Warnings: A couple of OCs die, but other than that, everyone remains safe, if not necessarily happy.
Word Count: 11 403
Prompt: 128. Cam. The end of the world was not supposed to be this mundane.
Notes: Written for the apocalypse_kree 2008 ficathon. My thanks to bluflamingo for beta reading.
Summary: Six months after aliens take over Earth, John and Rodney show up on Cam's doorstep with a plan to get rid of the invaders.
Despite a late night spent on mission planning, Cam forced himself to rise early. It was, he noted as he brushed his teeth, less painful to get up when he wasn't hung over. On the other hand, his sleep had been less restful too. By the time Sheppard and McKay had left to sneak back to McKay's apartment via McKay's conveniently surveillance-free route, Cam had been too tired to do anything but email McKay's code off to Sam, and fall into bed. From there, it was a short trip into sleep and into the dreams that he usually relied on alcohol to chase away. He hadn't slept well.
Alec was waiting for him at the resistance hideout, fake ID in hand. Cam accepted it with a smile, admiring the work. Alec half-smiled at the praise, but didn't meet Cam's eyes.
"What's going on?" Cam asked, pocketing the ID.
"I don't…" Alec's voice trailed off. Cam waited.
"Where's everyone else?"
Alec looked up at Cam and swallowed hard. He was very young, Cam realized. Not more than nineteen or twenty. Still trying to sort out how loyalty ought to work.
"They said…" Alec began.
"Brad and Eli and Suzette. Suzette's brother was picked up by the IF at a checkpoint yesterday. Suzette heard that he's going to be transferred to a re-education centre, so she decided to break him out. Brad and Eli went along to help."
"Break him out how?"
"I don't know. They took some of the weapons. And the C4. Said it wasn't breaking consensus, since the IF aren't civilians."
"Where is he being held?" Cam asked urgently.
"Crawford Holding Centre."
Cam headed for the door.
"It's too late," Alec called after him. "They left over an hour ago."
Cam raced through the streets, wishing he had his bike. Or a car. He slowed down as he neared the holding centre, easing into a slow walk just before it came into sight.
The centre, he noted with relief, was still standing. No sign of an explosion. The crowds, however, suggested that something had happened. Cam shoved his hands in his pockets and slipped in to mingle with the onlookers.
"Any idea what happened?" he asked an elderly man beside him.
"I heard some people tried to take the centre," the man said. "People who were inside said they came in with a bomb strapped on, waving guns. Started demanding that one of the prisoners be brought out, and when that didn’t happen, they began shooting the IF staff, trying to make their way through the holding area. Nearly took down a few civilians before the IF got 'em."
Cam felt his heart drop. "How many were there?"
The man shrugged. "Three, I think. Idiots, all of them, thinking they could take an Azari facility. We'll be lucky if the Azari don't blow up a chunk of the city for this."
"Yeah," Cam said. He could feel his burden of guilt increasing. He told himself they'd made their own choices. That they weren’t really his team, not when he’d been betraying them from the beginning.
It didn't help.
"Damn fools," muttered the elderly man again. "Could have taken half the block with them."
Cam gave a last long look at the corner, and then slipped away.
Cam waited in the empty corridor, trying not to fidget. It was odd being back in the Mountain after nearly six months away, and he had to fight the urge to explore, to see what changes the occupation had wrought on his territory. Instead he checked his watch yet again while keeping one eye on the life signs detector Sheppard had handed him the previous night. Two blips appeared on it, moving directly toward him. Cam tensed, hoping it was just Sheppard and McKay and wishing he'd had a way of sneaking a gun in. Unfortunately, non-military techs didn't carry guns on Azari-run bases, and Cam didn't dare break into the armory.
A moment later Sheppard and McKay came around the corner.
"Any trouble?" McKay asked anxiously. "No one recognized you?"
Cam shook his head as he pocketed the life-signs detector. "I don't think there's anyone from the SGC left here."
"There's a few scientists," McKay said, "but we're not likely to run into them."
Sheppard held out a gun. Cam accepted it gratefully and slipped it into his pocket.
"The 'jumper's this way," Sheppard said, gesturing. He and McKay began walking and Cam followed behind them, watching the oddly perfect match of their gaits. Once again he wished for his own team back. Or at least for a partner of some sort, someone he could trust to watch his back.
The path to the 'jumper proved a convoluted one, taking them through sections of the base Cam hadn't even known existed, and more than one secret door.
"The walls are all shielded against detection," McKay said, waving his arm.
Which undoubtedly explained why the Azari had never found the puddle jumper.
They reached the 'jumper without incident. Cam could see Sheppard visibly relax as he boarded the craft. The 'jumper in turn seemed to welcome its pilot, lighting up as Sheppard settled into his seat.
"So how exactly are you planning to get this thing out of here?" Cam asked from his seat behind McKay.
"That part's easy," Sheppard said. He touched a few buttons, and the pattern of lights on the 'jumper panel shifted. Beside him, McKay was fiddling with a small device that vaguely resembled Cam's television remote. McKay pointed the device straight ahead, and a section of the wall shifted aside, opening up a long, narrow tunnel.
"Wouldn't be much good if we couldn't get it out of here," explained Sheppard as the puddle jumper lifted gently from the ground and drifted toward the tunnel entrance.
"Right," said Cam as the walls closed around them. He leaned back in his seat and looked away from the window. He certainly wasn't claustrophobic--you couldn't spend much time in a cockpit if you were--and he trusted Sheppard's flying, but the tunnel was very long and very narrow and he really hated not being the one in control. Besides, he hadn't had many previous opportunities to examine the inside of a puddle jumper.
At last they came to the end of the tunnel and exited into open air. Sheppard let the cloaked jumper rise high enough to avoid any land traffic, then turned it toward the Azari airfield, the location of which he and McKay had apparently discovered during their visit to the Mountain.
The airfield was nearly empty; a single shuttle sat empty in the middle and a handful of IF soldiers hanging around the edges.
Sheppard leaned back in his seat with his hands crossed behind his head. "Looks like we could be waiting a while."
Cam shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "Any idea how long a while?"
"Unfortunately, the Azari didn't have any conveniently posted schedules indicating when their most important people would be at their most vulnerable times," McKay said. "I did look. Apparently they don't have that kind of trust in their people."
"Technically the IF is Earth's military, not the Azari's," Cam said.
McKay rolled his eyes. "A military organized and run by the Azari. Where the hell do you think their loyalties lie, Colonel?"
"It's just Mitchell now," Cam said evenly. "And I wouldn't presume to speak for every person who joined the IF."
"They're collaborators with the invaders," Sheppard said.
"Some of them," Cam agreed. "And some are double-agents, and some are just trying to make the best of a bad situation."
"What…" began McKay.
"We've got company," Sheppard said sharply, sitting up. Outside the window, a car had pulled up to the airfield. Two Azari emerged and began heading toward the shuttle.
"Show time," Sheppard said. He brought the puddle jumper up a few feet, hovering over the edge of the airfield as the Azari boarded their shuttle.
They rode up to the Azari ship on the tail of the shuttle, cloaked and safe from detection.
"So what's the plan after we destroy the ship?" Cam asked.
"We'll take the Mountain next," Sheppard said. "I've got a few people standing by to help. After that, we can bring in reinforcements from Atlantis to retake the capitals."
"And when they send the next ship?"
"We'll be better prepared," McKay said confidently. "And you'll have me."
Sheppard brought them up close to the shuttle as they neared the ship. Cam had to admire his skill as he held the distance, and then slipped in through the shuttlebay doors just before they closed. The shuttlebay was distinctly Azari in feel, bright silver contrasting with clear glass opening into the darkness of space.
They slipped out of the shuttle silently, and McKay headed for a nearby terminal.
"I thought you couldn't rig the self-destruct from here," Cam said.
"I can't," McKay replied. "I just thought we might want to be able to escape afterwards. I don't know about you, but I don't want to die here."
He touched a few buttons on the terminal, then ducked down and began pulling out wires. Cam hovered behind him, watching over his shoulder as he worked and ignoring McKay's increasing annoyed glares.
"All right," McKay said at last. He straightened up and stepped away from Cam. "They won't be able to cut off our escape remotely. They'll have to come here to get us."
"Great," Cam said. His hand slipped into his pocket, sliding over the gun that rested reassuringly in his pocket, and for a moment he was back at the Azari ball. He shook his head and pulled himself back into the present.
"It's clear," Sheppard said, looking up from the life-signs detector. "Let's go."
They didn't have to go far to reach a usable terminal.
"This will do," McKay said, slipping another memory crystal out of his pocket. He slid the crystal into the terminal and began to touch the screen. Sheppard and McKay took positions on either side of him, guns drawn, life-sign detectors in hand.
Cam saw a blip heading toward them.
"We have company," he said.
"Nearly done," McKay said.
"McKay…" Sheppard said warningly.
"Ready!" McKay said. He pulled the memory crystal out as the figure rounded the corner. Cam pulled McKay down as Sheppard opened fire. Blasts of energy flew toward them. Sheppard fell to his knees and continued to fire as Cam pulled McKay toward the shuttlebay, both of them crouched low. Behind him, he heard Sheppard grunt. He turned his head; Sheppard had collapsed and the Azari was heading toward him, still firing. McKay had turned too and was already heading back.
"Go!" Cam ordered him. "I'll get him." He darted forward, shooting, and grabbed Sheppard. McKay followed behind him, also firing. With McKay covering him, Cam hoisted up the unconscious Sheppard and headed for the shuttlebay.
"You should have kept going," he gasped to McKay as the other man sealed the doors.
"I don't leave people behind," McKay said. "How is he?"
"He'll be fine," Cam said. "They just hit him with a stunner."
"Well, at any rate, he's not in any shape to fly us out of here."
"Flying out should be easier than flying in, right?" Cam said, stumbling toward the 'jumper. Behind him, he could hear pounding on the door. The puddle jumper doors slid open, and Cam boarded, depositing Sheppard on one of the benches in the back.
"If things go well," McKay said. He sat down in the pilot's seat.
"You're going to fly us out of here?" Cam asked incredulously.
"How much practice do you have flying a 'jumper, Colonel?"
"All right," said Cam reluctantly, taking the seat beside McKay. "But if you make us crash, I'm holding it against you."
An alarm began to sound at an ear-piercing frequency. In front of them, the shuttlebay doors slid open.
The 'jumper shot forward with a jerky motion. Cam winced and resisted the urge to take over. Behind him, he heard Sheppard groaning. He went back to check on him as McKay piloted them away from the Azari ship.
"How are you feeling?" Cam asked, helping Sheppard sit up.
"Not as bad as when I've been hit by a Wraith stunner," Sheppard said. He blinked a few times and stretched cautiously. "Everyone here?"
"All accounted for," Cam said.
The two of them headed back to the front of the shuttle. McKay had stopped the 'jumper a good distance from the Azari ship, and turned it around so they could watch.
"How long?" Sheppard asked.
They waited the minute out silently, countdown visible on the 'jumper display. When it hit ten seconds, everyone went still, eyes fixed on the Azari ship. Cam counted down silently in his head.
Three. Two. One.
"What happened?" Sheppard asked, looking at McKay.
"I don't know! The coding was perfect. It should have worked."
"Could the timer be off?"
"Not this far off." McKay looked at the still-whole Azari ship in obvious dismay.
"Maybe the plans on the Mountain computer weren't accurate," Cam suggested.
"I don't know," McKay said again. He pulled out the memory crystal from his pocket and began turning it over in his hands, staring at it as if the smooth surface could reveal his error. "The plans looked right. This should have worked."
"We'd better get out of here," Cam said. "The cloak might not hold now that they know we're here."
Sheppard nodded and sat down beside McKay, tossing him a concerned look.
"We'll figure out something else," he said reassuringly as he aimed the 'jumper toward Earth. "We always do."
McKay was silent the entire way down, for which Cam would normally have been grateful. The man's palpable misery, however, made it difficult to take pleasure in the quiet.
"I'm sorry," Cam said at last. He reached forward to touch the scientist's shoulder lightly, not sure what else he could say. "You tried. That's more than most of us managed."
"Trying's not enough," said McKay, straightening up in his seat. Determination coloured his voice. "Next time I'll succeed."
Cam wondered if he might.
The knock on his door was a surprise. Cam opened it to find Sheppard waiting for him with that familiar half-smile.
"What's up?" Cam asked, studying his face.
"Thought I'd stop by for a visit," Sheppard said. "Can I come in?"
Cam thought longingly of his bottle of whiskey he’d just pulled out. "Yeah," he said, standing aside so that the other man could enter. "How's McKay?"
"Pretty upset," Sheppard said, stepping inside. "Working on a new plan. We’ve got four more days." He slid his jacket off and handed it to Cam, who hung it in the closet.
"He doesn't give up easily," Cam said, leading the way into the living room.
"The whole planet's been taken over," Sheppard said. “How can he?"
"Do you want a beer?"
Cam brought the beer back from the kitchen. Sheppard had taken over a corner of the couch, slouching down into the overstuffed leather cushions. Cam handed him a bottle and took the other end of the couch.
"So you think you can come up with a new plan in four days?"
"That depends," Sheppard said. He took a swig of beer and rested the bottle on his lap, then twisted to look directly at Cam. "Why'd you sabotage the code?"
Cam's stomach tightened painfully. He swallowed hard and focused on keeping his expression neutral. "What are you talking about?"
"I've seen McKay when he's not sure he has the answer, when he’s just bluffing. This time he wasn't bluffing. He thought he had it. He's not usually wrong about that.”
Cam nodded resignedly. He remembered having that kind of relationship, that kind of knowledge of another person. "I sent a copy to Sam the night before we went out. She changed it, and then I downloaded it onto a new memory crystal.” He raised his beer to his lips, watching Sheppard’s expression from the corner of his eye. He couldn’t get a reading. “Does McKay know?"
Sheppard shook his head. "He figures he missed something in how the Azari interface works. He's trying to figure out what."
Cam nodded. "Sorry if I undermined his confidence." Not that the effect would last long if McKay’s history was anything to go by.
"Oh, McKay's got confidence to spare," said Sheppard easily. He took another swallow of beer, then set the bottle on the table and sat up straight, facing Cam directly. "Why, Mitchell?" he demanded.
Cam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Because we need the Azari. We'll destroy ourselves without them."
"And you're the one who can make that decision." Sheppard said derisively. "That's not…"
"I didn't make that decision. The leaders of the world did, when they started dropping bombs on Taipei and Beijing and New York."
Sheppard looked stunned. "I thought…."
"It wasn't the Azari, John," Cam said. "The only places they bombed were a couple of empty fields outside the main cities, just to show they could. The real damage was all done by us. The Azari stopped it. They came in at the beginning of fucking World War III, and they stopped the bombs before it could go any further."
"You're saying they showed up to save us from ourselves?"
"No," Cam said quietly. "I'm saying we invited them in, to save us from ourselves."
Sheppard's eyes widened in surprise.
"We had no choice," Cam said. Pleaded, really. Looking for absolution, he realized, and from Sheppard's expression, not likely to find it here.
Sheppard looked like he was having trouble remembering to breathe. "Who's 'we?'" he asked at last.
"The rest of SG-1. Landry. O'Neill. Most of the senior people at the SGC, really. We brought in as many internationals as we could, so it wasn't just an American decision. We sat around in a little underground room, and we debated. We talked about it for as long as we dared, and then we dialed the gate. We couldn't…we fought off the Goa'uld. And we fought off the Ori and the Replicators and the Wraith. People gave their lives to protect this planet--the whole planet--and after all that they were going to let us destroy ourselves. They knew what was out there, and they still thought their own little war was worth fighting. We couldn't let them destroy the world that way." He stopped, struggling for the words to describe the incredible, bitter irony of realizing that after surviving three major alien attackers, Earth was going to destroy itself.
"Was the president part of the decision?"
Cam's mouth twisted in a caricature of a smile. "He was the one authorizing the bombs."
"Who started the war?"
"Doesn't matter now," Cam said. He took another swig of beer. "No one's going to start another war for a long time. Not unless more aliens come along to attack us."
"How'd you convince the Azari to do it?"
Cam tightened his grip on the bottle, remembering. "They owed me," he replied, trying to keep his tone casual. "I stopped an assassination while we were there. Killed the assassin instead of the person she was trying to use me to kill. They said it prevented a civil war." He swallowed the last of his beer, and decided it wasn't enough. He set down the empty bottle, and reached for the glass of whiskey he'd been drinking when Sheppard first knocked. "We called them up, and they sent a ship. And it was almost too late. The bombs had already started to fall. Ten million people dead because we talked too long." Cam felt the familiar twist of guilt as he remembered the announcement.
"That's not…." Sheppard sighed and slouched down again.
"It was a unanimous decision?" Sheppard asked at last.
"Nearly," Cam replied. "You develop a more…global perspective once you start leaving the planet."
"How long do you think the Azari will stay for?"
"Until we grow up," replied Cam. "Or until I ask them to leave."
"And they'll go just like that?" Sheppard said.
"It was part of the agreement."
"And if you die?"
"If I appoint a successor, they'll listen to that person. Otherwise…." Cam shrugged.
"Otherwise they wait until they think we're ready."
“So it’s all on you.”
“I talk to the others regularly,” Cam said. “If everyone else starts saying it's time for them to pull out…” He let his voice trail off, because while he would listen to them, the final decision really was his responsibility. Just as calling the Azari in had been his responsibility.
Sheppard stared down as his drink for a long minute, and then looked up at Cam. "There was really no other way?"
"You think of one, let me know and I'll send them packing." Cam poured more whiskey into his glass and raised his glass, but before he could drink, Sheppard reached over tugged it away. Cam relinquished the glass reluctantly.
"You need to stop that," Sheppard said gently. He took the whiskey from Cam's hand and tilted his head back, downing it in one shot.
"That's a waste of good whiskey," objected Cam without force.
"It isn't that good," Sheppard replied, examining the label. He stood and carried the bottle into the kitchen. Cam heard him pouring it into the sink. He ignored the panic that the sound induced.
Sheppard returned from the kitchen a moment later. He leaned against the wall with his arms crossed. "You should move to Atlantis."
Cam felt a flicker of warmth at the concern, but it was quickly overpowered by his ever-present guilt. "Can't do it."
"You can’t go on like this either."
"I’ve got responsibilities here."
Sheppard raised a skeptical eyebrow. "Instructing weekend pilots"
Cam shook his head. "I'm trying to organize the resistance. Get all the cells to join together."
"The resistance against the Azari?" Sheppard asked, puzzled.
"I'm trying to keep them safe," Cam said. "Direct their efforts in harmless ways. I'd like to keep them from getting killed in a helpless cause." He didn’t mention his other reason--the need for a buffer against his secret nightmare of an Azari betrayal.
"It won't work."
"I have to try," Cam said, looking up at Sheppard, knowing he was right. "It's my fault that they're….Three of them died this morning. They were trying to storm a holding centre. It was a stupid move. I'd told them not to try a direct attack, but I wasn't there when they decided…."
Sheppard looked like he wanted to say something comforting. He seemed to be coming up empty. "Why’d they go after the holding centre?" he asked at last.
"They heard that the brother of one of our members was being held there, waiting for assignment to a re-education centre."
"Re-education centres?" said Sheppard, cocking an eyebrow. "That sounds kind of…"
"They aren’t human," Cam said simply. "They have their own ideas about how things should run, and they’re willing to do what they have to in order to maintain control. Some of those things…are not things we would do."
"You don't get a say?"
"Well, I did think about setting myself up as world dictator, but...." He raised his palms in an exaggerated shrug.
Sheppard just looked at him, eyes intent and serious.
Cam sighed. "We talked to them about it. We spent two days hashing out the details with them while they picked out bomb after bomb from our atmosphere. The Azari said they were willing to stop this war, but they weren’t going to stick around unless we let them run things. Weren’t going to come running every time we got in over our heads. It turned out that none of us had enough faith in the world leaders to believe this wouldn’t happen again."
"And you trusted them to run the planet after they tried to use you to start a civil war?"
"Yeah, well, nobody’s perfect." Cam glanced away, toward the window. "The Azari Federation includes over a hundred planets and none of them have had a war in centuries. We visited some of them while we were there; the people were happy, prosperous. We’re hoping they can do the same here."
"And that’s what the rest of your team thought too?"
"We all voted for it. Except Teal'c and Vala. They decided that since they aren't from Earth, they shouldn't have a vote. Teal'c left afterward." Teal’c had gravely acquiesced to his team’s decision, but Cam had known him well enough to recognize Teal’c’s carefully hidden disappointment when he realized that the people who had brought down Goa’uld weren’t capable of mastering themselves. That disappointment had broken his heart. "And Vala…I don't know where Vala is. Maybe with Daniel in Africa. Or maybe she eventually left too."
The senior SGC teams had spent nearly a month after the Azari arrival visiting their various allies, explaining what had happened and why they didn’t want help defeating the invaders. Their allies had listened incredulously as they were told that Earth was on the verge of destroying itself and could no longer be trusted to manage its own affairs. Most of them had stepped away in sympathetic embarrassment afterwards, as if Earth were a dying friend they simply didn’t know how to comfort.
Cam turned away from the window and slumped down in his seat, looking up at Sheppard. "Mostly I think we're just all hoping that it'll be worth it, in the end. Or that we'll call them off in time, if it's not."
Sheppard was still for a long moment, and then he straightened up, letting his arms fall his side. "I'll talk to McKay," he said quietly. "Convince him to give up, take him back to Atlantis."
Cam let out the breath he hadn’t noticed he’d been holding. This was, he realized, as close to absolution as he was likely to get.
"Watch your back," he said. "You could have your own resistance forming."
"Yeah." Sheppard glanced at his watch. "I'd better get back to McKay. He's probably already come up with a new plan. I should go make sure he doesn’t put it into practice."
"Get him focused on a plan for world peace instead," Cam suggested, rising to his feet. "Maybe we can get rid of the Azari that way."
He saw Sheppard to the door.
"Take care of yourself, Mitchell," Sheppard said, looking at him seriously. "You're right, you know--you develop a different perspective when you've been to a few planets. They need that here. And they need someone who can end it, if it comes to that."
"I know," Cam said honestly.
Cam closed the door on Sheppard’s departing back, then returned to his living room and turned on the television, flipping through channels aimlessly. He stopped on CNN.
Azari Representative Bai’el today announced the expansion of the International Force’s Domestic Security Branch following a string of attacks on Azari posts that have left more than twenty people dead. The number of street patrols and identity checks will be increased in an attempt to avoid future incidents.
The Representative also announced that the introduction of adult education classes on the history and structure of the Azari Federation. Similar classes are already mandatory for everyone working for the national and state governments and for the IF, and there are rumours that the Azari intend to push for the inclusion of similar courses in school curriculums across the nation.
He thumbed the remote, muting the sound, then got up and paced across the room restlessly, longing for the soothing oblivion that Sheppard had poured down the drain. He paused in front of the window, staring out at the settling twilight, and tried to see if he could still spot Sheppard in the distance. Behind him, the light of the television flickered in the darkening room, offering up its slow list of growing changes, and Cam wondered just how much rope he could give the Azari before Earth became unrecognizable. How far could he let things go before the Resistance rose up in righteous rage and Sheppard withdrew his tentative absolution and they lost the world anyway? And if he balanced it just right, if peace and goodwill reigned and Earth prospered and independence was returned to them and all his decisions were justified…
They’d still string up all the conspirators if they knew. Forgiveness would not come in his lifetime, and freedom probably wouldn’t either. But maybe, if he balanced it just right, if things started to get better, maybe one day he’d be able to sleep again.