Recipient: xela_fic, who wanted a will they/won't they first time piece.
Summary: John and Teyla accompany Cam to his parents' house in Kansas to help with some home repairs.
If there was one defining trait of Cam's dating life, it was pickiness. He found plenty of people attractive--men and women both--but he rarely moved past attraction and basic liking into something deeper. He didn't think he was incapable of commitment. He knew what commitment looked like, had seen it in the days and months after his father's accident while his mother held the family together through sheer force of will, saw it still every time he visited the farm in Kansas, and he ached to have that for himself. He just couldn't seem to meet the right person, the one capable of holding up the other end of the kind of relationship his parents had.
(He assured himself that it wasn't just because he couldn't form that kind of relationship with a woman. After all, it wasn't like he was secretly in love with any of his male friends either. And he had managed to build strong and meaningful multi-year relationships with a couple of women, both of whom he still thought of fondly. It was just hard finding someone who could handle dating a man who was deployed--or off-planet-more often than he was stateside.)
The invitation was a spur-of-the-moment thing, tacked casually onto the end of an email that Cam happened to be writing when he heard that Sheppard had been summoned back to Earth to testify about the threat posed by the Wraith. The request was more than half a joke, really, because who volunteers to spend their precious few free days on Earth doing home repairs in Kansas in July?
Cam was shocked when Sheppard accepted.
(Teyla was added to the witness roster later on. She insisted that Sheppard keep his commitment to Cam, despite Sheppard's offer to take her somewhere more interesting. Cam wondered whether she really wanted to see everyday life on Earth as she claimed, or whether she too was aware of just how few friends Sheppard had outside of Atlantis.)
It wasn't love at first sight. There was interest, certainly. A circumspect examination of the lean, dark-haired figure in front of him. The flaring of attraction, instantly suppressed with the rigour of years of practice. But the overwhelming feeling Cam experienced when he ran into a fragile, heartbroken John Sheppard lined up in the mess, less than a week after the expedition had been pulled out of Atlantis, was sympathy. (Cam had his own experiences with having his dreams crushed, even if most of them had been restored to him eventually.)
Love came later.
Cam started emailing Sheppard two weeks after Sheppard was officially reinstated as military commander of Atlantis. The first message contained mild congratulations and the results of the football game the two of them had shared a bet on. Cam told Sheppard he'd collect the next time Sheppard was on Earth. Sheppard's reply contained a detailed analysis of how Cam's victory was utterly and entirely due to luck and an unfortunate injury, and all claims of superior football knowledge were bullshit, and did Cam want to make a bet on who was going to make it to the National Championship?
After that, they began exchanging email fairly regularly through the weekly databursts to and from Atlantis.
It's a ten hour drive from Colorado Springs to Auburn, Kansas. Well, normally a little less the way Cam drives (and probably Sheppard too, from what Cam knows of him), but they're hesitant to get pulled over with Teyla in the car, so they keep to reasonable speeds. Teyla spends the entire trip staring out the window, seemingly entranced by the endless miles of farmland. When Sheppard asks her what she finds so interesting about the hundredth consecutive mile of fields, she replies, "Do you really have so many people that you need all this food?" Which puts a different perspective on the scenery.
The night Cam first saw Sheppard in the SGC, looking bruised but not quite broken, he took him out to dinner and a basketball game. He'd been prepared the remove the man from the Mountain by force if necessary, but Sheppard proved surprisingly acquiescent. Later on, Cam figured out that he was just too tired to resist.
Cam runs into Sheppard before he heads off to Washington. Teases him about the non-reg hair that he's somehow slipped past both Weir and Landry. He's too startled by the surge of affection that washes over him at the sight of Sheppard's answering smirk to hear what the man actually says.
He'd thought eight months apart would be enough to sweep all that away.
His parents' house is safe and familiar and Cam only feels a little awkward bringing home a man who, under different circumstances, he'd be trying to get into bed. It helps that the interest is one way--as far as Cam has been able to discern, Sheppard is entirely straight. So he's not bringing home a boyfriend, or potential boyfriend. (Not that he's ever had a boyfriend. Just a couple of fumbled, anonymous encounters back before he joined up. Cam wanted to fly, so he played by the rules. It's not that much of a sacrifice, really, because he genuinely likes women. Almost as much as he likes men.)
He introduces Sheppard as a fellow pilot and Teyla as a payroll assistant (not sure his parents will buy it after Vala, but not sure what else to introduce her as, though he later decides it might have been better just to pretend she was a marine, especially after his mother asks Teyla if she knows Vala). His mother sits them down with the pecan pie and sweet tea that always remind Cam of the Southern military bases where he spent his childhood, and then she and his father weave around each other preparing dinner and chatting about the neighbours while Cam watches their teamwork in wistful admiration.
Six weeks of dinner and drinks and post-mission basketball games taught Cam that Sheppard's surface affability and easy banter hid a fortress of deep and careful reserve. Cam worked hard during those six weeks to chip away a bit at that reserve. Not too much--the walls were there for a reason, after all, and he didn't want the man crashing down around him--but enough to wriggle into Sheppard's small circle of trust.
He took Sheppard's acceptance of his invitation as a sign that he'd finally succeeded, and he attributed the wave of gratification he experienced at the sight of Sheppard's short message to the triumph of that success. Cam considers himself reasonably self-aware, but the thought that his reaction might be due to something else that genuinely didn't occur to him until he was once again face-to-face with Sheppard.
Teyla is the first person Cam's ever met who doesn't like his mama's pecan pie. No sweet tooth, Sheppard tells him later. She makes a valiant effort to eat it, of course, smiling politely and praising it all the while, but as soon as his mother's back is turned, Cam sees Sheppard reach in and steal a large forkful, earning him a more genuine smile. Another type of synchronicity. Cam wonders whether it's just teamwork, or something more.
Cam isn't stupid. And after a ten hour car ride spent examining feelings he'd thought had died, he isn't too startled by the envy that hits him at the thought of Teyla and Sheppard together. Nor does he let it show. He just smiles broadly and pushes the feeling aside ruthlessly and steals the last bit of pie off Teyla's plate before his mother turns around.
Cam dated during those eight months of separation, just as he had in the years before he met Sheppard. All his dates were with women, because he valued his role in the Stargate Program too much to risk it on something that probably wouldn't have worked out anyway. (He's getting older now, though. He's got some good, solid, active duty, explore-the-universe time left, of course, but he's also coming up on his twenty and he knows he's going to start slowing down in a few years, and sometimes he lets fantasies slide into places that he never would have gone back when flying was his dream and hope and reason for being and no sacrifice was too great for the feel of the ground slipping away beneath him.)
He's always tried to maintain a reasonably active social life when he's stateside. Friendship has always come easily to him, both making and keeping. Dating used to come easily too, but his attempts at maintaining even a casual a dating life have become less successful since he joined SG-1. Recently, he's found that more and more of his social life revolves around his team. They're the only ones who share his schedule.
They have enough sun left to put in a couple of hours of pie-fuelled work before they break for the day. After supper, Cam drives them into town. Sheppard teases him about the size of the town--"Main Street, Mitchell?"--and Cam is warmed by the affection beneath the words. It could be enough, he decides. Will have to be enough.
They run into Darrell and Darrell's sister in town, on their way to the roller rink that had caught Teyla's attention and actually made Sheppard laugh. While Darrell and Cam recount stories from high school, Angela sizes them up, then asks Teyla which one she's with, clearly with an eye to seeing who might be available. The answer causes Angela to roll her eyes and sigh. "The good ones are always gay," she says, and Cam blushes furiously while Darrell apologizes and Sheppard smirks and links his arm through Cam's.
Home is no better. His mother, having apparently learned her lesson after Cam's last visit, leaves it to the three of them to sort out who's sleeping in the guest room and who gets the couch. Cam's prepared to suggest that John and Teyla take the bedroom, until he peeks in and realizes that the anticipated cot isn't there.
"Oh, it broke a couple of months ago, when your cousin Lily was staying here with her kids," his mother tells him. "We were going to replace it, but then we got a new bed and put our old king in there, and realized a cot wouldn't fit."
"Huh," Cam says.
He ends up offering the bedroom to John and Teyla anyway, but to his surprise, Teyla demurs, arguing that Cam and John are both too tall to sleep comfortably on the couch. Cam isn't sure he believes that argument, but he can't imagine why else she'd offer to take the couch--she and Sheppard have certainly slept together platonically, if not otherwise, on missions. Sheppard seems as confused as Cam, but he just shrugs and tells Cam to shove him if he snores.
Cam lies awake for three hours, staring at the ceiling, not daring to move for fear of accidentally touching the man beside him.
Occasionally Cam managed to talk Sheppard into joining SG-1 for a social event, but eventually he realized that those evenings were painful, reminding Sheppard as they did of what he'd left behind in Atlantis and what he hadn't yet managed to build at the SGC. After that, Cam kept the two groups separate, although he occasionally caught Sheppard sparring with Teal'c or joking around in the labs with Sam.
None of Cam's teammates asked why Sheppard had stopped coming, or why he had warranted an invitation in the first place, but after they got word that Sheppard and the others had made their way to Atlantis to battle the replicators with only a jumper and a handful of weapons, Sam started stopping by his office for extended coffee breaks, gossiping and joking or just sitting silently. She kept it up until O'Neil and Woolsey were back on Earth, and Sheppard was safely reinstalled on Atlantis.
The three of them start work early the next morning in order to try and avoid the heat. By mid-morning, all three of them have stripped down to a bare minimum of clothing. Cam tries not to stare, but his gaze is pulled in as Sheppard pulls off his shirt and tosses it aside, revealing a lean, muscled torso and an array of fascinating scars. Cam spends the rest of the day watching Sheppard as discreetly as he knows how, until the heat of the sun drives them inside. Sheppard gives no sign of noticing any of it.
It wasn't until their third bar trip (plus assorted lunches, dinners, and sporting events) that Sheppard finally relaxed enough to have more than two beers. Even drunk, he didn't talk about Atlantis, despite Cam's gentle probing. He did, however, start talking about Afghanistan, and eventually, about the afternoon that had led to his court-martial and exile to Antarctica. Cam listened to it all in compassionate silence, then took Sheppard back to his place and made up the spare room. Neither of them discussed that night again.
(That was the same night that Sheppard first mentioned his ex-wife, confirming Cam's initial assumption that Sheppard was straight.)
"They're both lovely, honey," his mother says as she's pulling towels out of the linen closet. "Have you known John long?"
"We met almost a year ago," Cam says. "We were assigned to the same project."
"So you work together?"
Cam isn't sure how to interpret the glint in her eye.
"Not anymore," he says cautiously. "He was transferred. He's posted overseas now."
"That's too bad," his mother says sympathetically, and Cam's stomach twists into panicked knots.
"He's happier there," he says quickly. "It's important work. And better for his career."
"There's more to life than a career, dear," his mother says, patting his arm, and before Cam can process the meaning behind that statement, she adds, "It was very nice of both of them to volunteer to come out here and help you with the repairs."
Cam agrees, and escapes with the towels to the guestroom.
It didn't take Cam long to figure out that Sheppard didn't have many friends left Earthside. He was surprised by that, because even depressed, Sheppard was friendly and likeable, and that was usually enough to sustain companionship. Cam began to understand after Sheppard shared a few stories about his time in Afghanistan. Cam had lost his own share of friends in the Middle East and he knew how those losses could gradually lead you to shut down. He began asking around, quietly, and eventually found a few people at Peterson who knew Sheppard, and who Cam could connect with through friends. He'd been in the early stages of planning a party to reintroduce them all when Sheppard took off for Atlantis.
"He will not initiate anything, you know," Teyla tells him on the third day. They're sitting on the porch swing, drinking beer, and waiting for the midday heat to dissipate before returning to work. Sheppard's inside, trying to charm Cam's mother into making lemon pie for tonight, in the hopes that it will appeal to Teyla more than pecan.
Cam takes a long swig of beer before answering. "Yeah?" he asks finally. He keeps his voice neutral and his eyes fixed on the horizon.
"He can be surprisingly obtuse when it comes to romantic interest," Teyla persists.
"Okay," Cam says. He thinks he knows where this is going, and the destination both thrills and terrifies him. He'd thought he was being careful. "But I don't know what that has to do with me."
"He watches you," she says as if he hadn't spoken. "Whenever you are notwatching him, he is watching you."
"I don't..." Cam begins, and then stops as Teyla lays a warm hand on his leg. He turns to look at her and wonders when he starting getting so sloppy that someone he barely knew could read him. He finds that he doesn't care about the answer as much as he should, because he's waiting with bated breath to see if something more than intuition prompted this conversation. A heartfelt confession of love, maybe? Or an observation that Sheppard tends to enthusiastically tends to kiss other men while on missions?
"I saw his face when he received your invitation," she says quietly. "If you really have no interest, then you should back away from him."
Which is less unequivocal than Cam was hoping for, given that it could be the end of his career if she's wrong, but Teyla obviously thinks it means something, and her message is clear. It's time to fish or cut bait.
It took Cam a month to realize that the anticipation he was feeling every time he was about to see Sheppard was perhaps a little stronger than what he normally experienced when seeing people who were just friends. Especially when he'd just seen them the day before. And while Cam had always taken a moderate amount of pride in his appearance, he had to admit that he didn't normally change clothes three times before dinner. Even for dates.
It was, he knew, profoundly stupid to keep seeing Sheppard when he felt this way, but he couldn't quite bring himself to condemn the man to evenings and weekends alone in the Mountain. And he knew that's what would happen, with McKay spending most of his time at Area 51, and Sheppard showing no signs of settling in and making new friends on his own. He could handle it, Cam decided. And eventually, it would go away. Still, a little relief crept in amongst the concern when he heard that Sheppard and the others had returned to Atlantis, relieving Cam of the constant fear of exposure.
"I'm going to drive over to the hardware store," Cam says when Sheppard comes out to the porch. "Pick up some nails. Do you want to come?"
"Sure," Sheppard agrees. He looks at Teyla inquiringly. Teyla shakes her head.
"I believe I will stay here."
Sheppard shrugs. "All right, well, have a good time."
They end up taking his parents' truck, having realized that they'll need more than nails.
Cam spends the trip to the store trying to figure out how to phrase it. Even with Teyla's assurances still fresh in his memory, coming up with actual words for a topic that he's never talked about before to anyone is...challenging. He's really not sure how you ask this question. Not when the other person is another man. Not when the other person is lieutenant colonel and both your careers could be ruined by it. Not when the other person is someone you've been fantasizing about for more than eight months.
They wander through the store, picking up nails and boards and paint, conversation limited to what will be needed to finish replacing the panels. Cam's palms are sweating the whole time as he tries to summon up the courage to speak. He watches Sheppard carefully as they sort through paint colours and tools, trying to see some sign of the interest that Teyla assures him exists. As far as he can tell, Sheppard is more interested in faucets than he is in Cam. Then again, Sheppard's had twenty years of practice hiding it too. There's a reason they've both managed to stay in the military.
He pays at the counter and he and Sheppard carry the bundle out to the truck, and he still hasn't figured out what to say. They drive home in silence, country music coming low from the radio, and Cam's heart rides higher and higher in his chest as he realizes that he needs to speak up soon or he's going to lose his chance. And then just as he's ready to pull over and open his mouth and see what comes out, the house is in sight, and it's too late.
Less than a week before Sheppard made his break for Atlantis, and about a week after Cam had figured out that what he was feeling wasn't friendship, the two of them went out and got drunk. Very drunk. After his fifth beer, Cam told Sheppard about the time he bombed a civilian target, and nearly walked away from the military and the sky as a result. After they switched to shots, Sheppard started telling Cam some stories from Atlantis. Not the funny ones that he'd started telling a couple of weeks after the expedition had returned, but the serious ones. The ones that had left him scared and sometimes scarred. He didn't talk about being scared of course--the accounts were all matter-of-fact, accompanied by strategic analysis, self-deprecating smiles, and the occasional rant about the short-sightedness of the IOA--but the fear came through anyway, and so did the grief, and the longing to return.
At the end of the night, they shared a cab back to Cam's place, both far too drunk to drive. He made up the guestroom for Sheppard as he had once before, clumsily pulling out towels and giving thanks that the bed's already because he's not sure he could manage it in this condition.
A few hours later, he woke to a muffled sound coming from the guestroom. It took him a few minutes to realize what it was, and then he lay in bed, torn between the desire to comfort Sheppard, and the desire not to embarrass him. Eventually he settled for getting up and hitting the bathroom noisily. He hung around in the hall for a few minutes afterward, in case Sheppard wanted to talk, and then headed back to bed. He didn't hear anything out of the guestroom for the rest of the night.
Looking back, he knows that one of the reasons he didn't go into that room was his fear that with as much as he'd had to drink, his self-control might have slipped and the comforting might have gone in the wrong direction.
They return to work in the later afternoon, when things have finally cooled down. Cam cuts and hammers with a vengeance, anger over his failure to speak up fighting with the ongoing terror of actually doing so. When Teyla manages to corner him out of sight of Sheppard, he just shakes his head. She frowns, but doesn't say anything, and a moment later Sheppard's worked his way to where they are, and there's no space for anything to be said.
They stay in that night, opting for the Mitchells' generous library of DVDs and the big screen TV in the basement over the single screen theatre of the town. Cam's parents head off to bed after the first movie, and Teyla leaves after the second, giving Cam a meaningful look as she slips past him and wishes them a loud good night. Sheppard's standing at the DVD rack, sliding his finger along the titles.
"How about The Wedding Crashers?"
"The trailer was the funniest part," Cam replies.
"The Legend of Zorro?"
"Don't you get enough of the marines in your day job?"
"Right," Sheppard says. He crouches down to scan the next shelf. "There must be something here you'll watch," he mutters.
Cam watches him for a moment, and then sets his drink down on the table and stands up determinedly. He's faced war zones, first contact missions and aliens intent on world domination. He can face one man.
Sheppard's eyes are still fixed on the shelf when Cam comes up behind him. "How about this?" he asks, straightening up with a case in hand. He turns around to face Cam, and Cam sees the startles look on his face as he realizes that there's less than an inch of space between them. The surprise is quickly wiped away, leaving behind an expressionless mask. Cam begins to panic then, but he holds his ground, meeting Sheppard's blank gaze defiantly, waiting for a response.
"You know," Sheppard says finally, conversationally, "somehow I never see it coming."
Which isn't really the reaction Cam was hoping for. He steps back quickly and opens his mouth to apologize or deny--he's not sure which--but before he can speak, Sheppard steps forward, leans in, and kisses him.
Cam closes his eyes as their lips make contact, heart racing as he feels Sheppard reach out to tug him closer. He breaks the kiss after a moment and buries his face in Sheppard's shoulder, nearly shaking from the adrenalin rush, and too astonished to speak coherently.
Sheppard whispers, "I kind of wish I'd figured this out when I was still here."
"Yeah," Cam manages to agree. He pulls his head back and slides his hands beneath Sheppard's t-shirt, marvelling that Sheppard is allowing it--is leaning into it--rather than pushing him away. "Well, we've got two days to make up for lost time." He leans in for another kiss and Sheppard begins pushing him toward the couch. Cam laughs as his calves hit the edge and he sinks down.
"What?" Sheppard asks, standing over him. Cam spreads his legs, and Sheppard steps closer and begins running his hands through Cam's hair and down his face and neck.
"Just remembering the first time I brought a girl down here. Never got very far because my mom came down every half-hour to offer us snacks."
Sheppard laughs. "My father used to send in the maid."
It's the first time he's mentioned his family. Cam wants to ask about his father, about why he had a maid, but Sheppard's already pushing him back on the couch, leaning in for a kiss as he reaches for Cam's belt buckle, and Cam decides he has better things to do with his mouth just then.
They finish the house a day earlier than Cam had expected thanks to Teyla's help. His parents suggest they could stay another day, but Cam tells them that Teyla and John are shipping out in three days, and need the recovery time in Colorado Springs before their flight. On the drive back, Teyla insists on taking the back seat. When Cam looks glances backwards two hours into the drive, he sees that she's asleep. He takes advantage of the privacy to reach over and slide his hand into John's, who looks at him in surprise, and then smiles.
There's a certain irony, Cam decides, in ending his nearly ten year romantic drought by starting a relationship with a man who lives in another galaxy.
"Longest long distance relationship ever," he mutters, and John hears him and shrugs.
"We aren't the only ones," he says. "There's practically a club on Atlantis. " A moment later, he adds in a low voice, as if he doesn't really want to admit it even to himself, "Atlantis isn't forever."
"Yeah," Cam says. Because there is a limit, and one day they're both going to hit it. He squeezes John's hand and then lets it go so that he can roll down the window a crack. Beside him, John is smiling. He looks out at the road ahead, feels John's hand resting on his leg and the rush of the wind roaring past, sees the fields and trees pass in a blur, and it's almost like flying.
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