|Steal The Thunder From The Sky
Mitchell had four tickets to each of the semi-final games, and seven -- one for each of them -- for the final. General O'Neill and Carter went to the first semi-final game with them, Wisconsin wearing home white to Ohio State's away reds. Wisconsin shut Oden down completely, making him look like a high school kid, and O'Neill got stinking drunk while Carter flirted with the Wisconsin fan sitting next to her.
Three minutes into the second half, O'Neill said, "Doesn't this look more like a football match-up than basketball? I'm just saying, I never thought the words Wisconsin and basketball powerhouse went in the same sentence."
Mitchell cocked at eyebrow at John and said, "Does that mean Duke will make it to a bowl game next year?"
John laughed until he choked on his beer, and while Mitchell pounded him between the shoulder blades, O'Neill said, "What's so funny?"
"Duke won exactly zero football games last year," Mitchell said. His hand was comfortingly warm on John's back -- John had forgotten about crowds, and arenas like the Georgia Dome that echoed so loudly you couldn't feel your own heartbeat above the rhythm of 50,000 screaming fans. The sky was smaller in Atlanta than it was in Colorado, and it was smaller in Colorado than it was over Atlantis. He had almost freaked out when they'd pushed off the MARTA train in front of the stadium, so many people in such a small space, and Mitchell had just tucked a hand against John's back and shoved him through the crowds, grounding John to the tiny space they occupied together.
"Yeah," John choked out. "They couldn't even beat N.C. State," which made Mitchell punch him in the arm. And then Mitchell laughed, long and loud, and leaned his shoulder against John's while they watched Wisconsin throw down three pointers from practically outside the Atlanta beltway.
O'Neill and Carter handed off the second game's tickets to Teal'c and Vala -- the latter in a tiny sky blue t-shirt with the interlocking NC stretched obscenely over her breasts. Teal'c watched Joakim Noah raptly while he dropped 10-foot jumpers in warm-ups, and John was feeling flushed with beer, with the good will of being at the Final Four, and the edge of fear he usually felt when faced with Teal'c was nowhere to be found. He said, "There's a guy on my team who'd be a dead ringer for Noah if he just combed his dreadlocks out."
Teal'c inclined his head and said, "Indeed," and John thought it meant Teal'c had no interest in John whatsoever, but later Teal'c bought John a beer, so maybe his assumption was wrong.
Mitchell teased Vala about her t-shirt -- she'd apparently ordered it off the Internet from a store in Chapel Hill that Mitchell said catered to the yuppie poser crowd, "which is all of Chapel Hill, but you know what I mean" -- and said to John, "Ask her why she's rooting for the friggin' Tarheels."
John thought he was being set up, but he was drunk and happy, and so he said, "Why are you rooting for the Tarheels?"
"They have the prettiest team," Vala said primly. "Even their coach is pretty, for an old man."
"You hear that," Mitchell said, leaning close to John. "Ol' Roy, pretty."
John sort of thought that Tyler Hansbrough looked like a Muppet, so he kept his opinions to himself.
Florida spread the floor and Carolina couldn't buy a basket from outside, so John and 50% of the once and future SG-1 floated out of the Georgia Dome and back to their hotel with the prospect of a Wisconsin/Florida championship game. Vala tucked her hand into the crook of John's elbow as they left, and the streets were humming as cheerfully, noisily, as the inside of the arena when they waded out the doors. Mitchell was waving his hands at Teal'c, who was watching Mitchell with as close to amusement as John thought Teal'c ever got, and explaining something loudly about the motion offense, or maybe the shotgun offense.
Atlanta purred underneath his feet like a city alive; the sky lit by the buildings and the voices of thousands of people.
John and Mitchell stayed up until 3 a.m. watching the highlights of the games they'd just seen over and over again on SportsCenter, drinking the tiny bottles of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam in the minibar. O'Neill stomped from the bedroom into the living room of the suite that they were sharing with him and Jackson and Teal'c, midway through the midnight rerun, ranted incoherently about Billy Donovan for three minutes straight, stole six minibar bottles of vodka, and disappeared back into the bedroom.
In the middle of the 2 a.m. rerun, Jackson sidled out of the bedroom looking murderous, hair sticking up all over his head, face exhausted. John was drunk, whiskey warming his stomach from the bottom up, and when Jackson said, "Jack is snoring and also covered in empty bottles of vodka, and Teal'c is singing the University of Florida fight song," John couldn't help himself. He snuck a look at Mitchell, whose mouth was twitching rapidly, and then John slid off the couch onto the floor, laughing hysterically.
Mitchell joined him on the floor, laughing rumbling belly laughs, and he laid his forehead on John's stomach while they fell apart hysterically. Jackson huffed, stomped out of the room with the door crashing shut behind him, and then stomped back into the room five minutes later. Mitchell, wheezing slightly, said, "What, the girls wouldn't have you?"
"Shut the hell up, Mitchell," Jackson said, and then the bathroom door slammed with a great crash.
"Is he sleeping in the bathroom?" John asked.
Mitchell snickered again, and turned his head, resting his chin against John's hip. "Jackson's slept weirder places, if you listen to him talk," he said. Then he rapped his knuckles against John's knees and rolled away. "Okay, sleepy time," he said, stretching broadly, his t-shirt riding up. "If I know Vala, she'll be up at the crack of dawn wanting to go watch the shoot-arounds in the afternoon. You can pick your poison: snoring General, SEC-obsessed Jaffa, or illegally uncomfortable couch. Or you can fight Jackson for the bathtub."
"Couch," John said. It was the closest, plus the idea of waking up in a king-sized bed next to General O'Neill was a little freaky.
"Your back pain," Mitchell said, and levered himself to his feet slowly. He stood over John and offered him a hand. John grabbed it, and when he scrambled to his feet, his drunken momentum carried him into Mitchell. They stood for a minute, pressed chest to chest, and Mitchell winked at John. "Or we could both fight Jackson for the bathtub."
"No, thanks, porcelain's not my first choice of pillows," John said.
"Sleep tight," Mitchell said. "Don't let the bedbugs or the couch arms bite."
"G'night," John said, and he was asleep before his head hit the couch.
Mitchell was right: John's Sunday morning started with a hangover, blinding sunshine, and Vala straddling his lap. "Hi," she purred. "Daniel locked the bathroom door from the inside, and I think that Mitchell put a chair under that door knob."
"Grempf," said John. "Get off me, you crazy person."
"There's open practices today," Vala said. "We can go."
"You are weirdly obsessed with this sport," John said, and wriggled enough that Vala slid onto the floor with a thump. The noise was loud enough that the bathroom door jerked open, and Jackson glared, red-eyed and bed-headed, at them.
"All these people are weirdly obsessed with this sport," Vala said from the floor. "I think the shorts used to be better, when they were shorter."
John rolled his eyes, stumbled off the couch, and shoved into the bathroom before Jackson could barricade himself in again. When he got out of the shower, wearing nothing but a towel, Vala was perched in Jackson's lap on the couch chattering happily about some game she'd watched on ESPN Classic, Mitchell was lying on the floor with one of the six commemorative Final Four 2007 t-shirts they'd come home with draped across his face, and the groans coming from the bedroom suggested that General O'Neill and his collection of vodka bottles were awake.
"We should go watch the shoot-around," Vala was repeating cheerfully.
Mitchell groaned loudly, and O'Neill appeared in the bedroom, eyes half-shut. "Yeah, what Mitchell said," O'Neill grunted. "I find out who taught her what shoot-arounds are, they'll never find the body."
"We should go," Vala said. "They'll autograph things."
Mitchell, still underneath the t-shirt, said, "Vala, if you ask Al Horton to autograph your breasts, I'm going to give you to Ba'al for Christmas."
Teal'c emerged, looking less hungover than all of them (except for Vala), cleaner than most of them (except for Vala and John), and completely wide awake. He said, "I shall not allow her to demean the name of the University of Florida in such a way."
O'Neill slid down the doorframe to the floor. "I don't get it," he said. "How did I end up with all you crazy people? Somebody who thinks Roy Williams is pretty, for an old guy, and a crazy Gators fan, and Carter, who flirts with Wisconsin fans like she doesn't know it hurts me deep in my Golden Gophers soul. Carter's the worst."
The door opened and Sam Carter said, "Carter's the worst what, General?"
"You're pretty, for an old guy," Vala offered. Jackson groaned and buried his face in Vala's shoulder.
"Kill me now," O'Neill said. "Mitchell, give me that t-shirt, I have to suffocate myself."
"Get your own. Vala bought six of them. I'm trying to kill myself over here."
"Don't make me make my mercy killing an order, Mitchell."
"You don't have to make it an order for me, sir," Carter said.
"I'll suffocate you without orders, too," Vala said cheerfully. "Then we could leave for the shoot-around without having to listen to you complain."
John decided that it was a very good time to go put his pants on.
It took three hours to get them all out of the hotel -- Mitchell managed to use up all the hot water when he spent 45 minutes in shower ("How does a hotel run out of hot water?" O'Neill said. "I honestly don't know, sir," Mitchell said innocently, and then he leered at John. "Yeah, well, stop jerking off in the communal bathroom, Mitchell," O'Neill said) and it took another half hour to convince Jackson that he did want to take a shower and put on shoes and come with them.
John didn't know why the guy had come all the way out to Atlanta if Jackson was just going to spend the weekend doing work. Vala apparently agreed with John, and half an hour's worth of her wheedling later -- John, Mitchell, and General O'Neill, sprawled on the couch in front of the television, had listened to the argument going on in the other room with definite interest and vague embarrassment; John was fairly sure it had ended in offers of sexual favors if Jackson would leave the hotel -- she'd talked Jackson out of his bathrobe, into real clothing, and down to the lobby of the hotel.
Jackson was scowling and clutching a coffee cup when he stomped into the lobby. "You know I don't care about basketball, Vala," he grumbled. "I just didn't feel like getting left in Colorado while you sexually molested 20-year-olds."
"Some of them are only 18," Vala said.
Mitchell was lounging on a couch while they waited for Teal'c and Carter to turn up -- halfway through Mitchell's epic shower, Carter had said, "I'm going to find someplace that doesn't serve grits with every breakfast plate," and Teal'c had said, "I will come with you, Colonel Carter," and O'Neill, lying on the floor with Mitchell's abandoned t-shirt over his face, said, "I'm going to tell Mitchell you were talking smack about grits, Carter," and Carter and Teal'c hadn't showed back up yet. He leaned over toward John with a wicked glint in his eye and said, low-voiced, "Has she groped you yet?"
"I woke up with her on top of me," John said.
"Worse ways to wake up than that," Mitchell said, and he winked at John.
Carter and Teal'c strolled into the lobby before John could come up with a suitable response; he had a weird feeling that Mitchell was flirting with him, and he wasn't quite sure what to do with that feeling. "There were grits," Carter announced sadly.
Mitchell leapt to his feet and pointed an accusing finger at her. "Hey, no maligning the culture that produced me," he said.
"A pile of sticky corn spawned you?" Jackson said. "That actually explains a lot, Mitchell."
It almost devolved into a fistfight, but Teal'c cleared his throat loudly, and Jackson and Mitchell looked suitably shamed. "Okay," O'Neill said. "Everybody got pants? Everybody got their wallets? Everybody got something to read when it gets boring?"
"Hey," John and Mitchell said simultaneously.
"I'm just sayin'," O'Neill said. "All right, team, head out."
When they actually made it to the Georgia Dome, in time for Florida's open practice, Vala was far less interested in getting autographs when Teal'c hovered menacingly at her elbow, monitoring her flirting with college students. After ten minutes, Jackson handed her his credit card and she wandered off, looking frighteningly predatory with the tiny piece of plastic clutched in her fingers.
Carter spotted her Wisconsin fan from the night before and made a beeline. Teal'c found the closest seat to Billy Donovan possible and settled in, watching Noah and Horford intently. Jackson pulled a journal with tiny print out of his back pocket and dropped into the seat beside Teal'c, watching nothing at all. O'Neill sat on Teal'c's other side, pulled his baseball cap down over his eyes, and went promptly to sleep.
Mitchell stood next to John for a long minute, hands shoved into his pockets, and John was more conscious of Mitchell's silence than he was of the cheerleaders practicing in a corner of the arena, the low cheerful buzz of the crowd, the bounce-bounce-swish of Joakim Noah draining off-the-dribble jump shots from all over the court. John stood next to Mitchell, looking straight ahead and trying not to lean into the warmth of Mitchell's shoulder pressing against his, until he saw Mitchell, just out of the corner of John's eye, twitch his head toward the back of the arena.
"Yeah," John said.
They climbed back up the stairs and sat in the last row of the lower deck, no one else near them for entire rows, and Mitchell argued with John about whether or not a running game would ever really work in the Big Ten.
"Of course it wouldn't," Mitchell said. "It's the Midwest, it's too cold out there for that."
John propped his feet on the chair in front of him and stared at the court. "That's not even an argument," he said. "I think Wisconsin's going to break through with the running game one of these days and just dominate for ten years, because everybody else plays the halfcourt spread."
"I don't know," Mitchell said. "The running game's beatable. Sure, you take more shots than the other guy, but look at Carolina -- look how they got beat, even averaging 90 points a game. Spread the floor and take the speed out of it."
"Is there an unbeatable offense out there?"
Mitchell knocked his knee against John's thigh. "Are you a moron?"
"I was thinking UCLA in the 70s," John said.
Mitchell snorted. "That wasn't an offense, that was John Wooden and Alcindor. Big difference."
"Want to talk about the pros and cons of the zone defense?" John said, and he didn't know he'd been aiming for Mitchell's laughter until Mitchell laughed, loud enough to turn heads, long enough for one of the skinny, Florida-t-shirt-clad sorority girls several rows in front of them to give John a once-over, and then to wink at him. John smiled back at her and realized he had absolutely no interest whatsoever in picking up a 20-something Florida fan, but he'd say just about anything to hear Mitchell laugh again.
"No," Mitchell said. "I really, really want to go find someplace I can have a beer at 3 p.m. on a Sunday."
After the first pitcher, Mitchell was rhapsodizing about a place in Chapel Hill that served the most amazing lasagna. "It wasn't even really lasagna," he said. "It was just a big bowl of cheese. And one pepperoni. But, man, when you were wasted, it was the best thing ever."
After the second pitcher, John found himself unexpectedly in the middle of an explanation about how much tradition the Conte Forum brought to the ACC -- he didn't know he cared that much. He didn't know he cared enough to explain it to Mitchell.
Mitchell had his fists stacked one on top of the other on the table, and his chin propped on top of both fists; he was staring at John thoughtfully, and John couldn't read the expression on his face. "No place in the world compares to Cameron," Mitchell said. "I mean, the name aside, it's the toughest and the best place to play in the country. The Crazies are brutal." He paused, and looked vaguely appalled at what he'd just said. "Never tell anyone I said that."
"We need more beer," John said.
"Yes," Mitchell agreed solemnly.
After the third pitcher, Mitchell decided that tequila shots were the order of the day. Three each, salt shaker and limes lined up between them, and John watched Mitchell lick the salt from his wrist, watched the motion of Mitchell throat as he swallowed the cheap, burning liquor down. When Mitchell bit down on the lime, he winced, and afterwards, he licked his lips, and John found himself following the motion of Mitchell's tongue.
John thought about licking salt from Mitchell's skin, and tossed his own shots back before he could follow those thoughts to a dangerous place.
They were drunk, drunker than skunks, when the rest of SG-1 (present and former) traipsed into the bar. "If you weren't here, we were going to start taking collections for bail," O'Neill said, clapping John on the back.
Teal'c and Jackson wrestled a second table over next to the one John and Mitchell had spread with three empty pitchers and half a dozen upended shot glasses, and O'Neill ordered four dozen hot wings. Carter sat down next to John and prodded a lime wedge with her finger. "You let him have tequila?" she said to John accusingly.
"It was his idea," John said sadly.
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Mitchell offered from across the table, and John nodded solemnly at Carter in agreement.
"What's wrong with tequila?" John said.
"Mitchell drinks tequila, he decides he loves everybody," Carter said. "And he tells them so."
"I do love everybody," Mitchell said cheerfully. "Except Duke fans, I don't love them."
"Nobody loves Duke fans," John told Mitchell. "Not even their mothers love them."
"If I'd have gone to Duke, my daddy would've disowned me," Mitchell said.
"You keep saying that," Carter said.
John said, "If you'd gone to Carolina, would it have been better or worse than Duke?"
"I don't know," Mitchell said. He sat up, scratching the back of his neck with one hand and stacking the empty shot glass one on top of each other with the other. His t-shirt stretched across his chest, and John tried very hard to stare at a spot that was somewhere over Mitchell's shoulder and not the pull of muscles under Mitchell's shirt. The waitress leaned across Mitchell from behind, sliding the first plate of wings onto the space vacated by the shot glasses and pressing her breasts against Mitchell's back. Mitchell didn't appear to notice, just dropped his hand from his neck and scratched at his belly, too. "State fans kind of think of Carolina like Carolina fans think of Duke. Might have been a toss-up."
"Thank you for that astute analysis of the rivalry, Colonel Mitchell," Teal'c said solemnly. John swiveled his eyes from Mitchell to Teal'c, and was unsurprised to find that Teal'c was the only person on the planet who could eat hot wings without smearing any sauce across his face.
O'Neill leaned back in his chair and thumped a fist against John's back as the waitress dumped a second enormous plate of hot wings on tables in front of them. "Shut up and eat, the two of you," he said. "And that is an order."
It was after midnight and well after last call when John and SG-1 stumbled out of the bar. Well -- John and Mitchell stumbled, propelled by Teal'c's hands gripping the backs of their necks. Teal'c strode. Jack and Carter, leading the way, ambled. Jackson walked and Vala hopped beside him, chattering about Al Horton and if she could buy a Florida t-shirt before the game tomorrow, because she loved them, too, and she needed a t-shirt, she couldn't wear the wrong colors to the game.
John's brain was going overtime, too many words clattering around in his skull without anything to connect them to, and he wondered why he'd said yes to Mitchell's invitation in the first place. It wasn't like -- Elizabeth had encouraged him to come back to Earth to go to the Final Four, because Elizabeth still thought that John should make friends, and John didn't have the heart to disabuse her of the notion that he and Mitchell were actually friends.
Except that SG-1, all six of them, had been at the worst cordially civil and at the best -- at Mitchell's best, because Carter was nice once you got her out of Rodney's orbit and Vala was hilariously demented, but Mitchell was the one who'd made John feel like something other than a stranger in the middle of a family reunion for a family he'd married into -- they'd been warm and funny and smart. Mitchell had acted like he and John had known each other for years, and the rest of them hadn't blinked twice about John tagging along on their demented traveling road show.
John clung to a lamppost with one hand when they got to the street; Mitchell listed distinctly to his left and clung to John's shoulder, his fingers warm where they fisted in John's t-shirt and his body comfortably heavy against John's chest. They regrouped outside, and O'Neill surveyed their motley group -- Teal'c and Jackson, sober; John and Mitchell, six sheets to the wind; Carter, flushed and smiling but not visibly drunk; Vala, certainly something but not necessarily something alcohol induced -- while Jackson fought with Vala. He had an arm around her waist and her wrists pinned in his other hand, but it wasn't deterring her from talking about Brandon Powell and Al Horton.
"You know, Jack, this is why SG-1 doesn't go on vacation," Jackson said. "It's more trouble than it's worth."
"Cameron and I went on vacation," Vala said.
Mitchell snorted, tipping his head down onto John's shoulder awkwardly, and said, "Being chased by a bounty hunter while attempting to talk to high school classmates about my highly classified work doesn't count as a vacation. Unfortunately."
"Wait, a bounty hunter?" John said. "You didn't tell me that." He wanted to take that sentence back as soon as he'd said it -- because it implied everything that he was trying not to think about, the way that he and Mitchell had moved on from talking about the ESPN highlights to talking about commanding teams made up of people who didn't listen to anything you said, the way that when Mitchell had dropped his head onto John's shoulder, John had threaded an arm around Mitchell's shoulders without thinking about it.
There was inevitability and then there was whatever this was. John, standing on a street corner in Atlanta, clinging to a lamppost and a drunk North Carolinian Air Force Colonel, realized that whatever this was, it was rapidly moving toward inevitable. That realization was strange enough, but it was the immediately following realization that he was -- okay with it was the wrong general phrase, because John had been okay with sleeping with men for years, but okay with sleeping with Cameron Mitchell in specific -- realized that he was okay with that specific.
Mitchell shrugged against John's chest. "Wasn't important," he said. "Everybody got out okay."
O'Neill was watching them carefully, but when John looked over and met his eyes, O'Neill just twitched a smile and said, "Come on, troops, up and drunkenly at 'em." He leaned over to Jackson and said, "This is just like going on missions: too many cats to herd, not enough time."
"Jack, we listen better than cats do," Jackson said mildly, and then to Vala, "If I let you go, are you going to behave?"
"I always behave," she purred, and Carter snickered quietly behind a hand. Mitchell laughed out loud, and even Teal'c cracked the tiniest smile, so John laughed, too. Atlanta was noisy even past midnight on a Sunday, hundreds of people in orange and blue and red and white still crowding the streets, and John hung onto Mitchell for a long moment, a rock in a sea of strangers, before he levered Mitchell up to standing, levered himself away from the lamppost, and went back to the hotel to sleep alone on an uncomfortable couch.
John woke up to quiet in the suite, except for the shower running in the bathroom and someone snoring in the bedroom, traffic running below the windows. His neck hurt, and he'd had strange dreams all night -- dreams about a normal everyday kind of life, the sort that he couldn't picture anymore because Atlantis was the only life he wanted.
He groped blindly at the floor until he found one of Vala's Final Four t-shirts and draped it across his face. He wasn't unhappy, or even particularly lonely anymore -- he had Rodney and Teyla and Ronon, had Elizabeth and Zelenka, missed Carson more than he'd expected to, and he had a weird pen pal relationship with Mitchell. He didn't even really miss the comfort of someone's hand other than his own on his dick, mostly because they had plenty of other things to worry about in Atlantis than whether or not they were getting laid.
And it wasn't like he and Mitchell were going to have some swoony long-distance -- and, damn, intergalactic really gave new meaning to long-distance -- relationship. John liked the guy more than he'd have admitted to either Elizabeth or Rodney (he might have admitted under pressure to Teyla, but that was it, and that was because Teyla could still beat John up), but despite his rapidly growing suspicion that he was going to end up sleeping with Cameron Mitchell, it wasn't a romance.
It was just two guys who had weird jobs and nobody else they could tell about their weird jobs. Or something like that -- John wasn't sure. Underneath the t-shirt, he heard the water shut off, and the snoring ratchet up a volume notch, and he wondered why he was lying on an uncomfortable hotel sofa trying to justify this to himself.
It was what it was, it would be what it would be, and John had learned to roll with all the punches life threw him years ago.
Plus: Mitchell was not a bad looking guy.
So: either John had a problem, or John had a chance to get some no-strings-attached sex.
He was about to give up thinking and stuff the t-shirt in his mouth so he choked to death when a damp hand poked at his arm.
John pulled the t-shirt off his face and glared at up at whoever was waking him. It was Mitchell, freshly showered and seriously not-hungover looking, "Good morning, princess," Mitchell said. "Or, well, really, afternoon. Want to go watch Vala and Teal'c eat hot dogs at the Varsity?"
Teal'c had apparently seen the Varsity on some show on the Travel Channel the night before (John did not remember watching any TV the night before, but given the state of his mind, that was unsurprising), and his trip to Atlanta was suddenly half motivated by a desire to worship Joakim Noah's hair, half motivated by a desire to try every hot dog on the Varsity's menu. The smell of grease turned John's stomach when they all walked through the door. "How come you're not hungover?" he muttered to Mitchell. By the time Mitchell had woken John up, everyone else was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed in the lobby; John was the only one who was fighting a losing battle with tequila.
"Carter says tequila loves me," Mitchell said cheerfully. "Six chili-cheese dogs, two orders of onion rings, two orders of fries, and two of the biggest Cokes you've got, darlin'. Tequila's only bad to the people hanging around with me. They end up hungover and miserable, and I can't feel anything. Come on, Sheppard, let's get some food in you."
Mitchell hefted the overloaded tray with one hand and maneuvered John through the crowd with a hand on the small of John's back. "Where's my food?" John said plaintively.
"Half of this is your food, sunshine," Mitchell said. "I was afraid you'd puke on the cashier if you tried to order. Three chili cheese dogs will soak that tequila right now."
John shuddered at the thought of the idea, but the practical side was that the onion rings actually smelled good and so he let Mitchell guide him up the stairs and to a table where the rest of SG-1 was already doing serious damage to a load of Chicago style hot dogs (O'Neill), a double order of onion rings (Jackson), and his own stack of chili cheese dogs (Teal'c).
"Don't they teach you how to drink at the Academy anymore, Sheppard?" O'Neill said when John slid bonelessly into a seat across from him. Mitchell dropped down onto the bench beside John and started passing John food, and John caught a fleeting, highly amused smile crossing Carter's face before she applied herself seriously to a pile of French fries covered in cheese.
"They do," John said, mouth full of hot dog. They tasted far better than they smelled, and he was suddenly starving. His head still hurt and he was still fairly certain that at some point in the next 24 hours he was going to have sex with Cameron Mitchell, but those things paled in comparison to chili cheese dogs. "Thanks," he said to Mitchell, and Mitchell grinned at him.
Definitely going to have sex with Mitchell.
It took them two hours to leave the Varsity -- first Mitchell wanted chili cheese fries, and then Jackson wanted another order of onion rings, and by then Teal'c and O'Neill had decided they were completely hungry all over again and had to eat another six chili cheese dogs -- and John kept quiet for most of it, just sitting back and listening to SG-1 argue amongst themselves and enjoying the press of Mitchell's leg against his.
You heard plenty of gossip about SG-1 -- the six weeks they spent on Earth when the Ancients had Atlantis alone, John had heard 29 different rumors about who was sleeping with who on SG-1, and the one that had creeped him out the most was the one about General O'Neill and Thor, though he'd never have admitted it out loud -- and, actually, John hadn't liked any of them very much when they'd come through Atlantis, or when he'd been stationed at Cheyenne Mountain before they went and took their city back. Carter had seemed bossy and Jackson had seemed sort of distractedly useless; Mitchell was too cheerful and too smug and too innocent; O'Neill, Teal'c and Vala just sort of scared John a little.
O'Neill and Teal'c argued about Florida -- well. O'Neill ranted about how Billy Donovan was a lying, cheating, sleazy scumbag, and Teal'c raised a very threatening eyebrow, and O'Neill stopped talking because Jackson reached over and stuffed a handful of French fries in O'Neill's mouth.
Jackson had some kind of translation spread out in between empty chili-covered paper plates, and Vala and Carter argued about the meaning of the third line that Jackson had translated until Vala leaned too far over (and too close to John for his own personal taste, because like his first impression, she still scared him a little; he was sort of afraid that she would drag him off into a closet and then he'd never be seen again) and ended up with cheese-covered onion rings (not as good idea as it sounded, as Carter had found out) in her cleavage.
Mitchell and Carter had a shouting match from opposite ends of the table about the proper way to motivate Marines who were scared of scientists into moving the science labs around in two weeks. O'Neill broke it up by saying, "Beer."
"Yes, sir," Mitchell said.
"You're probably right, sir," Carter said.
"You're always wrong, Carter," Mitchell said.
Carter stuck her tongue out at him, and O'Neill stopped off in the middle of calling Billy Donovan a goat-sucking something or other (turned out to be "son of a whore", and John decided that he liked the way O'Neill thought) to say, "Okay, that's it, you kids stop fighting before I have to send you both to your rooms."
John ate another onion ring and thought that this trip should have come with some warning labels, not the least being "Going on vacation with SG-1 is like vacationing in the middle of a low-budget circus".
Only without the girls in leotards, although Vala's Carolina blue t-shirts left about as much to the imagination as leotards did.
By the time they left the Varsity, everyone was vaguely queasy from having eaten their own body weight in hot dogs covered in chili and onions, and the streets of downtown Atlanta were already full of people. They headed out of the Varsity and turned toward the Georgia Dome, shoving past men in business suits with headphones on, jubilant Wisconsin fans, and quiet, cautious Florida fans. "What's the difference between Florida fans and Wisconsin fans?" Mitchell said cheerfully, high-fiving a skinny dark-haired girl wearing an Alando Tucker jersey.
"Is there a punchline to that question, Mitchell?" O'Neill said.
"No, seriously," Mitchell said. "You read the papers, General."
"And now that he's practically retired, he reads all the sports blogs, too," Jackson said, turning sideways and sliding between a pack of teenagers wearing Joakim Noah jerseys and sporting Joakim Noah hair, freestyle rapping to a rapt crowd whose raptness did not, apparently, include SG-1. Mitchell looked back at them a little sadly and then shrugged at John, before Mitchell twirled a finger around by the side of his head, clearly indicating that somebody was crazy -- John wasn't sure who, maybe Jackson, maybe the kids with Noah hair, maybe the pack of middle-aged Wisconsin fans cheering the kids with Noah hair on. John rolled his eyes at Mitchell -- solidarity, Mitchell happily strange but not the strangest of SG-1 in the midst of the three ring circus that was the Final Four. John was suddenly, desperately glad that Mitchell had asked him to come, that Mitchell was keeping John sane in the midst of all these people.
The crowds were starting to get to John, and on the street, the noise of all these people rose straight into the air, mingling with the traffic noises and the hum of a city. On the street, it was almost not completely overwhelming to someone who'd spent the last four months in a city that housed 500 people on a good day, if the Daedalus was docked with them.
John had missed a lot about Earth -- a lot about Earth that Cameron Mitchell was pretty much entirely responsible for reminding John that he missed -- but all the people were overwhelming. Mitchell was funny and sharp and really perceptive, even though John hadn't liked him much before this weird vacation. John liked him a lot now, because Mitchell was watching John and keeping him from freaking out completely about all the stuff John hadn't missed about Earth (the noise of taxi cabs, the way people pressed up against you on city streets, the way car exhaust smelled).
Which was a lot more than John had expected from Mitchell. But John had, apparently, underestimated a lot about this trip -- not just a vacation with the pride of the SGC, but rather a vacation with the pride of the SGC, warts and gay sex and all.
"So what he reads the sports blogs?" Mitchell said, eyes fixed narrowly on Jackson even as he reached back in the crowd and grabbed the edge of John's t-shirt. It was 75 and breezy in Atlanta, had been all weekend, and John was appreciating the warm air across his skin even before Mitchell curled his fingers around John's bicep.
"So Jack probably has 17 punch lines for your question," Jackson said, tugging Vala away from a guy selling watches on the corner. "Vala, stop that. In case you were looking for a serious answer."
"I only have 13," O'Neill said. "But thank you for overestimating my time-wasting skills, Daniel, it's always good to know that you appreciate me."
John wasn't stupid enough to do something like stick his hands in the back pockets of Mitchell's too-tight jeans, but the street was crowded and nobody was really looking at him -- nobody on SG-1 had really looked at John all weekend, and that was actually sort of nice; he was inoffensive enough to just be ignored, rather than talked obliquely around, the way Rodney would have talked around some stranger hanging out with AR-1 for three days -- so John sort of pressed up against Mitchell's side, just to see what Mitchell would do, and Mitchell cast his eyes in John's direction, gave John a fleeting, seriously dirty smile, and turned back to O'Neill like nothing had happened.
John stayed pressed up next to Mitchell while they waited for a traffic light to change, and thought, Seriously, weirdest vacation ever. "I mean, I really want to know," Mitchell was saying to O'Neill. "Look at all these Florida fans -- they look like you shot their dog!"
"Like I, personally, shot their dog, Lt. Colonel?"
"Uh, no, sir," Mitchell stuttered. "Not you, personally. But I was just wondering -- I mean, anybody can chime in here, but mostly I'm looking at you, Sheppard -- you think, they're all so serious, like they've got something to be serious about, but the Wisconsin fans are just happy to be here. Is Florida going to turn into a big-time program? Like the fate of the world rests on this game?"
O'Neill, standing in the gutter of the street across from the Georgia Dome, was nearly run over by a car flying a Florida flag out of the sun roof while he ranted about Billy Donovan's tendency to steal recruits he wasn't even interested in out from under other coaches who really wanted those kids -- and he learned that from Pitino, Mitchell, I tell you he learned that from Pitino, and Pitino still does that -- and ranted about how low-class the programs in the SEC were.
"Didn't the Minnesota head coach resign in disgrace earlier this year, sir?" Carter asked innocently, and it was a good thing that the traffic light changed and Carter could flee to the other side of the street before O'Neill could figure out what she'd actually implied about the University of Minnesota. Carter was already securely in the center of her enclave of Wisconsin fans, who were all sitting one section over from SG-1 and entourage, by the time O'Neill had figured what she'd said and then where she'd gone.
The concourse in the Georgia Dome was a wall of humanity -- people packed so tightly that it was hard to move, and John felt the edge of panic creeping up the back of his neck until Mitchell very firmly put a hand in the middle of John's back and started propelling him through the crowd.
John kept trying to freak out about this thing with Mitchell, kept trying to tell himself that it was a bad idea and worth freaking out about, that someone was bound to notice and even though he'd slid unnoticed around the corners and the problems of policies about who he slept with for years, this was the time that it was all going to come crashing down on his head, but the rest of SG-1 wasn't noticing and the tens of thousands of strangers around them didn't care. Jackson had Vala firmly in hand -- "No, you cannot buy a basketball autographed by David Robinson." "But it says he's called the Admiral! That's military, isn't it? It could be a business expense." "David Robinson is not going to come run the base, Vala." -- to keep her from the dozens of people hocking over-priced souvenirs. O'Neill was glaring at Carter's Wisconsin fan (whose name John still hadn't caught). And Teal'c was sailing imperiously in front of them, oblivious to the shenanigans, both those of his teammates and those of all of the hyped-up, over-caffeinated fans, surrounding them.
When they got caught in the middle of a tangle of people -- John, surveying, thought it had something to do with a line for the women's bathroom -- Mitchell pressed up against John's back and the hand that Mitchell'd had on John's spine slid around to his hip, Mitchell's thumb running underneath the edge of John's t-shirt, warm against John's skin. "Deep breaths," Mitchell said, breath hot on John's ear. "And if all else fails, grab the back of Teal'c shirt and let him tow you through the crowd."
John turned his head to reply, but before he could say anything, Mitchell winked at him, and then Mitchell leaned forward and closed his teeth on John's earlobe. John shuddered, want want want shooting suddenly through his veins, and Mitchell's fingers tightened against John's hip, holding John steady. "Easy there," Mitchell said, and then the warm press of his body was gone, and he was saying, loud enough that John knew the moment had passed, "You know what they tell you about culture shock -- that it's harder to come home than it is to go somewhere else."
If the crowd in the concourse was bad, the noise inside the seating bowl was worse. Half the place was shouting "On, Wisconsin" off-key and so loudly that the band, two sections over, was inaudible. The rest of the crowd was spelling Florida with their bodies, and doing a fairly poor job of it. "I'm pretty sure that that Florida is not spelled with an N and two Is," O'Neill grumbled.
"Come on, Jack," Jackson said. "I'll buy you another beer, and then you won't be able to spell Florida, either."
"I could spell Florida drunk with both hands tied behind my back," O'Neill said, chugging down the dregs of his second beer. He'd finished the first one while they were stumbling through the crowd, trying to get to their seats, and bought his second at the top of the steps before they climbed down to their seats. John was beginning to get the idea that this was a drinking -- not a working -- vacation for O'Neill. Jackson, on the other hand, had a journal folded in half and shoved in the back pocket of his jeans; he was like Rodney, and this was just a change of scenery surrounding the stuff that was the most important, which was the research.
John thought about the things that Rodney missed from Earth -- Big Macs, science fiction television -- and the way Rodney had said, that's what you miss? Sports news? You never missed the things you expected to miss; you only missed the things you'd taken for granted before you didn't have them anymore. John didn't miss crowds or traffic or the noise of thousands of people cheering, but he had missed the hive-mind, the thrill of seeing all those people caring about the same thing you did. He didn't miss the crush of people who didn't care if they stepped on your foot or spilled their beer on you, but he missed that feeling of belonging.
"You couldn't spell Florida with both hands tied behind your back if you had to spell it with your body," Jackson said.
"Sure I could," O'Neill said, struggling out of his seat. "You just watch me. Come on, Mitchell, tie my hands behind my back."
Mitchell blinked at O'Neill and then tossed a sorry I got you into this look in John's direction. John just grinned, fingers wrapped around his beer and thigh pressed against Mitchell's in their seats. Mitchell said, "Sir, I think that might get us kicked out."
"Well, better sooner than later," O'Neill muttered, and dropped back into his seat. "Vala's going to flash her breasts eventually, and then it's all over."
"She will not," Teal'c said solemnly. "I will not allow her to."
"Beer, Jack," Jackson said. "You'll feel better if you drink another beer."
Jackson got O'Neill to his feet and out into the aisle. John said to Mitchell, "Are we going to actually get to see all of this game?" He meant, is someone on SG-1 going to get us kicked out before tip-off?
Mitchell tilted his head thoughtfully, and then gave John a look that John couldn't read over the top of his beer. "I don't know," Mitchell said, slow and quiet and, John realized, dripping with sex. "Are we?" The hand that Mitchell didn't have wrapped around his beer slid across John's leg, and he hooked two fingers into John's belt loop.
John swallowed, hard, pulled his eyes away from Mitchell's and back to the court. He leaned against Mitchell's shoulder, just a little. Mitchell hummed quietly, and when John glanced over, Mitchell licked his lips, slowly, and winked. John felt the corner of his mouth quirk up, without his control, and leaned against Mitchell harder.
Florida jumped out to an early lead, and the spelling of the Florida fans deteriorated even further. "There's no P in Florida," Mitchell said, breath hot on John's ear. John felt deliciously anonymous in the crowd, no one around them watching anything he was doing -- O'Neill was deep into his fourth beer, and Teal'c and Vala (for different reasons) were raptly watching Joakim Noah put on a shooting exhibition the likes of which John had never seen, Carter was flirting (one section away) from her heartbroken looking Wisconsin fan, and on the far end of the seats from John, Jackson had his nose in whatever he was reading, oblivious to the Florida fan dancing next to him and spilling Coke down the back of his shirt.
And there were 50,000 other fans, none of whom knew or cared who John Sheppard was, or who he was sleeping with. John hadn't realized that he missed the anonymity of Earth. He hadn't missed the crowds, but the ability to disappear into one -- he'd forgotten that you could do that. He'd forgotten how nice it sometimes was, to not be watched all the time.
By halftime, Noah had dropped 28 points on Wisconsin and Mitchell's hand had crept from John's knee to the top of John's thigh, and John was so turned on that he could barely think. "You want to go somewhere?" Mitchell said.
John stared at the crowds cramming the aisles. "No," John said, and Mitchell's face fell. "Not yet," he added. "Not now. We -- "
"Yeah," Mitchell said, and his hand slid under the edge of John's t-shirt again, fingers warm on John's stomach. "Okay."
John watched the crowd stumble slowly up to the concourse, and when he turned back to Mitchell, Mitchell was watching him carefully. John grinned at him, and Mitchell's face broke open into a huge smile.
Cameron Mitchell had -- yeah, had offered John a weird sort of friendship, and he'd watched John carefully and helped John stay standing when John forgot that Earth was not Atlantis, when Earth blind-sided John spectacularly. Weirdest vacation ever, John thought, but not the worst one.
When the second half started, Florida couldn't make a shot. In the four minutes before the TV timeout, Wisconsin dropped in two three-pointers, forced two turnovers, and cut Florida's lead from 17 to 9. Teal'c, on Mitchell's other side, wore a look of as much displeasure as John had ever seen him express, clenching his jaw and frowning in a way that tilted John back toward "scary" on the scale of "nice but weird" to "scary and weird" that he was watching SG-1 on. Mitchell leaned closer, out of Teal'c's personal space, and he didn't even try to talk, not over the roar of all the Wisconsin fans who were suddenly back in the game. He just leaned closer, fingers still tucked underneath John's waistband, and if it looked like they were having a private conversation, well, that deception was fine by John.
At 12:17, Wisconsin dropped in their third three-pointer of the half and cut the lead to 6. John reached over and put his hand on Mitchell's thigh, and Mitchell shifted closer. Teal'c started cursing under his breath, and John thought, hazily and distantly, that if Teal'c had any real hair to grab, he probably would have started pulling it out already.
At 10:43, Florida finally came back out of the locker room, metaphorically speaking, and hit Wisconsin with 10 unanswered points, pushing their lead back to 14. Teal'c clapped wildly. O'Neill staggered out of his seat, nearly collapsed into Mitchell's lap (and onto John's hand), and went to get another beer. When O'Neill had crawled past them, Mitchell slid his hand from the back of John's jeans to the front and thumbed the top button open. John bit his lip so hard he thought it was going to start bleeding, and when he looked over at Mitchell, Mitchell was resolutely staring at Joakim Noah draining the last three-pointer to make the lead 14. John wriggled in his seat, just a little, and Mitchell turned his head just a little and licked his bottom lip. John tried very hard not to bite his lip again, and failed.
At 8:15, Wisconsin was back within 6 and O'Neill was back with his beer. Mitchell, who had his hand halfway down the back of John's pants, said, "Sir, who are you rooting for here?"
O'Neill took a long swig of beer and said, "I'm rooting for the whole damn place to fall down so they have to make Ohio State and Carolina play for the title."
At 6:28, John thought, holy crap, Cameron Mitchell was asking me on a date.
He wasn't really sure what to do with that thought, except hold on to it and try not to come right there, sitting in the stands of the Georgia Dome, watching Wisconsin try to come back, with Cameron Mitchell's hand up his shirt.
At the two-minute mark, Wisconsin had cut Florida's lead from 22 to 4, and the Wisconsin fans were frantic, Teal'c was frantic, and John was frantic.
John shifted awkwardly in his seat and Joakim Noah drained a huge three-pointer -- guy had 37 points and was on his way to being tournament MOP. "Hey," Mitchell said, low, close to John's ear. "Wisconsin's going to give it a good run, but they just aren't that good. You want to --"
"Yes," John said, because public sex at the Final Four was a bad idea, but if he was going to do something monumentally stupid, he could do it during the last two minutes of the championship game, when two minutes on the clock took 20 minutes in real time, and when no one at all was in the public bathrooms because no one was as stupid as John, to get up and walk away from the national championship game, and good seats, too.
But then again: like Rodney told him all the time, John was a lot stupider than he looked.
"Gonna get a beer," Mitchell said off-hand to Teal'c, who nodded without really registering. "Be back soon."
By the time they crashed into the bathroom, Mitchell had his hands, both hands, shoved all the way down the front of John's jeans, and John was hard, aching, absolutely sure that he was going to come in his jeans, standing in a public bathroom with a co-worker's hands shoved down his pants. They crashed through the door of a stall and tangled up, Mitchell pressing John up against the door and biting John's neck while he unzipped John's jeans, and then Mitchell sank to his knees, tugging John's jeans down as he went.
Mitchell's mouth was hot, wet, and John couldn't tell if the roar in his ears was the crowd or his own blood rushing from his head to his dick.
"Jesus Christ," John said. John pressed one hand against the door of the stall and ran the other hand down the back of Mitchell's neck. Mitchell hummed around John's dick and reached his own hand up to wrap around John's cock. Mitchell had a mouth like a goddamned Hoover, and while Mitchell sucked, licked and stroked John's dick, John tried to dig his fingernails into the cold plastic of the stall door to keep his knees from buckling, giving out, spilling him down to the floor before he got to come. John dropped his head back, the rattle of the door loud in the silence of the bathroom, and Mitchell glanced up, peering out from under his lashes with one of the sexiest expressions John had ever seen. "Jesus fuck, Mitchell," John said, and Mitchell grinned, even with his mouth stretched wide around John's cock. "God, yes, please."
Mitchell sucked harder, speeding up his hand, pressing the flat of his tongue against the head of John's dick, and somewhere outside the tiny, tiny world of Cameron Mitchell's mouth that had become the only thing John was interested in, the crowd started to roar, building noise, and when the roar cut off with a groan of disappointment, John didn't hear it, because he was seeing stars and coming in Mitchell's mouth, all over Mitchell's chin.
By the time John's brain re-engaged, Mitchell had struggled to his feet and was leaning heavily against John's shoulder, his hand pressing against the bulge of his dick in his jeans. John wriggled, twisted, forced his hand between their bodies and squeezed Mitchell's cock, a little hard. Mitchell groaned and bit down on John's shoulder, his mouth damp against John's t-shirt, and John wrenched his wrist enough to pop the button on Mitchell's jeans open and slide the zipper down. Mitchell said, "Sheppard," low and rough, his breath hot on John's neck, his chest pressed against John's and one hand clutching at John's t-shirt, just over John's hip.
Mitchell was already breathing fast, and John could feel Mitchell shuddering against him, so John wasn't surprised when it only took three strokes, hard and fast, before Mitchell was shuddering harder, panting against John's neck, and coming all over John's hand and Mitchell's own sweatshirt. "God," Mitchell said.
"No," John said. "Just me."
Mitchell snickered against John's neck, and somewhere outside, the crowd roared, noise rising up and up to a fever pitch -- John couldn't tell who'd won simply from the roar. He wiped his hand on Mitchell's sweatshirt, and draped an arm around Mitchell's shoulders. They leaned against the door for a long moment, and then John said, "Thanks, Mitchell."
Mitchell said, "Any time, Sheppard."
When they heard "One Shining Moment" pouring from the speakers, they slipped out of the stall cautiously, but there was no one in the bathroom yet -- whoever had won was still celebrating, and everyone was watching 20-something athletes dancing badly in ugly t-shirts. John washed his hands; Mitchell peeled off his sweatshirt and folded over the damp stain. John was trying to figure out if there was anything else to say when Mitchell's cell phone rang, and Mitchell answered, leaning against the wall and smiling at John, wide-open, smug and sated. "Yeah," Mitchell said into the phone. "Okay, okay. Ten minutes. Yeah."
Mitchell flipped the phone closed and reached out to John, tugging John close in an awkward, one-armed hug. "You're an okay guy, Sheppard," Mitchell said, sounding amused.
"You're not so bad yourself," John said, and when Mitchell laughed, it echoed up to the ceiling, drowning out the sounds of the crowd.
When they got outside, fighting through the milling crowds, O'Neill said, "Hey, where the hell did you guys go? You missed the greatest comeback in Final Four history."
"The line for beer was long," Mitchell said, fingers hooked in John's belt loops. "We'll just watch it on ESPN Classic."
The sound of 25,000 Wisconsin fans singing "On, Wisconsin" floated up around them, and John just smiled.
author's notes: title from a carolina fight song, "tar heels on hand", that only i know the words to. this final four bears no relation to the actual potential final four, as wisconsin lost last weekend plus they were in florida's bracket anyway, but i wanted to make the football joke. i know it should be MVP where it says MOP, but the ncaa is dumb like rocks and gives a Most Outstanding Player award and not a Most Valuable Player award. my otp did beta duty and syn. was the cheering squad. jack o'neill's opinions about billy donovan are absolutely my own.