Sarie Venea

On a trip back to Earth, John Sheppard and Cameron Mitchell meet in the gym. Fighting with sticks, words that only one leader to another can understand.

John swung the stick forward, feeling a strange sense of satisfaction as it hit the dangling bag with a resounding smack. He felt the sweat trickling down his back under the sleeveless Air Force t-shirt he wore. He danced backward, his feet never on the ground long enough to keep him still. He balanced the fighting sticks in his hands, swinging around his head and behind his back as he charged forward, coming at the punching bag from all sides. His mind cleared, nothing but he and the opponent occupying time. He hit again and again, the sharp sounds coming faster than he could register.

Cameron leaned against the doorway to the gym, watching the Lantean colonel as he worked out with the sticks. Sheppard was single-minded, focused only on the bag and the motions of his body. It was like a dance, heavy and solid with power yet graceful and arching as Sheppard evaded an imaginary defense. His arms swung in moves never wasted. He was skinny, Mitchell noted, but not someone to mess with. Cameron slouched away from the wall and crossed to the locker in the corner. He opened it and retrieved the long, hooked weapon of the Sodan that felt like an extension of his hands. Shifting it back and forth, he bounced on his feet and looped the kranta around his body. He settled it across his front and took three swift steps forward, the hooked end coming up and meeting Sheppard's downstroke, hooking the shorter stick and yanking the other colonel backwards, his arm flying up and over his head. Cam's staff followed the motion, aiming for Sheppard's ribs. But the other arm was ready, and Cameron felt the sting of vibration all the way up his own as John met the move and countered it.

Cameron smiled and nodded, stepping back, untangling the two sticks from his own. The two men stepped around each other, balancing their weapons and readying for the coming fight. John went first, already in his rhythm. He attacked in the finest form Teyla'd taught him, his arms sure of every motion and his feet light yet solid. Cameron's moves were well-honed as well, his body not as tired and his greater weight an advantage. The sticks met again and again, John going after the colonel's upper body and legs, the areas unprotected by the longer pole. But Cam knew exactly how to block each move and the kranta went vertical as often as not. He swung the hooked end at Sheppard's feet, but John left the floor and landed forward, one stick keeping Mitchell's down as the other landed squarely upside Cam's head. Cameron cursed loudly but twisted, the rotation of his wrist tearing the lower stick from Sheppard's grasp as the long end of the pole swung up over his own head and blocked the next shot.

Sheppard grunted and dropped to the floor, rolling under the Tau'ri's staff and coming up behind him, only to find that Cameron was facing him, grinning, one foot flipping the lost stick up and into his own grasp. But Sheppard wasn't done, flying forward and swinging so fast Cameron stumbled back slightly, dropping the inhibiting extra Athosian stick and concentrating on meeting each blow. Sheppard's body was low, his free arm balancing as he grabbed the other stick and brought it up in tandem with the first, swinging them out and pulling together to hit each side of Cameron's torso. Mitchell could only block one side, but he chose this point in time to bend backwards, allowing the two short poles to meet on either side of his Sodanese-made pole and slide apart. He watched in near shock as the two powerful strokes twisted the long pole out of his grasp. He hit the ground, flipping onto his back as Sheppard brought all three poles down to his sides.

"You're good." Sheppard's West-Coast drawl was similar to Cameron's own.

Cameron smiled from his place on the floor. He let it slip into a smirk, then scooted forward and caught the smaller man's legs with his feet, grinning again as the other colonel landed on his back, the air leaving his lungs.

Both men lay flat, panting.

"Ouch." Mitchell muttered, finding the lump on the back of his head with his fingers.

Sheppard just wheezed in answer.

"Are you two finished?"

The voice from the door made them look up. Elizabeth Weir and Sam Carter stood, their arms crossed, identical eyebrows tilted. Sheppard groaned and dropped back to the mat, his arms weary from the extended workout. Cameron was still rubbing the stars from his eyes. He swung to his feet, offering the other colonel a hand up. John leaned over, his hands on his knees. Cameron slapped him solidly on the back.

"I think I found a worthy opponent for the next kel shak lo."

John squinted up at him.

"The what?" He panted.

"Death payback ritual from hell."

John stared.

"I spent two weeks with the Sodan for it. Longer stick, same type of fight."

Sheppard nodded and answered.

"Teyla. Athosian leader, on my team, kicked my ass more times then I can count." He grimaced.

Elizabeth chuckled and ran her hand through her hair, smirking at Sam, who grinned.

"I saw the results of Cam's fun when he got back." Sam remarked dryly. She shook her head mockingly.

"The briefing is in four hours, please shower before you get there, both of you." Elizabeth ran her eyes down her colonel's body, making sure he was in one piece. The action was nearly unconscious, she noted, a habit born of the constant need John had to come back to her in pieces from whatever hobby he was engaged in, be it fighting wraith or riding his skateboard. At this point, deep underground in the planet she felt safest-whether it be a rational feeling or not-her lieutenant colonel seemed fine, if a bit sweaty and tired.

Sam found herself doing the same thing.

Habit. Forced, necessary, and very often warranted, habit.

The two women continued their trek through the base to the commissary. Sheppard lifted his sticks in his hand, spinning his wrist absently as he fiddled with his bag, pushing them inside. He felt the need for a run, the long expanse of the city beckoning before he remembered where he was. Going off-base to stretch his legs seemed more of a hassle than it was worth, and he sighed. The walls were grey and silent, the murmur of whispered thoughts that were Atlantis' touch missing like a hole in the back of his head.

"This isn't home anymore." Sheppard looked up, surprised at the other man's words. Cameron had his back to him, carefully placing the kranta in the cupboard.

"Not really." Sheppard answered quietly.

"It's not gonna be. Trust me. Home isn't a notion we can afford, ya know? Too much of a chance that as soon as we find somewhere secure, somethin'll happen that changes everything we thought."

"Home is a city trillions of light years away." Sheppard stared at the wall, his eyes seeing something entirely different. Suddenly Cameron stepped into his line of sight, breaking his gaze, holding it steady.

"Home is people, Sheppard. People. Not a place, that can and will change. People, now, you find the right ones and you'll be home wherever they are." He smiled after a minute, then turned and left the gym. John stood for a long second, then lifted his bag and followed.

He found Elizabeth in the commissary with Rodney, who was babbling at the tall blond he'd nearly named his laptop for. Ronon and Teyla were giving the food odd looks and trying to be polite to the tall dark, Jaffa, was it? Who currently was asking questions about favorite Earth pastimes to which they'd never been introduced. He grinned at the bespectacled man who was watching Cameron's food selection with a disgusted look on his face, picking up his own tray and sliding in next to Elizabeth. Home. Yeah, it made sense. These people, though he loved his city, were home.