Pairings: Just my main girlie couple.
Category: yet another mirror universe for the SGC.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG1 and all their characters belong to MGM, Showtime and Gekko Productions. But I think we all knew that, hmm? Art and Cooper are mine.
Spoilers: References aplenty to the majority of the third season here, consider yourselves warned…
Summary: Some big changes occur, drastically altering Art and Janet’s relationship. Sam discovers that there’s nothing she cannot ask of her best friend.
++ Daniel ++
In the end we decided to go back in the hopes that the process could be reversed. It was a decision based on educated guesses and a desperate hope. We four could survive like this, but we’d be lost in that limbo of identity and separated from all that knew us before the change. We could never again see our families or those that knew us outside of the SGC. In fifty-one days the change had grown only slightly easier and we had agreed that we had to take the chance. In all honesty I think it bothered Art and I far less than Sam and Jack. But poor Cooper was still weird around his changed Handler and it was heartbreaking to watch. So we stood in the Gateroom dressed in only fatigues and sneakers. Sam was shifting anxiously from foot to foot, his pale eyes on Makepeace standing nearby. Art was talking quietly with Janet while Jack just stood stiffly and scowled. Of all the ridiculous things, I was desperately hoping to be changed back because I was so damn sick of looking up at everybody. How did Janet stand it? When Hammond strode in with Teal’c, we all jumped and gave him our attention.
“I’m still uncomfortable with this,” he stated unnecessarily and for once Jack kept her mouth shut. “But you have a go people. Good luck.”
It was obvious that Art wanted to do more than just hand Cooper’s leash to Janet. But protocol won out and our mournful pal joined us at the base of the ramp.
“If you have not returned in seventy-two hours,” Teal’c swore solemnly. “I will come for you.” His dark eyes flickered to Cooper, vibrating with tension at Janet’s feet. “We will come for you.”
So with so much left unspoken between so many of us, we stepped through the Gate.
The place still felt cold and empty as I regained consciousness. Then I opened my eyes to stare up at an unfamiliar tangle of machinery hovering over my head. For an endless moment I lay there in the cool air and did a quick mental inventory. A quick pat down my blissfully familiar body earned a sigh of relief. It had worked. Then I looked around to see Art’s curvy frame sprawled on my left and I was shocked to see the vicious scars even with my bad vision. Rolling my head over, I spotted Sam’s far slimmer body on my right. Beyond her was the blur that I knew must be Jack. Resisting the urge to take another curious peek at the women, I padded over to Jack’s side and shook him roughly. “Jack. Jack, get up.”
There was a low groan and his dark brows drew into a frown. “Daniel?”
“Yeah. It worked.”
He did the same thing I had, feeling down his chest and belly to reassure himself, but my eyes refused to drop any lower than that. When he opened his eyes, he automatically searched out Art and Sam, mostly hidden by my vulnerable body. “Guess this means we’re outta luck for clothes, huh?” He questioned sardonically and sat up. “Are they okay? Did you check?”
“Um, no. A little self-conscious I guess.”
“Fair enough. You check Carter, I’ll get Goldston.”
Sam’s breathing was slow and even when I leaned over her to test that automatic function. A quick, embarrassed glance was reasonably reassuring that everything looked like it was where it should be. I knew this was going to make me red-faced for months after this. Nearby Art groaned into wakefulness and made a startled sound.
“Relax Sarge,” Jack soothed calmly. “Seems the locals made off with our duds, so we’ll have to deal. How do you feel?”
“Decent actually. This is better than the first time.”
“Yeah, I noticed that too.”
Abruptly, the blue eyes so close to mine snapped open, accompanied by a deep breath.
“Hi Sam,” I stammered awkwardly and leaned out of her personal space.
“Guess it worked, huh? Dammit, I’d forgotten about the ‘finding us naked’ part of Teal’c’s story,” she groused and sat up gingerly. “God, I feel so light.”
We were all disoriented and embarrassed and the stagnant cold of the place wasn’t helping any. So we did as best we could and tried to be professional despite our nakedness. Few clues were revealed by the room housing the equipment that had wreaked such havoc with our bodies. There was also nothing left that would cover us. Anything organic or flimsy enough to double as clothing had long ago rotted to dust. I distractedly noted that any personal effects seemed to have gone with the original inhabitants. My observations helped to keep my attention away from the embarrassment and cold.
++ Art ++
“So the inhabitants just up and left,” I responded quietly to Daniel’s muttering and hefted the two broken chunks of pipe I had found. “This isn’t much of a weapon, but it’ll have to do. Colonel? Here.”
The second length of pipe was slid across the dusty floor and O’Neill picked it up without looking back. He couldn’t have been any more comfortable out in front. Sure, he couldn’t see us, but we were all getting a better look at his scarred frame than we’d ever expected too. While we soldiers poked around the room, Daniel continued to decipher bits and pieces of the writings on the equipment. After a few minutes, I saw his head snap up in surprise before he leaned in to squint at the etchings again.
“Oh for Pete’s sake,” he muttered and rested his head against the metal for a long moment. “This was a recreation facility of all things! Of all the damn places we had to stumble into…” Clearly irritated at his discovery, Daniel came over to join us. “I guess that the sex change was some kind of perverse thrill for whoever built this place.”
“Charming,” Jack muttered and I grumbled in agreement. When he moved out into the hall, Sam habitually fell into step behind him and I grabbed Daniel’s shoulder to send him after her.
I was shaking with fatigue by the time O’Neill found a place that was even vaguely suitable for a nap. It was a room full of sand and the now-familiar ambient lighting that seemed to come from nowhere. By the withered stalks poking up, this must have been a garden of sorts. There was no sensation of time passing here, no way to know if it was night or day, or how much time had passed since stepping through the Stargate. Sam was visibly trembling with the stagnant chill and the rest of us weren’t much better. Being the smallest in mass, she had lost the most heat.
“Okay people,” O’Neill said quietly. “We need to pile up to try and get a little warm. Danny, Carter, you’ve been volunteered to take the middle. Goldston, you face the door, you look more alert than I feel right now.”
It was an uncharacteristic admission of weakness from the man, but I had noticed that he seemed to be favoring one knee. An old injury perhaps? If so, the cold was definitely irritating it. So I flopped down to the cool sand and felt Sam huddle up against my back, her clasped hands between my shoulder blades. In seconds I knew she was asleep, her reserves low from fighting the cold. O’Neill grumbled something and Daniel whimpered back softly. Darkness closed in.
++ Sam ++
I was delirious… I had to be. There was no way that I could still be moving, could still be alive while this numb. Something poked me in the back and reminded me that, yes, I was indeed still alive. “Keep moving Sam,” Art whispered thickly and her pipe prodded me again. Then O’Neill stepped around a corner and froze. It was the Stargate. Relief flooded through me with a welcome surge of adrenaline that cleared away the cobwebs. Daniel leapt at the DHD and began pressing keys.
“I can’t remember the last time I was so damn glad to go home,” I muttered and saw Art nod beside me. When I glanced up at O’Neill, I felt my guts twist over the weird look on his face.
“How do we tell them it’s us?”
Only then did we realize that we had no way to tell the SGC to open the iris…
Art found the chucks of debris piled around the edges of the room. Some were pieces of the wall, some were empty storage containers and incomprehensible personal effects. We all stared at the collected pile and then shared frightened glances.
“It might not work,” O’Neill rationalized quietly and Daniel huffed in irritation.
“It’s got to be better than freezing to death here.”
Nodding in agreement, O’Neill fastened those intense eyes on Art and I to gauge our opinion. I had no energy to speak, I didn’t even know how I was staying upright, but Art had something to say. “Any ideas for our coming-home theme music?”
“I’ve got one,” O’Neill smiled and we acted immediately as Daniel pressed the center crystal on the DHD and the Stargate roared to life.
++ Karen Taylor ++
While I didn’t particularly care for the periodic guard duty shifts at the base of the ramp, I knew we all had to pull our own weight. At the moment we were all in the staging room, lounging around in full gear. If there was an unannounced wormhole, we could be at the Gate in mere seconds. Across from me, Lieutenant Daemon tried to hide the world’s worst poker face and I smirked inwardly. At this rate he’d have no junk food markers left in the game. While he sweated and fretted, I spared a moment for SG1. We all hoped they would come back in one piece and back to their old selves. It had been disheartening to see them so disoriented by the remarkable transformation they had been subjected to. Not to mention, my lizard brain reminded me, Sam was a hell of a lot more fun to ogle as a woman.
“Raise you ten, Taylor,” Daemon ventured gamely and threw in his chips.
“Brave move,” I drawled and tried to stall him. I had squat and I knew it. Maybe for once in his life the boy had actually seen through a bluff. I was saved from finding out when the loudspeaker suddenly blasted out its familiar warning.
“Security to the Gateroom!”
In a controlled chaos, all twelve members of the guard group scrambled for our rifles and ran across the hall into the Gateroom. The iris spiraled shut as we took defensive positions and the wait began. A long moment passed and I heard a sound that made my blood run cold.
Something impacted into the iris.
THUMP, THUMP, THUMP, THUMP
A shocked silence fell over the SGC as we all stared at the Gate. What the hell was that? Then it sounded again, a thud, then four quick ones followed by two more with a beat between. Then it hit me and shouted up at the Control Room, “sir! It has to be SG1! Only Colonel O’Neill would use ‘Shave and a Haircut’!”
Hammond nodded in relief and the iris swirled open. Not an instant too soon, as four bodies piled out, curled protectively around themselves. For a stunned instant no one moved before I registered the wracking shudders threatening to tear them apart.
“Did… didn’t th, think… you’d know what… we were… trying to tell… you,” O’Neill gasped and stuttered, finally shocking me into reacting.
“Move people!” I shouted and they all scrambled to obey. To make that painfully frigid ride stark naked… My body shuddered in sympathy as I dropped the rifle and pounded up the ramp. Adrenaline loaned me the strength to rip the buttons clean off my fatigue shirt and shrug it off. As the others rushed up behind me, I wrapped the nearest body in the shirt as best I could and swept her up into my arms to prevent her getting trampled. “Get the medical teams in here! Stat!”
Desperate for warmth, Sam, for I abruptly realized it was her, burrowed into me and wrapped her arms around my neck to cling with unexpected strength. For a moment I had hardly recognized her willowy, female frame in contrast to the male version of her. I was inwardly thrilled at the embrace and tamped the reaction down roughly.
“It’s okay,” I soothed as I did my damnest to keep her away from the jostling of the other soldiers. “You’re home now. The Doc’ll be here any second now.” There was a jerky nod against my throat as the crash teams rushed in. They only had two gurneys and I quickly reassured Fraiser. “I’ve got Carter, get the others.”
“Get her in a blanket and go to the Infirmary.”
One of the orderlies tossed a blanket over both of us and tucked it around Sam. That was my cue to obey the Doc and head for the Infirmary. In the long pause of the elevator ride, it finally registered what had happened. A very naked SG1 had come charging through the Gate and I had somehow ended up with cute Sam Carter wrapped around me. Sure, it was for purely puritanical reasons, but still… It was like having a fantasy almost fulfilled.
“Thanks,” she whispered softly against my neck and her death grip loosened slightly.
“My pleasure, Sam. The rest of your team is right behind me.”
By the time we made it to the Infirmary, the shock of the cold was changing into the body’s natural urge to slip into a healing sleep. So I followed Betty’s instructions and lay Sam on a waiting gurney, but she wouldn’t release me. When one of the nurses tried to help, Sam made an objecting noise and clung even tighter to my neck. I waved the younger officer off to attend her duties. “She’s not hurting anything. If you can do your job with me in your way, I’ll stay put until she sleeps.”
Random medical jargon was tossed about, but all I could make out was that Sam was showing signs of prolonged exposure capped off with that brutal freeze, courtesy of the Stargates. When the other three were carted in, the diagnosis was the same. It was controlled chaos as Fraiser directed the maelstrom like an angry drill sergeant. I watched her, admiring her skill and authority while Sam’s grip loosened little by little. Then I saw it through a break in the mess. It was the Doc again, leaning over a barely conscious Goldston, stroking the dark woman’s forehead. It wasn’t the gesture that floored me, but the shaken adoration written on the small woman’s face for that lingering moment.
Oh my… the Doc and Goldston?
Now that I had seen it, the idea didn’t shock me as much as I thought it would. Oh, I had pinned the K9 as part of the big rainbow family the day I had met her in the locker room. But, the Doc? Would wonders never cease…
At long last, Sam’s grip was loose enough for me to straighten up with a groan. That was not a comfortable position to be in for an extended period of time. She was sound asleep, hair disheveled and cheeks flushed. She had always had that air of childish enthusiasm that was adorable, but now she looked downright young and vulnerable. So, without thinking, I brushed her bangs away from her brows and she stirred lightly to press into my hand. There was something endearing about Sam Carter, something that had won the adoration of far stronger than I. What would it be like, to have the affection of this brainy wildcat? Suddenly self-conscious, I stepped away and listened to her make a small objecting noise. It would be far to easy to read more into this than was appropriate and I needed to get away.
++ Art ++
Even before I opened my eyes, I knew I was finally home. The feel and smell and sounds of the Infirmary washed over me, curling my mouth into a faint smile. Seconds later, there was a whine and a familiar nose poked me in the shoulder. “Hi Cooper,” I whispered and tried to move my arm, only to find it restrained by the snug bedding. Heavy blankets that radiated their own heat were tucked around me so tightly that I was thankful I didn’t suffer from claustrophobia. The bed lurched when Cooper reared up to hesitantly kiss my face. I hardly knew him anymore; we had grown so distant these past five weeks. One hand finally worked its way loose to pet him and I knew what I had to do.
I had to retire him.
This latest incident had been so hard on all of us. Cooper had been through too much and deserved a quiet, civilian life.
“As soon as I can, buddy,” I whispered to him with a voice rough with stress and repressed tears. He just licked away the lingering moisture and pressed his furry neck to my face. It was a wonderful comfort and my heart ached with love for this amazing animal. An eternity passed with his soft fur cushioning my face, my arm draped weakly around his neck.
“He-ey,” Janet said softly from the doorway and we both looked over. That one glance made my throat ache with a whole different emotions. Those gorgeous eyes were warm and intent with feeling as she came over to place a hand on each of us. Those familiar fingers on my forehead made me close my eyes and bask under her touch. “Welcome home.”
++ Janet ++
That single phrase seemed so inadequate, so trite. I had missed her so dreadfully and was desperate to hold her and whisper to her of the bond between us, to take away her pain if I could. But all I could do was sift through the inky curls and feel her press into my hand. The repressed tears broke my heart as Art struggled for control. “I’m really glad to see you,” I whispered and something that almost looked like a faint smile curved her lips.
“Me too. How are the others?”
“Drifting in and out of consciousness, but intact and back to their familiar shapes. How are you doing?”
Again those soulful eyes fluttered open and the lump in my throat threatened to strangle me. How I despised not being able to take her in my arms and hold her.
“Confused,” Art confessed. “And my feet are burning.”
“That’s actually a good sign. Fortunately, there’s no permanent damage. Give yourself a few days and you’ll be back to normal.”
“Sergeant Goldston,” Teal’c’s voice interrupted our exchange from the doorway. I was equal parts relieved and annoyed with his timing. He moved to stand next to the bed with a distinctly pleased cast to his stony features. “You have awoken.”
“Yasoo Teal’c. Thank you for watching over us.”
Art had correctly assumed that Teal’c had not left the Infirmary since their return. In fact, it had been the big man who had carried her naked body in from the Gateroom.
“You are welcome. What troubles you?”
Great waves of sadness welled up in Art’s eyes and I grabbed a hand to try and soothe her. I stood that way, one hand on her head and the other clutching her hand to my chest, for a very long time. Teal’c rested a hand on her knee and we waited patiently for the storm to pass.
“I have to retire him,” was finally choked out only just loudly enough for us to hear. I was shocked when I realized that she meant Cooper. He was whining softly and his tail swung back and forth in his desperation to make her feel better. The stormy blue eyes finally peered out from Cooper’s ruff and my heart seized up even more.
“Why?” I asked calmly, gently, reassuringly and prayed it was the right thing to say. Swallowing some of her misery, Art stroked Cooper’s head lovingly, looking at him with such adoration that I almost felt jealous.
“He’s been through too much. I’ll need to make some phone calls Janet, as soon as I’m able.”
“Of course,” I replied woodenly, suddenly feeling shut out and hating myself for the emotion. It wasn’t fair to either of them. “Would you like Cassandra and I to take him?”
I didn’t know where the question came from, but it had definitely been my voice asking. The gall I had! This was her partner for God’s sake, not some common house pet that needed adopting!
A strong grip on my forearm stopped the internal tirade. The grateful look in her eyes nearly made me swallow my own tongue.
“Would you?” Art asked with tremulous hope. “Would both of you? The-eh mou Janet, you’d be helping save my sanity…”
And in those moments where that hopeful desperation shone in her eyes, I didn’t care about the security cameras, or Teal’c or anything else for that matter. All I could do was to lay a gentle finger on her lips and smile with all the love in my heart. “Yes. We’d be honored.”
After Art finally fell into an easy sleep, I desperately needed a few minutes to regroup. Betty must have seen my look, because in mere moments there was a lull in the action and her head nod sent me into retreat. The quiet of my office was bliss and I sank down into my squeaky chair and sprawled back to study the ceiling. What a day, week, month it had been. Then I realized what day it was and nearly threw out my back scrambling to check the calendar.
“Oh God… Darya…”
Perhaps I should have kept the girls around today of all days, but had sent them off with Cassie’s pals and a couple of trusted adults. The irony of this day also being Cassie’s birthday barely registered. Not that she understood the sadness clinging to me, but her strong hug had brightened me a bit.
I had been lost all day in a daze that was paralyzing. A year didn’t really mean anything except for a banal passage of time that our ancestors had decided the rules for. Nothing more than the endless passage of days, broken down by the phases of the moon and our blue planet’s passage around the sun.
Except, that one year ago… one year ago my heart had died in my chest.
Like a movie played out again and again, I could remember every moment of that passage of hours that had rewritten the landscape of my life. The butter-soft nightgown she loved so much, the solemn knock on the door, the look on the faces of the officers in black on my doorstep…
But the most lingering sensation was the jolt that had raced through me that evening. Long before the officers of the peace had arrived with the horrible news, I had known. In that lingering transition between day and night, my sensitive perceptions had felt the accident thrum down our bond like snapping piano strings.
A flash of terror and the briefest snap of pain.
Then there was a dark, blank emptiness that froze me from the inside out. The psychic backlash of Emma’s death in the pretty little coupe we had bought together before the baby. For what felt like an eternity, I waited there in the living room, breathless… motionless. There was a part of me that screamed for my perceptions to be wrong, desperate for her to walk in the door and make this a horrible nightmare. Then… that solemn knock and the mournful faces of the uniformed police. The woman had been a veteran; she had done just this kind of thing before. There was still pain in the formality of telling the survivor of a loved one’s death, but she had done it all before. But the young man at her side had not, and the agony on his fresh face had very nearly cracked out her own pain.
It wasn’t the news that did it; it wasn’t the gentle questions from the police or the distasteful bigotry in their supervisor. It wasn’t the sight of the broken beast of our little car, with its assailant still embedded like a dagger into its side. It wasn’t the blood spattered on both car and motorcycle, though I came close. It was hearing the wise policewoman call the babysitter who was guarding over our daughter this night.
Only then did I crack and break, the agony pouring from me in a flood of biblical proportions. The officer had stayed with me until familiar old arms had gathered me close and helped me bear the tearing agony of loss. Legs… good ole’ Legs. For whatever differences we might bear in our views on life, women and our mutual profession, she was endlessly, stubbornly, wonderfully loyal to those she truly loved. This woman better than anyone else in the world knew what Emma meant to me, and she was my rock in those darkest of days.
It had probably been her that had been calling irregularly all day. Legs and X and Janet and Emma’s friends in San Francisco that too mourned her passing. Not that I had picked up the phone even once. Then a noise broke into my thoughts. A noise that took an eternity to register. A long shaft of sunlight broke through the evening-dim room and those fading shafts of brightness were poignant to me.
Not a sound, except for the familiar patter of high-heeled feet. Not a word, just the ragged breath of the rushed and hurting. Not a casual touch of a stranger trying lamely to console. Just a warm, familiar weight in my lap and deceptively strong arms tight around my head, my shoulders. Only then could I no longer hold back the old, sharp pain, escaping like a flood into the crisp uniform I had given up for my love.
“Never alone, Dare. Remember that. You’re never alone.”
And only that would keep me sane.
++ Jack ++
After only two days in the Infirmary, the Doc had let us out. I fled for home, desperately needing to relearn my surroundings and get some equilibrium back. The only orders she had given us, aside from the obligatory ‘take-it-easy’, was to be at her place that night to see Art off to Texas. I was gonna miss those two, but Carter was gonna miss them even worse. We had also missed Cassie’s birthday, which had been the day we’d returned from that damn dead world that had transformed us. It still amazed me to see the changes that had happened to my second in command during the course of her friendship with Art. Even more amazing, they seemed to be all good ones. Sam was more settled, more sure of herself, wittier and less prone to the ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ reaction. All from the friendship of that young woman. It was going to be hard to say goodbye, even if it was only temporary…
As I pulled up to Janet’s place in the late afternoon sunshine, I contemplated the gifts resting on top of my towel. I hoped Art’s wouldn’t be too sentimental. No one would let me live it down.
++ Art ++
“What is it?” I asked curiously and Jack shrugged self-consciously.
“Just something I wanted you to have,” he said quietly and I grinned warmly before returning my attention to the package.
“You didn’t need to get me anything Jack. I’ll be back before you know it.”
“Doubt it,” he said evenly and I could barely see the faint smile he hit behind his beer bottle. Working with him on side projects had gained me valuable insights into the man. It was information I knew would come in handy someday.
“All that crap Cassie got wasn’t enough chaos for the day?”
Indeed, the extended adopted family of the teen had gone a bit crazy in trying to make up for missing her birthday. Sure, we’d been laid up in the Infirmary, but we still felt bad. And the weeks before that had been hard on her, barely able to reconcile our changed appearances. So Cassie had been given all the trappings, cake and streamers and mounds of gifts, as well as any of her friends we could get a hold of on short notice. The backyard was a bit of a warzone, but at least the giggly teens were beginning to calm down finally. Ah, I didn’t miss being fourteen…
Shaking off the memories of that last happy year before my family had been so brutally torn apart, I returned my attention to the gift Jack had handed me. The colorful paper tore away to reveal a white box that was carefully taped shut.
“You’re gonna make me work for this, huh?” I teased and chuckles ran around the group as I took out my pocketknife to cut the tape. Once that was done, I opened the box to dump the contents out onto my hand. The moment I saw the pages flutter stiffly, I knew it was no ordinary book. On the blue cover was stamped the word ‘memories’, and inside, were just those. Even in the dim light from the kitchen, I could see the beautiful collection the man had made me. There was that silly picture that Daniel had taken only weeks after my arrival at the SGC of Sam and I side by side in mocking bodybuilder poses, showing off our slender muscles. Cooper sat at our feet with that long-suffering expression he’s so good at. There was a photo of Janet glancing up from a file with that wry grin that had melted many a heart, including mine. I couldn’t imagine when the picture was taken, but there was a shot of Sam looking up at Karen with Mac and I standing nearby, grinning. Since we were all in full gear with the wall of the Gate Room behind us, I wracked my brain for a time that all three of our teams had been together and came up blank. There was Jack and I sparring in our boxing gear, SG1 mugging just outside the Gateroom. The collection was magnificent and everyone gathered around to comment on them. My throat closed up over a shot of Teal’c kneeling in front of a seated Cooper, one big hand on my partner’s calm head. There was Siler, Sam and myself pouring over Sam’s beloved motorcycle, General Hammond glancing up from his desk with a faint smile, Sam and Jacob with their arms wrapped around one another, the list went on and on. When I reached the end, I stood to grab Jack in a suffocating hug and whisper, “thank you.”
It was quite late by the time the rest of SG1 left and I was left alone. Cassandra and her friends had long since gone to bed and Janet had vanished a little while ago. I was at a loss of what to do about our upcoming separation. I had only come home a few hours before the others had come over. There had been no chance to discuss it and my plane left in less than seven hours. Staring in melancholy contemplation at my half-empty beer, I wondered what was going through her head.
Almost startled by her sweetly familiar voice, I jumped and turned to her. Small and sad, Janet gazed at me with dark eyes that glittered with pain. In an instant, she was in my arms and we clung together in the dimness.
“I love you, Janet,” I whispered harshly, brittle with the pain inside me. How I would miss her with a desperate ache that scared me.
“I love you too,” she sniffled against my throat before raising her head. There were tracks of tears on her cheeks and I felt my throat close up with the effort of keeping my own at bay. “I never expected to care about you the way I’ve come to. Come to the bedroom and let me hold you.”
That night was unlike anything I had experienced before. There was a depth of feeling between us as we talked quietly, made sweet, passionate love and let our tears mingle. In the pre-morning darkness, I felt my heart ache as I at last left her warmth to shower and dress. Cleaned and pressed and ready to go, I leaned over her one last time and shared a kiss that was our love made flesh. There were no more words, the goodbyes done, the pain sequestered away so that life could move on. At last, I drew away from her breath and pressed my fingers to her soft lips for a long moment. Then I solemnly collected Cooper and walked out of the house to await Sam at the curb.
Cooper quietly sat with his head on my shoulder when I plopped down onto the curb to curl myself in to a tight ball. My big rucksack rested in the gutter as the morning grew ripe around us. I rubbed his fur blindly, knowing how desperately I would miss his steady presence at my side. But I knew I was doing the right thing, even if I hated it. At last a flashing pair of headlights slowed near me and I raised my head. There had been no tears this morning, but I had yet to let Sam go. The lanky woman climbed from the Jeep and knelt beside my boots. One hand rested on my knee, the other soothed Cooper’s ears. “You gonna be okay?”
“I dunno Sam. This is taking so much out of me.”
That hand on my knee was extended as Sam stood up in the glare of the headlights and looked down at me. “Then let me help you,” she offered quietly and I took her hand. For a long minute, I fell into her strong embrace and let myself fall apart once more.
“I think I’m going to miss you almost more than Janet,” I confessed quietly and she squeezed me a final time before loosening the embrace. Sam’s expression was soft and wry when I met her eyes.
“Oh, I doubt it,” she chuckled and we both laughed, a relieved and bittersweet sound. The drive to the airport was a quiet one. The hug at the terminal was long and intense. Sam looked surprised and warmed when I impulsively pressed a kiss to her cheek before pulling away and letting her hug Cooper then tucking him into his crate. After seeing him safely in the care of the airport employees, I forced myself to walk away and not turn around to see her sad blue eyes…
++ Cassandra ++
I was so excited that I could barely sit still. The plane had already landed and we were just waiting for the porters to bring the crate. It had been three weeks since Art had left and the house felt echoingly empty without her and Cooper. Then I heard the familiar whine and nearly threw myself over the airport counter. “Cooper!”
Instantly, the whining grew frenzied and I saw the big dog crate rock on the cart. The guy pushing it glared, but I ignored him. The moment the crate cleared the counter, I knelt down to push my fingers through the grate in the front.
“Hi boy,” I crooned and Cooper urgently licked my fingers. “I’ve really missed you. Ready to go home?”
Mom was smiling softly, but I could see the bittersweet feelings in the expression. While she was happy to have Cooper back, what she really wanted was Art. Unfortunately, that was another four and a half weeks away. Once outside the terminal, I popped the zip tie on the crate door and yanked it open. Instantly, Cooper was out and licking my face. Barking in short, sharp tones, like he was trying not to do it and was just too excited, he pressed against me as though looking for reassurance. I knew he’d been through a tough deprogramming at Lackland Air Force base so that he could be a civilian dog, so I hugged him hard and reassured him. He probably missed Art too. Mom knelt down to be fussed over as well and Cooper rapidly calmed into the dog we remembered and loved.
“Okay troops,” she said and straightened up. “Time to go home. C’mon.”
Slowly, but surely, our family was coming back together.
I just… believed him.
There was no proof except for the conviction in his fathomless dark eyes. Still bleary from the drugs Janet’s evil twin Skippy had injected me with; I crept through the base on Teal’c’s heels. Somehow they were replacing the personnel of the SGC. All I could hope is that somewhere my companions were merely out of commission and not… Swallowing down the panic and fear that was worsened by how bleary I was from the drugs, I tried desperately to focus.
In the Security Room, I witnessed two of the ugly aliens step through the Stargate to talk with Daniel and Jack and Hammond. When none of the men even reacted to the aliens, it was proof enough to force me to break the rules and run for help. When the alarm klaxons went off, the memory of what those aliens were doing were enough to force me to leave Teal’c behind to protect my escape…
After climbing hundreds and hundred of ladder rungs to the surface of the Cheyenne facility, I stood with muscles trembling in the dark forest. There was no way to tell how far those aliens had infiltrated and with the ability to exactly duplicate personnel… The danger was very real and left me feeling at loose ends. Suddenly, I wished Cooper and Art was there with a fierce ache. So quickly I had grown accustomed to their presence in my life. Every day I missed them with an almost physical pain. My recent horrific experiences with the Goa’uld Sokar and Bynar and Jolinar’s memories being forcibly reawakened and finding Apophis alive had shaken me badly. I had not spoken to Art since returning from that hell, terrified to relive it once again. It had been a very long five weeks without her around.
Then something occurred to me.
Would she come to me?
Would that steady packmate of mine come running if I howled my fear and distress?
I had to believe the answer was yes, for I feared I wouldn’t be strong enough to do this on my own.
“Wai… wait Sam… slow down.”
She was babbling over the phone like a madwoman and every protective instinct in my body rose to the occasion. Aliens had taken over the SGC by impersonating the staff and only she had made it out to warn us.
“Sam!” My shout finally slowed her down and I could hear her panting anxiously on the other end of the line. “Where are you? Okay, I’ll find a way to get to you, I promise. Maybe you need to get someone else involved in this, though. Good. Tomorrow, 1600 hours, the little café outside NID headquarters in DC. Got it, I’ll be there. Yes, Sam, I swear, I’ll be there. Now be careful and take care of yourself.”
Reluctantly, I set the phone in its cradle, well aware that I was severing my only connection to her. It was horribly painful and I stared blankly at the device for a long moment.
“You okay Goldston?”
The question caught me off guard and I turned to face my classmate. Burt Anston had been a terrific pal, warm and funny and gregarious. But what I really liked about him was the titanium strength of character that showed in his every action. This was a solid man of integrity, I’d stake my life on it. Right this moment that could be a good thing or a bad thing. In order to get to Sam, I needed to get off Lackland Air Force Base and off to Washington DC in less than seven hours. If I told anybody where I was going, they would require a reason. Which meant calling the SGC via NORAD and alerting them that someone knew what was going on. That meant sneaking away and praying that the mess could get straightened up sometime in the future. Did I trust Sam enough to go AWOL for her? Of course I did. But how did I do it? “Hey Burt? I need your help…”
It was a surprisingly lovely day in DC, cool and breezy with a hint of the sea. Burt and I stood on a railing outside the café and scanned for Sam. There was a conglomeration of suits and tourists populating the obviously popular spot as I searched for the familiar head of gold hair. Lucky and Grover were tired from the mad flight across country where they had been forced to make the journey in hastily supplied animal crates. I had been truly stunned when Burt had solemnly offered to go with me. “Art, you’ve got more integrity than just about anyone I know. I trust you, and if you say this is a matter of national security, than I believe you. No one should go into something like this alone.”
Honestly, I wasn’t certain I could have gotten off the base without him. As worried as I was, I wasn’t paying enough attention and he smoothly fast talked the guards at the gate into letting us out without the proper paperwork. A quick civilian plane trip later and we were at out goal. Suddenly, I spotted Sam making her way across the café and gestured. “Burt, there she is. That’s Carter.”
“She looks wiped out,” he mused thoughtfully and I was forced to agree. Exhaustion and stress pulled heavily on her lean frame and she looked like she hadn’t slept in two days. “Can you get close enough to get her attention without calling attention to yourself?”
“Yeah. Take Lucky.” Kneeling down, I stroked the delicate head of the new dog in my life. She was so different from Cooper it was like night and day. She eyed me trustingly and gave me a tiny kiss on the chin. “Be a good girl. I’ll be close by.”
“I got your six,” Burt reassured me and took Lucky’s leash. With a quick pat to Grover’s head, I slipped down to the plaza of ‘The Old Bailiff’ to help my teammate. Several things happened all at once as I drew within a few tables of her the man in formal blues with Colonel’s birds on his epaulets. Jack and Daniel walked up to the table and Sam leapt up from her chair as though hit by an electric charge. For a long moment she had her back to me and the two men stood there calmly and eyed her from behind dark glasses. There was something wrong with their body language but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Abruptly, Sam whirled around to lean menacingly over the table and shout at the strange Colonel. “Maybourne, you are idiot every day of the week! Why couldn’t you have taken just one day off!”
Okay, that was out of character. A bad feeling crept up my spine as I realized that I may have indeed listened to the rantings of a woman who wasn’t herself. While I stood in paralyzed indecision, Jack picked up Sam’s chair and they all sat around the table again. The attention the outburst had garnered gradually turned back into the buzz of the afternoon crowd. Sam was running her fingers through her hair and generally acting like a skittish animal. Warily, I moved into a better vantage point, waiting for someone to recognize me. It never happened. The men talked Sam down and I could see the indecision on her face. Then she reluctantly stood with them to move off and I knew I had to act. If nothing else, I had gone AWOL to come to her and would need their help not to get seriously shafted by my superiors at the K9 academy.
“Well this has turned into quite the social call,” I said just loud enough to be heard by all of them and Sam whirled around.
“Art,” she sobbed in relief and grabbed me in a suffocating hug. Shocked by the intensity of the gesture, I wrapped my arms around her trembling body and stroked her hair.
“The-eh mou, I’ve missed you, Sam. Rough couple a days, huh?”
The only reply was a hoarse noise that sounded suspiciously like repressed tears. “I’ve really missed you Art,” she whispered into my neck only loud enough for me to hear. “And I’m so confused.”
“That’s why I came,” I soothed and looked over at O’Neill. “Good to see you sir. How have you been?”
There was no response for a moment as the black glasses faced my general direction. It was nerve-wracking to not be able to see his eyes. What if Sam was correct and that was an alien standing not four feet away? “Overworked. You on vacation?”
“Yeah, I had a few days of leave and decided to come to Sam when I heard how upset she was.”
“Good, you can come back to base with us to get all of this straightened out.”
“Of course sir. How you doin’ Danny?”
A long beat passed before Daniel reacted and my animal brain bristled further in panic. Something was subtly wrong and I couldn’t shake the feeling. “Fine. We were just worried about Sam.”
When Sam leaned away, there was a suspicious glassiness to her eyes that had made her eyelashes damp. So I tucked her under one arm and followed Jack and Daniel. “I’m really sorry about this,” she apologized softly and I grinned.
“That’s okay, you can just help me explain why I took off so suddenly. Let’s take care of one problem at a time, okay?”
“Okay. Hey, where’s Lucky?”
I had been waiting for someone to notice I was alone and it bothered me that it hadn’t been one of the men. The need for reassuring proof of their identity was growing stronger by the moment. Did I involve the dogs and Burt? Could I put them all in potential danger? The two dogs might be invaluable in figuring out this mess and I craned my neck around until I spotted Burt. At my ‘come’ gesture, Lucky yanked at him to obey and I knew they were on their way. Sam was still shaking lightly and I tightened my grip around her neck until it was a headlock. Stooped over, face pressed into my chest, Sam seemed oddly reassured by the rough treatment. It earned no response from the guys, but Colonel Maybourne did step up to eye me speculatively. “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced. Colonel Harry Maybourne.”
It was a left-handed salute, but I wasn’t about to give up my grip on Sam. “Sergeant Artemis Goldston sir.” At that moment Burt and the dogs trotted up and I gestured at them once Maybourne had returned my salute. “This is Lieutenant Burt Anston and our partners, Lucky and Grover.”
Burt saluted and fired me a pointed look. “Everything okay?” I shrugged and gave him my best sober gaze. That let him know that I wasn’t entirely certain and to keep a close eye out on the situation. Both Shepherds shied away from the strange men and whined uncertainly, Grover going so far as to growl at my teammates. With Lucky in one hand and Sam in the other, I felt more reassured and followed the men of SG1 into the unknown.
There was little time to talk as we were all whisked off to a private airstrip where a 737 waited patiently. It was there that I got a moment to speak with Burt in the masking noise of the hanger. “I know this sounds crazy, but those two may not be what they seem.”
“Okay,” he acknowledged dubiously. “But what else would they be? Aren’t they part of that team you mentioned?”
“Yes. That’s why I’m wigged out. They’re not acting quite right. You notice the dogs are edgy?”
“Yeah, but they’ve never been off Lackland before.”
Sam had been standing uncertainly beside O’Neill and fired me a desperate look. We went to her, both of us smiling in reassurance. “Hey Sam, I didn’t get a chance to introduce you to Lucky. Isn’t she a cutie?”
“She’s beautiful,” Sam agreed and crouched to offer a hand to my new partner. Warily, Lucky sniffed the offering and instantly recognized the scent of the tall blonde. It looked as though my foresight to borrow a couple of unwashed articles of clothing of Sam’s and Janet’s had paid off. So Sam pet and fussed over my pretty little pup and they both calmed further with the interaction. She was a tiny dog compared to Cooper, only twenty-four inches in the shoulder and barely weighing sixty pounds. She was also more aloof, but was incredibly intuitive and a wonderful judge of character. So her continued intent watching of Jack and Daniel worried me further.
Inside the plane, I sat beside Sam while Jack and Daniel explained their version of events. Burt asked intelligent questions that were answered calmly, but I still couldn’t shake that feeling of wrongness. Then I saw it, the disturbing flicker of a humanoid figure that was far from human, abruptly superimposed in O’Neill’s place that lasted a few seconds. Sam moved before I could, lifting the piece in the small of Maybourne’s back and leaping to her feet to threaten Jack. Only a beat later, I was on my own feet, gun in hand and unsure of what I should do. Then Jack lunged at Sam and she calmly pulled the trigger. Two bullets plowed him back into his seat with a spray of thick purple liquid. The façade of Jack O’Neill faded away to reveal the crustacean-looking alien that we had spotted so briefly. Both dogs burst out into hysterical barking that brought out another officer from the cockpit. When I saw the raised pistol, mine came up in response. When he made that inhuman, shrieking wail, I pulled the trigger. Poor Burt looked stunned as his gaze swung between the two alien corpses.
“Burt, pal,” I said soberly. “I hope you didn’t have any future plans that can’t include being sworn to the highest levels of national and worldwide security.”
After a stunned moment, he blinked and flashed me a shaky grin. “There goes my acting career.”
Daniel played stupid until Sam revealed the circle of alien technology on his breastbone. When she yanked it off, sure enough, he was one too. This time Maybourne shot him in the shoulder when he lunged and barked, “sit down!”
When Sam balked at checking the pilot, I did it myself. Poor guy looked quite startled when I came in to cover him with the pistol. Not to mention yanking the top button of his uniform shirt open to check for the disk. There was nothing, and I gave him a quick apology before returning to my superiors. Maybourne and Sam were arguing over what to do and something about a sound frequency that had disrupted the holograms briefly. It took another half-hour for Sam’s agile mind to decipher the frequency and get it on tape. Only then did I grab her by the lapels of her jacket.
“You need to take a nap,” I stated firmly and cut her off when she tried to object. “No. You’re ready to drop from exhaustion and aren’t going to do anyone any good in this condition.”
After a glowering pause, she nodded and let me lead her over to the couch we had been sitting on earlier. Burt and Maybourne had dragged the corpses to the back of the plane earlier, but there was still a pastel stain on the upholstery. Upset by the reminder, I sat beside Sam and patted my leg. I had meant the gesture for Lucky and was pleasantly surprised when Sam wearily collapsed and dropped her head onto my lap. Lucky tucked her head under Sam’s chin and sighed happily when the woman wrapped an arm around her furry neck. Gently, I combed my fingers through the soft gold strands and without thinking, began to sing softly. In moments, she grew limp as sleep claimed her at last.
The sound of the plane’s engines straining to land woke me from a soothing sleep to feel a gentle hand on my head. Despite the circumstances, I had slept better than I had in a long time. I felt breathing on my face and a wet tongue dabbed my chin lightly. It made me smile and open my eyes to see Lucky eying me brightly.
“He-ey,” Art soothed lightly as I yawned and stretched slightly. It was still amusing that she had picked up that two-syllable greeting from Janet. A grin flashed across the face of Lieutenant Anston and I realized that I hadn’t been introduced to him. It was mildly embarrassing to be so vulnerable in front of this junior officer. Oh well, I was too comfy at the moment to give it much thought.
“Thanks,” I murmured and patted her knee before sitting up gingerly. I still needed a full night’s sleep, but was able to function with a clear head again. Still a little hazy from my nap, I reached over to run curious fingers over Art’s cheek. “Look at how dark you’ve gotten. It looks good on you.”
Indeed, she was cocoa brown and it made her eyes look far paler than normal. The contrast with my light skin was striking. “All that healthy Texas sunshine,” Art drawled and flashed white teeth. Would I ever admit to myself that there was… something here? No one seemed to be able to affect me the way she did. We stared into one another’s eyes for longer than was probably prudent. It made me jerk away and Art calmly introduced me to Anston. He was average height, with brown hair and eyes and somewhat nondescript. Good humor and intelligence radiated off him and he had a killer smile. He quickly reassured me that Maybourne had sworn him to secrecy with Art and the pilot as witnesses.
“Good,” I welcomed him warmly. “Welcome aboard.”
“Thank you Major. Hey, Art and I figured out a great trick while you were sleeping. Check it out.” When Burt pressed the disk we had pulled off the Daniel-alien to his sternum, the familiar visage of my teammate solidified around him. When he spoke again, it was Daniel’s voice. “The hologram works for anyone who wears it, even the dogs are pretty well fooled. This one and the one Major Davis was wearing still work. So you have a way to move around among them.”
“Great work. We can get back into the base the same way I came out, through the emergency shafts to the surface. But what about the dogs?”
Now Art jumped in, her hands on Lucky’s ears. “I’m going with you, Sam. Lucky will have to stay with Burt until they come in with Maybourne’s forces.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sam. I didn’t come this far to let you go back in there alone.”
In the end, that was exactly what happened. With me disguised as Daniel and Art as Davis, we slipped back into the SGC and began looking for our people. The look on Jack’s face when we found him was priceless. It must have been odd to see Daniel acting like me. The real Davis stayed in the room where our co-workers were suspended from the ceiling like so many alien piñatas. While Jack went to find Teal’c, I ran for my lab and Art headed for the Control Room. A pitched battle and several dozen exploding aliens later, the SGC was once again in our hands. Colonel Maybourne’s forces helped us gently pull down our woozy co-workers and get everyone debriefed. I was relieved to find Bob sitting on the floor of the room with a confused look on his face, but he lit up when he saw me. “Sam.”
“Hi. How do you feel?”
“Confused, but I hear you’re the hero of the day.”
I flushed and tried to duck out of it. “I had help.”
Bob just stroked my cheek fondly and chuckled. When Janet came around in Art’s arms, I couldn’t understand why no one knew about them. She lit up like a kid on Christmas and threw her arms around Art’s neck to cling to her secret lover. It was a long hug that everyone studiously ignored, and Maybourne and his cronies thankfully didn’t see.
The briefing went by in a blur, my mental autopilot doing all the work. Janet calmly explained that the last thing she remembered was SG6 returning. Major Davis had been called in from the Pentagon by General Hammond with no explanation. It was a pleasant surprise when Maybourne gave me credit for the success of the rescue, an involuntary smile creeping across my face. There had been just enough time for a quick shower and a change of clothes before the briefing and someone, Daniel by the looks of it, had managed to scare up fatigues for Anston. The two K9 units came to attention as Maybourne left and Hammond turned his attention on them. “And Sergeant Goldston, how exactly did you get involved in this?”
Poor Art looked like she was trying not to squirm anxiously under her rigid stance. “I came because Major Carter requested my presence sir.”
“You went AWOL on your current posting, convinced another soldier to go with you and dragged two half-trained military dogs halfway across the country on nothing but Carter’s word?”
Since he phrased it that way… even I was starting to feel a little guilty. Art wilted for a moment before straightening up with a sharp, proud glare. “Yes sir. There was no other choice in my mind sir.”
For a long beat Hammond continued to glare back and we collectively held our breath. Then he smiled in that fatherly way of his and relented. “Loyal Sergeant, but stupid. We’ll discuss this later. Now sit down.”
There would be some repercussions from this, I could almost visualize the black marks on our records, but we would survive it. After all, we’d saved the world… again.
She was home! Giddily, I went about the business of once again ensuring the functions of the SGC. But inwardly I wanted to dance and skip in joy. How desperately I had missed my kind lover, how incredible it had been to feel her once again in my arms. It had been so hard to keep from staring at her while we debriefed and cleaned up and went about our respective duties. But soon… soon I would show her exactly how much I had missed her…
Tired, but satisfied that things could be handed off to my staff, I relaxed for a long moment in my office to gather myself. Five weeks ago Art had left for Texas. Even after only a couple of days with her back, Sam already looked a hundred times better. It was a good bet that I was practically glowing…
“He-ey,” that sweetly familiar voice called softly from the doorway and I thrilled at the sound. She had grown so dark, her skin almost as inky as her hair in the shadows. “Can I bum a ride home?”
I could only nod, my emotions too close to the surface. She gathered up my briefcase, our fingers brushing together and I nearly threw her up against the wall to kiss her senseless. By the pale burn in her eye, it was entirely a mutual temptation. So we headed for the surface, barely aware of our co-workers, friends and the bustle of the base around us. In the car we did not touch, did not speak, hardly dared look at each other during the trip home. Behind me was Lucky, the beautiful little Shepherd that had been following Art around like a discrete shadow. I knew they were both watching me, bright eyes following the movements of my hands on the wheel. At the house, I took a deep breath and finally met Art’s eyes fully. Even in the darkness, I could feel their power over me.
“If I touch you,” Art rasped hoarsely. “I won’t stop. Come inside and let me say hello to the others.”
“Yes,” was all I could manage in return.
Cooper was whining eagerly as we approached the front door. It was hard to tell who pounced on Art with more affection, the dog or Cassandra. With a squeal of delight, my daughter joined her new pet in knocking Art onto the grass to welcome her home. Laughing in delight, Art hugged and kissed them both. The two Shepherds touched noses, tails wagging gently and I realized that they already knew one another. Starjumper raced out to join the fray and growled in alarm at Lucky. She was wholly unimpressed and we humans quickly reassured him. Once inside, Cass and Art chatted happily while we had a quick dinner the evening wound down. In time the house grew quiet except for my puttering in the kitchen. Then the press of my lover’s arms, the length of her strong body suddenly against me, made me moan and drop the sponge I had been cleaning with.
“Oh, my love,” Art whispered fiercely, nipping lightly at my neck, hands firm and knowing on my belly and breasts. “How I’ve missed you…”
Both hands came up to sink into the curly hair, leaving me blissfully vulnerable and needy in her hands. “Ahgahpee mou…” I whispered her familiar endearment. “Welcome home.”
Our kiss was gentle, a thousand emotions and experiences wrapped up in the soft blending of our mouths. How this simple gesture moved me, the feel and taste of her lips and tongue on and inside me. My blood heated, my need for her like a living thing, so I turned in her arms to devour her. Those hands curled into the strong muscles of my backside, lifted me with raw power to be crushed to her body, held aloft by her. Wrapped around her, I drank in her kisses and learned her body anew. Dimly, I was aware that she had carried me upstairs, while never breaking the connection of our bodies. There, on my recently-oh-so-lonely bed, she stripped me of clothing and pretenses and together we traveled to the stars. Happy tears and swollen lips mingling, we cuddled in the afterglow and I felt her smile. Only then was the overwhelming reality of her return calmed enough to let me look at her closely. The color of dark, bronzy wood, her skin color was intoxicating.
“I had no idea you would get so dark,” I admired and traced a high cheekbone. “It’s beautiful on you.”
“I missed the sunshine,” she chuckled and kissed my caressing hand lingeringly. The contrast of my own pale bronze skin against her face awoke my hunger anew. So I traced her face, the lines of muscle and tendon in her throat, the bones under her skin. Hissing softly, she pressed her weight down into me as I traced her hard nipples and that long scar I had dreamed of incessantly of for weeks now… “Oh Janet,” she moaned softly, pressing butterfly kisses to my smiling face and willingly allowing me to pleasure her. I always loved the challenge of her slow responses, loved that she trusted me enough to take her to that vulnerable place. A quick twisting of our bodies had her sprawled on her back where I could run my needy tongue over her sensitive scars and listen to her moan. Salty and butter-sweet, I tasted her skin and sweat, relished her hands in my tousled hair. There would be darker marks on her skin later, where I had nipped and suckled too hard, wanting her to know me again. There was no objection, just a stronger grip and the low sounds of her arousal. Once nestled in the haven of her spread thighs, I teased through her rainforest damp and listened for the approaching storm. There would be lightning, and thunder, and torrents, floods, tsunamis…. “Let me taste you,” she groaned harshly, tugging me only hard enough to break through the haze of our mutual need. Fire raced through me, threatened to burn out my synapses, had me moving before my brain knew it was saying an eager yes…
With that magical touch on my own wet, I was in heaven. We tortured and teased, coaxed the floodwaters to the edge of the dam and let them recede only enough to coax them back yet again. Her once-damaged body surrendered first, crying out with uncharacteristic abandon into my own quivering flesh. Delightfully shocked by the sensation, I too let the dam break free, crashing over me with a force that would have made Noah cringe. Strong hands stroked me lovingly and that clever tongue ever-so-gently suckled away the traces of my climax. Aftershocks trembled through me as I remained sprawled across her body and enjoyed her deep heat. Somehow we found the strength to rearrange ourselves, to find my favorite spot, draped along her side, tucked under her chin, listening to her heart.
“I love you Jan,” Art whispered and I kissed the strong bone protecting that organ of life.
“Sahgahpoh Art.” We lay quietly for a long while until a memory surfaced and I smiled. “And happy belated birthday. I have a gift for you.”
A throaty chuckle made my heart and hormones sing anew. “Your wonderful welcome home wasn’t enough?”
Amusement glittered in the ocean-dark eyes when I propped myself up on both elbows to peer at her.
“Little things would remind me of you,” I murmured softly. It came out more wistfully than I’d intended, our separation still too raw in my mind. The kiss she reassured me with was gentle and loving.
“I’m so glad I’m home again, in your arms.”
More decadent moments of cuddling passed before I pointed at the big, brightly colored bag on the dresser. “Go get it sexy.”
Grinning like a kid, Art leapt up from the bed to pad naked across the room and retrieve her prize. “The-eh mou! It’s heavy. This is quite the haul,” she chuckled delightedly and flopped back down beside me. I sat up to prop my chin on her shoulder and watch her expressions as the treasures were unveiled. Each package inside the bag was torn open and admired, her face growing ever more animated and her kisses more lingering. A soft sweater of stormy gray and blue, the extravagant silk jimmies and matching robe, the color such an intense blue that her eyes took on a whole new hue. Socks decorated with cartoon dogs, a toy car that made her laugh over ‘her new wheels’. The favorite, the one that made her eyes glassy and her face soft, was the exquisite figurine of a handsome German Sheppard that reminded me of Cooper. It was exactly the reaction I’d hoped for when I’d seen it, this unguarded tenderness. “Efharistoh ahgahpee mou,” Art murmured and kissed me slow and long. I willingly allowed myself to be pressed flat, her body arching over me, her kisses warming my heart and soul. A third time this night, she claimed me as hers, darkness dancing in the corners of my eyes…
Exhausted and utterly sated for the time being, I lay sprawled half under Art’s larger body and relaxed.
“There was a couple of places I found,” Art murmured softly and continued to stroke my hair. “That I’d like to take you to someday. A horse ranch and this weird little museum in a place called Brushfire if you can believe that.”
“Sounds like you got bored.”
“Lonely, my love. Merely lonely.”
Quiet settled. Peace, healing quiet. And together we slept contentedly.
“So,” Art yawned and I smiled. “Would you like to meet the new girl in my life?”
“Are you trying to make me jealous?” I teased back and let her tug me into a good morning kiss. After long moments, she raised up on both elbows and smiled winningly. “Lucky,” she called out and there was a rustling at the bedroom door. After a moment, the door opened and Lucky dropped back onto all fours to push the door closed with her head. “Good girl,” Art crooned lovingly and the dog came over to the bed to sit and wag her tail. Tugging my small frame onto her chest, Art held out a hand to her partner. Lucky was lighter in color than Cooper, and far smaller. She was delicate and alert, with a tapered head and bright eyes. After a long moment of Art’s hand on her ears, Lucky reached out to sniff at my hair, her breath surprisingly clean. After a moment, she dabbed at my skin with the tiniest of canine kisses and I stroked her neck with one hand.
“She’s beautiful,” I murmured sincerely and Art kissed my crown. “But how does she seem to know me?”
“I took a pair of your panties with me to teach her your scent,” Art murmured quietly and I raised my head to see her loving smile. “And to make me feel better.” I kissed her long and hard for a moment, the image of my lingerie somehow comforting her making me unexpectedly hot. “And one of Sam’s black shirts from work. I sewed them into little cloth bags and made certain they were around Lucky all the time. So she’s known you, in a way, as long as she’s known me.”
It made perfect sense in ways I was only just beginning to understand from living with these talented dogs. With Lucky’s extraordinary sense of smell, a pair of my underwear was an excellent idea. It also embarrassed and aroused me. As though she knew we were done for the time being, Lucky moved away to sniff about the room and I could turn my attention back to our Handler. “So,” I purred softly. “You took a pair of my underwear to comfort you?”
Eyes growing light with heat, Art began to caress my skin and press butterfly kisses to my face. “Oh yes, ahgahpee mou. I missed you so bad, your smiles, your laughter, your kindness and, yes, your delicious little body.” Giggling, we clung closer and our interaction grew heated. “They smelled like you, all hot and aroused and made me remember what they looked like, tight up against your hips, outlining every delectable curve…”