by Judith Proctor
(This story is set immediately after the 4th season episode 'Divide and Conquer' and contains major spoilers for it)
So awash was she in memory, that Carter barely noticed when they took Martouf's body from her arms.
Together they walked under twin moons along the ridge of Noctanna, gazing down on the desert sands below; Martouf laughed at a joke that had been old a thousand years ago and she leaned her head on his shoulder, giving silent thanks for the time they had had together. Fingers stroked through her hair, gently teasing apart strands that the wind had knotted together in its dance across the dunes, tossing sandgrains over barchan crests in its eternal resculpting of the desert.
There was no sound, but that of the fading breeze and their own breathing. Knowing this might be their last night together, she turned to Martouf and read the depth of emotion in his eyes. His arms gathered her in their warmth, their lips met, and-
Carter? Who was Carter?
Her eyes opened to a strange room, which reluctantly resolved itself into Stargate Command. O'Neill squatted lightly on his heels in front of her, looking directly into her face.
"You okay, Carter?"
She clambered carefully to her feet, ignoring that hand that wasn't there to assist her, but would have been instantly had she shown any sign of needing it.
"Jolinar, Sir. I was having flashbacks."
"I thought you only got memories of any depth with one of these doo-dah things?"
"Can't trust the snakes, even when they're dead."
He gave her a sharp look for that. "Is there anything we, like, need to know about?"
"No, Sir. I'm just..."
"Major." Hammond to the rescue. "You look all done in. Take a rest, go home. You've had enough for one day."
And he didn't know the half of it.
The dull grey corridors denied the possible existence of daylight above. There were times when she no longer had any idea what shift she was on. You went through the stargate when it was daytime on the other side and your body clock just had to put up with it. Right now, she was tired, deathly tired; she ought to take the General's prescription and go home, but she didn't feel safe to drive. Too many shocks, compounded one on top of another - she needed to go somewhere quiet where she could just sit down and come to terms with what had happened.
'Dr Daniel Jackson'. The familiar name-plate on the door drew her in. No one ever came here as a rule except herself and Daniel - maybe because it felt older than any room on a military base had a right to, borrowing its patina from the rows of books that lined the walls and overflowed onto Daniel's desk to compete for space with his computer. Dust bred in every available corner - forays by the cleaning staff were regularly repulsed by neatly handwritten notes saying 'Work in progress. Do not touch'. Stone carvings competed for space with photocopies of hieroglyphic drawings, only to be ousted in their turn by sheets of scientific notation that represented their combined efforts at making sense of alien technical documents.
She switched on a desk lamp, leaving the rest of the room to lurk in the shadows and hid herself in an old red leather armchair in one corner. Large enough to curl up in, it offered an aura of welcoming security.
Lantash/Martouf! A stab of pain for symbiote as well as host. A love that had lasted a hundred years. A love shared by both Jolinar and Rosha, for that was the way of the Tok'ra when symbiote and host loved as one. Four beings in a strange mesh that had drawn her as a fifth thread into their weave, asked for her acceptance and now drew her into the memories that grief evoked.
Samantha! Martouf called her name, knowing that she had to kill him before the programming forced him to kill someone else, telling her that he loved her anyway. She held him, cradled his body in her arms, locked herself into a world that was safe from the present, was safe from-
She knew them: knew Lantash's ironic sense of humour, know Martouf's love of music and the gentle touch of his hands, knew the hours they had whiled away playing unfamiliar games whose rules she nonetheless understood.
If she hadn't cared for Martouf, it would have been easier to deny the emotions, easier to hang onto the thin shreds of sanity that prevented her from drowning in Jolinar. She'd liked Martouf, become close to him, might even have loved him if it hadn't been for...
Why did it have to be O'Neill?
There were plenty of polite, courteous men out there; there were men who could relate to alien races with being automatically suspicious as to their motives; there were even men who found her scientific work interesting in its own right rather than as an incomprehensible, but annoyingly necessary, means to an end. Then there was the vanishingly small list of men whom she would trust with her life, her sanity and her career. And the even shorter list of men who stirred her blood. Well, man actually. The only man who appeared on the two last lists - and none of the former.
She'd had it under control, damn it. She had had it under control.
And now, she was grieving not only for Martouf, but for the man she'd never even had, for the man who had been forced into a truth he couldn't afford any more than she could: "I'd rather die than lose Carter."
Light streamed through the door, then flooded the room as Daniel switched on the overhead light: too much for eyes sensitised to the gloom. She squeezed into the back of the chair, eyes scrunched up in self-defence.
"Sorry, Sam. I didn't realise you were there."
"I needed the quiet. I didn't feel right."
"Have you seen Dr. Frasier?"
"I don't think there's anything Janet can do. It's Jolinar."
Daniel nodded, a brief bob of the head. "Would it help if I turned the light off?"
"Thanks." The light from the desk lamp was dimmer; it didn't glare and bounce pointed spikes off the back of her skull.
"I could always..." Daniel's hand gestured vaguely in the direction of the door.
He looked searchingly at her, eyes serious behind the glasses, then pulled up a small wooden chest and sat on top of it, close enough for her to read his face in the dim lamplight.
"It's never easy to lose someone," he said quietly.
"You still miss Sha're?"
Daniel stared down at his joined hands. "I'll never forget her. When you love someone like that, it never really goes away."
"More important to Jolinar than to you." He shifted awkwardly and the changing shadows hid the details of his face from her, but she could see the slight tilt of his head and the silhouetted hands that spread out towards her in sympathy.
"Meaning?" She was sharper than she'd intended to be.
The desk next to them was covered in paper diagrams, held down by a selection of scarabs, fossils and assorted souvenirs including a little Swiss cottage in a snowstorm. Daniel reached out and picked up a small brass paperweight of the three wise monkeys and turned it over and over between his fingers.
"Teal'c and I have incredibly bad hearing. Anise explained to General Hammond that the discrepancy in those readings was caused by the force field. Apparantly, the force field was at a frequency that interfered with your emotions. Until you worked out what had happened, there was an unexplained difference between your conscious and unconscious thoughts." The monkeys performed a headstand on his lap. "I can't see any reason to disagree with her."
Tears welled unexpectedly in the back of her eyes and she had to fight to keep them back. She had damned herself just as thoroughly as O'Neill had, and in much the same words, fighting to keep her voice clinical and unemotional. Whatever happened, you were a professional and you never let yourself forget that. Whatever happened, no matter what the stress, you didn't give way to emotion.
But it wasn't her fault if Jolinar...
Martouf. The scent of his skin, the warmth of his arms, the way he laughed with all his soul, the way his thoughts blended with those of Lantash so that the two acted with one will and one heart. His eyes. Why had she never noticed the way his eyes crinkled when he smiled, as though the world was a shared secret between two of you?
Her head jerked up. "Sorry, Sir, I was daydreaming."
"Uh, Sam." The hesitancy in Daniel's voice was close to panic.
She wasn't that far from panic herself. She willed her body to remain still, her hands to refrain from fluttering.
"Jolinar keeps taking over. She was Martouf's lover and I killed him."
Daniel gripped her firmly by the shoulders. "You had no choice. You know that. No more than Teal'c did when he killed Sha're."
It would be easy, so easy to use his sympathy. Why not make a pass at Daniel? Why not bury Jack in forgetfulness with someone else? Daniel was a civilian - no regulations to bother you: no problems about having a relationship with your commanding officer.
He was attractive, intelligent, understanding, he even made it onto the list of men she trusted - it wasn't his fault if he made it onto all the lists except the last one. A relationship with him would at least be companionable. And O'Neill? He'd never say a word to stop her, and it would destroy both him and SG1.
And that would destroy her in turn.
It was safer not to think about O'Neill - channel the emotion away somewhere else.
Martouf. A grief that wouldn't destroy her career. A love that didn't put her in an impossible position. It had been bearable as long as she hadn't known the depth of O'Neill's feelings for her. You could guess, but guessing wasn't the same as hearing him say it, seeing him forced through the humiliation of having to bare his soul in front of Freya/Anise.
Martouf was easy by comparison. He and Jolinar had had no restrictions on their love. The night before she'd left on the journey that would lead her to the hell of Netu was vivid in her recollections. They'd spent that night together under the two moons, touching, caressing-
"Sam. You're drifting again."
So she was, lying in Martouf's arms, waiting for the sun to rise and separate them once more.
"Sam. I'm taking you to see Janet whether you like it or not."
The analyzer beeped as it completed the test. Sam watched as Janet bent down to look at the display and tapped the screen with a forefinger.
"Just as I thought, Major. Your blood's completely wrong."
She sat up on the couch. "What do you mean?"
"Exactly what I say. There's a protein marker in your blood remaining from your time as host to Jolinar. Although the protein is part of the support system for the symbiote, it's actually manufactured by your body, which is why it hasn't completely flushed out of your system by now. Previously, the level was stable and causing you no problems, but now the quantity has increased massively and is triggering a shutdown of your immune system."
"You're saying that my body thinks the symbiote is handling the immune system for me?"
"In so many words. Jolinar made permanent changes to your biochemistry. You must realise that if you'd been together for much longer, his death would have fatal to you."
"Symbiotes don't have gender."
"Jolinar always used female hosts. She was female."
Janet shook her head in disbelief. "A gou'ald is a gou'ald. And for some reason, your body is reacting as if it was still there."
"Jolinar had a very strong emotional attachment to Martouf." She shook her head, trying to dispel a sudden dizziness. "He's dead, and I keep getting her memories of him."
"You shouldn't be getting this strong a result from just accessing the memories. You've done that before without ill effect. Somehow, you must be going deeper, interacting with them.
"All I can tell you is that the more you access those memories, the more of the protein marker your body will produce and the weaker your immune system will get. Identify too closely with Jolinar, and it could kill you."
That was more than she had expected. A lot more. Okay, so she was feeling a bit hot and fuzzy, but that was just stress.
"Not today," Janet said, "probably not tomorrow, but as soon as your body gets any serious infection, you'll have no way of combating it."
"Well, I mean, she can still have vaccinations and the like, can't she?"
"Dr Jackson, a vaccination stimulates the immune system to react against an invader. For it to function properly, there has to be an immune system for it to stimulate."
"So what should I do?" Sam asked.
"I should have thought that was obvious. Find something that's more important to you than Martouf, and concentrate on it to the exculusion of all else. If you can avoid getting drawn into the memories for a few days, then you'll probably make a full recovery."
Daniel touched her hand briefly. "Sam, I've just got to make a quick phone call, but once I've done that, I'll give you a lift home."
"Thanks." You could always rely on Daniel to help out when needed.
The dizziness was getting worse; she lay down and waited for the room to stop moving around her. It settled down slowly into a silence that was complete apart from the hum of the monitors.
"Where is everyone?" she asked.
Janet shrugged in amusement. "No one ever gets sick on a Friday, all serious ailments begin at the start of the week. Can't imagine why."
Sam smiled in shared understanding. "At least you get the weekend off."
"Sometimes. People can come back through the stargate at any time. There's always someone here." She switched briskly back to practicality. "So, what do you intend to do about Jolinar's memories?"
"It isn't that easy."
"You're telling me that nothing in your life is more important than a dead alien?"
Oh no, nothing at all, apart from the unthinkable. 'Love' was the word that you never said, never even thought, unless it was in the context of a young man who had shared her life, hiding with the Tok'ra, but never losing his openness, his willingness to embrace new experiences, his-"
"Major! Stop it. Your temperature just jumped by half a degree."
She blinked. "I'm sorry."
Daniel appeared in the doorway. "Okay, Sam. We can go now."
"She most certainly can't."
He shook his head as if to clear it. "Why ever not?"
"Major Carter just had another attack."
"It was only a small rise in temperature," she pleaded.
"Look, I can help her." Daniel was virtually bouncing with impatience. "We could go up into the mountains for the weekend. She needs distraction, and she won't get it here, will she?"
Janet pursed her lips together in thought. "Maybe," she said after a moment's reflection. "I could give you an adhesive monitor and attach a small alarm to it. But if that alarm goes off at any hour of the day or night, then you agree to phone me immediately."
Daniel held out his hand. "You okay with that, Sam?"
Daniel was a good driver, but he did tend to get distracted easily. Every squirrel that darted up a tree, every bird that flew over the road, seemed to demand his attention.
"Was that a cardinal? Sometimes, I think I know the wildlife on Abydos better than I do here."
"You probably spent more time out of doors there."
"I guess I did. Are the females the same as the males?"
"I don't- Hang on! You just took the wrong turn."
"No, I haven't." He drove on another two blocks and turned left.
She twisted around in her seat. "I want to go back home. This is the way to the Colonel's house."
A brief pause for a pedestrian crossing. "I think this is what you need. Jack agrees with me."
"Like hell he does. And even if he did, what right does that give the two of you to make decisions for me?"
A corner of her mind noted that Daniel's focus had improved dramatically. His eyes were on the road, there were no more sudden swerves and the local wildlife seemed to have ceased to exist for him as he negotiated the next couple of block, smoothly avoiding a flotilla of boys on bicycles.
"I said, what makes you think you have the right to make decisions for me?"
"I don't, but I'm doing it anyway." He pulled up to a smooth halt outside O'Neill's house. "Look, Sam, I'll take you back, if that's what you really want, but talk to Jack first. Okay?"
"Okay." If only for Daniel's sake. He meant well, and it was hard to disappoint him totally.
Daniel got out of the car and would have come around to open the door on her side if she hadn't got out first to pre-empt him. When she looked up, O'Neill was standing straight on the porch, his dress uniform jacket flawlessly neat, pants with crease lines that would have made a ruler ashamed. The silver highlights in his hair were made brilliant by the sun and she was conscious of a sudden desperate need for him.
"Sam." Daniel took her by the arm and steered her forward. You could virtually hear him thinking 'candle-lit dinner for two'.
There were a lot of ways in which that phrase could be uttered, and she'd heard most of them in the last year or two. There was 'Morning, Sam' and 'This is my colleague, Major Carter'. Then there was 'Carter, you blew it', and 'Carter, you totally fucked up'. She hadn't known there was anything worse than that one. Until now.
The car door slammed as Daniel made a strategic withdrawal. She was damned if she was going to run after him. This was between her and Colonel O'Neill.
"Sit down." It wasn't a request, it was a command.
She sat where instructed on a dining chair on one side of a long table, conscious of the crumpled green fatigues she was still wearing, while O'Neill took a chair opposite her.
"Where's the desk lamp? Aren't you supposed to shine it into my eyes?"
His eyes pinned her down, demanding obedience. "Where's the desk lamp, Sir."
"I don't have to take this. We're off duty. I don't have to take orders from you."
"Indeed you don't, Major." His voice was calm, so calm that it terrified her. "You can walk out of that door, and out of SG1, and no one will lift a finger to stop you. Or you can stay and you will do exactly what I tell you, because I will not have you endangering the lives of anyone under my command."
"Colonel O'Neill. Permission to speak freely?"
"You're a bastard. Sir."
"Thank you, Carter." He smiled suddenly. "Perhaps, now, we can get down to business." He poured a glass of water and passed it across the table to her. "Tell me exactly what happened and don't leave anything out."
"You remember this afternoon?"
"You're telling this, Carter. Imagine I wasn't even there."
She tilted her chin up and slid into formality. The uniform helped, it made him more of an authority figure and less Jack O'Neill.
"Anise of the Tok'ra reported that some of our number might have been conditioned as zatarcs, that we could have been programmed to kill someone and then commit suicide. The most likely target was the President who was due to have talks with the Tok'ra. Colonel O'Neill and I were among the possible suspects as we had both recently been unconscious during the attack on Apophis's new ship. We might have been programmed during that period without knowing it."
Her throat was dry. She took a sip of water, but it didn't help.
"We were tested, and the lie-detector showed us both as having a discrepancy between our conscious and unconscious recollections of the scene. That could only mean one thing, the Colonel and I were both zartacs.
"To make matters worse, it became clear that any zartac prevented from completing its program, as we would be if prevented from assassinating the president, would self-destruct leaving nothing behind. Dr Frasier speculated that this was to stop any post-mortem analysis of the brain tissue, thus preventing any information being gained on how to remove the programming.
"We were running out of options. Anise believed her machine could also be used to deprogram a zartac but Lieutenant Aster, the only person to try it, self-destructed part-way through the session, after it was halted because of the intense pain it was causing her. Anise also admitted there was also a strong possibility of permanent brain damage, even if the deprogramming was successful."
She couldn't meet his eyes anymore. Her fingers traced restless circles on the table top.
"The Colonel and I were kept separately in secure quarters to prevent us injuring anyone. Then, I was told that he had volunteered to undergo the deprogramming. Sir, may I skip the next bit?"
"No. If it's even remotely relevant, include it."
O'Neill wouldn't spare her, but he wasn't sparing himself either. She forced herself to look up, and caught the pain in his eyes before he masked it over with indifference.
She spoke quickly, trying to get it over with. "They told me he'd volunteered to risk the the deprogramming process, that he wanted to try it before the President arrived in case the self-destruct programming kicked in at that point, and he'd added that even if he died, they might learn something from the autopsy that would enable them to help me. And then I realised..."
"You realised what?"
She couldn't. Not again. It hurt too much.
"You realised what, Major?" The man had to be made of granite.
Between the eyeballs then. "That you weren't doing it to save your life: you were doing it to try to save mine."
An almost imperceptible nod. Was that an admission, or a token of respect?
"And then I knew what we'd done on the ship, what we'd both done. We were separated, we couldn't touch one another. I knew we were going to die as soon as the explosion went off, and all I could think of was that I was going to lose you. That was the important thing. It wasn't that I was going to die, it was that I'd lose you. And you said-"
"All right, Carter, you can move onto the next bit."
"Thank you, Sir. So I knew the readings on the detector were wrong, not because we were zartacs, but because we'd been concealing our emotions when we recalled the scene for Anise. That's why there was a conflict between our conscious and our unconscious recollections. We concealed the emotions even from ourselves. We had to. It's the only way we can carry on."
"Damn right, Carter."
"But it's backfiring on me - I was an emotional mess by the end of that last session with Anise. I knew too much. It was easier to pretend I didn't have feelings about you, before I knew for certain that you..."
"And then Martouf died. Martouf and Jolinar - you knew they were lovers?"
"I'd worked that one out for myself." So devoid of any emotion. His normal flippancy had never been more conspicuous by its absence.
"The Tok'ra have no restrictions on such things. She could work with him and..." They had loved without fear, without shame, bodies tangled in the sweaty heat of-
Shit, she'd gone again.
"What happened just now?"
"I was with Jolinar, Sir. That's what happens now when I think of Martouf - I get Jolinar's memories of him. They're starting to take over."
"They're not taking over, Carter. You're letting them."
"That's not true, Sir!" Damn him, damn him, damn him.
"You're running, Carter - running from me." That had cost him; she noticed with bitter satisfaction the strain around his eyes, the taut muscles of the jaw.
"What other choice do I have?" she demanded bitterly.
"There's a choice," O'Neill said carefully. "There's always a choice. You can learn to face up to it, live with it and survive."
As he did? Or tried to do. It was crazy: one moment, she wanted to scratch his eyes out, the next she wanted to hold him for dear life.
"And no other option?"
"There's one. If you want it. Stop fighting the problem. Leave SG1, marry me - maybe raise a couple of kids..." His voice trailed off awkwardly and his hand fell loose on the table, palm up, reaching half-way towards her.
"Jack..." Her hands slid across the table to touch his fingers, to hold them naked and defenceless in the palm of her hand. She could feel the roughness of the skin, trace down to his palm to touch the callus where he held his gun. Her entire world focused on that hand, the pattern of the life-line, the neatly-trimmed nails, the fine hair on the back. She stroked her fingers softly across the palm and felt him shudder in response.
It was hard, so hard, to release him.
He nodded fractionally. "Because the damn snakes are still out there."
"Because the System Lords still have to be destroyed, and because I won't lose you to them." She had her own measure now. Happiness came at a price, and sometimes the potential price was just too high. "Sir, you need me. In how many universes are you dead because I wasn't there?"
It is night. The moon has waned and the stars shine bright in their ancient patterns in the clear cloudless sky. By their light, you can see the mountains and the ragged silhouettes of the trees.
Come closer and see.
Here, where the trees stand tall, and a stream rushes through them. Here, where the old beaver pond has silted up and left a clearing that has been kept scrub-free by the deer. Here, where the mountain lion hunts her prey; here you can see them.
Turn and turn about, they are keeping watch, each guarding while the other sleeps. Deliberately, they have brought no weapons other than those that nature has endowed them with. Here on the mountain, there are no solutions other than those they can devise themselves.
This is as far from civilisation as they can get. No cellphones, no radio, not even a flare. Not even the monitor. They are in direct defiance of the doctor's orders, and they know this. The risk is necessary. He has made the decision for them both and it was not easy: command decisions never are.
Some things can only be tested under field conditions. If they fail here, they harm no one but themselves.
Watch her now, as she watches the forest, balanced on the knife-edge of fear. The moons of Endymion call her with their promise of security, and a love that allows her to love in return. She wants to escape there, but the stakes are too high. With sure knowledge, he has chosen the one thing that she will not risk.
He is there, asleep, and if she falls into a fugue, there will be no one to wake her, no alarm to rouse him, and nothing to protect him from the dangers lurking in the dark.
In his turn, we can see him as he sits, back to the fire so that it will not interfere with his night vision. He cannot see her, but he listens for the sound of her breathing, hoping that he will notice any critical change that will warn him if she is losing the fight with the alien. A part of his mind sees it that way, as a struggle between himself and Jolinar, but he is fighting with one hand tied behind his back. He knows he could win at any moment of his choosing, but only at the cost of destroying the balance they have built between them.
Thus, all he can give her is a choice, and so he leaves her to fight the battle alone.
Tread softly and do not disturb her. She fears sleep, but that too is something she must face. It is a long time before she finally succumbs to the need and then her dreams are fractured, random scenes from a dozen times and places. Finally, they stabilise, but as she walks towards the twin moons she is aware of someone else walking beside her, holding a hand towards her. She knows that hand - it is real, more real than any fragmented memory of a dead man. She takes it, feels the warmth of his grasp, and as they walk side by side, the second moon fades away, until there is only the single moon of Earth.
And O'Neill? What did he dream of? What does he see when he sits with his back to the fire?
He has his own nightmares.
He is a soldier and his choices are not always his own. Sometimes there are hard decisions to make, harder even than the one he has forced Carter into.
Someday, there may come a time when he must knowingly give the order that will lead to her death. If that day ever comes, he hopes he will be able to find the strength to do what duty demands.
Carter's test is here and now.
His is yet to come.
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