This broken-down version of Mitchell reminds her powerfully of those early days in the hospital when the doctors had been certain that Cam would never walk again. She remembers his anger, then, and his despair. This Mitchell's rage is old and cold, a fire gone to ashes in the hearth, and she aches for all he's suffered at the hands of an administration that should have honoured him for his sacrifice and years of service. Instead, Landry cast aside an injured veteran the moment he became politically inconvenient and that's a betrayal she can't forgive.
She stands to leave, having learned enough.
"You wanted to see for yourself, right? The price for sticking up for your principles?" Cigarette clenched between his fingers, Mitchell waves at the dank, dark apartment that's become his world. "Take a good look."
She looks. She looks because he invites her to and she almost doesn't see it, but then she does: a dog-eared book of poetry in pride of place on the end table, as though he's only just set it down. She picks up the book and flips it open to the second poem before he can protest, and finds in the margins a familiar note.
He yanks the book out of her hands, blue eyes sharp with hurt and anger. It's the most emotion he's shown since he let her through the door. "You probably have better places to be," he sneers.
"Yes," she replies. She knows what to do.
John creeps down the street in his rental car, trying to find the correct address. In his hand is a print-out of the email he'd received four days ago. In his left coat pocket is his iPhone, and in his right coat pocket is the iPhone's battery. He checks the address in the email a third time, then pulls over and parks. Wincing at the gang tags spray-painted across the front of the building and the trash littering the cracked sidewalk, he locks the cherry-red 1969 Mustang, which he rented as much for the nostalgia as for the lack of GPS, and hopes it'll still be there when he gets back.
It's difficult to imagine Cam, a farm boy at heart, living in this derelict suburb of Denver, and there's a part of John that hopes that the Cameron Mitchell residing in Apartment 108 of this five-story walk-up is someone other than the Cameron Mitchell who led the F-302 squadron in the Battle of Antarctica. The security here is practically non-existent. There are no security cameras and the front door sits crookedly in its frame, which means all it takes is a strong tug from John to get the door opened. He slips inside, down the dimly lit hallway, and stops in front of Cam's apartment.
Deep breath, two knuckles on plywood, a slow exhale. He waits, rocking a little on his heels, and is startled onto his toes when the door jerks open and Cam's there, staring up at him in shock.
"Cameron." John remembers to smile, heart in his throat. "Hello. It's been a while."
The man in the wheelchair is thin, pale, glassy-eyed, with greasy hair two months overdue for a haircut. He's a far cry from the young officer that shined his boots every night in flight school. In contrast, John looks exactly like the well-fed, well-groomed, well-moneyed business executive he's become since his dishonourable discharge from the Air Force, though at least he had the good sense to wear jeans this morning instead of a suit.
Cam's shock has faded to wariness. "What are you doing here, Sheppard?" he demands. His tone is hostile, but after a brief hesitation he backs up to allow John into the apartment.
"I was in the area visiting some friends and I wanted to look you up." It's not quite the truth. John's here to see Cam, and the vacation with friends is his cover. Currently, everyone at Sheppard Enterprises thinks he's on his way to a ski chalet up in the Colorado Rockies and his friends think he's still on a plane to Denver. "I probably should have called first, but I didn't think--" John gives a shrug and a wry smile. "Well, last time we spoke you hung up on me."
Cam averts his gaze for a moment, something like shame in his eyes. "You, uh. You want coffee? I've got-- it's just instant--"
"Yeah, no, instant's fine," John agrees, nodding encouragingly. While Cam puts the kettle on and spoons out the instant coffee, he takes the opportunity to glance around the apartment. It's pretty awful, smelling faintly of cigarettes and cheap booze, two vices Cam rarely indulged while he and John were together, but still a far cry from the hellhole he's been imagining since that email showed up in his inbox.
"I could've moved home, after," mumbles Cam, cutting into John's reverie and handing over a mug of black coffee. "One sugar, right?"
"Yeah, thanks," says John, pleased that he still remembers.
His own mug on a tray in his lap, Cam begins straightening the arm chair and the end table, stacking books back on the shelf to make space for John to sit. It's Cam's typical nervous fidgeting and it surprises John--he really had been expecting more resentment. "It was sheer pigheadedness, but I couldn't do it. Couldn't move back home like a loser. They'd've been nice about it. Hell, you know how my parents are." With the room marginally tidier, his empty hands move restlessly in his lap until Cam finally huffs, clenches the arms of his chair, and stares at John a little defensively. "Two visitors in two weeks. Don't know how I can stand the excitement."
John wishes they were sitting side by side so he could nudge Cam's shoulder and mean I missed you and let that be enough, but instead he says it out loud. "I've really missed you."
"You miss that other guy," Cam snorts. "The one who could walk and get an erection without popping a Viagra and who didn't spend days in bed, not looking at you, not talking to you." He pinches his lips together in a thin line as though to stop himself saying anything more.
"Do you still do that? Lie in bed a lot?"
"Some. When the weather's bad, mostly." Cam shrugs one shoulder with forced casualness. "Don't start worrying about me now, Sheppard."
"Yeah, right. Like I ever stopped worrying about you," he retorts, laying a hand over Cam's and when the other man tries to pull away, he curls his fingers around Cam's wrist and holds on with a loose grip. "It's been three years and I still lie awake at night, wondering if you're okay, if you're in pain." Cam glances at him, then away. He doesn't try to free himself again. "I still only sleep on the right side of the bed."
The hand under John's twitches slightly.
"I've wanted to come running back to you since the day after you told me to get out," he adds, because his therapist says that confession is good for the soul. Cam turns, looks at him, with so much hope in his eyes that John has to keep going. "I honestly never thought I'd see you again. You needed space, or you needed... something I couldn't give you. We were a mess--I get that now. But I missed you, Cam. Every day."
There's quiet for a while, then Cam whispers, "I kept hoping you'd come back. Even though I knew you wouldn't, I couldn't stop hoping."
Three years ago John had known that Cam was pushing him away even as it happened, but he'd been clueless about how to fix things between them. Instead, he'd thrown himself into fixing everything else that had gone wrong with their lives--namely, the government. He'd lobbied Landry's administration, taking full advantage of his family name and business, until eventually he realized it was futile. Then, after he and Cam had split, he got smarter and went underground, connecting with hactivists and low-fi, 60s-style protest groups alike.
The print-out of the email is burning a hole in his back pocket.
"Sorry to make you wait so long," he murmurs, his other hand reaching up to brush Cam's cheek.
But Cam flinches back--even rolls his chair back a few inches, out of arm's reach. "You can't possibly want... I'm a mess, John, look at me. Look at me." He bares his teeth, full of a self-loathing that was once familiar to John, on days when physiotherapy left Cam in more pain than his medication could salve. In recent years it's a look John sees in the mirror sometimes. "You deserve someone still in one piece. Someone who won't get you in shit with Landry."
"Landry can kiss my lily-white ass," John growls. "Also, I don't want someone in one piece. I want you, you idiot. I just flew from DC to see you, because somebody on the internet told me that you were still in love with me, and I had to take a chance. So fuck you, Cam, you're not running me off this time."
He stands, goes over to the bookshelf, and pulls his old copy of Frost's North of Boston out from the bottom of a pile. "That last phone call? You told me you'd burned this."
Cam's eyes go wide when John holds up the book of poetry. "How the hell did she know?"
"She who?" The email had been encrypted six ways to Sunday, sent from a dummy gmail account that couldn't be traced back to a real person.
"The woman who single-handedly saved the world." Cam's tone teeters on the edge of mocking. "Major Samantha Carter. She graced me with her presence last week, the day before her interview. I told her it wasn't worth it, that standing up to Landry would ruin her life. But she didn't listen. She went on Inside Access the next day, said she'd be advising Landry on restoring civil liberties. The interview got cut off right after that, the usual censorship B.S., but there are illegal downloads if you know where to look."
"Yeah, I know," says John, amused by the suggestion considering one of his contacts at the television studio had forwarded him a copy of the raw footage for dissemination less than five minutes after the interview ended. "So she came to ask you about Landry? How'd you get to talking about poetry?"
"We didn't. The book was sitting on the table and she opened it right to your note like she knew it was there." Cam takes the book from John and flips it to the second poem, to the sentence John had scribbled in the margins on a lazy summer morning years and years ago.
I never want walls between us.
"Huh. I'm gonna assume you didn't tell her I wrote that." John whistles, suitably impressed. "Okay, maybe there's something to this whole 'alternate reality' thing after all." He pulls the print-out from his back pocket and hands it over.
Cam skims it quickly, then reads it again more slowly. "Jesus Christ. Are you for serious with this shit?" He reads it a third time. "She was from an alternate reality?"
"It explains how a woman neither of us have ever met could know intimate details of our relationship."
"She's from the Stargate Program, John. If she didn't know what you had for breakfast, she wouldn't be doing her job." But he looks as though he wants to believe the impossible, or at least the improbable.
John sighs, then kneels on the dingy carpet in front of Cam, a hand cupping his face like John had wanted to earlier, and the other hand covering the book in Cam's lap. "Does it matter? Even if she's just a superspy and not actually from a goddamn alternate reality, I don't think trying to get us back together again is part of her insidious plan to take over the world."
Cam runs his thumb over the spine of the book, his fingers brushing John's. "Okay, fine, probably not," he admits. "Especially since, hey, turns out Landry didn't need our help with that."
"Which means there's no reason not to give this a try, right?" John persists, leaning in to touch his lips to Cam's forehead, breathing in sweat, coffee, nicotine, and under all that something much more familiar and welcome.
If things go well between them, he'll eventually have to inform Cam of his less-than-legal extracurricular activities. He might even consider recruiting him, if Cam feels up to it, but it's not a priority for John. Cam's given enough, and John cares more about getting their relationship back on track than trying to figure out if Cam's former hero status can be useful to the underground.
"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out," he quotes, pulling back a little to smile at Cam.
Cam rolls his eyes, but he yields to the kiss John softly presses against his mouth. "Yeah, yeah, there ain't no cows."