Pairing: Cameron Mitchell/John Sheppard
Original story: Lines in the Dark by bluflamingo
Word Count: ~3700
Summary: The first time Cameron Mitchell sees John Sheppard, he nearly gives himself away. Later that day, he recruits him onto SG-1.
Notes: Reposted from the gateverse_remix 2008 edition. Thanks to tesserae_ for beta reading. Some of the dialogue was lifted from the original story.
The first time Cameron Mitchell sees John Sheppard, he nearly gives himself away. Tall, dark, and lean has always been Cam's downfall, and it takes him a long moment to realize that his gaze has slipped past neutral into appreciative, which is about as dangerous as openly gaping when you’re on a military base. He snaps back into neutrality immediately, but the image of John Sheppard slouching down the corridor lingers in his mind.
Later that day, he gets a formal introduction, along with a suggestion from General O'Neill that Major Sheppard might be a good addition to the nearly reformed SG-1. For the briefest of instants Cam considers refusing, but he doesn't miss O'Neill's tone—apparently John Sheppard is the newest Jack O'Neill Special Project—and besides, the odds that Sheppard's tastes run in the same direction as his own are pretty slim. So he claps Sheppard on the back and welcomes him to SG-1, and Sheppard nods and agrees and says all the right things, and while Cam thinks he detects something uneasy under the surface assurance, he can’t quite pin it down, so he lets it go.
He gets more of Sheppard’s story from Jackson the next time he stops by the labs to try to persuade the archaeologist to return to SG-1. Jackson, oddly enough, is the one who brings him up, asking Cam how Sheppard is fitting in.
"He was our pilot in Antarctica. Flew people back and forth from McMurdo," Jackson explains.
"So how’d he end up at the SGC?" Cam’s sitting perched on the edge of Jackson’s desk, and for once he’s not irritated by Jackson’s avoidance of the primary purpose for his visit. In two weeks and three missions together, Cam hasn’t gotten more than ten words out of Sheppard about his past or reasons for joining the SGC, so he’ll take any information he can get.
"Jack gave him security clearance when Sheppard flew him in. I think he impressed Jack with his flying."
And then the general had apparently somehow talked him into transferring into a unit where he never, ever flew. Cam wonders if he misses it. It’s not something Cam misses—the Stargate offers more than enough compensatory excitement, and his bike offers enough speed, when that’s what he wants—but he knows other pilots who have strongly regretted leaving the regular Air Force.
"Weir had him tested first, of course," adds Jackson.
"No go, huh?" says Cam with a grin. Dr. Weir has become notorious for her insistence on testing every person in the SGC for the ATA gene, in preparation for the upcoming expedition to Atlantis.
"No, he’s apparently one hundred percent human."
Jackson once again refuses to rejoin the team, as do Carter and Teal’c, and so for a while, SG-1 is just Cam and Sheppard. Well, the two of them and whoever's unlucky enough to be lurking in the halls when they're ready to go off-world. Cam quickly discovers that Sheppard is great in a fight—he’s a better shot than Cam, with a preternatural ability to detect an impending ambush—and a fair-to-middling diplomat. He's not always adept at persuading the people they encounter to do what the SGC wants, but he rarely offends or takes offense, even when faced with some particularly peculiar cultural differences. In fact, Sheppard's off-world interactions display a level of cultural sophistication that leaves Cam more than a little curious about his background. Sheppard, however, steadfastly resists all attempts to probe into his family or childhood, despite multiple attempts on a dozen worlds over nearly as many months and Cam's own generous supply of family stories. After a while, Cam gives up and just talks sports and missions, with the occasional foray into popular culture or past assignments. He’s still curious about Sheppard’s personal life, but he doesn’t trust the intentions behind that desire, so he doesn’t push any harder. He also institutes a strict rule against fantasizing about the man, figuring that the attraction will die down sooner or later as long as it's not fed.
Cam starts to doubt the effectiveness of that particular plan on P5L 63C. It's a basic first contact mission, and the natives seem friendly enough, even as they bring up the need for a "purification ceremony" before SG-1 can be allowed into the village. In Cam's experience this type of thing rarely ends well, but he's an optimist, so he and Sheppard just exchange looks before asking for more details about the process of "purification."
The village elder’s face twists up in a half-smile at their request, and Cam's not sure whether he's imagining the trace of nervousness behind the smile.
"It's very simple, really."
"I'm sure it is, but how about just walking us through it now?" Sheppard keeps his tone easy, but his hand is hovering near his sidearm, and Cam knows he hasn't missed the movement in the tree line. "We wouldn't want to make a mistake and mess up the ceremony."
"On, you can't make a mistake!" The elder's tone is cheerfully persistent, and Cam becomes even more concerned. "We'll walk you through each stage as you come to it and make sure that you comply with the requirements."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Cam mutters, but he smiles and nods when the elder looks at him, and gestures for his team to follow the elder into the forest.
The purification begins at a small stone cottage about a mile from the gate. The first part is fairly standard: a ritual cleansing of their hands and faces (Cam's relieved that he gets to keep his own clothes), followed by anointment with a pale oil that smells a little like fruity olive oil. Cam starts to relax a little during this process, though he keeps his ears open for approaching footsteps.
After the initial cleansing, the elder leads them outside, followed by a careful three steps behind by the two women who did the anointing. They stop at a point where the forest gives way to open ground and a long drop.
"Use the ladders to climb down," says the elder, pointing at the ground. Cam sees the thick rope peeking over the edge. "When you get to the bottom, sit and meditate. We will be back for you shortly." He offers a smile that causes the hair on the back of Cam's neck to prickle, and then backs away slowly, still trailed by the two anointing women.
Once they're gone, Cam walks to the edge and peers down. The ladders lead down into a small canyon. The rest of the team has lined up beside him, all looking down dubiously.
"I don't know about this, sir," says Higgins. "We'll be sitting ducks down there."
"We think they have parite here," Qaderi, the geologist, reminds them. Parite is the mineral du jour at the SGC, a vital component in the construction of some esoteric Asgard technology whose purpose Cam has yet to discern, but which had Colonel Carter very excited the last time he tried to convince her to come rejoin SG-1.
Cam decides it's worth the risk. The only weapons they've seen so far are knives and staffs, and while they may have bows, he doesn't think they have guns.
"Dr. Qaderi and I will go first. Sheppard, wait until we're down before you and Higgins begin your descent."
Sheppard nods and rests his hands on his P-90, alert for movement in the surrounding trees, and Cam is grateful that he has at least one regular team member who doesn't need things spelled out. He crouches at the edge of the drop and tugs on the rope ladder, which seems sturdy enough, then begins to climb. Beside him, Qaderi takes the other ladder.
All four team members reach the canyon floor without incident. There's a wide circle of stone-carved chairs in the centre of the canyon, plain and crumbling around the edges.
"I guess we're supposed to mediate here?" says Higgins. From his tone, Cam suspects he hasn't had many good past experiences with purification ceremonies either. Higgins and Qaderi circle around the chairs, examining them carefully, while Cam keeps an eye on the way they came. Sheppard jogs toward the open end of the canyon, weapon at the ready.
Higgins and Qaderi are still studying the chairs when Cam hears the first squeal, overlaid by Sheppard's warning shout. The three of them whirl around as the herd comes into sight. Cam guesses there are about a hundred of them—giant, boar-like creatures complete with foot-long tusks, rushing headlong toward them.
"Get to the ladders," Cam yells. He raises his gun as Qaderi and Higgins race back toward the canyon wall. Sheppard, far out in front, is already running.
He won't be fast enough, Cam realizes. He fires off a couple of shots over the heads of the animals, well away from Sheppard. The herd keeps coming. Cam curses and tries to aim at some of the animals near Sheppard, but realizes he can't hit them without risking shooting his team mate. His heart races as he watches man and herd progress.
As the herd starts to lap at Sheppard's heels, Cam steadies his gun, ready to take the chance and shoot. Suddenly, the herd parts and flows around the still-running man, then begins to slow down. They stop just before they reach Cam, and begin grazing peacefully on the grass at his feet. Sheppard slides to a halt a few feet from Cam, still surrounded by the almost-boars. Panting, he looks at the herd and then at Cam, and starts laughing helplessly. Cam joins in, limp with a relief that he recognizes as arising from more than just a teammate safe and fighting the urge to touch Sheppard to make sure he’s really okay, and he knows that he's in trouble.
He's still mulling over the implications of the incident a few weeks later when, one-by-one, the original members of SG-1 rejoin the team. Their return is a shock to Cam, who'd long since given up hope that he'd ever be working with the people whose mission reports he’d read so avidly. It should be the highpoint of his career, and for a little while it is. Then the initial thrill dies down as Carter, Jackson, and Teal'c are transformed from distant heroes into actual people with their own quirks and a tendency to wander off on alien worlds without telling Cam, and Cam discovers that the excitement of fulfillment is somewhat harder to sustain than the excitement of anticipation. He’s not unhappy, exactly, and he certainly appreciates not having to hunt down new team members every time SG-1 gets a mission. (They’d been having trouble recruiting people recently and Sheppard had sworn the unassigned personnel must have dug an escape tunnel in one of the supply closets.) But after a half-dozen back-to-back unsuccessful missions and a distinctive lack of team bonding—everyone’s professional in the field and Carter’s friendly enough, but Teal’c is even more reticent than Sheppard and Jackson still insists on bringing his journals to every team social event Cam organizes—Cam’s starting to wonder whether taking over SG-1 was really the best use of O’Neill’s “any job you want” offer. He still loves going through the Stargate, but he’s not sure that taking over command of Earth’s flagship team without any prior Stargate team experience was such a good idea.
The return of SG-1 is enough to distract him from the issue of John Sheppard for a little while, but eventually, his traitorous thoughts return to long slender hands and sardonic green eyes and the wry sense of humour that Sheppard manages to keep in even the direst of circumstances. It doesn’t help that the two of them are working closely with three people who served together for seven years, and who shared a set of experiences so powerful that Sheppard and Cam are often forced to team up in self-defense against the intensity of their bond. Cam reminds himself that there are myriad good reasons not to become involved with someone in the same chain-of-command.
They do, eventually, have a few good missions, and Cam is beginning to hope that things might be coming together—with team bonding surely to follow—when SG-1 is sent to P3X 4NY. What was supposed to be a simple first contact mission quickly deteriorates into a living hell, and when Teal’c finally breaks him, Sheppard, and Carter out of prison, Cam can't recall the last time he was so grateful to be rescued. Maybe the six-foot man-eating snakes, but it's definitely a toss-up. A few hours after their return, burning with disappointment that yet another mission has failed and still woozy from the painkillers (or that's what he tells himself), he hears himself volunteer to take Sheppard home for the night to babysit him and his possible concussion. Even as he says it, he knows it's a bad idea, and for a moment he almost withdraws the offer. Then a streak of recklessness overtakes him, and he lets it stand. He doesn’t really think anything will come of it, even though he’s begun to suspect that Sheppard’s tastes may run the same way as his after all, because he knows that Sheppard is far more cautious than he is. Willing to disobey orders for a principle, yes, but not for merely emotional reasons, and Cam doesn’t think that the rules around DADT (not to mention chain-of-command) are the kind of rules Sheppard will just toss aside. But Cam’s tired and lonely and hurting, and the possibility of going home with someone—even if it’s only as friends, even if the relationship exists only in his head—is too appealing to pass up.
His suspicions about Sheppard are strengthened when he makes his offer and Sheppard abruptly backs down from his attempts to escape the infirmary. Dr. Lam, however, is already nodding and giving instructions, and a few minutes later, Cam is hunting down an unoccupied airman to drive them home.
By the time they're in Cam's apartment, Sheppard’s looking tired and bruised and sore, and Cam’s drugs are beginning to wear off, leaving his black eye throbbing. Cam swallows some more painkillers and takes a quick shower, then orders pizza while Sheppard does the same. The two of them eat in companionable silence while watching the game. Sheppard’s head is practically tilting into his plate, so Cam spends him off to the guest room and watches the end of the game on his own.
Waking up every two hours to make sure Sheppard’s head injury hasn’t killed him is no picnic, especially when he's busy trying to heal too, but it does offer him a chance to pry a little personal information out of Sheppard in the name of checking his responsiveness. Cam keeps it light—work-oriented—but still manages to get a few personal opinions out of Sheppard, including confirmation of what he’s long suspected: Sheppard isn't terribly happy at the SGC. Sheppard, he realizes, isn’t going to be terribly happy in any job that doesn’t involve flying.
"You could go over to Peterson," Cam suggests hopefully. Peterson is close by, and it would take care of the chain-of-command issues
"Not exactly flavor of the month with the Air Force right now," says Sheppard, and Cam's read his file, so he can only nod at that. But he has other ideas.
"Ask about the 302 program," he says. "I heard they were looking to start training up some more pilots."
Sheppard gets a thoughtful look at that suggestion, so Cam offers a little more encouragement, realizing as he does just how much he wants Sheppard to be happy.
"Think about it. I’ll recommend you if you decide to do it." He doesn't really want to lose Sheppard from SG-1, and not just because that would leave him the sole outsider on the team. But there would be compensations—the 302 pilots are also based nearby, and out of Cam’s chain-of-command.
"Yeah," Sheppard says after a minute, looking up at him. "Maybe. Thanks."
"No problem," Cam says. He heads back to his own bed, still thinking about other ways Sheppard could get back in the sky.
The next time his alarm goes off, Cam's feeling sicker than before. He swings his feet over the edge of the bed and has to pause for a minute before he can get up and head to the guest room. It takes him a few minutes to wake Sheppard this time, so apparently they've both hit a bad patch. Sheppard finally wakes, and Cam hands over more painkillers. As Sheppard swallows, Cam feels another dizzy spell come on.
"Shift over, I need to lie down for a minute."
Sheppard moves obediently and Cam lies down and closes his eyes, feeling the room spinning around him.
"You want a blanket?" Sheppard asks.
"I'm good," Cam replies, still focused on getting the room to stay still. The spinning begins to slow down, and he remembers that he's supposed to be checking up on Sheppard. "You still know the date?"
"Yep," says Sheppard, and proves it. Cam figures he's probably fine, but takes the opportunity to do a little more personal probing.
"What do you miss about the Air Force?"
"Nothing, I’m still in it. Remember just talking about flying?"
Cam can feel Sheppard's mocking gaze, and opens his one good eye to glare. "What do you miss about being attached to a regular Air Force squadron?" he asks, already having some idea of what the answer will be.
"Flying," Sheppard says immediately. "Not being captured because we dropped by to say hi. Knowing my day wasn’t going to include giant animals or aliens. Not knowing there were people whose days did include that."
Cam knows that he's probably going to lose Sheppard back to the regular Air Force—or the 302 squadrons—sooner or later. For Cam, flying was just one of many ways to live on the edge, to have an adventure. For Sheppard, flying is nearly everything. He wonders whether Sheppard regrets giving up other things for that dream, especially now that he still has the sacrifices and no longer has the dream. He sighs and turns his head away, thinking of his own sacrifices and the sometimes questionable compensation he’s received for them. And, of course, the one particular sacrifice he's making now.
Cam usually sees it coming, but he’s absolutely certain that Sheppard doesn’t have his own impulsive streak—certainly not about things like this—so he’s shocked when feels Sheppard’s mouth against his, just a little off-centre. He breathes in sharply at the first tentative touch, then reaches up and pulls Sheppard in so that he can kiss back properly, a sense of delight rising through him.
Sheppard pulls back after a moment. "You want to get in bed?" he offers, and Cam, barely able to contain his smile, nods and stands up—dizziness finally gone—to divest himself of the blue jeans he'd been too tired to pull off earlier.
He climbs in and it's awkward for a moment-and then he's kissing Sheppard and everything else falls away.
Cam wakes up to the phone ringing. Groaning just a little, he reluctantly pulls away from the warmth of Sheppard and the bed and pads into the living room to take the call. He doesn't really want to wake Sheppard, so he takes a shower and checks to make sure he has coffee before he returns to the guest room. In the moment before he wakes the sleeping man, he reaches out and brushes the hair off his face, then takes a deep breath and hopes for the best.
"If I recite all the presidents in order, will you leave me alone to sleep?" Sheppard says into his pillow.
"Sorry, not gonna happen," Cam says.
"What’s going on?" Sheppard asks, looking up blearily.
"Landry just called. They’ve got a visitor at the SGC, looking for Jackson to translate a tablet she’s found that’s supposed to lead to treasure."
"What? Why do they need us?"
"Jackson’s met her before, and it didn’t go so well. And she says she’s been trying to dial in from different planets for weeks and not been able to get a lock, so Carter’s panicking."
Sheppard looks resigned. "Okay. Have I got time for a shower?"
"I think I speak for both of us when I say, trust me, if you hadn’t, we’d make time," Cam says, amused.
They get ready for work in silence, with Cam waiting for Sheppard to bring up the previous night while vacillating between a cheerful hope that Sheppard returns his feelings and a dead certainty that this was just a one-night stand that Sheppard’s already put behind him. Even after a year of working together, Cam can’t read the other man well enough to determine whether he’s regretting last night or already planning the next round. Cam’s hesitant to bring up the topic himself, knowing that even with the flexibility of SG-1’s command structure, he’s is still the senior officer and anything he says will carry that weight behind it. He also knows that if they were to continue, Sheppard would be taking a greater risk than him: the black mark on his record still has some people looking for any excuse to discharge him and even O’Neill’s protection can only reach so far. So as much as Cam wants more than a single night, he tells himself he’ll understand if Sheppard doesn’t want to take the chance.
When Sheppard still hasn't said anything by the time the cab arrives to take them to the Mountain, Cam realizes he isn't going to, and he knows that last night has become another reality that didn’t live up to the dream. As he climbs into the cab, heart aching just a bit, he tells himself sternly that he knew what he was getting into when he joined the Air Force and reminds himself that this, too, will pass. Then he tries to summon up some enthusiasm for another day on SG-1.