Word Count: 1,931
Rating: PG/non-gory character death, but if you've seen Outcast, you'll be fine.
Prompt: for hc_bingo: 'stroke.'
Summary: 'He had a stroke, John thinks as Sam leaves his quarters. Dad had a stroke, and he’s paralyzed, and Dave got the message to me.' This is how Outcast would have happened if I'd written it.
Notes: Everything I'm trying to write lately wants to be monstrously long. I forced this one to come in under 2000.
Other notes: This is kind of steam-of-consciousness rambly. It might be hard to follow. I do apologize.
He had a stroke, John thinks as Sam leaves his quarters. Dad had a stroke, and he’s paralyzed, and Dave got the message to me.
John isn’t sure if he’s supposed to go home or stay in Atlantis or if he’s even expected to care. He does, of course, he always will (family is family, he hears Cam say in his head, and sometimes that man is smarter than John gives him credit for) but Dave knows that, Dad knows that.
Or do they? John has to wonder, suddenly, if they do, and he’s got a bag packed before he realizes he’s made a decision, and he’s standing in Sam’s office, watching her sign off on the papers that grant him leave for a few days, a week, maybe more.
He’s going home.
John knows that he has to book a flight and get to Virginia and probably call Dave, right, that should come first, calling Dave and letting him know that he’s coming at all, but he’s exhausted by the time he steps through the Gate to Earth. He almost falls asleep while Dr. Lam is examining him, and she frowns as she looks at the thermometer, as if she’s unsure as to whether or not she should release him.
I’m fine, he tells her, and it’s mostly true, even if it’s really a lie, because he can be both fine and not fine at the same time. He should know. He’s been here before, or a place close to it. All he needs is a shower and a cot in the corner, probably not in that order and he’ll be able to fake it better. He’s about to open his mouth to ask her where he can crash when he hears a familiar voice, and it’s all he can do to not collapse with relief on the spot.
Cam talks to the doctor, jokes with her until she’s forgotten her worries about John, and by the time Cam is slinging John’s bag over his shoulder, Lam has wandered off to check on another patient. John can only shake his head and ask Cam what his magic is, how he can get doctors to bend to his every whim.
She thinks I’m cute, Cam informs him, and winks outrageously.
Everyone does. It’s irritating, John shoots back, and Cam’s grin only widens.
They drive to Cam’s house before John realizes he’s not staying on base, and he’s got that fine/not fine feeling again, because he doesn’t want to stay on base but he can’t be anything for Cam right now, doesn’t want sex, doesn’t want to have to be anything other than exhausted and worried. He dumps his bag in the living room when they get to Cam’s place, but Cam gives him a funny look and picks it up, carrying it to his bedroom. John sighs and pinches his nose, because if this is how it’s going to be he’s not going to fight it, can’t, not now. But when he’s showered and changed into an old tee and some sweats, Cam just tugs him into bed and wraps him up in a tight embrace, and John remembers how to settle back into it and let go of everything and sleep.
Morning is a blur, with arrangements being made and hotels being reserved and somehow, John’s on a plane and Cam’s sitting next to him, doing his best to stretch his long legs in the cramped commercial seating, failing utterly. John has to blink and focus to bring back the details, to remember that he’d sort of maybe fallen apart a little this morning, ranting about his dad and the stroke and his brother, about expectation and families and not knowing how to do this, maybe that one more than once, and Cam had just calmly called the SGC, told them he was taking a week, and arranged to go with John.
And John’s grateful in ways he doesn’t know how to express, so he just grabs Cam’s hand and squeezes, holds on tight as the plane lands in Richmond, as they find their bags, as they get a rental and drive to the hotel. John doesn’t let go, can’t let go, until they’re in the room and he can turn and bury his face in Cam’s shoulder, and Cam understands, just holds him back and whispers in his ear, over and over, it’s okay, it’s going to be fine, we’ll do this together.
John’s family has known since he was a teenager, and while they might not have been overly supportive of his choices they’re still his family, so they’d kept their mouths shut about his preferences. Dave won’t be surprised when he shows up with Cam, and Dad might not be to happy about it but he’ll be happy to see John, be happy that John managed to get home. John hopes so, at least, because Dad might still be pissed, John’s not sure, and suddenly he doesn’t want to be here, doesn’t want to make it worse for Dad, because Dad just had a stroke and he’s paralyzed and Dave’s there. Dad likes Dave. He’ll be fine, and John should maybe just go back to Atlantis.
Cam’s still there, still murmuring into his ear, and he holds on until John can feel the ground beneath him again, until he can breathe on his own.
You okay? Cam asks eventually, and John both nods and shakes his head, but Cam knows what he means.
Dad looks bad, worse than Mom had before she died, and she’d been sick for months. John knows it’s probably not a fair comparison to make; Mom had been sick, sure, but she’d still been young. Dad’s seventy-four, more than twice how old Mom had been. Plus, he’s just had a stroke, and even on her worst day Mom could still smile, still raise a hand to brush at John’s untidy hair, still command her body to move, no matter that it was weaker than it should have been. Dad, though, can’t move anything on his right side, from the muscles in his face to the toes of his foot, and what speech he can get out is slurred, imperfect, sometimes unintelligible.
John doesn’t know what to say, how to respond, how to react, and he pretty much stands there holding Cam’s hand in a death grip while Cam asks the important questions of Dave and the nurse. John knows there’s no mistaking that he’s the Sheppard, out of the pair of them, but the look the nurse gives them makes John think, for a second, that maybe she thinks he’s the unrelated partner, only there for Cam, not caring at all about the man clearly dying in the bed.
It probably won’t be long, the nurse says to Cam in a voice that won’t carry past his ears, but John’s military, has been trained for things like that, so he hears the words anyway. Tomorrow, maybe. It could even be tonight.
Tonight. The word echoes in his head and he takes Dad’s hand in his other hand, still holding on to Cam, and Dave’s already got Dad’s other hand. Dad’s eyes focus on John’s face, or at least they’re trying to. John’s not sure that Dad can see him any more.
Hey, Dad, he says, and Dad’s eyes do focus on him, sharply, just for a second.
John, Dad says, and he’s got Dad’s left hand, so he knows he’s not imagining the squeeze around his fingers. Here. John.
Yeah, I’m here, John manages somehow, gripping Dad’s hand as tightly as he dares, because al of a sudden he’s a child again, losing his mother, but this time Dad won’t be there afterwards. Dad’s fingers flutter against his, and he says again, John.
The nurse was right: it isn’t long before there’s a monitor going off, before a doctor rushes in, before he and Cam and Dave are being shooed into the hallway, before the doctor comes out, face grave, and tells them what John already knows. Dad’s gone, and John’s freefalling because now he’s an orphan, technically, both parents dead. Dave looks like he’s floating, like the news hasn’t hit him, and all John can feel is the ground beneath him, heavy and stifling, and he wants to trade places with his brother, to go up, up, until the air makes him forget and he’s flying.
Cam’s still there, though, a warm, solid weight wrapped around John from behind and John has to tug at Cam’s fingers so he ca turn around and press his body to Cam’s, tucking himself in just so. They don’t do this, can’t, not in public where God and everyone can see them, but Cam doesn’t seem to care any more than John does right now, instantly wrapping his arms around John’s frame and holding tightly. John sags, suddenly sure his feet can’t hold him any more, and it’s only Cam preventing him from slipping to the floor.
Dave is talking somewhere to his left, but John hears Cam answering so he doesn’t bother to listen, just concentrates on sucking in breath after breath, listening to Cam’s heart beating strong and sure, thump thump thump under his shirt. He keeps his head pressed to Cam’s shoulder, even though it’s a little awkward and uncomfortable. Cam shifts and pulls away enough too look down at John, and John makes himself focus even though he wants to crawl into bed with Cam and sleep and forget.
Funeral, Cam supplies when John just stares blankly. John shakes his head. He doesn’t know, Dave knows, and he opens his mouth but Dave’s already talking, offering to make the arrangements, and John just nods.
Funeral. His father’s funeral. The words echo and ricochet in his head, not yet coalescing into an idea, and he remembers with a sudden, sharp clarity the numbness he’d felt when Carson died, how he’d said to Teyla it hasn’t hit me yet, how it felt when it had. It’s going to happen again, that torrent of emotion, only worse because that had been Carson but this had been his father.
He fists his hands in Cam’s shirt and presses his head back down, because he’s maybe going to fall apart again, but he concentrates on his breathing and doesn’t.
Cam’s got his arms wrapped around John as they lay in the bed. Dave had offered them a room at the house, but John hadn’t been able to accept, wouldn’t be able to sleep in a house that reminded him of his parents in every turn, every corner, every inch of its being. So they’re back at the hotel, and neither of them has said a word. John’s been alternating between shaking and being still, almost-crying and stoic, and Cam’s just there, warm and solid and there, and eventually John’s exhausted enough to sleep.
Cam presses a kiss to his forehead. Do you want to go?
No, John says, because it’s true. Yes, he adds, because both can be true at the same time. He should know. He’s there right now. All he needs is Cam, and he’ll be able to hold it together.
Cam nods, though that’s not an answer at all, and holds him close. Okay, he says. Okay.
It’s not, and they both know it, but it will be. John just shifts closer to Cam and closes his eyes. He’s fine and he’s not fine, and he’ll continue to be both. The balance will work itself out in the end.