Chapter 5 - Contrition
(NC-17: word count: 4,999)
John would have classified his and Cam’s relationship at the USAFA as ‘acquaintances,’ and John had fallen for Cam even before he really knew him; which is why he cut ties in the first place. John wasn’t ever that strong willed when it came to his hormones and no one ever had a bad word to say about Cameron Mitchell. Seventeen years between them and John was older, used to disappointments and discretions and a school boy crush seemed so far away.
But his feelings hadn’t changed much in all that time, but John had, he knew, and he’d settled for being Cameron Mitchell’s best friend. He liked that position, it was a good one to fill, and he’d come to terms with the fact that his fantasies, the depraved and the domestic, weren’t ever going to happen. Because Cam, Cam was Cam. Back at the Academy John and two other cadets had this fuckbuddy threesome thing going on that John’s pretty certain he saw once in a really terrible military fetish porno, but there weren’t many options open to guys like him, and if you knew who was safe you didn’t really stray. James and Karl had frequent post coital debates concerning cadet preferences. They were always split when it came to Cameron. James purported wholeheartedly that anyone that much of a golden boy had to be straight, Karl on the other hand, said it only proved how far into the proverbial closet he must be. “He’s overcompensating. Maybe he has no idea that he is, but he is so overcompensating.”
Maybe it was John’s penchant for self-destruction but he always sort of agreed with James. He’d seen Cameron with women, heard him talk about women, felt nothing feigned in his reverence for them.
John is hot beneath the sun, material of his suit too thick; sweat collecting at his temples and the back of his neck. He remembers his own wedding, everything felt surreal, like it was supposed to be a fairy tale and it was easy to pretend that it was, they were in love. Nancy wasn’t a beard, not really. When they’d met, Nancy was getting over a messy break up and she and John had become fast friends. She was easy to talk to, and they came from similar backgrounds, so she knew what it was like feeling trapped. Nancy had taken a year off from school right after graduation and travelled through Europe despite her parents’ protests, John thinks that’s what made him fall for her in the first place.
Their relationship wasn’t some big conspiracy, an attempt at a cover up, but John knew he had particular preferences, he just wanted more than anything for Nancy to be enough. John wasn’t with her because he felt he needed to be but because he wanted to. But when his father started pressuring him to get married, to start a family, when Nancy joined the bandwagon, he proposed. At their wedding Nancy had looked more beautiful than he’d ever seen her, the way her dress caught the light and it sparkled around her; it should have been perfect except the real world was still lying out there and it was getting harder and harder to convince himself he could be satisfied by her.
Nothing is ever okay just because you want it to be. John knew that then, and came to terms with it now. Cam is pressed against him, the small fold up chairs set side by side in too tiny rows. He tries to ignore the feel of Cam’s arm where it meets his own and catches Ryan’s eye. Ryan smirks at him and John returns it, feels Cam tense beside him, because Cam is looking. He has been looking, all morning, at the hurried breakfast they shared before the bride arrived to get ready for the 11:30 ceremony, all through getting dressed together in Cam’s small bedroom.
Everything was simple when John knew his feelings were unrequited. He could deal with his feelings then, suppress them, because Cam’s friendship was more important than anything and everything was better before all of this. Now he knows what Cam feels like beneath his hands, the sound and the force of his orgasm, the way his lips part, red and full, when he’s aroused. John can deal with rejection, the certainty of what will never happen, but this tug of war feels like too much, and he gets being confused, the uncertainty of it all, but he just wants Cam to make up his mind.
He had another dream again last night. The sun and the water and a teenage Cam’s fingers around his cold, wet skin and the feel of his breath on his lips and the anticipation sizzling beneath the surface before he woke, alone and hot in Cam’s bed.
That morning Cam woke from that same reoccurring dream. Disoriented and confused he could still smell the salt, hear the sound of the incoming tide, and feel the brush of John’s lips against his. Getting ready had been stilted and awkward, neither of them saying anything especially important, but John had looked several times like he wanted to say something, but didn’t. So they talked about an episode of Wife Swap they’d seen recently until they were both dressed and ready to head down to the backyard where the guests were already arriving. When Ryan showed up and helped John fix his crooked tie he left them alone in the kitchen hurriedly, and hadn’t said much to either of them since.
Luckily he had a pretty good excuse, and Cam’s grandmother seemed awfully fond of John enough to engage him conversation all through the reception (even managing to get a dance out of him and with the photographic evidence Cam wasn’t going to let him forget being practically groped by a bible thumping ninety year old).
Cam looks past Kara’s shoulder to the back door, just in time to see the tailored ends of Sheppard’s jacket disappear inside with Ryan following close behind.
“Scuse me,” Cam says, smiling politely at Kara and patting her on the shoulder as he moves around her.
“Cam?” She questions, confused.
“I’ll be right back,” he throws over his shoulder.
“Cam, don’t,” she says and he turns to see her following, “what are you going to do?” Kara asks, grabbing the handle of the door as Cam reaches for it.
“I’m just going to the bathroom Kara,” Cam says feigning confusion.
“Yea, bullshit Cameron,” Kara says and Cam heaves a sigh and wraps his much larger hand over hers and pushes the door open. Kara struggles with him for a second and Cam stops, afraid of stepping on her bare feet.
“Don’t Cam,” she says, low and serious.
“This doesn’t really concern you,” he tells her, gently coaxing her out of the way.
“I’ve only known John Sheppard for three days and you want to know what I’ve learned about him?” Kara asks, darting in front of him to block the path to the kitchen, where Cam can hear voices. She crosses her arms over her chest, her face is flushed and she has a dangerous spark in her eyes Cameron’s only ever seen on one other woman before: his mother. It alarms him enough to stop.
“John Sheppard is an incredibly good man Cameron—” Kara starts and Cam scoffs, indignantly.
“No. I talk. You listen.” Kara snaps. “John is patient—”
“Sheppard?” Cam laughs, but Kara is scowling at him and he snaps his mouth shut.
“Yes. And he’s never going to be able to be…less patient if you don’t figure shit out,” Kara huffs, deflating.
“John cares about you Cam, and I don’t think there’s anything you can do to ruin that, but I think if you go in there right now and do what we both know you’re about to do…he won’t forgive you for that. So just think about this Cam.” Kara’s eyes are bright with worry as she stares up at him. Cam looks away, unable to hold her gaze and stares instead at the old hardwood floors beneath his shoes. He wants to say he’s taking the few long seconds that stretch between them to seriously consider her words. But he doesn’t. He sidesteps her, without looking at her and heads for the kitchen.
He doesn’t hear the sound of the back door so he supposes Kara is still standing there, disappointed. He doesn’t turn around to confirm. He knows Kara is right, he’s spent the better part of his day picking at all of Ryan’s personality flaws, from the significant to the completely trivial. Though he’s done almost nothing to convince himself that this feeling making a quick meal of his insides is a sense of protection, a best friend looking out for another and not the petty jealousy he knows all too well. He’s sure John’s tattoo is glowing neon green.
He steps into the kitchen as nonchalantly as is possible. John is laughing, low and throaty with Ryan’s hand on his shoulder. They’re leaning against the counter smiling at each other. John’s gaze finds Cam’s and his smile falters, his laughter slowly fading.
Ryan must catch John’s look because his voice dies, his unfinished story along with it as he turns to the source of the tension.
“Party move inside?” Cam jokes, lamely.
“Hey Cam,” Ryan says, not quite meeting Cam’s gaze, head ducking slightly, he flicks a gaze to John, and then back towards Cam, “we were just—”
“Yeah,” Cam says, cutting him off, because no shit you were just, he thinks. He can’t quite read the expression on John’s face but he feels a wave of disappointment wash over himself and he’s not sure who it is coming from.
“Ryan and I—“John tries and Cam cuts him off too, because he really doesn’t want that confirmation in inevitably pitiful excuses.
“Yeah, last night pretty much made that clear for me, thanks,” Cam smiles like he’s sharing in a big joke, and Ryan looks away.
“Look Cam we’re not—“ Ryan stops and his eyes dart to John like he’s looking for help.
“No?” Cam asks.
“No.” Ryan reiterates, and Cam laughs. Ryan cracks a nervous grin.
“So last night?” Cam pushes, and he knows he is toeing a line and he doesn’t really care, because Ryan is still standing too close to John and he can still see so clearly in his mind his hands spanning John’s back, and John moving his own up the inseam of Ryan’s thigh.
“Uh..n—” Ryan looks stricken for a moment.
“Cam,” John warns.
“You always did love ‘em and leave ‘em.” Cam laughs, his voice cold.
“Cam,” John says again, this time moving forward, his back going rigid.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Ryan asks, standing up straighter and taking a step towards Cam.
“Ryan,” John says, voice a strained calm, trying to mediate.
“No John, I’d really like to hear this,” Ryan waves a hand towards Sheppard.
“What?” Cam asks, laughing. “You don’t remember Matt Green?”
“Matt Green?” Ryan says, incredulous.
“Yeah 5’ll, blonde hair, blue eyes,” Cam says, sarcastic.
“Matt Green, from high school Matt Green?” Ryan asks, confused.
“Matty Green!” Cam shouts, “crazy about this kid,” Cam explains, waving a hand at Ryan. And he was, Cam remembers, he and Matt a year younger than Ryan which automatically made him somehow cooler to be around. Matt and Ryan had been friends for a year before they started hooking up. It was casual at first, small town and all that, they couldn’t afford to be very public about any kind of relationship. But the perks of being friends meant spending hours together, all night out, overnighters weren’t overly suspicious.
“But you were never really that into him, were you?” Cam asks rhetorically.
“Cam, I broke up with Matt when I went off to college,” Ryan reasons, staring at Cam with something like concern.
“After using him,” Cam says and Ryan is shaking his head. “No?”
“Just…getting laid was more important to you than having an actual relationship, and you pretended for a year that once you went away to school things would be different. And he loved you Ryan and you fucking left.”
“I was eighteen Cam!” Ryan shouts. “That was twenty years ago!” His arms wave in gesticulation.
“I’m pretty sure Matt Green is over it!” Ryan reasons, “hasn’t he been with his partner for a decade now?”
“You weren’t the one that had to stay behind after that Ryan,” Cam tries, but Ryan is shaking his head, and Cam can feel the heat rising on his face. “And it’s not like he was the only—”
“Cam.” John’s voice is dangerously low, his hands are up in front of him in a defensive position, poised for the offense, as though he’s expecting to have to break up a fist fight. His words are measured and controlled and Cam recognizes the tensed stance, has seen it many times, but never before has he been on the receiving end of John Sheppard’s ‘if a member of my team is harmed’ voice.
“Give me a fucking break Mitchell,” Ryan hisses. He laughs a little desperately. “Not everyone is harboring decades worth of unrequited feelings for someone,” Ryan is looking at Cam pointedly.
“Hello pot, meet kettle,” Ryan smirks.
“Yeah? Why’s that?” Cam asks, the tattoo on his wrist is charcoal gray when he flicks a gaze to it.
“When’s the last relationship you’ve had Cam?” Ryan asks, crossing his arms over his chest expectantly. “Hmm?” Cam only stares wordlessly between the two.
“That’s right Mitchell, never. You’ve never stuck around long enough—“
“No. That’s not…” Cam starts, stepping forward.
“How about Amy Vandenberg?” Ryan shouts, throwing his arms in the air and laughing.
“How long were you in love with her for? Four years of high school give or take a decade?”
“Ryan,” John tries, moving forward, but Ryan ignores him.
“And when’d that finally happen?” Ryan asks. “Was it the best, what? Twenty-four hours of your life?” Ryan grins.
“That’s not fair,” Cam says, and he’s alarmed at how shaky his voice sounds, humiliation and rage simmering beneath his flushed skin. “My job i--“
“Is a really excellent excuse,” Ryan snaps. “Grow the fuck up Mitchell.” Ryan huffs a patronizing laugh and grabs a small pile of napkins off the counter beside John.
“Ryan,” John says reaching out to grab at the sleeve of his tuxedo but Ryan pulls away too quickly and Sheppard closes his fingers over nothing.
“Sorry John,” he says quietly. He backs up toward the door, “try again in twenty. He might still be worth it at 57.” Ryan smiles softly at John and raises the napkins in his hand, “gonna give these to Wendy,” he says and leaves.
Cam stands where he is, not sure what to say, he sees Kara out of the corner of his eye and he turns a fraction of an inch, to see her shake her head, livid, before she disappears.
“Mom wanted napkins?” Cam asks. John doesn’t say anything for a second.
“Yeah, Ryan and I came in to grab them,” John tells him, looking at the floor.
“So you uh…” Cam starts unsure of how to ask what he wants to know.
“Grabbing extra napkins isn’t a euphemism for anything, no,” John reassures him.
“So you aren’t…” Cam leaves the end of his sentence open.
“What would it matter to you Mitchell?” John asks, leaning back against the counter and crossing his arms over his chest. Cam looks down at the scuff mark his shoe made and spares a thought for his mother’s indignation before raising his head and catching John’s eye. He opens his mouth then snaps it shut.
“It matters to me.”
“It matters to me,” Cam says finally, willing himself not to look away from John, even when his eyes flicker and turn cold and expressionless.
“No,” John says, shaking his head.
“What?” Cam asks, exhaling in a rush of breath, bemused.
“It doesn’t get to matter to you Cam. Not like this.” John is shaking his head, and Cam is alarmed to see his eyes are glossy. Cam has only ever seen John cry twice, John has only ever allowed him to see John cry twice. This is the worst that Cam’s felt in a long time, and this right here, is what he’d been trying desperately to avoid. He’s seen what the job does to relationships, Daniel had Sha’re until the job, Teal’c and Drey’auc and nearly his son, and Sam’s list is too long for Cam to properly recount. That was his excuse for a long time, and Ryan is right, it’s the reason he and Amy would never have worked, but John. John can take care of himself, has taken care of Cam more times than he can count.
He remembers telling Vala the hard part about being on a team is not sacrificing yourself for them, it’s watching them do it for you. The thought of leaving behind a grieving best friend is difficult enough without adding whatever they could be into the whole complicated mix. And it’s not that that he’s afraid of, because Ryan was right about that too…it’s him. It’s Cameron, and his complete and utter lack of relationship finesse, because it’s true, he’s never had one, not really.
There were a few, and he cared for them, deeply, went ring shopping for one before he realized he was only doing it because that’s what he was supposed to do and called the whole thing off, the whole six months they’d been together and it hurt him worse realizing how little his life changed without her.
He can’t do that to John. Can’t fuck it all up like he knows he’s going to, because that’s what Cameron Mitchell does.
“I need to know! Do you have feelings for me Cam?” John’s voice cuts through the silence, harsh and strained. Cam just stares at him, wide eyes darting around the room like he’s scoping out his exit.
“You do know what the DA stands for in DADT right?” Cam asks, voice cracking, trying for a smile that feels ridiculously out of place and more than a little insane. John’s next move isn’t entirely out of character, if not a little unexpected, as he grabs at ends of his hair and shouts, angrily.
“I don’t know John,” Cam says, instead. He looks down at the floor, hunching into himself. “I’ve…” Cam doesn’t know how to say how he doesn’t know what he feels. The moment feels monumental, pivotal, and Cam was never really good with words, too blunt, too impatient, too easily irritated, too selfish. He wants to say what John wants to hear, but mostly he wants to feel it.
“John, you’re my best friend. I would die for you without a second thought, you know that.” John just nods. “And…have I thought about this…” Cam says, waving a hand between the two of them.
“Yeah, maybe sometimes,” Cam tries. “You’re…you know, with the—“ and he waves a hand to John’s hair and the soft smirk forming on his face, and generally to the rest of John.
“Cam—“ John starts but Cam waves him off, pleading. He needs to say this.
“But I’ve never really thought about us. Never really considered there could ever be an us, and I don’t know what I want John. I don’t even know if what I feel is mine.” Cam winds his hands into the jacket of his tuxedo, gesturing to his chest, over his heart.
“Everything that’s happened between us,” Cam says, “I don’t know why I did any of those things.” Cam straightens when John inches forward, breaching the three foot wide space he put carefully between he and John.
“What do you feel right now?” John asks, still moving closer, and Cam tenses.
“I uh…I feel,” Cam’s breath is caught in a throat gone dry, as Sheppard steps into the danger zone, his hand reaching across the small gap between their bodies to grip Cam’s shoulder, sliding hot across his skin to his neck, and back to cradle his head.
“What if everything I feel isn’t mine John, I don’t want to hurt y—“ Cam says, voice barely above a harsh whisper, his hands still curled into the fabric of his shirt, afraid to move, barely breathing.
“What if I don’t care?” John asks, determined, and then his lips are against Cam’s and it feels like the ending to a good story, to every SG-1 mission report that Cam could get his hands on, the accumulation of a lifetime of trying. Except better, because John’s hands are on his face, holding him close and Cam’s are loosening away from his own chest to fall a little fumbling against John’s hips, his fingers pulling up the edge of John’s shirts to press against hot skin.
John’s mouth is persistent, his teeth nipping and pulling at Cam’s lower lip and Cam whimpers. The side of Cam’s face is cold as one of John’s hands is suddenly gone, and he wants to grab it, to put it back, but then it starts scrabbling at the button on his pants, pressing against where his cock is hard and heavy and Cam groans, pulling back. He pushes John away.
“Can’t,” Cam says, panting. John doesn’t look convinced. “Sheppard.” Cam shakes his head, backing away. John gives him a blank look, his face flushed and his lips red, the line of his erection obvious in his pants.
“Cam,” John’s voice is pleading and his eyes are filling with angry tears and Cam shakes his head.
“No I mean…” Cam ducks his head, when he looks back up John looks hurt. “My gran’ma is outside Sheppard,” Cam smirks.
“So?” John jokes, but he looks visibly relieved.
“You want to give her a heart attack Sheppard?” Cam asks.
“She’s been ogling me since I arrived, I don’t think she’d mind so much,” John teases and Cam steps forward and punches him lightly.
“Later okay?” Cam looks at where his hand lays casually against Sheppard’s chest, trembling with the adrenaline pumping through his system. John grabs his hand and holds it, rubbing at his palm, the both of them shaking softly.
“Cam,” John says. Cam doesn’t trust his voice so he nods. “Only if you mean it. I’m a big boy Mitchell, but I can’t play any more games.” Cam doesn’t say anything, just steps forward the foot between them and cradles John’s face in the hand that isn’t clutching John’s and kisses him deeply. He pulls away an inch, their breath hot on each other’s lips and kisses John once more, hard and quick, before pulling away completely, letting their hands drop and fall away from each other.
“Later.” John nods and Cam turns away.
John leans back against the counter, huffs out a sigh that’s equal parts exasperation and contentment. His mouth twitches up into a smirk he can’t quite control and he looks up in time to watch Cameron walk away. John has had to be discreet when it comes to attraction, looking when no one else is, subtlety. And the going is always the easiest to get away with, so yeah he’s had some experience watching Cameron walk away, or…bend over to pick things up that John may or may not have accidentally dropped…or lean over a console to see what Sam’s working on…
And that one time with the leather…
John makes a noise he would never define even under threat of pain or death and Kara jumps into the kitchen with a huge grin.
“Oh my god!” John crosses his arms over his chest and shrugs, trying to suppress the smile. Kara punches him in the shoulder, “ha! You can thank me later.”
“Right, right,” John nods, pushing himself away from the counter and allowing Kara to pull him outside. John can see Cam bent low talking to his gran’ma, and when John flashes him the dirtiest grin he can manage Cam smiles back before flushing and turning his back to him.
“I love you guys!” Kara is clutching at John’s shirt and grinning. “You should have caught the garter.”
“Yeah, no thank you. I’ve been to pris—married.”
“Ooh so cynical,” Kara laughs. John turns again, stares at the slope of Cameron’s brow and the bridge of his nose and the span of his hands and wonders if that’s what Cam wants some day.
“You guys are good together.”
“Oh?” John says, turning to look back down at Kara. She’s watching him watch Cam. “How do you know this?”
“Because I’m psychic.”
“You mean psychotic?” John asks, seriously. Kara winks.
“Because Cam likes taking care of people, but he’s afraid to. And that’s idiotic. And you John Sheppard are just the type to tell him he’s an idiot.” John doesn’t say anything.
“Also both of you are way too pretty not to be together, it’s just logical.”
“Mmm, good,” Kara nods. John smirks and looks away, catching out of the corner of his eye a streak of pale blue careening towards him before something is pressed against his side.
“John!” Becca is looking up at him, waving her arms and John stoops to pick her up.
“Hey, Becca,” John says.
“I have to ask you something,” Becca tells him, speaking uncharacteristically soft. John walks over to the back porch and sits down on the swing with Becca in his lap.
“Oh yea?” John asks, lowering his head towards hers as she looks up at him, her small fists closed over something shining from between her fingers.
“Yes,” Becca nods. “Will you marry me?” She asks, her high pitched voice going up holding a dark blue ring in the center of her palm. Kara snorts and John tries to hide his smirk at Becca’s glare. Kara covers her mouth and tries to look apologetic.
“Marry you?” John asks, “hmm, well that’s a pretty big step Becca.”
“Yes, but I am very mat-tor for my age,” Becca explains. “Does the ring fit?” She asks, and John grins and slides it on to his ring finger.
“Perfect!” He declares. He looks down at the ring in time to see the indigo turning a pale blue. “What’s that mean?” John asks her.
“It means you’re in love!” Becca explains to him.
“Really?” John asks, watching as the ring turns green. “What about that?” He asks.
“Uhmmmmm even more in love,” Becca says, her hands clutching at John’s ring finger, she nods seriously.
“I used to have a mood ring,” Kara says, sitting down on the swing beside John. “A boy gave it to me, I think his name was Greg…or Billy? I don’t know,” Kara sighs. “I used to get a lot of gifts from boys.”
“Whor—“ John starts and Kara’s eyes widen and she punches him on the shoulder.
“Child Sheppard, delicate innocent ears present.”
“For the record I was going to say ‘who wouldn’t want to give you gifts’.”
“Falsely accused,” John says, mock indignant. He stares down at the ring on his finger, the cold metal changing yet again to a light yellow.
“Wait…” John says, staring down at the ring on his finger. He’s struck suddenly by a sense of deja-vu he can’t quite place, it settles uncomfortably in his stomach, like whatever it is isn’t good. “Where’d you get this Becca?” John asks.
“What’s wrong?” Kara asks. John can feel her hand on his arm.
“I got it from Uncle Cam’s room. I sort of stoled it but I’ll put it back when we’re married.”
“Wait!” John stands suddenly scooping Becca up and placing her on the bench.
“John?” Kara asks, concerned, “you alright?”
“Yeah, I just…remembered something, I’ll be right back.” John pulls the rickety screen door open and steps into the short hallway leading to the kitchen. He paces back and forth in front of the small off white refrigerator covered in magnets and pictures of Cam and Ash as children. He pulls his sleeve up and stares at the thin pale lines on his wrist.
“I almost forgot about you,” he says to it, having worn his signature wrist band since arriving. It makes him feel vaguely uncomfortable to catch glimpses of the mark, and not wanting others to either he’s taken to covering it up. John’s excuse has been awkward questions, but he thinks it would be easy enough to claim their entire circle of friends each got a tattoo to signify their bond. Ironic, John thinks.
“You change colors,” John tells it, staring at the mark, pale blue. “Hmm.”
John’s not an idiot; he knows the likelihood of Cam just happening to have a mood ring lying around is slim to none. He doesn’t believe in coincidences.
“He knew.” John says to no one. “Fuck,” John collapses against a kitchen chair and stairs at a picture of a ten year old Cam holding up a large bass. Why the hell didn’t he say anything? John wonders. There’s no logical reason for Cam to have kept this from him. Would he have told Cam, though? If the situations had been reversed? Maybe not. Cam is so easy to read sometimes, he has too much passion to be reserved and he’s not afraid of looking like a moron, he gets angry and when he’s really upset he throws what can only be described as tantrums. John laughs to himself.
But an actual honest to God mood tattoo, he always knew the Ancients were several kinds of fucked up, but really. He wonders what Cam’s learned about him, and whether or not he needed the tattoo to figure it out. He stares at his wrist and wonders what he’s missed from Cam.
Ch 4: Repulsion | Chapter 6: Zenith