blue flamingos

What Happens Next

Fandom: Stargate Atlantis/Stargate SG1

Category/Rated: Slash, PG-13

Year/Length: 2008/ ~13,860 words

Pairing: Cam/John

Spoilers:

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

Warning:

Summary: It starts with an email, and John Sheppard on his front doorstep, and just kind of... goes from there.

Series:

Author's Notes: It starts with an email, and John Sheppard on his front doorstep, and just kind of... goes from there.

Beta:

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

hr

The email says, 'I'm coming back,' and Cam refreshes the page six times before accepting that, nope, that really is all he's getting.

It's not that unexpected emails from John are that – well, unexpected – or even that he gets pages and pages when John's letting him know he's coming back for a while, but they do usually include something useful, like when, and how long for, and whether he's working or on vacation. Even for John, this is short.

He doesn't bother hitting reply. It's a reasonable assumption that John means 'before the next data-burst,' so chances are John will be here before Cam's email gets there. He's tempted to call Sam, ask if she knows anything since she's still based in the mountain at least some of the time, but he's shouted down by the part of him that knows John would have said more if there was more he wanted Cam to know.

Okay, and also the part that suspects something bad is coming, and doesn't want to know until he has to.

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He's prepared for John showing up on his doorstep, or calling from the Mountain for Cam to come get him. He's even prepared for Sam to call and suggest that he remove John from the SGC before he pisses off Landry to the point of being kept on Earth just for the hell of it.

What he's not prepared for is arriving home at half past eleven on Friday evening to find John sitting on the front door step of his apartment building, hunched up against the February cold, two large duffel bags at his feet.

"When I gave you a key, I thought you realized that meant it was okay to let yourself in," he says mildly, locking his car and moving closer. In the glow of the security light above him, John looks worn and tired when he lifts his head, and Cam suddenly wishes he had asked, because he's only ever seen John look like that once before, and he's definitely not ready to deal with John being thrown out of Atlantis again without some prior warning.

"I thought it might be better to ask this time," John says, straightening fully, and Cam realizes that he's not just wearing a bulky coat. There's a person – a child – held in his lap, mostly asleep against John's shoulder.

Cam blinks, grasping for something intelligent to say. Hell, for anything to say.

And that's when the boy raises his head, rubs his eyes and says, "Daddy?"

"I'm here," John says, rubbing his back and pressing him close again. "Go back to sleep." He looks up at Cam again, smiling wryly, and says, "It's a long story."

That's one way of putting it, if an incredible understatement, and it's cold, Cam's had a very long day and wants coffee, food and a shower. "Tell me inside," he says, taking one of John's bags, which now make a lot more sense, John having a tendency to show up with just the contents of his pockets.

John stands just inside the front door as Cam locks it, watches him remove his coat and scarf and toe off his shoes, and doesn't move to do the same himself, or for the – for his son. This, at least, Cam feels equipped to deal with, large family having taught him a few things along the way.

"Let me take him for a minute," he says, coming up close and sliding one hand up John's arm to rest against the child's head. "Take your coat off." John blinks at him, looking totally lost, and it makes Cam's chest ache for a moment. He reminds himself that he's seen pictures of Torren, and this isn't him. "John, give him to me and take your coat off," he says again, gently, and John snaps out of it a little bit, nodding.

The child – and Cam really needs to find out his name, soon – is warm and pliable as he nestles into Cam's arms with a sleepy noise of confusion. "Daddy's right there," Cam tells him, reaching for the dark blue wool hat he's wearing. Any doubt Cam might have had about the child being John's disappears – he'd recognize that mess of dark brown hair anywhere. Without the hat and in the light, the child looks about two, maybe two and a half.

Oh yeah, the explanation for this is going to be great.

"Alex," John says quietly. When Cam looks up, he's down to jeans, sweatshirt and sock feet, watching Cam and his son with an expression that Cam, even after five years, can't decipher. "Well, not exactly, but it's the closest equivalent to his birth name. We think; no-one knows how to pronounce it."

Not an Earth child, then, which doesn't come as much of a surprise. Cam's pretty sure he'd know if John had slept with someone else on Earth. Then again, he would have thought he'd know if John had slept with someone else in Pegasus as well, so maybe not.

"Okay," he says. "Spare bed's made up if you want to put him to bed."

For a moment, he thinks John's going to say no, that he wants to keep Alex close, or doesn't want him to wake up alone in a strange place, but he nods, picks up one of the duffel bags and holds out an arm for Alex.

Cam doesn't know how it happens – one moment he's stepping close to pass Alex over, the next he's got his arms wrapped round both of them, John's hand fisted in the back of his shirt, his face pressed against Cam's shoulder. It should be the weirdest part of what's turning into a pretty strange evening all round, but it feels normal.

"God, I missed you," John mutters. Cam holds him tighter for a long minute, before John pulls away and disappears into Cam's guest room with Alex, not making eye contact with Cam.

"Okay then," Cam says quietly, and goes to make some coffee.

hr

He nearly goes after John, twice, nearly messages Sam to ask what the holy fucking hell? three times, nearly goes to the coat rack to check that there really is a small blue hat there, more times than he wants to count.

Life was supposed to get less weird when he got loaned out to Petersen to train pilots in the new F-16/302 hybrid planes, the 201s, a little less than a year ago. Apparently, the reprieve's over.

Cam's sitting on the couch, lamp on, coffee in one hand, making a list of things they need, when John comes back out. He's lost his sweatshirt, and the light blue shirt he's wearing has one sleeve rolled up, the other still pulled down to his wrist. He stops halfway between the door and the couch, and doesn't say anything.

"Come here," Cam says quietly. It's hard to see John's expression in the dim lamp light, but the way his shoulders sag in relief is unmistakable. He still doesn't come too close, sitting with his back against the opposite arm of the couch, knees drawn up, watching Cam silently.

"What's going on?" Cam asks finally.

"It's a long story," John says, like that explains anything, and Cam snaps, a little.

"You just turned up on my doorstep with a two year old child who calls you daddy," he says, forcing his voice not to rise. "No offence, but you're going to need more explanation than, 'it's a long story'."

"I know," John says. "Can I have some of your coffee? I haven't slept in something like thirty hours."

Cam hands over the mug he just poured for himself and waits.

"He's mine," John says when he's drunk half of it. "I didn't sleep with – with his mom." Cam's not sure whether he's surprised by that or not. They've both slept with other people while they've been together, though never more than once, and never when they're physically together – they both like rules, sometimes – but he's been having a hard time imagining John having unprotected sex with anyone.

"There was a ritual," John says, looking down into his coffee mug. "We had to – make a donation –"

"I get it," Cam says, mostly to put John out of his misery, filling the blanks in for himself. He's been through plenty of weird off-world rituals, though never one where he had to jerk off. He tries to remember if John ever mentioned it.

"It was our first year in the city," John says, answering that – before Cam's time, and they probably fudged the report. "They were willing to trade food, and we were getting desperate. The asking price was pretty high, though, so when the Daedalus started coming by... We got a message a couple of weeks ago, to say they'd been culled, to ask for help." John's voice goes even quieter, falling into the memory. "One of the priestesses was still alive, and she had – all these empty cots, and three with kids in them. I didn't... Keller did DNA tests, sent the other two..."

"He's not seven," Cam says.

"Two years, five months," John says. "They developed freezing, I guess, for the, um, donations. Apparently they've been doing it for centuries, the men on their world aren't..."

"Okay," Cam says, mostly for something to fill the silence while he tries to wrap his head around John having a child as a result of being an unwitting sperm donor. John having a child that he's known about for two weeks, which Cam's only just finding out about. "Are you here to – why are you here?"

"Atlantis was attacked by a hive ship," John says. He rests his head on his knees, turning his face away from Cam. Hiding. "I was so fucking scared. I didn't even know how badly I wanted..." He trails off, and Cam remembers him saying, a couple of years ago when Cam's sister-in-law got pregnant again, "Nancy miscarried, twice. So we didn't."

He feels suddenly and completely exhausted, too tired to deal with the hundreds of other questions that need to be answered. "Come to bed," he says, standing up and holding one hand down for John, who blinks at him. "I'll leave the door open, you'll hear Alex if he wakes up."

Alex. It's such a normal name for a kid who'll never really be normal. Alex Sheppard. It sounds very grown up for a two year old.

John shrugs out of his jeans and shirt and crawls into bed beside Cam like he's doing it on auto-pilot. The moment Cam turns off the light, though, he feels John shift and press against him, close, one arm round Cam's hips, his head on Cam's shoulder, and there's none of their usual first night awkwardness in the gesture. Cam swallows against the lump that's thinking about choking him, wraps his arms round John and falls into a restless sleep.

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When he wakes up, John's not in bed; Cam can hear his voice, probably in the living room, too low for Cam to make out any words, and a higher voice giving an occasional response. It's a lot less weird than it should be, and he reminds himself not to get too used to it. Their relationship might be the kind that everyone knows about and no-one mentions, since don't ask don't tell was repealed a couple of years ago, but that doesn't mean John wants to raise a child with him.

The alarm clock tells him it's 0700, which is a little early to be up on a Saturday, but he's not going to go back to sleep and he has to admit that he's curious to know what the son of John Sheppard and an anonymous woman from Pegasus is like.

John's sat in Cam's spot from last night, in gray sweatpants and a USMC t-shirt that Cam's not even going to ask about, Alex curled against him in soft, blue pajamas. He looks completely comfortable there, tracking John's finger as he points to something on the far side of the room. Cam takes a minute to wonder just how much truth there was in John's 'I didn't even know' the night before, because this is not the kind of bond that develops in the three days since Cam received John's email. He wonders if John even really remembers the last couple of weeks accurately, or if he's already filtering them through how he thinks he should have reacted. He'll have to catch Major Lorne, next time the man comes to Earth – he's still Cam's best source of information after all these years.

"Hey," he says, pushing away from the doorframe and moving into John and Alex's line of sight.

"Morning," John says; a few hours of sleep have done wonders, because he looks awake and rested and not at all like the guy who clung to Cam all night, lost and confused. "I didn't want to wake you up."

"Thanks." Cam sits cautiously on the edge of the coffee table, watching Alex from the corner of his eye. Alex is looking at him, not obviously nervous or shy. Of course, two weeks in Atlantis have probably cured him of that already – two hundred and fifty people are a lot at that age, and Cam would bet that Alex has met most of them. "You going to introduce us?"

"Yeah. Cam, this is Alex. Alex, this is Cam. Um. Dad. Maybe. If he doesn't – if he wants."

John's face, when Cam looks at him, is tentative and hopeful, and broken open with something blown way past any kind of happiness Cam's ever seen there, and there's no universe anywhere where Cam would ever say no to that look, even if it wasn't offering him something that he can't imagine not wanting.

"What do you think, kiddo?" he asks Alex, who's still watching him, smiling slightly, like he knows something good is happening but doesn't know what it is. "Dad sound good to you?"

Alex leans back into John for a moment, head tilted to one side like he's thinking, then nods and says, "Dad."

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It shouldn't be so easy, to go from 'technically involved but functionally usually single' to 'co-parent to a half-alien child' literally overnight, but Cam's had five years to get used to the fact that things with John are either bizarre and confusing or oddly simple, more of the latter in the last couple of years. And it's not like he's never thought about maybe having kids some day, watching his cousins, his little brother grow up alongside him, get married and settle down while he went off to fly spaceships and get shot down. It's just that somewhere along the way he accepted that there would be things he'd have to give up in exchange for cool ships, an amazing job and a boyfriend who, okay, mostly in another galaxy, but also someone Cam's kind of helplessly in love with.

He has a brief moment of cognitive dissonance when John produces a plastic bowl and spoon, and a plastic tub of something grayish and mushy. Alex makes happy noises when John settles in one of Cam's kitchen chairs, Alex held firmly in his lap, and hands over the spoon, and John looks up with a quick smile. "Pegasus baby food," he says, holding the bowl for Alex. "Teyla swore by it till Torren was nearly four."

Cam puts a cup of coffee by John, out of reach of Alex's arms. "Enjoying that?" he asks.

"Yum," Alex says, smiling and smearing food all round his mouth. "You have some?"

John shakes his head slightly, grinning.

"No thanks, kiddo. Maybe next time."

Alex nods seriously enough for Cam to wonder if he's going to be offered baby food at every meal until he accepts it. He strongly suspects the answer is yes. "He's good with new people," he says quietly.

John nods, his face shadowing for a moment. "He's used to it," he says in a voice that promises a full story when little ears aren't listening. "Lots of babysitters in Atlantis as well."

"Atlantis?" Alex says, dropping the spoon so gray goop splashes John's t-shirt. He wipes it off absently, and Cam thinks again that John's story of the last couple of weeks isn't as based in reality as John apparently thinks it is. "Torren?"

"Not today, buddy." John picks up Alex's spoon and hands it back to him. "Maybe he can come visit us here instead."

"What are you going to do?" Cam asks, aware that this is probably the most important question, the one he should have asked last night, or this morning before he said yes, because John belongs in Atlantis.

Some of the animation fades out of John. "Stay here," he says, taking a careful sip of his coffee. "I'm supposed to report to the mountain in a couple of days. Landry's trying to figure out if there's something I can do there that won't mean going through the gate."

He sounds completely serious, and for a moment, Cam's so distracted by this that he doesn't register the end of the sentence.

"Cam?" John says, sounding worried, and Cam says, stupidly, "I'm supposed to finish up at Petersen next month."

John blinks slowly. "Okay," he says, like the words are a place-holder until he figures out what really goes there. "Back to SG1?"

Cam nods. He's been looking forward to going back all year – not that he doesn't like the kids he's teaching to fly the hybrids, but SG1 is his team, and he should be with them, especially with Jackson gone to Atlantis. "I don't –" he starts, no idea how that's supposed to finish, because John gave up Atlantis, his friends and his command and his city, to keep himself safe for his son.

"Daddy," Alex says, complaining.

John says, "Sorry, buddy," sounding hoarse, loosening the arm holding Alex in his lap. "How about a shower?" he says. It sounds forced, but he keeps going, not looking at Cam. "You look like you've had a bath in that food."

"Potato bath!" Alex declares.

"I don't think so." John stands up, shifting Alex to his hip in a practiced move and walking away.

"John," Cam says, helpless, and the bathroom door closes between them.

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"I need to –" John says when he emerges from the guest room, fully dressed and still carrying Alex, who has a toy whale in one hand. John doesn't look at Cam, just sits on the floor inside the front door and starts putting on Alex's shoes, Alex sitting silently in his lap, like he's picked up the tension between the two of them.

Cam stays where he is, leaning against the back of the couch, and doesn't know what to say. It's hard to believe that less than an hour ago he was thinking that this was going to be easy.

"I thought I'd cook dinner," he tries, figuring John can ignore the implied offer if he wants, and also that it gives John all day to be somewhere else if he needs to be.

"That sounds good," John says, his voice expressionless, and Cam forces himself not to push for a real answer. He's had a lot of practice, over the years.

He watches John tie his own shoes, wrap Alex up in coat and hat and gloves, then pull on his own jacket. Alex watches him over John's shoulder, wide-eyed and solemn; Alex, who's maybe, hopefully, going to be their son, who just lived through the culling of almost his entire planet, and the sudden acquisition of a father he's never met before. "Can I –" Cam asks, taking a couple of steps towards them before he can stop himself.

"Yeah," John says, actually looking at Cam for half a second. "Say goodbye, okay, buddy?"

Alex reaches for Cam, who takes him from John's arms and hugs him, overwhelmed all over again by the abrupt fact of this child in his life, by Alex's warm, chubby arm against his neck, Alex's head tucked against his shoulder. "You two have fun," he says, feeling Alex nod. "Make sure your daddy buys you a present."

"Like whale?" Alex asks, thumping the toy against Cam's chest.

"Sure, like whale," Cam agrees. "You think he wants a whale friend to play with?"

"I'm his friend," Alex says, pulling back slightly to frown at Cam, who tries not to laugh.

"You can never have too many friends," he says solemnly, then adds, "Even if you're a whale."

John laughs a little. Cam can't resist, has to reach out and catch his arm, draw him close for a brief kiss. John leans into it and Cam feels something inside him relax.

"I'll see you later," John says softly.

Cam waits until the door's firmly closed behind them, then does what he's done every time he needs advice for the last few years – calls Teal'c.

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John gets back a little after six, Alex asleep in his arms, and goes straight into the other room to put him down. Cam turns the kettle on to make tea, and takes a couple of deep breaths. He's not nervous, exactly, just... Okay, maybe a little nervous.

John looks tired when he comes back out and Cam remembers him saying he hadn't slept in thirty hours, probably longer, since he's coming off a wraith attack on the city. John takes the tea and sits down, leaning his head back and closing his eyes. Cam just wants to touch, to be close, and that makes it easier, makes him feel more certain.

"I spoke to Landry while you were out," he says. "He's going to transfer me permanently to the 201 project, with occasional consulting for the SGC." SG1 hasn't really been a team all year, not since he took a bad fall off-world and got sent over to Petersen while he fully recovered, and this is probably the end of them. Jackson's already gone, and Sam's been spending more and more time at Area 51 or in her lab. Cam suspects Teal'c will stick around and that Landry will happily find a place for him in the SGC, but he's not so sure about Vala, wouldn't be surprised to hear that she's made a break for it, or skipped through the gate to Atlantis.

He never expected to be the one to finally pull SG1 apart, and he's not sure quite how to deal with the fact of it yet, even after a year without them.

John's looking at him with wide, unblinking eyes, mug frozen half-way to his lips. "I thought..." he says.

"I know," Cam says, feeling obscurely guilty for a moment. "Landry's going to swing me a few days leave starting Monday. I thought maybe we could start on painting Alex's room."

The smile that spreads slowly over John's face is warm and sweet and makes something in Cam ache. He has a son with this man, now, probably the closest they'll ever get to marriage. "Yeah," John says, sounding completely content. "Yeah, that sounds good."

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Cam wakes up to John's soft-voiced cursing, and the sound of something thumping closed; it's only when he fights through half-awake disorientation that he realizes it was the bedroom door closing, with John on the other side. He's had long enough to get used to John moving around in the night, enough that it doesn't usually wake him, though he can't figure out what's different this time. He gets out of bed, checks the alarm clock – three thirty.

Neither the bathroom nor the kitchen lights are on, and for a confused moment Cam thinks John's left. Then his brain kicks in again and he goes back down the corridor to Alex's room. The door's open, spilling light from the bedside lamp into the hall. John's lying on top of the covers, Alex pressed close against him, arms tight round John's neck. Neither of them is saying anything, but John's running one hand down his spine, over and over, his head close to Alex's, so Cam can't see his face.

Cam leans in the doorway, watching them, barely awake; he knows something's wrong, but he feels like he could stand there all night, just watching them, absorbing the sense of belonging that he's only just realizing he's been missing for the last year away from his team. He starts an absent list in the back of his head: furniture for Alex's room, daycare, phone Sam before she has chance to get pissed at him for not telling her what's going on – maybe go into the mountain, tell them in person that he's not coming back for a while. He drifts into trying to think what they need to do for John, but there's nothing; he's had a key for four years, had his stuff in the apartment for two, even had his bike parked there for a while, though everyone thinks it's Cam's. Maybe it's not so weird that John assumed he'd want to be Alex's other dad; they've apparently been moved in with each other for years already.

He blinks, coming properly awake again, and John's looking at him over Alex's head, weary-eyed.

"You staying here?" Cam asks quietly. Alex's breathing is faint and whistling, and Cam doesn't want to wake him.

"Yeah," John says. He looks down at Alex for a moment, then back up to Cam, expression a mix of query and invitation.

Cam shoves off the door and goes to sit on the edge of the bed. John shifts back, carefully, taking Alex with him, and Cam stretches out into the space, Alex warm and limp between them, John's hip under Cam's hand.

"He has nightmares," John says quietly. "He doesn't know where he is when he wakes up, and he keeps – he's asking for someone, but I don't know who." Cam rubs his thumb back and forth over John's hip, and John sighs. "His whole civilization's gone." He looks up at Cam, bleak and weary. "How do we tell him that he can't talk about it? Or... it's not like there are books, you know? About his planet, or his people. I don't want him to forget."

Cam doesn't say that Alex is two years old, that he's already forgetting and they can't change that, can't stop it. Alex might not be from Earth, but of the three of them, he's probably going to have the easiest time dealing with people who don't know about aliens and stargates and Ancient technology, because those things will be no more real to him than they are to most people on Earth. At best, they'll be stories from a past he can't imagine, like Cam's grandfather and his best friend, talking about ships and a war that Cam couldn't imagine, even after fighting his own.

"We won't let him forget," he says. "He'll be the youngest person ever to get high security clearance, and we've got enough friends in the program to still have new stories when he's graduating college."

It's true, and even if it wasn't, it would be worth it to watch John smile like that.

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John's phone rings while they're looking through a book of paint samples at Home Depot. "Work," he says, flipping it open. "Sheppard."

"That one!" Alex says, distracting Cam as John drifts away slightly.

That one turns out to be lime green, which Cam can't imagine anyone in their right mind and over two years old thinking is a good color for a room. "How about that one?" he suggests, pointing to a nice pale yellow.

"No!" Alex shakes his head firmly.

"Blue?" Cam tries, pointing to a soft blue. They could paint clouds, airplanes – with two Air Force pilots for fathers, Alex is pretty much stuck with that, though Cam wonders if Alex will rebel in later life and become a marine or something. Or, worse, join the navy, where he won't even have a shot at joining the SGC. He wonders if Alex inherited the Ancient gene from John.

"No."

"Purple?" Purple's a good, gender-neutral color and won't look too bad against the pale gray carpet Cam already has in there. He doesn't mind painting, or putting together furniture, and he can even handle hanging curtains, but he draws the line at ripping up carpet. If that's going to happen, he's going somewhere else till it's over.

"No."

"Pink? Or, hey, how about red, huh, kiddo? Like..." He thinks of the red-paneled jackets that Atlantis' expedition leaders wear, and then can't think of anything else. Not that it matters.

"No. That one."

"Really set on green, aren't you?" Cam turns the page, if only so he doesn't have to look at the ghastly bright green for another minute. There's no sign of John – he must have gone outside with his call. "How about we compromise? That's a nice green, isn't it?" He picks out a soft, apple green, one that won't look too cold in the winter.

"No," Alex says firmly.

"Figured you'd say that," Cam tells him. "Maybe we'll wait till Daddy comes back and see what he says, how does that sound?"

"Daddy?" Alex asks, looking around from his perch on Cam's hip. He's showing no ill effects from last night's bad dreams, to the point that Cam's not even sure he remembers them.

"He's right outside," Cam says, filling his voice with reassurance. Even allowing for John being the only familiar face around right now, there is absolutely no way that John *didn't* spend most of his time with Alex on Atlantis, for them to be this attached to each other after a couple of weeks. It's kind of scary, until he remembers that John came to him – John wants him to be a part of this family, and then it's a warm, gooey sensation that makes him feel like an idiot. "He'll be back in a minute."

"Dad?" Alex says, and Cam feels a tiny hand tighten in the back of his shirt.

"I'm not going anywhere," he says. "Unless – do you want to go on an adventure?"

"What's adventure?" Alex asks. He sounds curious rather than worried, and the hand in Cam's shirt eases a bit.

"Adventures can't be explained," Cam tells him solemnly. "Only experienced. We are going to go on an epic adventure. In search of –" He drops his voice and Alex leans in close enough for his hair to brush Cam's cheek. "The wild, untamed, shower head."

"Is scary?" Alex asks, wide-eyed and utterly trusting.

"Terrifying," Cam says, squeezing him close. "They've been known to kidnap little boys and eat them."

"Eat them?" Alex says. There's a little bit of fear in his voice, and he looks around like one might be sneaking up on them right now.

"You don't have to worry about that," Cam says. "I eat roving shower heads for breakfast."

"With syrup?" Alex asks. Syrup, it turns out, is a treat surpassed only by... actually, Cam doesn't know what it's surpassed by. Atlantis' always wavering food supply situation does weird things to people.

"Sometimes with syrup," Cam agrees. "Mostly with milk."

"You eats this one?"

"If it comes near you," Cam promises. "I won't let anything happen to you." He sounds weirdly serious to his own ears, but Alex doesn't notice. "You're my look-out," he says, and Alex nods seriously. At least no-one's tried to teach him to salute, though possibly only because no-one on Atlantis *does* salute.

They've tracked and subdued three shower heads when John finds them again.

"Daddy!" Alex reaches for John as soon as he's close enough, but keeps one arm round Cam's neck, wanting a hug rather than for John to take him. John grins at Cam, who has to fight down the sudden urge to reach over and kiss him. Even in today's more open-minded Air Force (quotation marks very definitely implied – he's seen it written down often enough), it doesn't seem like a good idea on Sunday morning in the middle of Home Depot.

"We's hunting showers for Dad's breakfast," Alex tells John.

"It doesn't look like you've captured any," John says, looking around him exaggeratedly.

"They's not right."

"I see," John says. "Which way do we go to hunt another one?"

"That way!" Alex says, pointing unerringly back to the paint aisle. Cam just hopes he's forgotten about the lime green paint.

"Everything okay?" he asks under Alex's muttered threats to any shower heads which might be lying in wait.

John nods, though he doesn't look entirely convinced. "They want me to stay on at the Mountain, act as a liaison with Atlantis. Solving problems, working with the scientists in the Mountain on any Ancient tech McKay can be persuaded to part with, screening people to go out there."

It's obviously a position that's been created for John, and one that he's not too keen on – compared to being in command of a city in another galaxy, going on missions and flying spaceships, Cam's not surprised. He's not exactly thrilled to be giving up SG1, but at least he gets to carry on flying. As second choices go, it's a pretty good one. "Did you say yes?" he asks.

John nods again. "I've only got a couple of years to go," he says, looking at Alex, reminding Cam, who sometimes forgets, that John (a) is a few years younger than him and (b) had a gap between high school and college that he never says more than that about. "I'll survive."

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Alex won't be turned around on the lime green paint, so John takes him off to look at door handles, while Cam buys apple green paint, and they act appropriately disappointed when it doesn't look lime green on the patch of wall they test it on. Cam's fairly sure Alex will have forgotten about it by morning.

When John climbs into bed, Cam reaches out, running a hand through John's hair. "How did you get paint in your head doing half a wall?"

"Special talent," John says, turning slightly so his cheek is against Cam's inner arm, and desire crashes over him. John's been back for two days, after six months away, and they've barely done more than kiss hello.

John's eyes widen slightly, like he's just realized the exact same thing, and then Cam's being pulled down, John's mouth warm and open under his, John's hand skating over his skin like he can't decide where to touch first.

They shove each others clothes aside in a frantic rush, and Cam wants to slow down, knows they probably should, if only because John's eyes have gone unfocussed and he moans too loudly when Cam runs a hand down the bare line of his spine. It doesn't matter – he wants closer, faster, now, now, John spread out under him, arching into his hands, cock hard against Cam's thigh when John pushes up against him.

Cam kisses him again, one hand tangling in his hair, the other reaching down to stroke both of them, and John groans again, too loud like he sometimes is when he gets lost in his own head.

"Ssh," Cam says against his mouth, but John's not listening, panting for breath so he probably can't even hear –

Cam stops, trying to steady his own breathing so he can listen, and John shifts, dragging his cock against Cam's.

"Don't, don't," John says, eyes closed. "Cam, please, don't," and then his eyes snap open, looking right at Cam, utterly focused. "Alex."

Cam nods, shifting away and trying not to groan when the movement drags his skin against John's. He ducks down, reaching for his discarded boxers, and when he looks up, John's almost out the door. He knows it's bad timing but he can't help the laugh that breaks through.

"What?" John asks, turning back, frowning. It's more that somewhat ruined by the fact that he's still mostly hard and completely naked.

"Maybe put some pants on first," Cam suggests, standing up so he can put his own boxers on and brush past John. "Unless you want to scar him for life before he's old enough to remember it."

hr

They spend Cam's week of leave painting Alex's room, replacing Cam's generic guest furniture with stuff more suitable for a two and a half year old child, making sure both Alex and John have clothes that are appropriate for Earth. They take Alex up into the mountains for a day and end up carrying him back to the car when he falls asleep; they take him to the zoo, which keeps him awake, in an overwhelmed kind of way, until he spots the giraffes and refuses to leave their enclosures.

Friday afternoon, Sam comes to visit; when Cam opens the door, she's out of uniform, for the first time he can remember in weeks, and grinning at him. Behind him, the radio in Alex's room is blasting We Built This City, because Alex turns out to love eighties pop music, something that Cam's already regretting accidentally introducing him to with an incautious turn of the radio dial.

"Welcome to the madhouse," he says, grinning back at Sam, who laughs.

"Believe me, this feels like a haven of peace and tranquility compared to my week. You going to let me in?"

"On your own head be it," Cam warns, standing to one side to let her in. "John – Sam's here."

The music cuts off enough for Cam to hear John saying, "Let's go meet Dad's friend, okay, buddy?"

"Dad?" Sam asks, her eyes bright with amusement, and Cam feels his face heat unexpectedly. He can't help the dumb grin he knows is on his face. Sam's expression softens, but she doesn't have chance to say anything before John comes out, Alex half-hidden behind his leg, classic two-year old shyness.

"Colonel," John says.

Sam rolls her eyes. "You're living with one of my best friends and we've known each other for three years, John. I think you're okay to start calling me Sam."

"Sure," John says, giving Cam visions of months of cut off 'Colonel's' until he gets the habit.

Sam crouches down, digging in her backpack for a moment. "You must be Alex," she says. "My name's Sam."

Alex leans a little round John's leg, looking at her in cautious silence, then up to Cam, who smiles reassuringly. Alex goes back to watching Sam.

"I don't know what your, um, your parents have told you," she says, one hand still in her backpack. "But it's traditional here to give people presents when they move in." She draws out her hand, holding a brown paper bag containing something odd-shaped; Cam suspects a soft toy.

"For me?" Alex asks uncertainly.

Sam gives him a wide, reassuring smile, and nods. "For you."

Cam looks over at John, who's watching Alex, smiling slightly. Alex keeps one hand on John's leg, reaching out with the other to take his present, sitting down to open it without letting go of John.

Unsurprisingly, Cam guessed right – it's a soft-looking blue helicopter, with a face.

"Tis it?" Alex asks Sam.

She glares up at Cam. "You've had him for a week and he doesn't know what a helicopter is? What kind of Air Force father are you, Mitchell?"

John chokes and Cam ignores him.

Sam just shakes her head. "It's called a helicopter," she tells Alex. "You've seen a plane, right?" Alex nods, making a swooping gesture with the hand holding the helicopter. "It's kind of like a plane, only it has propellers, instead of wings." She touches the propellers, which turn out not to spin. Cam's not going to ask why the helicopter has a face, or why it's blue.

"Pellers," Alex says, touching them alongside Sam's hand.

"Yeah," Sam says.

Alex grins. "Copter," he tells John, holding it up for the two of them to see.

"Close enough," John agrees. "Say thank you."

"My pleasure," Sam says.

She stays through three rounds of snakes and ladders, even though Alex is too young to really understand the rules, through dinner and ice cream, helps Cam wash up, and looks pleased when Alex climbs into her lap when they join him and John for twenty minutes of calming down time before Alex's bath.

Cam's out of practice – he doesn't realize he's being cornered until John's offered to give them some time to catch up, and gone to give Alex a bath by himself.

"So." Sam twists round, resting one bent leg against the back of the couch and looking at Cam intently. "Now you're a dad."

"Yep." It hasn't gotten any less weird in the last week – Cam's got a feeling that's going to take a while.

"I didn't think you guys had talked about that." It's a fair comment – Sam's known about the two of them since just before she went to Atlantis, because Cam didn't think it was fair for her to go out and serve with John and not know, and John was in another galaxy, so he couldn't argue. Cam's always been able to tell her most things, even more so since she came back from Atlantis weirdly invested in his and John's relationship.

He shrugs, uncomfortable. It's not that he minds that John pretty much assumed Cam would want to raise a child with him, more that they still haven't talked, and they really need to. As far as the law is concerned, Cam has no claim to Alex at all; he doesn't even know what Alex's birth certificate says, if he even has one.

"Cam?" Sam says, frowning at him.

"Nothing," he says. "Just... zoned out."

"You are okay with this, right? It's what you want, you're not just..."

"Agreeing to it because I don't want to lose him?" Cam fills in. He doesn't have the words to explain this, how he never really thought about it before and now can't imagine why not, but the look on his face must be saying enough, because Sam breaks into a warm, happy smile, and leans forward to hug him.

hr

Monday morning, Cam wakes up to John draped half over him, already awake and watching him.

"Alex?" Cam asks. Night-time comfort has defaulted to being John's job, mainly because John's the one Alex wants, some kind of Pegasus-connection that Cam can't share. It's okay; he's got plans to take Alex down to the base and show him round the shiny new 201s, and then they can talk special connections to their son.

John shakes his head, looking pleased. "Slept all night." He traces his left hand down Cam's chest to rest at the elastic of his boxers. "Alarm's not going to go off for another half hour," he adds.

Cam's body gets with the program fast – he'd challenge anyone not to after one frantic, aborted go round followed by five days of painting and decorating while wrangling a two and a half year old – and he's coming so hard when the alarm goes off that he doesn't even hear it.

The floating sense of goodwill gets him through morning routine, showers and breakfast and trying to remember where he left his ID. It takes a pretty hard knock when it's time for him to actually leave though, Alex's hand tight in the collar of his shirt, face pressed into Cam's neck, and Cam doesn't want to go. He hasn't been more than a room away from John and Alex for nine days.

"I'll be home this evening," he offers, speaking as much to John as he is to Alex. "You won't even have time to miss me."

Alex clings harder and doesn't say anything. He's not crying, small mercy, except not really because Alex doesn't cry, really, just cuddles close and silent for comfort. Cam feels like an utter bastard for leaving; telling himself that every parent goes through this doesn't help, and neither does his appointment to go look round the base day care that afternoon. There's no way Alex could go to day care in the Mountain, if one even existed there, which it doesn't, but it means Cam gets to be the parent saying goodbye and leaving their child in a strange place every day for the next couple of years.

"Come on, kiddo. You've got to help Daddy finish putting together the bookcase, remember? I'm relying on you to make sure he does it right."

"Hey!" John says gamely, despite the way he's blinking twice as often as usual. He steps up beside them and hooks one arm round Alex to take him, fingertips brushing against the bare back of Cam's neck as he does it. "Who's the one who put the hinges on backwards on the cupboard?"

"Dad," Alex says very quietly, going to John easily enough, but not hiding his face. That's got to be a good sign – Cam's never met a two year old who wanted to be held as much as Alex does, though he's never met a two year old whose entire civilization was culled by the wraith either. In Alex's place, he'd probably want some comfort as well.

"Promise not to let him put the shelves in upside down," he tells Alex firmly. Alex smiles, a bit, and nods. "Good man."

Cam kisses John goodbye and leaves, before he can change his mind, or say something stupid. They're going to need a new car, he thinks, pulling out into the morning rush hour; John's SGC pool car has to go back in a few days, and Cam's Mustang is definitely not child friendly.

hr

"Hey, sir," Captain Harris says when Cam walks into their hanger. A handful of the others look up at her greeting and nod, but most of them are busy checking their aircraft, even though they're not going up until the afternoon. "Everything okay?"

It's the first time it occurs to Cam that he has no idea what his trainees got told about why he disappeared on them for a week; it's on his file as family compassionate leave, which is both vague and inaccurate, but it's not like there's a designation for suddenly becoming the father of a child from another galaxy, especially when the existence of said other galaxy is pretty much still a state secret.

"Everything's fine, thanks, Captain," he says. "Who did they send to cover me?"

She names an Air Force major from the SGC who Cam's only heard of, never met, which sparks a chain of "he saids" that gets them through the half hour before they're actually supposed to be in class.

He finds it hard to focus on what he's supposed to be teaching them, his thoughts drifting back to John and Alex, what they're doing, whether Alex has got over not wanting to say goodbye yet. It's a good thing they're pretty far along with their training, far enough that they fill in his gaps until it almost seems like he meant for them to be there.

He makes himself not call when they break for lunch, forcing himself to pull it together ready for the afternoon's practical session, but it's still a relief to get to the end of the day and go home.

hr

When Cam opens the door, Alex and John are sitting side by side on the couch, laptop open on John's knees. John looks up, grinning, and says, "Honey, I'm home?" mocking and knowing. Cam nods, because he had been about to say it, unable to resist the joke.

"Dad!" Alex scrambles out of the depths of the couch to hug Cam round the knees.

"Hey kiddo. What you up to?"

"Writing a nemail," Alex tells him – they're working on the a/an thing, working on being the operative phrase there. "To Rodney and Ronon and Teyla and Torren and Evan and Mr. Woolsey and Jennifer and Radek and Dusty."

Cam glances at John who nods. "Must be a long email," he says to Alex. "Aren't your fingers tired?"

"Daddy's writing it. I tell him what to say."

"I see." Cam lets Alex lead him over to the couch, where John tilts the computer slightly so Cam can read the screen. It is a long email, made more so by John's own comments in brackets throughout Alex's rambling account of the last couple of days. Cam's not surprised any longer; John, it turned out, when he went back to Atlantis, says a lot more by email than he ever does out loud. Nothing really personal, but Cam got to trying to schedule missions around the weekly data burst from Atlantis so that he could read John's accounts of missions and command and the food in the city as soon as they arrived in his inbox. He picked up the habit in return, writing bits and pieces all week and only sending the message to be compressed for the data burst at the last moment, almost as good as having John there to talk to.

"Tell Evan that if he thinks I don't know who's responsible for my Firefly DVDs disappearing last time you were in the galaxy, he's a lot dumber than he looks," Cam offers. He suspects John more than Evan, but his DVDs haven't reappeared with John, and Evan's most likely to have them.

John types for a minute, Alex watching his fingers, then says, still looking at the screen, "They're promoting him to Lieutenant Colonel. He's going to take over Atlantis."

"Yeah?" Cam says. He can't read John's voice or his face, not that he really needs to. He knows John well enough to know what he's thinking. "Alex, why don't you go get your helicopter, okay?"

Alex scrambles down again, running down the corridor to his room.

"It's better than having some stranger come in," Cam says, figuring he might as well start with something fairly neutral.

John nods, fast. "Lorne'll do a good job. They respect him, he's used to Pegasus and Woolsey. Quick on his feet in a crisis."

Cam gives it a few seconds, listening to Alex searching for the helicopter toy, which is probably under his bed, but John just stares at the computer screen. "Regretting leaving?" Cam asks quietly.

John half turns his head, not looking at Cam, but far enough for Cam to see the shadow of a wry smile. "We couldn't stay there," he says, and Cam hears all the meanings layered in that, shifts close and leans into John, so that Alex, when he comes back, ends up curled in both of their laps.

hr

Cam's pretty sure that leaving every morning is supposed to get easier, but it doesn't. To his mild self-disgust, it actually gets harder, because he doesn't just want to not leave Alex, he doesn't want to leave John either. He tells himself that they've gone months without seeing each other, that he's an adult and perfectly capable of surviving a few hours away from John, but it doesn't help. He still has to force himself not to call on his lunch break.

"I don't want to pry, sir," Captain Harris says after a few days, sitting down opposite him. They usually all sit together, Cam's trainees trying to pry the secrets of his last few years out of him, but today his little band have taken themselves off base for reasons they didn't choose to disclose. Probably so Harris, who's the designated spokesperson of the group and more Cam's friend than any of the others, can make sure he's not heading for a nervous breakdown. "But is everything okay? You know, at home."

"Everything's fine," Cam says, giving her his most reassuring smile, the one he used to use when SG1 were trying to persuade people that they could stand up to the Ori without being killed en masse. He can't imagine needing it much any more.

"Because if there's anything we can do to help," Harris goes on, leaning on her elbows and looking at him intently across her bowl of soup. "You know you only have to say."

"There's really nothing wrong," Cam assures her. "Just going through a few changes." He wants to tell her that he has a son, now – hell, he wants to tell everyone he knows, not just people from the SGC who can hear the real story. He wants to tell Harris that he's just given up a job he loved in exchange for a family and that he doesn't really know anything about how it's going to work, that he has a two year old son, now, and a live-in boyfriend. And he can't tell her any of this, because he and John don't have a cover story for Alex yet, haven't discussed what they'll tell people about their own relationship. He hasn't even called his parents yet, because he's waiting for John without knowing what he's waiting for John to do.

"It's just that you've been a bit distracted all week," she adds. "Sir." The smile she gives him is faint and worried, and Cam doesn't know how to reassure her when nothing's wrong.

"I appreciate the offer," he says, since it never hurts to be polite, and he really does. He's going to miss Harris and her fellow trainees when they move on, more than he has any of the others. "It'll work itself out, don't worry."

"If you say so, sir," she says dubiously, but gamely changes the subject to the manned mission to Mars that's just been announced to be taking place in the next five years. Cam grins at her enthusiasm – she wants to be chosen – and reminds himself, again, that he has to pull it together.

hr

He's got the weekend off, which is one thing to be said for being a trainer instead of leader of a gate team. They take Alex to the park near Cam's apartment and try to teach him the basics of football, which are unsurprisingly lost on him, but send him straight to sleep after dinner on Saturday.

On Sunday, Alex throws up three times before midday, then curls up in a miserable ball against John and falls asleep.

"Stomach bug," Cam says, sitting on the edge of their bed, where Alex insisted on being, and stroking their son's sock-clad foot.

John, leaning back against the wall, nods, one hand on Alex's back, rubbing slow circles. "Lemonade and crackers," he says absently, like word association rather than conversation.

"Pomegranate tea," Cam says. "My grandmother swore by it." It tasted revolting, but it worked, or at least, he believed it did at the time.

"Got any in the cupboard?" John asks, half-serious.

Cam shakes his head. He feels worn out already, and the day's not even half over. He's never been great at watching people he cares about while they're in pain, always ends up twitchy and anxious until they're okay again, even when he knows they'll be fine, and it's worse with Alex. All that helplessness kicked up a couple of notches, and knowing that Alex won't remember this in a couple of weeks doesn't help.

He gives in to the inevitable and lies down on what's nominally John's side of the bed, sliding one hand round till he's covering John's. John sighs and slides down until they're eye to eye over Alex's head. It's probably time they took him for a haircut.

Cam opens his mouth to suggest it, but what comes out is, "I want to tell my parents."

John blinks, but doesn't say anything.

"About Alex, and properly about you." They know about John, know that him and Cam are involved and that John's stationed somewhere far away, but that's pretty much all they know. Cam wasn't willing to say anything while don't ask don't tell was still in effect; no-one was ever going to ask his family, but it still felt too much like asking them to lie. "I want you to meet them, and my brother, and I want to know what the hell I'm supposed to tell people when they ask where I suddenly got a two year old son from." John's still looking at him like *he's* the one who turned up more or less unannounced from another galaxy with a child, and Cam's apparently lost the filter between his brain and his mouth, because the next thing he hears himself saying is, "I want to tell people that you're back for good," and he sounds weirdly earnest and oddly sad, like five years of missing John have just caught up with him.

"Okay," John says.

Cam's spent a fair amount of time around John and McKay over the years, but suddenly McKay's tendency to throw his hands up in despair at John makes a lot more sense, because the only thing stopping Cam from doing exactly that is that their worn-out, sick child is asleep between them.

John must pick up on it, because he sighs, sounding exhausted and sad. "We spent twelve hours in quarantine at the SGC," he says. "Getting checked for viruses and trackers and... Alex slept through most of it, and I sat there and tried to come up with an explanation for everyone. A cover story, something plausible." He looks down, sliding his fingers between Cam's. "You want to know what I came up with? I donated sperm to a bank before I got my last posting, and the woman who ended up using it died. That the agreement I'd had when I did it included them contacting me if anything happened to the mother of a hypothetical child, so there was no-one left to raise him."

Cam swallows against the bitter taste at the back of his mouth, because now he's thinking of all the other possible stories, and he doesn't like any of them. John sleeping with a woman and getting her pregnant three years ago would mean John cheating on him, in most people's eyes, and he doesn't want people thinking that of John, even if they know it's not true. No-one's going to believe that Alex doesn't have some genetic connection to John, and the other possibilities aren't anything he wants to put on his son for the rest of his life.

"You think people would believe that I'd give up a top secret posting to come back and push paper for a kid I'd never met and never intended to have?" John asks, voice twisted with bitterness. Cam can't believe he can't see the irony, that that's *exactly* what he's done. If they're anything like Cam, people won't be surprised; John's always lit up around kids, for all that he's done a good job of accepting that he'll never have any. The one thing about this that doesn't surprise Cam is how much John would give up for a child, especially once he'd had a chance to bond with the child.

"Yeah," he says quietly, taking a leaf out of John's book. "I think that's a good story." Not least because it's not that far from the truth.

John goes quiet, Alex still sleeping between them. Cam hopes he'll sleep off the rest of the bug, even if it means he'll be up until some ungodly hour of the night.

"Tell people I'm back for good," John says suddenly. "I'm sick of hiding. Tell them – we'll make it legal, you and Alex."

Cam feels himself grinning like an absolute idiot, and he doesn't care, because, God, he had no idea how good it would feel to hear that, and John's grinning back at him, shy and pleased, and Cam wants to do something loud and disruptive and can't.

He settles for dragging John's mouth against his for a long minute, careful not to wake Alex, and when he lets go, he says, "We need to buy a car."

hr

"You asked a US Marine to babysit our son," Cam says, leaning in the kitchen doorway with his mug of coffee and watching John tie Alex's shoe laces ready for day care.

"Not so tight," Alex says, like he has done every morning for the last six months. Cam can't tell if John keeps doing it just for Alex's comment, or if Alex just says it out of habit.

"Sorry, buddy," John says, starting to retie the laces. "Yeah, Laura Cadman."

"Yeah, well, a US Marine," Cam repeats. "Alex, did you grab your helicopter?"

Alex nods, watching John's hands on his laces with excessive concentration.

"She's good with kids," John says. "Alex likes her."

"Alex likes everyone," Cam says. It's true; since John started at the Mountain, their apartment has become a weird kind of home for wayward ex-Lanteans still working for the SGC or in Colorado Springs. John's ex-staff seem to think they're completely incapable of looking after themselves; or, which Cam thinks is more likely, they like Alex, as much as he likes them, and John and Cam are just the excuse to come spend time with their son.

"You'd prefer Vala?" John asks.

"Vala!" Alex bounces a little; he may like pretty much everyone they know, but he definitely likes the really tough women best; apparently Teyla had a strong influence on him for the two weeks he was in Atlantis.

"No, not Vala," John says firmly; he's less taken with her than Alex, possibly because the first time they met on Earth, she offered her services to spice up their relationship, which might not have been such a problem if she hadn't said it in front of General Landry.

"How about Teal'c?" Cam suggests. "He's great with Alex, and he won't teach our son how to make a bomb out of a toilet roll and some aluminum foil."

"Pretty sure Cadman doesn't know how to do that," John says. He ties the last of Alex's laces and pats his knee. "Good to go. Go find your coat."

"Why do we need anyone to babysit?" Cam asks over the thud of small feet down the hall.

"Because nearly three is still too young to leave him alone for the evening," John says, sitting back on his heels and holding up a hand for Cam to pull him up.

"No, that I got," Cam says. "Why are we leaving him alone with anyone this evening?"

There's only really one possible answer, which is that John wants to go out, the two of them, like a date, and Cam's half-smiling already, waiting for John to admit to it, because he'll say yes, of course, but it's fairly un-John like behavior, something to tease him for. Except John's got his head tipped down, shoulders tense, way too nervous for this to be what Cam thinks it is. "John?"

"Nothing's wrong," John says. "I just – can we talk about it later?"

"Sure," Cam says. He doesn't have a choice anyway, with Alex barreling back down the hall, crashing into his knees and catching his ankle right above his boot with one of the metal toggles on his coat. "All set?"

"Aye aye, sir," Alex says, which is another thing for which to blame Cadman and the rest of John's wayward marines, unless the day care staff at Petersen have suddenly defected to the navy.

"Good job." Cam crouches down to fasten Alex's coat for him. "Say bye to Daddy."

John kneels for a hug, smiling at Alex, and Cam's glad that Alex is too young to realize John's smile is fake. The nightmares have been tapering off for the last couple of months, and Cam doesn't want anything to start them up again; regular monster-in-the-closet nightmares he can handle. Half-remembered Wraith attacks, not so much.

He takes Alex's hand, fishes his car keys out of his pocket, and pulls John to his feet again, not letting go of his wrist even when John's upright. "Call Cadman," he says. "Get her over here. You need me to book something?"

John shakes his head. "Got it covered," he says, and that just makes Cam worry more.

hr

Two and a half months after he and Alex came home, John got really quiet, pretty much overnight. Or rather, he got really quiet with Cam; with Alex, nothing changed, but as soon as they put him to bed, it was like someone had flipped a switch, like John faded out. His laptop, which usually only came out when Alex was around, the two of them playing on it together, started appearing as soon as John sat down, the click of the keys a steady counterpoint to whatever Cam was occupying himself with.

He snuck a quick look a couple of times while John was out of the room; he was writing emails, the kind that went on for pages, to McKay and Teyla and Ronon. It wouldn't have been anything much to comment on, except that Cam had five years of John's voice through email, and they didn't sound like him. Too stilted, too overtly happy, but he couldn't exactly put that to John: you sound too happy, what's wrong?

Still, it was weird, made more weird by the way John, who always slept close anyway, would curl tight into Cam when they went to bed, like he couldn't get close enough. He didn't say anything when Cam whispered, "What's wrong? Talk to me," faking sleep even though he had to know Cam wasn't fooled.

In the end, Cam did the one thing that he thought might actually help, considering he didn't know what he was trying to help *with*: swung a day off to match John's, cleared it with Petersen via Landry, and took John with him onto the base while Alex was at day care.

"I spend enough time at work as it is," John grumbled – Cam had talked him into coming to drop Cam and Alex off, then taken the car keys. "I don't need to spend my day off at your office."

"You're not," Cam assured him. He held the door to the locker room, then poked John in the back when he didn't move. "I know you're sleep deprived this week, but let's go."

"I don't –" John started, then stopped, moving mechanically over to where they kept spare kit. It wasn't exactly the reaction Cam had been hoping for, but then, John hadn't seen the main part of his cunning plan.

Cam's always loved to watch John fly, from the earth or from the air, hell, even in space, a couple of times. It's obvious to anyone with eyes that he loves it, was born to be up there making planes and spaceships and helicopters do improbable, unlikely things like they were made for it. Watching him is one of Cam's guilty pleasures, one he doesn't get to indulge very often.

It turned out that being a passenger while John was flying was a hell of a lot more intense, John's voice low in his ear piece, a running commentary on what he was doing to one of Cam's 201 fighters, something John couldn't have logged more than a couple of hours on, ever. He was better than a couple of Cam's early trainees, something that Cam chose to attribute more to John's natural brilliance than to Cam's own shortcomings as a trainer.

When they climbed out, John's eyes were slightly glazed, his mouth curved up in a satisfied smile that Cam hadn't realized he'd missed, and Cam's whole body was tingling, like he'd been plugged into a low electric current the whole time.

"Can we –" John said, and actually flushed. "Can we go home? Now?"

"Hell, yeah," Cam said, and they wound up jerking each other off against the front door of their apartment, pants shoved down and still wearing their coats.

After, they collapsed on the hall floor, grateful for the soft rug Teyla had sent them – or at least Cam was grateful. John was mostly draped over Cam, so maybe the comfort level of the floor bothered him less. "What was that for?" John asked.

Cam didn't bother pretending he thought John meant the sex. "Seemed like you might need it," he said instead.

John nodded against his shoulder. "First new group of marines arrived in Atlantis a few days ago," he said.

Cam waited, but John seemed to be done, slowly going utterly boneless against Cam as he slid into sleep, and Cam could fill in the gaps for himself, anyway.

hr

Things seemed like they got better after that, but now Cam's wondering if it's just that John realized how obvious he was being and hid it better. He's trying to stop himself from thinking that, focusing on Alex's narration of their walk from the parking lot to the childcare building, when Captain Harris jogs across to them.

"Morning, sir," she says, saluting. Cam returns it with a nod – it took him a while to relearn the habit of saluting. "Morning Alex."

Alex waves. "Hi, Alison."

"Mind if I walk with you?" Harris asks, addressing Alex but looking to Cam for the final response. He nods, happy to have her company as they have some mornings, since her group finished training and she got permanently assigned at Petersen. Cam's pretty sure the SGC are angling to recruit her, judging by some of the faces he's seen around lately; not that anyone's asking him, but he thinks she'd be good there, and he thinks again of asking her over to their apartment, maybe letting her meet Cadman.

"Dad," Alex says, tugging at the leg of Cam's uniform pants impatiently.

"What's up, buddy?"

"Too slow. Gon'be late."

Cam glances at his watch – Alex is right. "It's okay, you can tell your teacher it's my fault."

Alex nods solemnly, running a few steps ahead of them. He knows not to get too far away, or out of Cam's sight, even on the base where he's perfectly safe. Cam's a little bit of a paranoid parent, though nothing compared to John, who seems to have fixated on the dangers of Earth now that he doesn't have the Wraith to worry about.

Harris smiles, falling into step with Cam. "I know you don't believe me, sir," she says, watching Alex stumble into the legs of a young airman, who rights him carefully, glancing over at Cam. "But he really does have your eyes."

Cam rolls his eyes at her, but he can't help grinning. "He the product of some medical mystery I'm currently unaware of?" he asks, safe in the knowledge that she won't – yet – realize how close to the truth this is. Of course, it'll all be different if she does end up at SGC.

"Must be," she says. "He's going to be so handsome when he grows up."

"Yeah, well, his dad already is," Cam says, knowing he's blushing as much as he's grinning. The novelty of people knowing about John hasn't worn off yet. He kind of hopes it never does.

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"You're late," John says when Cam and Alex walk through the front door that evening. He's dressed in jeans and a white shirt, open at the neck, and when he comes across the room to pick Alex up and hug him, Cam can smell his aftershave, dark and smoky.

"Sorry," he says. "Traffic." He will never, ever get used to the way that they complain about the traffic on their commutes, when they used to go to work via wormhole and live a galaxy apart. Somehow, life has become more weird since he left the Mountain, rather than less.

"Cadman'll be here soon, go shower," John says firmly.

"Yes, dear," Cam says, grinning, and John sticks his tongue out at him, making Alex laugh. "Am I dressing up?"

John looks him up and down, taking in the worn jeans he grabbed that morning, and his USAF t-shirt. "More than that," he says.

"You're a big help," Cam says, mock-sincere, and kisses him. Alex says, "Dad!" right in his ear, so Cam kisses him as well, caught up in his little family.

John snorts in amusement. "Shower. Decent clothes. Go, unless you want Cadman to see you in just a towel."

Cam definitely does not want that, not least because he's absolutely sure she'd find a way to take pictures, which would end up making the rounds of the SGC, and he's heard quite enough jokes about him losing his pants, thank you very much. He heads down the hall, catching John's voice telling Alex they've had an email from Teyla and Torren as he turns into the bathroom.

When he comes back out in jeans and a dark shirt, Cadman's shown up and brought –

"Cameron!"

Cam just has time to blink before Vala throws herself into his arms like she hasn't seen him in weeks, rather than having been at the park with him, John, Alex and Teal'c a couple of weeks ago. To his surprise, she's showing no signs of intending to leave Earth, and has even been assigned officially to SG-5, where she's happily driving Colonel Teldy, recently promoted and returned from Atlantis, completely nuts, by all accounts.

"Vala," he says, closing his arms round her waist in case she decides she doesn't need to keep her feet on the floor after all. "Cadman," he adds over Vala's head to where Cadman's on the floor with Alex and a board game.

"Mitchell," she says, grinning. "Hope you don't mind me bringing a friend."

"Hey, if you need back-up to look after my son, who am I to argue?" Cam releases Vala, who gives him one last squeeze before heading back to the floor. She sits very close to Cadman, drawing one knee up to rest against the captain's shoulder, and Cadman looks over with a quick grin.

"Anyone seen John?" Cam asks, biting down on the urge to comment. It reminds him of being a teenager, going with the girl he was seeing to help babysit her next door neighbor's kids, and so they could make out on the sofa once the kids were in bed. He'd rather not think about Cadman and Vala doing exactly that while he and John are out.

"Hiding in the kitchen," Cadman says.

"Too much estrogen in the room for the poor boy," Vala says, sounding terribly sad for him.

"What's that?" Alex asks, looking up from where he's either making a tower of game pieces or arranging an orgy between the plastic dog, the chicken and the thing that's either a camel or a frog. Which is not a thought Cam ever expected to have.

"Think I'll go find him," he says, before anyone can ask him to explain hormones to his nearly-three year old child.

John is indeed in the kitchen, leaning on the sink and looking out at the street-lit parking lot below them. "Cadman says you're hiding," Cam says.

John half-turns, nodding. "Did you know they were sleeping together?"

Cam shakes his head. It's not really all that surprising, though John seems a little stunned.

"You don't think they're planning on having sex here, once Alex is in bed, do you?" John asks, looking genuinely worried about it.

"I think we should leave before they hear you and decide to do it just to mess with your head," Cam says firmly.

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They end up at Zio's, which Alex likes for the open kitchen, John likes for their seafood alfredo and Cam thinks is an over-commercialized travesty of what Italian food should really taste like, no matter how good their cheesecake is. They've been there often enough that it's familiar and comfortable, at least in part because no-one ever looks twice at two men with a child, which sadly can't be said for a lot of other places.

Cam's bracing himself for bad news as soon as they walk in, because he knows John well enough to know that if this was just supposed to be a date, they'd be somewhere a lot less generic. John's chosen Zio's because it's somewhere they both feel safe, and because he has something to say that he's not sure Cam's going to react well enough to for it to be said at home, when Alex is around.

"Want to order a bottle of wine?" John asks. He sounds so close to normal, like he's really trying hard to keep Cam from noticing the incredibly obvious, that Cam can't help but go with it. John'll get to the point eventually, and pushing for it never works.

"Sure," he says, and lets John choose. They won't drink much of it, since someone has to drive them home, but he's fairly sure they could both do with something to help them relax.

Cam doesn't pay much attention to what they talk about through dinner, tucked away in a corner of the restaurant, out of hearing distance of the handful of other diners. His mind's going double-time wondering what John wants to tell him. He's been recalled to Atlantis for some reason. He's being promoted and transferred out of the SGC. There's some kind of problem with Alex, with him being on Earth, or being with Cam, or mixing with Earth children. John wants to go back to Atlantis, with Alex. John wants to go back to Atlantis, without Alex.

When John asks if he wants dessert, he cracks, unable to take the waiting and the worst case scenarios spinning out in his head. "What's going on?" he asks, glad that his voice comes out sounding normal and relaxed, rather than like he's ready to snap.

John twirls his half-empty wine glass by the stem, spilling drops of white wine onto the table. "Nothing's wrong," he says.

"Okay," Cam says slowly. "That doesn't answer the question."

John gives him a self-deprecating smile. "It's not –" He stops, sighs, then looks right at Cam. "I want to quit. The SGC, the Air Force."

Of all the possible things John could have said, that's so much better than any of them that Cam wants to just nod, say okay, sure, go for it, out of sheer relief. "Why?" he says instead. John's got eighteen months to his twenty years.

John sighs again. "I'm bored out of my mind," he says, sounding like he's been waiting a while to say it. "I was actually happy to hear the base alarm go off last week, just because it meant I could actually do something worth doing, take a break from paperwork and vetting scientists. All of whom McKay will hate and lecture me about at length by email."

"Why not ask for a transfer?" Cam asks. He's pretty sure Landry would pull some strings, if only because O'Neill told him to.

"Where to?" John asks. He's starting to look a little desperate around the corners of his eyes, the way he used to when he'd been on Earth too long, needed to get home. This is by far the longest he's been on Earth since he first went to Atlantis. "I can't – there's nothing I want that wouldn't risk leaving you and Alex on your own. I didn't join the Air Force to fill out forms and turn things on."

Cam nods, because it's not like he doesn't understand that; it's why he's not on SG1 any more, why SG1 doesn't currently exist, and why he's glad he's on the 201 program, where he feels like he's still doing something important, something that matters, even if it's not him on the front line any more. "What would you do instead?" It's not like John doesn't have the money to do nothing, if he wants, from seven years of mostly unused pay while he was in Atlantis, as well as what his dad left him, but if John's bored at the SGC, he'll go insane doing nothing.

John looks down, tracing a pattern with the spilled drops of wine, and Cam thinks he's blushing, though it's hard to tell in the dim lighting. "I thought, maybe... Colorado has the alternative licensing program, and they're always looking for math specialists. And working with marines is a lot like working with teenagers some days..."

He trails off, and Cam finally manages to put together what he's not saying. "High school," he says. "You want to teach."

John nods, still studying the table. "I don't know if I'd be any good, but – but it's safe, and it's more... It's better than pushing paper at the SGC, even for Atlantis."

"John." Cam reaches across to touch the back of his hand, waiting for John to look up. "You don't have to justify it. If it's what you want..." It's obvious straight away that John needs more than that, and Cam's happy to give it, especially when it's true. "You'll be great," he says.

John laughs, still self-conscious, but pleased. "It's okay? With you?"

"Whatever you want," Cam says sincerely. "You don't need my permission, anyway."

John makes a weird face. "Of course I do," he says, like it's obvious.

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Laura and Vala are fully dressed and watching a gory-looking horror movie over a nearly empty bowl of popcorn when John and Cam get home.

"You're late," Vala says, looking pointedly at her watch.

"It's barely midnight," Cam protests.

"Some of us need our beauty sleep, Cameron," Vala says primly.

"By which she means neither of us," Cadman puts in, standing up and taking the bowl through to the kitchen.

"Naturally, darling," Vala says over her shoulder. She turns back to Cam and John, who's unfastening his jacket with great concentration. "Now, boys, what kind of example are you setting to your impressionable young son by staying out until all hours?"

"The kind that he won't notice because he's in bed asleep," John says dryly. "Cadman, any problems?"

"No, sir," she says as she comes back into the kitchen. "Absolute angel, nothing like his father."

John shakes his head. "I could still have you up for insubordination, Captain."

"Not for much longer," Cam mutters, too low for anyone but John, stood right next to him, to hear. John grins.

"Well, it's been a pleasure," Cadman says, offering Vala a hand up from the couch. "And now it's time for us to go home."

"Ah, the delights of a cold empty room under a hundred feet of rock," Vala says pointedly.

Cadman rolls her eyes. "Fine, come stay on my couch. I don't know why I'm not charging you rent." Vala opens her mouth, and Cadman puts one hand firmly over it. "Please don't answer that. He used to be my CO."

"You're no fun," Vala says, but she puts on her coat and shoes and leaves behind Cadman without any more innuendo, which Cam thinks may just be a first.

John locks the door behind them and drifts over to where Cam's unplugging the TV. "Ready for bed?" he asks, wrapping his arms round Cam from behind.

"Soon as I check on Alex," Cam agrees, but they stay where they are, pressed together in the lamplight, home.

Next: Snow Day


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