for comfort, except for how they don't want to take over the world. They just want to destroy it.

John nudges him with an elbow to the base of his spine, and Cam draws back again, adding a few more people and a second building that could be another lab to his mental map of the place.

"Here," John says, holding out something that looks like one of the life-signs detectors from Atlantis. There aren't enough dots, though; the splashes of color are energy spikes. John touches the one in the lower left of the screen, out of their line of sight in reality. "It's stronger than the others."

Cam nods. He'll never understand this, no matter how many reports he reads about the mental state of people once they get infected. Two billion people are dead from this, more dying every day, and of course it's the bad guys who are moving fastest in this. He doesn't let himself think about the death rate, how fast the population of *Earth* could be wiped out by this; sometimes, it's almost easy to forget, if he doesn't concentrate on all the space that didn't used to be there. "Any idea what it is?" he asks quietly.

John shakes his head. "It's putting out twice as much energy as anything else here. Landry's going to want to know."

Of course he is. Cam's not part of the trusted SG1 any more, allowed to go off and do their thing on the minimum of intelligence, and this insight into John's six weeks with the SGC is something he could have lived happily without. "There's a gap on the far side," he offers. "We can at least get some pictures."

For a moment, he thinks John's going to argue, offer to go into the courtyard, filled with people as it is. He's actually got a hand half-raised to stop him when he sees the fight go out of John. "I'll take point," John says softly, and moves off, black uniform blending seamlessly into the darkness outside the walls.

The gap on the other side is wider, and shadowed by the way the wall tilts inwards, halfway to falling apart. Cam's pretty sure no-one's going to look up long enough to notice them anyway, all of them intent on their work at makeshift lab tables in the middle of an open courtyard. Cam doesn't think about the infection implications for this, beyond touching the pocket containing his injector, as much practical use as every other talisman he's ever carried.

The machine that's giving off the energy signature doesn't look any more like anything in reality than it did on the screen, but Cam takes a series of rapid digital pictures anyway, grateful for the bright lights that make the flash unnecessary. They're not so involved that they wouldn't notice *that*.

John's hand on his arm is totally unexpected, making him start, the last shot blurring beyond meaning. When he turns, John nods his head at the courtyard, not taking his eyes from whatever he's watching.

They're being watched.

She's hard to spot, tucked into the shadowed corner of two crumbling walls, dressed in dark clothes, even her hair too dark to show up well, but her eyes look huge from Cam's vantage point, fixed on John's face, openly pleading, as if her position, tucked away from everyone else, wouldn't have been enough to tell them everything they need to know. Cam can't close his eyes, not here, like this, but he wants to; the knowledge of what will come next settles low and heavy in his stomach.

He drags John down into the darkness again, just in case someone turns to see what the girl – not really a girl, twenty, maybe twenty-five – is looking at. "You don't know how long she's been infected," he says, before John can say anything. "We don't know why she's there. She could be a plant."

John's face is turned towards the grass growing against the wall, but his expression is stubborn and fixed. "Why?" he asks, almost too low for Cam to hear. "They've got no reason to think anyone's coming here."

"That we know of," Cam says, sharp and insistent. He feels, just for a second, like he's wrangling Vala off-world. "We have no idea who else is out here, and probably neither do they. And even if we did, she's obviously infected."

"I can give her my injector," John says, and Cam curls his hands into fists, digs his fingernails into his palms so he won't give in to the urge to shake John. He *does not* want to be the voice of reason here, and he hates John for making him do it.

"And when you pick up the virus from being in close contact with her?" he asks. "Even if I give you mine, I can't drag the both of you back to the base." He doesn't say the rest: that the inhibitors they carry only work right after infection, for a while, long enough to get someone back to the SGC's quarantine. Even if John wants to sacrifice himself for this girl, it probably won't do her any good, and Cam's not willing to find out.

"I haven't got it yet," John says. "I was in the SGC when it started, I should have gotten it then." He taps at the PDA, the most engaged Cam's seen him in weeks, and it's so familiar that Cam can't stop him, actually looks at the map when John turns the screen to show him. "Look. The gap, here, it's shadowed enough that no-one would see me. Twenty feet in the open to get to her, twenty feet to get back, and you'd be out here to provide a distraction."

It sounds plausible – exactly the kind of thing Cam would have done with SG1, John would have done with his team. Cam's half-ready to buy it, but it's John who pushes him right out of saying yes, looking up to meet his eyes, and John's face isn't saying 'faith in the plan,' it's saying 'let me do something that means something. Let me stop.' John's never been suicidal – stupidly heroic, completely unwilling to let anyone else take the death-run, but never suicidal – but this is John pushed beyond what he can stand, watching everything fall apart with no hope for fixing it. "We can't take that risk," Cam says. "If we blow it, if we're caught – if you're caught –"

"You don't know what they'll do to her," John says, as close to angry as Cam can remember him being in months.

"Neither do you." He grabs John's arm, pulling until John looks up, his bleak expression cracking, and they cannot do this here, they can't. Cam's only got one weapon left here: he begs. "John, please. Please don't – I can't –" He doesn't have the words for this; neither of them do.

John gasps, wet and broken, one hand going up to clutch at Cam's shoulder, and, Christ, they're totally vulnerable here, kneeling in the grass with zero awareness of what's happening around them, ten feet from a cell of crazed infecteds and a girl who might or might not be a lookout for them. "Please," John says, voice scratched like he hasn't used it in days. "God, Cam, please..." And, oh fuck, that hurts much more than it has any right to do. His heart aches with wanting to say yes, but he can't, he can't, because if John's pushing them all away to survive, Cam's clinging to him for the exact same reasons. He doesn't care how selfish it makes him. He'll be selfish if it means John stays.

"I can't," he says again. John won't look up, and they're not safe, if the break's going to happen, it can't be here, hushed voices and ten feet from the whole discussion becoming moot. "I'm sorry, John."

"I can do it," John says. "In and out, they won't even –"

"No," Cam says, too loud, they're going to be heard. They can't stay here, and John can hate him later. He's too busy dragging John to his feet, both of them stumbling, retreating into darkness on Cam's instinct, a faint hope that he's not turned around so badly that they'll have to backtrack to this place. They're a dozen steps away before Cam realizes that John's not fighting him, not even trying to shrug out from his hand; that John's saying yes to what Cam's asking of him, a silent trading of death with meaning for life without because Cam asked for it.

He tells himself, half-running in the darkness of a country that feels more foreign than any planet he ever gated to, that the voice screaming behind them is nothing but his imagination. A shared hallucination, as John shudders under Cam's unbroken grip.

hr

Cam's not expecting an explanation, doesn't even think there is one – this has been coming for a while, crystal clear signs in hindsight and nothing he could see while it was happening. He gets an explanation anyway, when they've slowed from running and the scream has faded with distance.

It's not much, a single word that sounds like John's forcing it out against his will. Not even a word, a name, "Cadman," with a world of infected, dead, killed, captured, behind it, and Cam's faint mental picture: Marine, lieutenant, red hair, explosives.

It's not much, except for how it's everything, because for the last five months, he'd have sworn on a stack of Bibles that John would keep his new losses silent and close, that Cam would only know about them from reports. It's a tiny, tiny crack, and Cam has no idea whether it will be shored up again, or whether it's the tiny crack that will let everything else break. He doesn't even know what will happen if it's a break, because John's fragile and vulnerable in a way he's never been. But, oh, he hopes, he *hopes*, and he hasn't had that for a long time.

hr

They're being picked up at an old RAF base, decommissioned a handful of years ago and not yet turned into something else. The sky's lightening as they close in on it. They're early, but there's a hanger with the door open a fraction, so they head over there. Cam's expecting it to be empty – as far as he knows, this is just a convenient pick-up point. Instead, tucked in the back corner where the shadows nearly hide it, is an X-302.

"Jesus," he whispers helplessly. Beside him, John comes to a stop, one hand half-raised like he's stopping himself from reaching for the fighter.

Cam hasn't flown one of these since the F-302s rolled off the production line, but he remembers exactly how it feels. How it felt, the first time, to keep going, up and up and up until the sky around him was impossibly dark, so far above anything he'd ever imagined that he had to take deep breaths against the giddy terror threatening to choke him. It's no different to the F-302s, really; the experience of flying is almost exactly the same, but he'll never forget that moment when he realized that life as he knew it was incredibly, unbelievably over.

That moment when he realized what freedom, absolute freedom, felt like, and he doesn't dare look at John, afraid of what he'll see if he does. Afraid that he'll see his own thoughts reflected back to him. They've got two hours before they're scheduled to be picked up, and the X-302s are fast. Even if someone's monitoring this bit of air space, they won't have F-302s out here. There's no reason for them to have an X-302.

"They have hyperspace generators," John says, very, very quietly.

"Can't sustain it for long," Cam replies, but his mind's already skipping ahead. Not far isn't the same as not at all; John will be able to figure out exactly how many little hops they'd need to get to the nearest planet with a gate and –

He lets his imagination spool out, just once: take-off, atmospheric flight, Earth falling away behind them. The virus, the infected people, the way the world is slowly emptying. The dark gate, all the people they know who've died, Cam's family here and John's on the other side of a door he can't open. They've got allies in the Milky Way, people who'd take them in.

People who'd be at risk of the virus, the way it clings to nothing, to the air around them. And Cam joined the Air Force for a whole list of reasons, but one of them was to protect his country, with his life, if necessary. He's nearly given it once already, and he'll never be able to fly far enough away to escape the bitter taste of desertion.

"We could..." John says, so close to normal that Cam could half-believe the last hour was a hallucination. It's almost enough to make him want to say yes, another tiny crack, that John can ask for escape in a way that won't kill them.

Except that it would, in the end, because duty's the only thing holding them together right now, no guarantee that they can work their way back to holding each other together, as much as Cam wants to believe. John gave up salvation and escape because Cam asked – because he begged – and Cam can't offer one without the other. Staying means the chance for salvation; going means escape, and Cam has to believe that salvation is still more important than escape.

"We should find somewhere else to wait," he says, and John nods, and doesn't say anything at all.


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