Title: Gray Skies Surround Me
Pairing: John/Cam, kind of slashy, but ultimately gen
Disclaimer: No, I don’t own them. To my profound disappointment
Warnings: Set post-SGA 519 Vegas so *major spoilers* for that episode, and it won't make much sense without seeing it. No spoilers for SG1.
Summary: He still thinks he’s maybe dreaming, because there’s a man, sitting by his bed. A man in Air Force dress blues, smart, blond, head bent, still pretty, even half turned away.
Gray Skies Surround Me
John’s listened to – God, more people than he wants to remember – talk about a light, when they thought they were going to die. He’s always mocked them, in his head, sometimes out loud, but his last coherent thought, cutting through the litany of fuck, fuck, this hurts, did it work, it hurts, let it stop, please, God, did it work is, Fuck, they were right.
He wakes up, briefly, to more lights, hands touching him, voices, and then someone touches the wrong place and he hears himself screaming as he passes out again.
He wakes up, wakes up, wakes up, wakes up, light and noise, and voices he doesn’t recognize, a fog of incomprehension over everything. All he knows is that he isn’t dead, and he’s never conscious for long enough to feel anything about that.
He doesn’t even realize, at first, that he’s awake for real this time. He’s in a hospital bed, not a surprise, private room, which is, a little, but not that much, since he was shot by an alien. Sunlight, machines, normal, expected, he’s done this all before. None of it is anything but normal and expected, signs that he’s awake.
He still thinks he’s maybe dreaming, because there’s a man, sitting by his bed. A man in Air Force dress blues, smart, blond, head bent, still pretty, even half turned away. It makes John’s throat hurt, sudden flash of memory so sharp he’s blinking back tears from the smoke and the sand. There’s no-one in the Air Force who cares enough about him to come sit by his bedside, wait for him to wake up.
There’s no-one at all.
Doesn’t even matter if he’s awake for real – he’s already fading out again, before the guy can look up.
There’s a part of him, as he drifts up, and that’s new, coming up slowly, a part of him that expects the guy to be there still, expects that this is the same dream. There’s a part of him that expects the guy to be gone, no more there than the crashed chopper was.
There’s no part of him that expects the guy to be there, still, only dressed now in blue BDUs and a black t-shirt, leaning back in the visitor’s chair reading a battered paperback. He thinks his brain could maybe conjure an Air Force officer, after McKay dredged up all the memories, but he’s not sure it could conjure an impeccable officer into this guy, relaxed and casual in what’s obviously a base uniform, but not one John’s seen here.
The guy looks up, almost absently. His eyes fix on John’s face, lighten. “Hey, you’re awake.” He’s got a touch of southern in his voice, half-familiar, maybe. A guard? One of McKay’s people? John’s brain is fuzzed out on painkillers, coherent thought somewhere that isn’t here. He was dying in the desert, ready to let go, done his duty, and maybe someone, somewhere would be a tiny bit proud of him, for once, and now he’s not – not in the desert, not dying, not making anyone proud, probably. Not sliding away, and the pain of being shot is gone, but the rest’s still there, dug up and swirled around by McKay and quitting and aliens and being shot.
“Lie still,” the guy says. He leans over John, not quite long enough for John to find the energy to twitch away, then straightens up. “The doctor’s on her way.”
John thinks of the young, blonde coroner, who wasn’t really a coroner at all, maybe, and it’s not the first time he’s wondered where his own coroner really went, but now he’s wondering what these people really do to people who stumble over aliens on Earth. The beat of one of the monitors kicks up, and the guy’s face goes tight. He looks back at the open door, then to John, worry on his face.
John thinks he’s going to touch, thinks of half-forgotten moves, trained and not, but he can feel the tubes going into his body, and he knows he can’t fight.
“It’s okay,” the guy says, low and reassuring. “Try to calm down, you’re okay now, I swear. It’s over, you’re safe. You’re safe.”
And then the doctor’s there, hand on John’s arm, something cold in his IV line, and John hears himself say, “No,” pleading, as he slides away again.
He’s surprised to wake up. Surprised to wake up more coherent, surprised to wake up in the same place, surprised to wake up when there’s still sunlight… Surprised to wake up.
Not quite surprised to see the Air Force guy there again, but not quite prepared to not be surprised, either.
“Try not to panic this time,” the guy says, and yeah, that’s definitely southern in that voice. John grew up in Virginia, but his mom grew up in Kansas, and the guy’s accent is close enough to John’s memories of hers to be comforting on some level he can’t fight. “Dr Lam hates having to sedate her patients before she gets to talk to them.”
John laughs, scratchy and dry. His brain thinks it’s always too soon to start relaxing around people, but he can’t quite fight off the instinctive good vibe enough to believe this guy is waiting around to kill him. They could have just left him there, could have injected him with something while he was incoherent.
He’s done a lot of stupid and not-so-stupid shit on instinct, but never because he hadn’t already worked through the logic first.
The guy grins. “You want to try this again? Lam’s gonna be pissed if you pass out on her.”
John knows he’s still drugged up – has to be, pain turned right down – but he doesn’t have the same tug of unconsciousness as before. “Yeah,” he says.
Lam – Carolyn Lam, not Keller, not the coroner who isn’t his, not one of McKay’s people – is distant and professional and thorough. She doesn’t remind him of anyone, doesn’t ask him anything he’s not ready to answer. Tells him everything he needs to know, about serious injury, and multiple surgeries, prognoses eventual full recovery. Promises him food if he’s still awake in an hour’s time.
Leaves Mr. Anonymous – Colonel Anonymous, from her greeting – behind when she goes.
John wonders if it’s medics he has a thing for, except he’s spent more time in the same room as the colonel than he has with anyone he wasn’t fucking since Afghanistan, and the crawling urge to be away hasn’t come on yet. Has to be more than the accent, and he’s sure as hell not a medic.
The colonel walks Dr Lam to the door, closes it behind her. Comes back to sit by John’s bed, leaning on the edge and looking at him.
“Who’re you?” John asks. He tries to put a little tough detective into it, but it just comes out curious.
“Colonel Cameron Mitchell.” Mitchell tilts his head, kind of like a field salute. “You know, you’re lucky to be alive.”
“If you say so, sir,” John says, and wants to bite it back immediately. Fucking ingrained habits, and he thought he’d shaken that one years ago.
Mitchell winces. “Please don’t,” he says. John wonders if he means the sir or the bitterness. Maybe both. John doesn’t feel lucky, and he doesn’t want to feel inferior. “Cam, or Mitchell. Sir is when I’ve had to yell.”
There’s silence. The crawling feeling is coming up on him after all. He wants to leave. Can’t. Even if he discharged himself, took out the tubes himself, he’s got nowhere to go. Car’s probably destroyed, no job. Left the keys to his apartment behind. Mikey will have been there by now, taken anything worth having.
He wonders why they bothered rescuing him.
“If it wasn’t for the Daedalus beaming Dr Lam and her Ancient machines over here, you’d be dead,” Mitchell says bluntly. His expression isn’t blunt, it’s twisted, anxious. Guilty, maybe, or maybe John’s just too used to seeing guilt.
“The Daedalus,” John repeats. He knows the memories are there, the detail of what McKay told him, but he’s got layers of cotton over them. He’s back in the same base McKay brought him to before, he knows that. Wonders if the Wraith is still there as well. It’s probably starved by now.
“Yeah, one of Earth’s interplanetary ships,” Mitchell says. “Beamed you here, beamed Lam up from the SGC, and don’t ask me how all her Ancient things work, but they sure did the trick on you.”
John nods. Ancient races on other planets, and the chair that John had felt trying to pull him in. Nearly killed by one race of aliens, saved by another one, and if it wasn’t for McKay’s idea of who John should be, none of it would have happened, and John would be somewhere else with the Wraith’s money, starting over.
Or being fed on by a Wraith with a sucker in its hand. Can’t quite believe he’s maybe saved the world.
“The device –“ he starts, unsure. Needing to check.
“We destroyed it,” Mitchell says. That guilt again. It’s not just in John’s head, it’s on Mitchell’s face.
Mitchell’s a lieutenant colonel in the US Air Force. There’s no reason for him to be hanging out at John’s bedside.
You’re a detective. Use your powers of deduction. McKay said that. Maybe. Maybe someone else. Maybe no-one.
“Why’re you here?”
Mitchell looks down, back up. Determined expression. “I was flying one of the planes in the air strike on the Wraith’s trailer.”
He still looks guilty. Doesn’t get it. Doesn’t know.
He’s not responsible for John being hurt. He’s responsible for John being alive.
John falls asleep again not long after that, and when he wakes up, Mitchell’s gone. That’s that, then. See John, make sure he didn’t fuck him over any worse than the rest of this godforsaken operation, duty done, back to his life.
Just like everyone else.
Except that, halfway through the next morning, just as John’s started to get really pissed off with being pretty much tied to the bed by all the tubes Lam refuses to take out yet, there’s a knock at the half-open door.
“Hey,” Mitchell says, leaning round it and grinning at him. “Feel up to a visitor?”
John wants to want to say no, but he doesn’t want to say no. He doesn’t want to be alone here, where no-one knows how to find him and he’s far from sure that anyone really has his best interests at heart. He’s been alone for years, but never so far away that no-one could find him.
Mitchell’s still lizard brain reassuring, even though John doesn’t want him to be.
“Sure,” he says.
Mitchell grins, slides inside. “I would have brought you some grapes, but they’re kind of hard to put my hands on all the way out here.”
John doesn’t know what to say. Mitchell’s joking, obviously, casual banter that John kind of remembers from before, but tough Vegas detectives don’t do banter, they do sharp, sardonic smiles. John can make himself not do that, but he can’t remember how to do the rest.
Mitchell doesn’t seem to care, just drops into the chair by John’s bed again. “You need a radio, at least. Doesn’t the quiet get to you?”
John shrugs. The drugs blot out everything that usually creeps into the quiet. He’ll worry about it when Lam starts lowering the dose.
“Well, it’s getting to me,” Mitchell says firmly. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“You don’t have to keep coming back,” John says, not sure why he does, what he’s expecting.
“I know,” Mitchell says. The guilt flickers on his face for a moment. “But you’re just about the only person here other than Lam who’ll actually talk to me, and she’ll only do it when she’s not harassing the other docs for trying to take over your care.”
John doesn’t know what to make of any of that.
Mitchell grins again. He has a nice smile, open and friendly. John wonders how much of it is put on, if any of it’s real. “So, you a sports fan? Football? Basketball? Baseball?”
“Football,” John says. Whatever’s showing when he can’t sleep, really, but given a choice, football.
“You definitely need a radio,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell never stays long – twenty minutes, half an hour, maybe forty minutes – but he’s never gone for more than a few hours either, keeps coming back. He brings a radio, digital, because John can’t twist for long enough to tune any other kind. He doesn’t bring grapes, but he does bring chocolate, once, and rolls of different candies. John can’t imagine where he’s getting them at the base, wonders if they’re Mitchell’s private stash. Maybe he’s picking them up on his way in, because Mitchell never comes by after nine in the evening, or before eight in the morning.
For five days, Mitchell, Lam, and two nurses are the only people John sees. He’s not sure if it’s on purpose or not, but he finds himself relaxing fractionally, unable to stop it. The most they want from him is for him to take a deep breath or offer up his favorite football team. They’re easy, and nice to him, and it’s been too long since he had either. He doesn’t have any defenses left against it.
On the sixth day, the door to his room opens and McKay walks in.
John was expecting Mitchell, who usually stops by to torture John with the coffee he still isn’t allowed, about this time. The surprise of seeing some else makes his breath catch, and he coughs, halfway to choking, his rapid-healed lungs not up to the strain yet, even with the tubes gone.
McKay stands there, dark suit, neat hair, and waits until John falls back against his pillows, wipes his eyes. Then he moves to stand at the foot of John’s bed, still watching him.
“Detective,” he says finally.
John shakes his head. “I quit.”
“I know,” McKay says. Of course he does. He knows everything about John. Probably knows about Mitchell, whatever there is to know about him. Maybe even sent him. “Mr. Sheppard, then.”
John’s had some kind of rank behind his name since he was twenty-two. His name sounds wrong without it. “Come to thank me for tracking down your alien?” he asks.
McKay’s mouth tilts up, like he’d be smiling if he every managed something like happiness. John knows how that feels. “That was good thinking,” McKay says. It sounds more like an insult than a compliment, but John suspects most of what he says does. He wonders if the flash memory of McKay asking if he was okay, near the end of the weirdest tour he’s ever been on, is real. “You’re lucky to be alive.”
It sounded nicer when Mitchell said it.
“That’s what they tell me,” John agrees, neutral. McKay turns him back into the guy who slid along the edge of insubordination, same tone, same words. The guy who got a lot of people killed, going back… Somehow you’ve managed to live with yourself since then. Though I’m not sure other people would, if they knew the truth. “What do you want?”
McKay just looks at him for a long moment. John fights not to look away, doesn’t succeed. No-one knows as much about him as McKay, and John knows nothing about him. He doesn’t want anyone who knows all his secrets.
“To see you, I suppose,” McKay says eventually. “I wasn’t sure I would again.”
It could mean anything. He thought John would be killed. He thought John would run, take the money. The money. Still in his car, if it wasn’t destroyed. They have to know. He thought he’d go back to Atlantis.
What do you want me to say? and it had felt like – like something was coming, like McKay was going to offer him something. John had tried twice before he could ask the question, not sure if he didn’t want to turn it down or didn’t want to accept it. For the moment, nothing.
“So I see.” McKay doesn’t even blink. “Congratulations on that.” Long pause. “The device the Wraith was using created a small rip in the fabric of space-time. It’s fixed now, but if we’d been much later – well, let’s just say there’s a very good chance neither of us would be here now.”
John breathes. McKay closed the door, and the room feels too small.
McKay looks at him, then nods slightly. “Not so different from that other John Sheppard,” he says, like he’s making some kind of pronouncement. Some kind of statement of intent. Something unpleasant crawls under John’s skin. “I’ll leave you to your recovery. I’m sure you need the rest.”
John nods. Doesn’t take another breath until McKay’s footsteps fade away.
He doesn’t sleep any more that morning.
“Everything okay?” Mitchell asks when he wanders in that afternoon.
“Sure,” John says. It sounds too easy, too relaxed. Faked, but he’s not good with people, hasn’t been in years.
“Okay,” Mitchell says, slow. He sits down though, lets it go. Mitchell is better at people than almost anyone John’s ever met. “You feel up to a movie?”
“Galaxy Quest?” Mitchell’s been insisting he has to see it once the tubes are out and he can sit up for more than ten minutes, ever since John admitted to never having done so.
“Damn straight.” Mitchell shifts slightly. John picked up a few observational skills as a detective, enough to brace himself for whatever’s coming next. “I’m leaving tomorrow.”
It’s not exactly what John was expecting, as much as he was expecting anything, but it’s not so far off. Mitchell flies, and, sure, this place could have planes hidden somewhere, but there’s no way a pilot of Mitchell’s rank who also flies has nothing to do but hang around a secret base in the desert. “Okay.”
Mitchell shifts again, turns the dvd case in his hands. “I’m going over to the Mountain, the SGC. Stargate Command.” He looks up, flash of a grin. “Finally got my chance with them.”
“Good for you,” John says. He doesn’t sound too bitter, to his own ears. Doesn’t know what he has to be bitter about, anyway.
“Thanks,” Mitchell says softly. He shifts closer, looks worried. Looks like he’s going to confess, and John hates confessions, the litany of wrongs, of excuses. “A friend got me into the program, flying F-302s. My flight was nearly shot down, helping SG1 fight off an attack on Earth, five years ago. I’ve been trying to get a spot with an SG team ever since. They promoted me right before the air strike, I don’t usually do that. I was just handy.”
“Okay,” John says again. He wants to ask why Mitchell’s telling him this, as much as he understands of it, amongst the acronyms. Wants to ask why Mitchell’s telling him now. Wants to know how he spent a week with the guy and never thought to ask any of it. “You’re not based here.”
“No. I’ve been screening scientists for the team. It should have been at the SGC, but it was attacked a couple of weeks ago, they needed the space while they rebuilt.”
He says it like it’s nothing. Maybe it is. Base blown up, alien nearly destroys Earth, typical week.
John doesn’t do regrets, unless he’s been drinking. John doesn’t drink. He doesn’t wish he’d never picked up that case file.
“I’m sorry,” Mitchell says. Maybe he even means it. He looks like he does.
He works on a top secret program. He’s probably a good actor.
“I wanted to stay here longer, but you know the Air Force.” He smiles, inviting John to share the amusement, but John can’t. He’s frozen. Mitchell’s smile slides away. “Sheppard? What’s wrong?”
“How did you – I didn’t tell you that.” John sounds frightened, to himself, curses his slipping control. He doesn’t belong with these people. When he’s better, they’ll cut him loose, if he’s lucky, if they don’t do something worse.
Mitchell looks awkward. “No, I’m sorry. I looked up your file.”
“You –“ His file. The rescue mission. All the people who died. John’s dishonorable discharge. Maybe even the sealed record.
Though I’m not sure other people would, if they knew the truth.
“Sheppard.” Mitchell’s on his feet, looking down at John, anxious, tense. “I’m sorry, I should have said before. I wasn’t trying to pry, I wanted –“
John turns his head away, closes his eyes. “I don’t think I’m feeling up to the movie,” he says. It’s stilted, polite, like he learned in his parents’ house. “Can you shut the door behind you?”
Mitchell doesn’t come back. It’s quiet in John’s hospital room, the radio turned off. He’s not drugged enough to doze off again.
He’s not surprised that Mitchell doesn’t come back. Still doesn’t really know why Mitchell kept coming anyway. Mitchell was always going to go off back to his shiny new career; he doesn’t need John as a friend.
John doesn’t need any friends. Sure as hell doesn’t need friends who pity him. He’s been alone for years, and he’s been fine.
Mitchell left the dvd behind, on the little cabinet by his bed. Blue cover just on the edge of John’s vision, constant distraction.
John should ask one of the nurses to take it, but he doesn’t.
A week and a half later, Dr Lam sits down in Mitchell’s chair when she gets done with her examination of John, and leans her elbows on her knees.
“You’re healing much better than I’d expected, given how little we know about the Ancient technology I was using on you, and how serious your wounds were.”
John locks down his expression so it doesn’t show any of the cold, swooping feeling in his stomach. This is it.
“That said, you’re still not a hundred per cent.” She gives him a significant look, not that she needs to. John was there for yesterday, when he tried to lift his right arm above his head and nearly passed out from the pain. “I’m not ready to release you back into society yet, but people are starting to make a fuss about us having all this equipment out here, instead of back at the SGC where it’s more likely to be used.”
According to the male nurse, who likes to prove to John that he knows everything going on in the place, they couldn’t risk beaming John even the slightly further distance to the SGC, brought him here instead. Beaming Lam and her equipment was apparently highly irregular. John suspects McKay’s hand.
“What does that mean?”
Lam smiles slightly. “You and I are going to take a little trip,” she says. John waits, not sure what she’s trying to tell him. “My equipment and I are being recalled to the SGC. You’re not well enough for me to discharge, so you’re coming with me.”
The SGC. The stargate. The general in charge of the project. The project, which he barely understands from the little bits the nurses have told him since Mitchell left.