Chapter 2: Chromaphobia
John dreams of a narrow river, twisting its way through a countryside, golden brown and green. The sun is warm against his pale skin, shining bright in too light eyes, and his hands are smooth and free of calluses and scars as he raises them to shield his face.
There’s a boy on the other riverbed, no more than fifteen or sixteen, in nothing but cut off denim shorts fraying at the knees. Scabs and cuts stand stark against his tan skin as he launches himself off the land to grasp, with a shout of laughter, the rope swinging from a thick tree branch. His hair is sandy and shaggy against cheeks splattered with sun freckles.
“John!” He shouts, at the peak of his arc before he lets go and splashes into the water below, sending waves to lap at John’s bare feet. “John! C’mere,” the boy surfaces and stretches a hand out towards John, dripping wet, goose bumps raised along the skin of his skinny arm.
John wakes to Cam standing over him. He’s wearing USAF sweats and a thin white undershirt, John wonders absently if his bare feet are cold against the concrete floor. He rolls over onto his back and rubs his eyes.
“What?” He asks, clenching his eyes closed.
“Came to see if you were alright,” Cam says softly, but they’re all alone in the small infirmary.
“Oh?” John questions, letting his hand drop and moving to sit up, feeling vulnerable lying down with Cam poised over him.
“Yeah, had this…weird feeling.”
“Try tums,” John says, swiping a hand through his hair. Cam sighs.
“I keep wondering if what I’m feeling is…what I’m feeling or if I’m pickin’ up signals from the mothership,” Cam tries to explain, sitting hunched over at the edge of John’s bed, staring at the wall opposite. John stares at Cam’s profile, eyes down cast beneath a heavy scowled brow and wonders,
“What are you feeling now?”
“Mild irritation. Also I’m kind of hungry.” They don’t say anything for a moment but when Cam looks over at John in the dark they both break into identical grins.
“Daniel will figure it out,” John says, closing his eyes and collapsing back against his pillows. Cam sighs heavily beside him and John can feel the shift of weight as Cam falls back against his thighs. John tenses beneath him, and knows instantly when Cam does the same.
“Like that,” Cam hisses, pulling himself to his feet. John plays dumb, and from the look of frustration on Cam’s face it must be believable. Cam runs a hand through his short hair and rubs at his eyes.
“Every time we’ve tou—“ Cam starts but John coughs loudly.
“Look Cam, I’m pretty beat,” John fakes a yawn, and this time Cam can see the bullshit clear in it but John just looks away, “Can we do this some other time?” Cam doesn’t say anything for a moment, just stares down at John in the meager glow of the infirmary.
“Yeah, ‘course,” he manages finally, voice soft. His footsteps are silent as he disappears out the open doorway.
John has this life philosophy. The first rule is: all those awkward things you don’t want to deal with, you don’t talk about; they don’t have to exist if you don’t acknowledge them. But John has known Cam long enough by now to know they sit on opposite sides of the philosophy spectrum. Cam is all about the caring and the sharing, and John, he gets it, comes with the whole ‘Team Leader’ deal. Discord is bred from bottled up negativity and latent conflict, but John thinks he does a pretty good job deterring Cam from forcing a ‘moment’ between the two of them.
He all but plasters himself to Vala’s side, who seems more than happy to have the company if the endless rounds of ‘Go Fish’ John is forced to play with her are anything to go by. It’s a small price to pay for her protection, John thinks. When Cam shows up looking hell bent on having a serious discussion Vala jumps to her feet and claps her hands together, slinging an arm around Cam trying to coax him over to the bed she and John are sitting on.
“Mitchell Mitchell Mitchell,” Vala coos grinning, “come to join us have you?”
“Uh…” Cam says, and the team has learned by now not to agree to anything without all the facts explicitly stated.
“We were just about to make things more interesting,” Vala says hopping back up on the bed. “Strip gold fish!”
“It’s ‘Go’ Fish and no,” John says, shuffling the battered deck, intently not looking at Cam, who’s probably trying to share an ‘oh Vala’ smirk with him, a look perfected by 5/6ths of SG-1. Because John knows Vala can cheat at any card game, and he can see the way she’s looking at him, has been looking between the two of them for a good long while now, and he doesn’t think the suggestion was for her benefit.
John stares down at his fingers, dexterously flying over the cards, and tries to think about anything but his usual pastime: the ‘Is Cameron Mitchell Wearing Underwear’ game, which John has been playing ever since their ‘Diplomatic’ mission to P4X-352 ended in the time honored tradition of Cam losing his pants. Cam had grinned and shrugged and said in a stage whisper to John, “least I opted for skivvies today.” And John was going to inquire further on what exactly that implied about his underwear wearing habits, but he was too busy trying to keep his brain from leaking out his ears to respond.
So John tries his best to at least look like he’s thinking about something innocuous or heterosexual and spares a thought for Vala’s breasts but then he’s looking over at Cam and there’s that look in his eyes John swears he keep seeing and he’d be more than okay to see it on a regular basis except it’s always followed by confusion and general walking away and awkward silences.
“I uh…think I’ll pass but…we…” Cam stops and stares at John again. They both twitch slightly and Vala is staring between the two of them as they both reach for their wrists at the same time.
“What the fuck,” John hisses, looking down at the tattoo, glowing a dull gray, and this time John can’t really convince himself that it’s just a trick of the light because Cam is looking at his own, glowing a fiery red-orange.
Cam spares John only a small glance before he ducks out of Vala’s quarters clutching at his wrist.
Two days later and Daniel is still no closer to finding out how the hell to break the bond than John is to discovering the cure for cow-licks. He runs a wet hand through his hair, but all that accomplishes is getting his hair, his hand, and the collar of his t-shirt damp. Cam knocks on the open doorway and John looks up into the mirror and nods.
“Uh hey, so I was just checking in with Daniel and he still has no idea what’s with the whole…glowy thing,” Cam says, cautiously, holding up his wrist like John will have no idea what he’s talking about otherwise.
“Look, we should figure this whole, ‘forced leave’ thing out,” John says, turning around. “I know you hate being stuck in here.”
“Yeah, about that I actually…well I have an idea,” Cam starts, and he’s no longer looking directly at John, and his voice has an edge of hesitation in it. John knows he’s not going to like whatever it is. “My cousin, she’s uh…gettin’ married.”
“Congratulations?” John says after a long pause John figures was meant for him to draw conclusions.
“Yeah well…uh you see my Aunt got remarried a few months back and I couldn’t make it to the wedding because of the Ori thing, and well my mama she’s gonna be pretty upset if I can’t make it to ma’ favorite cousin’s.”
“You want to go?” John asks.
“Yeah,” Cam says.
“Which means I have to go?” John asks.
“Yeah,” Cam says. “Please?”
John stares at Cam, the way his shoulders are hunched ever so slightly from the hands he has shoved in the front pockets of his faded blue jeans. Cam is looking at him; his eyebrows ever so slightly raised giving him a really earnest look, like a small child waiting to be told whether or not he can have just one more cookie. And John knows it’s a terrible idea, that he should shake his head and say as much, but he knows what it says in his personnel files, probably stamped in bright red caps-locked letters highlighted in garish yellow ink: John Sheppard-self-destructive dumbass.
“When do we leave?”
Cam can’t suppress the smile that spreads across his face when John whistles appreciatively at his baby. He’s seen the Mustang before, of course, but the reaction never lessens, and John runs a delicate hand across the hood like it’s the inside of a woman’s thigh.
“This mean I get to drive her?” John asks with a sideways grin and Cam debates it, before he shrugs and nods.
“Yeah, I suppose it does.” John sends him a look that makes Cam second guess that decision, before John’s pulling open the passenger’s side door and climbing gracefully into the car. Cam slides in beside him and he revs the engine a couple of times before peeling out, just to see the grin spread across John’s face, real and bright.
“Yeah!” Cam shouts, laughing, “in just roughly eleven hours we will be stuffing ourselves with home cooked food in the company of good people!”
“How many good people?” John asks, staring at him hard from the passenger’s seat. Cam’s smile falters slightly, feeling of unease pressing its way in beneath the euphoria of his mother’s garlic mashed potatoes. He takes his eyes off the road for a moment to steal a glance at John, tensed in his seat beside him.
“Good people,” Cam says, his voice level and controlled, “people who will leave you the Hell alone if I ask ‘em to.”
“I’m not—“ John starts, and Cam feels even more uncomfortable and shifts slightly in his seat, noting, bemused, John’s mirrored movements.
“Man, this is too damn freaky. Relax Sheppard,” Cam says, chastising. John shoots him an irritated scowl.
“Stop what,” Cam says, close to snapping.
“They’re my…feelings,” John says, like the word pains him to say, and Cam notes with mild amusement that if the look on John’s face is anything to go by it actually does.
“You look like you’re suckin’ on a lemon,” Cam tells him, smirking.
“Shut up, they’re mine.” John says petulantly, curling in on himself, and practically pouting.
“Yeah, well I don’t want them,” Cam tells him.
“Ow,” they both hiss in unison, Cam shaking his arm and staring down at his wrist and John pressing his thumb to his own.
“Did it change color?” Cam asks.
“Yeah, mine’s kind of an ugly looking brown, you?” John says beside him.
“Pink?” John snorts.
“What?” Cam asks, indignant.
“Nothing, nothing,” John says, and Cam can hear the suppressed laughter, “really becoming against your skin tone.” Cam rolls his eye and spares John a glance; he’s languid in the seat beside Cam, limbs loose and practically flopped across the leather. Cam looks back down at the tattoo on his wrist and starts in surprise, and when John turns to him, he turns it into a short cough until John looks away uninterested. He’s not sure what it means, or why he doesn’t really want John to know, but the unease is gone, and the delicate lines of the symbol are glowing faintly blue.
“So I have this theory,” Cam says, scooping up more peach cobbler on the end of his fork. John quirks a brow at him, and takes a sip of coffee from the chipped ceramic mug in his hands. They’re sitting in a small mom’n’pop diner just off the highway outside of Oakly, Kansas. The walls are decorated with what looks like the contents of an old shed. License plates, bicycle wheels, and shiny hubcaps.
“Yeah, about the rainbow bright tattoos,” Cam explains, which Cam supposes isn’t really an explanation, and John is looking at him like he agrees that it isn’t much of an explanation and Cam is overcome with this sense of annoyance, and he flicks his gaze back down to his wrist, and the tattoo is now a pale white mark against his skin.
John is looking at him expectantly when Cam raises his gaze. There’s a cat clock on the wall beside his head, and its eyes move back and forth every second. Cam suspects it meows on the hour, and he’s pretty sure they shouldn’t be here to find out, because he thinks John still has his sidearm on him somewhere and he doesn’t think the employees would be too keen on having 9mm sized holes in their walls.
“Uhm, just that they’re probably…entertainment,” Cam says, lying. Poorly. John quirks an eyebrow at him. “You know…like…’oh what color will it be next!” He shoves another forkful of cobbler in his mouth.
“That’s a really stupid theory, Mitchell, even for you.” John says smirking.
“Sir,” Cam says, trying for authoritative. John just rolls his eyes.
“I hardly ever call you sir when we’re in uniform Mitchell, now eat your pie,” John tells him, grabbing his own fork and swiping a small bite. Cam tries to stab his hand with his fork but John snaps his hand back fast enough.
“Insubordination!” Cam shouts. John makes lewd noises as he slides the fork in his mouth and people from the table beside theirs is staring. Cam covers his face with a hand.
“Sorry, sir,” John says pointedly, smirking. Cam’s wrist twinges slightly, and this time Cam’s not sure if it’s his tattoo, or his pulse quickening.
Cam hates being a passenger. It’s what makes him feel antsy on commercial planes, and has him drumming his fingers almost nervously against his thigh with John behind the wheel. That and the fact that John seems to take every caution and speed limit sign as a personal challenge. Which Cam would be a hypocrite if he complained about; they’re pilots for a reason.
But Cam also hates being a passenger because with the sun warm against his face, and classic rock streaming softly from the radio, it’s only too easy and he’s all too content, to simply close his eyes, and fall asleep.
Cam dreams of an impossibly blue ocean, so sharp and clear he can see schools of fish darting beneath him, their scales shimmering in the sunlight high and bright over head. He’s straddling a white surfboard, a strap cuffed to his ankle in the cool water.
“Fuck yes, this next one!” Cam turns and squints against the sunlight to stare at the boy floating beside him. His green eyes catch the light reflecting off the water and they sparkle, his dark unruly hair sticks up every which way in the black, plastered to his forehead in the front. Cam watches as the boy positions himself, his eyes staring straight ahead to the wave building out at sea and growing steadily closer, building, building.
His face is steely determination, eyes concentrated, muscles straining against his board and flexed down to fingers and toes, curled. Then the wave is there and he’s shouting, “Cam, Cam!” His face nearly split in two with the size of his grin, barely able to contain it as he moves. His board an extension, another limb, carefully and easily controlled through the water, like a fighter through air.
The blue is endless all around them, ocean and sky infinitely stretched toward a horizon sloping over the curve of the earth as the wave curls around them, a tunnel of blue and green, white foam falling and crashing behind them.
So loud he can hardly hear the boy as he screams, elation, pure and utter blissed out ecstasy, as his board bounces over the water, the curve of his spine paralleled to the curve of the ocean above him. And he cuts sharply, and flies, impossibly quickly, as though someone has hit fast forward, but the boy is arcing above the water, and Cam thinks for sure he won’t land, but he does, impossibly dexterous, his feet glued to the board beneath him. He rides the wave out to the shore with Cam behind him, his stomach in his chest and his heart lost somewhere out in the wide and never ending stretch of aqua.
The boy collapses against the sand staring up at the near empty sky, at the clouds moving in the wind off the shore and Cam lies beside him in the shallow water, the ocean lapping at them, over them and the boy is panting beside him and Cam turns to face him, to stare at the slope of his nose and his parted lips and laughs out of breath,
Cam’s eyes flutter open, the sky blue outside the passenger’s side window as Cam stares up. He’s sprawled in his seat, his arms crossed and lying against his stomach, legs falling open in a v, cramped in the small front seat. He can feel eyes on him, a sixth sense perfected over the years. Without moving his head he looks down at his wrist: golden orange. He’s not sure what that means, but there’s a warm weight settled in his stomach he usually associates with his mother’s home cooking, and watching the football game with his dad and granddad on Thanksgiving.
He makes a show of moving, pretending to wake up, and when he looks over John is staring ahead at the highway laid out before them.
“Rise and shine sleeping beauty.”
The sun is setting by the time John pulls into the gravel driveway, pebbles kicked up on the underside of Cam’s Mustang that never fail to make him wince and pat her dash consolingly. John parks behind Cam’s brother’s red pick-up, and cuts the engine, hesitating. But Cam just smiles and practically bounds out the front seat, slamming the door behind him.
Mosquitoes buzz around his head, as he makes his way to the trunk, John trailing behind him. They both look up when a screen door creaks open and slams shut.
“Cameron!” A small voice shouts and Cam hollers, and squats on the ground beside his car as the child runs into his open arms. He scoops her up, a young girl barely six years old with blonde pigtails tied together with purple ribbon, the golden retriever that chases her out the front door, barks at Cam’s legs before running over to goose John.
Cam grins as John leans over to pet Milo, swinging Becca in his arms as he pulls his duffel out of the trunk of his car.
“Unca Cam’ron I made cookies!” Becca tells him, grasping Cam around the shoulders and pointing to the open door, the light from the front hall pouring out onto the darkening porch.
“You did!” Cam says excitedly.
“All by yourself?” John asks, smirking at Cam’s niece. She nods at him. “I’m not allowed to use the oven by myself,” John says to her and she giggles, collapsing against Cam’s chest.
“Becca, this is my friend John.”
“He comin’ to the weddin? Imma be the flower girl so I get to frow all the flowers and stuff. It’s a real portant job.” Becca says, out of breath with no sign of stopping. “I been practicin’ Unca Cam wanna see? Wanna see?” She wriggles out of Cam’s grip and he sets her down onto the driveway, she holds up both her hands, Cam grasps one in his own and stares in amusement at John, shifting a little uncomfortably behind him.
“I don’t got all day!” Becca demands waving her hand in front of John; John smirks and takes it, allowing himself to be led inside. It takes Cam’s mother even less time to pull him into a hug, and she’s running a hand up and down the back of his hair like she used to when he was a kid and he buries his face in the crook of her neck and grins,
“Oh Cameron, it’s good to have you home.” She lets him go, swipes a hand along his cheek. “And you brought company! Not that Vala again though,” she teases. Cam flushes slightly at the memory of his last encounter with overnight visitors and his parents. She winks at him.
“You must be Major Sheppard,” she says, smiling up at John. John looks a little stricken for a moment, because it looks like his mother is about to pull him into a hug, but she refrains and instead squeezes his shoulders with a bright grin.
“Uh…John ma’am,” he says politely, and Cam swears the tips of his ears are a little red.
“I’ll call you John on the condition you call me Wendy, dear,”
“Alright Wendy dear.” She hits him on the shoulder with the dish towel clutched in her hand.
“Fresh! You’ve been spending too much time with Cameron,” she says, leading them both into the kitchen.
“I think Cam is spending too much time with me, ma’…Wendy,” John says, catching himself and grinning sheepishly at Cam’s mother. Cam steps up to the counter and grabs a cookie off the plate by the stove, the chocolate chips still gooey and warm.
“You’ve been rubbing off on Cam, huh?” Wendy says, absently pulling oven mitts on. Cam looks up when John splutters.
“N—! Ye…uh,” John is definitely red, and Cam is getting uncomfortable when he wasn’t moments before which he thinks mean’s John is—
“Sorry but where’s your restroom?”
“Down the hall to the right, hon,” Wendy replies, waving him off. John ducks out of the kitchen and disappears around the corner. “I’m so glad you brought company. I just love meeting your friends Cameron. He seems like a nice man.”
“Yeah,” Cameron nods, fingers sliding over the skin of his wrist. He thinks he should think about covering the tattoo up, the potential for leading to awkward and security breaching questions all too great.
“Hey, ma, could you watch Sheppard for a bit, I need to go check something.”
“Watch him?” His mother asks, quirking a brow, “He going to steal the silver?”
“No I just meant…I don’t know what I meant,” Cam laughs it off and shrugs, “I’ll be right back.” His mother stares at him, shrewd and calculating. He hates that look, makes him want to swear he’s made his bed and done his homework. Cam heads out of the kitchen before she can say anything and starts up the stairs to his old bedroom.
Everything is pretty much the same as when he left it nearly two decades ago. His bed sits beneath the window on the far side of the room, the small wooden desk his grandfather built him in the corner. A cot is set up beside his bed, presumably for either he or Sheppard, whoever loses that game of rock-paper-scissors.
Cam flips the light switch by the door, the small room illuminated by the table lamp on the corner of his desk, the one with the WWI canon replica for a base. He makes his way to his closet, pushes past old clothes, and some of his mother’s things to find the trunk buried beneath sneakers, and baseball cards, his broken skateboard, and sweaters that must belong to his father.
The trunk never had a proper combination, and Cam lines up 0-0-0 and the cover snaps up easily. He rifles through the various junk, looking for…
“Yahtzee,” he grins, his fingers curling around the small wooden box in the bottom of the trunk. He opens it, prom photos falling out, concert and movie ticket stubs get pushed aside in favor of the small pouch Cam has no idea how he remembers existing, let alone its location.
“Haven’t seen this in years,” Cam says to himself, undoing the pouch and pouring the contents into his hand.
A large smooth black ring drops into his open palm, a curled up little card dropping beside it. Cam fits it onto the ring finger on his left hand and watches the smooth black surface turn a deep cerulean. He unfurls the slip of paper and looks at the label beside the swatch of blue: Calm, peaceful.