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Bits and Pieces #10:
The scream yanked Janet out of bed, heart pounding, sweat slicking her skin in instant response to such an inhuman level of terror. Going from a dead sleep to such an utter state of action had her moving before she even knew what the sound was. A scream. Cassandra's. Her study. The details filtered into her brain in small, discrete packets even as she cleared the distance between her bedroom and the combination office and guestroom where the child was sleeping -- or rather not sleeping -- in a few long strides.
The girl was bolt upright in bed, eyes open, but not seeing. Janet got an arm around her just as another scream ripped from her throat.
"Cassandra!" Driven by her own burst of adrenaline, the girl's name came out sharper than she intended, but it worked to snap her out of the paralyzing weight of whatever nightmare was chasing her. "It's okay ... shhhh," Janet whispered more gently as the child dove into her arms, her small body trembling with violent spasms and wrenched by heartbreaking sobs. She clambered more firmly into Janet's lap as the doctor settled on the edge of her bed, wrapping her in a protective embrace. "It's all right ... you're okay," she whispered over and over, petting fine hair and offering what little consolation she could even as she fought to control her own pounding heartbeat. She reached out, turning on the lamp beside the bed, hoping it might calm some of the terrors, though it had yet to help.
What had begun as a mild sleep disorder and a few nightmares had worsened steadily over the two weeks since Cassandra had moved in with her until they were truly beginning to scare Janet. So much for the psychiatrist's opinion during an early counseling session that they'd quickly lessen and disappear once the child was in a stable, safe environment. Or maybe it was just that Cassandra didn't feel all that safe without Sam there to protect her. Either way, the child's condition had deteriorated until, for two nights running, she'd suffered through night terrors the likes of which Janet had never seen before. At her wit's end for a solution, the doctor could only offer what little comfort the child would accept and pray the psychiatrist was right when he said that Cassie would work her way through things in her own time. Though, if she was honest, she was beginning to have some serious reservations about that plan.
Janet felt almost the exact instant that sanity reasserted itself in the girl's mind and she chased off the worst of the terror. The small body stiffened, a hand bracing against her chest as Cassandra thrust herself back, no longer so desperate for consolation that she would accept it from anyone. "Sam," she whispered raggedly. "I want Sam." It was the same response she'd had every time Janet had tried to offer her any comfort. She'd cling desperately right up until she was back in control, then she'd pull back, demanding Sam and refusing to say any more than that.
Ignoring a flicker of hurt, Janet shook her head. "SG-1 is on a mission. She's not available," she reminded the girl, her tone gentle. "But if there's anything I can do to help--" She'd made the same offer before and received the same response every time.
Shaking her head, Cassie pushed back, her expression more than a little frantic. "No," the child insisted, fingers curling into the front of Janet's nightshirt. "Please ... it needs to be her."
Shaking her head helplessly, Janet reached out to tenderly brush sleep tangled hair off the child's brow. "I'm sorry," she apologized, an illogical sense of guilt tightening her throat, "but she can't come right now."
The girl whimpered as though in pain, folding her arms across her midsection and bending nearly double.
Janet continued petting soft hair, her touch incredibly light even as she caught a delicate wrist with her other hand, checking the child's pulse with automatic skill. It was hummingbird fast, but steady, leaving her certain it was just a side effect of the nightmare. She'd been tracking the girl's heart rhythms carefully, afraid of serious damage from the after effects of the Goa'uld bomb. "But, Cassandra, if there's anything I can do, you only have to tell me what it is."
Still shaking her head back and forth, Cassie forced the words out. "I can't. You weren't there ... you can't help me." She turned away from Janet, yanking the covers up over her shoulders as she curled into the mattress. "Only Sam can help."
Helpless to do any more, Janet stayed where she was, flicking out the bedside lamp as she continued petting the child's hair in hopes of offering some tiny degree of solace. She was still sitting there what seemed like hours later when the small body finally relaxed into a fitful sleep. Sighing softly, her own body exhausted beyond measure after too many long days and sleepless nights, she stayed where she was for fear of waking Cassandra in getting up. A wry smile twisted her lips. At least any erotic dreams about Sam had become a moot issue, since she'd been too tired to dream on the rare occasion she'd gotten more than a few hours of sleep. As for any obsession, since she'd hardly even seen the other woman in the last couple of weeks, that too seemed like a thing of the past ... which was something of a relief. Things had been getting far too dangerous on that front, and the last thing she needed was one more stress in her life.
Janet shifted into a marginally more comfortable position, afraid to move more than a few inches, before finally drifting off into an uncomfortable slumber of her own, one arm draped across the back of the fold out couch, her head pillowed on her own shoulder.
Still propped in the same uncomfortable position, she carefully eased off the bed when she heard the muffled sound of the phone some hours later, not wanting to waken the sleeping child if possible. Cassandra never stirred. And Janet hurried out, noting that the first pale rays of dawn were slipping through her bedroom curtains as she answered the phone. "Fraiser, here," she said through a yawn. No one but the SGC was likely to be calling at that time of the morning.
"Doctor," General Hammond's familiar drawl came back almost instantly. "I'm afraid you're needed back here. SG-1's latest mission has run into a slight snag."
Now, there was a surprise. An SG-1 mission not going quite as planned. Her stomach knotted with worry, she resisted the urge to make some kind of sarcastic remark to that effect. "How bad is it?"
"They notified us they'll be bringing survivors back from P3X-7763 ... and apparently there are injuries. I've already sent someone out to look after Cassandra. They should be there by the time you're ready to leave." Knowing her work schedule would cause problems, the general had assigned several med-techs to act as Cassandra's babysitters on a rotating basis.
"Thank you, sir," she said, throwing off the last bit of sleepiness and grabbing for a uniform. "I'll be there asap..."
* * * * * *
Janet arrived in the infirmary to find it full of aliens courtesy of SG-1's latest rescue efforts. She supposed she ought to be grateful they at least appeared more or less human and weren't hissing, making sucking sounds, or doing anything else too disgusting. Her medical team was already hard at work looking after their newest patients, while two doctors were checking the returning SG team.
Caught on a world being torn apart by volcanic activity, the aliens had been remarkably lucky and were suffering from little more than smoke inhalation and a few minor burns. Leaning over her latest patient, Janet carefully studied the faint burns on the woman's hand, then carefully tugged her sleeve back, noting the way the flesh was protected anywhere the fabric had covered it. A frown creased her brow as she rubbed her thumb lightly against the lightweight cloth, trying to get a feel for what it might be made of. It had a polished sheen on one side, but the other reminded her of felt.
"We still haven't had any luck cutting it or opening the front closure," a nurse commented from just over her shoulder.
Janet nodded, accepting a handful of printouts from the woman -- preliminary test results -- as she continued studying the patient. "Thank god there were no internal injuries," she whispered, squelching a tiny shudder of horror at the notion of watching someone die because she couldn't figure out a way through their clothes.
The nurse nodded, then continued, "And I thought you'd want to know that Hawkins and Warner are finished with SG-1."
Fraiser glanced back over her shoulder, worry flickering in her eyes even though she'd checked on them the instant she'd arrived and been assured by her staff there were no serious injuries among the team members. She hated not being able to look after her people personally. "Status?"
The nurse shook her head. "They were released with no followup ordered." Which meant neither Warner nor Hawkins felt there was any problem.
"Yeah, we seem to be pretty indestructible," a wry voice commented and the doctor spun to find Sam Carter smiling down at her.
A palpable wave of relief sliding through her, Janet returned Sam's smile with one of her own. Things had been so insane since Cassandra's arrival that they'd hardly seen each other. As she met the other woman's gaze, it struck her how much she'd missed the easy camaraderie. Among other things, a tiny, traitorous voice whispered in her ear. "So, you're okay?" she questioned as she shook off her the brief reminder of things she would have preferred to forget. Her gaze slid over the captain's lean frame, automatically hunting for any sign of injury despite the nurse's assurances. She knew the other doctors were thorough and wouldn't have released the team if they weren't certain they were fine, but she needed to be certain.
Carter nodded. "Got one or two minor burns and a couple of bumps and bruises, but nothing to worry about," she assured the doctor, knowing how protective she was of those in her care. She nodded to indicate the myriad of alien patients taking up beds in the common room. "How are they doing?"
Fraiser glanced around, automatically assessing the readouts on various monitors. "Some smoke inhalation and a few comparatively minor burns, but nothing life threatening." She shook her head. "Which is pretty amazing considering what you relayed about the conditions you found them in." She looked up at Sam. "Those suits they're wearing must be some kind of protective gear ... though they're lighter than anything I've ever seen for that purpose."
Sam's curious look said it all. She couldn't resist anything that promised some kind of scientific advance or technological challenge. "Any idea what they're made of?"
The doctor shook her head. "We haven't found anything that will cut the stuff and can't figure out a way to open what appears to be a front closure." She made a small, frustrated sound in the back of her throat, every bit as fascinated as Sam, and annoyed that she couldn't find a way to get more information. "I can tell you that if you pull their sleeves back, the flesh is as pink and undamaged as you could ask for about an inch back."
"They were buried in volcanic ash," Sam whispered in amazement, her curiosity fully engaged by the notion of something that could protect the wearer that completely from the devastation she'd seen. She'd expected to hear about serious, even life threatening, burns.
"Yeah," Fraiser said, "which means those things are a lot more efficient and tougher than anything we've got. Now if I can just figure out a way to get a sample of the fabric under a microscope."
Sam let out a low whistle, impressed by what she was hearing. "Let me know what you find out," she said unnecessarily. She knew the other woman would keep her up to speed on anything like that. "Well, I should get back to the control room," she added after a short beat. "We're going to try and use a UAV to monitor conditions on the planet...." She paused momentarily. "Unless there's something else you need from me."
Suddenly remembering Cassandra's nightmares, Janet nodded, tamping down a momentary burst of annoyance as it occurred to her that she'd already dropped several emails in Sam's box over the last several days. Probably wasn't picking up her messages, she realized. Such mundane matters often slipped Carter's mind when she was so focused on her job. "Actually--"
"You will remove your hands!" The angry shout rose above the normal white noise of the infirmary.
Janet spun as one of her patients, a hawk-faced man whose expression was twisted into a furious scowl, pushed upright on one elbow, peeling his oxygen mask off as he yanked his arm back from a nurse's touch. "Hey!" the doctor snapped sharply as she hurried over, her voice instantly dropping back to its normal, soothing timbre. "She's just trying to help you."
Her patient tried to push upright, but still suffering from smoke inhalation, was too weak to resist the firm hand Fraiser rested on his chest to ease him back down onto the narrow mattress. "Where are we?" he demanded furiously.
Casting a glance at the monitors showing his vitals, she kept her voice low and confident. "You're in the SGC infirmary ... where you were brought when you were found injured near the Stargate," she explained simply. "And right now, you need to stay calm and keep breathing that oxygen you just tore off." She reached for the mask, but he caught her wrist in a tight hold, his grip punishing enough to make her wince.
"You will not get any secrets out of me," he hissed, his eyes glinting with the kind of anger that invariably came from fear.
"Then it's a good thing I'm not trying to," the doctor drawled calmly, well aware that Carter and Martinez both tensed, ready to step in if there was a problem. And if that happened, her patient would get the worst of it. She held her free hand up, gesturing for them to stay back and let her handle the situation. "I'm a doctor," she said softly, her expression deadly serious as she twisted her wrist in his hold without managing to pull it free, "and my only interest is your health." Not entirely true, but close enough. "Now, kindly let go."
He opened his hand, freeing her hand with a glare even as his shoulders shook with a barely contained cough as he struggled for air. "We will give you no technology."
"Fine," she clipped, feeling her temper fray in response to the manhandling. Normally, she wasn't one to let such things get to her, but she was already too tired and too overstressed to handle it as well as usual. She nodded to indicate the oxygen mask. "But that's just oxygen ... which you need," she stressed heavily, "since you've got a nasty case of smoke inhalation."
He spent a moment interrogating her, demanding to know what was in the oxygen feed, until finally, she held the mask up to her own face, hoping they weren't susceptible to any germs or microbes she might be carrying -- or vice versa -- to demonstrate that it wasn't anything threatening. He finally allowed her to replace the mask, but his hostile gaze followed her as she rechecked his vitals and took the time to make certain he hadn't done any additional damage before straightening and stepping back a pace.
"Doctor?" Daniel Jackson's voice reached her while she was still watching her patient.
She did a sharp pivot, staring at the Egyptologist in surprise before glancing past his shoulder in search of Carter, only to find her missing, though someone had doubled the standing guard in the infirmary. "Sam?" she questioned.
He shook his head apologetically, sensing that it wasn't him she would have preferred to speak to. "She had to get to a meeting, but she ordered more guards," he said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the additional airmen on duty. "She said you needed help here?" his voice lifted in question at the end as he saw flicker of irritation cross her face. "And I wanted to see if I could talk to our guests anyway," he added hopefully.
"There's something I need to discuss with her ... but it's not work related," Janet muttered, more to herself than him, then looked up, noting his expression. She nodded in understanding, knowing that they needed to gather any information they could. "Stay out of the nurses' way and be careful." She gestured at the man who'd grabbed her wrist. "Some of them are floating in and out of consciousness, but that one showed some aggressive tendencies. Nothing serious, but keep an eye out." The warning was a pointed one. Daniel Jackson was a brilliant man in his field, but he sometimes got so excited about new cultural details that he lost track of what was going on around him. The last thing she wanted was to have to quell some kind of incident in the infirmary.
He nodded in understanding, moving away to speak to their guests where possible, while Janet turned her focus to the printouts the nurse had brought her several minutes before, glancing through the results. She shook herself after a beat as it occurred to her that her mind was still on Cassandra and her frustration with not getting a chance to let Sam know how much worse things had become since she'd last seen the child.
Then another of the aliens started haranguing Daniel for asking questions, insisting he wouldn't get any information, and she found herself stepping in to calm the situation. She'd just gotten that problem under control when another incident erupted involving one of her nurses.
Things just went downhill from there, until it occurred to Janet that if she never heard the word 'primitive' again, it would still be too damn soon.
By the time she found a few minutes of free time to call Cassandra's babysitter and warn the young woman she probably wasn't going to be home that night, several hours had passed. They now knew their visitors were called the Tollan ... and they were none too thrilled with having been rescued.
Massaging an ache in her shoulder as she spoke on the phone, Janet also warned the young medic about the probability of another round of nightmares. Then, with Cass' situation fresh on her mind, she dropped Sam another memo in email, asking her to please drop by as soon as possible. Maybe this one would get through, though with the scientifically advanced Tollan in residence, she had her doubts. Resolved to catch the other woman in person and have a serious discussion -- or maybe just dissolve into exhausted begging -- as soon as possible, she jotted a note to herself, braced herself to put up with a fresh round of insults from their guests, then went to check on her patients.
* * * * * *
More hours later than she cared to contemplate, Janet was hurrying through a corridor on her way to pick up another round of tests when she looked up and caught sight of a familiar cap of pale gold hair. "Sam, wait!" she called out, hoping she had time for at least a brief discussion of Cassie's problems.
The blond did a sharp turn, breaking away from the man she was talking to.
Janet stiffened ever so slightly as she recognized him as one of the Tollan. Technically, they were still in her care, though she'd taken them off quarantine an hour or two before. Still, she wasn't expecting to find one out of the infirmary -- with Sam -- apparently chatting happily away. He actually had a smile on his face, something she'd doubted they were even capable of. "I'm sorry, I didn't realize..." she exhaled, trailing to a halt as she saw the Tollan's eyes slide over Sam appreciatively when she wasn't looking. She suddenly found herself wondering if it was looks, brains, or some kind of super-pheromones that seemed to ensnare everyone who got within ten feet of her friend. Then Sam glanced back at him, and Janet thought she saw a flicker of interest in her expression as well, though the Tollan's expression seemed to clear for the instant she was looking his way. Startled by a sudden rush of jealousy that abruptly turned her stomach into tightly wound knots, she couldn't think for a moment. "...that you were speaking to someone," she finished lamely, well aware of the gap in her words. As Sam turned back to face her, Janet caught his continued perusal of her friend. By the look of it he was interested in doing a lot more than just talking.
"Is there something you needed?" Sam asked, her tone courteous but distant, her head clearly somewhere else. Doubtless on whatever scientific insights she was hoping to gain from the aliens, Janet thought, remembering the other woman's clear interest in what she'd seen in the infirmary.
Janet cast a speculative gaze toward the Tollan. Or maybe it was something else she'd seen in the infirmary that had caught her interest. By the look of it, he was open to the idea-- She cut that thought off right there. Getting catty, even if only in her head, wasn't going to help anything ... and it was a luxury she couldn't afford. Sam was her friend, and she couldn't allow herself to think of her as anything else. And doubtless she was just being polite and trying to learn everything possible from the Tollan while she had an opportunity.
She was realistic enough to be well aware that if there was a way to Samantha Carter's heart, it lay through the scientific grey matter in her brain ... something the technologically advanced Tollan would be all too well-equipped to handle. She abruptly realized Sam was still waiting. "I.... It's nothing work related," she said at last and made a random gesture with one hand. She glanced at the Tollan again, noting the way he was listening in, clearly interested in the more personal discussion and felt a shiver slide down her spine as he cast a speculative look her way. Suddenly uncomfortable discussing her private life in front of the alien, she found herself pulling back from the subject. "Just Cassandra ... I ... uh ... I need to talk to you about some problems she's having."
That at least seemed to yank Sam into the present. "Is there some problem with the naquada and potassium?" They'd been tracking the progress of the reabsorption carefully, since shifting potassium levels could endanger her heart, and there was always a fear of the bomb in her chest somehow being reactivated.
"No," Janet answered instantly, not wanting to mislead Sam that it was anything that severe. "It's nothing physical. It's just that--"
"Cass is a child we rescued from a world where the Goa'uld had spread a biological contaminant," Sam explained to their guest without seeming to notice she'd interrupted Janet. "The Goa'uld actually created a bomb in her chest with naquada and potassium leached out of her own bloodstream." She shook her head in disbelief. "It was designed so that they'd make contact and explode if she stepped back through the gate after we brought her here."
His look was appropriately sympathetic, though something about it set Janet's teeth on edge ... maybe the fact that she had a sense it was more about impressing Sam than genuine emotion. It occurred to her that she was being unfair even as the thought crossed her mind. He turned a speculative look her way when Sam wasn't looking, something about it making her uneasy.
Sam abruptly seemed to realize that she'd cut her friend off, and looked over. "You said there's a problem?" she said, brows raised in question, though she was still bouncing on her heels, clearly eager to get back to questioning the Tollan and trying to glean anything she could from his answers.
Janet swallowed the urge to say something, and shook her head. Clearly, now wasn't the time to try and get Carter's attention on anything but whatever high-flying theories were running through her brain. And she suddenly felt vaguely silly about distracting the other woman from more serious duties because of a child's nightmares ... or maybe she just wasn't feeling up to dealing with -- she looked back and forth between the two of them -- whatever. "It's not an emergency," she said at last. The problem was getting worse, but it was still marginally under control, and she wanted to discuss things with Sam when they could go over problem in some depth, and she could be assured the blond was actually paying attention. "But I do need to talk to you as soon as you have some time."
"Sure," Sam said quickly, then frowned. "I'm kind of busy the next few days." She glanced at her watch. "But hopefully once we've figured out what the Tollan are doing, I can free up some time on my schedule." She looked up at her friend then, and smiled the slightly blank smile she got when she wasn't really tracking, and was primarily trying to placate someone so she could get back to what really interested her. "Is it okay if I give you a call then?"
A little of her desperation sneaking through in spite of her efforts to keep it buried, Janet nodded. "As soon as possible, okay. Cass really would like to see you."
"As soon as I can," Sam promised, her mind already back on the scientific wonders offered by the Tollan now that she'd been assured there wasn't a disaster she needed to focus on.
"She really wants to see you," Janet repeated, hoping that somehow that would get the point through.
Carter glanced at her watch again. "I will, I promise," she said quickly, momentarily snapping out of her own thoughts to offer her friend an encouraging smile. She glanced back at the Tollan, her brain already drifting off once again. "But right now, I really need to go."
"Right," Janet exhaled heavily, startled to feel herself cut out of the loop by her friend in a way she never had before.
Sam said a quick goodbye, leaving Janet uncomfortably aware of her own rising tide of resentment, uncertain exactly what it was that had her so upset ... or maybe dangerously certain. Neither answer was terribly comforting, and she turned, intent on hurrying back to the safety of the infirmary, only to barrel straight into a solid wall of humanity. Strong hands caught her before she could topple over backward, and she looked up into Teal'c's face.
Dark eyes flicked down to touch on her, then lifted to track the captain just before she rounded a corner with their guest. "You are unhurt?" he questioned, his voice taking on a slightly odd timbre, leaving her uncertain whether he was simply asking about their collision.
"I'm fine," she assured him as he set her back on her feet, and she stepped back a pace, craning her neck to peer up at the big man.
His head canted to one side ever so slightly. "You appear tired," he said without preamble, his oddly gentle tone reminding her that she hadn't slept a full night through in days.
She massaged the back of her neck, suddenly conscious of the threat of spasm tightening the muscles that ran from her neck into her shoulder. "Just a little overworked."
A flickering hint of a frown crossed his features. "You have not had a self-defense class in several days. Perhaps it would help alleviate some of your obvious stress."
Strangely enough, Janet suspected it would. She'd found the workouts often left her feeling surprisingly energetic despite the physical demands. Unfortunately, her sparring partner had last been seen making cow eyes at an alien Einstein only minutes before. "Sam's busy," she said simply. "And I'm only on a short break." In truth, she was probably looking at a couple of days without more than an hour or two off ... possibly without even sleeping. The joys of the job.
His head canted a little farther to the side. "Actually, the invitation was not to spar with Captain Carter. You have been improving and are ready for additional types of training."
Suddenly, her problems with Sam vanished into the background. Remembering the last time she'd sparred with Teal'c, Janet felt the mild twitch in her neck threaten to turn into a full bore spasm, the likes of which even she seldom experienced.
"And as I have promised to work with Daniel Jackson, perhaps you would like to attend. It will be a much needed challenge."
Daniel? Janet's jaw dropped and her mouth hung open for a brief second. True, the Egyptologist was taller than she was, and more muscular than one might expect, but ... well ... he wasn't exactly.... She tried to think of a polite way of expressing it, but couldn't come up with one. At last she admitted, "I ... um ... I guess that could be something of a challenge...." she said a little hesitantly. "I mean, it's not like I've ever sparred with him before."
"You mistake my intention," Teal'c said firmly. "It is not you I feel will be challenged, but rather Daniel Jackson." One eyebrow rose. "You are ready for some training duties. It is a traditional part of a Jaffa's learning process."
He clamped a firm hand on her shoulder. "And you are in need of distraction," he added as he hurried her along.
Janet couldn't really argue that comment. And even if she could have, he didn't give her the chance.
* * * * * *
Riding toward the checkpoint to the surface in an elevator, Sam leaned back against the wall, well aware of her guest's careful perusal as well as the armed security guards standing off to one side, their expressions professionally disinterested.
"The woman in the hallway," he said carefully, his tone no more than politely curious, "she is your friend?"
Sam nodded quickly, ignoring a flicker of guilt that slid through her as it occurred to her that she'd been a bit abrupt with the other woman. "That's Doctor Fraiser," she explained quietly, thinking of the other woman. They'd hardly seen each other since Cass' arrival; too much work, too little time, the odd disaster, and a hectic gate schedule making things difficult. Thankfully, she could be certain Cass was safe so long as she was with the other woman, which released her from some of the worries she might have otherwise had about the child's situation. "She's in charge of the infirmary and has been overseeing your medical treatment," she added, suddenly hesitant to let anything more personal slip ... but uncertain whether it was his interest or the listening guards that had her edgy.
He nodded his understanding. "She's very beautiful," he commented in that same, ultra-soft way he'd used so far, his tone leaving her uncertain whether it was a declaration of interest, an insinuation, or simply a practical observation.
Feeling a hint of heat on her cheeks as his words brought up a sudden flash of memory; the feel of velvety skin under her fingers when she'd stood behind the other woman on Routtua, well aware that they might be permanently trapped behind very high walls with no one but each other to rely on, the faint contact a comfort for both of them. She flicked a quick look at the guards, who still wore the exact same, bland expressions, though she was comfortably certain they were listening a bit more closely now. "I ... uh ... guess," she murmured uncertainly, trying to sound as though it wasn't the sort of thing she'd notice, even though she'd recognized the other woman's beauty almost from the first moment she laid eyes on her, and still felt that faint, traitorous desire for more contact that was so painfully dangerous, no matter how innocent it might be. And maybe it wasn't just work that had kept her away, a tiny voice whispered in her ear. Something had changed on Routtua, if she was honest. Sam didn't pretend to understand it -- or maybe she just didn't want to understand it -- but it scared the hell out of her. And Cass' addition to the mix had only deepened that fear, offering a tempting notion of hearth and home that Sam had lost from her own family far too many years before, but which she missed more than she usually cared to consider.
"And are all women on your world as beautiful as yourself and Doctor Fraiser?" Narim questioned, interrupting the disturbing train of thought.
Which was something of a relief as far as Sam was concerned. There were some subjects she'd just as soon avoid at all costs. She had a twitchy thought that she'd spent a lot of her life avoiding all sorts of thoughts, but she managed to avoid thinking about that as well since Narim was staring at her expectantly. Caught flat-footed by the question, she didn't know how to respond, her natural humility suddenly at war with the side of her that was pleased by the compliment, and relieved to have him showing such a comfortingly safe kind of interest. She offered a faint, embarrassed smile. "I'm pretty average actually," she mumbled, dismissing the compliment off with a quick wave.
"I sincerely doubt that," he murmured, his voice dropping a tiny notch lower as he watched her appreciatively, the attention making Sam aware of how long it had been since she'd had that kind of ego-flattering attention from a man who shared the same interests and could actually understand everything she was talking about.
Pushing any thoughts of her friend out of her head, determined to enjoy herself and learn as much as possible, Sam offered a smile that was only slightly forced. Then he changed the subject, asking her a question about their history. As she spoke, he offered a few comments, giving her several subtle insights that she though might apply to her research, and she soon found herself involved in the discussion. As she lost herself in the high flying theories, she no longer had to force her smiles.
* * * * * *
As Janet stumbled out of the workout session with Teal'c and Daniel, it occurred to her throwing Daniel Jackson to the mat time after time had done nothing to release any of her inner tensions. Actually, if anything, it had somehow made them even worse. She just couldn't throw off a grim sense of frustration with Cassie's nightmares, afraid they were going to do nothing but get worse if she didn't figure out what the underlying problem was.
Then she had to put her personal problems on the back burner as she found herself once again treating the uncommunicative and surly Tollans, unable to help but compare their behavior with her with the one she'd seen with Sam in the hallway. She pushed that thought down with fierce determination as she felt a fresh surge of jealousy in the pit of her belly. Throwing up a solid wall of denial, she pasted an emotionless expression on her face, straightened her shoulders, and reined in her temper with a firm hand as she readied herself to face a fresh round of borderline insults from their leader when she tried to check his condition.
When the final test results came in, she wasn't in the least bit disappointed to discover the Tollan were completely human -- albeit rude humans -- or that their injuries no longer required they remain in the infirmary. She couldn't help but take a certain pleasure from notifying the general they could be moved to other quarters as soon as he wanted. Hopefully, it would happen quickly.
By the time she'd finished with her patients, seen to another round of duties, tests, meetings, and assorted business, it was well past midnight. Stumbling back into her office, Janet sank down in her desk chair just as the phone rang. It was Cass' latest babysitter, wanting her to know the girl had had another round of violent nightmares. After getting the details, and calming the young medic, the doctor quietly got up, locked her door, drew the blinds, sat down, and allowed herself a good cry.
* * * * * *
"I...uh ... it goes like this," Daniel Jackson told the Tollan leader, Omoc, reaching out to show the man how to make the bunk as he helped the aliens move into an area set aside for their use. He winced as his shoulder twinged, surprised to find himself still stiff from the workout session Teal'c had insisted on. That was definitely going to be the last one of those he put up with if he could possibly help it. Amazing just how much damage one small woman could do with a little Jaffa training and a bad mood. He strongly suspected he'd paid the bill for the Tollan's rudeness to the medical staff.
Omoc paid the Egyptologist little heed, his attention directed elsewhere, his habitual scowl deepening.
Following the line of the other man's gaze, Daniel frowned as he noted the Tollan was glaring at Sam where she was talking to another of their guests, clearly helping him with his bunk. He glanced back and forth a time or two, noting the way the other Tollan, Narim, glanced uneasily their way, and the way Omoc's frown deepened. No, he realized suddenly, Omoc wasn't glaring at Sam, he was glaring at his own man, his expression every bit as disapproving as it had been when he'd been speaking to any of the SGC staff. "I ... uh ... problem?" he asked, trying to sound no more than mildly curious without much success.
The Tollan's gaze swung his direction, eyes narrowing down to little more than hostile slits. "You are the one who encouraged this..." his lip curled with disapproval, "...flirtation."
Daniel hid a wince, glancing back toward Sam and other Tollan just in time to see the way Narim ducked down behind the faint privacy of one of the barriers set up for that purpose, his expression suspiciously guilty looking. "Flirtation?" he exhaled uneasily. Well, technically, he supposed he had and it was, but he wasn't too crazy about the notion of looking at it quite that way. That made it sound like he'd purposely used Sam's sexual appeal -- which if he was honest, he had -- in a way that made him a little queasy. "I don't think that's quite--"
"If you are thinking that her appeal will draw secrets out of Narim," Omoc cut him off, his tone impatient, "then you should be aware that our laws forbid any such romantic pursuits ... just as they forbid pursuing a child or a subordinate."
Daniel flashed a glance toward Narim's cot. He realized that Omoc had noticed his doubtful look by the way the older man's expression darkened another notch. "Sam's no child," the Egyptologist felt the need to remind the other man. Yes, there was clearly a huge difference in the technological advances of their respective societies, but he failed to see why that should have anything to do with the discussion. After all, Sha're had been from a primitive society by his own standards and he'd never had any doubt that she was fully in control of her position in their relationship.
"Not by your standards," Omoc ground out, "but to us, you are all children in your passions and drives ... your impulsiveness and greed." A muscle ticked in his jaw and his eyes narrowed faintly as he continued to stare in his subordinate's direction. "And while, Narim may flout our laws somewhat, he will give you nothing of value. He's little more than a low-level technician." The Tollan looked at Daniel then, worry driving some of his near-hostility. "In truth, you endanger yourselves -- and your colleague -- more than anyone else." Molars grinding, he turned to glare at his cot, frustrated by the confusing array of primitive comforts, as though they were at fault for the present situation.
"Wait a minute," Daniel hissed sharply. "What the hell do mean, endanger my colleague?" he demanded. "If he hurts her in any--"
"I do not mean he will harm intentionally," Omoc ground out as though the very idea was impossible, then looked at Daniel again, his own distrust and fear at war with his sense of responsibility for his people's actions. "Only that he is ... immature ... and because of that ... primitives ... hold great appeal for him." Again, his lip curled in an expression of distaste. "You would be wisest to dissuade her from responding to his pursuit."
Daniel glanced back toward Sam, suddenly wondering what the hell he'd gotten her into. "I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do about it," he admitted at last. "I mean, Sam's an adult."
Omoc fixed a hard gaze on the young man. "Not compared to one of us," he said flatly. "And Narim would find her inexperience as well as his ability to impress her with the slightest knowledge, a heady attraction. That she is a beautiful woman is only part of her appeal ... and there are ways...." Again, the muscle pulsed in his jaw, leaving Daniel to wonder if there was something he should know. He drew breath to ask when Omoc suddenly shook his head in dismissal. "I've already said more than I should," he bit out, cutting off any line of inquiry. "If you are so greedy for information that you would use one of your own in this way, there's little I can do about it." His look hardened. "But be assured, you will get no useful information out of it." Then he turned away, his posture utterly forbidding.
Sighing softly, Daniel ran a hand over his hair, barely resisting the urge to either react defensively or demand more information. "Look, believe it or not, we're just trying to help your people and do what's right here," he said at last.
Omoc simply ignored Daniel until he finally gave up and slipped out.
* * * * * *
It was a cool afternoon, slightly overcast, but not enough to portend any real threat of rain. The grass was thick, a light breeze just enough to waft the scents of spring, the shadows long as day trailed into sunset. Janet Fraiser stood on her back porch, a tender smile touching her mouth as she watched Cass rough-housing, albeit in a very gentle way, with the puppy Colonel O'Neill had given her. She took another sip from the cup of coffee in hand -- the flavor so thick and strong, even the fumes would be enough to keep most people awake at night -- then glanced over at the man in question, her expression wry. "I should probably shoot you for the dog," she sighed.
He offered a lopsided grin. "Hey, every kid's gotta have a dog."
Janet rolled her eyes, her expression somewhere between fond and annoyed. "So I heard." One eyebrow shot up. "You had to tell her it was a law?" The Tollans had been released from the infirmary and moved into guest quarters, so Hammond had told her to get some time off, though she'd had the oddest impression he might have some other reason for allowing her to leave. Still, after close to thirty-six hours on base, she wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. And then the colonel had appeared on her doorstep only a few minutes after she'd arrived, an extra bag of puppy food and a couple of large feeding bowls in hand, insisting he just had them lying around, though she strongly suspected it was just an excuse to check on how Cass was faring with her new pet. Or maybe it was just because he needed a break from things at the SGC. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. It was hard to tell with O'Neill sometimes. He covered so many of his real feelings with jokes and sarcasm that she didn't always read him very well. Ironic really, since she oftendid the exact same thing.
He shrugged, and took a hesitant swallow from his cup. He liked his coffee strong, but Fraiser's road tar was a bit much for his tastes. He'd already added as much milk as the cup would hold, and it was still enough to get his attention. "Well, it oughta be," he said a little defensively, then sighed. "I probably shoulda cleared it with you," he admitted, "though I didn't realize you were the one she was going home with at the time." A hint of frown touched his expression and he took another swallow of coffee. "Actually, I kinda figured it would be Carter." He offered another small shrug.
Ignoring the tiny bolt of pain his words sent through her, Janet gained a moment by taking another sip from her coffee cup. "Well, Cass would certainly prefer it that way," she sighed at last. "If she were with Sam, I mean."
A frowning darkening his brow, O'Neill looked askance at her. "Problem?"
Janet made a small gesture toward the playing child, some of her frustrations coming out despite her best efforts. "Nightmares.... Not surprisingly, really, considering what she went through, but she just wants Sam." He waited for her to continue. Janet stared down at her own foot as she idly ran the toe of her shoe through the dirt, creating random patterns in the soft earth. "I can't seem to do anything for her," she admitted, her own sense of helplessness thickening her voice.
"Has Carter been around to help at all?" he questioned.
She slanted a look his way. "You know how much SG-1 has been around since Cass arrived," she said by way of answer. "And now with the Tollan here...." She trailed off for a brief second while she composed her thoughts. "Well, she's distracted to say the least." She tried to keep the bitterness out of her voice, though she was less than certain she succeeded. The fact that Sam still hadn't responded to any of her emails or dropped by to see what she'd been so worried about grated badly on her frayed nerves.
"Yeah," Jack said softly, his tone oddly understanding. "Hand Carter the chance at that much scientific stuff and she does go pretty weak in the knees."
A muscle clenched in Janet's jaw at the unintentionally suggestive remark-- at least she assumed it was unintentionally suggestive -- unless of course, he knew something she didn't. She pushed the admittedly inappropriate rush of jealousy down ... mostly. "Right ... weak in the knees," she said very softly.
His brows drew together in a speculative line as he glanced over at her. "Must feel a little like you're the mom and she's the kid the puppy followed home," he commented at last, continuing when she looked at him a little askance, "Y'know, 'Mom, it followed me home. Can I keep it? I'll water it and walk it, and take care of it,' then mom winds up doing all the work."
Janet sighed softly. Unfortunately, there was a disturbing level of truth to his words. Still, she felt the need to defend her friend. "It's not like that, sir," she insisted, though she didn't manage to sound nearly as confident as she would have liked.
It was obvious from O'Neill's expression that he heard the slight hesitancy in her voice, though she was surprised when he didn't have a sarcastic crack ready. Instead, he just offered a quiet opinion. "Raising a kid isn't a simple job." He squinted and shaded his eyes from the glare caused as the sun dipped below the horizon, smiling at the antics of the child and her pup. "Even one who's never faced a trauma bigger than accidentally getting stuck with a diaper pin takes all you've got." He looked at her fully, the understanding in his eyes making her feel a little less alone. "It's a hell of a lot more than playing with them when you have the spare time." There was a wealth of knowledge in his voice, his tone made all the more poignant by the reality of his own loss. One mistake had cost him everything.
Janet didn't know what to say for a moment, suddenly understanding him far better than she had before. "Sir, I...." She still didn't know what to say and trailed off.
He saw the look in her eyes, correctly interpreting the sympathy she felt incapable of expressing properly and something flickered deep in his eyes. "Carter's set her heart on your adopting Cass," he told her as he looked back out at the girl and her new pet. "She's convinced herself it's pretty much a done deal."
Janet flinched as though struck. Sam hadn't put it in words, but she'd already guessed as much.
"Adopting a kid," O'Neill lectured, still using that same, low, practical voice, "is for life. They aren't toys you can put back on a shelf when you don't have time for 'em."
For a moment her eyes were a window to her emotions. "I know that, sir," she felt the need to assure him.
"Doesn't take long to start feelin' like a parent though." He swallowed hard, fighting the tightness in his throat to add, "I felt that way the first time they put Charlie in my arms."
Fraiser looked down abruptly, her expression disappearing behind emotional shutters, oddly afraid to let him see too much and well aware it was impossible to offer any real comfort for a loss that great.
"You feelin' that way, Doc?"
"She hasn't bonded to me at all," Janet said by way of answer. "She tolerates me because she has to, but I think she resents me at some level. Maybe she thinks Sam would have taken her if I hadn't," which was doubtful at best, since Sam didn't even have time for the responsibilities she already had. "She won't tell me what's going on ... and certainly doesn't trust me." She sighed softly. "I can't even blame her. The nightmares keep getting worse and I don't know how to help her." She'd never felt so damned useless in her life.
He was watching her carefully. "Carter know how rough things have gotten?"
"SG-1's been so busy the last couple of weeks ... the last time she was here, it wasn't nearly this bad ... but...." She shrugged, her expression distant as she strove not to sound hurt or bitter that Sam hadn't followed up on things, amazed to find his gentle questioning breaking down the denial she'd managed to keep in place even for herself. "I tried to let her know it's been getting worse, but she hasn't been checking her email and, as you said, the Tollan have her weak in the knees." His brows rose. Clearly he'd heard the flicker of jealousy she was trying so hard to keep hidden. Janet tried to cover the slip. "She was with one of the Tollan and didn't really have time to talk when I saw her yesterday," she added, hoping he'd assume it was simply her frustration with Cassandra's situation that put the extra edge in her tone.
A muscle pulsed in Jack's jaw. "Narim," he said in a tone that made her aware she wasn't the only one with issues. Which only added to her issues, if she was honest. Even though she was comfortably certain Sam wasn't even faintly interested in the colonel, the fact that he was apparently interested in her made things ... odd.
"She didn't introduce him," Janet sighed after a beat.
O'Neill continued watching Cass play, a faint smile touching his mouth as she tumbled to the grass and was enveloped in affectionate dog slobber. He looked back at Janet, the knowledge of what it cost to raise a child in his eyes. "You ready to raise that kid on your own, Doc?" he asked frankly. "Cos, like it or not, that's what it comes down to. You adopt her and you're the one who's responsible ... and you can't rely on anyone else to be there. Great if they are, but don't count on it."
She swallowed hard, startled to hear her own fears so neatly put. "It's not so much whether or not I'm ready," she said at last, deflecting the question, "as what's best for Cassandra." Though a big part of that question involved her very serious worries that she was in no way prepared for parenthood. Her hours were almost as bad as Sam's -- sometimes even worse -- she didn't know a thing about kids, and the odd alien seemed to enjoy sending the occasional potshot her way, making her position not the safest in the world, even if it wasn't quite as dangerous as an SG team member's. She gnawed on her lower lip, her expression dark with worry. "What if someone else can do more for her than I can?" Which seemed like a very strong probability, all things considered. She shrugged. "It's not fair to put her in a situation where she's not happy and not getting the best care possible on the off chance that she'll see Sam for a little while, now and then."
"Carter's not gonna handle it well if you don't keep her," the colonel pointed out.
She wished he'd tell her something she didn't know. "I know," she whispered tightly, a band tightening around her chest, making it hard to breathe. "But I accepted this responsibility and I have to do what I feel is right for Cassandra...not Sam." Even if that meant going against what Sam wanted, and risking the loss of her friendship in the doing. And, boy, oh boy, wasn't that a cheerful thought? Her week just kept getting better and better all the time.
"And for you?" he asked quietly. "You're a young woman. Tying yourself to a kid with some pretty serious problems has to be an intimidating idea. I mean, what happens if you decide to have a couple of your own somewhere down the road?"
A frown flickered across her expression as she realized what he was trying to figure out, which made his comment all the more ironic all things considered. "Not likely, sir," she said, her tone cool enough that he should have gotten the hint that she didn't welcome further inquiry on the subject.
Except Jack O'Neill wasn't one to get a hint when it was applied with anything less than a two by four. "I know you may not have a candidate in the wings, but life has a way of making those decisions for a person. I know when I met Sarah, I certainly wasn't--"
"It's not an option, sir ... candidate or no," she snapped without considering her words, just wanting to shut him up.
He blinked as he mentally pulled up short, taking a moment to analyze what she'd said and decode the meaning behind the words. He shook his head in confusion. "But Hathor's little love bug," he exhaled in the first shocked moment after he put it together, "the doc said you were ... y'know ... fertile...." The words came steadily more slowly until he completely trailed off, suddenly wishing he'd kept his mouth shut. This conversation had somehow drifted deeply off course into the 'Too Much Information Zone,' and he didn't have a clue as to how to get it back onto a more comfortable track.
Unable to contain a soft sigh, the doctor shook her head in mild annoyance. O'Neill wasn't the only one wishing they'd kept their mouth shut. "Getting pregnant is one thing," she explained as briefly as possible, "safely staying that way can be quite another."
"Oh." A moment of uncomfortable silence followed. "I'm sorry," he said at last, suddenly faced with the burden of being the one who didn't know what to say. "I didn't ... know...."
Well, of course not, she thought wryly, since it's not exactly the sort of thing one goes around announcing in crowded rooms. "In all honesty, it's not that big a deal," she felt the perverse need to reassure him ... which was one of the reasons she hated having it come out. She always found herself comforting others when they found out. "I hadn't really planned on having children anyway." Which was a whole lot more than she was even remotely comfortable discussing with a superior officer, particularly Jack O'Neill. She was certain it wouldn't go any farther -- that wouldn't be his style at all -- but it wasn't exactly the kind of thing she cared to share.
He offered a sympathetic look. "Still sorry," he said softly, not quite buying her dismissal of the subject. He studied her closely, trying to read the blank look she resolutely fixed in place. He leaned a little closer, peering deeply into her eyes, then suddenly reared back, his head canting to one side. "God, you are feeling it," he whispered as the truth hit him like a ton of bricks."Like she's yours ... and you really do figure it might be best for her if someone else takes her." He sounded oddly satisfied, as though he'd found the answer he was looking for. Implicit in his tone was a gut level understanding of just what it would cost her to make that decision.
Janet could only shrug, uncertain whether she was all that eager for him to understand her that well.
Suddenly he straightened away from the post he was leaning against as Cass and the pup both flopped down in the grass, clearly exhausted from all the hard playing. Striding over to the girl, he leaned down and slung her up in one arm, getting a happy giggle for his efforts.
Amazing how the same child could seem so happy by day and scream bloody murder by night, Janet thought with some degree of irony.
"What say I take you and Janet out for a pizza." Jack flashed a look at the doctor, his expression questioning. "Assuming it's okay?"
Perversely grateful for the distraction from more personal issues, the doctor nodded. Coming from a simple agrarian society, Cassandra had experienced some problems with acclimating to the food, but it was mostly the sweets that made her ill. Pizza had already passed the test. "Should be fine. But are you sure you've got time?" She knew things on base were a little crazy with the Tollan around.
He shrugged. "They know my cell number if they need me."
Which was exactly what Janet needed to hear, even if Jack O'Neill wasn't the person she needed to hear it from.
Then he grinned "And since Hammond doesn't even want you around...." She frowned in confusion, and he rolled his eyes. "We got a new NID liaison; creep by the name of Mayborne. He's looking to take possession of the Tollan and right now, rumor has it you still haven't released them from quarantine."
"Gee, nice of folks to let me know these things," she muttered under her breath, wondering if maybe she should just call in to find out what her latest decision had been.
He grinned and swung Cass up over one shoulder. "Hey, I just did."
"I'm supposed to be on back on duty in three hours," she said, ignoring his teasing smile as she glanced at her watch. "Does that mean I shouldn't show up?" There was a touch of hope in her voice. The break to check in on Cass had been as long as she could manage, but still far briefer than she would have preferred. She certainly wouldn't have minded a night off.
He continued swinging a giggling Cassandra back and forth and shrugged. "Sorry," he apologized with a regretful smile. "Somehow, I don't think that was the general's plan. Afraid you'll need to head back, but in the meantime, I'll see to it that you and the munchkin are fed while Daniel's hatching up any nefarious schemes."
Suddenly she understood his real reason for dropping by. "Ah hah, I'm your alibi for something." She wondered if she really wanted to know.
He shrugged. "Well, Carter can prove she's attached to a computer. The general's in a meeting and I sorta didn't have a cover story ... and it's not like I'm needed for any of the scientific mumbo jumbo." He smiled hopefully and tickled Cass' stomach, eliciting another round of giggles. "Besides, I'm hungry." He grinned at the girl hanging nearly upside down in his arms. "And I figure kids are always hungry ... and according to Carter you don't cook much ... sooooo...."
"All right, sir. I got the idea, but you're paying." If he was going to ask her to be his cover story for whatever they'd cooked up, it was the least he could do.
"There was never any question," he agreed as they headed for the door. "My mama raised me right, after all. She'd come down here and beat me if I let a woman pick up the tab."
Janet just rolled her eyes, uncertain whether to be impressed by or annoyed with his version of chivalry.
* * * * * *
She was working at a console near the control room when her name reached her ears, the sound soft and ghostlike.
Carter spun in her seat, searching the area. "Narim?" she murmured, easily recognizing the familiar voice. The Tollan were able to come and go at will, so it was no surprise if he'd slipped whatever guard Hammond had placed on his people, but she'd gotten the distinct impression Omoc didn't approve of his talking to her.
Then he stepped through a cement wall as though it wasn't there, the effect utterly amazing to her. She was still staring in awestruck silence when he spoke, "Hello."
Still shaking her head, she met his gaze. "My God, how do you do that?" It was just amazing; like watching a movie special effect, except it was happening only five feet away. Already her mind was back to trying to put the scientific particulars together. She had an idea about how it had to be done -- how they had to shift the valences between atoms to allow the relatively spacious atomic structures to somehow pass each other without making contact. She could imagine the trick, but how it was done.... That was an entirely different matter.
"Very...carefully." He chuckled softly, secretly thrilled by her obvious excitement with what wasn't even spectacular enough by his people's standards to rate as a parlor trick. He drew close, drinking her in, desire making his gaze limpid. She was stunning, her innocent fascination with his every word and even the tiniest bit of knowledge an irresistible lure. He knew Omoc would disapprove; had already clashed with his superior on the subject, but he couldn't resist the temptation to at least say goodbye, and perhaps.... He didn't finish the thought as he spoke. "I have come to say good-bye. We'll be leaving soon."
Sam swallowed hard and offered a small, regretful smile. She'd been hoping to learn more than the half spoken hints she'd gotten so far, her scientific appetite whetted by the notion of the secrets the Tollan had locked up in their heads. "So you think Daniel's plan will work?"
"Either way, I will be leaving," Narim said, his tone low and coaxing as he continued studying her. "However, I will go reluctantly."
"Why?" She frowned. Considering the way they'd been locked up and Mayborne had threatened them, she'd expected the Tollan to be eager to leave.
"Because, as of tonight, we will never meet again." For a short time he had thought it might be possible for him to stay. Among these people, even his relatively limited scientific understanding would have made him like a god, and this woman could easily have been his. He stared into her eyes, mesmerized by the rich color, flattered by the degree of respect and fascination no woman on his own world had ever shown ... and certainly no woman as important and respected among his people as Samantha Carter was among hers.
She waved the idea aside, thinking of the women she'd seen among the Tollan. They were more than pretty enough and could probably actually keep up with him in a conversation, where she often found herself floundering and struggling just to correlate the hints he dropped to what she knew. "Oh, come on. You'll forget about me in a heartbeat." She couldn't imagine anyone who considered quantum physics hopelessly simple -- not to mention incorrect -- finding her interesting for very long.
He was unsurprised by her response. He'd noticed the lack of confidence in her own appeal and abilities when they were talking. In truth, it was part of her allure. The innocence was refreshing after so many years of death and destruction on his own world. His people had been hurt too much and there was a hard-eyed practicality to most of them that she lacked. And he enjoyed the way she took his interest as such a compliment. "I thought you felt that way. That is why I brought this." He pried one of the several monitors off his sleeve and passed it over to her, knowing she wouldn't be able to resist the temptation of finding out what it did.
"What is it?" Sam studied the device with eager-eyed curiosity, enthralled by the promise of learning anything new. She'd already picked up more clues from Narim's dropped hints than she could hope to decipher any time in the near future, though she would have gratefully listened to as many more as he cared to give. There was also something reassuring about his attention and obvious interest. It had been a long time since she'd had a man pursue her, and to have an alien genius show interest when he could probably be with any of the women from his own world was a heady boost to her vanity.
"You have audio and visual recording devices, yes?" he questioned.
"Yeah," she answered without looking up, still turning the device over in her hands and studying it curiously, trying to find some hint as to its purpose.
"This one records emotions," he explained with that same, gentle, near monotone, the lack of passion oddly comforting after the men in her past. The last thing she wanted in her life was one more manipulator out to control her. "My feelings for you. I have worn it each time we were together."
Sam looked up, then back down at the device, suddenly uncertain. "How does it work?" she asked, wondering, even as the words left her mouth, if she really wanted to know. A frisson of unease slid down her spine.
"Touch the red triangle."
There were three triangles on the small screen on one end of the device. Red, green, and yellow, with red in the center. Obviously, the colors didn't have the same cultural implications on Tollana. Despite any flickering doubts, she couldn't resist the need to find out how it worked, and she pressed her thumb against the tiny red triangle, frowning up at Narim as she waited for something to happen.
"Then close your eyes," he instructed, smiling gently, the expression so mild it soothed any worries.
Blue eyes slipped closed and she waited, then suddenly felt the first flow of another person's emotions. Felt his admiration and respect flow over her; friendship, attraction, then desire, and.... The intensity nearly overwhelmed her, the need he concealed behind a passionless fašade almost intimidating. She felt it continuing to intensify, and suddenly yanked her thumb back, a little breathless for a moment. Narim was still watching her carefully, some of the heat in his eyes now, reminding her of the depth of desire that had swept over her when she'd activated the recording device. She swallowed hard, still dazed by the experience. "I don't know what to say," she stammered a little uncomfortably, confused to find her body reacting to his emotions as though they'd been her own.
"We have a custom that expresses more than words," he whispered, pressing his momentary advantage, sensing what he had from the first -- that Samantha Carter was a woman who needed to be pursued -- and ducked his head, exploring her mouth with his own, moving in while she was still a little lost in her experience of his desire.
As the kiss broke, a surge of arousal slid through her veins, though it was impossible to be certain what was his and what was her own. She didn't have a chance to consider the question as she realized he was watching her, waiting for something. He was attractive, and his gentleness made her feel safe and desired. He would never try to set himself as a god; that kind of manipulation and greed for power would be completely antithetical to his nature. Desiring him would be free of any risks, and she couldn't deny she'd enjoyed the unusual experience of spending time with someone who not only challenged, but outstripped her intellectual prowess at every level. It was intensely flattering to know someone that much smarter wanted her so much. "We have that custom too." Suddenly wanting to feel what he did, his desire offering a promise of a kind of peace and safety she'd never known, she hooked a hand behind his neck, surrendering her mouth to his as she felt his hand tighten possessively on her waist.
He pressed his kiss, exploring her mouth eagerly, and she was surprised to find the only effect was curiously ... ineffective. Rather than a sudden wave of lust and need, she only felt mildly bored, thoughts of all the things she'd been avoiding suddenly rising to the fore as if to taunt her. Probing her lack of response like it was a sore tooth she couldn't ignore, she was surprised to realize that her only emotion seemed to be a sense of ... guilt ... as though she was betraying someone else by being with him this way ... losing sight of something far more important than this momentary distraction.
She almost jerked back as an image of Janet wanting her attention in the hallway flashed in her head, and in an instant it struck her that there'd been an unusual tension in the other woman, something she either hadn't seen or had ignored; she wasn't sure which. And the question of why sent an uneasy shiver down her spine that seemed to be all too related to the tactile pleasure she'd taken in touching the other woman's bare skin even during the most innocent of shoulder massages.
It occurred to her to question what she was trying to do with Narim, but she shoved the question into the backalleys of her mind as quickly as she could, tightening her grip on his neck to escape the questions nipping at her heels.
Despite her efforts to ignore the truth, the last of her brief, borrowed bout of arousal was already draining away when Daniel's startled yelp filled the air.
"Whoops," the Egyptologist's exclamation knocked the two apart more effectively than a joy buzzer. For Sam, it was a perverse relief. "Uh, sorry," he apologized quickly as he looked at his colleague, a frown ghosting across his expression so quickly she wasn't sure she'd seen it. "We gotta do some stuff in here." He straightened his shoulders fractionally, glancing briefly at Narim before focusing on Sam as he continued pointedly, "Actually, I need your help." The request, a not so subtle reminder that if everything worked right, the Tollan would be gone in just a few more hours.
Sam swallowed hard, ignoring the blush that suddenly crawled over her cheekbones as it occurred to her what he had to be thinking. Which would have been true if it weren't for her lack of interest. "You should probably get going," she told Narim and straightened her shoulders, perversely relieved to turn back into the competent military officer doing her job. "Don't forget Schroedinger," she reminded him. The yellow striped tom cat was her gift after seeing his almost child-like reaction to learning earth still had animals.
Daniel discretely turned away, taking up a seat at one of the consoles as he waited for Sam to join him.
Narim nodded, disappointment glinting in his gaze before it disappeared behind the bland wall. She wondered if he'd realized she wasn't interested in the same way he was. Still watching her in a way that was part regret and part desire, he reached out, stroking her cheek lightly. "Thank you." He smiled, then slipped out, ghosting through a wall.
Once again in awe of the feat, Sam stared after him for a long moment, then sat down to join Daniel.
The Egypologist glanced over. "Aren't you afraid you're getting in a little deep?" he asked, worried for her. The Tollan were unquestionably leaving. With Mayborne wanting their scientific skills, they had no choice if they wanted to maintain any kind of freedom. And he couldn't help but remember Omoc's warning. He felt responsible for pushing Sam toward Narim. The last thing he wanted was to see her hurt in any way.
Carter thought about it a moment, then shrugged. "I thought so ... for a moment..." she admitted, frowning ever so slightly as she felt the last, tiny dregs of desire drain away, leaving her feeling.... She shook her head, unable to decide exactly how she was feeling. Or maybe it was what she wasn't feeling that had her a little confused. "But...." Another dazed head shake. "I mean it was nice enough, I suppose...." But without the influence from the device, it struck her that her own emotions had been curiously uninvolved.
Actually, strange as it was to realize, the brief contact with the device seemed to have killed even the hint of attraction she might have been feeling otherwise, as though she'd sensed something....
Sam couldn't come up with a word to describe the sensation ... even to herself. It was too unfamiliar to verbalize or even think about ... like asking some primitive tribesman to recount a movie he'd just seen when he didn't speak the language, didn't get the method of storytelling, and had never seen one before. She realized Daniel was still staring at her, his expression worried. "I guess I wanted there to be something," she exhaled at last, then offered a small shrug. "But there wasn't," she added, the words totally inadequate to the lack of feeling she'd suddenly experienced.
Daniel suddenly smiled in understanding. "No fireworks, huh?" He sounded distinctly relieved.
She shrugged again. "I guess," she admitted, uncertain that quite described what she'd felt. Or rather, what she hadn't felt. She started entering data without having to be told. "I'm not sure," she admitted, then looked at her friend more seriously. "He showed me this ... device...."
A frown creased Daniel's forehead. "And?" he prompted worriedly when she didn't immediately continue.
"And it recorded emotions," Sam exhaled, still awed by the concept. She looked up at Daniel, her expression melding into a look of discomfort. "His emotions ... whenever we were together," she clarified, frowning at the rapidly dissipating memories of what it had felt like.
The Egyptologist looked uneasy. "And?" he prompted again.
"At first it was flattering ... heady stuff ... and it was like I was feeling what he did...." She trailed off, her look distant.
Swallowing hard, Daniel asked, "And then?"
She shook her head, throwing off the momentary daze. "And then it was ... unreal...." She stared at him in confusion. "Am I making any sense?" she breathed, wondering if she'd finally lost it.
He had to admit she wasn't and shook his head. "Not really."
She sighed softly. "It's like I was feeling what he felt for a moment ... and then I didn't feel anything...."
Daniel swallowed hard, mentally debating telling her that Omoc had warned him. He knew she was flattered by the attention and if there was any chance she might get hurt, he had a responsibility to do what he could to prevent it. On the other hand, he was hesitant to interfere when he only had Omoc's comments, and he wasn't sure how thoroughly he trusted them. If Narim was sincere, it seemed unfair to stick his nose into what wasn't really any of his business, especially since Sam didn't seem to have been overly influenced by whatever he'd done.
Before he could make any decisions, she sighed softly, shrugging as she returned to her work. "Maybe I'm just not meant for wild passion." Focused on the work, she didn't notice his doubtful look. "Guess I've turned into one of those boring scientists I used to laugh at in college," she sighed a little sadly.
"Well, one of the joys of passion," Daniel said with some knowledge ... and no small amount of sympathy, "is that it never seems to strike where you expect it." After all, if it did, he would certainly never have given up his world for an alien girl who couldn't even read, but Sha're had become his life almost the first time he saw her, and now getting her back was what kept him going. "Nor with the person you expect it to."
Sam sighed heavily, blowing her bangs out of her hair as she threw off the brief daze, her tone becoming more practical. "Yeah, well, at this rate, I'm thinking passion isn't something in my future."
He laughed softly and shook his head. "Careful, Sam. That's what I said just before I met Sha're."
"Well, since gorgeous, doe-eyed, alien girls aren't really my thing," Sam teased, feeling more like herself, "I think I'm safe enough...."