Chapter 8: Entropy
(NC-17; word count: 4,860)
John blinks himself awake, the sun burning his dilated pupils as he struggles to take in his surroundings. His back hurts, the ground beneath him hard and firm and the thought of the others moving around him, maybe starting a fire for breakfast flits through his head before he realizes he’s on Earth. There’s something warm and heavy lying across his chest and as he stretches his arms he wraps them more firmly around the mass of muscle and sleep warm skin of Cam’s bare back.
He grins easily and content, tipping his head back to stare at the ceiling of the tree house, closing his eyes with the intent to revel in the feel of Cam’s chest rising and falling soft against his own and his hair tickling beneath John’s chin. Cam stirs suddenly then and John closes his eyes and stills pretending to be asleep, until Cam is moving to wrap a loose and lazy fist around John’s half hard cock and John’s hips stutter into his hand with a small sigh.
Cam lifts himself up, maneuvers a hand beneath John’s head to balance poised above him. He’s grinning and John returns it, sliding a hand through his hair to haul him in for a kiss.
“Morning breath,” Cam protests trying to duck away. “My breath stinks,” Cam shouts, just before John forces himself on him.
“And that would be different from always how?” John teases, and Cam just shakes his head, lowering his eyes with a mischievous grin and then his hand tightens around John with a flick of his wrist that has John’s back arching up off the floor.
“Behave or I’ll…” Cam trails off, jerking john harder.
“Stop.” Cam says, stilling his hand and John lets out a whimper of protest, grappling at Cam’s hand in a whine. Cam speeds his hand up, ducking against John and licking and sucking at his neck as John pulses and comes.
John pulls Cam against him as his breathing returns to normal, Cam slides his arms around John’s neck and settles on top of him. John moves his hands down Cam’s back to the bare skin of his ass. He can feel Cam’s dick harden between them but when he tries to force a hand between their bodies Cam pulls away.
John doesn’t ask, just lets him pull away as he moves to start pulling on his wrinkled clothes strewn about the tree house.
“My parents will be up soon. Let’s try to avoid the walk of shame through the kitchen with my mother at the stove.” John ducks his head and smirks.
“Besides,” Cam says, and John looks up in time to see Cam press a hand to the tent in his pants. “I really want to fuck you in the shower.”
When they finally make it down the stairs for breakfast, Wendy is standing at the stove scrambling eggs. John catches Cameron’s eye, he looks away towards the table, blushing to the tips of his ears.
“You two are up early,” she says, without turning around and John can tell by the tone of her voice she knows exactly what they were up to. Cam is flushing even brighter if it’s possible, John thinks.
“Yeah, early start.”
“Mhm,” she says innocently. Cam pulls two mugs out of the cabinet by the refrigerator, clinking them together loudly, clunking them down against the counter and noisily pouring coffee. John is trying not to laugh at Cam’s expense as he stands up to help. Cam hands him his coffee mug and John smirks at him, letting his fingers brush unnecessarily over Cam’s as he pulls the mug from his outstretched hand. Cam looks up at him like he’s ready for round three when Wendy turns and bustles between them to get to the table.
“Here, sit, eat!” She orders, pouring a generous amount of eggs onto each of their plates. Cam sits down next to John at the table. When her back is turned John slides a foot between Cam’s and kicks him playfully.
“What are you thirteen?” Cam asks, hiding his face behind his coffee.
John shrugs and kicks him again, “If I am that would make what you did early really inappropriate,” and Cam scowls at him.
“You make the best eggs Mrs…Wendy,” John says, turning to Cam’s mother and smiling. She looks pleased and pats him on the shoulder.
“You’re just saying that because you’re used to base food. I wish you boys didn’t have to leave so soon. What’s another couple of days?” She says, sighing. She leans against Cam and runs a hand through his damp hair.
John couldn’t agree with her more, he isn’t a picky eater but there is something to be said about eggs that doesn’t mold itself into ladled shapes. What’s the price of freedom against delicious bacon, anyway? John turns to ask Cam, when he notices the other man looking seriously shell-shocked. His hand clutching his fork stalled halfway to his mouth.
“Cam?” John asks, wondering what’s wrong. “You alright?” Cam doesn’t say anything and John snaps his fingers in front of his face.
“What? No. I mean, yeah,” he says, looking spacey, “I’m fine. I just...” Cam shoves the forkful into his mouth and gulps what looks like half his coffee before he’s pushing away from the table and standing. “I’m gonna get a head start on packing.”
“Why?” John asks, staring at him in concern. “Are you sure—“
“I’ll be upstairs if you need me,” he says to his mother before all but fleeing the kitchen.
“Well what’s got his knickers in a twist?” Wendy asks, looking after him. John shrugs.
Cam runs a hand over his freshly shaven jaw, the image of his razor dragging across John’s skin and the scent of soap and hair gel still fresh. He rolls up his jeans and the few t-shirts he’s brought and puts them carefully at the bottom of his pack, placing his toiletry bag on top. He zips the duffel wordlessly and collapses on his unmade cot, staring at the torn hems of his jeans.
The weekend feels like a dream, an implanted memory. He knows it happened, can remember each moment with a painful clarity but it doesn’t seem real. His mother is in the kitchen cooking breakfast for the man he just slept with. She didn’t ask and he didn’t tell but she’s filling John up on bacon and eggs like she doesn’t know how they christened her shower that morning.
And now what? What was his plan, he wonders, staring at the oak floors and contemplating what the hell he was thinking. He thinks he’s maybe gone crazy because this isn’t some alternate reality where rainbows arch over the land and flowers rain down over the big neon “Welcome to Gaytopia” sign. Cam knows this whole thing felt a little too good to be true.
“Hey,” John’s voice sounds husky and soft and Cam looks up as he knocks unnecessarily on the door frame. Cam nods and John wanders into the room and over to his own clothes, strewn about. “It’s amazing how much mess you make in such a little time, huh?” John jokes and Cam nods without looking over.
“You alright?” John asks. Cam pauses, wanting to say something but he snaps his mouth shut before:
John nods without looking up from the jeans he’s rolling. “Figure we should head out sooner rather than later.” Cam nods in agreement and watches silently as John finishes packing, rolling his t-shirts and dirty boxers and shoving balled up socks in between before placing his toiletry bag on top and zipping it up. When he’s finished he stands and Cam rises to grab his own duffel.
“Hey,” John says softly. Cam turns to look as John closes the short distance between them and captures Cam in a kiss. Cam stands awkwardly in the center of the room wanting to both push and pull, settling instead on neither.
John breaks the kiss and looks at him, but he says nothing before picking up his pack and turning away.
Outside in front of the car Cam thinks for a moment his mother is going to say something ridiculous, or whip out a PFLAG sign and hang it on the mailbox or something. But she just pulls him down in a hug and holds him tight and says,
“I love you Cameron.” She grabs John in a hug and stares between the two of them with a smile. Cam doesn’t say anything, just nods once and turns to pop the trunk on the Mustang.
“Have a safe trip!” His mother calls after them, shouting into Cam’s open window. “It was lovely to meet you John.” John smiles and nods as Cam backs out of the driveway.
When they hit the highway John’s hand has made it to Cam’s thigh, his thumb rubbing small circles. Cam can feel himself tense at the touch and John pulls his hand away a few minutes later anyway and Cam can’t figure out what to say.
The car ride to the mountain is awkward. John sleeps (or pretends to) for most of Cam’s four hour shift and blasts Johnny Cash for his own, rendering talking an unnecessary obligation. When the sun streams in through the window he can see John’s warped reflection overlaid against a backdrop of passing scenery. He stares at the slope of his nose, the furrow of his brow over the top of his aviators, and the bow of his lips and he thinks about them against his own and he feels a sense of dread as Cheyenne Mountain looms steadily closer and closer.
John pulls into a parking spot and cuts the engine but makes no move to leave the car. Cam sits up straighter and stares at the concrete wall in front of them. He doesn’t know what to say. He turns to look at John and he opens his mouth and sighs, looking away.
They’ve barely made it into the mountain before being accosted by Vala, John looks tired when he smiles as she bounds into his arms.
“Things are dreadfully boring without you two here for entertainment!” She says, clapping her hands together excitedly. “I believe it is customary when one goes on a trip to bring back souvenirs for their unfortunate comrades who must stay behind in dank, dark, lonely underground facilities,” Vala reasons, looking at Cam expectantly.
“Yeah, sorry Vala, maybe next time,” Cam tells her. She pouts.
“I never get to have anything pretty,” she complains.
“Nice jacket. That new?” Cam asks, noting the non-regulation fitted trench coat she is wearing.
“Yes! Do you like it? Daniel bought it for me with his plastic money card.”
“Did he?” John asks, pretending to admire the coat.
“Does he know?” Cam asks with a sigh.
“Not yet. But I am sure it is only a matter of time!” Vala says cheerfully.
“Speak of the Devil,” Cam mutters as Daniel Jackson rounds the corner into their corridor. His face brightens as he sees them.
“Ah guys! Good. I’m glad you’re here did Vala tell you?” He asks, enthusiastically.
“Bit perky about credit card fraud isn’t he?” Cam asks John.
“What?” Daniel asks, looking around confused. He spots Vala who’s staring intently at a sign announcing proper fire emergency procedure. Daniel rolls his eyes and turns back to Cam and John.
“Right. No. I meant about the device?”
“What? No. Though I can see how fashion might trump that,” Cam says sarcastically.
“What about it?” John asks.
“It was discovered deactivated this morning. Now no one actually deactivated it, despite Sam’s best efforts, it seems to have just shut off on its own, or somehow on your end.”
“What?” Cam says in shock. “So…what?” Daniel sighs and waves them forward.
“Come on, Landry wanted to debrief as soon as you arrived.”
“So as far as we can tell the device is completely inactive. We were picking up faint energy traces when the device was active, and now, so far, nothing,” Sam explains, pointing to some chart on the screen in front of them. Cam wonders if sometimes Sam throws in gibberish just to see if anyone’s paying attention (or actually understands whatever she’s attempting to explain).
“We’d like to have you checked out by Doctor Lam, just in case.” General Landry addresses the two before pushing his chair away from the conference table and standing. John and Cam rise with him, standing at attention before he waves them at ease with a hand.
“Now, I’d like to speak with Major Sheppard in my office before he heads down to the infirmary.” Cam sneaks a glance to John who raises a brow at him with a small shrug of his shoulders. Cam watches them enter Landry’s office, the door closing behind them. He can see John’s face through the glass window, but Landry is out of sight, and anyway, Cam was never any good at reading lips.
A moment passes, John is stern and silent before a look Cam’s only seen a handful of times flits across Sheppard’s features. It lasts barely a fraction of a second before his eyes are blank and his face is tense, like he’s being berated.
But for that brief moment Sheppard looked…ecstatic…shocked…surprised…deligh
“They want to send him to Atlantis.” Cam jumps in surprise, snapping his head to see Daniel standing beside him with his hands on his hips watching John. He didn’t even hear him come up behind him. It takes him a second to process what Daniel said, even longer to draw any kind of conclusions from it, but when it sinks in it hits him hard, like cold ocean water or a zat blast to the head.
“Wait…what?” He asks, shocked, turning to John and back to Daniel. “But…no,” he says, in disbelief. He looks at John and then at Daniel, pointing to the major and back at himself his finger flittering between them and there are words jumbled in his head and he says decisively,
“Mine.” And then he’s flushing, hard and Daniel’s eyes widen and he’s trying hard not to smile Cam can tell. “Oh...let’s pretend I didn’t just say that.”
Daniel looks away.
“Doctor Lam needed…right? So I’ll be there.” Cam turns and wanders out of the debriefing room, ignoring Sam’s eyes as he passes her in the doorway.
As Cam is being poked, prodded, scanned, and generally minutely inspected he wonders what John is thinking. It’s the first time in a few days that he realizes he can’t feel it. This morning something felt wrong, like pulling your underwear on backwards, like he didn’t fit. And now that he knows, it’s like he can feel that space, where John used to be, pushing up against his own thoughts and feelings, tangling with them until they were inseparable from his own. He feels almost cold, empty, like if he’s suddenly not wearing his dogtags, he’d be clutching at his chest wondering where they are, but it’s not tangible enough for Cam to go searching for.
He misses it. But there’s a clarity of mind that he hasn’t felt since it started. Like everything just seems so much worse, all of what held him back for the past few years from John is suddenly rushing back and he feels trapped.
“…and as a precaution keeping you in close proximity to each other, at least until we’re certain there are no lasting effects.” Cam looks up and realizes Doctor Lam is speaking to both he and Sheppard, whose nodding.
“So Sam doesn’t know why the tattoos are still there?” John is asking and Cam looks down at his own wrist, having forgotten about the tattoo until now. It’s still there, small and pale.
“No, she’s not sure. Daniel hasn’t been able to find anything yet. But it’s possible it’s just a nice souvenir,” Doctor Lam sighs. “You’re cleared for active duty.”
Cam pulls his shirt back over his head as Doctor Lam gives a final nod and disappears around the curtain surrounding their two beds.
John lets his fingers trail over the skin of his wrist before replaces his band over it. He watches Cam make a big to do over fixing his t-shirt, adjusting the collar, then the sleeves, pulling his dogtags out, then shoving them back in and starting over.
John wonders if he is waiting for John to say something, or maybe for John to get bored and leave first. He thinks about that morning, the way Cam was playing footsy under the table with him one minute and looking like he’d seen an entire Ori fleet the next.
“So the device,” John starts, staring in front of him and not at Cam who stills beside him.
“This morning,” John tries.
“What about it?” Cam asks.
“You…” John doesn’t know what he wants to ask. “Do you feel different?”
“I dunno. I guess, sorta, yea.” John flicks a gaze to Cam, who looks away and down at his hands folded in his lap. “Do you?”
“Oh,” Cam coughs. “I mean…I feel like I can think easier. It’s like when you get happy drunk, not stumbling and vomiting in the potted plants drunk but the, happy buzzed kind of drunk when everything just feels good. And you know what you should and shouldn’t do, but the shouldn’t doesn’t seem like that big of a deal…”
John feels something tighten in his chest.
“And now I feel like…I’m sober. And it’s the morning after…”
“Ah,” John lets out a strangled noise, the sting behind his eyes from what he’s not sure because there’s plenty to choose from, anger, disappointment, humiliation. He stands up and turns away from Cam, can’t look at him.
“So I’m your drunken regret?” He asks, bitterly. He can feel Cam wince behind him.
“I didn’t…I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Then what?” John asks with a self-deprecating laugh.
“Can we do this somewhere else?” Cam asks, lowering his voice as the shadow of a medic passes by the curtain.
“Sure, sir,” John nods. He turns and walks away without looking back. His duffel is in his quarters when he gets there, shutting the door behind him he collapses straight back against the bed, palm clamped over his face, fingers rubbing over his throbbing temples.
“So are you going to go?” John jumps, sitting up and grabbing at the thigh holster that isn’t there. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Vala,” John sighs, clutching at his racing heart. “Christ.”
“Well?” She asks, without preamble, jumping up out of the arm chair in the corner of the room and bounding over to the bed. “Are you leaving us for greener pastors?”
“Pastures,” John corrects, shaking his head in confusion. “And…I don’t know yet.”
“I hear they want to give you command of your own team? That’d be exciting, bossing people around, not having to take orders, though you never really seem to take them anyway.” John just looks at her. “Which I admire greatly of course, no I too am not one to sit idly back and fall in command.”
“I think Daniel nearly drowned himself in tears when he found out they want to send you and Sam. I think Samantha would make a wonderful expedition leader, don’t you agree?” Vala smiles.
“Yeah, she will.” John nods, meaning it. Truthfully, he’s not sure what he wants do. When Landry said they wanted him to command the SGA-1 he’d been, to say the least, shocked. Apparently his expression of the gene rivals even that of O’Neill. He’s not fooling himself into believing that isn’t the real reason for the sudden change in personnel. He’d be a glorified light switch, but SGA-1.
“We’d all miss you, if you decide to leave us. Your contribution to this team is invaluable,” Vala drawls.
“Samantha has the science, Daniel has the book smarts, Teal’c’s eyebrows are the most expressive in two galaxies, my feminine wiles and overt sexual prowess, your hair, Cameron’s…Cameron’s unique and unsurpassed ability to get beaten up by most life forms.” John laughs, and Vala bumps her shoulder into his.
“I would miss that,” John admits.
“It does provide limitless sources of entertainment.”
John catches Daniel in his office before he leaves for the night.
“Hey, you have a minute?” He asks, knocking on the door frame a few obligatory times before stepping into the softly lit room. Daniel is stooped over his counter looking at a heavy text.
“Uh, yeah sure,” He says, looking a little surprised. “What’s up?”
“You said you found the device deactivated this morning,” John clarifies and Daniel nods. “But does that mean it was deactivated this morning?” He asks, remembering Cam’s skittish look over breakfast and his sudden desire to be anywhere other than with John.
“Uh…” Daniel says, and he steps away from the counter and grabs up a folder behind him. “No, we checked the security footage from Sam’s lab just to make sure nothing interesting happened. The device just shut off,” Daniel says, flipping through some papers.
“Here,” he says and John steps closer. “Timestamp was approximately midnight.”
“Oh,” John says, unsure of how to react.
“Is there a problem?” Daniel asks, watching him curiously.
“No, just curious is all,” John says, unconvincingly, he thinks if the way Daniel is looking at him is anything to go by.
“Goodnight,” John says, awkwardly.
There’s a park just a few miles off the highway, right outside Colorado Springs, small enough John only stumbled across it once by accident, couldn’t even find it on a map later. It’s quiet, grassy and tree lined where families come to play with their kids and throw Frisbees with the dog.
John sits on the side of a softly sloping hill overlooking the small pond in the center of the park. Ducks float on the serene surface as a little boy and his sister throw scraps of bread to them.
John marvels at it. The little boy shrieking each time a duck plucks up his bread, the way the little girl’s pigtails swish back and forth as she jumps and plays. They know nothing of the weight settled on his shoulders, that he’s a defender of the planet against alien incursion.
It’s so Earth, John thinks. But he watches as the little girl draws closer to the edge of the pond and her mother’s voice cuts across the water to John, “Honey! That’s close enough, okay?” The little boy creeps closer in defiance and says to his sister, “I bet its cos there’s a sea monster down there,” and the little girl pretends to scream as she runs away.
The couple watching their children fears their inability to swim, to fight against the stranger with the unmarked van, to say no the friends with the pills nicked from their parents’ medicine cabinets.
“Rawr!” The boy screams, waving his hands like their terrible claws as he chases his sister. “I’mma eat you!”
They have it right.
John flips the coin he’s been stroking in his hand and watches as it tumbles through the air. He catches it swiftly and slaps it against the back of his other hand.
It’s early when John walks into the mess. There’s only Vala, Cam, and Sam sitting across from each other at the table in the far corner. They must not see him right away because he catches the end of their conversation before hastily changing the subject.
“He canceled his Netflix subscription,” Vala tells them, leaning in.
“Hm,” Sam says, as though thinking hard about something. “When I pointed out that his license was about to expire he didn’t seem all that concerned,” she remarks.
“Looks like he’s already made up his—“ Vala stops suddenly as she catches sight of him, holding his tray of breakfast. He feels like he’s in ninth grade again, wondering if everyone’s talking about him.
He plasters a grin across his face and settles in next to Sam like he doesn’t know and wouldn’t care even if he did. It worked back then.
“Hey guys, what’s up?” He asks.
“We were just discussing the weather and other uncontroversial topics,” Vala smiles reassuringly.
“I’ll bet,” John jokes, opening his milk bottle and taking a sip.
“ I gotta go…do some paperwork,” Sam says, standing. Vala waves and Sam stares pointedly.
“Oh!” She exclaims after looking around confused. “Right. I have to…give her moral support!” Vala decides. Sam rolls her eyes and tugs her away.
“This is why we should have some sort of code!” John catches Vala’s voice just before the doors the mess close.
John stares down at the oatmeal congealing in his bowl.
“So,” Cam says, staring at his hands folded together on the table top.
“I uh,” John starts, watching as the oatmeal falls from his spoon with a large glop into the bowl in front of him.
“You should go to Atlantis,” Cam says without preamble, voice definitive. He’s still not looking at John. John doesn’t say anything, he just waits until Cam looks up.
“You want me to go to Atlantis?” John asks, carefully.
“I think you want to go to Atlantis,” Cam tells him, watching him. John glances away.
“That’s not what I asked.”
“You want to go to Atlantis. We both know that. Just like we both know I can’t be what you want,” Cam tells him, voice soft and low. Cam stands then, he catches John’s gaze before he looks away, his face set in a tight grimace and he walks away.
John pushes his tray away, suddenly not that hungry.
The first time they set foot on Atlantis, back when the Ori were still a threat, John lit up the way Cam’s only ever seen him do in the cockpit of a plane. Cam’s seen plenty of girls swoon for John, but nothing like the city and he for her (which should have been a pretty big give away into his genetics, but hindsight is always 20/20).
Cam had expressed his wonder over the Atlantis expedition, especially the veterans who’d been there from the beginning.
“Imagine leaving Earth behind. I mean everything and everyone you know, to go to some…strange alien place where no one knows you and the chance of survival is probably minimal,” Cam told him.
“Yeah,” John said, but his voice held wonder and reverence, deep admiration and a longing that broke Cam’s heart.
He knows Atlantis is a right fit, saw just how much John wants it, in those unguarded moments.
But the thought churns his stomach and makes goosebumps pop across his skin.
“Today’s John’s last chance to accept,” Sam says to him, and Cam’s head snaps up as he stares at her from across her lab. She’s packing the few personal belongings sprinkled throughout, photographs and books, notebooks and trinkets.
“Yeah,” Cam says, nonchalant. Sam stares at him, long and hard. He turns away under her gaze. Cam only has a younger brother, so he’s not really sure but sometimes he’s pretty convinced Sam is what having an older sister would feel like.
“Seriously?” She says to him.
“What?” He asks, petulant. She rolls her eyes.
“You’re an idiot,” she tells him. He scoffs, but can come up with nothing in his defense. There’s a knock at the door and they both turn to see John standing there.
“Hey,” he says. “Can I uh…have a second Cam?” John is asking. Sam stares pointedly and Cam walks out of the lab and into the deserted hallway to stand in front of John.
“I uh,” he says, “I’m about to give Landry my decision.”
“Oh?” Cam says, looking at the collar of John’s shirt.
“Yeah,” John says, and he pauses as though waiting.
“Right,” Cam nods.
“So,” John says, before nothing. There’s a long and excruciating silence that stretches between them and Cam tries and fails several times to open his mouth and say something but he doesn’t.
“I’m going to Atlantis.”
“Good luck,” Cam nods, ducking his head and not looking at him.
“Cam,” John says, his voice soft.
“Yeah?” His voice breaks. John is looking at him like he’s begging him for something and Cam’s eyes dart away because he can’t. He shakes his head and John nods and looks away.
“Alright.” John says, taking a few steps backwards. Cam nods again, not looking at him, and John turns and walks away.
Cam’s always had an active imagination. Has vivid dreams steeped in unreality. He pictures himself doing something epic, something ridiculously Rom-com, steeling a cargo ship and zooming off after the Daedalus, of dialing up the DHD and stepping through the gate Walter be damned to meet John on the other side.
Instead he watches as John and Sam disappear in a flash of white light, and the tiny little spot on a screen flashes out of existence as the Daedalus goes into Hyper drive.
He didn’t even really say good bye.
Ch 7: Inertia | Chapter 9: Deliberation