Prompt Chosen: Cameron Mitchell/John Sheppard; interaction with members of one (or
both) of their teams or families
Warning: None, pre-SGA
Author Notes: Many thanks to fenchurch1 for the cheerleading and the quick beta and to Fenny for the spell-check. More spoiler-y type notes at the end of the story.
"Sheppard! Wake up! We're here!"
John woke with a start. He carefully moved his head -- sleeping with his head mashed up against the car window had given him a cramp that he needed to work out before he moved very far. He sat up straighter and rolled his head to ease the pain before looking around.
The farm stretched out around the car, a house to one side and a weather-beaten but sound looking barn with a couple of smaller out-buildings in the back. White fencing circled the yard and what looked like barbed wire fencing stretched off into the fields. The surrounding fields were mostly brown grasses but that was to be expected in December in the mid-West. John was faintly surprised there wasn't snow to go with it all since there had been a couple of inches of snow on the ground outside of Colorado Springs when they had left.
"Grab your things," Cameron Mitchell shouted, throwing open the trunk lid with a bang.
Josh and Eddie scrambled out of the car, John opening his door slowly. He had driven most of the overnight leg of the ten hour trip and was slow in waking up. Since they were on vacation, he didn't have to pay too much attention just as yet.
A blur and Cam dropped his bag to hold on to a medium-sized black and white dog that had launched itself at him. "Rosie!" Cam greeted the dog, "How you doing, girl?" The dog licked his face enthusiastically and Cam laughed as the animal wriggled in his arms.
John grabbed his duffle and picked up Cam's from the ground. "I got it," John offered.
"Thanks," Cam threw over his shoulder. "Come on in."
They followed Cam and the jumping dog to the back porch of the farmhouse. As they reached the steps, a woman who was obviously Cam's mother came out of the door. "Cam!" she greeted her son. "We weren't expecting you until late this afternoon. Your dad's in town and isn't going to be back until lunch."
Cam reached out and swung his mother in his arms. "We decided to drive all night rather than wait until morning, so we took turns," Cam explained. "Well, John did the worst of it. So we're here early." Cam had rounded up the others for the drive from Colorado Springs to Auburn, Kansas obviously eager to get home. John had volunteered for the first part of the trip and drove for almost six hours before Cam insisted the he take a break and Cam had driven the rest of the way.
"Welcome, then," she said, turning to look at them.
"Ma," Cam introduced them. "This is Josh Glassman, Eddie Zakerzewski and John Sheppard." They each nodded hello as Cam introduced them.
"Come in, come in," she ushered them into the house.
John could smell the apple pie as he walked into the large kitchen. This was a kitchen people lived in and used, unlike the one he had known growing up. Even with worn spots in the linoleum and dings in the cupboards, it was spotless and had a personality of its own. The bright Christmas tablecloth and some holly in the windows were reminders that Christmas was in two days.
"Cam, show them upstairs so they can put their bags away and then by the time you wash up I'll have some breakfast ready," Mrs. Mitchell instructed.
"You don't have to..." Eddie started politely. They had stopped for coffee and donuts about an hour ago to get gas and take a bathroom break.
"Hush," she shoo'd them out. "It'll only take a few minutes."
Cam led them up the narrow stairs and opened a door to a room with two twin beds, "Josh and Eddie can have this room, Sheppard, you have to bunk in with me." Cam led to the end of the short hall. "Bathroom here, Ma probably put towels in your room, don't hog the hot water and the floor creaks here," he stepped on a board, "if you're up late." He grinned at them. "Folks have a room downstairs and there's also toilet and sink in the basement for cleaning up."
John reluctantly followed Cam to his room and was relieved to find a cot set up across the room from the single bed. "Ain't much, but it should do," Cam explained.
"Beggars can't be choosers," John allowed. "Thanks for inviting us."
John had planned to stay in the Academy dorm for the Christmas holiday break -- he'd planned to sneak out to a hotel for Christmas eve to make it look like he had somewhere to go, not that he could really afford it but he didn't want anyone to know -- like he had the past two years, but it turned out that there was going to be fumigation for insects over the break and everyone in his building had to get out for at least a week. John suspected one of his squad leaders had suggested to Cam that he take some of the 'orphans' home with him, which is how John had ended up standing in Cam's bedroom. With Cam being a year ahead, John didn't have a lot of day-to-day contact with the other cadet but they had some engineering classes that overlapped and he had come to appreciate Cam's quick wit and perseverance. John had spent some time tutoring Cam in some of the math he was struggling with and they had become casual friends.
Well, to Cam it was casual friends. John had lusted after the upperclassman from the first time he saw Cameron Mitchell playing a pickup game of basketball behind the dorms. It had been a silly crush on a good looking guy until they had been thrown together as tutoring partners. One of John's teachers had figured out pretty fast that John was better in math than he let on and had quickly volunteered – volen-told, as one of the others had put it -- John to help tutor some of the others who were struggling. John resigned himself to the task until he found Cam sitting across from him one afternoon. Getting to know Cam actually dulled the crush, John knew the other cadet well enough to know Cam wasn't interested in him in that way, but having a friend was welcome.
"Come on," Cam broke through John's thoughts. "Breakfast."
John rolled his eyes, "You just ate half a dozen donuts a little while ago."
"I'm a growing boy!" Cam laughed. "And home cooked anything is worth it."
"Well, there is that," John allowed. "Okay, let me wash up."
John waited for Eddie to finish up, the single bath felt odd after the shared washroom in the dorm, but soon found himself standing in the kitchen. Mrs. Mitchell was working at the stove as Cam set the table."Anything I can do?" John offered.
Cam nodded at the refrigerator, "Fridge. Butter in the door, juice in the pitcher and see what kind of jam is there."
"There's strawberry jam and peach preserves," floated from Mrs. Mitchell.
"Okay," John replied, turning to the appliance. He got the items out and handed them to Josh to put on the table. "Anything else?"
"No, sit," Mrs. Mitchell replied. "Just about ready here." She put a plate of eggs and fried ham on the table as Cam put toast on a platter. "Eat up," she instructed. "More coming in a minute."
They didn't need a second invitation and she put out seconds on everything in short order.
"This is excellent!" Josh enthused over breakfast. Not that the food they got was bad, but there was something about freshly made breakfast that was special.
"Yeah," Eddie echoed. "Thanks."
"Good to see you boys eat," Mrs. Mitchell replied. "Now scoot.... Cam, show them around."
"Yes, ma'am," Cam grinned. "Come on, need to stretch my legs anyways."
John let the others get ahead before stopping to offer, "I'll help clean up." He picked up the things he had gotten from the refrigerator and started to put them back.
"You don't need to do that," Mrs. Mitchell protested.
"Not fair that we make all this extra work for you, not to help," John answered without stopping what he was doing.
"Go on, Cam'll show you around," she pointed.
John hesitated. He knew his way around ranches, his dad had made sure of that. He had never talked about his background and the others had mostly let him be. Not that he was really ashamed of it... it was just not what he wanted to be and the last fight with his father was something left buried.
"Go!" she laughed at him.
John picked up the dishes on the far end of the table and stacked them so they were easier to get at. "Okay," he reluctantly answered. "But we're on KP duty while we're here after this," he told her. "Not going to make extra work for you."
"Deal," she nodded slowly. "Thanks."
John grabbed his jacket and went out into the cold air. Might snow yet, he thought vaguely. He followed the sound of voices out to the barn.
Rosie tagged about Cam's feet as they went through the barn to see the animals. John inhaled the fragrant air -- clean, honest animal smell was familiar to him. He went past the cow stalls -- must be in the fields at this point -- to the far end. John looked at the gelding patiently looking into the barn at them.
"Hoss, here, he's not much good for anything anymore," Cam was telling the others, "but he's been here for so long that I think dad doesn't want to part with him."
"Seventeen years?" John hazarded, without thinking. He wanted to take it back as soon as he had said it.
Cam looked at him sharply. "Sixteen," he replied. "Didn't know you knew horses."
John shrugged. "Grew up on a horse farm," he said steadily, not wanting to give anything else away.
"You? Flyboy on a farm?" Josh teased.
Cam sent the other boy a look and said, "Everyone has to grow up somewhere. Nothing wrong with a farm."
"My grandpa had a farm," Eddie volunteered. "Don't remember much of it, but what I do remember was fun."
"See?" Cam pointed out. "Farms can be fun!"
Looking around, John asked, "What else do you raise?"
Cam pointed, "There's a hen house off to the side, although pa says they've been having problems with coyotes or something raising a ruckus at night. Some beef cows in the fields and the fields are rented out to the neighbors -- mostly corn but sometimes soybeans."
"What's there to do?" Josh all but whined, repeating himself.
"I don't know about you, but I have that project for Dr. Lee to get done," John replied. He never was sure if Lee was brilliant or crazy but either way the work had to be done.
Josh rolled his eyes, "Work, work, work. That's all you do, Sheppard!"
Cam jumped in, "Yeah, and if I remember you have to do a similar project. And you better not be badgering Sheppard to help you at the last minute!"
John had to grin. "Aw, Cam. Josh is ok. He just doesn't know how to pace himself. He'll figure it out!"
A yawn stole over John, reminding him that he had driven most of the night and then slept badly in the back seat after. "Listen, you guys do what you want," John told them. "I need a couple more hours of sleep. Okay?"
Cam shrugged and the Josh said, "We're going to see what there is to do, I guess."
John laughed to himself. He knew Josh's idea of 'things to do' didn't include what limited entertainment there was on a farm. He just hoped they all had the patience to deal with it.
Cam teased, "Think of this as practice for being stationed somewhere remote where there is nowhere to go..."
Josh rolled his eyes, "Not me.... I'm going to make sure I get stationed in big cities!"
"Dream on," Eddie mocked.
John half-waved at the others and walked back to the house. "Need some sleep," John explained to Mrs. Mitchell when she looked questioningly at him. He sniffed appreciatively, "Suspect I'll be awake by the time that apple pie is ready to eat, though!"
"Scoot, then," she laughed. "I'll check on you about lunchtime."
"Thanks," John replied, not knowing what else to say. "I'll just..." he waved a hand toward the stairs, moving in that direction at the same time. In Cam's room, John hung his jacket on the back of the door and took off his shoes and socks. Debating, he finally just took off his shirt and jeans, folded them to put in the space under the cot and climbed into the cool sheets in a t-shirt and shorts. He wriggled about on the cot, it was comfortable if a little shorter than he would have liked but the pillow was good and it wasn't long before he was asleep.
A gentle tapping at the door and Mrs. Mitchell's voice called softly through the door, "If you're awake, lunch will be ready in about 20 minutes."
"Umm... yeah. Yes, thank you," years of drill-in politeness kicked in before John really realized. "I'll be down."
"Good," she replied. "I won't let Cam make off with the apple pie!"
John laughed, "Good to know." He heard her footsteps retreat down the hall and stretched. It had been ages since he had a chance to actually sleep during the day. The few days off they had were usually spent catching up on school work or personal errands. John enjoyed the time he usually had over breaks in the dorms alone to get to sleep a few hours more than usual or to read a book for his own personal enjoyment. Maybe he'd have some time to do the same here....
The kitchen was full when John came down. An older man who John assumed was Cam's father sat at one end of the table. "Ah! Sheppard, if you're done lollygagging, we're waiting on you," Cam teased.
John slipped into the chair that had been left for him and nodded as Cam continued as a casual introduction, "Dad, John Sheppard."
John wanted to salute but resisted, "Sir."
"Relax," Mr. Mitchell waved a hand. "Good to meet you. Now, dig in."
Lunch was tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and delicious. Mrs. Mitchell got up and added a couple more sandwiches to the pan as the ones on the table disappeared. John had two of the warm sandwiches with his soup, enjoying the simple meal. "Good," he looked at Mrs. Sheppard.
She grinned back at him, "Pie?"
"Saved room," he answered. As she reached to pick up plates, John tsk'd, "That's our job. I'll take care of picking up."
"Okay, then," she answered. "Put the dishes next to the sink and Cam'll show you where everything is when we're done."
Eddie looked at him suspiciously. "Sheppard, what did you do?"
"Figured a few dishes wouldn't hurt your delicate hands," John teased. "We're on KP while we're here. Only fair."
"Cam has a..... dislike..... for doing dishes," Mr. Mitchell offered in explanation. He shot a fond look at his son that John immediately envied, "Well, maybe dislike isn't quite a strong enough word..."
"I'd rather clean up in the barn than do dishes, Sheppard," Cam moaned. "How'd you get me into this?"
"Don't worry," Mrs. Mitchell teased. "There's plenty of cleanup in the barn that needs doing."
Having done his share of 'barn cleanup' growing up, a few dishes were easy work. "You guys take care of the barn while I do the dishes then," John offered. "Not a big deal."
"No, you're right," Josh offered. "We'll make short work of this." At Cam's outraged look, he offered, "Hey! You forget I have seven brothers and sisters. This is nothing." Josh's youngest sister had the measles and rather than risk catching them by going home, he had planned to stay in the dorm over the holiday. John knew Josh was disappointed in not seeing his family but understood the concern about something like the measles.
"Pie first, anyways," Mrs. Mitchell brought two pies to the table. She cut the first slice out and handed it to her husband then put the second in front of John with a twinkle in her eye. He grinned back at her. "Eat up."
The pie was one of the best home-made pies he had had in a long time. It was a sweet apple pie where his dad had favored a tart taste to the pie -- and so they always had tart apple pie when John was younger. This was more to John's taste and he quickly cleaned his plate.
"Seconds?" Mrs. Mitchell offered.
"Yes, ma'am!" John replied and watched her offer seconds all around. In short order they had eaten the two pies.
"While I suspect Cam knows where everything is, if you'd show me how you'd like it done, it'll go better," John offered to Mrs. Mitchell starting to gather up the plates from the table. He scraped the few crumbs into the pie plates and moved glasses and silverware to the one end of the table to make it easier to move everything to the sink.
"I suspect you're right," she conceded. "Frank, take the boys out and show them what needs to be done in the barn?"
John looked away as the elder Mitchell grabbed crutches that John had not seen and climbed up out of his chair. He swung around easily and went out into the yard. John had subconsciously noticed the ramp along the porch but hadn't realized...
"He lost his legs in a plane crash in the service," Mrs. Mitchell explained softly after Mr. Mitchell, Cam and Eddie went outside. "That was fifteen years ago now, and he does pretty good on the crutches. He uses a wheelchair when he has a bad day." That also explained why they had a bedroom on the first floor. "Ignore it and you'll do fine."
"Sorry," John mumbled looking at his hands.
"Don't be," she scolded him. "Cam doesn't even notice anymore so he didn't think to let you know."
Josh put in, "If there's anything we can do while we're here...." He let that be open ended.
John nodded. "Don't hesitate to give us things to do," he put in. "Besides dishes," he added. "I know there are things that are harder to do if you can't get around well." When Mrs. Mitchell looked hard at him, he had to explain, "Grew up on a horse farm. My father made sure that we knew something about all the work that needed to be done when we were growing up." He was grateful when she didn't ask why he was here instead of there for the holidays.
"You're here on holiday," she countered.
"This is a holiday," Josh pointed out. "We don't mind some hard work. Heck, after what's been thrown at us the last couple of years, this is easy." John nodded agreement.
"Let me think on it," Mrs. Mitchell decided. "Not going to take advantage of you."
"Then take advantage of Cam and he'll drag us into it," John suggested with a wicked grin.
She laughed. "Okay. Okay." Turning to the cupboards, she started pointing, "Soap under the sink, towels here, plates and cups on this side, glasses next to the sink, this drawer for silver and most of the rest of the cooking utensils in this drawer. Leave the clean pots and pans on the stove and I'll take care of those. Good enough?"
"Yes," John answered. He looked at Josh, "You want to wash or dry?"
"Wash," Josh answered quickly. "I hate drying, rather leave them to air dry."
"Too many to do that, I think," John decided. Besides, he didn't remember seeing any dishes sitting out when he had come in earlier. Easier to dry and put away than not, he figured. They stacked the dishes on the countertop and Josh set to washing while John grabbed a towel from the drawer and started drying. It took him a few false starts before he figured out where everything went, leaving the griddle and the soup pot on the stove.
When they were done, they went out into the barn to see what the others were doing. The morning nap and left John full of energy that he knew he had to burn off before he would sleep that night.
Cam spotted them coming into the barn from the loft. "About time, thought you'd make those few dishes take all afternoon," he called to them. "Get your butts up here," he directed, pointing to a ladder. Rosie danced around John's feet, looking to play.
John looked at his sneakers and replied, "Should we have work boots for this?"
Mr. Mitchell tilted his head in thought, "I suspect so, but if you watch what you're doing you should be all set. You're just raking up some of the loose stuff up there and moving some things around so I can get a new delivery just after the first of the year."
When Josh hesitated, John offered, "You stay down here, then. Too many and we'll be in each other's way." John knew that was true and since Cam and Eddie were already in the loft, three could work comfortably but a fourth might be crowded.
"Okay," Josh answered. He turned to Mr. Mitchell and asked, "What can I do down here?"
John scrambled up the ladder and stood on the platform. It ran the most of the length of the barn and one side had shelves for equipment that was probably rarely used and for general storage. The other side had bales of hay and bags of feed stacked at one end.
Without thinking, John started, "How does he...." then quit when he realized what he was asking.
Cam looked up, "Manage? There's a couple of high school kids who come out regularly. There aren't many jobs in town and dad's worked with the high school guidance counselors ever since the accident to send a couple of kids this way. Kind of a cross between a jobs program and a last chance for kids who might get into trouble." He shrugged, "Some have been better than others but the neighbors check on them, too, so it's okay and the current kid has gone to his grandparents for the holidays and won't be back until just before New Years." Which helped explain why they were doing this work, although John knew it was too much for just one person to do.
"What do you need me to do, then?" John asked.
"Well, we need to clean up the space here," he pointed where they were working, "and then move the hay and feed to this end of the loft so the next delivery can go in back of it."
"Sure," John replied. Rotating inventory in a barn was an unending and thankless job that just had to be done. "If you have gloves, I'll start moving feed." Cam pointed to the shelf behind him and John took a pair or work gloves. He knew better than to handle feed bags without gloves and while he would have liked work boots for better grip on the floor, he should be all set.
It took them all afternoon to finish up and Mrs. Mitchell brought water and cookies out a couple of times so they could take a break. The loft was ready for the next delivery and John could feel the ache in his shoulders from hauling feed bags and then hay bales around. Even with a dolly to actually move things with, the lifting and carrying was something he wasn't used to. Good thing they were all in decent shape from the daily PT they had to do at the Academy or they'd all be hurting more.
Mr. Mitchell called, "Done up there?" At Cam's, "Yes," he continued, "Okay, about an hour and a half before dinner then. Time to get cleaned up."
John rolled his shoulders, wishing for the Academy shower room with its near-endless hot water. He knew he wouldn't get that today and would have to settle for a quick shower, if the others didn't hog all the hot water first.
Cam took them in through the cellar where they could leave their jackets and damp shoes. Rosie followed them in, obviously allowed in the cellar through the outside cellar entrance if not the rest of the house. He pointed to the other end, "Laundry if you need it. Bathroom there, too." They had brushed off what they could in the barn but John could see straw on the back of Cam's jeans and swatted at it.
Cam jumped and turned around, "Hey!" Rosie 'woofed' at Cam's sudden movement.
"No, hay!" John laughed pointing at the straw on the ground.
Cam looked and then laughed. "Okay, just making sure!" He brushed again at the back of his legs at some of the pieces there.
They trooped up the stairs and Cam pointed to Eddie, "Not trusting Sheppard to not use all the hot water. You can have first dibs on the shower so don't make me regret that."
Cam went up the stairs with him as Mrs. Mitchell offered, "Anyone need a snack?"
"I'll take some more water," John replied. "Working with hay always is dusty and I need more to drink." He stopped her, "I know where the glasses are and can get it. Thanks."
"Okay, you're on your own from here on, then," she told them. "Help yourselves or ask if there's anything you need."
John drank down one glass of water and then took a second to work on more slowly. He knew that he needed to take it easy no matter what his throat wanted.... now that he had more liquid in him, he'd do better. It wasn't long before Cam was calling, "Sheppard, bathroom's yours if you want it."
"Go ahead," John called back. "Take your turn."
"Your loss," Cam offered.
"Not a problem," John replied. "Don't want to move." He settled into the kitchen chair.
"Ha! Knew there was something else going on," Cam laughed. "Okay, I'll give a shout when I'm done."
Mrs. Mitchell came into the kitchen, "Since you haven't had a chance to clean up, would you take the garbage out? There's a compost heap next to the chicken coop and the bin needs to be emptied, if you don't mind."
"No problem," he answered. He took the bin with him to the cellar to put on his shoes and decided he didn't need his jacket for the quick chore and went out in his shirt. The air was cooler than he expected and he jogged out and back quickly. He came into the warm house and shivered at the change in temperature. He put the bin back where she had got it from as Cam called, "Sheppard, last chance."
"Okay," he answered. He went up the stairs and rooted through his bag for clean clothing. He took the towel from the room and went into the steamy bathroom. After the cold air outside, the steam felt like a sauna and he inhaled the warm air. The water in the shower was starting to lose its heat so he rinsed off and turned off the water, soaped up and then turned it on for a quick rinse. The warmth of the room from the other showers made it reasonable and he was dressing quickly. He found a switch for a fan to take the humidity out of the room and turned it on. The cooler temperature in the hall felt good as he walked out to the bedroom. He put the dirty clothes under the bed at the bottom so he wouldn't mix it into the clean clothes in his duffle. At some point when there were more dirty than clean he'd switch them around.
Dinner was roast chicken and obviously locally-grown vegetables. John took a heaping serving of boiled beets when he saw that none of his classmates had touched them.
"Oh, no!" Cam drawled. "You like beets?"
"What's not to like?" John shot back.
"Don't eat them, you'll just encourage her," Cam mock-whispered. "We'll get them at every meal!"
"And that's bad how?" John had to ask. "I don't remember the last time I had fresh beets, only that canned cr-, stuff they serve in the cafeteria."
"You're on your own there," Cam laughed. "Ewww....."
"More for me," John said properly. He winked at Mrs. Mitchell. "Do you ever just roast beets? Since no one else seems to care....."
"Sure," she replied easily. "I only do that when someone who actually knows the difference is here. Tomorrow."
"You don't have to do that just for me," John answered but surrendered to her look. "Okay, thanks then."
There was cake for dessert and even Eddie helped with the dishes. They made quick work of cleaning up the kitchen and trailed into the living room.
"Now what?" Josh asked.
"Since tomorrow's Christmas Eve, was hoping you boys would put up the Christmas tree for me," Mrs. Mitchell put in. "There's a tree Steve Farber dropped off yesterday on the far side of the barn in a bucket. If someone will bring it in, someone else can help me get the decorations out."
Eddie volunteered, "I'll get the tree, no problem."
Cam piped up, "I'll go with you, dark out there."
The two went out into yard, John and Josh followed Mrs. Mitchell into the upstairs. "There aren't a lot of boxes, but easier when there's more than one to help carry," she explained. She opened a storage closet and pointed, "These, and these." There were about nine or ten boxes. "The ones marked fragile really are, so be careful."
"We'll just take more trips," John decided. "Easier to carry them one at a time than risk dropping anything."
Mrs. Mitchell took a box and said, "Good idea. Can't always convince Cam of that."
Cam and Eddie had the tree inside and were working on setting it straight in the holder as Josh and John brought the boxes down. A couple of them were more awkward than heavy, being long and tall, but a couple felt solid and while they weren't too heavy, John could understand the caution.
Once everyone decided that the tree was as good as it would get, Mr. Mitchell pointed to a couple of the boxes, "Those are the lights. We need to get them out and test them. I don't know how it happens but we test them before we put them away and when we take them out, there are burnt out bulbs in the line."
"Sheppard, this is fussy work, right up your alley," Cam offered.
"Since when?" John shot back.
"I saw your engineering project before you turned it in," Cam replied easily. "That took a lot more patience than I would have had." When John shot him a look, Cam shrugged. "You left a draft in the papers you had in that calc book. Not like I went looking."
Mollified, John replied, "Okay, then Eddie has to help with this."
"Three is easier," Mr. Mitchell allowed. "Wendy, get the extension cords that we'll need."
Mrs. Mitchell went off to find the extensions as they opened the boxes. They carefully dug out the well packed light strings and found the plug. John plugged the first into the wall and nothing happened, he sighed. "Okay, have to do this the hard way." He took it into the kitchen where he could put the string on the table and carefully tighten each bulb. When that didn't work, he found the extra bulbs and started replacing them until he evidently took out the problem bulb and the string lit up.
Taking the string back into the living room, he handed it to Cam who was arranging the first string of lights on the tree, "All yours."
"Okay, thanks," Cam answered absently.
John fixed another string of lights that Mr. Mitchell found was bad and by the time he brought it out to be put on the tree Cam announced, "Perfect, the last set of lights."
John stood back and looked at the relatively haphazard placement of lights on the tree. Mrs. Mitchell handed him a shoe box and said, "Ornaments next."
John looked at the box and stuttered, "I....." I've never decorated a Christmas tree before... Growing up, when he and his brother had tried to help decorate the tree, they were politely but firmly sent away. His dad had always declared that the tree had to be perfect and his mother had overseen the work, not allowing John or David to help. The ornaments in his hand looked fragile and old, family heirlooms.
"Go ahead. It's not Christmas if Cam doesn't break at least a couple of ornaments," she laughed, ignoring his obvious reluctance. "You can't do any worse than Cam ever does."
"I...." John swallowed. "Okay." He reached into the box for a globe and found a hook already in the loop. He moved toward the tree and Cam pointed.
"Start on that side, spread them out however you think looks good," Cam explained. He leaned over and stage-whispered, "Ma'll just move anything that's really bad around when we're not looking and try to tell us we put it that way."
He rolled his eyes, "Well, it's true, isn't it?" He grinned at her.
"No cookies for you!" she replied.
Eddie looked up. "Cutouts?"
"You just volunteered to help frost," Mrs. Mitchell told him. "Come on, let's get started while they work in here." She took Eddie into the kitchen with her.
Mr. Mitchell directed the rest of the tree decorating from his chair. Tinsel followed the ornaments and he made sure they spread it out right, "So Ma wouldn't have to fix it." He gave Cam the angel for the top of the tree. John watched Cam put the beat-up angel on the top, finishing the decorations.
"Manger scene in these boxes," Mr. Mitchell pointed.
They dug into the remaining boxes and pulled out a falling down manger, a Mary and Joseph that looked worn around the edges and three kings, one of whose hand was broken off. "Did that when I was thirteen," Cam observed. But it was all treated as if it were precious glass in the final setting.
They stood back to look at their work. To John, who had grown up with picture-perfect trees and decorations, the slightly tilting tree with its sagging tinsel and bunched together ornaments -- something out of a Charlie Brown Christmas -- this was the best Christmas tree he had ever seen. He had to take a deep breath to steady himself.
"Anyone interested in cookies!" came the call from the kitchen.
"Cleanup first," Mr. Mitchell declared.
"Geez," Cam moaned, picking up boxes.
"Come on, Josh," John directed. "Empty boxes are easy." They made quick work of the packing paper and the boxes, taking them back to the closet they had gotten them from.
By the time they got back downstairs, there were cookies of several varieties on the table along with milk. "Isn't that supposed to be for Santa?" Josh asked.
"Ha! Santa's on his own," Cam declared around a cookie in his mouth.
"Mmmm," John hummed. The cookies they had this afternoon had been good, but there was something special about freshly frosted cookies. John swiped a cookie Josh had been reaching for, "Too bad!" John laughed.
"Thank you boys for helping," Mrs. Mitchell told them.
"It's nothing," Eddie answered for them. "Thanks for having us."
Just then John yawned.
"Sheppard, I swear, you must be sick," Cam declared. "A nap this morning and you're yawning already?" He reached out to put a hand on John's forehead to pretend to check his temperature.
"Hey! It was all them dishes," he teased. "Not that you would know anything about it!"
"Well, everyone get some sleep tonight," Mrs. Mitchell directed. "If you want, you're welcome to attend midnight service with us in town." She looked around, "I know you're not all of our faith, but you're more than welcome to attend."
John hesitated, looking at Josh. They should have known Cam's folks would have been church-going people, from Cam's stories about his Bible-quoting grandmother alone. John knew Josh was Jewish and while the other boy would not object to the tree and decorations, going to a Christian church service might be outside his comfort zone.
Josh shrugged. "If you're sure no one will mind.... Sure, we'll go," he answered for all of them.
They cleaned up the kitchen and John went off to sleep. The other three went back to the living room to see what there might be on the television.
John was asleep before he knew it. When he woke, he knew it was early but that he also wasn't going to fall back asleep. It was still dark outside but he guessed it would be daylight in about an hour. He quietly reached into his bag and got out sweats that he could run in and dressed quickly. He used the bathroom briefly and made sure to avoid the squeaky board in the hall as he went downstairs.
He saw the light on in the kitchen and Mrs. Mitchell was humming to herself. John dragged a foot on the carpet to make some noise so as to not startle her. She looked up, "Wondered who was up. Coffee?"
"Not yet," John told her. "Wanted to run. Can I just run up the road?"
She looked over his dark outfit and tsk'd at him. "Hold on, no one will see you out there in that," she wandered into the back hall. She came back with an orange safety vest and handed it to him. "The guys use this when they're working in the fields, should help you. There'll be more traffic than you think and can't have you getting run off the road."
"Okay, thanks," he replied, putting the vest over his head and clipping the sides together so it wouldn't flap around too much. "Is there a landmark about two miles down the road?"
"Hmm...." she thought for a minute. "If you go left out the driveway, there's a farm with three blue silos about a mile and a half down the road. Will that do?"
"Perfect. Don't want to go too far," he explained. "Just enough to warm up and run off some of this good food."
"Ha!" she laughed. "You're too skinny as it is." John rolled his eyes, it was an old argument. "Okay, enjoy your run."
Rosie was well trained, running with him to the end of the driveway but not beyond. She watched as he stretched for a few minutes before starting his run. He turned left and let himself run at a steady pace down the road, keeping half an eye out for headlights especially from behind. The vest would help but he didn't know if there were any runners on this road and didn't want to have to learn the hard way. He got to the three silos in relatively short order, ran further down the road to what his head told him should be another mile and then stopped to breathe easily for a moment. The sun was just starting to make an appearance and he looked around the farmland surrounding him. Some winter wheat grew in the field to the one side, the other was plowed under and looked like it had corn during the growing season. He turned and ran back toward the Mitchell's. A couple of cars sped by him, most swinging out to pass him easily but close enough for him to be grateful for the vest.
As he neared the driveway, he noticed a small farmhouse just past the drive. There were lights in a couple of the windows and movement beyond the curtains. He hadn't noticed it on his way out the driveway since it was hidden beyond a row of trees and he had been looking in the other direction.
Shifting to a walk up the driveway as part of his cool-down, Rosie rejoined him prancing around him. "Isn't Cam up yet?" he asked the dog.
"Woof!" agreed Rosie.
At breakfast, Mrs. Mitchell told Cam, "Julie and her mom will be coming to church with us."
John knew by Cam's sudden attention that this was important.
Cam replied, "Okay, good thing we have the extra car, then."
"Julie?" Eddie looked at Cam. "Pretty? A girlfriend?"
Cam rolled his eyes. "Yes, she's pretty, no she's not my girlfriend." He considered, "But you be nice to her."
"Oohhh… now we can't wait," Josh teased.
"Knew I should have left you for the bug spray," Cam muttered to himself. They all laughed.
John and Josh helped Mrs. Mitchell clean up and with some of the preparation for dinner. "There's a short social tonight after the service," she explained, "essentially a coffee hour. No one stays long, but it's a nice gathering."
"Tell us about Julie," Josh asked.
"Julie goes to school at Washburn," she explained. At their blank looks, she elaborated, "Washburn University in Topeka. She stays there during the semester since it's just a long enough of a drive that her mom doesn't like her to do it alone every day but Julie's home weekends and holidays. She and Cam went to school together."
The stereotypical girl-next-door. John realized. "Okay, what else needs doing?" he asked.
"Nothing," she replied firmly. "Go outside and enjoy yourselves," she told them both.
Since it was Christmas Eve and John realized he hadn't bought anything to give to the Mitchells, he asked Cam, "Can we go into town and do some shopping?"
"Is there some place to shop?" Josh asked.
"Sure," Cam assured them then stopped. "Well, ain't fancy unless you go into Topeka, but that's an hour's drive."
"Don't need anything much," John replied. "Just thought I'd like to check it out."
"Okay, then. I'll tell Ma we'll get lunch in town," Cam answered.
"Town" was just that -- a small town with a five-and-dime and some other local stores, as well as some empty storefronts. The empty stores showed the faded hopes and dreams of those who had come and gone… the wrong business in the wrong place.
In the store, John wandered around not getting any inspiration. He settled for a Christmas card and figured he could add a short Thank you to the holiday greeting. It was better than nothing, he supposed.
They wandered up and down the street and ended up in the diner. Lunch ended up being burgers and fries pretty much all around and they talked about some of the projects they needed to do. Cam got them moving to go back to the house and they ended up setting up their books on the kitchen table to work. The Mitchells puttered in the background, Mrs. Mitchell getting dinner ready around them.
There were roasted beets on the table for dinner, which John ate enthusiastically. The rest of the meal was noisy as they traded stories about school and some of the tamer pranks they had played during the year.
"Umm… what should we wear?" Eddie asked. "Tonight, I mean?" He looked at the others. "Didn't bring a uniform or anything and I don't have a suit."
"Not fancy, so don't worry about that," Mr. Mitchell replied. "Just neat will be fine." He shot a look at his wife, "That way I don't have to wear a suit either!"
"Frank Mitchell!" she huffed. "Twice a year I ask you to wear a suit…" she threatened.
He laughed, "Okay, okay." John realized it was a running joke between them, he was reluctant to wear the suit and probably really only wore it a couple times a year.
They were cleaning up when John heard new, female voices downstairs. He finished putting on a button-down shirt and slacks, he had packed them figuring there would be at least a couple times they'd have to be dressed reasonably nicely for the holidays. The shirt could use ironing but it would do for church with his jacket on and then could blame the jacket after when they had to socialize.
John was the last one downstairs and Cam introduced him, "Julie, Mrs. Davidson, this is John Sheppard."
Julie was pretty but years of etiquette had been drilled into John so he looked to the older woman first, "Ma'am. Nice to meet you." He nodded at Julie, "Hello."
"Come on, Romeo," Julie said, "I'll ride with you and mom can ride with your folks."
John was amazed to see Cam turn bright red. "Julie…." he warned.
Julie's bright grin showed that she knew exactly what she was doing. She explained, "My name's really Juliette, so Cam here is….."
"Romeo," Cam finished patiently. "Yes, Julie, we get it." He looked around, "We ready?"
They piled into the cars, letting Julie sit up front with Cam, the three others squeezed into the back. As they sat squashed together, Eddie observed, "Good thing no one else came with us, we'd never had made it." John had to agree that it wasn't comfortable with the three of them back there.
The church service was nice, John decided. The minister didn't talk too long and he made sure to sit next to Josh to cue him in to what needed to be done next. The choir sang a variety of hymns and carols and did a decent job of it. The social afterwards was fun and John watched Cam and Julie banter.
At one point, John found himself next to Julie's mother and he asked without thinking, "Are they always like that?"
Mrs. Davidson sighed, "Yes, and they don't even know it." She threw a sharp look at him, "Don't tell them. It'll ruin my reputation as the oblivious mother, you know."
John held up a hand with a grin. "Never," he promised.
"Nice of you boys to come with Cam," she told him. "He's never brought anyone home before. Wendy tells me you all are pretty handy around the farm."
John was surprised. He had figured Cam for the type to bring someone new home every holiday. "Well, I grew up on a ranch. Josh and Eddie, this is new to them," he felt obligated to explain.
"Just that… well, the Mitchell's don't ask for much so it's good for them," she elaborated.
John thought he understood. With Cam gone for almost four years now and Mr. Mitchell's disability, it had to be hard to run the farm, in spite of the help they got. "We've been having fun," John could honestly say.
"Good," she declared. "Now, let's get out of here, tomorrow's going to be a long day."
Mrs. Davidson organized them all into going home and before long John found himself crawling into the bed to sleep.
Christmas morning came too soon but Cam came around and shook him, "Come on, sleepyhead. Breakfast."
"Just went to sleep," John wanted to protest.
"Come on, Sheppard," Cam replied. "Wait ‘til you see what's for breakfast!"
"More food?" John groaned in mock protest. "Do we have to?"
Breakfast and dinner were even better than the previous meals.
There were discreet presents under the tree for everyone. Mrs. Mitchell had gotten scarves and gloves for them all so they'd have something to unwrap. John was glad to have the card to give to her and was surprised by the fierce hug she gave him.
Julie and Mrs. Davidson joined them for dinner and John had to roll his eyes when Cam reported, "There're more cookies…."
"No," John really did protest. "That's more food than I've seen in my entire life." He rubbed his stomach. He looked at Mrs. Mitchell, "But it was great! Thanks!"
Everyone pitched in to clean up, although John noticed that Cam really didn't do dishes as much as take out the garbage and the composting and making sure there were enough towels to go around. John didn't mind, somehow, doing dishes had become fun.
Julie and her mom said good-night after dinner and walked back to their home. Cam and Josh walked them back to the house next door and they came back red from the night air.
"Might snow," Cam commented.
"Maybe whatever's been spooking the chickens will stop," Mr. Mitchell observed. "Probably not, though. Everything else will be holed up against the weather."
They sat around looking at the tree, not doing much. Eddie yawned and stretched. "Guess I'm going to call it a night," he announced. With a chorus of ‘good nights' he went off to bed.
John decided he didn't want to call it a night yet and asked, "Anything on TV?"
Sitting on the floor reading a newspaper, Cam looked up. "Well, there is like one channel on the television, I'll share the paper when I'm done, you can find a book or see if there's a tape you want to watch," he offered waving at a shelf of VCR tapes on the end of the room.
"You'd think that this close to Topeka we'd get more channels but there's no helping it without one of those satellite dishes and that's more than we need most of the time," Mr. Mitchell explained.
Josh had looked to the bookshelves and pulled out a couple of tapes. "Beverly Hills Cop?" he offered.
"That was a good movie," John offered. "We can watch that."
They put the tape in the player and watched Eddie Murphy play what John thought was one of his better roles. They argued over the reality of the 'satellite tracking system' over LA and Josh suspected that was made up. Since he was in a communications engineering track, they figured he knew best. The end of the movie came too soon and they were all sprawled over the furniture, not moving.
"I'm going to call it a night," Cam decided. His parents had given up earlier in the movie and it was just the three of them at the end.
"Good idea," John agreed.
"I might as well, too, then," Josh agreed.
After his turn in the bathroom, John stripped down to his t-shirt and shorts and climbed into the cot.
"That ok?" Cam asked.
"Sure, done worse on maneuvers," John replied. "The cushion is good and great pillow. A little short, though," he allowed.
"Can't do anything about the length. ‘long as it's mostly okay, then. 'night."
John slept in late the next morning, enjoying the opportunity to laze about that he rarely got or wanted to take, he was an early riser by nature. He turned over, saw that Cam's bed was empty -- since it was daylight he decided he should get up. He took his time washing up and getting dressed since he figured there was nothing special planned for the day.
There was bread and cereal on the table with a note, "Fix your own," that looked like Cam's handwriting. John helped himself to cereal, getting milk and orange juice from the fridge and ate in the relative silence of the house.
Putting his dishes in the sink, he saw the others outside throwing a basketball into a hoop. He cleaned up his own slight mess and went out to join the others.
They spent the rest of the week just hanging out. They got Julie a couple of times and she called a couple of her friends who were home for the holidays and they all met up in town. John saw the way Julie carefully didn't look at Cam and treated him like a brother. John was doubly glad then he had never really made a move on Cam and had become friends. There was a dance at the local Kiwanis club they all went to in a group and during the daytime they worked on some of the homework they needed to get done.
"He'll just break your heart, you know," came the voice over John's shoulder.
John whirled to see Frank Mitchell watching from the doorway. "I'm not..... It's..." John ground to a halt, ears burning. He took a deep breath. "It's not like that," John explained.
The older man waved a hand, "None of my business, really. But, Cam..... he's not going to settle down anytime soon and you both have a major commitment ahead of you." It had to have been a bad day since Mr. Mitchell was in the wheelchair instead of on his crutches. He wheeled himself onto the porch where they watched Cam and Rosie play their own version of man-on-dog basketball. "If Julie can't tie him down...." He let that trail off.
Turning to look into the field, so he couldn't see Cam's father behind him, John admitted, "He graduates in May and then he'll be gone and..... " John stuttered and then shrugged. "It helps." He's safe... someone I know I can't have..... "He's been a good friend."
The warm hand felt good on John's shoulder in a way he had never expected. "I think.... you'll go far, John Sheppard. You have something about you that will serve you well," Mr. Mitchell offered. "I'm glad you came."
John swallowed once, "I.... thank you," was the best he could do.
Cam caught sight of John, "Sheppard, get out here and help me. Rosie's winning and I need some help!" He grinned as the dog dropped down and panted.
John turned to look at the elder Mitchell. "Go... the poor dog won't be the same when Cam leaves," Mr. Mitchell told John. "She'll mope for weeks, expecting him to come back."
When it came time to leave, as much as John wanted to get back to school, he was sorry to go. The Mitchells had welcomed them all and shared their holiday with them, something John wasn't used to.
"I'll drive if you want," John offered.
"Sure," Cam tossed him the keys.
John turned and looked at the now-familiar farm and Cam's parents on the back porch watching over them. "Thank you for having us," John repeated.
"Any time," Mrs. Mitchell replied. "Come again."
"Come on, Sheppard," Cam called. "Let's go!"
Second Note: While there isn't anything that I could find in canon, I picture Cameron Mitchell being a year older than John Sheppard. If Cam was ready to graduate, that puts this very late 1980's or even 1990. Beverly Hills Cop was released in 1985, so home viewing was certainly possible.
I like to think of a young John Sheppard as a very nice young man, especially before he went to Afghanistan. Between the discipline he was raised with at home and the discipline of the Academy, he really is too good to be true and I hope I haven't made it too sappy.
This story is set in the same universe as Star Crossed which I wrote soon after Cameron Mitchell was introduced on SG1. It was written well before Bounty and since we hadn't seen enough of Cam's mother at the time I wrote this to realize she was still alive, she doesn't appear in this story.