Pairings: Cameron Mitchell/John Sheppard
Warnings: Death. Lots of death. Mostly not graphic, and mostly before the story begins. More specifically: (skip) The story starts with nearly everyone on Earth, including most of SG-1, dead. The story also features the off-screen suicide of a minor OC, and the possible death-by-suicide of a main character, depending on how you want to interpret the intentionally ambiguous ending.
Word Count: 3772
Prompt: 98. Mitchell/Sheppard. Being left behind by ascension sucks.
Notes: Written for the apocalypse_kree 2008 ficathon.
Summary: Every story Cam's ever heard about fetching someone back from hell has ended badly. Ascension, however, isn't hell, and he's not looking to fetch anyone back. He just doesn't want to be left here alone.
When Orpheus went to fetch Eurydice from the underworld, whispers a voice in Cam's ear, he looked back too soon and she vanished forever.
Cam thinks the voice belongs to Daniel, but he's not sure whether he's just remembering Daniel's voice, or whether Daniel is actually speaking to him. He's hoping for the latter; if Daniel is around, then maybe John is too. He'd like to think that the person he's seeking is nearby.
He's lost track of time. At first he kept careful count of the days, trying to keep up the illusion of normalcy, but as weeks of isolation turned into months, the illusion became more difficult to sustain and the count became more depressing than reassuring. When he found himself flipping through a psychology textbook in a small town library, trying to find out how long a person could go without human contact before they went insane, he stopped counting.
Izanagi couldn't take it, the voice whispers. He ran away from his love when he saw what had been done to her.
"That doesn't help, Jackson," Cam says aloud. If it's really Daniel talking, he's picking some damn depressing topics, and if it's Cam's own mind coming up with these stories (and he's not sure where he would have heard about Izanagi), he needs to work on his trademark optimistic outlook.
He thinks it might be August. It's hot out, even for New Mexico, and he's sucking down water like crazy as he walks.
Early on, he explored Area 51 thoroughly, hoping to find something that might help him. An interplanetary communication device, maybe. Or a functioning X-302, just so he could feel the sky beneath him again. He doesn't bother stopping by there anymore--too many memories, too many familiar faces on bodies artificially preserved in the sealed labs--but he finds himself regularly drawn back to the desert. Cam had never cared for the desert before--he preferred his vacation spots a little greener--but John had liked it, had insisted that the desert was beautiful, if only you knew what to look for. He'd promised to show Cam what he meant, if the two of them were ever able to get their vacations to line up. It had never happened; various impending apocalypses kept getting in the way.
Right now Cam's cursing the desert, and the desert heat that fried his car several miles back, and the desert sun that's beating down on him until he has to wonder whether he's in hell for real, and not just in the hell-on-earth sense that characterizes his life.
Inanna was only allowed to come back for six months of the year, the voice says silkily, and now Cam's not sure it is Daniel's voice. He's pretty sure it's not coming from himself, though, because he knows what he wants and it isn't for John to come back. There's nothing left for him to come back to, and the two of them sure as hell aren't going to be playing Adam and Eve.
"Why are you picking all the gloomy stories?" he grumbles. "Doesn't anyone ever come back okay?"
He sees the town on the horizon long before he reaches it. It's empty, of course. They're all empty now. Desolation reigns supreme on planet Earth. He raids a couple of stores, stepping over the bodies in the street, and sets up camp out of sight of the town. After the tent's up, he sits down beside it, arms wrapped around his denim-clad knees, and stares out, trying to appreciate the subtle beauty of the landscape. All he sees is emptiness.
When the sky starts to darken, Cam tilts his head back, watching for the first star. "I wish I may, I wish I might."
The words seem to hang on the still air, filling the space around him. He closes his eyes and concentrates, trying to detect John's presence. Or Daniel's. After a few minutes, he gives up and opens his eyes. "You know what I wish for," he says quietly to the darkness.
Cam stays out there for three days, then hikes back to town and finds a little Mustang that still works. He loads it up with supplies and begins driving north. The highways are choked with the dead and their cars, so he keeps to the less-crowded side roads. He talks out loud as he drives, trying to keep the voice at bay, carrying on conversations with John, with Sam, with Teal'c, with his parents.
"I'm sorry you never got to meet him," he says with a rueful smile. "I think you would have liked him, once you got over the shock. Never could figure out how to tell you, though." He pauses, listening to the low purr of the car as he tries to find the words. "I just…I didn't want to disappoint you," he says at last, and wonders why he's trying to explain himself to ghosts.
At the Colorado border, Cam stops the car and spends an hour debating silently about which way to go. Finally, he turns east, telling himself firmly that he doesn't need to see the crater again.
When he runs out of things to say, Cam turns to memories instead, letting the images flicker across his mind's eye while he dodges abandoned cars. Sam looking up from her table in the lab, face lit with the joy of discovery. Vala teasing Daniel on a mission, innuendo piled on innuendo just out of the local mayor's earshot. Teal'c, informing Cam how many times he needs to save the world to catch up with SG-1, so solemn that Cam can't tell whether he's serious or not. Sam on the phone, updating Cam on the Ixi transmission when….
Cam's fingers tighten on the steering wheel. Happy memories, he orders himself. Think about the good times. Like that night in the bar, darts and wings and too much beer. Watching Teal'c teach Vala how to play pool, knowing Vala was going to be hustling on their next trip. Sam and Daniel's exchanged looks of resigned exasperation as Sam contended with Rodney's ego while Daniel fended off Vala's hands. John, looking amused and lazy as he took in the whole scene, and it had been all Cam could do not to stare, not to reach out and twine his fingers in John's hair and pull him closer. And later on, the two of them the only ones left at the bar, their teams all tucked safely into bed, and he had stared, admiring the long lines of John's body as he leaned over the pool table, not expecting him to turn around in the middle of his shot, not expecting him to recognize the expression on Cam's face. Definitely not expecting wide-eyed shock to be replaced by a slow curving smile--not a smirk, for once--and John standing too close, pool cue still in hand, suggesting they could share a cab.
The car runs out of gas about eighty miles from his parents' farm. The road is deserted here--no cars to scavenge--so Cam shrugs on a pack and starts walking. Late in the night, he spots a farmhouse. He breaks a window and climbs inside. It's musty smelling, but there are no bodies, and he's grateful for that. The inhabitants had apparently tried to flee when the plague first struck the area. He wonders briefly how far they got.
Cam sleeps the rest of the night away in the big bed, heavy quilt tossed aside in the heat. In his sleep, Daniel's voice is joined by the voices of the rest of his team. Cam's still sane enough to know that this has to be a dream. Sam and Vala and Teal'c are all dead, their voices silenced forever by the bomb sent through to destroy the stargate after the last of the plague-rats came through. Cam thinks the attack might have been revenge for something, but he's not sure which sin finally brought Earth's destruction down upon her. Or perhaps it was a preemptive attack by some rising force with an eye on power. He has no one to ask, no way of finding out. He knows that it was the Ixi who dialed in, requesting help in deciphering an Ancient tablet they'd dug up, and it was the Ixi the SGC thought they were letting through when they lowered the shield, but he doesn't think it was the Ixi who were actually responsible for the destruction of Earth; they simply didn't have the technology for this kind of damage. Nor the technology to stand up to anyone who did have the capacity for this kind of damage. Earth's real attacker had apparently seen no reason to offer explanations to a planet that would soon be dead.
The next morning Cam leaves the house behind and keeps walking. In the fields he sometimes sees the carcasses of horses and cows. Once he spots some sheep and a goat. No mammal on Earth had been spared the plague, neither animal nor person, save the two individuals who had once visited PX8 389 and acquired the immunity the food or water or air or earth of that place had offered. It had taken the SGC scientists a month to figure this out, working in an isolation lab at Area 51 as the plague swept across the planet. They might have figured it out sooner, but only one team besides SG-1 had been to PX8 389, and only one member from the other team had been away from the SGC when the plague hit. The doctors told him they had been lucky to figure out the common connection between Cam and Lieutenant Tamzin as quickly as they had. Their efforts hadn't done them any good, though; it turned out the quarantine protocols weren't as effective as they'd hoped and the medical researchers were all dead before they could isolate whatever it was that PX8 389 had done to them. Cam and Tamzin had left Area 51 shortly afterwards and begun driving across the country in search of other survivors.
They didn't find any.
Three months later, Cam found Tamzin's body twenty feet away from the house they were staying in. She didn't leave a note. He buried her in the field where she had fallen, with a small wooden marker at her head and her sidearm in the grave with her. When he moved on, he left his own guns behind. He didn't need the temptation.
Cam passes beyond farm country into the Kansas wilderness and the pale scrub of the High Plains. The plants here look half-dead, and he wonders whether the effect of the missing mammals is reverberating through the ecosystem. Presumably nature will eventually adapt, but he's not sure he'll recognize the world that's left. He's hoping he won't be around to find out.
There are a few trees up ahead, which he suspects signals a lake. He follows the road toward it.
He lost John a few months before the plague hit. It hurts to remember that. He'd been off-world when the news came in and so had missed the whole gossip cycle. Since no one had known the two of them were together, no one had thought to tell him about the strange little machine found in some basement lab that had left the military commander of Atlantis somewhat less corporeal than he'd previously been. Cam read about it in a report three weeks after the fact while searching for hints as to why John had stopped emailing him. According to the report, McKay thought John had ascended. No one knew for sure. There were no signs he was coming back. For weeks afterwards, Cam had stumbled through his missions in shock, unable to believe that he had been the one left behind, and unable to tell anyone why he was grieving.
As he walks, he reviews the various methods of achieving ascension that he knows about. It's a depressingly short list. First, there was the aided-by-an-Ancient approach that Daniel had favoured. It seems like one of the more certain approaches, except that Cam hasn't seen any Ancients lately. Second, there were those handy ascension machines--the route John had taken--but Cam doesn't have access to one of those. Finally, there was the method used by the people in that time dilation field John had been trapped in. Their technique seemed to have relied on extensive meditation. According to John's report, it had taken them multiple generations. Cam doesn't have that long.
Persephone, begins the voice.
"Shut up!" Cam says, surprised at his own irritation. The voice falls silent.
Cam wonders what Atlantis thought when they were first unable to dial Earth. By now, of course, they know what happened. Daedalus and Odyssey had both been away when the attack came; Daedalus at Atlantis and Odyssey on its way back from Chulak. The military scientists at Area 51 had set up a warning beacon early on, explaining everything they knew about the situation and warning the ships not to try to make contact with Earth. Cam and Tamzin had discussed changing the beacon's message when they realized they were going to survive, but eventually decided against it. The doctors hadn't been able to determine whether or not the two of them were carrying the virus, and they mutually agreed it wasn't a risk they could take.
He's sure that by now, Daedalus and Odyssey have spread the word to the scattered remains of Terrans across both galaxies. Maybe they've started a colony at the Alpha site, or moved everyone to the Pegasus Galaxy. They might even be trying to track down who had done this, and on his darker days, Cam fervently hopes they succeed.
There are a few little cabins dotted around the lake. Cam picks a likely one and breaks in through the window. It's decorated in a vaguely Native American style that Cam finds pretentious, but the bed's soft and the cabin has a view of the lake and a large supply of canned goods. He thinks he might stay a while. There's really no rush to get to the farm, he decides.
Daniel had been in the Mountain too, the day the bomb went off--only Cam had been away--but Cam prefers to believe that Daniel is still out there. He's ascended before; surely he could manage it again when faced with imminent death. In his more optimistic moments, Cam imagines that Daniel took the rest of SG-1 with him--that they're all out there, waiting for him--but he doesn't really believe that.
Cam spends the night in the cabin. The next morning, after his run, he sits down under a tree by the lake and tries to meditate. He's never been terribly good at staying still and doing nothing, but traveling has gotten him nowhere, figuratively speaking, and he suspects part of the path to ascension may involve overcoming his own limitations. So he sits and tries not to think.
No-thought is harder than he expected, but he keeps at it for a long time, trying to chase away the stray memories that flit across his mind. He half expects the voice to return while he's doing this, but the silence holds. Cam is beginning to regret having told the voice to shut up; it was nice hearing someone else's voice for a while, even if the voice had been trying to strip him of all hope. No-thought, he reminds himself, and goes back to concentrating.
He falls into a routine at the cabin, meditating each morning and evening, and spending the afternoons exploring the area. There's not much civilization to explore, which is a relief. It's easier to pretend that he's just on vacation when all of his wanderings are through the wilderness.
When it rains, he reads, making his way through the cabin's small library of WWII books and English mystery novels. He develops a fondness for the ordered world of the small towns in the mystery books, devouring stories of blackmail and murder and loyalty and betrayal, soaking up the details of the human interaction that’s now denied to him.
The cottonwoods are turning from green to yellow when the cabin's supply of canned goods begins to run low. Cam's already raided all of the nearby cabins for their food, so when this runs out, that's it. There are no cars at the cabins--apparently no one had been here the winter the plague hit--so if he wants to keep eating, he has to start walking.
He makes it to his parents' farm in three days. This is the second time he's been there, so there are no nasty surprises waiting for him. He borrows their truck and drives into town, where he hits both supermarkets, stocking up on all the food he can find. He leaves the other houses alone, not wanting to face what he'll find in them. He knew most of his parents' neighbours.
Cam keeps up the meditation routine he set at the lakeside cabin, though he moves it indoors as the weather grows cooler. In the afternoons, he alternates between reading, hiking, and prepping the house for winter. He spent the previous winter moving up and down the California coast and the one before that in the Florida Keys; he’s looking forward to the greater trial of wintering in Kansas. He’s hoping the challenge will distract him from his loneliness.
In December, he chops down a six-foot Scotch pine and drags it into the house, then pulls out the old box of Christmas decorations. He whistles carols as he trims the tree. He considers picking out a gift for John, and then decides that would be too depressing. On Christmas Day he eats canned chicken, canned green beans, and canned cranberry sauce. Then he pulls out the wine that he usually avoids, pours himself a drink, and keeps drinking until he breaks down sobbing.
January comes in with a snowstorm that keeps him trapped in the house, going out only to collect snow to melt for water. When the weather finally clears, Cam goes hiking. He knows all of the local trails like the back of his hand, spent most of his high school years traveling them. Today he picks one that leads him to an area where the otherwise endless flatness is broken up by a steep ravine. He climbs along the ravine, staying away from the edge, grabbing branches here and there to help him along the uneven path, enjoying the crunch of fresh snow underfoot. He's made this trek dozens of times before, even in the snow, which is why he's so angry when he hits an unexpected patch of ice and feels his feet start to slide out from under him. He grabs at a branch and misses. He's at the steepest part of the ravine, and as he starts to tumble downward, he knows that he may not survive this. A wave of terror strikes, but he shoves it aside with practiced ease. As he scrambles to slow his fall, the voice--no, voices--start up again.
Cam, let go.
Cam, it's time.
It sounds like Daniel. It sounds like John. Cam's not sure whether to trust either perception. The other voice sounded like Daniel too. He wonders if he's completely lost it. It's been what, nearly four years without human contact? Was that long enough to drive someone crazy? Maybe.
Cam, I miss you. The voice resonates in his head, and it's so fucking familiar that he wants to cry. But he doesn’t trust it.
He reaches out and snags a branch, dangling over the final, sharp drop. Gasping, he starts to pull himself up hand over hand, feeling the strain in every bruised muscle. He's suddenly grateful for the long hours spent chopping wood and hauling snow, rebuilding the strength that he'd once maintained as a matter of course. Slowly, inch by inch, he ascends.
Cam. Daniel's voice again, in Daniel's most insistent tone. Cam, you need to let go of this world. There's nothing left here for you.
"I know that," he gasps. "Why do you think I've spent the last six months doing that damn meditation? But it doesn't seem to have done me much good, so if you've got any helpful hints, I could use them about now."
Let go, the voice says. John's voice. What sounds like John's voice. Cam considers obeying for a moment--it would be such a relief to not be alone anymore--but he remembers the first voice. The voice that tried to talk him into giving up. Cam's not sure where that voice came from--alien, demon, ascended being, or his own head--but he's not inclined to trust disembodied voices right now.
"I don't believe it's you."
The voices fall blessedly silent and Cam concentrates on climbing. He's nearly there when they start up again.
You had a childhood dog named Ripples, Daniel's voice says. Your favourite posting was Germany. You have a scar on your left thigh from the knife that little princess had on PX3 796. And one on your ribs from protecting Sam’s honour from that king on PX2 468.
Then John's voice takes over. The first man you kissed was Robbie Colson, in college. He dumped you a week later, after your first night together. The last man you kissed before me was Ken Agre. He was killed by an RPG three days later. There were only two men in-between, and you didn’t date either of them for more than a month. His tone is matter-of-fact with only a hint of underlying sympathy, and oddly enough, that's what convinces Cam that it really is John. This voice holds neither the subtle mockery of the earlier voice, nor the warm concern that Cam knows he'd infuse the voice with if it were coming from him. It is, instead, quintessentially John.
"I let go and then I ascend," he says, resting a finger's breadth from the ledge. He can see his breath in the air. "That's the deal, right?"
Let go of the world, Daniel's voice says reassuringly. We'll help with the rest.
"Let go," Cam repeats. He looks down at the long drop below him. He remembers Tamzin swallowing her gun, and wonders if she heard voices at the end too. He takes a deep breath, savouring the crisp air and the warmth of the sun on his face and the feel of the wet snow seeping through his jeans. Then he forces his hands open.
As he falls, a warm light envelops him and finally, finally, the emptiness recedes.