What Happens Next: Interlude

Notes & Warnings

~*~

The whale, the helicopter, check. Cooler with frozen tubs of Pegasus Blue, check. Luggage for three, coffee thermos, check. Oil change, battery checked and charged. Cell phone charger, check. Bag of Dad snacks, check. Bag of Alex snacks and DVD's, check.

Oh, for the days when a road trip meant a tank of gas and pack of cigarettes and off you went into the wild blue yonder. The nearest flight to Auburn had been Salina, with a change of planes, and it had seemed ridiculous to fly for six hours, rent a car and drive rest of the way instead of an eight-hour drive.

All that he's missing now is Cam and Alex. Cam had disappeared with Alex while he was loading up the SUV, with a "Be right back," and that had been nearly an hour ago. He's seriously thinking of calling Cam on his cell, when he glances in the car to see the device propped up in the open ashtray.

He bites his lip, and takes a deep breath in through his nose, and exhales slowly, all of those meditation lessons put to use on a daily basis. It wasn't that he was a worrywart, except that he is. Now, with Alex.

It was a daily torture to see Cam drive away with Alex strapped in the car seat in the back; the dull, gnawing worry that he'd blamed on Atlantis, the wraith, except that it isn't, and hell, isn't that a kick in the pants? He'd come home, only to discover, to remember, in a voice that sounded a lot like McKay, that Earth is equally dangerous.

Cam took Alex to the park to wear his two-year-old butt out before strapping him in for an eight-hour car ride. They just went to the park, and they'll be back when they get back. Billions of humans survive to adulthood every day—on Earth, any way. He knows that he needs to get over it, it's unreasonable, and yet, there it is, fear.

He shakes his head wryly, and goes back into the apartment, to take one last check. Iron off, coffee pot unplugged. It was a tradition, back when he and Dave were little kids and the family was together and young, and they still took car trips, not jets. Dad would always insist on walking through the house one last time after Mom, because about a hundred miles down the road she would always ask worriedly, 'Dear, what about the...' and then Dad would shake his head and tell her to stop worrying.

Okay. Maybe he does kind of come by it honestly, though he also kind of hates that it puts him square on the 'mom' side of My Two Dads. He resolutely reminds himself that Cam will never hear that story.

The front door is flung open and his son and partner blow through it, filling up the room with screams of laughter. Alex is on Cam's shoulders, and he's ducking low, but not so low that Alex can't touch the lintel, and crow, "Tall, Daddy, I tall now!"

"You sure are, buddy." Arms are reaching out, and he takes them, pulling Alex into him close, smelling the sweaty neck, feeling the baby soft skin against his lips, as the chubby arms nearly choke the shit out of him. "And you're sweaty, and filthy." He remembers the visits to his own grandparents, him and his brother in matching suits with hair slicked back and shoes polished; the cold formality of Grandmother's New York penthouse.

Cam slides a hand down his back, "Momma and Daddy raised two boys. You don't have to make a good impression—you and Alex, you're a sure thing, you know that?"

A few blinks to clear his eyes, and goddamn Cameron Mitchell for always knowing exactly what the issue is, or at least putting on a good imitation. "Yeah, I know. C'mon, buddy, let's at least put on a clean pair of shorts, and clean up the knees, okay?"

The last time he'd been to Auburn, to visit Cam's family, it had been mostly a disaster. Despite the signed and sealed non-disclosure forms, the town was still gossiping, passing around and discussing and embellishing the events at the GW High Class of '87 reunion. It had felt like all eyes were on him, watching closely, to see if he was going to do something bizarre, or extraordinary.

And then there had been Cam's family. Courtney just in from Kansas City, with his wife and two boys as sweet as you could ever imagine kids being; the mass of aunts and uncles and cousins and children of cousins, and babes in arms to be cooed over and spoiled.

Wendy and Frank had tried to make him feel welcome, but the whole experience had been as strange and as foreign a culture as John had ever seen, and he's seen more than his fair share. But the siren call, the lure of home and family had drawn John down and in, and he'd reveled in it for a while.

Totally different than his own family, especially after his mother had passed away, and he can admit that now, that part of his reaction afterward had been jealousy. So many people, with the ties of kith and kin binding them together with warmth and love and affection, and he was left with the comparison to his own family: distant and overbearing dead father, mother long gone, and a brother who wants as little to do with him as possible.

One door opens, and another closes and irrevocably cuts the lines of communication with so many things unsaid, hurt all around. It's difficult to remember the good parts of Cam's family without remembering the bad parts of his own.

He still needs to call Dave; they're not reconciled, not all the way, and there's a cool distance, but he owes it to Dave, to Cam, to Alex to reach out and try again. Dave needs to know about Alex. The last causes a dry chuckle. Yeah, he'd fucked that one up last time but good and now he's got a second opportunity to make Dave even more uncomfortable with his unconventional lifestyle.

"Ow, Daddy!" Alex's scraped knee is beginning to bleed where he'd scrubbed it, and he hadn't even noticed.

"I'm sorry buddy," he takes a deep breath, and pulls Alex's forehead to his. "I'm sorry."

"John."

He turns around at the sound, and Cam is towering over them in the bath's door, with an open bottle of beer in his hand.

"Trade ya. Go, take a chill pill, we'll be done here in two minutes." The look on his face promises that there's a discussion coming, but it won't be soon, not in the car with Alex.

"I guess this means you're driving."

"You bet it does. You're a wreck already, let's not make it three."

There's only one thing to do, and that's to give in gracefully. Kissing the top of Alex's head, he grabs the beer and goes to stand in front of the kitchen sink, bottle in hand. It's already after eight thirty, and they'd told Wendy and Frank that they'd be there in time for dinner.

Cam had wanted to leave last night, and let Alex sleep all the way through, but he didn't think that was a very good strategy for Alex, who still wakes up frightened, not knowing where he is, and this is Alex's first overnight trip since Atlantis. Maybe Cam was right; he's obviously had too much time to indulge in retrospection.

The other thing about leaving on Thursday night is that it's one more day there, a good thing in Cam's eyes, and in Wendy and Frank's eyes, too. He's sure that it'll be fine once they get there; he'd liked the little town, liked Cam's family, but he's not looking forward to what is essentially a command performance.

True to Cam's word, as always, two minutes later, Alex, clad in clean t-shirt and shorts, is running ahead of Cam. "Daddy, cmon, brea'fas!"

The fact that two year olds have the infinite capability for instant forgiveness is going to be his saving grace. "Breakfast?"

Cam grins, broad and open, with laugh lines crinkled around his eyes. "I promised IHOP. There's one on Chelton, just before we get to 24."

He can't help but return the smile, it's the one that gets him every time. "Your mom and dad?"

"I'll call, tell 'em not to wait for us. Supper is whenever everyone gets there, anyway."

He drains the last of his beer, rinses out the bottle and sets it on the counter. "Suppose they'll mind that I have beer breath at this hour of the morning?"

Cam leans in and kisses him. "Can't even tell."

Breakfast is the usual. Alex is still experimenting, so they let him order whatever looks interesting from the pictures on the menu. Normally there's Pegasus Blue at home for afterwards if the experiment fails, so he makes sure there's extra pancakes and link sausage available.

Alex, the big ham, plays right to the waitress, and she's charmed into stupidity, and Cam rolls his eyes behind her back.

He's utterly charmed by them as well, and grins at their antics. This, this is what Earth has that Atlantis didn't, this is why he came home to Cameron, and he needs to remind himself of that when he feels the empty place inside that was Atlantis.

~*~

The drive along I-70 through eastern Colorado and western Kansas is an unending sea of rolling hills and fence lines, topped by a pale blue sky that stretches into infinity. There's an art to loving a landscape so sere and bleak, and seeing it as beautiful. It's a lot like Cam: broad, open, sunny, the landscapes of our youths never part from us. He thinks: what about Alex, perched high in the mountains, surrounded by shivering silver leaves of poplar, overlooking the ancient cretaceous (postdiluvian?) seas that stretch for thousands of miles?

Driver's choice for the music, the radio is on an AM talk show, and when it's out of range in an hour, Cam will hit the search button to find another scratchy, tinny station, a sound from the distant past turned down low.

He's in the back seat, passenger side, and Alex is in his car seat in the center; this is his first long car trip and he caved when Alex begged him to come sit with him. It cuts down on conversation with Cam, but he thinks: they'll be driving home at night.

Cadman had gifted Alex with sunglasses for the trip, hideous lime green frames, with huge mirrored lenses that make him look like a bug, and Alex adores them. She'd thoughtfully provided a tether so they wouldn't get lost, even though they probably hadn't cost more than a buck or two.

He wonders how it is that Cadman, a single Marine, innately gets this stuff, and he's constantly struggling to play catch up. He shakes his head; the same place that Cameron gets it from, the constant training of mother to child, from father to son, siblings, and cousins.

He needs to call Dave, can't help but hope that the thread of generations is a tie that can bind them back together. Maybe he's putting too much hope into it.

He's deemed ready to drive after lunch, and the eight-hour journey stretches to nearly ten with frequent stops for bathroom breaks, because Alex is mostly potty trained, and they all want to keep it that way.

Dusk is a memory in the rearview mirror when they finally pull into the farm, and fling the car doors open to the butter soft whisper of night air, loud with cicadas and tree-frogs singing their nightly chorus, redolent with dust, the humid smell of thousands of acres of corn and wheat, and the almost acrid scent of sunflowers, their heavy heads drooping, as if nodding off for the night.

Wendy runs out of the house, and behind her, Frank more slowly with his double canes. Cam picks up her up with a "Hey, Momma,” and gives her a little whirl as he hugs and kisses her, and Frank gets a hug too, more sedate, but no less tight.

He has Alex out of the car seat, on hip, cranky and sleepy and face pushed against his t-shirt. He briefly presses his nose into the shock of dark hair, sweaty boy child smell, and greets Wendy with a "Hi," and an awkward one-armed hug. She's right there, hovering, but Alex won't look at her. "Alex, you remember Grandma Wendy from the pictures?" This shyness is a habit Alex's picked up in daycare, or maybe it’s a normal phase, but Alex wasn't this way when they came home from Atlantis. "Sorry, he's having a moment."

Wendy relents with a gentle pat on his back. "Oh, that's all right. John, how are you? I'm so glad you came."

"Very well, thanks," he says, and then shakes Frank's hand, and he can't help it, the sir just slips out.

"None of that, now." Frank puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes hard. "It's good to see you, son."

And he's never been so grateful for the cover of night, to hide sudden sting of tears, blinking them back. He thinks: it doesn't mean any thing; it's just a habit. "Good to see you, too."

Frank ruffles Alex's hair. "You too, kiddo."

He can feel a shy smile against his chest. Cam opens the back of the SUV and starts to pull out bags and coolers. He doesn't feel terribly guilty letting Cam handle it, as he loaded most of it up this morning by himself. "You want to get down?" The arms cling a little tighter to his neck. "Guess not. Hang on." Alex holds tight as he leans down, grabs a couple of bags, and paces Frank to the porch. Cam takes the cooler into the kitchen, and Wendy's waiting on the porch.

"I've got the spare room upstairs made up, but I didn't know if you wanted the crib in there, or not."

They'd agreed well in advance, that for the first night at least, that Alex would sleep in with him and Cam, so that Alex wouldn't wake up alone in a strange place. "He doesn't use one at home."

"That's fine. Cameron, honey, would you mind getting the foldaway out of the attic?"

"Sure thing, momma." Cameron kisses him on the back of the neck. "Let me just get the last load out of the car."

"I saved supper for you, you just say when."

He nods towards the staircase. "Let me take these upstairs, see if Alex needs anything."

"You know where every thing is, just help yourself, and if you need any thing, just holler."

The room upstairs, sloped roof with dormers, is the same one that Cameron and Courtney had shared throughout their childhood, a queen in place of the long gone twin beds. The last time he was here, the new addition to the house with two more bedrooms and a bath had been just completed, a gift from Courtney. Most of the time Wendy and Frank rumble around by themselves, but the housing of visiting grandchildren is a serious matter. Alex makes four.

He slings the bags onto the bed, and hits the bathroom, coaxing Alex down from his hip to go pee while he draws a quick bath. There's a potty chair, a bag of bath toys hanging from the grab bar, and an assortment of Sesame Street bubble bath and no tears shampoo lined up on the ledge. A basket of barrettes, ribbons and hairbobs is on the back of the toilet tank.

Alex loves bath time; modern American bathrooms are still a novelty; he knows that there is a part of Alex that remembers his time with his mother, but it seems to fade a little every day. Alex insists on undressing and climbing in unassisted and he lets Alex move at his own pace. This is downtime, de-stressing before bedtime. He hears the muffled sound of conversation and then the phone rings in the kitchen downstairs, and Cam's voice talking on the telephone, "Shelby!" Cam's favorite cousin; almost exactly the same age, their birthdays a week apart, their mothers twins who married brothers — he's heard a fair bit about her over the years, though he's never met her. Cam will be on the phone for an hour.

Once Alex is clean, the thick shock of hair as combed as it ever gets, a new Band-Aid on the scraped knee, and dressed in his favorite pajamas, he asks "Are you hungry, buddy?" It was a tactical error to bathe before feeding, and Alex would never stay awake to brush his teeth afterwards, but he's worked his way through worse mistakes.

Alex blinks slowly and nods, and holds his hands up, clutching them in the air. "Carry, daddy."

He swings him up, and Alex clings to him like a limpet, arms around the neck, head tucked under his chin, and legs wrapped firmly around his waist. Wendy is waiting at the bottom of the creaky stairs, wiping her hands on a dishtowel and smiling. "I was just coming to see if you guys wanted something to eat?"

They'd stopped in Salina for a Bogey burger when it had become apparent that they really weren't going to make it to Auburn anywhere near supper time. The heavy smell of onions had put Alex off, and he'd only had French fries. "Alex does, but I think he'd probably appreciate some of his blue stuff. It was in the cooler."

"I put it in the fridge. Would you like me to heat it up?"

"That would be great, just a half cup or so. I don't think he's going to stay awake for that much longer tonight."

At the bottom of the staircase, Wendy puts her arm around him, and gently rubs Alex's back, and then leans in to kiss the top of Alex's head. Alex squirms around to look at her. They're probably at eye level.

"Hello, sweetheart. Did you have a good car trip?"

Alex nods.

In a feat of magical grandmotherly legerdemain, Alex is suddenly wrapped around Wendy, and she's just beaming. "John. John, he's so precious. You did good," she says, without any trace of irony.

He gives her a little sardonic smirk, and says, "Thanks." He thinks: I had so little to do with it, just an embarrassing moment, and then seven years of waiting. He's got the rest of his life to make up for the fact that Alex is with him, instead of his mother.

The kitchen is large, open, and cheery. A working kitchen, with plain wooden cabinets, and a sturdy kitchen table that doubles as a work surface, scars on the edge where the meat grinder clamps on. Cameron's in a chair by the phone on the wall, tipped back on two legs, and the long cord wrapped in his hand. Frank's at the table, his canes propped up next to him, and the remains of a bowl of ice cream in front of him.

He gets a tub of Pegasus Blue out of the refrigerator, and scoops a little into a bowl and pops it in the microwave, and he hears, "You too, see you tomorrow," and Cameron hangs up the phone.

Wendy has Alex in a highchair, probably the same one Cameron and Courtney used, possibly even the same one that Wendy or Frank used when they were babies. The microwave dings, and there's an assortment of child-sized spoons in the cutlery drawer. He skips over the plastic Hannah Montana one, and picks a plain one.

"Sorry," Cam says as he lightly touches him at the small of his back.

"Shelby?"

Cameron takes the bowl from him, and gives it to Wendy. "Yeah. She said she has a few things to do in the morning but she'll stop in for a visit tomorrow."

"Yeah?"

"Yes, somehow the word got out that we were coming to visit, and it's turned into a family reunion."

Wendy snipes back, "I didn't know that it was classified."

Cameron barrels on. "Momma, Courtney and Vanessa are coming in, Shelby and her gang are coming, and the rest of them live in a twenty mile radius, or in town, and I just know that you have an entire quarter of beef ready to barbeque."

"Can't fault me for wanting to feed the troops."

Cameron throws his hands in the air. "There! You admit it!"

"It's not every day you bring us home a husband and a son all at the same time. Sue me." Wendy's grinning, Frank is laughing, and he can't help but smile, too. "Cam, honey, don't forget the rollaway. Clean sheets for it are in the hall closet."

"I'm on it, Momma. East or west?"

"I don't know, Court put it away last."

Cameron leans down and kisses Alex's cheek, "Give me two ticks," and then bounds up the stairs.

Frank leans back and asks, "How are you settling into your new posting, John?"

"It's fine. A little boring, mostly paperwork." The great thing about Cam's family is they're military, the code is received and understood: I spent my entire career doing exciting things, and now I'm grounded.

Frank nods. "What you're doing is important."

He knows that Frank doesn't mean the desk under the mountain, where he has to keep his hair cut to regulation and make sure that he ducks into the locker room with the electric shaver at some point in the afternoon, especially if there's visitors scheduled in.

He thinks: what would it be like to have a child without guilt? One who doesn't carry on their tiny little shoulders the weight of past mistakes, dead civilizations, the end of a career, and the separation from something huge and fantastic? He desperately loves his son, had fallen in love with him almost immediately, that genetic bond that sang out to him, the instant recognition that hadn't needed Keller's confirmation, mine, mine, mine; but there is a tiny, tiny corner of his mind that is bitter.

As it is, getting a son in return, something he was certain that he'd never have, is not a disappointment. It's just the proximity of non-closure, being constantly in the loop that makes what he's given up a little more unbearable.

But, sitting before him, is the textbook case of Air Force careers that end with a bang, and there were so many times that could've been him, should've been, that he can't really be bitter at all. He's young, healthy, a beautiful child to help grow up, and a husband that not only loves him but gets him, too, and Cam comes with a family that's ready to love him and Alex, no questions asked, proof of provenance unnecessary. "I know. It's what I need—want to do."

Frank looks him in the eye, and he knows that there isn't any bitterness or sorrow that he's felt or thought, that this somewhat crushed hero hasn't dealt with, too.

"I think our little mister is about down for the count." Wendy looks up and smiles at him. She's apple cheeked and corn fed, with the kind of blonde hair that gracefully edges into silver, and a big broad smile, the one that he sees at home, on Cam, all the time.

Alex is slumped sideways in the chair, the tiny spoon fitted into his hand perfectly. There's no more than a bite or two left in the bowl, and barely any smeared on his face or hands. Wendy mops him up a little with her dishtowel, and pulls Alex into her lap, cradled against her chest. Alex just snuggles in close, head pillowed on her breast, his fist clutching her shirt. It's a mammalian reaction, and Alex probably remembers breast-feeding, but he's not equipped for that particular brand of motherly comfort.

Cam comes pelting down the stairs, but stops and treads softly when he comes into the kitchen. Alex is limp and dead to the world as Cam takes him from Wendy and brings his son, their son, to him for a goodnight kiss. When Cam leans down a little farther and tilts his head, he kisses Cam too, and gets a goofy grin in return, and then they're off up the stairs.

Frank takes that as his cue and stands up. "Well, Mother, I think it's bed time for me, too." The digital clock on the counter flashes over to ten p.m., and Wendy is rinsing out the bowls and spoons.

He stands up, too. "I'm sorry we got in so late, but—"

"Pish, don't even. Father just wants to watch Conan."

Frank treads around the table, and stops next to him, and puts his hand on his shoulder. "We'll have time to talk, if you like."

"Yeah, I'd like that, a lot."

"Good enough. G'nite, son." Frank heads heads out of the kitchen, and Wendy potters around for a few minutes, until Cam comes back and sets the baby monitor on the table.

She nods. "If you boys need anything, just feel free. See you in the morning." Cam hugs her, she kisses her son on the cheek, and then she turns and gives him a hug and a kiss, too.

He feels stunned by the vast amounts of casual affection that the Mitchell family bandies about, far too used to having to hoard the moments for the long months—sometimes even years—ahead when there was none to be had. He remembers feeling that way last time, too, but perhaps this time he's less like a skittish colt that requires acclimation, that would be frightened away by it, and they're not holding back.

Vala had told him once, that she would have been very happy with the Mitchell's as in-laws if she could have figured out how to arrange that without actually marrying Mitchell. She had also waxed philosophical about Momma's pie, and he's not sure if it was the pie, or the family.

Probably both. Her family and childhood was entire orders of horrible above his, or anyone that he even knew, and pie was, well—pie.

Speaking of pie, Cam has half an apple pie and a block of cheddar out on the counter. The coffee pot is already dripping away. "You want a piece of pie?"

"Just a small one," he says, but Cam serves up huge slices anyway, and drapes wafer thin slices of cheese over the top of one and puts them in the microwave.

He gets the one with cheese, and Cam pulls a small bucket of homemade ice cream out of the freezer, and ladles a dollop on top of his. The cream for the coffee was probably inside a cow yesterday.

He'd have probably married Mitchell just for his mother's pie, too.

After the pie's consumed and they're loitering at the table, coffee in hand, Cam asks, with a speculative look in his eye, "What had you so bugged this morning?"

He bites his lip and twitches in a way that might be a shrug. "Just stressed out," and for about a half second, he thinks: got away with it, because there's no way that he's going to ever admit to what's been running through his mind.

"Bullshit. I know you're stressed out, but usually you handle it better."

Ten thousand angry Pegasans with red-hot spears couldn't drag it out of him that this is one of the reasons that he loves Cameron Mitchell so fiercely. Even though at this very second, he hates him just as intensely for the same reason. He thinks: if he was the mom, he'd be excused his inconsistencies, and he kind of hates that he is anyway. "Look, this trip is kind of a big deal, you know?" It is and he couldn't find a damn reason to avoid it; instead, it was shockingly easy to get time off from the desk under the mountain. In fact, it appears that Landry expects him to burn off seven years of unused leave as soon as possible.

Cam nods slowly from across the table, like he understands. "Do you feel any better?"

"Yeah, I do. I put a few things into perspective when Frank," he pauses and tries it out, "Dad, and I talked." And it's just too strange; 'Dad' was stern and demanding and ruthless in his pursuits, everything that Frank isn't.

"He's pretty good at that. You want any more?" Cam pokes at his empty plate with his fork.

"Nah, I'm good. Here," he says as he stands up with his plate and grabs Cam's too, and washes them at the sink, leaving them in the drainer with Alex and Frank's bowls.

"Tired?"

He shakes his head, it's only just after nine at home.

"Wanna go make out on the porch swing?" Cam gives him a leer and wink, with a lascivious waggle of the eyebrows, and it makes him chuckle.

"Sure, how could I possibly turn down an offer like that?"

Cam grabs the baby monitor and his hand and leads him to the front porch, flipping the lights off as they pass by. He leans on the railing, Cam right beside him, his solid length a comfort, and they peer up into the night sky. The new moon is nowhere to be seen, and the sky is a brilliantine canopy of familiar stars; constellations that he doesn't have to make up, or pretend that he knows. A meteor shoots through Cassiopeia, perhaps a Perseid outlier.

As if Cam is reading his mind, "August is fantastic."

He turns to look at Cam, and it's too dark to see his eyes, but this, this he knows is welcome and wanted, and he leans to kiss him.

Cam pulls him in, pulls them together by his hip, and he slides one hand up around Cam's neck, across the short hair at the back of his head, and the other he slides down to the hem of Cam's t-shirt, and just rests it there, thumb idly stroking the curve of Cam's strong back. Cam responds by deepening the kiss, and they stay like that, twined together for long moments, and it's just this, kissing and nothing more.

Eventually Cam breaks it off, brings their faces together, nose to nose, and this close he can see the gleam in Cam's eye. "I love you, John Sheppard. I thank God for every day that I have with you."

The rest of the year, it's implied by deed and action and touch, and the more casual 'love yous' sprinkled amongst their daily conversations, but Cam does this every so often, just comes right out and tells him this. And it's never that he doesn't say it back, he says it, but the formality of this pronouncement always makes him wonder what it means, and why, beyond the obvious meaning of the words, and he honestly is never sure what response it is that Cam's expecting. He simply pulls Cam in the rest of the way and kisses him again, with all the intent and promise that he can pack into a gesture like that.

They make out under the night sky for what seems like hours, and it's slow and careful. There's no way either of them wants to take it any farther here, or in bed. Alex might sleep like the dead, but they just aren't that desperate, and it's nice; it's a little of the dating that they'd skipped altogether; instead, just passing through and hooking up for years and years.

~*~

He wakes up to Alex's empty bed and Cam wrapped around him; pale dawn light filters through the curtains and not a sound in the house. He kisses Cam on the cheek and disentangles himself , throws on yesterday's clothing. He's kind of surprised that Alex had slept through the night without nightmares, but he shouldn't be; Alex had spent the beginning of his life living in the lap of nature; it's probably the sound of the city and traffic that wake him up.

There is no one downstairs, but the coffee pot is half full and still on. There's an aroma of baked goods, biscuits, and the back door is open. He stands on the stoop, still barefoot, and scans the yard for a sign of his son.

He moves through the house quickly, going out the front door, and he sees them, Wendy with a basket in her hand and Alex barefooted and still in pj's, making their way across the drive from the barn in the dull gray dawn.

Leaning against the rail, he watches their progress. The lack of shoes doesn't seem to impede Alex, and he keeps up with her. Alex runs when he sees him standing on the porch, "Daddy! Daddy! Granma's got chickens!"

He scoops him up when he hits the stairs. "She does, huh?"

"Yeah, and I helped get eggs. Granma picked 'em up, and I took the egg."

"That's pretty cool." It is vacation, and Alex is so obviously excited that he doesn't have the heart to chide him about going out in his pj's and not putting on his shoes, or disappearing without waking daddy up, but they'd have to talk about the difference when they got home. "Morning, Wendy."

She nearly yodels, "Good morning, John!" as she trots up the stairs. "There's coffee, and breakfast when everyone's ready, Father is nearly done going over the accounts with Rodrigo, and your Alex wanted to come with me to see the chickens."

He'd forgotten that Wendy's a morning person. Alex squirms like mad, "Lemme down, Daddy," and he lets him slide down and land on his feet like a miniature gymnast, arms in the air. "Show daddy the eggs, Granma!"

Wendy grins as she lets Alex hold the basket handle, and he peers into the basket. He thinks: fresh eggs are disgusting, chicken shit and straw, but they are huge. "Jeez, Wendy, what are you feeding those chickens? Nuclear waste?"

She laughs, "No, just never mind you, that's my secret."

He opens the screen door for her, and grabs Alex's shoulder to hold him back from rushing in. "Ladies, first, Alex." It isn't a concept that an all male household gets to practice very often.

"Thank you, John, Alex," she says as she sails through the door.

"Come on, squirt, let's put on some clothes and shoes, okay?"

When they get to the bedroom Alex says, "Shhh, Dad sleeping," and that makes him grin.

"Okay." He lets Alex pick what he's going to wear out of his little suitcase and makes sure to pick up his little toothbrush. They get through the tooth brushing, and face washing, and they rinse off dirty feet in the bathtub before strapping on sandals, and Alex bolts out the door when he pronounces him, "Done." It's a pleasure to see Alex excited and anxious to engage with his grandparents. He stands at the top of the stairs to watch Alex carefully make his way down it's obvious that he can do it himself, but it makes him feel better for watching.

He returns to the foot of the bed, briefly considers crawling back in, but it's past daybreak, he's awake, and there won't be any fooling around, so he decides to let Cameron sleep in. He showers and dresses in the bathroom, and treads downstairs as quietly as Alex had.

In the kitchen, Alex is kneeling on a chair stirring something in a bowl with a wooden spoon, the table littered with eggshells, while Wendy directs. Frank is leaning against the sink, washing his hands. "Morning, John, sleep well?

He glances at the clock and winces slightly, six thirty. Remarkably, he had slept well, for the few hours he'd been in bed. On his previous visit to the farm, he'd been kept awake for long hours by the lack of ocean waves crashing against the piers. Last night, he'd crawled in and curled up with Cam and fell asleep immediately. The fact that he hadn't slept at all the night before had probably helped. "Yes I did, thank you. You?"

"Very well, thank you."

He accepts the cup of coffee from Frank and sits down across from where Alex is stirring. While Frank goes on about Conan's antics from last night's show, he watches his son industriously making a terrible mess.

Wendy looks up and nods with a sly smile. "I have something for you to do, too." She pulls a gallon Ziploc bag out of the freezer, full of last fall's pecans, half cracked. She gives it to him, with a bowl, a measuring cup and a nut pick. "Clean about two cups of those, please."

He smiles and opens the bag. "The real reason we visited, to become kitchen slaves."

Frank chuckles. "Better you than me."

"So what's on the agenda for today?" It's Saturday, and he remembers well the rhythms of the stable, and though a farm never stops working, Wendy and Frank only do a little farming themselves since Frank's accident. The land is leased out to family and neighbors, and their Brazilian overseer runs their small operation and keeps track of the land leases on the rest.

"Courtney said they weren't going to leave Kansas City until about eight, so I expect we we'll see them around ten, thereabouts. I imagine Shelby and them will be over around the same time."

In general they don't talk very much about Cam's family; he doesn't know enough to ask, and Cam tries to insulate him, out of some sense of protection stemming from the blowback from his last visit here. He asks, "Remind me about Shelby?"

"My sister's only girl. Lives just down the road in Wichita, with her husband Ron and their children, Austin, Bailey, and Cody."

"All boys?" The tendency of the Mitchell-Meeks for giving children gender-neutral names is terrifying, and he laughs at himself, because Alex falls right in the number one position of the category.

Frank just shakes his head grimly, "Bailey was born a boy, but..."

Wendy gives him a shrug. "Bailey's insisted that she's a girl since I don't even remember when. Shelby and Ron, they're going along with her, letting it play out until there has to be a decision made."

He doesn't get the impression that Frank is shunning the child, even though it's obvious that Frank and Wendy fall on different sides of the argument. He doesn't even know what he'd do if Alex were to come up to him and say, 'Daddy, I'm a girl.' He does know that it wouldn't be the same way that his father reacted when he heard that John was at least bisexual, if not gay. He kind of hopes the old man is rolling in his grave right now, and sorry for it, too. "Okay, I can handle that."

He doesn't need a reminder of Court's family; when they'd sent out the news about Alex, and Cam and John finally settling down, there had been a flurry of picture exchanges and he remembers the boys all too well from the last visit to the farm. They had been quiet and studious and ginger-haired, like their mother. The news about Court and Vanessa's youngest, Kendall, is the one that set off his biological clock, and hard. It had taken a long time to kill the pangs, and then in Fate's usual fashion, delivered up exactly what he wanted in the most inconvenient manner possible.

He thinks: it's just weird kismet that Alex and Kendall are almost the same age, same as Cam and Shelby. They'll have to see how the two get along.

Frank's reading the news on the laptop, Alex is hanging on Wendy's every word, tied up in the process of how cake is made, and possibly they should do more baking at home, but there's no time during the week. Cam and Alex take off for Peterson in the early morning, and arrive home in the evening, the day stretching close to ten hours with travel time to the base. It's logical; it's less expensive than private day care, there's a parent on-hand at all times, but it leaves him with too much time on his hands. He's getting used to it, and he appreciates the time to run in the morning, but he'd exchange it for the time to spend with Alex.

He glances at his watch when he hears the shower go on upstairs—nearly seven-thirty, they'll have a little more peace and quiet before the family descends. He thinks: Cam was right; they should've come on Thursday night. He prompts Wendy, "Your sister?" Maybe if he has a working knowledge of the family's structure and members, it won't be quite so overwhelming.

"Wanda. She and Henry have the parcel just across the river. Shelby's the oldest, same as Cameron, and then there's Dale—he lives in the next parcel over, married with four kids and a grand baby too; next is Jessie. He's in the Marines and home in between deployments, and the youngest is Terry, back from Russia—"

"Azerbaijan, Mother," Frank corrects idly.

Wendy continues on as if she hasn't been interrupted, "—with his Russian bride and children, so Wanda's got herself a houseful this weekend, too. Regan and Morgan, they'll probably end up with Shelby and Terry's bunch, with Dale's to look out after them. Kendall, she and Reilly are fast friends, so she might want to go with them, too."

No wonder the last visit left him feeling overwhelmed; all he recalls clearly are the massive numbers of tall, sun-bronzed blond types. He must look as dazed as he feels, because Wendy laughs and squeezes his shoulder as she breezes past his chair on the way to the pantry. "Sorry, it is a mite confusing."

Cam says from the doorway, "We should write out an organization chart, and pin pictures next to everyone's name."

"Great idea son. Why don't you jump right on that?" Frank looks up from the laptop with a brief smile. "Morning."

"Dad!" Alex nearly shrieks as he jumps down from the chair and runs over to Cam, who picks him up and swings him a little higher than necessary, Alex laughing and giggling. "I got to pick eggs!"

"Really!" Cam asks as if he had no idea there were farm animals on a farm.

Alex shimmies down out of Cam's grip as he says; "An we're makin' cake!" and climbs back up on the chair at the counter, eyes wide as he watches every move that Wendy makes.

"Morning, Dad."

As Cameron leans down to give his father a kiss on the cheek, there's a moment of perfect clarity, a reflection between the two men that shows how much Cameron is his father's son. He thinks: Cam may have inherited Wendy's broad smile, and open, generous manner, but in the quiet moments he can see Frank's studious thoughtfulness, the seriousness beyond the obvious values of honor, duty and family that are at Cameron's core.

This is what he wants for Alex, this is why he came back from Atlantis, towards this union, what Cam has to give to him and Alex, the missing piece. He tremendously misses the city, and his family there, and will for a long time, possibly forever. The Air Force had stood in as a surrogate family, but the sense of belonging to something important and bigger than himself is the thing that he's been searching for all of his adult life.

He didn't know that when Cam showed him this before, that the message was, 'you can have this too.' He thinks: I need to tell him this. He makes sure that he says 'I love you' regularly in the things that he does, but this should be said aloud, because Cameron needs to know that he gets it now. He has cleaved himself to this man, and to all of the people standing behind him, the ones that made Cameron Mitchell who he is today.

"You alright, sunshine?" Cam brushes the hair off his forehead and kisses him there, and the hand in his hair feels good.

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm great. You sleep okay?"

"Great, actually. You want some more coffee?" Cameron picks up his cup, and tips his head at the coffee maker.

"Yes, please."

Cam gives him a faintly worried smirk, and then turns to the coffee pot. "Momma, I smell biscuits, you holding out on us?"

"Why yes, Cameron. Of course I make fresh biscuits only to withhold them." Wendy casually smacks Cam on the back of the head after a brief hug. "Pushy smart-ass. I was going to make sausage and gravy to go with, do you want any?"

"Definitely."

"Fine, then sit down and shut up and when it's ready, I'll tell you."

Cameron grins and pretends to be chastened, "Yes, Momma," and puts the coffee cup down and sits next to him. "So what's on the agenda today?"

He barks a laugh, as do Wendy and Frank, and Alex too, though he's only laughing because everyone else is.

"C'mon, it wasn't that funny."

"I asked that same question not twenty minutes ago, and it got me the family tree."

Cam rolls his eyes and shakes his head. "Still a valid question. So, what's going on?"

"Apparently Shelby and Courtney both are expected in around ten."

"Shelby will probably stop off at Aunt Wanda's, we won't get all of them at once. Ron'll probably hang out with Dale; they played ball together at GW, and the kids, who knows? They might all pile in and come with her."

It sounds like the Hordes to him, but Wendy's just nodding. "I 'spect so, they all want to meet Alex."

It's a good thing that Alex isn't particularly shy; reports from Miss Blanca, his daycare teacher, say that Alex is very well socialized, totally fearless in the classroom. Cam had told him after the very first day, that it looked like Alex was going in on a mission, gearing up and getting psyched, but now he looks forward to it. "I guess we better warn Alex?"

"Yep. Alex, son, c'mere a sec."

Alex jumps down, and runs around the table, and Cam pulls him up into his lap, face to face. "Whazzup, Dad?"

He snickers, because it serves Cam right, Alex gets all of his slang from Cameron.

"You know that part of coming to see Granma and Granpa, is to meet your cousins?"

Alex nods and gives him a faint 'duh' expression, but he doesn't interrupt him.

"And that there's a lot of them?"

"More than at school?"

"Maybe. How many are in your class?"

"Fourteen."

"Yeah, you're good. Go on, scram." Cam kisses the top of Alex's head just before he slithers out of his lap.

The thing about Alex and daycare is, they couldn't come right out and tell the teacher that Alex comes from another planet and he might need some catching up. They settled for 'foreign culture', which could mean almost anything, and account for most of the gaps in his knowledge base.

He shouldn't have worried; Alex is very bright, and he hadn't really missed a lot; yet another reason that it was a good thing he'd returned to Earth when he had. In the few months Alex's been in daycare, he's learned to count, can read age appropriate material and their refrigerator is covered with the masterworks brought home from art day. All in all very normal, though it's already getting more difficult to get Alex to talk about his mother and what he remembers before the culling, and the nightmares are becoming milder, and less often.

"Momma, I'm starving, is there anything I can do to speed this up?"

As Wendy sets the coffee cake in the oven, she says, "Sausage is in the fridge, and you know where the pans are. John, there's butter and jam in the fridge, would you mind getting those out? Milk, juice, anything you guys want to drink, too."

He hands the sausage, wrapped in white butcher paper, to Cam and roots around. There's strawberry jam and mulberry, blackberry and maypop jelly, and apple butter, all homemade in tiny jars with Wendy's spidery handwriting on the handmade labels. The actual butter is wrapped in wax paper, and it looks like it's about as old as the cream. He sets the pitcher of milk out, too; Alex will want some of that. When he had inquired, even though Alex has every possible vaccination known in two galaxies, he'd been reassured that they pasteurize the milk.

The carton of Tropicana orange juice gives him a pang of homesickness, for McKay bitching about the poison at the table. He puts that out, too, where Frank's putting away the laptop and Wendy's stacking tableware.

"Come on, Alex, help me set the table," he says. They don't formally sit down to meals often, but Alex knows where plates and place mats go and they work together, Alex chattering away and he answers the questions automatically.

This was something he remembered doing with his mother; the crystal and china and heavy silver would come out for a dinner party and it felt like the two of them would lay out hundred of dishes and forks and knives and spoons. He hadn't thought of that in years, and it bothers him that he can't remember why Dave wasn't there helping.

The preparations reach a crescendo as the cake timer dings; scrambled eggs, sausage and gravy, and giant plate of biscuits come out of the warmer; it looks like Wendy is planning on feeding an army, though that's not too far off the mark considering the number of people that will be in and out of the door in the next few hours.

Alex sits between Frank and Wendy, and he's chatting them up with the stories about what he's doing in school and the friends he met at the park the day before.

He doesn't wonder that he didn't get that part of the story, because Alex is very selective about what he tells different people, and he and Cam generally each get about half of a story. He thinks: byproduct of the very necessary skill of not telling the whole truth that they'd had to inculcate into the boy. They couldn't send him off to daycare with wild stories about a city floating in an alien ocean, or Stargates—another reason to avoid private daycare. Most people would laugh it off or call Alex creative; and while the folks at Peterson already have a better idea than most, they know better than to ask any questions that can't be answered.

Frank is good with Alex. It shouldn't have come as a surprise, considering their own conversation last night; Frank has a way of listening and saying the right thing to the person with whom he's speaking.

Cam is watching, too, and his eyes cut over at the exact same time as Cam's, and they share a brief glance. They're both smiling, probably for the exact same reason, but for different aspects. This is Cam's welcome into the circle of parenthood: see, here, this is what we wanted for you, this joy of family and generations. For him, it's his entrée into that same circle, not as an outsider looking in, his nose pressed against the metaphorical glass, but inside, basking in the glow.

He grins and looks down at his plate.

After breakfast, they shoo Wendy out of the kitchen while they clean up. When the dishes are washed and the remains of breakfast set aside for the next wave, they have another cup of coffee with Frank, as he works on the books on the laptop at the kitchen table. Wendy and Alex disappear outside with some task to accomplish.

Cam asks, "How's the farm doing this year?" It's not an idle question, he's got a stake in it, and part of it is his inheritance.

He has a momentary pang for the inheritance he'd left behind because he worked in another galaxy, because it would've been great to give Alex some part of his childhood, too; the cool, deep green of Virginia, but he's been a man without a family or past for most of his adult life for good reason.

The house is starting to heat up in the lazy drowse of summer, and Wendy and Alex have come and gone again, leaving a bucket of fresh tomatoes, when a car crunches up the gravel drive. "That'll be Court, " Frank says, gathering up his canes.

He beats both Cam and Frank to the front door, because Alex is crying and shrieking, and there's a dog barking. Alex hasn't really had an opportunity to get acquainted with the concept of a house pet, they don't have one, and he can't think of any of their neighbors that have one, either.

The little Sheltie is running around in circles and barking, silky fur flying, and kids are piling out of the car. Alex is crying from a safe position in Wendy's arms. "Let me," he says, and takes Alex from her, shushing him, "It's all right Alex, it's going to be fine."

He walks with Wendy as she heads towards the car. He recognizes everyone: Regan is nine, and Morgan seven, both tall and thin with identical summer buzz cuts, their hair a fine, red sheen across their skulls. Last out of the car is Kendall, with the same copper-bright hair tied up in two long pigtails. She's corralling the dog, while the boys help their father, who's at the trunk, pulling out bags. Vanessa rounds the front of the car, and heads towards Frank, slowly making his way down the stairs.

Cam throws his arms around Court, trapping arms with bags in them. "Good to see you, Court," then grabs the boys up, one by one and sets them down in front of Wendy.

"Come on, let's go meet some cousins, okay?" He sets Alex down, but the boy clutches his leg, ready to try and climb back up at any sign of aggression from the dog, but Kendall has the situation under control, clutching great handfuls of fur and pushing her down into a sitting position.

He squats down and reaches a hand out to the dog, letting her smell the back of his hand. "Hi, Kendall, I'm John, and this is Alex. Is this your new puppy?"

Kendall gives the dog a shake. "Her name is Quinn." The dog is quivering with excitement, and turns to lick Kendall's face, and she giggles.

"See there, Alex. Nothing to worry about." Alex puts out a tentative hand, and gets a lick in return, and he laughs, too. "Come on, let's go help Dad."

There's a huge pile of bags by the rear of the car, and he hadn't even known you could cram that much stuff into the back of a Volvo. Cam grabs his arm, "John, you remember Courtney."

He reaches his hand out. "Sure, good to see you."

"John. Pleasure as always." Courtney's tall like Cam, but thinner, and with the kind of tan that comes from a gym, not from being under a thousand suns in the galaxy, but cardiologists don't get that kind of opportunity.

"This is Alex," and he looks down to see that his child has veered back towards Kendall and Quinn. He points over his shoulder with a thumb. "Yeah, I guess I'll introduce you later."

Court laughs and nods. "We've got plenty of time."

"Let me give you hand with these. That's a lot of stuff," he remarks.

"Oh, the kids are going to spend the rest of the summer with Mom and Dad, and of course they just couldn't bear to be parted from their junk. Heads up!" Courtney shakes his head as he tosses a small duffle each to Regan and Morgan. "Never mind that most of this stuff won't ever get unpacked, but they never remember that."

He grabs up a few bags. "They stay here a lot? Even Kendall?" He remembers what Wendy had said earlier about Kendall and Reilly.

"It's her first whole summer, but yeah, every summer. The boys bitch about coming, but then they don't want to go home, either."

He can see the benefit, remembers going to camp every summer. The subject of Alex staying is certain to come up, maybe even this week, though he's not sure that he could really bear to be parted from Alex for that long. Maybe next year he'll be ready for that. He checks on Alex's whereabouts before he climbs the stairs. Kendall and Quinn seem to have him well entertained, and he follows Court into the addition at the back of the house.

"Kids stuff goes in here."

'In here' is a dormitory-style room, long and narrow. There's a row of six twin beds along one wall, all neatly made with colorful hand made quilts and a few low dressers under the windows on the other, interspersed with shelves half full of toys and books. It looks like summer camp.

He suspects this is where Alex will want to sleep for the rest of their stay. Court takes a couple of bags from him and drops them on the bed nearest to the door, then heads across the hall to a smaller bedroom. It's equally plain, just a bed and nightstands, with a small television on the dresser, but it looks lived in, as if Courtney and Vanessa stay here often.

Of course they do, they live in KC, just a two-hour drive, they could probably come every single weekend. He peeks into the bathroom on the way out, there's a large handicap accessible shower stall, with solid bars along the wall. So the addition wasn't just about grandkids, merely a good excuse to put this for Frank.

The boys come crashing down the hall, and they throw the bags on the bed with the others, and pelt back into the kitchen. He leaves Courtney unpacking and follows the boys out to the kitchen, where Vanessa stops him and hugs him soundly. "John, congratulations."

He pats her awkwardly on the back. "Thanks."

She leans back, her hands still clasping his arms. "How's married life with kid?"

"Good. Great, actually."

"If you ever need anything, you be sure and call, you know that, right? Ya'll ever want to come to Kansas City, just come on over. Thanksgiving, or Christmas—we'll go out to the Plaza, you'd like that." Years in the Midwest hadn't wrung out the last traces of her charming Mississippi accent.

"Yeah, sounds great." He'd spent a short TDY at Richards-Gebauer, when they were closing the base years ago, but it was in the spring, too bitterly cold to going walking around an open-air mall, if he'd had any spare time. November or December won't be any nicer.

Vanessa continues her way to the bedroom, nodding like its settled, and for all he knows, it probably is.

Round two of breakfast is in progress, and it is markedly more chaotic, with kids and dog all milling around, and following Wendy's directions. He thinks: she'd have made a creditable drill instructor. Cam's leaning against a counter out of the way, smirking at him as he leans up next to him.

"Vanessa says we should go to Kansas City for the holidays."

"Yeah? That'd be cool. You ever been there?"

"Once. Didn't get a chance to do much sightseeing."

Cam swears, "We are so flying."

"Yeah." Neither of them had thought that having a child in the car would tack on so much time, but then again, mechanical or weather flight delays are just as likely, from either thunderstorms, or snowstorms.

Morgan and Regan race through breakfast and bolt for the door, and Vanessa yells after them, "Stay away from the river!" Quinn scratches at the door. Vanessa opens it and the dog barrels out, barking after the boys. "Yeah, we're gonna be picking burrs out of you tonight."

He chuckles. "Could just take the clippers to her."

Vanessa stares at him as if he just offers to shave her head. "No sir, I don't think so."

"Sorry?" To be honest, all of his childhood pets had been barn dogs or cats; his father refused to allow pets in the house.

Alex is standing halfway between the table and back door, torn between following the boys and Kennedy, still at the table having a conversation with a small doll sitting next to her plate.

He takes pity on Alex's indecision. "You wanna go outside, Alex?" The question gives Alex the impetus to head for the door, and he saunters after him.

The boys are nowhere to be seen, and when he lets Alex take the lead, naturally he heads towards the barn.

It's an old style barn with a hayloft above, and though the few stalls are empty and it's mostly used to house a tractor and a combine, it still evokes long suppressed childhood memories. He stand there, lost in remembering the musty smell, sound of purebred horses shifting and nickering in their stalls.

The squawking of annoyed chickens abruptly brings him out of his reverie. The hen house is behind the barn, and he finds Alex chasing a couple of chickens in the pen. "Alex, I don't think Granma's going to appreciate you terrorizing them." He catches one anyway, and the red hen immediately settles into his hands, but he can feel the rapid heartbeat thrumming under his fingers. He kneels down so Alex can get acquainted.

"Granma says they's New ham'shire chickens." Alex reaches out tentatively to stroke the red feathers.

"Yeah?"

"Uh huh, and we might have fried chicken."

He really hopes that said chicken is already in the freezer, because he doesn't want to expose Alex to that particular trauma any time soon—if ever. He'd grown up on a farm that was strictly dedicated to equine breeding and show horses, but there had been missions to planets to slaughter animals for food, and he'd hated it every time. "I bet Granma makes pretty good fried chicken."

The chicken signals that it is tired of being held and petted with a half-hearted peck at his hand, and he pushes it to the ground gently. "Yeah, I think she's through with us." The sound of another car crunching up the gravel drive alerts him that round two of probably a hundred is about to begin. "Guess it's time to meet some more cousins, what do you think?"

Alex begins to shake his head no, but the sound of Regan yelling across the yard changes his mind, and he heads for the gate.

He makes sure that no chicken escapes and closes the gate firmly behind them as he follows Alex out to the drive, tamping down a twinge of jealousy at the blonde woman that's wrapped around Cam, she has to be Shelby.

He has a few cousins, but they are barely acquaintances, distant childhood memories from holidays every other year or so, and he couldn't even begin to say where they lived, much less be familiar enough to deliver a hug of that nature. Cam's said that Shelby was close enough to be a sibling, and yeah, he can see that.

There has to more than a dozen kids, ages eighteen on down, milling around the red Tahoe, a little pressure in his chest that he hadn't even known was there, eases at the sight of three dark heads, two boys and a girl. If he has to make a stab at it, he'd say those are the cousins from Azerbaijan. Courtney's children are a bright red counterpoint to the blonds that range from nearly white to almost ash. Courtney and Vanessa are wading through the crowd, greeting the kids with brief hugs and handshakes.

Frank is at the picnic table, and Wendy's still in the house; they probably see this crew on a regular basis. He slows down, Alex at his side, clutching the hem of his cargo shorts, to time their arrival at the end of that embrace. Shelby gives Courtney a shorter hug and exchanges a kiss on the cheek with Vanessa. Cam is grinning widely, as he makes the introductions. "John! This is my cousin Shelby, Shelby, my husband, John Sheppard, and this is our son, Alex." Cam puts his hands down, and Alex gladly climbs up for a bird's eye view of the commotion.

He smiles politely and puts his hand out, though when Shelby takes it she reels him in for a hug that's as tight as the one she'd given Cam. "John, I'm so glad to finally meet you, I've heard all sorts of stuff about you, but I'd got it in my head that Cam was makin' you up, no way that lyin' sack has anyone that fantastic."

The smile turns to a grin, and he looks over Shelby's shoulder at Cam. "Pleased to meet you. He's said one or two nice things about you, too."

"Hey," Cam protests, but he's grinning like a loon.

Shelby ignores it, lets go the hug, keeping a firm grip on his arm, as if to prevent his escape. "And this fine young man must be Alex. I'm your Aunt Shelby."

Alex gives her a tentative smile, and she ruffles Alex's hair. "Definitely got that from your dad, huh?"

He had never laid eyes on Alex's mother, never knew who she was, but her blue eyes shine out of Alex's face, and while they're very much like Cam's, Alex's eyes remind him of his own mother's, too. It's a quirky, grateful loyalty, that tempts him to point out the subtle things that make Alex her son, too.

Shelby maintains her hold on his arm and lets go a loud whistle. "This is Uncle John, and your new cousin Alex." She points out the kids as she introduces them, starting with the oldest. "Shannon, Cory, Kelly, Shawn, they're my brother Dale's brood. Ayesel, Davud and Lale, they belong to my brother Terry, and there's one more of them on the way, any day now. My kids are Austin, Bailey and Cody. Little Reilly here is Shannon's, and I guess you already know who Court's are."

He waves, says hi, shakes hands and pats heads as two generations of Mitchell-Meeks crowd around, and he desperately wishes for the nonexistent chart, or at least name tags, but he can see how they're related. Most have blue eyes; Dale's are the ones that are ash blond, Shelby's are all platinum haired like her, and Terry's are all dark brunets with dark eyes. It will be time to drive home before he pins the exact name to each face, though. Alex is coaxed out of Cam's grasp and carted away, but he doesn't look unhappy about it.

Shelby drags him over to the picnic table, where Courtney and Vanessa are sitting with Frank, as she continues, "We'll get together over at Mom's tomorrow, and you can meet my husband and brothers. The Royals and Cardinals are playing today, and they couldn't tear themselves away. You a baseball fan? If you are, and you want to go on over to the house and hang out with Daddy and the boys, the Cards are supposed to get their asses handed to them today."

He smiles, Shelby didn't take a single breath. "I'm good, though, thank you any way." Between him and Cam, it's their third favorite sport, though it was Cam's idea to go to Denver to catch a Rockies game once this summer as a fathers-and-son bonding thing. He suspects the game will be on here too, in short order.

The sun is directly overhead, and there won't be shade until the late afternoon. Cam doesn't sit down, but thumps his brother on the back, and Shelby and Court both get up when he announces, "Momma needs us to go pick up a few things, let's make it a beer run."

Shelby pats him on the shoulder and says, "Come on, we'll show you the sights, such as they are," and tosses the keys to the Tahoe at Cam as Vanessa drawls, 'Honey, make sure he doesn't bring back any Coors, hhm?" Frank hauls out his wallet, and asks for a pint of Jack, but Cam waves him off. "We got it, Dad."

He stands up and does a sweep of the near environs, but the kids are not in immediate visual range. Though he's pretty sure that he won't see Alex again until supper, he's still uncomfortable just leaving without letting him know. Frank nods, "Go ahead, he'll be fine. Shannon's with them, and he's dependable."

"Alright, thanks."

Shelby herds him to the SUV and slides into the back with him. Cameron gets in and starts it up, A/C on full blast, and Courtney has shotgun, and he starts to scan the settings on the radio, finds a jazz program on the NPR station and glances back at Shelby. "Shut up, you need some culture."

He grins at Shelby, because Cameron does the same when he gets in the Mustang, switching it away from the country station. "I guess it would be two against two, if we took a vote."

Cameron immediately changes it again, finding a sports talk program. "Yeah, but I'm driving."

Courtney lets out a put upon sigh, but leaves the radio where it is. Cam pulls out carefully, so as not to throw out gravel, but floors it once they hit the highway.

He listens as the three of them chat and get caught up on the current events in their lives; Courtney's handball team is gearing up for a place in the '16 Olympics, the boy's baseball team didn't do so great, and Kendall had her first season at T-ball. Shelby coaches a soccer team for the handicapped, and Ron's team, the one that Austin and Cody play on, is doing pretty well. Bailey didn't want to play this year, is in a dance class instead, which is difficult; some of the other kids give her a hard time.

Organized children's sports isn’t anything that he's ever really dealt with, his own childhood was focused on riding, and Torren was the only child in Atlantis. The logistics necessary to carry on that many activities for three children and both parents working has to be incredibly difficult, he can't even imagine trying to arrange their schedules just to get Alex into one sport, but he'd probably like it. Maybe it's the apartment, it's fine, it works, it's convenient, but it doesn’t feel permanent, just like every other apartment that he's ever landed in for a few short months. He'll have to ask around, see what opportunities there are for next spring.

Auburn is like any other prairie township with deep roots in the past; the center of town has odd streets that go in inexplicable directions, two and three story buildings of native limestone that crowd right up to the sidewalk, and diagonal parking marked in the street in front; while the surrounding area is laid out in a regular grid with stand alone stores and businesses among the neat suburban homes and their flat lawns of Bermuda grass. Cam swings by GW High to orient John, and Shelby gives him directions to the Top City Liquor Barn on the west side.

He raises an eyebrow when Court grabs the handle of a warehouse cart, instead of a regular shopping cart, but then he mentally adds up the number of likely beer drinkers, at least eight to ten adults and there's a long, holiday weekend ahead. "I'll go find the whiskey."

It's a warehouse with very little shelving, just stacks of cases creating the aisles. He wanders around until he locates the Jack, and gets a fifth instead of a pint.

Back at the beer aisle, they're still piling on cases of beer, and he notes with satisfaction that there's at least one Sam Adams amongst the Miller Lite and Bud, no Coors anywhere. He asks, "Planning a drunken revel?"

Cam laughs. "Yeah, it's probably over kill, but we can leave the rest; Terry and Jessie are going to be here a while."

On the way to the check out, an equal number of cases of pop are added to the stack, even though the minors outnumber the adults.

"Ice?"

"Naw, gotta stop at the store for Momma, we'll get it there."

He beats Cam to the card reader, and nearly three hundred dollars later they're packing it into the back of the Tahoe, which barely even registers the extra load.

Stopping at the store is merely picking up an already-placed order, and the boxes and bags are ready. "How much ice?"

"Four or five?"

"Okay." While Court and Cam load up the order, he and Shelby get the ice. There's barely room for it, but they manage to get it all packed in. He'd wondered when Cam didn't offer to take the Toyota, but now it's clear why. This looks more like the return haul from a trading mission, rather than a run to the store, when they would normally come home with maybe ten or twelve sacks for the three of them.

The ride home is quiet, the sports station is broadcasting the Royals game. The score at the bottom of the first inning is 0-1 to KC, and Avila is at bat. The game drones on, as he watches out the window. It seems like they cross over the Wakarusa River at least three times; green and dark, shaded over by cottonwood and willow trees along the banks, birds darting and diving for insects, and dragonflies hovering and hunting invisible mosquitoes. The dark, rich fields of green corn and golden wheat alternate along the river bottoms, and beef cattle munch and watch as they pass by.

The Cardinals finally score in the second inning when they pull up to the house. Groceries into the kitchen, and Courtney and Cam rinse out two huge coolers on the porch, one for beer and the other for pop.

He takes the bottle of whiskey into the kitchen, asks Wendy and Vanessa if they would like some help, but it's under control. Frank is in a recliner in the family room, feet up, the ball game on the television. "I put your Jack in the kitchen. You need anything?"

"I'm good. Thanks, John." Frank lifts his glass of ice tea.

"My pleasure."

Courtney and Shelby crowd past him, and Cam hands him a bottle of beer, then flops onto the sofa. Courtney takes the other easy chair, and Shelby sits cross-legged on the floor. He flicks the cap toward the trashcan with perfect aim, and sits next to Cam.

"John, Cam was just sayin' that you might want to go riding. Dale's got a whole passel of horses and a couple of fat ponies, too."

He shoots a sideways glance at Cam, and says, "I haven't done that in years." It's another example of Cam trying to look out for him, drawing Shelby in to the overall scheme to make him feel welcome, at home. Shelby just has a more direct manner that reminds him, in some small way, of a cross between McKay and Teyla. That's too terrifying a prospect and he can't contain his huff of laughter. "You know, that sounds like a great idea. What's he got?"

Court waves his beer at Frank. "Pretty sure most of them are quarter horses, but didn't Cory have an American Saddlebred as her 4_H project?"

"That's right, still does."

"She got a blue ribbon down in Hutchison last year," Shelby adds. "Shootin' for the purple this year."

"Hutchison?" He asks.

"State fair in September. You should come down for that, it's always a blast. Mom's working on some secret sure-fire cake recipe for judging and Shawn's gonna enter her rabbit this year."

It was Vanessa this morning, and now Shelby, with the invitations to become more involved, to visit more often, and he suddenly realizes that it isn't just about him, or Alex; for all that Cam's close to his family, he knows Cam didn't have that many opportunities to get away when he was with the Snakeskinners, and then SG1, though he'd done of his part convalescing from Antarctica here. Before that, they could've counted on the leave in between deployments, to have Cam safe at home.

He has no idea what the Kansas State Fair is like but he leans back and takes a deep draft from his beer, gives Cam a speculative look. "Hey, Ferris wheel, I wouldn't mind."

Cam snickers and shrugs. "I could probably swing a few days."

"Good, you guys can stay with me, Wichita's only an hour from there."

The travel portion of their budget's going to have to get bumped up for the next few years.

Frank says dryly, "You kids do realize that you came into a room where I'm watching the game?" Conversation comes to an abrupt, sheepish halt.

He fidgets for another inning, finishes his beer. It bothers him that Alex's cousins disappeared with him hours ago, plus that he hasn't gone for daily run. "I'm going to take a walk." He's run in hotter temperatures, but there's no reason to push himself today.

Cam gives him a lazy smile. "You want some company?"

"Sure. Always." He's going to have to figure out how to put words to this morning's epiphany, because it needs to be said.

There's no particular destination he has in mind, though he's hoping to 'accidentally' run across the kids. Cam seems content to walk hand in hand; they don't get to do this very often, just the two of them without pressure, no worry, no where in particular to rush to.

It's hot; the sun is blazing overhead, nearly whiting out the sky. Grasshoppers fly up out in front of them, whirring and buzzing, tiny, yellow butterflies aimlessly float across the top of the stubble, and round monoliths of hay bales dot the field.

He catches his breath, and fails to find the words for what's been rumbling around inside him for a while now, and today's just the catalyst. It shouldn't be this difficult and he takes a page out of Cameron's play book. "You know that I love you?"

Cam huffs a low chuckle. "Yeah, John, I do."

"The thing is, I didn't just leave Atlantis, you know? I came home, to you. To this," he sweeps his arm back, to try and encompass everything that 'this' entails, the land, the family that's thrived and flourished here for generations and brought Cameron to him.

Cam stops, pulls them together and admits, "I wondered, sometimes."

He wraps his arms around Cam's waist, and rests his face on Cam's shoulder, broad and strong, and Cam wraps him in a tight clench. "You shouldn't. I'll always miss it, you know? But this, it's not just second best. I get it—all of it. I was too stupid, or afraid, before, but now." He slides his hand up, holding Cam's face, meeting his eyes. "I understand what you were saying, that this is for me, and Alex, too. Thank you." He leans in to kiss, eyes open, pouring everything into it that he can't formalize into words, tender and desperate and honest.

He's lost in the rush, the smell of warm skin, the taste of Cam's mouth, the hands that are holding him close, holding him together, content in the affection, until they break apart at the sound of laughter.

Alex is at the front of the gaggle of children of all ages climbing over the fence, squealing with joy as he runs across the field. "I won!"

He keeps one hand on Cam's waist, heaves Alex up with one arm, and wraps the three of them together.

Cams laughs, blue eyes crinkled at the corners. "Yeah? I think Alex here needs a prize."

He agrees. "He sure does. Come on, let's go home."

~Fin~

| Read Comments | Post Comment |


Notes

SGA/SG1, Sheppard/Mitchell, slash.

~13,500 words, [PG]

My take on a missing scene from What Happens Next, and I also pulled in a few details from 50 things about John Sheppard and Cam Mitchell You will get more out of this if you've read those. Quite a lot of this is me remembering life in Kansas, and there's a brief nod to Smallville, the ultimate Kansas fandom, Also, I owe a debt of gratitude to [info]synecdochic, her fabulous stories of Cameron Mitchell and his family, and in particular 'A Howling In The Factory Yard', because I tried to crib the style.

Dedicated to [info]bluflamingo, for letting me play in her 'verse, and many thousands of thanks to [info]auburnnothenna, for insightful commentary, tense checks, though I have seriously poked at this afterwards, so all errors are entirely my own.

| Home | Stories | Sitemap O'Doom | Whazzup? | email dossier |

Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional