Pairings: Oh, the girlie couple in question will be quickly apparent…
Series: Reflections. 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.
Notes: All words in italics are phonetic foreign words, mostly Greek
Spoilers: References aplenty to the majority of the third season here, consider yourselves warned…
Summary: The K9 unit finally get to experience what being part of the SGC is all about! Certain relationships deepen, begin to become so much more…
++ Art ++
SG1 had kept me endlessly busy for the eleven days since returning from their incident with Aris Bock, the alien bounty hunter. There were SOP to memorize, weapons I had never handled, sciences I had little comprehension of. I grew to look forward to my early mornings with Teal'c. Colonel O'Neill had turned out to be an adept boxer and kept me on a regular workout schedule. We sparred while Cooper egged us on and ensured I did not push my out-of-shape muscles too hard. Sam and I grew closer, our friendship the brightest spot in my life. SG1 took me drinking a few times and regaled me with tales of their exploits and what to expect from Stargate travel. A few times they even stuck both of us in a chamber and blasted us with some freezing chemical that frosted skin and fur and clothing almost instantly. Bright lights would flicker maddeningly along with a wavering high-pitched hissing and violent buffeting winds that made us both cringe. Only when Cooper stopped getting freaked by the treatment were we called into the briefing room.
“Well Sergeant? Do you think you and Cooper are ready?”
For a long moment, I was too terrified to answer the General's question. Then I swallowed hard and straightened up under the weight of my responsibilities. “I believe so sir, but perhaps we should keep it simple the first time.”
“Agreed. A jump to a safe world is authorized for Cooper's sake, and yours. You shouldn't find any surprises on the other side. SG1, report to the Gate room at 1400 hours. Dismissed.”
Not until I had saluted and began walking out did the reality of what was about to happen sink in. We were going through the Stargate. In less than two hours I was going to stand on the soil of another planet and feel the warmth of a different sun on my face. Swallowing the exhilaration and fear, I followed my teammates.
“Sergeant, come with me,” O'Neill's voice drew my attention.
Silently, he led the five of us to Stores and waved to the Lieutenant there. Moments later, a pile of gear was placed on the counter and O'Neill pulled out a handful of heavy military-green material. “Thought you'd be more comfortable in new gear. Welcome to active duty on SG1, Sergeant First Class Goldston.”
I opened my mouth to question his suddenly calling me Sergeant First Class, when I noticed that they had modified my uniform. On the shoulders of my new BDU's were the coveted patches of my new posting above the K9 shield. One was the SGC crest and the other proclaimed me a member of SG1, both set in easy-to remove Velcro backs. Beneath them were the familiar three chevrons and one gold rocker that I had worn for so long. But enhancing them was a second gold rocker of the promotion to the next level of being a Sergeant they had snuck in on me. A month ago, I would have never considered myself ready for the responsibility of this high of a rank. Bewildered and not a little choked up by the moment, I took the fatigue shirt from his hand and ran wondering fingers over the various patches on the material. Then I came back to myself and did the only thing I was capable of. I snapped off a stiffly formal salute and the gesture was instantly returned, accompanied by one of his winning smiles.
“Just glad to have another non-scientist on board,” he chuckled and gave me a friendly smack on the arm. “We outnumber them now. Congratulations.”
Sam and Daniel were full of good wishes and Teal'c gave me one of his regal nods. Someone had even gone to the trouble of modifying a shadrack for Cooper that also bore the SG1 patches. I gathered up the helmet, flak vest, fatigues and the various webbing gear before heading for the armory with my team. The Lieutenant there assigned me a standard pistol and a bulldog-nosed MP5 semi-automatic machine gun that was heavy in my hands. I signed for the clips of ammo and slid them into guns and pockets alike. With that done, I swallowed my queasy case of nerves and returned to my room for the backpack and a change of uniform. It felt entirely too weird to be in BDU's once more. The last time I had worn them had nearly been written on my death certificate. The look on Cooper's face when he saw me suited up for action mirrored my own insecurities. I knelt and hugged his furry body close to me.
“I know this is hard, but we have a job to do,” I whispered fiercely into his ruff and for long moments, neither of us moved. Then Cooper twisted in my hold to lick my face and sniff me over. With a quick, practiced series of moves he was buckled into his gear and bulky canine flak vest. Small saddlebags were settled over the shadrack and packed with food, water and a few other essentials. Then I gathered up the backpack and we reported to the Gate room. With a stern eye O'Neill gave me the full inspection before handing me the radio and earpiece as the others arrived.
“You ready for this?”
“As ready as I'll ever be.”
“Beginning dial-out sequence,” sounded over the speakers and the Stargate churned to life. I tugged on fingerless gloves as the chevrons began locking into their familiar sequence. Giving Cooper a last loving pat, I slipped the leash's loop over my wrist and waited for the Stargate. It did not disappoint. All these times I had witnessed it function and it was still mind-boggling. Only this time was different, much different. We were going through this time. Sensing my nervousness, Sam elbowed me hard enough to distract me away from the exploding event horizon. “Did you bring your antacids? This made me sick the first time I did it.”
“Great, now you tell me.”
Woodenly, I followed her up the ramp, rifle in one hand and Cooper's lead clenched in the other. She paused as O'Neill and Teal'c were swallowed up by the shimmering surface with that odd sucking noise. With an encouraging grin, Daniel followed. It was truly beautiful close up like this, shimmering with iridescent beauty. “I'll be right behind you Art.”
And with Sam's comforting voice in my ears, I gave Cooper a tug and we stepped in.
Some great force grabbed my unsuspecting body and yanked me into a tailspin through a tunnel of smoke lit by a million stars. They danced and spun in a rhythm all their own and all I could do was try to be a good audience. Before I could comprehend the sound and light show, I was being spat out the other side. Tumbling like a toy thrown by a child, I felt the lead wrench my arm and heard Cooper yelping in alarm. It took a desperate effort to gather my wits and I rolled to my knees to find him struggling to his feet next to me. “Come Cooper. It's okay buddy. It's okay.”
After tugging him into my lap, I clung to him and whispered soothingly until his shaking began to subside. We were iced over and my insides felt like we were still in the wormhole. Daniel knelt beside me while the others secured the perimeter. “Well, you made it. Any opinions?”
“I don't think I'm ever going on a rollercoaster again.”
I felt guilty at not helping my fellow soldiers, but they had things well in hand. With a sympathetic chuckle, Daniel helped me to my feet. Feeling my stomach rebel again, I fumbled in my pockets for the bottle of antacids Fraiser had given me before the Healing Device did its work. Curiosity began to take the edge off the experience as Cooper and myself looked at our surroundings. There were scattered ruins at the edge of an old growth forest a few hundred yards away. The foliage was too blue and the sky too green. Nose down, Cooper tugged at the leash and I let him lead me after Daniel.
++ Janet ++
Only four hours after releasing them from their pre-mission physicals, SG1 came trooping back into the infirmary. The veterans were indulgent, the dog subdued and the new kid looked shaken from the wild ride. “Well Sergeant, it looks like you survived. How are you holding up?”
“Okay, I guess. I'm not sure I'm supposed to feel this sick though.”
Mildly concerned by her weak tone, I hustled the woman over to a gurney and gave her the once-over. After a few minutes, I was convinced she was only showing the usual symptoms of first-time-through-the-Stargate queasiness. “You'll be fine. The first time I went through I felt like someone had pulled me inside out.”
“That's as good an analogy as any.”
“Oh, your footlocker came in.”
That comment definitely got her attention and dark blue eyes scanned the Infirmary until they rested on the big metal trunk propped up in a corner. “Excellent. Now I can play that guitar again,” she breathed softly to herself. It was unlikely that she realized that I was still listening and I self-consciously turned my attention to her partner. When I knelt beside Cooper and fussed over him, the dog began to perk up slowly. Only when he finally licked my chin did I leave him be. About that time, Sam and Jack came over to collect their teammate and give her a hard time. “So, you gonna live?”
Faintly glowering at her superior, Art sassed O'Neill right back. “It'll take more than that damn Gate to take me down sir.”
He laughed and walked away. “Yeah, you'll do Sergeant. You'll do.”
Sam grinned at Art and pulled the dark woman to her feet. “I believe you were just complimented by our esteemed leader.”
“That was a compliment?”
“Yep, he'll start threatening you once he really likes you.”
Their bantering left me feeling left out and I made the offer without thinking. “Why don't you successful jumpers come over to my place and celebrate tonight?”
Art seemed taken aback by the offer, but Sam lit up. “Great! Is Cassandra around?”
“Yes. I'm fairly certain she doesn't have any plans tonight.”
“Sixish? It's a school night, so I'll have to throw all of you out at a decent hour.”
“No problem, I'll send the guys for bar-be-que stuff. See you then Janet.”
Firing me a cautious, yet pleased, smile, Art followed Sam with a murmured farewell and I smiled at the puppy-dog shyness on the normally self-assured young woman. They hauled out the footlocker between them, laughing about the effort they were putting out. Their interaction warmed me and I fired off a quick self-warning to remain unattached. It was a depressing thought because I still found myself drawn to the dark woman. My lingering attraction to Sam was nothing new to me; I'd been dealing just fine with that as long as I'd been assigned to this project. Shrugging off the introspection, I went for the phone to warn Cassandra we were having company. She of course, was ecstatic and I warned her that her homework had best be done or she would not be hanging out with the others. All willingness and sunshine, she promised to have her schoolwork complete and the public areas of the house neat before we showed. It was still pleasantly odd to have my adopted daughter in my life, and I hoped it always was. I never wanted to take her for granted.
When I arrived home, Cassandra had done a remarkable job with both her schoolwork and the house. So we pulled out various disposable plates and the like while we waited for SG1. “So, are you ready to meet Cooper?”
“He's the dog that's assigned to SG1 now, isn't he? Do you think Starjumper will mind?”
On cue, Cassandra's funny-looking mutt padded into the room to be fed. I still thought the poor thing looked like some kind of inane cross between a German shepherd and a Pomeranian. “I hope not. But don't worry, Cooper has terrific manners.”
The flash of headlights in the driveway sent Cassandra rushing for the door. Sighing, I finished feeding Starjumper and he gave me a grateful look before digging in. The babble of Cassandra and the men's voices carried into the house as they greeted one another. Soon the kitchen was full of bodies and bags of groceries. “Well, now that you fellows have stocked us up for a month, who wants a crack at the grill?” It was quite cold outside and no one seemed ready to volunteer. So I chuckled and gestured at the kitchen in general. “Feel free to use the facilities if the weather's too much for you.”
They probably glared at me when I walked out of the kitchen and left them in Cassandra's care. When there was a knock on the door, I fully expected to see Cassandra come flying out to answer. She did not disappoint. Squealing in delight, she pounced on the tall woman who stepped in. “Sam!”
“Hey! How have you been?”
“Good. We're starting algebra next week,” Cassandra enthused.
“How fun. Didja finish your homework?”
Cassandra rolled her eyes expressively and sassed back, “you doctors are always nagging me. Yes, I finished my homework.”
“Careful soldier,” Jack added as he stepped into the room. “You're sounding insubordinate to a superior officer.”
We all laughed and Cassandra finally took note of the stranger standing patiently behind Sam. Struggling loose from Sam's hold, she ducked around the woman… and froze.
++ Cassandra ++
When Sam had said he was a big dog, I didn't know she meant that big. He looked more like a small horse with his pointed ears reaching halfway up his owner's ribcage. Curiously, he cocked his head at me and sat down to show me his pale belly. “Wow,” I breathed after a moment. “He's huge.”
Hesitantly, I shrank back into Sam and Cooper began wagging his tail. I knew it was a friendly gesture, but his size still intimidated me. Smiling winningly, the black-haired woman holding Cooper's leash knelt down and wrapped a casual arm around his shoulders. “Hi. You must be Cassandra. This is Cooper and I'm Art. He won't hurt you, I promise.”
Sam half-crouched to wrap one arm around me and reached out with the other to ruffle Cooper's ears. “Hey, he didn't wag his tail for me the first time I met him. I think he likes you,” she told me in her best trust-me voice.
“Really?” So I once again trusted her and reached out to touch Cooper's forehead. He was soft and warm and looked at me with patient amber eyes. “Is he a German shepherd?”
“That's exactly what he is, good eye. Colonel O'Neill tells me you have your own dog,” Art replied and I felt myself warming to her. It wasn't easy for me to trust people here, but she seemed really nice. Cooper was a beautiful animal with his fur patterned to look like he was wearing a black cape and face mask in contrast to the dark gold fur on his sides and legs. Starjumper kind of had the same markings, but much paler and fluffier. When Cooper sniffed at me, he was very careful not to get too close until I started to relax.
“Yeah, Jack brought him to me. His name's Starjumper, and he has almost the same markings, but he's just a mutt.”
“Mutts make some of the best pets. Cooper has to do way more than just be a pet.”
“How tall is he?”
“32 inches at the shoulder.”
“Wow. How much does he weigh?”
“He's a little on the light side right now. Only 95 pounds. We'll both bulk up again with more exercise.”
When Art smiled again, I grinned back and held out a hand. She took it and Sam took the other so I could lead them both deeper inside the house. “Come on in. I think Daniel is cooking with Teal'c, so it should be edible.”
I tugged Art into the living room and made her sit beside Mom so I could ask questions to my heart's content. She patiently answered all of them and showed me some of the stuff Cooper could do. It was amazing. With the smallest of gestures or a single word he would do all kinds of behaviors. Mom watched with that faintly indulgent expression she gets when I'm doing normal things. I know she worries about me a lot, it's one of the reasons I care about her so much. Finally Art stood up to come over to stand beside me. “Here, let me show you a couple of commands. Hey Sam, pay attention; you wanted to know this stuff. Okay Cassandra, you have to look him in the eye and speak firmly so that he knows you're giving him an instruction.”
Soon Cooper was letting me tell him to roll over on his back or lie down or sit back on his haunches with his front paws dangling. It was tons of fun. At dinner, he sat quietly by my chair while Starjumper got used to having another dog in the house. Art didn't seem to mind at all that her partner was hanging around with me and I loved it. While they talked, I played with the two dogs and fed them scraps when Mom wasn't looking. Once Daniel and Sam got into one of those conversations no one else understands, the rest of us began to clean up. When Mom bumped into Art, I was surprised to see her flush in embarrassment. How weird, Mom almost never got embarrassed. Looking a little flustered, Art knelt down beside Starjumper and gently began to make friends with him. Soon he was standing on her bent leg to sniff and lick her face, which she patiently allowed. Cooper looked faintly disapproving and I laughed at him. “Do you think they're okay enough to go play in the backyard?”
“Sure,” Art answered me readily. “Go grab your coat and we'll give them both some exercise.”
“Great! Back in a minute!”
We all ended up outside in the cold where we took turns throwing tennis balls for the two dogs. I think Cooper was letting Starjumper get most of the tosses out of good manners. It was hard to believe my mutt could outmaneuver the bigger animal. But eventually, I caught Mom and Sam trade one of those patented 'mom' looks and everyone started getting ready to go. I hugged Cooper goodbye and surprised Art by hugging her too. “You promise to come back and visit me?”
“Absolutely, soonest chance I get.”
“Great, I'll look forward to it. Bye Cooper.”
Pleasantly tired, I slept easily that night; happy I had made some wonderful new friends.
++ Jack ++
“If it were any colder, I'd need arctic gear.”
A sharp glare at the Marine on guard ensured that he didn't so much as flicker an amused expression. Despite being leader of the number one team and proving myself a thousand times over, I still felt like the damn jarheads were judging me because I was Air Force. But at least he was bundled up as heavily as I was. A bark echoed through the thick fog and drew my attention. Visibility was lousy, maybe three meters at best.
“The last two mornings they've been over at the north fence sir,” the Marine said dispassionately and I glared at him again. Why was I taking out my irritation about being tired and hungover on him? Probably for the simple fact that he was convenient. But I made myself grumble a 'thank you' and waded out into the fog. This was the last time I drank at the Doc's house. There was a surprised grunt of something that was almost pain from Goldston and Teal'c voice responded, “Your reflexes are still inadequate, Sergeant Goldston.”
“Have patience Teal'c, less than two weeks ago I could barely walk under my own power, much less fight. What is it Cooper?”
At that very moment the dog melted from the fog and gave a short bark of acknowledgement at me. “'Mornin' Cooper. Dare I ask why you three are out here at such an ungodly hour in such ungodly weather?”
“Training sir. Teal'c has been a terrific help to me.”
++ Art ++
The two men traded sardonic glances before O'Neill drawled, “oh really?”
Damn them, I never saw it coming. O'Neill dropped into a leg sweep while Teal'c shoved me from behind. My breath left me in a startled rush as I went crashing to the cold ground. For a long moment I lay there before rolling over and rubbing my sore chin. “Point taken sirs,” I acknowledged the rough lesson and climbed to my feet.
“Do ya box?”
“Great. When you get sick of freezing your butt off out here, I'll spar with you. See you two at breakfast,” O'Neill said casually and vanished into the fog with a negligent wave.
“Yes, Sergeant Goldston?”
“Is he always like this?”
“Yes, Sergeant Goldston.”
“Thavmahsio…” I drawled sarcastically and ignored Teal'c's speculative eyebrow.
An hour later or so later, I was grumbling at the scrapes on my hands and the bruises on my elbows and forearms where I'd broken my various falls at the hands of Teal'c. I'd deliberately let my lesson with him bleed over so that I could go straight to the locker room. The four hours a day thing sucked, but at least kept me on a schedule. Someone suddenly crashed through the door hard enough to send both Cooper and I to our feet. I reflexively jumped, only to realize that it was Sam, chuckling as she regained her footing and turned to the figure filling the doorway. It was Major Taylor, glowering balefully at my blonde pal.
“C'mon, you two. Some of us have just gotten back onworld and need a damn shower.”
Without looking, Taylor reached behind her to hook a small redheaded woman by the back of the neck and kind of tossed her into the room. Scowling good-naturedly, the small woman stumbled over to her locker and flashed a grin. Up close, I noted that her rank pips were different and wracked my memory. “Navy?” I asked tentatively and received a grin.
“Army?” She chuckled, gesturing at my chest where ARMY was written on my t-shirt. Meeting her brown eyes tinged with green, we laughed together. “Petty Officer First Class Ainsley McFadden. Call me Mac, everyone does. That your handsome dog there?”
“Yeah, that's Cooper, my partner. Staff sar… I mean Sergeant First Class Artemis Goldston.”
“Pleased to meet you, and Cooper. It'll be nice not to be the only departmental oddball around here.”
Mac smiled as she pulled off her dirty fatigue shirt and dropped it on the bench. “You're not going to ask?” There was good-natured resignation in her tone as I picked up the dirty shirt to examine it.
“SG3,” I mused. “And a caduceus.”
“The Marines aren't smart enough to be doctors,” she smirked and shucked the rest of her clothes to hit the shower.
“Department of the Navy,” I suddenly remembered out loud. “The Marines are part of the Navy. They don't have their own medical corps.”
“Exactly,” she called over her shoulder. “Few remember that. Good memory.”
Around the corner, Taylor suddenly sing-songed, “Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines.” Then she snorted derisively, “just one big happy freaking family. Sam, you just gonna stand there?”
Blinking owlishly, Sam rubbed her tired eyes and wandered to her locker. The Air Force women had obviously been working out and were beat. Half curious, I watched Sam start to undress as Mac and Taylor bantered back and forth like old pals. Suddenly Mac yelled, “Carter!” And a wad of soaked material smacked into Sam's chest hard enough to nearly knock her over. The look of shocked indignation set even me off into peels of laughter. The scientist/soldier really did take herself too seriously. When Sam didn't take the bait to join in, Taylor stepped around the corner, twisting a towel expertly between her hands. Mac swooned in mock horror, “run for your lives! Mommabear's got a towel! We're all doomed!” Sam's expression grew dismayed as she looked around her. There was nowhere for her to run as Taylor stalked over with the twisted rat-tail of damp terrycloth. So, in a soaked undershirt and her cotton panties, Sam leapt for the door.
Taylor's shout came to late as Sam stumbled through the doorway and crashed into the tall, fatigued figure there. The dark man looked taken aback for a moment before holding something out to Sam. “Could you give this to Mac? She left it in the briefing room.” A quick, appraising glance over Sam's scantily clad body was accompanied by the smallest of smirks as he intoned, “Major,” and walked away. Flushed from ankles to hairline, Sam leapt back into the locker room as though the hallway was on fire. The whole thing was hysterical, and I tried not to laugh, but it was just too hard. My guts ached from laughing and it served me right.
It took some kissing up, but Sam decided that she wasn't mad at us for teasing her so, and we went our separate ways, clean and happy.
++ Sam ++
After a wearingly long and intensive three weeks at the SGC, I finally dragged Art out by the collar of her jacket for a day off. Sputtering in half-hearted protest, she had glared at the soldiers watching our antics with amusement. After a couple of simple errands, including a light trim for my pal's wild curls, we were now two of the few dozen people in the lovely little park some twenty minutes drive away from the base. Shading her eyes from the bright afternoon sunshine, Art looked over to where her partner barked happily at a squirrel.
“So, what do you think?” I asked finally.
Art barely flickered as I set the cooler beside her before flopping down to stretch out in the warm sunshine. She'd been very quiet since our outing to Janet's and I was mildly concerned. So, while the middle of March was early for a picnic, I had decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm day. Even better, there were only four groups in the whole park, including ours.
“About?” That earned her a long-suffering look before she answered my question. “This place is nice. Relaxing, isolated and quiet. Thanks for bringing me here.”
“My pleasure. I found this place with Cassandra last summer.”
A long silence hung over the two of us, tinged with unusual awkwardness. I studied Art's profile closely as the younger woman stared at the distant trees. What was hiding behind those mercurial azure eyes? We had become good pals these last few weeks, but there was a line that she had let no one pass. It wasn't that SG1 hadn't tried. At first it seemed that perhaps it was the accident that kept her from getting too close. But she had been fairly open and honest with everybody about her feelings on that. I was at a loss as to what was bothering her. With a sigh, I sat up and mimicked my friend's posture. Legs drawn halfway up, arms thrown loosely over knees and studying the trees. A long time passed between us. Finally, Art flashed me an amused glance out of the corner of her eye. “Something buggin' you Sam? You seem a little anxious.”
There was a fluttery feeling in my guts and I realized that I was nervous. Something told me I shouldn't continue, but I had to know. “We're friends, right?”
“Yeah. You've been the best.”
“Then what's bothering you? It's driving me nuts.” She seemed surprised by the pleading note in my voice and looked over. Gently, I set a hand on her arm. “You can trust me you know.”
There was the oddest expression on Art's face. Somewhere between fondness and terror. The sunset eyes flickered down agitatedly and I tried to decipher the quick glance. What was there except the collar of my t-shirt and... Inadvertently, my gaze went to the same place on her throat. There was indeed something there, the familiar dog tag chain glinting against Art's dusky skin. So I reached out and hooked it with a finger. She flinched but did not pull away.
“The dog tags?”
She wanted to say it so bad she was practically shaking. Of course, Cooper realized she was upset and rushed over to neatly bowl us over with his enthusiasm. But he soon agreed to lie panting beside us. The tension was not as thick now, but neither of us had forgotten the earlier discussion. Art ran both hands over her face and into her curls.
“Not the tags,” I mused quietly. “But what they represent.”
Art did not answer, but her face gave her away. What could possibly be bothering her so much? The dog tags represented our service to the US Military. So that could only mean that something was conflicting with her duty. But from everything I had seen and the extensive background check had turned up, Art was a good soldier. Except for a couple of minor incidents, she was loyal and dedicated and had left a trail of satisfied co-workers behind her. A life-threatening injury had not managed to kill her and her canine partner was happy and well adjusted. I was at a loss and my expression must have said as much.
From the corner of her eye, Art watched me and growled in frustration, “Dammit Sam, I can't talk about it. I really can't.”
One hand dropped to clutch her tags hard enough to make the metal grind together despite the rubber silencers along their edges. “Okay, but can you really keep it locked up inside like this?”
The dark blue glare made me look away. “I have to.”
An awkwardness that had never been a part of our relationship before was suddenly between like a malevolent living thing. It made Cooper look from one of us to the other and whine plaintively. After a long few minutes, I twisted to grab the soft-sided cooler and pull it into my lap.
“Hope chicken salad is okay,” I said in a neutral tone and she seemed relieved I had changed the subject.
Woodenly, we ate our lunch in the warm autumn sunshine. When I saw Art wince queasily, I silently handed over the container of powerful antacids. As she mechanically chewed them, I kept my eyes trained on the now familiar facial features. If I could read the stone-faced Teal'c, surely I could pick up this one woman's subtle shifts of mood. With her guts upset from stress, Art was oblivious of the scrutiny for once and Cooper hovered protectively but did not interfere with his stricken Handler. Then I saw it, a flicker of something subtle as the agony in her stomach subsided. Quickly, I shifted my gaze over to where Art stared sightlessly at the distant tree line. There were a half-dozen young adults horsing around in the sunshine. One of the girls was taunting her pals as someone went scrambling for some fallen piece of sports equipment. The lad came up to snap a bright blue Frisbee at her. Effortlessly, she returned the throw and they traded the disk back and forth. Still uncertain I understood Art's wordless fascination, I moved my gaze from my friend to the young people playing nearby. There was something wistful and terrified in Art's expression. Then it clicked so abruptly that it took all of my considerable willpower not to snap my head back in shock. It was not the game that Art watched so hungrily, but the healthy young bodies playing it. More specifically, she watched the fit young woman as she continued to trounce her buddies while laughing and taunting them.
The widening of my eyes drew Art's attention and she finally turned her head. She knew I knew, of that I was absolutely certain. And just as Cooper had feared me upon our first meeting, Art feared me now. It struck me like a physical blow to see the terror shade Art's eyes pale. It all made sense now, the nervous behavior around Janet and the way everybody was kept at arm's length. At that moment, I decided I liked my new friend enough to take a very big risk for her. Ignoring the puzzled and frightened expression, I gently tugged the silver dog tag chain over her head. Yanking my own off, I turned to the nervous Cooper. “Cooper, come here.” Both sets of aluminum tags were tied to the collar beside his own pair and I gestured to the sprawling park. “Go play. Go.”
Numbly, Art nodded and Cooper reluctantly moved off to watch over us from a distance. Again we sat side-by-side and stared at the distant trees.
“You can talk if you need to. As far as I'm concerned this conversation will never officially happen,” I intoned in a flat voice before softening and wrapping a gentle grip around her bare forearm. “Our friendship can survive this Art. I'm offering to listen as Sam, if you need me to.”
An endless moment passed while Art's internal battle raged. Then slowly she crumpled into herself and the first sob tore itself loose. I could only gently drew her into a half-embrace and let her cry. Wracking, painful sobs shook Art's frame as she collapsed into my lap and I stroked her curly hair helplessly. The afternoon shadows lengthened as the emotional storm gradually passed. Quiet settled as Art's weight grew heavy where she was draped across my legs. The outpouring of years of silence and loneliness had been too much for her and she had fallen asleep. Gently, I ensured that my friend was comfortable and watched Cooper lay beside her. I ached in empathy to Art's pain and, for the first time in my Air Force career, hated the rule that had caused it. Until this moment 'don't ask, don't tell' had meant nothing to me. But now I cared about someone who was suffering in silence and there was nothing either of us could do about it.
“This sucks Cooper,” I mused softly and he could only whine in response.
++ Art ++
There was no gentle transition between sleep and wakefulness this time. My eyes snapped open and I looked around in confusion. It had grown chilly and I was clinging to Cooper's warmth almost desperately. Beneath my head, something stirred and I automatically recoiled. Then our eyes met and we both froze. It had been a long time since either of us had felt so awkward around another person.
“Art? I meant what I said earlier,” Sam said in an impossibly gentle tone and nervously, I smoothed both hands over my wild hair in an eternally futile gesture. Part of me wanted desperately to give into the faith in Sam's eyes, but I was so damn afraid. Then I noticed that there were still three sets of tags hanging from Cooper's collar. It was such an amusing, inane sight that humor bubbled up from my battered soul. When I grinned unexpectedly, he licked my face in relief. Batting at the six tags all tangled up together, I tried to bring my thoughts into a coherent pattern. “I haven't really talked to anybody about this.”
“Mmm. I gathered as much. When did you know?”
“Six weeks into K9 training.”
“Yeah… now you know why I'm still in uniform. I couldn't leave him.”
Cooper rolled over onto my legs and whined to have his belly scratched. Having Sam in on my secret had lifted a huge weight off my soul even as it brought my fear into sharp focus. Neither of us knew what to say and I felt the distance between us keenly. When had I come to care about her so much?
“So,” I began in a slightly strangled voice. “Now that you know my dirty little secret, trade me?” Sam sighed heavily and nodded for me to continue. I had to know if my instincts were accurate. “How do you feel about O'Neill?”
Under different circumstances, the look on her face would have been priceless. Then her shock turned into uncomfortable introspection. “I… I don't know exactly,” she managed to rasp out haltingly. “There's a… bond there, but we've ignored it for so long… it seems kind of redundant now. Must be hormones or something.”
It had cost her a lot to admit that out loud. There was a suspicious glassiness to her eyes that made my heart ache in sympathy. So I spoke again in my gentlest tone. “You do like Makepeace, right?”
Again I had shocked her and she reflexively elbowed me in the shoulder hard enough to knock me over.
“And you like Janet,” she growled in embarrassment and softened when I flinched. “Until this afternoon, I hadn't thought anything out of the ordinary with your behavior around her. Except that you often get really uncomfortable. But she is your doctor and that freaks some people out.”
For long moments I stared up at the cloudless sky and struggled with myself. “Yes, you're right,” I sighed and Sam sprawled out beside me.
“But not me?”
She sounded terrified of my answer might be. The little perverse part of my brain chortled madly and I ignored it. Once again I remembered my mad-eyed temporal double and the confessions of the tortured civilian doctor version of Sam who had been so like my friend and yet so unlike her. “Not that I know of,” I temporized awkwardly, not willing to analyze my feelings to closely in fear of what I might discover. “You've been the best friend I've made in years, but I guess you're just not my type.”
The answering chuckle was warm. “No non-stereotypical blondes for you, huh? Can't be the brains, Janet's as smart as me, easy.”
Now it was my turn to laugh and I was relieved we seemed to be able to handle this. Cooper imperiously wedged his bulk in between us and sighed happily. “I wish there was something I could do,” Sam mused wistfully and my heart warmed.
“You already have, Sam. You already have.”
++ Sam ++
It just didn't seem like enough. Art continued to stare up at the slowly darkening sky with that bittersweet expression on her face. It broke my heart. And how had she guessed that I did find Makepeace attractive? Damn, I thought I had been more discreet than that. When I said as much, Art laughed softly and her mood finally lightened. “You have been discreet Sam, I was just trained to be very observant when dealing with people. I was an MP for eight years remember? I had to be able to read soldiers in particular to be efficient at my job. If it's any consolation, I think it's mutual. He's a nice guy.”
What a weird day it had been.
“Would you be willing to stop by and see Cass? I know it probably means seeing Janet, and I'm not trying to push you or anything, but…”
“I'm nervous dammit. I don't want either of you getting into trouble.”
“I know that Sam. No, by all means let's go get the rest of your 'family' and take 'em out to dinner. I've been acting like a normal person for so long, I'm sure I can keep it up for the sake of the SGC.”
Art struggled to her feet while I sat up and pinned her with a serious look. “But what if she likes you too?”
That one set Art back on her heels. Fear and hope chased across her face and she swallowed hard. “Then it truly sucks to be me.”
Neither of us had anything to add to that bitter statement. So I called from a nearby payphone while Art tidied up our stuff and hauled it to the car. While I spoke with an excited Cassandra, I was hugely amused to see the young adults we had been observing earlier come over to admire Cooper. Art waved them away until she could introduce them properly and it looked to me that the interest Art had paid the girl earlier was anything but one sided. So I kept chatting with Cassie to give Art a little time with the young adults. By the time Cassie finally managed to get rid of me, the young people were bidding Art a fond farewell.
“Always amazing what the dog drags in,” she observed wryly and I laughed. There was a subtle pleasure dancing around her features from the young woman's attention. It was good to see after the rocky afternoon we had experienced. The drive passed peacefully and I pulled in to the driveway beside Janet's pretty little Saturn coupe. The moment Art opened the car door, we both shivered.
“Sheesh it got cold fast. I'm going to need to change,” Art exclaimed and reached back to grab her bag and release Cooper from the seatbelt. We barely had time to exit the car before Cassie was upon us.
“Sam! Art! Cooper! Hi!”
The first hug went to me, then Cooper and finally to Art.
“Since I promised to come visit, Sam thought this would be a good time. We're going to take you out to dinner if that's okay with…” Art's voice trailed off as Cassandra bounced over to the door with Cooper on her heels.
“What's wrong?” I asked softly.
“Umm, the Doc never gave me permission to call her by her first name.”
That made me chuckle at her consternation.
“Mom,” Cassandra called. “We have company.”
In the moment that Janet came to the door and laid eyes on us, I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that the attraction Art felt was anything but one-sided. There was a startled pleasure in Janet's brown eyes coupled with a nervous body language that spoke volumes about her feelings about Art. I was both thrilled and terrified for them.
++ Janet ++
It was a gorgeous early morning, the sky faintly rosy and perfectly clear. Despite having slept poorly, I smiled in delight at what was shaping up to be an amazing sunrise. The scent of coffee filtered through my still-sleepy brain and drew me like an automaton into the kitchen. This was the last time I slept on that horrible air mattress, especially with multiple bodies on it. That thought made me pause and stare out into the ripening dawn. This wasn't the first time Sam, Cassandra and I had stayed up far too late and fallen asleep in a big pile. Why had I slept poorly this time? That answer was easy and disturbing.
All night I had been aware of her intent eyes on me. Dark and enigmatic, she drew me like a moth to flame, taunted me like a purr in my ear. And scared the hell out of me with the nervous promise in her compelling gaze. A flicker of movement caught my eye. When I identified the sight, I was frozen to the spot.
Like the huntress Goddess whose name she bore, Art stalked the early morning like a lithe predator. But what was she doing? It looked like some graceful, exotic dance, her body weaving into a complicated and beautiful series of fluid combat movements. There were subtle hand gestures, a slow-motion kick that looked like something only a ballet dancer should be able to pull off. As my banal upper brain rationalized that the martial arts skill did not surprise me, much more base thoughts were bubbling up from a place deep inside.
I wanted her.
In a burning, frightening kind of way.
Terrified and thrilled by the thought, I found myself tugged to the sliding glass door by the force of my own need. As the clear partition slid away, her shadowed eyes shifted to me, raking over the big, fluffy bathrobe and my self-consciously naked feet. Like a clock stuck between tick and tock, she stared at me, unmoving, unblinking, tension radiating like heat. Again my body moved with no instructions from my panicking cerebellum. Then we were close enough for our body heat to steam the air around us. Those deep blue eyes were still midnight mysterious in the pre-dawn, and burned like fire along my skin. My fingers were tracing the rough line of her central torso scar through the thin t-shirt as I watched the emotions flicker in her gaze. Her breathing caught in a broken flutter that spoke eloquently of this growing bond between us.
Then I swayed forward and she ducked her head to catch the nervous movement. There was the briefest hesitation before our lips met and my hand pressed reassuringly into her belly. She tasted of the morning's cool dew and the enigmatic fire that burned behind her eyes. As the kiss deepened, I twined my hands into the glorious squiggles of inky hair that had teased me from day one and gripped her tight to me. A low noise like a hunting panther rumbled up from her chest and was breathed into my eager mouth. The screaming objections of my banal, doctor/military brain were leached away like the dark night by the dawn.
And then it was over, her taste and scent heady within my body and soul. For an endless moment we stared into one another's eyes until the morning sun abruptly lanced across us. Her arms were reassuring around me, her curvy body supple and comforting. How desperately I wanted to give into the edgy promise in her eyes. Slowly, I traced her soft mouth, shuddering when she pressed the gentlest of kisses to my sensitive fingertip. Then… I turned and walked away.
I suspected later that I was in some kind of emotional shock, numb like a trauma victim. By the time I was disturbed out of my stillness, dawn was full and bright outside the same window I had first looked through. Startled, I glanced around the kitchen as though expecting to see the X-files aliens that had abducted me for those insane minutes. Had it even happened? Or had I only imagined her taste and touch? A delighted tremor echoed through my sensitized body and left my face flushed. If I had, my imagination was far more talented than I had ever given it credit for.
When someone suddenly stepped into the kitchen, I jumped guiltily and nearly spilled coffee down my chest. It was a sleepy Sam, rubbing at her eyes like an adorable five-year-old.
“Mornin',” she mumbled and a smile pushed its way past my confusion. She eyed me oddly as she went for the coffee pot. “You okay Janet?”
I shrugged and tried to make light of it by turning away and blindly going for the refrigerator. My internal autopilot made eggs and sausages and hash browns while the rest of me reviewed the morning again and again. How good she had felt, warm and loving and nervous as hell. Old memories and fears cascaded through me. What on earth had possessed me to kiss her in the first place? And what in the hell had made me stop?
++ Art ++
Endless moments passed while I stared idiotically at the sliding glass door and let the early morning sun bake the right side of my head. What had just happened? Excited tingles still raced through my nerves like fairy sprites. When I rubbed my eyes as though to wake myself, the morning didn't change. Cooper was still lying nearby, watching me with that indulgent expression he gets when I'm being insufferably human. I raked my fingers through my hair, taken aback by how tangled it was. The heated memories of Janet's strong fingers gripping me so tight caused my muscles to tremble and my skin to grow hot and tight. By my ancestors, that sexy little woman had come out here and kissed me until I had utterly lost track of everything around me.
Then reality rushed over me like an ice-cold wave.
That sexy Air Force doctor had kissed me… really kissed me. I wanted her so bad I could taste it, but fear rooted me to the spot. I had never seriously entertained the possibility that Janet might be interested and the reality of it was a shock. This was so dangerous… But I knew that I would take that risk for the promise in her velvet eyes.