DISCLAIMER: Obviously, I don't own any of these characters. They belong to the tolerant and talented folks of Gekko, Double Secret, MGM, SciFi Channel, and a whole host of others. I write fanfic for my own entertainment, and make no money from these stories. Hell, I don't even get any bribes.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is one of the more experimental pieces I've written. I woke up one morning with the idea to somehow use the four elements in a story, making it as symmetrical as possible. This is the result. I'm not entirely sure how well the style and content go together, so feedback is especially welcome. Thanks go to chaos, for telling me the piece was worth posting.
SPOILERS: In The Line of Duty, Jolinar's Memories, The Devil You Know.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By ocean gazer
In her dream, she was falling, always falling.
She abruptly jerked awake, drawing in a deep breath and bracing her hands on the mattress beside her. Disoriented, she wondered why she couldn't see anything, wondered if she'd hit ground and blinded herself in the fall. Then her brain woke up as thoroughly as her body and she realized that her eyes were still closed.
Taking another deep breath, she opened her eyes, relieved to see the familiar shapes and contours of her bedroom. A dream, it had only been a dream. Already, the sense of panic was draining out of her body her muscles relaxing, her heart rate slowing to normal. She took another deep breath, relieved by the lessening fear, though a tiny voice in the back of her mind screamed that the mild nightmare was important in some way. In what way, she didn't know. Even though she'd had the same dream more times than she could count, she never could remember it once she awoke.
There was a faint tug of memory, of recognition, and she frowned into the dark as she struggled to decipher the meaning. She closed her eyes, snatching desperately for any fragment, but the images were gone, scattered to the edges of her mind. She still had no idea what the dream was about, what it meant this time, what it had meant every other time. Maybe it was a warning of some kind, though she was skeptical about such psychic occurrences. Maybe it was something from Jolinar's past, some ghostly imprint of an unpleasant experience.
The possibility unnerved her. Her experiences with the dead woman's memories had been far from pleasant and still left her feeling like she wasn't totally in control of her own mind, her own body. She felt her heart beat faster and her breath come in ragged gasps at the mere thought. Her hands were still braced beside her on the mattress and she clenched them into fists, willing herself to stop thinking. She knew better than to revisit such disturbing ground in the middle of the night. It was akin to a child alone in bed at midnight in a quiet house thinking about her fear of death.
Foggy from the dream, from being awakened so abruptly, she couldn't quite shake out of her thoughts. Lost in hazy fears from her own mind, she jumped when a hand slid across her torso. Within moments, she recognized the touch as Janet's. Scant seconds later, she felt her lover's body curling up against her side.
A faint whisper, words of concern, drifted to her ears. She murmured an apology for waking the woman, a reassurance that she was fine. Janet's hand moved up from her abdomen to her face, turning her head slightly. Opening her eyes, she looked into her lover's sleep-veiled eyes, saw the disbelief written there. It didn't surprise her. Her lover knew more about her demons than anyone else. Her lover also knew more about her capacity for denial than anyone else.
She lay there, blinking rapidly, looking for words. There was both everything and nothing to say. The images from her dream were gone and still she had no idea what they were, what it was all about. And she didn't want to talk about Jolinar, not here, not now.
Slowly she moved, turned her body until she was lying on her side facing Janet. She draped one arm across her lover's body, hooked her leg over the other woman's. Sighing in sudden, sleepy contentment, she pulled Janet tighter and felt tender fingers caressing her cheek. Meeting the brown eyes, she saw the concern still written there. She wanted to say something to ease the woman's mind, but she couldn't think of any adequate words. And she didn't want to give voice to her fears just then. Maybe in the morning, with bright sunlight and a strong cup of Kona blend. Not in the middle of the night. She said the only thing she could think of, sincere in its simplicity.
"Please, just hold me," she murmured softly.
Watching Janet, she saw the look of worry shift to one of understanding. This wasn't the first time that she'd wanted to be held and soothed in the wake of a bad dream. And knowing her lover as she did, she knew that the request was taken as a good sign, as a sign that she wasn't just drifting in denial and refusing to deal with her feelings. It was a subtle signal of vulnerability, of emotional need. But for her, that sort of subtlety spoke as loudly as an explosion of words would for someone less self-contained. And the marvel was that the woman in her arms knew that, accepted that.
She felt soft lips ghost against hers in an undemanding kiss. Then, she felt Janet shift position a bit, the woman's head coming to rest in the hollow of her neck, and she angled her head so that her cheek was pressed against soft hair. She felt the other woman's legs moving and smiled in the dark as she felt the other woman's legs twining and tangling with hers. One of her lover's arms draped across her, just over the curve of her hip and along her back, pulling her closer, holding her tightly.
She slid her arm under her lover's neck, like a pillow, and let her other arm rest along an exposed shoulder, her hand coming up to stroke auburn hair. And then she felt Janet moving again, the arm that had been trapped between their bodies snaking underneath her. They lay breast to breast, thigh to thigh arms and legs entwined, as close as humanly possible. She sighed, deeply, contentedly. She felt warm breath against the skin of her neck, felt gentle hands caressing her, soothing her, keeping her safe.
Grounded in the moment, snuggled against her lover's body, she slowly drifted back to sleep.
She stood very still for a long moment, scanning her surroundings.
Even after all this time, traveling through the Stargate still amazed her. To be on an alien planet, under an alien sky it never got old to her. She was a scientist; new things weren't to be feared, but to be understood. And the work she did allowed her to see all manner of things never before imagined. Around the SGC, she often couldn't contain her excitement about whatever technology the teams brought back for her to study. It was akin to being a kid in a candy store.
But out in the field, she was a trained military professional. And no matter what wonders lay on this planet, what potential miracles might be hiding here, there were still risks. And so she stood warily, eyes scrutinizing the grassy field in which the Stargate stood, darting to the thick stands of forest that circled around that open space. Her teammates were doing the same, all attuned to any sense of danger, any sense that things were not what they seemed.
A shiver worked its way down her spine, chilling her in spite of the warm temperatures and the sun high in the sky. Danger, there was danger somewhere out there. The thought jarred her and she reflexively tightened her grip on her P-90. Looking down, she could see her knuckles whitening from the strain.
Glancing at her companions, she noted that none of them seemed ill at ease. They had fanned out at the base of the Stargate pedestal alert to any sign of danger, but also chatting to one another about banalities. She shook her head, trying to clear out her negative thoughts, and walked quickly down the steps to join them. Tuning out the conversation, she swept her gaze around. The blue tinged grass of the field was tall and swayed slightly in the breeze. The forests beyond stood tall and silent, green- and white-tipped trees making an attractive color contrast against the lavender sky.
Had the colors not been alien to Earth, the pastoral scene would have made a nice postcard. Yet with every step she took, the sense of jeopardy hummed in the back of her mind. She forced her fingers to loosen on her weapon, before they had the chance to cramp up, and told herself she was being ridiculous. Inhaling quickly, she reminded herself of the data the UAV had sent back before crashing. There were no signs of intelligent life here, no signs of the Goa'uld, scarcely even signs of animals and birds. There were no signs of anything that could be dangerous.
For a moment, the tug of memory reminded her of her dream the night before. But the images and content of said dream remained maddeningly illusive. With a sudden, fearful ache, she wished she was home with Janet, comfortable and safe. Fighting off the wistful thinking, she let her eyes sweep around the scenery again, hoping to spur some sign of recognition from her subconscious. Nothing happened. Looking down at the spiny blades of blue grass sliding over the leather of her boot, she tried to access the memories buried in her mind, to figure out if Jolinar had ever been to this planet before. As usual, the information floated just out of reach.
She belatedly fell into step behind Teal'c, trying to ignore the sensation of being watched. Intellectually, she knew there was nothing there except maybe a hidden bird or an alien squirrel. She told herself she was just being paranoid that if there was any danger, her teammates would also be picking up the same vibe she was. Certainly, the only thing she ever picked up on that Colonel O'Neill didn't was when the Goa'uld were involved, when the naquada in her blood made their presence known. She knew for certain that wasn't the case here.
When the colonel dropped back to walk beside her, she started slightly, having been lost in both her thoughts and her perusal of the planet. She glanced at him and saw the question in his eyes, the look of impatience with the way she was dragging her feet on this simple UAV retrieval mission. With nothing concrete and specific to go on, she was reluctant to talk about her dream-fueled paranoia. Finally, aware of his scrutiny, she briefly gave voice to her sense of unease.
"Just a weird feeling, sir," she stated quietly.
She saw the way his eyes rolled, but he patted her shoulder reassuringly and told her they'd be as careful as possible. The words made her feel a little better. At least he hadn't laughed or told her to stop imagining things. That was something. When he shouted to Teal'c to keep his eyes open, and then dropped behind her to take the rear, she allowed herself to relax a little. The feeling of danger hadn't passed, but now she knew her team wouldn't be caught unawares.
As they started into the forest, she picked up the pace to catch up with Teal'c and Daniel, trying not to give into her paranoia by once again tightening the grip on her weapon. Instead, she concentrated on her surroundings, the tall trees, the oddly thick and waist-high undergrowth. The faint rustle of wind-kissed leaves was the only sound, other than Daniel's occasional bursts of conversation and the colonel's acerbic responses.
She kicked red-leafed ferns out of her path and tried to sidestep the twigs and branches that crunched underfoot. The lack of bird songs or animal movement felt oppressing to her, the relative silence as menacing as the calm before a storm. She tried to tell herself that the disquiet she'd been feeling since they set foot on the planet was due to the lack of sound. Certainly, that was part of it the unnatural silence.
But try as she might, she couldn't intellectualize away her emotions. So she opted for ignoring them as best she could. She remained as alert as she could, but forcibly turned her brain to other matters, such as pondering what elements led to the planet's peculiar coloration. Stopping for a moment, she slid her jacket off and tucked it into a pouch in her pack. Refastening her pack, she resumed walking, grateful that the colonel remained in the rear. And she even managed a smile at how good it felt to have her bare arms exposed to the air.
Warm and lulling breezes blew around her; still, she couldn't shake the feeling of anxiety.
In her worst nightmares, she'd never imagined anything like this.
She stumbled as she ran, but somehow managed to keep her feet, to keep running. The cuts on her leg were almost bone-deep and she could feel the blood soaking through her pants. The puncture wounds in her shoulder throbbed painfully in time with the thud of her boots on the ground. But there was no time to stop and do anything about them. She had to keep running, to not slow her team down. They had to get off this planet; she wasn't going give into her injuries, wasn't going to slow them down and be the cause of their deaths.
She could see the colonel and Daniel several feet in front of her and knew that Teal'c was following her closely. Reaching down into her reserves of energy, she put on a burst of speed, trying to close the gap between herself and her teammates. She felt herself limping painfully, felt the twigs and branches clawing at her, drawing more blood. Literally clawing at her, as though they smelled her blood and concentrated their attack on her, the way predatory mammals singled out the weak and sick in the herds of prey they hunted. A whole forest of carnivorous plants; no wonder they hadn't seen any indigenous life.
Ahead of her, she could see the colonel and Daniel with their zats, trying to blast a clear path through the murderous undergrowth. Behind her, she could hear the distinctive whirr of Teal'c's staff weapon. She wanted to help them, but only had enough energy to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Especially with the way the plants seemed to hone in on her.
There had been no warning of the initial attack. They'd been standing at the site of the UAV crash, and she'd squatted down to try removing a branch that had inexplicably at that time punctured the metal wing of the machine. Before she'd registered the motion, the sharp twig teeth on the ends of the branch had snapped up and literally bitten into her shoulder. Luckily, they'd missed any arteries or veins. While they'd all stood there, numb with disbelief, her blood dripping down to the ground, the plants at her feet had literally come to life and begun attacking her legs.
She stumbled again as she ran too close to a fern, and the fronds slashed against her hand and forearm, drawing more blood. Before she could fall, she felt Teal'c grab her arm, steadying her while the fern slashed at his skin. She felt him push her to the side and followed the motion, only vaguely aware that it was a patch of ground that the colonel and Daniel had cleared for them. The only thing in her conscious awareness was the need to run, the need to not let her team down, the need to survive this nightmare and see Janet again. The thought of her lover goaded her to keep moving when pain would have sent her crashing to a halt.
Her lungs were on fire, and she could hear the harsh breathing of her teammates. The air was thick with smoke, as the staff weapon charred the plant life it touched, setting tiny blazes behind them that could easily erupt into a massive fire. She wanted to look back and assess the danger, but didn't dare, afraid of losing her step and falling. With the amount of blood she'd lost, the amount of pain she was in, she doubted she could get up again if she fell. At least not without help, and she didn't want to put anyone else in any more danger than they were already in. The one consolation she had, if she could call it that, was that her teammates only had superficial wounds. She had no intention of failing her teammates, of letting them get hurt worse while they helped her.
Trying to shut out the pain, she kept running, wincing every time she put weight on her right leg. She was so lost in her own nightmare that Teal'c's arm around her waist made her jump. If she'd had the strength, she would have pushed him away. The crackling of the zats was so loud that she almost missed his quiet offer of help. Stubbornly she wanted to refuse, but a sudden burst of clarity made her aware of the fact that she couldn't keep going without help. And if she didn't keep going, they'd probably all die. She gave in to necessity, but not without an entreaty.
"Don't sacrifice yourself for me, Teal'c," she pleaded faintly.
Somehow, in the midst of the chaos, she saw his head nod slightly, heard his unspoken promise that he would get them both out alive. Even knowing he might be lying, unable to fulfill the promise, his unflappable presence warmed her, gave her the strength to keep going. She leaned on him, concentrating on matching his steps, looking ahead just enough to see that the colonel and Daniel had burst into the open field and were fighting their way through the blue grass to the cleared area around the DHD and Stargate.
Apparently, the plants were cognizant of their escape attempt. She saw something from the corner of her eye and shoved Teal'c away from her, the element of surprise being the only thing that sent him stumbling. A cry wrenched itself from her throat as a tree branch descended and crashed into her head. Seeing stars, she pitched forward, only to be caught by Teal'c, who then blasted the offending limb off the tree.
Hearing the roar of flame behind her, she staggered forward, knowing only that she had to keep moving. Dizzily, she wondered why she couldn't seem to run in a straight line and why she had red liquid dripping down into her eyes. She saw Janet's face in her mind's eye, and kept moving even as she felt her energy fading, wanting nothing more than to get home to her lover.
Burning with the strain and the unrelenting pain, the world suddenly went dark around her.
She lay completely still for a long moment, listening to the sounds around her.
Sounds filtered into her ears: a steady beep-beep, the soft hum of machinery, a distant murmur of voices. Her brain chewed on the auditory cues; she knew they should mean something to her, but she felt like her head was filled with cotton. Her thoughts seemed sluggish, as if she were drugged.
That thought resonated with her and she took stock of how she was feeling. Hadn't she been in a lot of pain? The pain she remembered was gone, and fragmented memories of nightmarish running played inside her head. She moved her fingers slowly, feeling the crisp sheets under her skin. All the pieces came together and she realized she was in the infirmary. They'd made it back; somehow, they'd made it back.
Feeling secure in the knowledge of where she was, she slowly opened her eyes. She blinked hard, as though that would somehow help her make the visual adjustment from darkness to light. Within a few moments, she was able to see her surroundings, the monitors of the machines surrounding her, the white walls of the infirmary. Slowly she turned her head to the side, not wanting to aggravate whatever injuries she had. A tiny smile played over her lips as she saw Janet slouched in a chair, eyes closed.
It surprised her when brown eyes flew open, since she didn't think she'd made enough noise to waken the other woman. Only belatedly did she realize that her lover had not been asleep and that her movements in the bed had alerted Janet to the fact that she was finally conscious. She tried to speak as the woman rose from the chair and came to her side, but all she could do was cough painfully. Her throat felt raw and she remembered the acrid smoke.
She watched, still wracked with coughs, as Janet picked up a cup and carefully spooned out some semi-melted ice. Gratefully, she opened her mouth and felt the cool chips melt on her tongue, letting liquid slide down her throat. Her coughing subsided as she swallowed several more spoonfuls, feeling infinitely better for the soothing effect of the water. She hadn't been awake long enough to be aware of how thirsty she really was.
She felt Janet's fingers gently caressing her wrist, taking her pulse. The familiarity of the gesture warmed her. As tired and fuzzy as she was, she was conscious of the fact that they weren't alone, that they couldn't just hug freely or show any signs of affection that weren't strictly within the realm of friendship. While General Hammond probably wouldn't care about their relationship if he ever explicitly found out, neither of them was ready to test the assumption.
Watching her lover's face closely, she listened to the litany of her injuries and those of her teammates. Thankfully, despite everything, the colonel and Daniel had gotten away with only scratches and scrapes where the plants had torn through their pant legs. And while Teal'c had gotten more serious cuts, from helping her through the hellish forest, his symbiote was already healing the damage. Her own injuries didn't come as much of a surprise, since she had a pretty good idea of how badly those plants had torn into her. But the relieved look on Janet's face made her aware of how close it had been for all of them.
She didn't know how much of that was due to luck or to their dogged determination to not give up. But whatever it was, she was grateful. While she was prepared to die in the line of duty, to sacrifice herself to save her planet and its people, being eaten by carnivorous plants didn't quite qualify. Pointless and unnecessary were the words that came to mind. And it had been the thoughts of not failing her teammates and of seeing the woman she loved that had given her the strength to get through. Looking up into Janet's face, she realized just how much she cared for the woman, just how much her lover's presence in her life steadied her and gave her balance.
"I love you, Janet," she whispered silently.
Knowing her lover could read her lips, she wasn't too surprised to find a smile gracing those beloved features. She felt strong fingers brushing her forehead, ostensibly to check the bulky bandage there. But she could feel the love in the gesture, could hear what her partner was saying without words. It warmed her immensely.
She felt her eyelids starting to droop, despite her best efforts to focus on the woman in front of her. Logically, she knew she'd been through an ordeal and was on painkillers, so of course her body needed the sleep. But that tiny part of her mind that was not rational, not logical, didn't want the moment to end, didn't want to give up the sense of shelter that Janet's mere presence gave her. She wanted to hold on to the feeling, like a security blanket.
Not surprisingly, her lover seemed to know both what she was feeling and what she was thinking. She watched as the other woman walked to the door of her little curtained-off room, and told the duty nurse that she was just going to sit with her friend for a while. For a moment, her drugged mind wondered if that was imparting too much information about the nature of their relationship. Then she realized that it wasn't the first time Janet had sat by the side of one of her friends when they first woke up. And unfortunately, it probably wouldn't be the last.
Her eyes slid closed, almost of their own accord, and she heard the soft scrape of a chair. Deducing that the other woman was going to sit by her bedside, she wasn't too surprised when she felt Janet's hand reach up to stroke her cheek. It was an almost innocent gesture, one used by mothers with children, and it gave her an overwhelming feeling of being loved. She'd never shared this kind of physical affection with anyone, this intimacy that went beyond mere physical desire. So it continually amazed her that the simple touch of her lover's hand could soothe her body and soul so completely. Lying still, she relaxed into the sensations, savoring the feel of the soft, rhythmic caress.
Gentle waves of comfort washed over her; finally feeling safe, she drifted into a dreamless sleep.
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