Disclaimer - MGM/Gekko/Double Secret own them.
Spoilers for 'In The Line of Duty', 'Message In A Bottle' and 'Entity'. An 'Entity' episode addition.
Wow! A story that's in no way related to any of my other stories! Go figure. And as for the other stories...plot bunnies have currently gone MIA. Damn.
*There* it was.
She stood up suddenly from her crouched-over position, stumbling a few feet in shock before finding her balance and coming to a halt. "Sir!"
Okay, *something* weird was going on. She'd been taking soil samples, or, more accurately, she was supposed to be taking soil samples. He'd been watching as she did it - mostly because there was nothing else for him to do. Teal'c was standing guard, Daniel was oooing over some rocks and he was...just standing there.
Some days it sucked to be him.
Not that he'd ever neglect his duties or responsibilities, but some days it did suck to be Jack O'Neill.
Anyway, they were on their latest mission. P4W 326. No apparent civilisation, although vague indications that there used to be one. Carter had been in the middle of taking her soil samples. She'd pulled her little sample tube out, but instead of carefully using some scientific *thing* to scoop up samples into the tube, she'd...paused. She'd paused, as if thinking about something, then with the hand that wasn't holding the tube she grabbed a handful of soil and let it run over her fingers. She'd seemed to find it fascinating.
Admittedly, so had he for a while.
Then he'd realised that staring at her like that was not a good idea with witnesses around, so he'd cleared his throat and said her name. Several times. And now here she was, looking nervous.
Oh yeah. Something weird was going on.
She was almost standing to attention, but he could see she was slowly trying to shift into standing at ease. "Fine sir."
Uh huh. "You sure? You don't have any mud fetishes I don't know about?"
That managed to provoke a small smile. "No mud fetishes, I promise."
"All right. Go back to your...whatever you were doing."
"Yes sir," She bent back down and this time simply took her samples without any pausing or mud handling.
The rest of the day was largely uneventful. Daniel's rocks turned out to be rocks, Teal'c continued to stand guard even when he was walking, Jack tried to look important, and as for Carter...
She kept touching stuff.
It wasn't hard keeping an eye on her. Normally she was as alert as the rest of them, and she usually caught him looking at her when he really wasn't supposed to be. But today...today, she was in her own little world. She did her job, she did what she was supposed to do, but when she thought no one was looking - which was most of the time, apparently - she'd reach out and touch something.
He watched with growing concern (and a growing frown) whenever she did it, and he realised it was never anything smooth. Hell, there wasn't much around here that was smooth, but it was always something with texture to it. Rough bark on a tree, small stones on the ground, some weird fruit thing that none of them were eating just in case it was poisonous, but that she wouldn't stop touching.
Jack couldn't help but wonder if this had anything to do with that entity thing. This was her first mission back since the...
...and although she'd undergone full physical and psychological tests and had been given the all clear...maybe they were wrong. Maybe she needed more time. He didn't want to suggest that she wasn't capable of doing her job - and he knew how personally she'd take that if he did suggest it - but maybe she just wasn't ready to come back yet.
She wouldn't be the only one who'd needed to see a shrink since what happened had happened.
They said she was fine, but he knew damned well when a member of his team wasn't fine.
Sighing, he tugged his cap tighter on to his head. They'd started back towards the gate a few hours ago, but dusk was closing in and there was no way they'd make it before nightfall. "All right kids. Let's make camp here for tonight. Set off again tomorrow."
He liked the area. Room for a fire, but defendable if the need arose. He didn't think it would, but one thing about this job was that you could never be sure about any damn thing.
The kids set up camp with a minimum of fuss, if not a minimum of conversation. Daniel was babbling about some discovery SG-6 had brought back. Teal'c offered his opinion on occasion, and Carter only offered hers when she was asked for it.
Definitely something up.
Daniel eventually realised that no one was really interested, least of all Sam. They finished setting up camp, had some food, then Jack ordered them all to get some rest. There was no need for tents - the weather was warm and pleasant - so he'd at least be able to keep an eye on them just by looking at them.
Not that he was over-protective or anything.
He was about to settle down himself, when he noticed that one of them hadn't moved.
And was still sitting next to the fire.
"Jack," A quiet voice murmured.
He turned to Daniel, who was lying a few feet away. "Yeah?"
Jackson nodded towards Sam, a movement that clearly said 'talk to her'.
O'Neill sighed, pulling his cap off and ruffling his hair with his hand. "You noticed too, huh?"
"Kind of hard not too. I think the only thing she didn't touch today was that pile of animal droppings we came across."
Daniel's attempt at humour didn't even make him smile. "Yeah. Sure." He wasn't looking forward to this. Shoving his cap back on, he stood up and made his way towards her.
She didn't even hear him coming; she simply had her hand raised towards the fire. Rather than having to shout her name again, he reached out and touched her shoulder.
Man, *that* was a mistake.
She yelped, jerking away, almost falling into the fire.
"Woah! Woah! Take it easy!"
She shuffled away him from backwards, gasping, then stopped when she saw who it was. "Sir! You...surprised me."
"I'll say." Christ, his heart felt like he had just ran a marathon in under a minute. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," Carter replied immediately. "You just shocked me, that's all it is."
"No Carter, what this is is a load of bull." Lowering himself until he was kneeling down, he met her gaze. "What's wrong?"
"Am I gonna have to order it out of you?"
"Sir, I really-"
"Look it's stupid! Okay?"
Huh. Wasn't often she shouted; maybe he was getting somewhere. Shifting, he moved until he was sitting down opposite her, taking the weight off his knees. "What's stupid?"
"Major, it's affecting your job." Damn he hated saying this. "You've been distracted, less alert. What if there had been someone on this planet waiting to jump us? We could have lost valuable seconds with drastic consequences. I've let things slide today purely because I'm worried about you - a mistake on my own behalf too. Now...what's going on?"
Did she have any idea how big her eyes were when she was upset? "Sir..."
"I'm not gonna let it go, Carter. I'll sit here talking all night until you tell me."
"You know I will."
Apparently she knew that, although she wasn't happy about it either. Sighing several times she closed her eyes, opened them, then closed them again. "It's...I don't know...it's stupid."
Somehow he doubted that. Where she was concerned nothing was ever stupid. "What is?"
Crap. He hated that his instincts were right on this one. His stomach felt queasy. "Yeah?"
"When it was controlling me...I couldn't feel anything."
Not quite what he'd been expecting but understandable. "Oh."
"Nothing," She murmured, and he had a feeling it was mostly to herself. "Absolutely nothing. No textures, no heat, no cold, no pain, no pleasure...absolutely nothing. It was like my senses were gone."
"I, uh..." God, what was he supposed to say to that?
"But I was kind of aware. With Jolinar I was aware the entire time, but I could feel it. I can remember vividly the things she did. I remember exactly what it felt like when she hit you in the gate room."
He winced at the memory.
She continued. "It was like...someone else was controlling my body but it still felt like my body. All the same sensations, feelings." Drawing her knees close to her body, she rested her chin on them and stared at the fire. "I honestly don't know which was worse. Feeling your own body under someone else's control...or feeling nothing at all."
"I'm just...getting used to feeling things again. And I'm certainly not used to anyone touching me."
That explained her freak out earlier. "That's why you're by the fire. No heat."
"No heat," She nodded. "No taste, no sound, no smell, no sight - or at least not in the way we usually describe it. I just have to get accustomed with them all again."
An idea appeared. "Excuse me for a minute." He ran off suddenly, and after an argument with a sleepy archaeologist, he got what he wanted and came back. She was obviously surprised by his behaviour. "Here," he told her, holding it out.
She stared at it blankly. "A chocolate bar?"
"Sure," He shrugged. "Do you really think MRE's do food justice?"
Sam smiled. Not one of those big ones that made you feel like the sun was shining, but she was getting there. "Good point." Taking it from him she quickly ripped it open and-
"Uh uh uh!"
"Don't eat it yet."
"You have to smell it first."
She rolled her eyes. "Sir, one thing you need to learn is that you should never come between a woman and her chocolate."
Okay, first of all he didn't know she had such a thing for chocolate, and second, that perfectly innocent comment was taking his mind to places that were way, *way* too-
"Come on Carter, you have to do this properly."
Relenting, she sighed deliberately, closed her eyes, and lifted the chocolate bar up to her nose. Smiling, she opened her eyes. "It does smell *really* nice."
Huh? Wha-? "What?"
"Fine." He cleared his throat. "Well done Major, now proceed to tasting."
Damn. What part of his sick and twisted mind thought that watching her eat chocolate as opposed to watching her smell it would be less arousing? It didn't help matters that she was clearly enjoying herself. "Good?"
"Oh yeah," She murmured, pleased, then held what was left out to him. "You want some?"
Oh that was really, really, *really*... "Better not. But thanks."
Shrugging, oblivious (he hoped), she gladly finished off the rest by herself. When she was done, she sucked the chocolate from her fingers. "I don't eat chocolate nearly often enough."
Jack agreed. He could watch her eat chocolate every day for the rest of his life and die a happy - if frustrated - man. "Okay, so we've done smell and taste. I think you've got sight and sound covered..."
"True," She replied. "I can see and hear perfectly well at the moment." Pausing, she tipped her head to one side and closed her eyes. "I can hear...the fire crackling, occasionally insects buzzing by; sometimes the odd small animal. Probably foraging for food-"
God, he wanted to kiss her. Sure, he always wanted to kiss her, but this was one of those moments when it felt like an actual physical need, as if for some reason if he didn't kiss her right now something terrible would happen.
"-and then there's your voice, of course. When you speak."
Ah, damn. She'd opened her eyes and was looking at him.
"And because it's so dark, you're pretty much all I can see at the moment."
He knew how that felt.
"Which just leaves..."
How did he get himself into these situations? Really, all he'd wanted to do was help his friend. Cheer her up, make her feel better, make her smile; make her laugh, anything other than the depression she'd found herself in. He knew her reaction to what happened was completely understandable and frankly he would have been worried if it hadn't happened, but...
He just wanted to help.
She said it for him. The thing he didn't want to say that had to be said.
"I think I covered touch earlier, too."
"True," He forced a smile, forced a joke. "I don't think there's a single branch of a single tree you didn't bond with."
"Yeah," Carter nodded, clearly feeling as ill at ease as he did. "Thanks. For everything."
"Well, I should probably..."
He really shouldn't be feeling disappointed. "Sure. Goodnight. Sleep well."
"You too sir. Goodnight."
"'Night," He muttered as she stood, and it was as she walked by him, as she faintly brushed by, that he suddenly spun around and grabbed her hand.
He didn't know what he was doing. He didn't know what the hell he was doing.
She stopped, of course. She turned back to face him, wide-eyed. He was still on the ground so she was staring down at him.
It wasn't long before she was staring at their hands.
It was ridiculous naturally. It certainly wasn't the first time they'd held hands. They'd done it lots of times before - helping each other to stand up, when he was harpooned to the wall by that damn orb...
He was staring at them too, now.
He wasn't sure if he was pulling or if she just went of her own accord, but she was moving again, and before he realised it she was sitting next to him. They didn't do anything, they just...sat by the fire, holding hands.
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