Summary: John joins the Ori resistance and discovers something about Cam.
Author's Notes: This is a prequel to With Bloodied Swords. The fic title is from a poem called "This Dark House" by Guy Gavriel Kay, from the collection Beyond This Dark House. This story was written for the sg_rarepairings 2008 Fic Battle, for the prompt "boredom."
John Sheppard was in Antarctica when Earth fell, light years away from his post and his people and nearly everyone he cared about. He knew Earth had fallen because the SGC managed to get a message through to them right before they blew the Mountain, telling them they were now at Romeo-Sierra-Sierra-Tango. He didn't see the live broadcasts of the surrender by various world leaders, but he caught taped excerpts later on. He didn't blame them—they hadn't really had a choice.
It took him three weeks to get back to Colorado Springs; the Ori followers didn't encourage unnecessary travel, so he'd had to take a painfully circuitous route. He thought about stopping off to see his father or brother, but he wasn't sure he wanted to see which way they had gone, and given what he was planning, it was probably better if his family had no idea where he was. He spent a lot of travel time not thinking about where he wasn't.
Back when the SGC had first encountered the Priors, military contingency planners had gone to work and started plotting the "what ifs." One of the main "what ifs" they’d come up with was what if they didn't manage to stop the Ori before they reached Earth? Romeo-Sierra-Sierra-Tango was one of the results. As military commander of Atlantis, Sheppard had been kept up to date on the plan, in the hope that if any ship survived the battle, Atlantis might be able to provide aid. He figured he might as well put the knowledge to some use.
When Sheppard reached Colorado Springs, he went to an address he'd been given and under cover of darkness and the light of a single, lonely crescent moon, left a marked piece of paper under a distinctive rock, then tracked down a hotel room. He didn't think the Ori knew him—not from six weeks of leading an SG team in the Milky Way, not if the SGC had been successful in blowing the Mountain—so he figured he was safe enough using his own name.
He went to the second meeting point the following night. He felt a wave of surprise at the sight of the figure slouched against the wall, waiting for him; he hadn't expected anyone from SG-1 to survive the final battle. He found he was a bit relieved at the discovery—he hadn't been sure how many people would be left who knew what they were dealing with, and it was good to know he wouldn't be alone. He also felt a certain degree of pleasure that it was Cameron Mitchell he'd be working with. Of all of the members of SG-1, Mitchell was the one he'd known best, both from his brief time at the SGC and from a few previous occasions when their paths had crossed. He wouldn't say he knew Mitchell well, but he liked what he knew well enough, and he trusted in the man's competence.
"You finally made it back," drawled Mitchell, offering a grim smile.
Sheppard shrugged tiredly. It had been a stressful month, and he hadn't really had a chance to rest properly from his time in the chair. "It's a long trip."
"Especially these days," agreed Mitchell. "Come on, we need to get inside."
He led Sheppard at a brisk pace through a maze of dark streets, with frequent glances over his shoulder. There were few other people out.
"Curfew?" asked Sheppard.
"Not officially," said Mitchell. "But they get suspicious of anyone who's out at night. Might get pulled in for questioning."
"By the locals or the Ori followers?"
"Same thing in a lot of cases. The Ori have managed to mostly weed out the non-believers from the local police."
"Are they particularly interested in Colorado Springs?" asked Sheppard.
Mitchell shrugged. "A few things happened. People got a bit eager in the early days. Before they realized we had to plan long term."
Mitchell led him into a first floor apartment in a non-descript, low rise apartment building. The location was new, but Sheppard recognized some of the furniture from a handful of friendly poker games at Mitchell's place, during his brief stint at the SGC.
"You moved," he observed.
"I decided it was better not to have a lease with my own name on it." Mitchell flipped on a light. "Make yourself at home. You eat yet?"
He hadn't, and so Mitchell pulled out a frozen pizza and a couple of beers, and began outlining the local resistance movement while they ate.
"We've got a decent communication set-up between the different cells. No hierarchy--each group acts independently unless it needs help from the other groups, and then it's up to them to be persuasive. We all have a pretty good idea of who all’s involved locally, but we try to keep details of locations and operations to people who need to know them."
"What kind of operations are you running?"
"Supply runs. Intel gathering. Sabotage. The occasional assassination. We're trying to get enough info on their technology for the scientists to come up with effective counters. And enough info about their set-up for us to implement those counters."
Sheppard nodded and downed the last of his beer. "Anything current?"
"A couple of minor ops," said Mitchell. "Prep for an intel run. We don't need you for the prep, but could use some help on the actual mission."
"Sure. Whatever you need."
Mitchell looked at him strangely for a moment. "Good." He stacked their plates and stood up. "Have you read the Book of Origin?"
"Not recently," said Sheppard, sliding further into the couch. "I flipped through it in Atlantis a while back."
"Tomorrow's your chance, then. You need to be able to pass as a true believer for the op." He carried the plates into the kitchen.
"What are you going to do?" called Sheppard.
"Gotta talk to some people." The dishwasher clicked on, and Mitchell came back into the living room, carrying two more bottles of beer. He handed one to Sheppard and sat down.
"What was the battle like in Antarctica?"
Sheppard frowned a little and sipped from the bottle. "Exhausting," he said at last. "We lost three ships for sure. The Apollo and the Odyssey might have gotten away, but I’m not sure.”
Mitchell nodded. “We haven’t heard anything from them, so if they’re around, they’re laying low.”
“And what were you up to while I was strapped in the chair?” asked Sheppard, curious again how SG-1 had gotten away.
Mitchell glanced away. “The SGC didn’t notice the Ori ships until they were practically on top of us. Some sort of new cloaking device. We were off-world when the attack began. By the time we made it back, the war was over and all that was left was clean up. We just had time to clear out before they turned on the self-destruct and blew the Mountain to hell.” He sounded unhappy about how events had turned out, a feeling Sheppard could sympathize with.
“Where’s the rest of your team now?”
"Sam's locked away in a safehouse with a bunch of other scientists, working on whatever we manage to bring them. Teal'c and Vala are off leading the resistance in D.C. And Jackson goes back and forth between us and them, trying to keep us all coordinated."
Sheppard avoided the topic of the battle after that, turning the conversation instead to inquiries about daily life on occupied Earth. From there, they drifted into Mitchell's concern for his parents ("just Baptist enough to be stubborn about Origin") and Sheppard's noncommittal noises about his own family, into the things they missed from the world-as-it-had-been, and finally into a comfortable silence.
"I don't know about you, but I'm beat," said Mitchell at last, standing. He collected the remaining bottles and carried them into the kitchen. "Spare bedroom's in the back on the right, bathroom's on the left, toothbrush in the drawer. See you tomorrow."
Mitchell left shortly after breakfast the next morning for his meetings, and Sheppard spent a few dull hours reading through Mitchell's carefully annotated version of the Book of Origin. At last, eyes burning and bored beyond belief, he stood up and stretched, then sat down at the desk and flipped on Mitchell's laptop. He did a bit of desultory skimming, reading news story after depressing news story about mass conversions or the equally depressing plagues and burnings that fell to those who refused to convert. Looking for something a little more upbeat, he began to search for the current college football scores, hit a wrong key, and paused in fascination at the list of past searches that came up in response.
He was still at the computer when Mitchell walked in that evening carrying Chinese.
"Hey," said Mitchell, setting down the food. "How was the Book of Origin? Did you gain any great insights into the Ori?"
"Truth is elusive to those who refuse to see with both eyes wide" quoted Sheppard. He paused for a moment, wondering whether he wanted to go through with this, then added, "Actually, it's been a pretty good day for gaining insights into you."
"Oh yeah?" said Mitchell cheerfully. He walked over to the desk, and leaned lightly on the back of Sheppard’s chair. "And what do you think you’ve figured out?"
Sheppard clicked and pulled up one of the videos he’d found on Mitchell’s hard drive, then twisted in his chair to look at the man behind him. Mitchell glanced down at the screen, and froze.
"That's not..." he stopped and tried again, "I like women just fine. I just..."
That wasn't the reaction Sheppard was looking for--he hadn't wanted to make Mitchell uncomfortable--so he smirked a little and joked, “I’m not sure about your taste there, Mitchell. A little on the thin side, aren’t they?”
Mitchell swallowed hard and shifted his gaze from the screen to Sheppard, and yeah, that was more like it. “You’re one to talk.” He took a step back and crossed his arms defensively. “You too, huh?”
Sheppard swiveled his chair around to look at Mitchell straight on. "I like women just fine too. And given the situation, it made more sense...."
"Yeah," said Mitchell. He took a deep breath, eyes still focused on Sheppard like there was no one else in the world right now. “What do you want?”
“The world’s gone to hell,” Sheppard said quietly, “and I’m…” He stood up and pushed the chair back, meeting Mitchell's gaze, matching intensity with intensity. “What do you want, Cam?”
“Christ, Sheppard.” Mitchell let his arms fall to his sides. “I’ve been thinking about this since Kosovo.”
“I couldn’t exactly say anything.”
“Doesn’t matter anymore,” pointed out Sheppard. “No more military, no more DADT.”
And finally Mitchell smiled, just a little. “Yeah, I knew there had to be an upside somewhere to losing the whole planet.”
Sheppard laughed and stepped forward, closing the distance between them. And as Cameron Mitchell kissed him, he forgot for a little while about the world of destruction that lay around them, and the distant floating city with its multitude of moons that he might never see again.
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