"Gently!" Janet Fraiser barked with the precision of a drill sergeant.
And the amazing part, Sam Carter thought as she looked up from the alarm panel she was installing, was the way the two large marines carrying her desk between them instantly snapped straighter and took more care with the heavy piece of furniture. Apparently the authority to wield a really big needle was not only sufficient to get them to spend their day off helping the doctor move in, it was also enough to terrify them into a certain degree of caution. The captain couldn't restrain a grin. Now that was power.
"Wipe that smile off your face," Janet muttered sotto voce as she bounded onto the porch out of range of the drafted moving men. She pointed a chiding finger at Sam. "I need to keep them intimidated or my furniture will wind up as kindling."
Carter snickered softly, but the smile dropped away until the men were inside.
"That goes in the back room," Fraiser called out to the retreating marines. "Makepeace'll tell you where it goes."
The smile returned to Sam's lips as she heard the men muttering under their breaths. After the door swung closed in their wake, she grinned up at the doctor. "You're letting Makepeace arrange your furniture?" she said doubtfully.
Janet shrugged and rolled her eyes. "I told him where I want it to go. I'm just hoping it gets there." Folding her arms across her chest, she leaned against the doorjamb, keeping a close eye on Cassie and Simon where they were playing on the front lawn. The pup was on a leash, but Cassie was still adjusting to the vagaries of automobiles and sometimes forgot that streets weren't safe places to play. She'd found it was best if someone kept an eye on her at all times when she was playing in the front. Focused on installing the alarm panel, Sam was too likely to lose track.
There was a loud crash inside the house followed by several colorful invectives that were still loud enough to be understood despite the muffling effect of several layers of walls.
"Tell me again why you got the marines to move your stuff," Sam said dryly.
Janet muttered a curse under her breath. "Because they agreed to do it for beer and pizza," she said practically. "And, while I figured I could get your teammates to do it, I didn't feel like listening to Colonel O'Neill whine about his back for the next week and a half." Something else crashed in the house and the doctor let out a long-suffering sigh. "Possibly not my best tactical decision." She flicked an annoyed gaze toward the front door. "It would be the final irony if my furniture survived the efforts of dimension hopping alien predators, as well as the hazmat cleanup team, only to be reduced to kindling by the marines."
Another crash echoed in the house and Sam looked up. "Well, if your bed doesn't survive, my couch is still available," she offered practically and got a dramatic sigh and an eye roll in return.
"Gee, thanks," Janet muttered. "You're so much help."
Sam snickered again and earned a dirty look for her efforts. She threw up her hands defensively. "Hey, I'm helping," she disagreed. She pointed to the alarm panel. "All things considered, I think an alarm system is very helpful in your case." Considering the rate at which both alien and homegrown nasties showed up on the doctor's doorstep, very helpful indeed.
"Point taken," Janet had to admit.
Any further comment was interrupted by the marines' return as they headed back to the Ryder truck for another load of stuff. The older of the two paused as they passed the women, looking vaguely embarrassed. "It ... uh ... it really wasn't that bad, Ma'am," he insisted a little too quickly, which gave her no comfort at all. "A little furniture oil and it should buff right out."
Janet almost kicked Sam when she snickered so hard she nearly had a coughing spasm trying to contain it. The doctor offered a tight smile. "Thanks for letting me know." She looked down at Sam when he was out of hearing range. "Give me a good solid kick in the ass if I ever do something this dumb again."
"Okay," Sam said agreeably enough, then flashed a teasing look at the doctor, "but it'll probably double the marines' price if that part of your anatomy is damaged in any way."
Janet frowned, not getting the joke.
"They've been staring," Sam informed her and earned another dirty look for her efforts.
"I really didn't need to know that," Janet muttered disapprovingly, barely resisting the urge to look over her shoulder in an effort to see what they'd been looking at.
Sam canted her head thoughtfully to one side. "Of course, if you changed into something higher necked, it could probably quadruple the price." The doctor was wearing a scoop-necked t-shirt that flattered her figure in ways her uniform definitely didn't. Paired with faded jeans that molded to her waist and hips as though they'd been sprayed on, the look had definitely caught the marines' attention. So much so that Sam had had the urge to pop one or two of them and tell them staring was rude. A light thump to the back of her head ruffled her hair and threw her bangs across her eyes. "Guess I deserved that," she allowed.
"Definitely," Janet confirmed, smiling to lighten the tone of disapproval even as a distant part of her brain wondered what Sam thought of the view; if she'd even noticed. Which led to some rather uncomfortable musings on whether or not she'd opted for the outfit with the thought in mind that Sam might notice.
She was saved from the need to answer her own internal questions by Cassie's sudden shout.
"Colonel Jack's here!"
Both women looked up as O'Neill's SUV pulled up and he parked on the street near the driveway. Eager to welcome him, Cassie scooped up Simon and took off running.
"Cass," Janet shouted, her sharp tone just barely slowing the child, "the street!" The girl changed her path just enough to keep to the sidewalk even as Janet took a step forward, and Sam surged to her feet, ready to dash after her if need be.
O'Neill climbed out of the driver's side, grinning.
"You came," the girl shouted happily while the women shared a wry look. Part father figure, part older brother, for all of his rough edges, Jack O'Neill had become part of the child's odd, extended family. And clearly, the chance to play parent now and then fulfilled a deep need in him.
"Yup," he readily agreed, "I promised you a surprise, right?" He flashed a look toward the moving truck where the marines were grunting under the weight of Fraiser's couch. "So, Doc, any of your furniture survive?" he called out, his grin broadening at her annoyed look. He winked at Cassie, throwing an arm around her shoulders as she reached his side. "So, you ready for your surprise?"
Cassie nodded, nearly bouncing on her heels with excitement, while Janet turned a questioning look on Sam. The blonde shrugged and shook her head. It was the first she'd heard of it.
O'Neill paced to the back of the SUV and folded down the hatch, revealing a stack of furniture crammed rather creatively into the back. It was white, trimmed in girlishly delicate colors, and child sized. "I figured a kid with a new bedroom oughta have some new bedroom furniture," he explained as he reached for the desk to drag it forward.
Containing an annoyed sigh, Janet started forward. It would be nice if someone cleared something with her every now and then. Not that she didn't appreciate O'Neill's gesture at one level, but there were so many undecided issues where Cassie was concerned, not the least of them whether or not she was the best possible adoptive parent for the child. Until some of those decisions were made, she was far from certain that making things more permanent was necessarily the best thing for the girl. It implied matters were settled when they were anything but.
Judging by the excited way the girl bounced on her heels when she got a look at the contents of his SUV, neither Cass nor the colonel was looking at it that way. O'Neill grinned, looking almost as happy as she did.
Janet was still standing there, feeling faintly overwhelmed and uncertain whether she should say something or not when Sam pushed to her feet, dusting her hands off on her jeans. "I'm guessing from that look that he didn't clear it with you," she murmured a bit hesitantly. She generally avoided thinking about the fact that maybe things weren't as resolved as she wanted them to be when it came to Cass, and that look was a stark reminder.
"Does he ever?" Janet muttered a little hopelessly, wondering if she was ever going to get any say in her life. Lately, it seemed it kept rushing ahead while she was stuck playing catchup. And now with the SGC teetering on the brink of oblivion, she was moving into a new house. Shaking her head at the timing of it all, she allowed herself one more, small, resigned sigh, then started forward, reminding herself that he'd been thinking of Cass and certainly hadn't meant to overstep any bounds. Besides, he probably needed to pretend everything was normal as much as any of them. She dodged the marines and was just hurrying down the steps to the walk, Sam close behind, when Daniel Jackson's car pulled up, parking on the other side of her driveway from Jack.
"Took ya long enough," O'Neill complained as the Egyptologist climbed out of the driver's seat.
"I opted to live dangerously and stop for that red light you went through," Daniel shot back.
"Har de har har," Jack grumped while Cass set Simon down, though she kept a firm grip on his leash.
Used to the steady banter between the two men, she paid them little mind.
"It was yellow when I entered the intersection," Jack added.
Fascinated by the contents of the SUV, Cass ignored them until a bulky figure unfolded himself neatly from the passenger seat of Daniel's car. "Unlikely," Teal'c disagreed with O'Neill, his tone grave, though one eyebrow ticked upward just enough to indicate he was well aware the comment would annoy the Air Force colonel.
"Teal'c!" the girl shouted happily, pausing just long enough to thrust Simon's leash into O'Neill's hands before she bolted forward.
The most subtle of smiles touched the Jaffa's mouth as his eyes tracked the child barreling his direction. Like O'Neill, he sublimated his own longings for hearth and home into a tendency to play parent to any available child. Oddly, though he'd killed far more than his share and been a part of conquering entire worlds, he had a knack with children that was quite remarkable.
Mindful of the child's forgetfulness about the dangers of the street, the Jaffa stepped around the back of the vehicle, one hand held out ever so slightly preparatory to swinging her up. He was caught by surprise when she slowed to a halt while still a foot or two away.
Already walking toward the men, Sam on her immediate left, Janet felt a frisson of unease slide down her spine when Cassie didn't leap into Teal'c arms. Instead, the child's hand came up, fluttering near her temple. She broke into a run less than a second later when the child started to waver on her feet, while Teal'c instantly stepped forward to steady the girl, curving a heavy hand to her upper arm. Cassie turned her head, peering down at his hand, then back up into his face. Then suddenly her knees buckled. He instantly caught the child's small frame, cushioning her fall with gentle hands.
Despite the fact that Sam was taller and longer-legged, the two women reached the child at the same time. Janet skidded to her knees on one side of the girl while Sam hit her knees on the other. Cass was still partially conscious, her body spasming with odd convulsions that sent harsh tremors through her muscles and made her spine arch with rippling tension.
"Doctor?" the Jaffa rasped even as she pushed him back.
"I don't know," Janet responded, forestalling any questions. She was far too focused on the child to answer them. "Give me a little room." She looked up at Jack. "We're going to need to transport," she said simply, then refocused on the child, concentrated on her condition.
Realizing what she was asking, Jack grabbed the two men, dragging them toward the back of his SUV. It made a hell of a lot more sense to transport her in that than Daniel's compact, but not with the furniture in the back.
"Janet?" Sam panted, terrified they were losing the child.
"Her pulse is strong," the doctor answered, still working quickly, assessing the situation as best she could without any tools. "Breathing's good ... and it feels like the spasms are letting up."
Cassie moaned very softly, her body going limp in the grass. While Janet continued her examination, Sam leaned close, gently smoothing silky hair back from the girl's brow since there was nothing else she could do. The sheer helplessness was like a gaping hole in her chest.... "Janet?" she repeated, looking up her eyes scared.
The doctor flicked a gaze Sam's direction, every bit as frightened, but hiding it behind a professional mien that she'd developed through hard practice. "I don't know," she admitted, the wall slipping for just a moment as she reached up to stroke Cassie's forehead tenderly. "It could be almost anything," she admitted and felt the shudder that rippled through Sam as their fingers just barely brushed.
"We're ready," O'Neill panted as he returned.
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed, far less worked up than the colonel, though there was real fear in his eyes.
Cass whimpered suddenly, her face twisting into a mask of pain as she wrapped her arms around Sam and turned into the protection of her body.
Janet didn't know what the hell was wrong, but they weren't waiting any longer. "We've gotta move," she bit out. "Sam--"
"I've got her," the blonde said instantly as she scooped Cass into her arms. Moments later, she was in the back of O'Neill's SUV, Cassie's head pillowed on her lap while Janet kept close track of the child's physical condition.
"We'll follow you," Daniel called out as Jack pulled away from the curb. He glanced at the haphazard stack of children's furniture, then his gaze fell on Simon, who leash was tied to the heavy desk. The poor mutt looked as miserable as the rest of them felt. Hearing the sound of the front door, he looked toward the house just as Makepeace stepped out, one of the other marines in tow. Both men froze as they realized something was wrong. "There's been trouble with Cass," the Egyptologist called out. "We've gotta go. Can you look after things here?"
"We'll get everything in and make sure things are locked up," Makepeace assured the other man, then added, "Give me a call and let me know how things are going." He wasn't too nuts about O'Neill and his crew, but the doc was okay, and Cass was a good kid.
Daniel nodded, then climbed in and pulled away.
* * * * * *
Cassie was starting to regain consciousness by the time Jack skidded up to the emergency entrance to the hospital on Peterson Air Force Base. Dazed and groggy, she barely knew where she was, and simply turned into the protection of Sam's hold. Though she whimpered softly, she didn't protest when Janet took command and ordered for blood to be drawn and monitors hooked up the moment they entered. She'd already been through so much that it was almost old hat.
"It'll be okay," Sam soothed, tenderly brushing the child's hair. "Can you tell us what happened?" she questioned while Fraiser checked on the initial results, well aware when the other woman looked over, listening with one ear.
Cass shook her head uncertainly. "I don't know," she admitted. "I just ... it was like...." she sputtered to a halt, the words drying up, and shook her head. Her lips quivered as she struggled to remember and find the words to describe what had happened ... except she didn't know herself. "It's all ... blurry," she whispered. She turned her head into Sam's shoulder, clinging tightly, body trembling gently. "And I don't understand."
Sam held the child, comforting her as best she could, and traded a worried look with the doctor. "It'll be okay."
"She's right," Janet added as she rejoined them and reached out to stroke Cassie's shoulder with a tender hand. "Everything's going to be all right." She offered a confident smile that showed none of her own fears. "We just need to find out what happened." Which meant more tests; a full battery of them, which would take hours. As many times as she'd been through it all, Cassie knew the drill almost as well as the adults.
The child nodded, struggling to summon the courage to go through another bout of tests, her expression settling into a mask of resolve that tore at both women's heartstrings.
Sam stayed with Cassie through it all, leaving only when it was necessary for the testing procedures.
Cassie wasn't moved into a room until well past sunup the next morning. It was near the lab and office Fraiser had been temporarily assigned during the weeks of tracking the girl's health. Forced to use the base hospital since taking her anywhere near the gate was a health risk, the facility was secured and private since Cassie's origins and health problems were technically a state secret on par with the gate itself. Sam sat by the girl's bedside, gently petting her hair, her voice a soothing drone until she slipped off, then remained there for a long time, half expecting a return of the awful nightmares that had dogged Cassie's first weeks on her new world. Finally, certain that her sleep really was as deep and undisturbed as it seemed and she was safe to be alone for a few minutes, she silently rose and crossed the hallway into the lab. She found Janet staring at a series of images on a lightboard, clearly lost in thought. "Test results?" Sam questioned.
The doctor jumped and spun in the same move, eyes going wide as a tiny yelp escaped her lips. "You startled me," she gasped, one hand fluttering nervously over her chest. Completely lost in her own thoughts, she hadn't heard Sam enter.
"Sorry," Carter quickly apologized as she stepped closer. "I just wanted to see if you've had any luck figuring out what happened." She peered at the screen, a frown creasing her brow as she struggled to understand the images she was seeing. Her head canted to one side. They didn't look right somehow, though she wasn't experienced enough to know what was wrong, just that something was. She nodded to indicate the images. "Cass' test results?" she repeated the question.
Janet nodded. "The first of them anyway ... X-Rays, MRIs, etcetera...."
Carter's frown deepened. "That's not what they usually ... look ... like ... is it?" she exhaled haltingly.
"No," Fraiser confirmed, still staring at the collection of data and gnawing on a thumbnail as she contemplated its possible meanings.
"What is it?" Sam asked, leaning closer to study each of the pictures carefully.
A dark brow rose thoughtfully and Janet exhaled a tired sigh. "You're looking at a detailed imaging of her nervous system ... except the X-Ray -- in particular -- shouldn't show that kind of detail." Her head canted to one side and she reached out, tracing the complex twining of delicate lines on an MRI of the child's spinal column. "Those are microscopic metallic particulates ... that's why they show on the X-Ray...."
"I don't understand," Sam admitted, sensing that the doctor was still figuring it out herself. "How?"
Janet took a deep breath, using the momentary break to organize her thoughts as best she could before trying to explain her conclusions to someone else. "We assumed that when the naquada in Cassie's body began breaking down that it would simply be excreted...."
"And?" Sam prompted when Janet didn't immediately continue. Normally, she would have given the other woman the time and space to work through her thoughts, but with Cass' health, possibly even her life, on the line, her patience wasn't up to the task of waiting.
"That's not what's happening." Janet glanced at Sam, then back at the test results. She reached out, pointing to a bright congregation of light high on Cassie's chest. More bright sections flared outward from that point, and there were delicate streamers of highlighted spots on every sheet, forming lightning-like patterns that followed her limbs. "The naquada is migrating ... into her nervous system." She tapped her nail lightly against that thicker section. "That's her spinal column. I think it's thickest there because it's so close to where the bomb was." She ran a hand over her hair. "But there are traces of it in all of the major nerve bundles ... and it looks like her spinal column is acting like a pathway ... moving it around her body...."
Fraiser shrugged uncertainly. It wasn't exactly in her sphere of experience ... wasn't in the sphere of anyone's experience -- at least no one on earth. "I don't know."
Sam was nonplused, unable to decide what the doctor's tone meant. "Is it dangerous?"
Fraiser shook her head and shrugged at the same time. "I'm not sure ... but I don't think so."
Sam swallowed hard, raw fear living in her eyes. "You must have some idea," she whispered.
Janet shook her head, momentarily lost for words, her own fears showing before she managed to hide them behind a professional mask. "We don't know that much about naquada ... what it does or why, but as far as I can tell it doesn't have any toxic side effects." Faced with Sam's desperate look, her own emotions less than entirely controlled, she offered a helpless shrug. "Her organ functions are stable, and I see no sign of any failures or dangerous changes," she said to ease the most immediate worries. The creation of the bomb in the child's chest had weakened her heart, and while the damage was healing, it was a real concern. "But, past that ... I don't know."
"But she's been fine," Sam whispered, then looked at Janet a little desperately. "This has to have taken time, and I know you track her physical condition carefully."
Janet nodded, fighting her own guilt for not continuing the constant regimen of invasive tests. Feeling for the child's obvious exhaustion with the whole thing, she'd closely tracked the obvious symptoms and cut back on the frequency of the more invasive tests ... apparently a mistake in judgment. "I do," she confirmed. "But she's been getting stronger physically, and showed no signs of any irregularities." She shook her head, the guilt worsening. "We knew the bomb was decaying safely and I didn't see any reason to put her through the stress of full body scans." Another head shake. "I just don't know what happened ... what triggered the response." Sam was right. Whatever was going on with Cassie hadn't happened suddenly. It had taken time, which meant that something had affected her suddenly.
Trying to clear her head of her fears, Sam went back over it all, hunting for an answer. The child had been laughing and playful, clearly enjoying herself, then Jack had arrived, but she'd appeared to be fine. Then Daniel and.... "Teal'c," she whispered as what should have been obvious from the first abruptly occurred to her. "She was fine until he touched her."
Janet peered at her friend, not understanding for the first second or two. "What are you...." And then it struck her. "The Goa'uld larvae," she exhaled. The Goa'uld carried naquada in their blood and it had properties the SGC didn't even begin to understand. She peered up at the test results. "It's in her nervous system," she said very softly, thinking out loud. "And it's in their blood...."
"And we know the Goa'uld sense each other somehow..." Sam reminded her.
Janet nodded, then looked back toward Cassie's room. "And maybe now she can too." The two women shared a look as the import of what they were both thinking truly sank in.
"My God," Sam whispered at last, "we need to ... find out ... if she can..." she added haltingly.
"We'll run more tests ... see if she reacts to Teal'c," Janet murmured to herself. "That could even be part of the reason she sensed the Devourers ... they had naquada in their blood."
Sam nodded. "Yeah." She turned to peer at Janet as a thought suddenly occurred to her. "Are you sure it's safe though? What if--"
"We'll monitor her the whole time ... take it very slowly ... but we need to know." Seeing Sam's fears glowing brightly in her eyes, Janet quickly added, "I think it'll be okay. What happened was scary, but according to the tests, there was no permanent damage ... and no sign of any real physical trauma." The doctor peered at the readouts again, mentally tracing the pathways the naquada had followed, noting where it had congregated most thickly. "My best guess is that it caused a bit of a short circuit ... if the naquada is reactive ... and it's in her nervous system ... it must have been a hell of a jolt when it responded to Teal'c's symbiote." She looked at Sam again. "We'll run another series of tests before we do anything ... make sure she's physically okay ... but we need to know what's going on ... if we're right...."
After a moment, Sam nodded, then let out a grim laugh. "General Hammond's not going to be happy." With Senator Kinsey and the Appropriations Committee breathing down the general's neck and making noises about shutting the whole thing down, he was a little on edge when it came to budgetary matters.
Janet nodded and exhaled a soft sigh, already preparing her arguments for her superior. Blowing a wad on repetitive tests on Cassie wasn't likely to go over well. On the other hand, they'd taken responsibility for the child ... and they were looking at the possibility she could sense Goa'uld. Both facts made it a priority to understand what was going on. "However, if we could learn something about how they sense each other ... maybe figure out some more accurate ways of detecting them...." She trailed to a halt and offered a small shrug.
"It'll be worth it," Sam filled in the obvious, then ran a hand over her hair before massaging the back of her neck to release a little of the tension gathering there. "God," she sighed heavily, the enormity of it all settling on her shoulders, "does it ever end? Hasn't she had enough to deal with?"
Even knowing the question was purely rhetorical, Janet felt the need to answer. She reached out, brushing a comforting hand up the length of Sam's upper arm. "She's a special kid. She'll be okay ... and we'll take care of her."
Sam took a moment to gather herself, then nodded. "I know." She caught Janet's hand in her own, squeezing firmly, both taking and offering comfort from the warmth and support. "And now I should probably get back. I don't want her to wake up alone."
"Go on," Janet urged, her voice low. "I'm going to go through a few more things and then I'll be over to check on things in a few minutes." She watched Sam go, then continued to stare blankly at the doorway for a long moment before shaking off the brief daze. Turning back to the test results, she sighed softly, then moved to check the computer to see if anything else had come in. With an idea what might be going on, there were several additional things she wanted to look into.
* * * * * *
Meetings, Meetings, Meetings
"You're telling us the child can sense the Goa'uld?" General Hammond looked doubtful about the idea, on top of looking too tired, stressed, and just generally annoyed with life. He also looked like a man none too thrilled by the expense report she'd already dropped on his desk. Technically, the mission was shutting down, though he was fighting it and had already had several meetings in D.C. and had several more scheduled. But, realistically, having a congressional committee breathing down his neck, and a powerful senator casting aspersions on his skills and character while trying shut down his command, was not working wonders for his overall mood.
Fraiser nodded quickly, glancing down at the test results spread out before her on the briefing room table, already well aware of everything they said, but using it as a way to gain a second or two. "It's at least highly likely, sir," she answered as she looked back up. "She has to be in close proximity, but she was consistently able to sense Teal'c's larval Goa'uld." Her gaze flicked sideways, meeting Sam's look. "We have no way of testing it on the full grown form ... but we have every reason to believe it will work the same way."
"The kid was definitely picking up on the little snake," O'Neill confirmed, while Daniel nodded his agreement.
"Indeed," the Jaffa murmured, his expression bland, though he raised an eyebrow as he threw a brief glance the colonel's direction. "She was able to consistently detect whether it was myself or someone else in the room while blindfolded."
"We ran the tests several times ... under several conditions," Fraiser added, pulling out a sheet of paper from the stack in front of her. "The tests were remarkably conclusive." Another sheet, this time a printout of the scan showing the delicate network of naquada shrouded nerves. "I believe it's because the naquada left in her body by the Goa'uld bomb is migrating into her nervous system as it dissipates ... once there, it somehow reacts to the presence of the Goa'uld ... and her nervous system reads it as a signal."
"The kid's got Spidey sense now," O'Neill muttered under his breath.
Despite his less than ideal mood, the general was interested now. With so many threats coming at them, any additional knowledge on how to detect the creatures offered a possible advantage they couldn't afford to ignore. Unless of course he failed to save the project ... and then it was all a moot point anyway. "Is it dangerous to her health?"
She shook her head. "Not as far as we can tell. The initial fainting spell seems to have been more surprise than anything else. During the trials we ran ... when she was expecting the influx of sensations, her vitals didn't waver beyond a slight acceleration in her pulse ... and she remained conscious the entire time."
"Why didn't we see some sign of this sooner?"
"I think I can answer that, sir," Sam spoke up. Having been with Cassie throughout the tests, and well aware of the results, she was nearly as able as her friend to answer any health related questions, and more able to answer some of the ones regarding the technology. She was the one who'd done much of the original analysis of the bomb and had made most of the initial calculations. "When we initially calculated the decay rate on the bomb in Cassie's chest, we assumed it would be a constant ... but it's obvious that it accelerated as it progressed ... breaking down much more quickly than we expected. Cassie hadn't seen Teal'c in a couple of weeks ... during which time the naquada almost completely dissipated into her nervous system...."
"And then when he got close, it reacted," Fraiser explained, "set off a biological chain reaction she wasn't prepared for. She panicked ... maybe even flashbacked to what happened to her on Hanka ... and when Teal'c reached out to help her, increasing contact, it just made things worse."
Hammond nodded, jotting a note to himself as he considered everything. "What about the bomb? What's the status on that?"
It was Sam who spoke up. "It appears to have completely dissolved. We should run a few more tests to be absolutely certain ... but at this point that danger at least appears to be past." She shared a relieved look with Janet, who nodded in support. "Actually, in theory, she could even go through the gate safely now. It's that benign."
"Which is good news in its own way," the general allowed. Having a child running around with a potential nuclear explosive in her chest had been somewhat worrisome no matter how certain Carter was that it was safe.
"We do need to track her physical health very closely since we really don't know what the naquada may be doing," Janet continued. "So far I can't find any damage ... but we're still running more tests."
The general glanced at the budget sheet she'd left for him, noting the numbers and guessing at how high they'd climb if she continued the tests. Considering that the mission was teetering on the edge of oblivion -- courtesy of Senator Kinsey -- it wasn't a good time to be approving expensive research projects. He flicked an ironic gaze at the doctor as he considered what she'd already spent without his approval, wondering whether to be proud or annoyed at the way she'd managed to hide it so effectively in her discretionary budget. That, however, was strained to the limit, and if she took it much further it would require his approval to transfer funding from the main budget. He sighed very softly, the faintest hint of a wry smile touching his lips. At least they'd go out in style if that was how things played out. "Would I be right in assuming you need additional budget approval?" he asked, his tone practical.
Fraiser had the good graces to look a little discomfitted by the straightforward question. She was quite aware of the tenuous state of the entire project and knew what she was asking. "Yes, sir," she answered, her fears for the child momentarily shining in her eyes.
He nodded, sympathetic to her worries, but also cold-bloodedly practical. If they could find out more about methods for detecting the Goa'uld, they had little choice in the matter. Cost aside, the information was too important to be pushed aside. Luckily, he still had a few tricks up his sleeve for securing the necessary funding. "Try to keep it under control, but you do what you need to."
She nodded, fear quickly shifting to gratitude.
He tapped the papers in front of him. "And I'd like a complete report on my desk as soon as possible."
"Of course, sir."
The meeting continued for some time; more questions and discussions about Cassie, followed by other base matters. The news wasn't the best, since it was primarily a report on the current efforts by politicians in Washington to shut things down. By the time they all filed out, there were sagging moods all around.
They were, Jack decided as he eyed the group, gonna have to do something about that really soon.
* * * * * *
Housewarmings and Other Fires
Sam lay sprawled comfortably in the grass in Janet's newest backyard, one arm folded behind her head, a half empty beer bottle resting on the ground near her hip. The combination housewarming, and welcome home party for Cass had gone well. With things so tense on base, they'd all needed a little relaxation and the cookout had made for a nice change of pace, even if the colonel's much vaunted barbecuing skills had nearly singed his eyebrows off -- though she had some suspicions he'd been playing the fool to distract them all. Then again.... She rolled her eyes at the memory, wondering what he'd expected to happen when he added that much lighter fluid. Taking a long drag from her beer, she traced the familiar play of constellations, content to just kick back and enjoy. There were plenty of things to worry about in the world and for once she didn't feel like dealing with any of them. The weather was nice, she'd had a couple of beers and was feeling mellow, the food had been good once Teal'c took over the cooking, and the guys had left just about the time she was getting tired of them. All in all, life was good. She took another long pull from her beer, then looked up as she heard the sound of the sliding glass door opening and closing again. Sharp eyes picked out Janet's silhouette even in the faint light and a smile touched Sam's mouth. "How's Cass?" she asked, keeping her voice low, as Janet drew near.
"Sound asleep," Fraiser answered as she took a swallow from her own bottle and plopped down in the grass near Sam. "The guys completely wore her out."
Sam chuckled softly. "I can't believe she creamed 'em all."
An inelegant snort escaped Janet's lips and she flopped back in the grass. After all of the stresses of the previous several days -- weeks actually -- she was exhausted and, though she was only on her second beer of the evening, distinctly feeling it. "That'll teach the colonel to drag that damn Playstation over." She really could have done without the sound of laser fire shaking the rafters all evening. Apparently Jack O'Neill didn't consider gameplay that was anything other than earth-shakingly loud any fun whatsoever.
Sam grinned. "It did make for a unique housewarming party," she mused out loud.
"Housewarming party, indeed," Janet sighed. "I wonder if I'll get a chance to really break the place in before I'm reassigned." It would probably take a month or two to shut everything down, but after that, who knew what would happen to her.
Sam rolled onto her side and shook her head, a cold bolt of terror sliding through her she was reminded of all the things she'd been so carefully avoiding, her mind already on the markers she could call in to make certain Janet was assigned to the same project she was on if the worst did happen. She couldn't let this friendship slip away the way so many relationships had in her life. Plus she'd made a commitment to Cass and the child needed her. "It'll be okay," she insisted, though she didn't sound as confident as she would have liked.
Janet couldn't restrain a small, dark laugh. She knew perfectly well why the general had debated whether or not to approve increasing her budget the day before -- if he couldn't pull a miracle out of a hat, the mission was doomed. She couldn't let herself contemplate what that might mean for herself, much less the child in her care. It was too overwhelming a concept. "It's just the first time in a long time that I've felt a little settled," she sighed at last, feeling hollow at the notion of surrendering the project and people that had become such an important part of her life. "I don't want to lose that." The empty feeling only got worse as she contemplated losing the woman lying so close.
Sam watched as brown eyes slid closed, Janet's dark mood obvious. Wanting to wash some of that hurt away, she reached out, brushing loose bangs back from the other woman's forehead. "Don't think like that," she chided gently, fingers sliding down to brush more loose hair back from the doctor's cheek, the warmth and texture of soft skin offering a comforting sense of human contact. "Not tonight." She offered a lopsided smile as her friend opened her eyes and peered up at her. "Cass is okay. We're okay. You've got a new place ... and we all need a little break from all the worrying." Goa'uld threats to the entire planet could wait for later, along with politicians out to make points. "Somehow, everything will work out."
As if drawn by the gentle brush of Sam's fingers on her cheek, Janet rolled onto her side. Peering at the other woman through her bangs, she was achingly aware of every touch as her friend continued to brail her cheek with light strokes, every caress leaving trails of fire in its wake. She swallowed hard, the memory of Daniel's news regarding that other Sam's relationship with her other self playing itself out in her brain, complete with not-so-helpful illustrations. It brought too many uncomfortable questions to the fore. Was it possible the Sam she knew felt that way? Could feel that way? Possibly already did feel that way? Was that temptation she saw in the blue eyes watching her so closely? Perhaps even desire? Did she really want it to be? She'd thought she'd have time to work it all out ... work her way through it. But now, she couldn't help but wonder if maybe she should say something. Find out if maybe....
Which was a damn dangerous thing to be contemplating. She closed her eyes, blocking out the sight of the other woman watching her, but it didn't help as she felt the fingers on her cheek skate lower to explore the curve of her jaw. She withheld a soft groan, wondering if Sam had any idea what the hell she was doing. Every touch, no matter how brief, seemed to leave nerve endings tingling, and tightened the coil of sexual tension in the pit of her belly. When she opened her eyes again, it was to peer up at Sam in an effort to figure out what she was thinking. Searching intelligent blue eyes, she found herself wondering if she was imagining the hunger for more contact she thought she saw. Then those graceful fingers slid down her throat to settle on her shoulder, their heat warming her skin through her thin t-shirt, making her ache in ways that were both thrilling and terrifying at the same time.
"Feel like an astronomy lesson?" Sam invited with an easy smile, her fingers just barely moving against Janet's shoulder, exerting the faintest pressure to urge her closer. She could sense the other woman's stress and worry -- hardly surprising under the circumstances -- and just wanted to do something to ease it and reassure her that things were going to be okay.
The temptation was so intense that Janet ached with it. She reached up, ruffling her hair to gain time. "Actually, I should probably get to bed," she muttered at last, pushing into a sitting position with one hand. She didn't expect the gentle restraint of Sam's hand on her shoulder.
"It'll be okay," the other woman murmured, sitting up and holding just tightly enough to keep her from fleeing. "Whatever happens, we'll work things out."
Janet swallowed hard, wondering if Sam had any idea the myriad of ways that quiet promise could be read. It could be nothing more than deep friendship ... shared responsibility for Cassie ... or something far more personal. She suddenly found herself wishing she'd avoided the beer. On top of entirely too much exhaustion, it had pretty much reduced her cognitive abilities to nothing. And it wasn't doing such great things for her resistance either. She looked back over her shoulder, eyes meeting Sam's. "Will we?" she whispered, her voice dropping low, her tone unconsciously longing.
Gentle restraint turned to a gentle massage. "Of course we will," Sam assured the other woman, wanting her to understand that she was in it for the long haul. She couldn't blame Janet if she was having doubts or feeling overwhelmed, but she had no intention of letting things get out of hand. Cass and Janet both meant far too much to her too allow that to happen. "I know things are up in the air right now, but I know Cass needs us both--"
"Cass," Janet exhaled very softly, feeling as though she'd been gut punched as the child's name reminded her in no uncertain terms what was on Sam's mind. "Right." Scratch any fantasies. And really, that was for the best, she reminded herself.
"Janet?" Sam whispered uncertainly, well aware that the other woman had reacted but confused as to motive. She continued the slow massage, some of her own fears soothed by the contact.
The doctor reached up to rub her temple. "I think I'm just too tired," she brushed away her response, hoping the excuse would satisfy her friend. "Things are scary right now and it has me on edge."
Sam scooted closer, her other hand joining the first on Janet's shoulders, working away the tension the way she had dozens of times before. "I can understand that," she allowed, surprised by the ripple of tension that slid through the doctor's shoulders, the muscles seeming to knot tighter under her hands rather than loosen up the way she was accustomed to them doing. "It's a scary time ... but you've gotta have a little faith."
Biting back on any number of acidly humorous retorts, Janet shook her head. Faith wasn't the problem, she thought, as unwanted arousal heated parts of her body that had been entirely too neglected for entirely too long. She buried the temptation to mouth off, instead looking back over her shoulder. "Believe me, I don't lack for faith in you." That much was true. Whatever else, she trusted this woman more than anyone in a long time. Which was part of the problem.
Caught by the intensity of her friend's gaze, Sam was momentarily struck dumb, her heart hammering in her chest, the enormity of the other woman's words leaving her keenly aware of the bond between them. She slid a hand up, brushing Janet's hair back from her cheek. "I'm glad," she admitted, fingers still combing rhythmically through silky strands, "because your trust is important to me. You and Cass ... you're closer than my own family in a lot of ways." She looked away momentarily, thinking of her father and their relationship ... which pretty much blew her intentions to avoid difficult subjects all to hell. Forcing that thought down, she refocused on her friend. "I just hope you know how important you are to me ... both of you," she added after a tiny beat.
Janet swallowed hard, somehow touched and depressed at the same time. "I think I do," she breathed, then got enough control over herself to clamp down hard on any errant thoughts and desires. She straightened her shoulders, purposely putting an emotional wall -- or at least an emotional slat fence -- into place. "However I really should be going to bed." She pushed to her feet in one move, breaking away from Sam's loose hold, sheer panic adding fluidity to her movements. "You know how to lock up ... better than I do actually." Sam had put in the alarm system, and considered it simplicity personified while Janet was still learning its idiosyncracies and had visions of being locked out for days at a time.
Sam didn't pause to consider her actions, just thrust to her feet, following fast on Janet's heels. She caught her just before she'd reached the house, reaching out and curving a hand to her shoulder to pull her up short. The smaller woman stopped, but didn't turn, her voice thicker than usual when she spoke.
Sam felt like she should offer something deep and profound, but all she could think of to say was, "Are you okay?"
A long moment passed, answering the question far more honestly than Janet's raggedly whispered, "I'm fine."
"No, you're not," Carter disagreed, her own fears forming a knot in her stomach. She leaned closer, sliding an arm around slender shoulders and pulling her friend into a loose hug. "None of us are. We're all scared to death." She rested her cheek against the softness of Janet's hair, wondering if the other woman had any idea how much she cared or how much it meant to her to have someone in her life with whom she felt so totally safe. "And with responsibility for Cass now, you've got more reason to be scared than any of us." She sighed softly, her breath ruffling delicate strands of hair so they rippled with prismatic colors in the moonlight. Momentarily fascinated, she paused to watch the effect as she simply held Janet, well aware of the other woman's tension, but fully expecting it to relax away. When it didn't, and even seemed to increase, she gently urged her around. "It'll be okay," she reiterated firmly, wanting to bolster clearly flagging spirits. Her fingers tender, she caressed the curve of Janet's cheek, struck by the other woman's beauty -- both physical and intellectual. Any number of furniture-moving marines would probably have killed to be where she was at that moment. She pushed that thought to the back of her mind almost as quickly as it occurred.
Janet was silent for a long moment, caught and held by the innocent intensity shining from blue eyes, her own emotions on edge. "I know," she exhaled, barely forcing the words past the sudden tightness in her throat. Forcing down any temptation to do something stupid, she offered a bland smile. "We'll figure everything out somehow." She rested a hand lightly on Sam's chest, purposely ignoring the warmth and softness so tantalizingly close, and stepped back, using the light weight to keep the other woman where she was and gain some space. "But I really am tired ... so if you don't mind...." She pulled back another step, fingers breaking contact with Sam's chest as she put more space between them.
Carter's head tipped to one side, brows drawing together in a frown as she studied her friend. "Why are you blocking me out?" she asked after a beat.
Janet swallowed hard, gaze shifting to a neutral point somewhere past Sam's left shoulder. "I'm not," she lied with a shrug. "I'm just tired."
But Sam wasn't buying it. She knew her friend well enough to sense the wall that came up between them. "Do you think I don't mean it?" she whispered, hurt by the idea that Janet didn't trust her. "That I won't be there for you and Cass if the mission folds?" The need to know drew her forward to cross the space between them. "Because I know I made mistakes before, but I wouldn't do that--"
Janet instantly shook her head. "No ... I know you'll be there." She would have stepped back a pace, but Sam's hands settled on her shoulders keeping her where she was. Blue eyes searched her face a little desperately, hunting for answers she had no desire to give.
"Are you sure, because--"
"I'm sure," Janet said more sharply than intended. Seeing the way Sam flinched at her tone, she softened her voice, forcing the impatience down to continue. "Really, I know how committed you are to Cass." She resettled her hand lightly on Sam's upper chest, exerting just enough force to hold the other woman back when her eagerness to prove her sincerity was tending to drive her closer. "I'm just a little tired ... and probably not in the best mental space."
Sam shook her head, a little surprised by her own need to make Janet understand she was as much a part of the equation as the child. "It's not just Cass I'm committed to," she whispered, tightening her hold on Janet's shoulders ever so slightly when she felt the other woman start to pull away, "it's both of you."
Momentarily silenced by the tight constriction in her throat, Janet could only marvel at the other woman's ability to innocently hit on her insecurities ... obliterate them ... and create a whole set of troubling new ones at the same time. "I know," she whispered at last. She didn't have it in her to reject the hug that followed and soon found herself leaning into the warmth of the taller woman's shoulder, arms wrapped tightly around her waist.
"We'll make it through," Sam murmured, the silk of Janet's hair brushing her cheek as the soft scent of her shampoo and perfume filled her senses.
Janet just clung that much more tightly, half afraid to lift her head for fear her emotions would be all too visible in her eyes. Sam's cheek brushed her temple, then she felt the soft press of lips against her forehead before they trailed along her brow. "Sam, don't," she whispered suddenly, that tiny kiss threatening to shatter her already shaky walls in a way no words could. Sliding the hands at Sam's waist up to her chest, she pressed lightly, pulling back until a hand curved tenderly to the side of her face, halting any efforts to flee with absolutely no pressure whatsoever.
The blue eyes that stared at her were faintly dazed by a combination of confusion, alcohol, and exhaustion. "Is it because you don't trust me?" Sam whispered, and Janet couldn't decide what she meant.
Or maybe it was Sam who couldn't decide. It was hard to tell, and neither of them was at their mental best.
Janet's hand floated up, stroking Sam's cheek very lightly, then smoothing disarrayed bangs back from her temple. "No," she denied the question, lost in the caring directed her way. "I've always trusted you."
"Then why?" Sam breathed, no longer even entirely certain what the question was.
It was the look of raw longing that was her undoing. "Because it makes it impossible not to do this," Janet whispered, reacting before she could think better of it. The hand at Sam's temple slid back, fingers working into the fluttery silk as she curved them to the back of the taller woman's head and tugged gently. Surprise, or something less definitive, eradicated any resistance and Sam moved with the gentle pull. Janet wasn't sure what she intended, or if she really even had intentions, but as she arched up, her mouth finding her friend's, she stopped thinking about the rules, Cass, the colonel, the SGC, and everything else that dogged her life. Their lips brushed -- soft and giving, with a faint taste of alcohol -- parted just enough that she tasted and felt the small gasp of air that escaped her friend's lips, then met again. The first kiss was sweet, almost chaste, and still mild enough to allow for some measure of denial. Even stopping at the second or the third would have allowed them both some freedom to claim it was something other than what it was, but by the fifth, there was no backing out ... though they were both too lost in the influx of sensations to know or care.
Her body awash in thundering arousal, coherent thought long gone, Janet dug her fingers more tightly into Sam's hair, pulling her closer as she felt fingers slide into her own hair and a long, fine-boned hand find the curve of her hip. Half expecting to be pushed back, relief turned to glee as Sam only pulled her closer, leaning into her, the progression in the kiss was completely natural. Mouths opened, breath commingling even as tongues tangled and hands tugged desperately, desire gaining momentum at a near exponential rate.
At some point, the blonde pivoted, grip tightening, and Janet found herself thrust up against the side of her house, her mouth plundered while a hard, jean-clad thigh rode against her pelvis and groin, sending out bright flares of sensation so intense, she had to cling tightly to Sam's shoulder just to remain on her feet. Whether it was love, lust, or something in between, nothing in the doctor's life had ever approached the intensity of emotion sensation rushing through her veins. She wanted -- needed -- this more desperately than she could have imagined was even possible.
It quickly whipped into a desperately, ferociously carnal release of months of tension and want that exploded out of any hope of control. Janet thrust instinctively against the ready friction of Sam's knee as she felt the hand at her waist rise just enough to cup the underside of her breast, every contact point heating their passion another degree.
Her entire world spinning around her, Sam's entire existence coalesced until there was nothing beyond the nuclear blast furnace of need suddenly driving her. Reacting on instincts older than time, she was all sensation and desire, with coherent thought nowhere in evidence. Janet's hand slid up the length of her torso to find the outer curve of her breast, stroking firmly even as her mouth moved against Sam's, the heady sensations enough to released a low growl in the blonde's throat. She thrust her thigh again, purposely dragging it against the heat she could feel burning her skin even through the double layer of their clothes.
Impossibly rich and intense, sensations swirled together until they was nearly enough to send the smaller woman over the brink, her need stretched so piano wire tight that even the slightest things heated the ache in her blood until it seared from the inside out.
Sam thrust again, drinking in the answering whimper of arousal while her hands stroked and caressed, exploring the subtle curves of Janet's body--
Of Janet's body....
The phrase rang in Sam's head as she suddenly realized what she was doing....
Kissing Janet, pushing their relationship farther than she had any business doing, on the verge of making love.
And then as suddenly as it had begun, it all stopped as Janet found herself thrust back, her shoulderblades scraping against the wall, cool air filling the space between their bodies.
Sam stood there, her chest heaving, mouth hanging open and stained with Janet's color of lipstick, her eyes dazed and frightened. Blue eyes swept around their surroundings as though hunting for the alien that had caused things to spiral out of control, then swung back to touch on the slender figure propped against the wall. Her mouth worked soundlessly and she rocked on her feet, then suddenly yanked her hands back to dangle uselessly at her sides. "I ... I'm sorry," she groaned, though it was impossible to tell what she was apologizing for -- the kiss, not continuing the kiss, the sudden burst of passion, or something else Janet couldn't even begin to guess at.
"Sam," the doctor groaned, barely getting out even that much.
Shaking her head, Carter backed up another step. "I'm sorry," she said again, mindless panic in her eyes. Another step backwards. "I-I can't." And another. "I shouldn't have ... have let this...." She shook her head, the panic turning into something far more intense. "It's my fault ... I'm sorry," she said again, and then, before Janet could even begin to formulate some kind of response, the taller woman spun and was moving, avoiding the back door and instead fleeing through the side gate.
It took Janet a moment to process the fact that the other woman had just walked out, and by the time she reached the gate and had thrown it open, the only thing left of Sam was the distant rumble of the Mustang's engine as she roared away. "What the hell?" she breathed uncertainly, not understanding what had just happened at all.
* * * * * *
Suddenly realizing that her driving would have to improve several notches just to approach erratic, Sam pulled into an empty lot and sat there silently, the engine still running, her hands braced on the steering wheel, and just stared at nothing. Finally, she tipped her head back, leaning heavily against the headrest, becoming aware that her breathing was still rough and deep as though she'd run a mile full out. When she looked back down, she tightened her grip on the steering wheel, fingers digging into the smooth leather cover, rolling it and working it beneath her hands, the raging tension rattling through her needing some release, no matter how small. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, struggling to cool the lust raging in her blood, heating parts of her body she'd nearly forgotten even existed, and leaving her hands trembling under the intensity of the desire to touch and explore. "Dammit," she exhaled angrily, closing her eyes against the threat of hot, frustrated tears. "What the hell have you done?" She let go of the steering wheel just long enough to pull back her right hand and slam it into the wheel again, hoping the swift rush of pain would distract her from the thoughts and fantasies running through her head. It would be so easy. She'd felt Janet's heat, the way her body had turned liquid, tasted her needy gasp, seen the way black pupils expanded until there was only the tiniest ring of brown left of her irises. She could turn the car around and go back, could so easily take the other woman to bed....
And once there, she could lose herself body and soul in what would follow.
She could almost feel the welcoming texture of warm flesh under her fingers and taste the salty-flavor of sweat and need, the sensations so palpably real that she let out a tiny cry of pain at being denied.
She'd known all along, she realized, as she looked back over the past months. But she'd been willfully, desperately, hopelessly in denial ... because being anything else meant locking a door she wanted open so desperately it hurt. She'd looked at anything but the pink elephant in the room, refusing to acknowledge her own feelings and desires as if that would somehow protect her from their impact. She swallowed hard against the band pulling tight around her throat, making it hard to even breathe. Somehow she'd thought friendship, respect, and caring immunized her from lust, ignoring reality and the steadily growing desire for the other woman's company. She couldn't even push any blame off onto her friend's shoulders ... not when she'd continually sought out more contact, playing mental games with herself in an effort to pretend it was just deep friendship even as she did everything in her power to draw Janet closer....
And now she was in so much deeper than she would have been if she'd admitted it from the start.
She slammed her hand into the steering wheel again, wishing the pain would wash it all away.
Unfortunately, it didn't change a damn thing.
She was so sick of it all, so sick of being so goddamned lonely all the time that she'd refused to see what was happening to both of them.
And in the doing, she'd damned them both.
No, she realized, remembering the child who relied on both of them, she'd damned all three of them.
Releasing an angry, exhausted sigh, she reached for her cell phone, terror and guilt having enough of a sobering effect to force her to accept that driving was a bad idea. She'd had several beers before her panicked exit, and even without that, she would have been in no shape to drive. Leaving the Mustang parked on a dark street didn't appeal, but there was no other choice, and she couldn't exactly call someone, then have to explain how she'd wound up where she was. Which left calling a taxi and locking up.
She was outside the car, waiting, using the cooling breeze to clear her head when the cab arrived. As she moved to climb into the back, she looked back in the direction of her friend's house. The cabbie was asking her where she wanted to go, and she felt the temptation to return, to try and explain, to try and work something out.
Except in the condition she was in, she was afraid working something out would wind up in bed, and that was the last place any of them could afford for it to go. Because no matter how much she might wish it were otherwise, it couldn't happen, leaving her with no choice but to do whatever was necessary to put a stop to things while she still could.
Even if it broke her heart to do so....
To Be Continued