Word Count: 3,586
Rating: PG-13/not-actually-deathfic? I'm not sure how to warn for this. Um, he gets better?
Notes: For thefifthchevron, who bought me in an auction to benefit flood victims in Queensland and requested that I continue my ficlet 'Ghost'. Here you are!
There's death, and then there's this, Cam thinks as he looks at his hands, shimmering a little and mostly transparent. He's not alive, but he's pretty sure he's not dead, either. There's really a lot more wiggle room between the two than he'd thought originally.
John, though, John thinks he's dead, and Cam had spent two straight days screaming and begging and swearing and everything, everything he could think to do, but John can't hear him. He's just been going through the motions, moving from task to task with the brisk efficiency that means he's trying too hard to not think, and he hasn't eaten since he got the news, since Cam suddenly found himself here.
The chimes to John's quarters ring, even though it's easily 0300, but John's lights are on and he's sitting on his bed, staring blankly at the wall. Cam's been sitting beside him, wishing he could actually be there, because it looks like John's about to collapse and there's nobody here who can put him back together, not really.
Dr. Keller pokes her head in when John tells Atlantis to open the door, a bottle of pills in hand. She walks forward uncomfortably, twirling the pill bottle around.
"You're not sleeping," she blurts before thrusting the pills at him. "You need to. I'm sorry, Colonel, I know it's terrible to lose someone you-"
John's glare stops her before she can say love, and he can feel the sick relief in the room he's not sure he's even in. "Thanks," he says, putting the bottle on his bedstand. He won't take them.
Keller, though, she just puts her hands on her hips and scowls. "Two," she orders, walking over and shaking them from the bottle. "Now. While I watch."
Ah, Cam realizes, she's dealt with John before. It really says a lot about the whole situation that John just nods and swallows he pills.
Keller leaves and John lays down with the lights off, but it still takes a long time for his eyes to close and breathing to even. Cam lays beside him, holding his hand over John's hip and arranging himself as if he could really pres against John's back.
There's got to be something, some way to fix this. He's going to find it, get all the way Ascended or whatever, because then he can Descend and find John and hold him, hold him for real, and everything will be okay again.
Cam has the Ancient gene, was tested for it when he was still in rehab at Peterson. It’s not as strong as John’s – no one’s is, not even General O’Neill’s, but Cam can turn things on and off or fly a Puddle Jumper without much effort. It’s not something he thinks about too much, honestly, because there’s not a whole lot of Ancient tech floating around the Milky Way. It’s just something to note, to file away, so Cam does just that.
Until he ends up on P3Y-027, that is.
He can feel it as soon as he steps onto the planet, a weird sort of something in the back of his head, something calling to him. He can ignore it, though, so he does, until they’re in the town and they pass a building and he stops short and just looks at it.
“Cameron,” Vala hisses sweetly, pasting a fake smile on her face as she loops her arm through his. “You’re staring, darling, and it’s making all of the nice natives look at you funny.”
“Huh?” Cam blinks, realizes he’s been looking at the same damn building for a solid sixty seconds, and suddenly the tiny ignorable feeling in the back of his head is a humming, sweet and sultry and powerful, and Cam takes a tiny involuntary step towards the building.
“Mitchell,” Jackson says from a few feet away, and Cam has to force himself to turn his face, to break his connection with the building. It’s like a palpable relief when his eyes meet Jackson’s. “You okay?”
“It’s weird,” Cam replies. “I can – nobody else can feel that?”
Four sets of eyes meet his, four heads shake, and then there’s a little gasp from their guide, a tiny man who’s older than Cam’s Great Gran’ma Edith ever was but moves faster than his brother’s kids. “You are one of the Blessed,” he says, and the look on his face is half-reverential, half-joyful. “We have not – but yes, of course. Please, please, come with me.”
The man turns and walks gracefully up the steps into the building, and as Cam follows him, the song gets louder and louder in his head until it drowns everything else out.
They enter a perfectly circular room filled with cool blue light, empty but for a low pedestal in the center. Cam walks towards it slowly, and suddenly it’s like the humming is coming from whatever it is. He reaches his hand out, hovering it inches above the surface, and it doesn’t even occur to him to not touch the damn thing until his hand is already on its way down and he vaguely hears Jackson shouting from behind him.
But then it’s too late, because his palm touches the sphere and there’s a cool pulse through his entire body, and then he’s floating, looking down at his body crumpled there on the ground and his team rushing in around him and the tiny old man in the corner, looking up at him with a beaming smile on his face.
“Fair travels,” the old man says over the chaos, and he leaves the room.
They all stop by, McKay and Teyla and Ronon, Woolsey and Keller and Beckett. They all come, and none of them can make John smile or laugh or do anything, not really.
Cam had no idea that John would – but then he thinks about John losing people under his command, thinks about John whispering about how much he loves Cam in the dark when he thinks Cam’s sleeping, and he’s not actually surprised. Sad, yeah, upset that he can’t do a damn thing to help John, but not shocked.
Cam can only sit and watch as John deteriorates, falls apart, bit by bit.
One thing about this, Cam realized quickly, is that he can be anywhere he wants, any time he wants. He’d followed his team when they brought his body back to the Gate, and then they’d stepped through the event horizon, and he’d tried to follow-
-and had found himself walking through it. Through it, literally, not being transported, just passing through as if it hadn’t been there and he’d just walked through the ring. He’d panicked for a moment, thought about Earth and then-
-he’d been there, in the SGC, watching his team arrive with his body.
It’s not like he’d be able to hitch a ride to Auburn in time to see his Momma and Daddy getting the news, but he can use his newfound teleportation to get there. Cam’s a little surprised and a lot honored to find that General O’Neill is the one bringing his folks the news, but it doesn’t matter, not really, because as soon as Momma opens the door and sees him standing there she sorts of moans and falls into the doorway, and Daddy puts on a brave face as he wraps his arm around Momma, but Cam can see him shaking. And then after O’Neil leaves, they both cry and cry, and that’s something a son should never see.
But it’s something parents should never have to hear, never have to tell others, and Cam has a newfound respect for his mother as she stands from the couch and grabs the phone and starts calling people. It’s not many, but Cam knows how his family works by now: two call two call two, and it won’t be this evening before people start showing up with casseroles.
He’d left not long after. There are some things a man should never listen to, and his own funeral being arranged is one of those things.
He’d gone to John, instead. Closed his eyes and opened them again, a galaxy away, and found himself face-to-face with a hell of a lot of not knowing what to do.
John gets up in the morning, showers and shaves, just as he’s always done. He goes running with Ronon and eats breakfast and goes to his office. That’s kind of where it starts to fall apart, because he opens files up and starts working – no solitaire, no writing dirty limericks to send in the databurst, no rolling his eyes or joking around with Lorne when he comes in with stacks of paperwork. And it’s not like John didn’t work before, but it wasn’t like this.
Lorne, for his part, looks appropriately worried. “Sir, is there anything I can-”
“No,” John says shortly, looking down at the pile of papers.
Lorne hesitates. “Because if there’s something-”
“Can you bring him back?” John bites off, and Cam’s equally surprised that Lorne knows about them and at John’s tone, but John’s face is raw and pained, and Cam can tell that Lorne’s not taking it personally. John’s quieter when he continues. “I can’t even miss him, Lorne.”
“Sheppard,” Lorne says, more gently than Cam has ever thought he could or would. “You gotta get up, go on.”
“I know,” John says miserably, and Cam’s never heard him sound so defeated, never.
“If it was David-” Lorne says, but John’s eyes snap up and he gives a minute shake of his head, and there’s something else that Cam hadn’t known. But Lorne nods back and falls silent as he leaves the room.
John shuts the door with his gene, and the resounding clicks tell Cam he’s at least double-locked it.
And he falls apart in that uniquely John way, staring and staring at the wall until it seems like he’s not even there any more, like he’s a John-shaped shadow, and Cam just wants to make him stop hurting.
Cam had told exactly three people about his relationship with John. The first had been his Momma, who had just smiled and said she was happy for him. The second was his brother Cole, because Cole setting him up on blind dates had been getting pretty old, and he was starting to run out of excuses.
The third was Samantha Carter, whom he’d long considered one of his best friends. He’d hesitated before saying anything – he trusted Sam implicitly, knew she wouldn’t say anything – because John was nervous. John was always nervous, but Cam let him worry, at least on this one. When John had finally given it his okay, Cam had wasted no time in inviting Sam over and telling her over pizza and those damn girly drinks she liked so much. Part of the conversation had included an envelope with John’s name on it and promises that Sam would get it delivered should anything happen to Cam.
Cam’s there when John opens it, when John reads the letter inside, when he looks at the rest of the contents.
It’s bad. It’s much worse than Cam had thought it would be. John sits in his bed, clutching the envelope with his name on it tightly in one hand while he looks at its contents spread out on his bed, and he shakes and trembles and occasionally coughs or laughs as his hand runs over the things on the bed again and again. It’s hours before he picks them up and puts them back in the envelope, precisely as Cam had done, and seals it up. He sets it on his bedstand, in plain sight, and stares at it for a long, long time.
Cam can’t be sure how long it’s been before John’s door chimes buzz. It makes Cam jump, but John doesn’t even twitch. The chimes ring again, longer, and then there’s scratching and clinking and the door slides open anyway, and McKay snaps the cover back on the crystal tray before walking just inside the door and shutting it behind him.
“Sheppard-” McKay tries, and John doesn’t even look at him. “John.”
John slowly turns his face to McKay, who swears and drops his datapad on the floor. He’s sitting on the bed in three seconds flat, looking for all the world like he’d rather be anywhere else doing anything but this, and Cam has to respect him for staying.
“What can I do?” McKay asks helplessly.
John just shakes his head and shrugs one shoulder.
“Okay,” McKay says, and he just sits with John for another eternity. Cam’s never been so grateful to anyone in his – well, not-life, but in his life, either.
Teyla and Ronon show up together, which doesn’t really surprise Cam, and they crowd around John, close enough for him to reach out but not touching, never touching. John seems to slump back into the bed, surrounded by his team, and none of them sleep but it’s the closest John’s going to get without help.
They stay all night, just sitting, and when the sun is finally bright enough to make the lights inside superfluous, Teyla reaches out a hand and rests it on John’s leg, just below the knee.
“Tell us about him,” she says simply, and John laughs and grabs the envelope and turns it over and over in his hands, but he doesn’t say a word.
Keller drops the pills off later that day.
It’s six days into his not-life that Cam breaks.
“John,” he says as simply as he can as he can, squatting in front of his partner, who’s sitting on the floor by his bed, staring lifelessly out the window. “John, sweetheart, I know you can’t hear me. I’m not here, I don’t think, but I’m sure not anywhere else, so I’ve gotta be here, right?”
John doesn’t even blink, but his lips move. “Sometimes I think I can hear you.”
Cam reels and falls back, and he’s thankful that he doesn’t feel pain in this form, because he lands in an ungainly sprawl on John’s floor. John can’t really be-
But no, John’s still talking. “It’s stupid, and if you were here you’d kick my ass for moping like this, but Jesus mercy, Cam.” He makes a weird sort of sound that might be a laugh and stops.
“Damn right I’d kick your ass,” Cam replies, settling in next to John. “If you could hear me, I’d tell you to get up and get out there. Shoot a Wraith or something, beat up some Marines, anything, John. This is killing you.”
“Feels like I’m dying,” John says matter-of-factly when Cam stops talking, and this is the strangest almost-conversation Cam’s ever had. “I love you so fucking much, y’know? And then-” He waves his hand vaguely through the air. “And they don’t know what it is, what happened. You touched something and then you just died, and nobody thought it was weird at all.”
Cam’s given that some thought, oh yes, because in what sort of society is that normal? But John keeps talking and Cam pays attention, because these words are meant for him and only for him, and he’ll be damned if he misses a syllable of it.
“And I do what I have to do but I can’t do anything more,” John says, more quietly this time. “And it’s going to get someone killed.”
There’s nothing to say to that, even if the words would be heard, because John’s not wrong. It’s breaking everything in Cam to hear it, though.
“I love you,” Cam says to him helplessly, like he’s done a thousand times, like it might make this better. John closes his eyes and sighs, all the fight going out of him.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says, just barely audible. “I can’t – I just-”
Cam turns and hovers his head against John’s, like they’d sat a hundred times before, when they’d both been real. “I love you,” he repeats, phantom lips trying in vain to place a kiss on John’s temple. “God, John. I’ll figure this out.”
“Figure what out?” John says, eyes still closed, and Cam freezes.
“Dreaming,” John murmurs. “Gotta be dreaming.”
Cam reaches out a hesitant hand and holds it lightly above John’s where it’s resting in his lap. John shifts in his state of near-sleep, and when his hand rises an inch it brushes against Cam’s.
Against Cam’s. Not through it, not by it, but against it.
“John,” Cam repeats louder, and he can’t help how his hands shoot out and grab John by the arms, nor how he shakes him a little. John’s eyes blink open and he smiles sleepily.
“Hey,” he mumbles.
“Wake up,” Cam says, a little frantically.
“No,” John replies, sliding his eyes shut firmly. And, God help him, it’s the first unaided sleep he’s had in nearly a week, but Cam doesn’t let John go.
“Snap to, Sheppard,” he barks, but John’s eyes stay closed. Cam’s mind runs through half a different scenarios before he takes a breath and closes his eyes, reaching out for something he’s not sure he should be touching.
Atlantis feels like silk to his mind, cool against his skin and comfortable and sort of gauzy. Cam doesn’t know how to ask, what to say, so he thinks about John and holds on to his desperation, and then there’s a soft chiming in John’s room.
Cam opens his eyes to see John struggling from sleep, and Cam doesn’t know what sort of alarm that is for John, but he’s waking up. Cam reaches over and grabs his arm again, and John twists in his grip and only stops his fist from hitting Cam’s face by a centimeter.
“I’m still sleeping,” John says unemotionally as he stares into Cam’s eyes. Cam shakes his head and bites the inside of his cheek, hard, just to keep himself from giggling hysterically. John’s hand unclenches in front of Cam’s face, and he reaches forwards to ghost his fingers across Cam’s face, his cheek, his lips, before cupping his hand behind Cam’s head. “Cam?”
“Jesus mighty,” Cam laughs, and he pulls John in as tightly as he can. “God, John.”
“You’d better be real,” John gasps into his ear, and Cam’s not sure if he’s laughing or crying but he’s here, actually here in the room, and it doesn’t really matter why or how or any of that right now.
Cam pretty much doesn’t ever want to let go of John, and he’s not sure how they manage it, but he’s got his back against the bed and John’s in his lap, just holding and rocking back and forth and murmuring to each other.
John’s chimes ring later, and Cam’s sure it’s Ronon, because John usually gets up and goes for his run around now. Neither of them answer, and the chimes ring again before Ronon starts pounding on the door. “Sheppard!” There’s a pause and some muffled speech, and then Ronon’s voice is louder. “I called McKay. He’s on his way down.”
Which means Teyla too, but Cam can’t even begin to care. John snorts into his collar, and Cam can feel him reaching out to Atlantis, unlocking the door, opening it up.
Ronon takes two steps into the room and stops cold. “Mitchell?”
“I’m as confused as you are,” Cam tells him, which is probably true.
Ronon cocks his head to the side for a minute, a calculating look on his face before he shrugs. “Good enough,” he says, and then he’s back out the door. Cam can hear him fielding McKay and Teyla a moment later, and he turns all of his attention back to John.
“Gotta face the music at some point,” he says gently, and John’s arms tighten around his waist.
“Not yet,” John replies, and yeah, Cam’s okay with that.
“There was some sort of garbled translation,” Sam says a few weeks later. She’d come as soon as she’d heard – they all had, all of SG-1. Daniel had brought along books and tablets and other old, musty things, and he’d explained it in great detail to Sam when he’d figured it out. She’s giving Cam and John the dressed-down version now. “Apparently the device did exactly what it was supposed to do.”
Cam raises an eyebrow and squeezes John’s hand under the table. “Which is…”
Sam steadily doesn’t look at John as she speaks. “It’s meant to let you hear revelations.”
“Revelations,” John repeats blankly.
“Things you wouldn’t have heard if the other person knew you were there,” Sam continues, and Cam has no idea what she’s thinking John said, but her cheeks are heating up. He thinks about hearing John speak, about what he’d said. I don’t know what to do. I can’t.
“So now I’m just, what, not dead?” he clarifies.
“You were never dead,” Sam replies, getting excited, and Cam just leans back in his seat, letting the explanation wash over him. It doesn’t really matter, not to him; the thing worked the way it was supposed to work, he’s not going to just disappear again, and he’s here, really here, with John. John, who squeezes his hand back under the table, John who loves him, John who doesn’t know what to do without him. And that’s a crazy, scary revelation, and Cam maybe doesn’t know where to go from here, but at least there’s a here to go from.