Major Samantha Carter cursed softly as she wiped at the sweat running down her face with the back of her sleeve. She was panting lightly, her skin damp with perspiration as she hiked back the short distance to where her teammates were waiting for her. The team had carried a small monitoring station to the position roughly two hundred yards away to place it in a protected area that still had good sun alignment to keep the solar cells well supplied. Then she'd sent the guys back to the high ground when it became obvious they were going to be more of a hindrance than a help in setting up and calibrating the monitoring system. The unit would scan the electromagnetic spectrum of the alien world once they were gone, monitoring for any signs of life and any sign that any of their enemies were using the world as a base or way station. Periodic contact from earth would download the data and keep them informed if there were any changes. As she climbed to the top of a short rise, she spotted Daniel where he was studying the horizon with unusual intensity. She tracked his gaze, hunting for any sign of what he might be looking at, but as far as she could tell, there was nothing to see but distant mountains and a floating heat haze that hung low in the rolling, sandy hills. "Daniel?" she questioned as she hurried over to her teammate. "Is something wrong?"
He glanced back, his expression grim, visibly tense. "It's not defensible," he said without further explanation, then turned back, glaring at the surrounding landscape.
Sam frowned in confusion. "What's not?" As far as they'd been able to tell so far, ZRX-67R was completely uninhabited. In the hours they'd already spent on the alien world, SG-1 had found a few shattered ruins--long since abandoned--and little else. She'd also done a quick check with the monitor and found no sign of any signals. If there was anyone out there, she was comfortably certain they were nowhere close.
Her teammate flashed a quick glance her way before going back to staring into the distance. "Our position," he responded briskly. "An alien army could easily take us on this kind of open ground."
A blond brow rose in puzzlement. "I don't think there's much chance of that," Sam said doubtfully, "since the planet seems to be deserted."
Daniel made a disgusted sound in the back of his throat. "That's just what they want you to think," he grunted and reached for the side arm on his hip, unaware of the close way Sam tracked him as he retrieved the weapon and checked the clip before reholstering it. "But I'll be ready for them if they try anything." He brushed his thumb along the handgrip of his weapon, fondling it lightly. "They won't get past me."
"Right," Carter exhaled, then paused a moment before speaking carefully, "Daniel, why don't you stay here ...while I just go speak with the colonel." She made a vague gesture in the direction of her superior, but the Egyptologist didn't look her way to see it.
"You do that," he agreed, his tone making the words a command. "I'll be here standing guard."
"Right," Sam murmured, backing away from her colleague uneasily. Something abnormal was definitely going on here. She hurried over to O'Neill where he was kneeling beside the remnants of some kind of carved stone monument, glancing back at her teammate to make certain he was still where she'd left him. "Sir, I think we may have a problem," she began, her eyes still on Daniel Jackson.
"Yeah, I know," Jack said softly. "It's awful, isn't it?"
"Definitely weird anyway," Sam murmured distantly, watching their colleague carefully, uneasy with the way he kept taking his sidearm out and fiddling with it. Normally, Daniel avoided even touching the thing if he could avoid it. He just wasn't Mr. Lifetime-NRA any way you looked at it. "Daniel's definitely not behaving like himself."
"How could he?" O'Neill murmured. "In the middle of all of this?"
Sam swung her head back around, brows rising as her gaze fell on her superior where he was still kneeling. He reached out, scooping up a handful of dirt and letting it trickle through his fingers. "Sir?" she questioned, tipping her head down and peering at him over the edge of her sunglasses.
"They're all dead now, Carter."
He looked up at her and she saw that his cheeks were wet with tears. The sight caught Sam so thoroughly by surprise that all she could say for a moment was, "Sir?"
"The people who built this place ... put their hearts and souls into building homes and lives and now they're all dead." He shook his head, a tiny sob welling up from his chest.
Okay, something was definitely very wrong with this picture. "Right, sir," she said, already scanning for Teal'c. With luck, his symbiote would protect him from whatever the hell was happening. Then they could get the colonel and Daniel back to the SGC, hopefully before she started showing any wacky symptoms. She spotted the Jaffa a short distance away, on the other side of a low rise, his head and shoulders clearly visible. "Sir, just stay here, okay? I'm going to go speak with Teal'c."
O'Neill nodded, his movements jerky and uneven. He ran a hand over his hair, swallowing hard as he scooped up another handful of dry earth and let it flutter back to the ground. "It's so awful...."
Sam exhaled a hurried, "Right," as she took off toward Teal'c at a dogtrot. "Teal'c," she called out as she reached the top of the low hill above his position, "We've got a problem."
The Jaffa's head came around, a flicker of a frown creasing his brow. "Major Carter."
Sam took it as his version of an invitation to explain since Teal'c tended to be a man of very few words. She hooked a thumb over her shoulder. "The colonel's back there in tears because everyone on the planet is long dead and Daniel's worrying about whether or not our position is defensible against an attack while he plays with his sidearm. "I think we need to get back home." The words came out faster and more breathless than planned, but with those two rapidly headed for the funny farm, she was more than a little afraid she might follow suit at any moment. Teal'c, thank god, tended to be immune to nearly everything because of his Goa'uld symbiote. That fact had saved all of their backsides on more than one occasion.
The Jaffa's head canted to one side, his expression still perfectly composed. "Knock, knock."
Sam frowned, her brain refusing to process her teammate's response. "Teal'c, did you hear me. I said the colonel and Daniel are behaving very strangely."
Teal'c nominal frown deepened ever so slightly and he shook his head. "You are supposed to reply, 'Who's there?'" he chastised firmly.
"Who's...." Sam trailed off, momentarily uncertain she'd heard right, "there?" she finished on a nauseous croak.
"Catch," Teal'c said, his expression as inscrutable as ever.
Sam just knew she was going to regret her next move. "Catch who?"
"Gesundheit," the Jaffa said, then his mouth split into a huge grin and he began laughing uproariously. "Do you get it? Katchoo ... gesundheit?" More peels of deep throated laughter bubbled up from his chest.
Sam had to fight the urge to whimper as she did a fast mental check on herself in an effort to decide if she'd suddenly developed any weird, illogical personality tics. She didn't think so, but then again, judging by their behavior, her teammates were completely unaware of oddness of their own behavior. On the other hand, maybe it was one of those situations where the fact that she could still ask the question meant that she was okay. She certainly hoped that was the case.
Teal'c was already launching into another knock knock joke, as Sam looked back the way she'd come. It was roughly a quarter mile hike back to the Stargate. Hopefully, she could herself and her teammates back before whatever the hell it was started affecting her too. She grabbed for the Jaffa's sleeve. "Come on, Teal'c, we need to help the others get back to the gate."
Still laughing at his own punchline, he launched into a new joke. "Knock Knock."
Sam shook her head and growled a curse under her breath. "We've got to get back to the gate." She yanked harder on his sleeve, but he put the brakes on, refusing to move a step.
"Not until you say, 'Who's there,'" he insisted stubbornly.
Sam rolled her eyes and gritted her teeth, but managed to utter a strained, "Who's there?"
Teal'c relaxed then, allowing himself to be pulled along behind her. "Justin," he responded, barely holding back a decidedly un-Teal'c-like giggle.
"Justin who?" Sam sighed after a beat when she felt him starting to pull back from her tight grip again.
He relaxed, following along as he bellowed, "Justin time to tellya another joke!!" which was followed by hysterical, bellowing giggles. "Knock knock," he added a beat later.
"Who's there?" Sam sighed, not even bothering to try to refuse this time. They reached the colonel as Teal'c was roaring his punchline.
"Dishes SG-1, we are here to kill Goa'uld! I altered that one from the original joke," he added after a moment.
"Yeah ... right..." Sam grunted as she struggled to get a sobbing Jack O'Neill to his feet.
"It's just so unbelievably sad," Jack groaned, burying his face in Teal'c's shoulder when Sam thrust him at their teammate. The big Jaffa barely noticed the added weight, still absorbed in his increasingly unfunny knock knock jokes--a medium that had never been particularly high on the humor scale to begin with as far as Carter was concerned, and which Teal'c was single-handedly managing to take to all new depths. O'Neill seemed to share her view, since he seemed to sob a little harder with every, "Who's there?" that Teal'c guilted out of him.
"Daniel," Sam called out, leaving O'Neill and Teal'c where they were. The Egyptologist was still playing with his sidearm; taking it out, checking the clip, then the safety, holstering it, then doing it all again. He scanned the surrounding landscape the entire time.
He turned, his expression hawklike in its predatory intensity. "Quiet, Sam. They might hear you."
Blond brows rose doubtfully, and Sam rocked her MP5 around into a more accessible position even as she reminded herself that his paranoia was undoubtedly simply a response to the same mood swings clearly affecting Teal'c and the colonel. Nonetheless, she couldn't afford to disregard the possibility that he'd seen or heard something she'd missed, especially not with her teammates in their present condition. "Who?"
"I'm not sure," he admitted, glaring at the surrounding desert. "But I can feel them out there ... just waiting to attack."
"Right," Sam exhaled hesitantly, concentrating on strategy for getting him to do what she wanted within the confines of his apparent delusions. "That's why we need to get Teal'c and the colonel back to the gate."
Her teammate turned that very unDaniel-like sharp gaze her way again. "There's trouble." His gaze swept right and left, checking the edges of his peripheral vision while trying to look like he wasn't.
Sam barely resisted the urge to sigh. "They've definitely been affected by something and are behaving oddly." She carefully left out the fact that Daniel had as well. Daniel's eyes kept doing that annoying right and left dance, leaving Sam with the urge to try and shake some sense into him. Instead, she simply said, "And we need to get them back to base before anything happens."
Daniel spun, charging off toward the others with long strides, his voice an arrogant bark, "I'll take the point."
Cursing under her breath, Sam jogged after him, already coming up with a plan. "Actually, Daniel, you should probably stay with the colonel and Teal'c...."
He threw the brakes on, spinning around to flash a frown her way.
"So you can make sure they're safe if there's a problem," she soothed his testosterone-laden impulses.
He relaxed ever so slightly. "That's a good point."
Which is how, Sam Carter came to make her way across the desert amid a chorus of knock-knock jokes, sobs, and Daniel's best Patton imitation. Sweat trickled down her back between her shoulderblades, and she found herself questioning her own sanity with every step. Every thought, every tiny impulse that she would normally have dismissed as nothing more than idle fancy suddenly became suspect until her brain was running in worried circles. She could only heave a grateful sigh of relief when they finally reached the gate. "You just ... uh ... protect Teal'c and the colonel," she spoke to Daniel, who would have gone haring after whatever invisible enemy he 'sensed' had she allowed him to. "I'll go dial up the gate." She had to resist the urge to roll her eyes as he went back to scanning the surrounding landscape. At least O'Neill seemed to be giving Teal'c the requisite responses to his jokes--even if each successive attempt at humor seemed to depress him further--freeing her to concentrate on the problem at hand. Leaving the men at the foot of the stairs up to the Stargate, she hurried to the DHD, punching in Earth's coordinates, though she paused long enough before pressing on the last symbol to make certain none of her teammate's were within the event horizon. The sound of the Stargate kicking to life roared across the landscape, echoing eerily and leaving Sam momentarily deaf. Once the gate had stabilized, she entered the recall code, waving to Daniel, indicating they should stay put as she activated her two way radio. "Carter to SGC. Carter to SGC."
"Stargate Command here, Major Carter, what's your status?"
Sam canted her head to one side as she stared at her teammates and their new personality tics. This one was going to be hard to explain. "We've got a slight situation here. Is General Hammond there?"
"I'm here, Major. What's the problem?" The general's rich Texas drawl had a familiar, soothing quality, reassuring Sam that all was going to be all right.
She took a deep breath before struggling to explain. "We carried the monitor out and I was setting things up. When I got back to the men, I found them behaving very ... erratically. We need full decon facilities and quarantine in the gateroom ... and Doctor Fraiser should be on standby and somebody from psych probably wouldn't be a bad idea either."
"Fraiser's still on loan at the academy," Hammond reminded her. An accident on Air Force Academy grounds had involved some evidence that made them all suspicious of possible Goa'uld involvement, so the doctor had been reassigned to quietly oversee the medical aspects of the investigation, since no one wanted any additional attention being drawn to the case.
Right. Sam knew that. Hell, she'd whined about it enough when they'd made love that morning because they weren't getting much time alone together. She felt a cold bolt of terror as she found herself wondering if she was following her teammates into Mental-Instability-Land. "Sorry, sir, forgot for a moment." She massaged her temple to chase a growing headache away, wishing she could look forward to her lover's reassuring presence once they were through the gate. A look from the other woman always soothed frazzled nerves and calmed her down when things got too crazy.
"All right, Major, we'll see to the quarantine facilities, but they're going to want to know as much as possible about your situation." Hammond sounded worried. "Can you tell me what's happening?"
Not without some reason, Sam had to admit. "Ohhhh, I dunno, sir. Jack's sobbing, Teal'c telling knock-knock jokes, Daniel's ready to sign up for a lifetime membership in the NRA ... and I'm starting to wonder about myself ... which is probably normal under the circumstances, but at the same time--"
"We're arranging for quarantine now," Hammond assured her, his tone indicating that he'd already concluded the same thing she had. Namely that something very strange was happening. "Any idea what might have caused the situation?"
Sam shrugged. "I don't know ... I went to install the EM monitor and when I got back they were all behaving strangely." She used the back of her hand to wipe the sweat from her brow. "As far as I know, they didn't go anyplace that I didn't ... didn't eat or drink anything ... didn't see anyone.... I just don't know, General."
"All right, Major, we're almost ready for you on this end."
Sam nodded gratefully, then glanced back at her colleagues where they were sitting at the base of the Stargate platform. A moment or two passed, though it felt like at least an hour, then Hammond's voice came back over the radio.
"Major Carter, you and the rest of SG-1 can come through the gate now. Do you need any help?"
Sam heaved a relieved sigh as she crossed to the men, quickly explaining, "Come on, sir." She hooked a hand under O'Neill's upper arm, pulling him to his feet. "They're ready for us now."
Daniel, who had been glaring at the surrounding landscape, spun back, turning a suspicious look Sam's way. "Why did it take so long?"
Great. His paranoia was spreading. "Because they needed time to prepare quarantine facilities for Teal'c and the colonel," she answered as smoothly as possible, watching his hand carefully to see if he was going to reach for his sidearm again. As unstable as the men were, nothing was out of the range of possibility. "Now, you need to help me get them back so the doctors can look after them."
In the background, Teal'c launched into another knock knock joke, drawing a weepy, "Who's there?" from O'Neill.
"Sara," the Jaffa said decisively.
The colonel managed a limp, "Sara who?"
Teal'c bellowed out the punchline, "Sara doctor in the house?" then roared with laughter.
Sam raised an eyebrow. "We really need to get them back," she said pointedly to her third teammate.
Thankfully, even in his less than stable condition, Daniel noted that was out of character for the Jaffa. "The SGC might have been infiltrated," he said out loud, "I'll go first and cover you if there's a problem."
Sam just nodded, grateful for any kind of break.
Moments later, she was shoving Teal'c and O'Neill ahead of her through the watery depths of the Stargate, profoundly grateful to find a team of doctors already in place and that they'd already gotten Daniel's gun away from him. A plastic bubble had been sealed to the edges of the Stargate, air pressure forming a sealed room that would allow the milling doctors to move the team to an isolation chamber without risking the rest of the base.
"You all right, Major?" Hammond questioned, his voice echoing oddly through the clear plastic wall of the quarantine chamber.
Sam shrugged and wiped sweat and grime away from her cheeks. "It's been an interesting day, sir."
He nodded to gesture her on her way. "The doctors will want to talk to you."
"Yes, sir," Sam said, then felt a doctor catch her elbow, guiding her along.
Just another fun day on the Stargate Project.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *~ *
That Evening--Colorado Springs, CO.
Dana Scully leaned over her drink--a strawberry daiquiri so sweet and full of crushed ice that she would have thought it came from a machine at Seven Eleven if it weren't for the underbite of rum and the fact that she was starting to feel pleasantly tipsy. Mentally calculating how much it would take for someone her height and weight to get seriously tanked, she wondered if the bartender would actually be willing to serve her that much. Not that she was seriously considering drinking that much, but there was a certain temptation to the notion of getting incredibly blotto.
"Well, Scully?" Fox Mulder, the cause of her current extreme irritation bounced up to her, voice and eyes both excited with anticipation. "Did you learn anything?"
She threw an irritated look his way. "Yes, Mulder, I learned you're an idiot," she snapped impatiently, still feeling the sting of her own humiliation. He looked hurt, and she landed hard on any sympathy his expression engendered with both feet, reminding herself that the aforementioned humiliation was all ... his ... fault. He was the one who'd dragged her to Colorado Springs under completely false pretenses. He was the one who'd talked her into taking a case that had nothing to do with the reason he really wanted her here, and he was the one who had thrown her into this whole damn mess by insisting that some poor teenager was actually an alien from outer space. Yeah. Right. Sure.
She repeated the mental mantra that was keeping her from killing her partner. All ... Mulder's ... fault.
"C'mon, Scully, did you see the girl?" Mulder was a great partner in some respects, but dear God, he couldn't get a hint when it was applied with anything more subtle than a baseball bat.
Dana took a long draft from her daiquiri, letting the biting, icy, strawberry slush slide over her tongue, cooling her temper a notch before she trusted herself to speak. "Yes, Mulder, I met her. She's a perfectly normal kid."
He frowned as though the words hadn't quite sunk in, then got his puppy dog look on, his voice taking on a plaintive note. "Scu-ully, did you check carefully? I'm telling you, Frohike's sure of the information he got--"
"Mulder, Frohike thinks Dominoes Pizza is an alien conspiracy--"
"You mean it's not?" Mulder interrupted, wide-eyed.
Scully did her best to ignore him as she continued her diatribe. "--so there's some reason to believe his judgment may not be the best." She paused just long enough for another slug of the rum-soaked strawberry slushee before continuing, "I couldn't exactly drag the kid off for a complete physical, but she's a kid, Mulder, a perfectly normal kid ... a little serious for her age, maybe...." And, really, there was nothing wrong with that. She'd been more than a little serious for her age and look how she'd turned out. Okay, so that was a bad example, since she was currently traipsing around the country, looking into werewolf sightings, vampire attacks, little green men spotted in local salad bars, and alien babies ... or adolescents in this case. She glared at her partner. And ... it ... was ... all ... Mulder's ... fault. "But considering that her parents were killed a couple of years ago--"
"Right," Mulder drew out the single word. "Her parents were supposedly Canadian ... so, why does an American Air Force officer have custody?"
"Apparently Dr. Fraiser was a friend of her mother's. When her parents were killed in some kind of attack on the embassy where they were stationed, she was specified as the girl's guardian--"
"A Canadian embassy?" Mulder demanded in a tone thick with disbelief. "C'mon Scully, what country would attack a Canadian embassy? Everybody loves Canada. Hell, even Saddam Hussein hasn't bothered their embassy--"
"Actually, I think it was vacationing Quebequois that attacked..." Scully muttered with a distant expression. Something had been said, but now that she thought about it, she really hadn't gotten that great an answer. Maybe Mulder had a point.... Maybe she should investigate in more depth.... She could just-- No, no, no. That way lay extreme embarrassment at the very least. God, he was doing it to her again; making her think black was white, and white was black. She was going to die in a crosswalk someday because of that. And ... it ... was ... all ... going ... to ... be ... Mulder's ... fault. She was absolutely crystal clear on that fact. "Look, Mulder, I know you're not going to believe me, but she's a perfectly nice kid ... with a perfectly nice adoptive mother ... and a perfectly nice..." she trailed off, momentarily hunting for the right word, "older friend," which sounded borderline obscene, so she tried again, "not in any suggestive way, I just mean in sort of ... um ... well ... I guess, sort of a second mother or big sister or something like that, sort of way."
Mulder's brows rose as he stared at her as though she was a none too successful exhibit in a sixth grade science fair. "Scully?"
"It's just that they're all perfectly nice people ... and I'm not too thrilled with the notion of spying on them under the cover of a case, okay?" She was well aware of his close perusal as he studied her from head to toe, clearly noticing the blush that was rapidly creeping over her skin. "Quit staring," she chastised, "it's not polite." Mulder's eyebrows lifted another notch as he continued to study her doubtfully. Probably wondering if she'd been brainwashed by some alien, brainwashing ray, she mused acidly.
"It's just that you're acting a little...." He paused to consider his choice of words. "Weird," he said at last. "And I'm just starting to wonder if maybe ... well ... you've been...." Again he paused to hunt for a word, this time coming up with, "compromised," which made Scully want to hit him even harder than she'd already wanted to hit him.
"Compromised?" she repeated dangerously.
"They're both very attractive women," Mulder pointed out as he continued to study her with a look that said he suspected a horniness ray more than a brainwashing ray. Great. Wonderful. Mulder finally had to get one right. They'd discovered each other's sexual preferences early in their partnership--Dana liked women, Mulder was having a very close relationship with a four head Hitachi VHS, though Scully sometimes suspected he had something going on the side with the aging Betamax stored in his closet. Generally, he was wise enough to leave the subject alone, though he did occasionally offer to set her up with a friend--he had a spare Sony two head he was sure she'd make a love match with if the VCR just wore her dressiest copy of Lesbo Sorority Babes Part IV. The sad part as far as Dana was concerned was that her social life had become such a wasteland, she was starting to consider it.
"Yes, Mulder, I noticed, and no, I was not...compromised." Unfortunately--because the sad truth was that Dr. Janet Fraiser carbonated her hormones in a big way, an effect that was only challenged in intensity by the quickening of her pulse every time the doctor's best friend, Samantha Carter showed up. Under the cover of a professional consultation--the doctor had considerable experience in forensics and Mulder had manipulated Dana into getting involved in an investigation of a suspicious accident at the Air Force Academy--she'd spent several days in the woman's company, even finagling several invitations to dinner at her home where's she'd met Carter as well as Fraiser's adopted daughter ... and she'd spent the whole time longing for a cold shower. She definitely needed a date, even if it was only of the Mulder variety.
He continued to study her carefully, apparently considering his words before he continued, "You're sure?" He sounded doubtful.
She looked at him again, showing the full force of her irritation. "Yes, I'm sure."
He looked a little worried now. Apparently, he'd finally noticed that she was rapidly going from her usual state of annoyance with his many wild goose chases to severely irritated. Mulder had learned from hard experience that when Scully started looking at him that way, it was best to be a little cautious and ready to run quickly. "You've got to admit," he finally pointed out gingerly, "that they're awfully secretive ... like they've got something to hide."
Dana took another long swallow of rum and strawberry ice. "I'll grant you that much, Mulder. They are hiding something."
Clearly thinking he was making headway, Mulder warmed to his subject. "I knew you'd see it my way ... I mean, they've clearly got secrets ... an Air Force doctor, with a clearance so top secret even DOD can't look at her records, adopts a child with no traceable past, while a major ... who just happens to one of the foremost astrophysicists in the world ... spends all of her spare time with the kid. Oh, and by the way, they're both stationed on some secret project out at Cheyenne Mountain that's rumored to be studying alien technology." He snorted disparagingly, his tone making it clear that he didn't think much of the Air Force's lying skills. "Face it, Scully, they're hiding the fact that the kid's an alien."
"Oh, they're hiding something," Dana sighed, "but that's not it." She took another swallow of her drink, heard him draw breath to speak and quickly inserted, "They're lovers."
His mouth hung open in the process of taking a breath, and he stared at her. A moment passed, and then he snapped his mouth shut. "Seriously?" She couldn't decide whether he looked disappointed or turned on. Or maybe both at once.
She peered at him with a snarky look. "Seriously," she confirmed, then sighed softly, pink-cheeked with remembered embarrassment as she considered how she'd found out. "The whole 'Don't ask, don't tell' experience." It had been a moment, something Dana Scully had precious little experience with, one of those perfect instances when she'd actually thought her attraction was perhaps returned and it seemed there was some level of invitation from the striking Air Force doctor.
They'd been in Fraiser's kitchen the previous evening, sharing med school tales and laughs over things most people wouldn't have even begun to find funny when the doctor had slipped, and Dana had reached out to stabilize her. For just a moment, they'd been pressed together from hip to breast. Scully had been incredibly aware of the heat of the other woman's body and the fact that--rarity of rarities--they were actually much the same height, putting her eye to eye with someone for once. Lost in a gazeso deep and brown it was nearly black, she though she caught a glimmer of answering desire in those velvet pools, and leaned in, acting on an instinct older than time, intent on tasting....
Then come up short as gentle fingers landed on her lips. "Oh God, Dana, I'm sorry." Janet had looked painfully embarrassed, those liquid dark eyes shining with regret. "If I gave you the wrong impression, I really am ... sorry." They'd been standing so close, Scully could feel the other woman's panting breath as she struggled to answer. "It's not that I'm not ... flattered ... you're very attractive...." She'd pulled back then, carefully disentangling herself from the close hold. "But I'm involved with someone."
And then, as if on cue, the sound of the front door opening had rattled through the house, and Samantha Carter--who clearly had her own key--had called out, "Janet," then switched to a bad imitation of Ricky Ricardo when there was no immediate response. "Loosey, I'm ho-ome."
Fraiser had leapt back another step, something akin to guilt in her eyes as she called out, "We're in the kitchen, Sam."
And in that instant, Dana knew exactly who it was that Fraiser was with; the one other person who'd actually caught her notice in the last several years. Hell, her hormones had been quite conflicted over which woman to have a larger crush on. Oh yeah, life was fair. The fact that she'd managed to add insult to injury a short time later when she'd accidentally glimpsed the two women sharing a longing embrace while they thought she was still in the bathroom had only made things that much worse, since it had prompted her stumbling exit in hopes they wouldn't notice. Which they wouldn't have if she hadn't gone careening over an end table and sent herself, the table, and a vase full of water and flowers all crashing to the floor. Her stumbling excuses and insistences that she wouldn't tell anyone, and that she was sorry, and please god, would someone shoot her now had done nothing to lessen her embarrassment and only increased her anger at her partner. After all, if Mulder hadn't dragged her into this mess, she wouldn't have met the doctor or the major, wouldn't have developed a healthy case of lust, wouldn't have embarrassed herself--and Dana Scully did not handle embarrassment well at all--and wouldn't be so damn frustrated. Definitely Mulder's fault.
"Scully?" Mulder broke into her scattered musings impatiently.
"Just let it drop, okay." Scully ran the tip of one finger around the rim of the glass where it was sweaty with condensation. "I don't know what the hell Frohike thinks he found out, but believe me, there's no X-File here." Except maybe for how the heck she could have such unerring gaydar while at the same time being totally oblivious to the fact that two people were so clearly nuts about each other until it was pretty much right in her face.
He sighed softly, disappointment at not having found a three-headed alien baby masquerading as a normal, American teenager winning out over any incipient, lustful fantasies. "Well, come on, we'll go back to the motel and catch a flight out in the morning.
"Actually, you go ahead ... to the motel and the flight in the morning," she added, quickly explaining at his startled look, "I've still got work to finish on the case." Which meant she was going to be spending the next day or two in Fraiser's company. An idea which sparked some very conflicted emotions to say the least. "And, right now, I need another drink."
He appeared torn, frowning as he settled on the bar stool, obviously intending to keep her company.
"Alone," Dana added firmly and made a small shooing motion with one hand.
Her partner's frown deepened as he studied her. Having finally noticed her odd mood, he was now in worried, big-brother mode, which she generally found almost as annoying as his clueless mode, though she had to admit it was kind of sweet. "You really shouldn't be driving," he said at last as he reached out and flicked a fingernail against her glass.
Scully shrugged. "Don't worry, Mulder, I'll take a cab to the motel."
He remained on the barstool, clearly not liking the idea of leaving her alone in the mood she was in, not that he was entirely certain what that was.
"Mulder, I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself." And I feel like getting good and drunk without you watching, she added mentally. "Now, go."
He debated and she shooed him again. Finally, after considerable worrying, and with several backward looks, he slipped out, leaving her heaving a sigh of relief as she ordered another drink, wondering whether the alcohol would go to her head or the sugar to her hips faster. The curse of not being able to stomach the stuff unless it was hidden under a layer of sweetener so thick it should be on sale in the candy aisle at Seven/Eleven. She was just tucking into the latest daiquiri and scarfing popcorn when a hand landed lightly on her shoulder.
Oh, she knew that voice. Just the sound of it sent unwanted shivers down her spine. Life was so not fair. "Doctor Fraiser," she murmured as she glanced over her shoulder. She hadn't had enough to drink to be slurring her words yet, and she was profoundly grateful for that fact. She'd had quite enough embarrassment for one day, thank you very much.
"I thought we agreed," the petite doctor chided gently as she took the stool Mulder had recently vacated, "to drop the titles and stick with first names."
Dana took a sip from her glass, wondering if maybe she could melt into the floor and disappear. "I'm surprised to see you here," she murmured, ignoring the comment. After all, if she was sleeping with Sam Carter, she wasn't sure she'd ever leave the house if she didn't have to. Dana flashed a glance at the delicately built brunette on the stool next to her. Or if she was sleeping with Janet Fraiser either. God, life was so unfair some days.
Janet noted the way the FBI agent refused to look at her and sighed softly. The woman hadn't looked at her all day during work either. She took a deep breath. "After what happened yesterday ... you've been avoiding me and I was just..." she paused, hunting for the right word before deciding on, "worried about you ... afraid that maybe it's caused some problems."
Scully risked a glance over, then wished she hadn't as she nearly fell into limpid brown eyes. "No, I just ... I'm ... tired," she muttered, surprised to find that, in addition to her lust and embarrassment, there was also a heavy patina of guilt for spying on this woman who had invited her into her home and shown nothing but charm and courtesy. She took another swallow from her glass, then almost jumped out of her skin when a warm hand covered hers.
"Dana ... please," Janet Fraiser sounded worried, even a little hurt in a way that made Scully's heart do a little skip and she couldn't help wishing she could hear those softly spoken words in a totally different context. "I am so sorry if I did anything to hurt you." There was genuine affection and respect in that low voice, even an undercurrent of something more--a level of attraction that Janet tried not to allow to show through, though Dana was too wrapped up in her own thoughts to hear it at that point.
Scully took another sip from her drink and risked a glance at the other woman, noting the honest worry in her eyes. In an instant, her guilt increased severalfold as it occurred to her that this woman was sitting there, awash in her own guilt for any unintentionally caused pain, while she, Dana Scully, had come under false pretenses, lied, and spied on the woman's adopted child, a girl she clearly adored. God, she was scum. And it was all Mulder's fault, right? Except that Mulder wasn't the one who'd done the lying. She could have refused, or just done her job as a forensic pathologist and not insinuated herself into Fraiser's personal life. "I am pond scum." She didn't even realize she'd voiced the thought until Janet's worried voice broke into her musings.
"Dana, no ... nothing happened. Please don't beat yourself up about it."
Scully looked up then, blue eyes wide with surprise, her remorse deepening as she saw the genuine worry and regret on the other woman's face. "It's not that," she muttered before she could think better of it, her unhappy tone bringing a perplexed frown to Fraiser's face.
Dana shook her head slowly. "Believe me, you wouldn't understand," she sighed, a sudden mental image of trying to explain Mulder's theory about Cassandra Fraiser to the woman in front of her making her cringe. It wasn't a pretty picture any way she looked at it.
Janet's frown deepened. "Try me," she said in a voice that just invited confidences, while she stroked the back of Dana's hand without even noticing she was doing it. "Rumor has it I'm a pretty good listener."
Of that, Scully had absolutely no doubt. They'd spent enough time together to leave her with a solid feeling for the other woman's bedside manner. Hell, she'd found herself all but adopted into the family after only a few hours of knowing her. "I'm sure you are," she mumbled, wishing her brain--among other body parts--hadn't reacted so strongly to thoughts of Fraiser's bedside manner. "But it's a long ... complex ... strange ... story," she admitted in halting syllables, pausing at least twice to sip from her glass. "And you really wouldn't think any better of me if you heard it."
"Sounds to me like you're not going to think any better of yourself if somebody doesn't," Janet pointed out sagely.
Scully sighed softly as the doctor cut to the crux of the matter. That was the problem, she didn't like herself for the lying and there was no getting around it. She was still caught up in the mental debate while Janet ordered a white wine spritzer, smiling gratefully at the bartender a moment later when he delivered her drink.
Janet took a sip from her drink, then peered at Dana, clearing her throat to regain the redhead's attention. "So what's up?" she pressed gently.
Scully didn't really intend to answer the question honestly when she started speaking without any idea what she was going to say. "It started with my partner--Mulder. Y'see, this guy named Frohike, he told Mulder that ... well ... he told him that ... um...." Dana stumbled a few more times, while Janet Fraiser stared at her in increasing confusion. "My partner," Scully said at last, her voice taking on a flatness, concluding that was the only way she was going to get it out, "he thinks your daughter's an alien."
The brunette did a spit take that Danny Thomas would have envied in his heyday, then grabbed several napkins from the stack on the bar and began wiping up the mess as she coughed raggedly. "An alien?" she croaked, her gaze still focused on the surface of the bar. A moment passed before she looked up, her expression uncertain, almost hopeful. "She was born in Canada."
Scully shook her head, eyes gleaming with guilt. "That's not the kind of alien he meant."
"Oh." Fraiser paused a beat. "What kind of alien did he mean?" she questioned at last.
Dana swallowed hard. She was going to kill her partner for putting her in this position. "Outer space ... little green men." She finished up by humming the alien summoning tune from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Janet Fraiser turned very pale. "I ... see..." she said at last.
"I am so sorry," Scully apologized instantly, so lost in her own embarrassment that she missed the raw terror in the doctor's dark brown eyes. "I really don't normally do things like this..." she started to claim, only to shake her head and correct herself, "Well, actually, I do, but it's Mulder's fault ... he ... he's just ... he gets these ideas, and somehow he convinces me that they might be real ... even though they're utterly insane." She risked a look at Janet. "His nickname is Spooky," she offered as if that explained everything.
"Ah." Janet took a long sip from her drink, frowning as she set it back down on the bar and stared at Dana.
"He runs the X-Files," Scully added when the doctor didn't say anything more than the very noncommittal breath of air.
"Ah," Janet said again.
Dana ducked her head back over her drink, wondering if maybe she could just slink away and forget any of this had ever happened. It would have been bad enough if she weren't so damned attracted to the woman sitting by her side, but with that component thrown in, she just wanted to find a hole, crawl in and hide for the foreseeable future.
A long, uncomfortable moment passed in total silence before Janet finally cleared her throat, speaking slowly and carefully when she did choose to say something. "I think maybe you'd better tell me what's going on here."
Scully risked another glance at the petite doctor and suddenly her last several years of working with Mulder were tumbling out as she struggled to explain the mysteries and oddities that made up the X-Files, until, finally, the tumult of words came to a stammering halt as it occurred to her that she'd said a whole lot of things she probably shouldn't have. She'd long since dropped her gaze from astonished brown eyes to the far safer sight of the glass in her hand and she risked a glance up, noting that the Air Force doctor was just sitting on her barstool looking like she'd been run over by a mack truck. She probably felt like it too, all things considered. As Dana watched, Janet blinked several times, then seemed to shake off the daze.
"I see," Fraiser said at last, only to shake her head as she changed her mind. "Actually, no, I don't." She pinched the bridge of her nose tightly between thumb and forefinger. "Could we try this again, but a little slower this time ... and while you're at it, would you please explain what the hell a Frohike is?"
Scully sighed heavily and nodded, signaling the bartender to bring another drink. "And I really probably shouldn't," she sighed disgustedly. "Actually, I probably shouldn't have said most of that in the first place." Another sigh coupled with an embarrassed look. "I kind of just dumped any number of semi-confidential FBI files."
Janet's answering laugh was low and ironic. "Dana, my clearance so thoroughly outstrips yours that I wouldn't worry about it too much."
Scully's shoulders dipped in a tiny shrug, then she managed a small wry laugh of her own. "Then there's the fact that I'm not sure I can explain what a Frohike is ... and I'm sure the Lone Gunmen aren't going to make any sense."
"The Lone ... Gunmen?" Janet peered sharply at the FBI agent, her voice climbing most of an octave on the last word.
Dana suddenly realized how that had to sound to anyone who didn't know the three conspiracy loving cyber-geeks. "Oh ... no guns ... they're morally opposed to them ... they're totally harmless in fact ... wouldn't harm a flea."
Janet relaxed fractionally, though she continued to study Scully suspiciously, the look in her eyes making the redhead cringe and want to go in search of that hole she'd been fantasizing about. "They're really these three geeks who are into conspiracy theories and probably spent their entire grade school, junior high, and high school careers being beat up ... by girls ... several years younger than they were. Your daughter could probably cream the three of them without cracking a sweat."
Fraiser's brows lifted and a flicker of a smile touched her mouth. "So, I take it they're no immediate threat?" she demanded politely, though there was an undercurrent of steel to the question.
"Wha'? No ... no threat ... they just ... they�re like Mulder ... in fact, he's sort of their patron saint ...and they get these weird ideas and for some reason, Frohike--I guess because you work at Cheyenne Mountain and Cassandra's adopted--well, he's decided she's an alien, and he convinced Mulder, and somehow Mulder talked until I believed it might be possible--he has a way of making insanity seem logical--and I am sooo sorry." The words came out in a jumble that was largely devoid of normal sentence structure and took Fraiser a moment to decode.
When Janet didn�t immediately answer, Scully ran a hand through her hair, amazed to find herself trembling ever so slightly. Involved in her own thoughts, she didn't even notice that she'd finished her drink or that Janet signaled for the bartender to bring her another.
The Air Force doctor was silent for a long moment before she finally spoke very carefully, "I think you can understand why--as Cassandra's guardian--I'd like the details on any men who've become obsessed with her to the degree of sending someone to check up on her," she said at last, and Scully had the distinct impression that she was choosing her words very carefully. Probably because she was considering who to have arrested and how best to file the harassment suit.
"Really," Dana assured the other woman again, "they're totally harmless ... and-and Frohike, he's not obsessed with your daughter in that way ... he likes adults ... actually, he likes me ... always saying I'm hot and things like that, and I am soooo sorry." She was babbling and she knew it, but knowing and doing something about it were two different things. She took another swallow from her drink. "Honest ... he doesn't like children that way," she felt the need to add as Fraiser continued to watch her over the edge of her glass. God knew, Frohike was a pervert ... or at least he would be if anyone would agree to help out, but he wasn't that kind of pervert. She took another swallow of daiquiri, praying to whatever gods might take pity that Janet would believe her, because she'd had more than enough embarrassment. The last thing she needed was to have a woman she was attracted to convinced that she'd tried to lead some kind of pedophile to her daughter. That would just be a sort of crowning glory moment of failure in her social life. "And besides, they never leave Washington DC," she added, hoping that would blunt any remaining worries the other woman had.
Janet sighed softly, a wry smile tugging at her lips. "You really came here to find out if Cass is an alien from..." she trailed off, pointing a single finger skyward as she arched a sculpted eyebrow.
"I'm sorry," Scully whimpered again. She reached up to massage her temple as it occurred to her that she'd probably had more to drink than was entirely advisable. "And now that you think I'm completely insane...." she sighed tiredly.
Fraiser's head tipped to one side, her look contemplative. "Not quite the word I'd choose," she muttered, her tone noncommittal. As if drawn by some instinctive sense, she glanced back over her shoulder, eyes going straight to the striking blond who stepped inside the bar, a leather jacket cutting a flattering line on her lean frame.
Scully's gaze trailed after Fraiser's, her pulse kicking into overdrive as she recognized the woman who'd caught the doctor's attention so thoroughly. With a low sigh, she concluded she must have been very bad in a previous life and God was enjoying punishing her now. "I just ... I ... uh ... the ladies room," she stammered at last. "Have to go to the ladies room." And she fled as fast as she could, making a beeline through the nearly empty bar, grateful that the men and women from the Air Force Academy who frequented the place hadn't shown yet. She supposed it was still a little early for them, or maybe they just had exams that week. She didn't care. She was just grateful there was no crowd to witness her sublime humiliation. As she reached the door to the restroom, she turned back, a subtle frown drawing her brows together as she watched Samantha Carter join her lover at the bar, her lanky frame graceful as she brushed a hand lightly down Fraiser's back, the caress a subtle acknowledgment of their relationship. Despite the fact that she wasn't generally one given to voyeuristic fantasies, she had a sudden flash of the picture they'd make twined together, a symphony of pale flesh against paler sheets, and felt her pulse pick up. Concluding a person could go mad imagining things like that, Dana shook off the mental image and turned back to hurry into the restroom.
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