recovering the satellites

1. may 1991

They're in the middle of Tennessee when Mitchell runs his hand over his face and says, "I'm totally fucking wiped, you mind if we stop for the night?"

Sam has been drowsing, curled up with her feet on the dashboard and her cheek pressed against the window, watching the lights on the highway and wondering how many people they passed had any idea that thousands of miles away, people were probably dying right now. Just because accords have been signed and troops are being rotated home doesn't mean they're out of the woods just yet, and though neither one of them have gotten their orders for after-leave deployment, she's pretty sure at least one of them is going to wind up eating sand again before the quarter's done.

"I can drive," she offers. Probably better than you can lingers around the edges, but she doesn't know him well enough to mock him to his face yet. He's a nice guy, anyway. Not everyone would bring home strays. "If you want to keep going."

Mitchell grimaces. "Honestly, I wouldn't mind stopping for a while. We got about six hundred miles left to go, and I don't think I can handle sitting in the car for that long without a break."

"That's fine, then, if you want to find someplace." She wonders if he's going to pick some sleazy motel, wonders if she's read him so wrong that he really is out to get in her pants. She doesn't know him well, but nobody on base had a bad word to say about him. It's why she was willing to abandon her tentative plans for leave and follow him home.

The motel isn't sleazy, though. Enough neon and neon-krypton lamps to light a small city, but the parking lot looks safe enough, and there aren't any drug dealers or used condoms hanging around. Mitchell comes back with a single key dangling from his hand, looking apologetic and a little bit embarrassed. "Guy at the desk fed me the thanks-for-serving line until I thought I was gonna blush," he says. She notices the yellow ribbon sticker in the window of the office. "Doesn't change the fact they only had one room. I figured the discount he gave us for being in service was better than driving around at this time of night trying to find a place with two."

It could be a line, but he'd had the chance to hit on her a few times already, and kept it light and casual the whole way. "Two beds, I hope?"

Mitchell nods. "Perfect gentleman, I swear," he says, holding up one hand.

She laughs and gets out of the car; when her feet hit the ground and she feels the burn in the tops of her thighs, she realizes he was right to stop. "As long as there's a shower and there isn't any sand in the bed, I'd share a bed with McMillan right now."

He gets to her duffel bag before she can get her hands on it, shoulders it along with his own. She considers protesting for a second, but something tells her it'll be useless. She does manage to claim the shopping bags that resulted from a quick Target shopping trip (she'd needed shampoo, jeans and non-military-issue bras; he'd needed shaving cream, t-shirts, and a toothbrush -- neither of them, when they heard the magic word 'leave', had apparently remembered everything) before he can get those, too. "That's dedication," he says.

"That's desperation. Do you know when the last time I had a bed without sand was?"

He thinks about it for a second, and then nods. "You got a point there."

One advantage to bunking down with an officer and a gentleman is that she gets the first shower, which -- women's lib aside -- she's more than willing to claim; they started out two days ago in Kuwait and have been in transit ever since, and commercial air travel always makes her feel sticky and grungy. He's stripped down to just his undershirt and BDU pants when she gets out, and he's turned up a bag full of snacks and drinks from somewhere.

She quirks an eyebrow. "Well-stocked vending machines?"

He tosses her a Hostess cherry pie; she fumbles it a little, but manages to keep hold. "Stop 'n rob I remembered being around the corner. I lived about oh, five miles from here for two years or so."

She nods in perfect understanding. "Dad stationed at Arnold?"

"After Kelly and before Maxwell. No, wait, I think Sheppard was in there somewhere, too. They kept trying to get Dad on a medical discharge, and he kept insisting he'd stick around and teach. Saying he might not be able to run anymore, but that wasn't gonna stop him from sitting behind a desk and trying to beat sense into the heads of a bunch of cocky kids." Mitchell shakes his head. "Stubborn old bastard. They finally got him a few years back, and that's when he and Mom retired down to Corpus Christi. I think he's doing something at the NAS down there, but Mom gets all tight-lipped and proper when she talks about it, so I don't know the details."

"I remember Sheppard," Sam says. "That was when I was fifteen. The schools weren't bad, and -- do you remember the little barbecue place, over by the hospital? God, what was the name?"

They've been playing where-have-you-lived on and off for the past eight hundred miles. They're not sure -- they'd finally decided they'd have to timeline it out -- but they think they might both have been at Nellis at the same time. Of course, Sam had been six and Mitchell seven, but still, she finds it amusing to think that they might have wound up in the same after-school program without knowing. It's always nice to find another Air Force brat to share horror stories with.

Mitchell snaps his fingers after a second. "Rosa's. Or am I thinking of the Mexican place? The one with the sopapillas to die for?"

"I think that was Rosalita's. I remember there being two of them with almost the same name." Sam stretches out on one of the beds, delighting in all the goddamn room. "I also think I might want to marry this bed."

Mitchell's fussing with his bag, spread out on the top of the dresser; he looks up at that, meeting her eyes in the mirror. For a second, just a second, she can see a flash of desire slam through his face, but he schools it quickly, back down into easy friendship, and gives her a smile. "I think I'd better not lie down on mine until after I get a shower. You leave me any hot water?"

"One or two gallons, at least." She ponders that desire for a second. It isn't the first time she's seen one of the guys look at her like that; even when sweaty, dusty, unshowered, and without makeup, she still turned heads. Of course, she's pretty sure that was due to the general scarcity of women and not any innate characteristics of hers, but hey, her hair is clean and she doesn't smell like a three-day cross-desert trek right now, which has to count for something.

And he is kind of cute, in an endearing sort of way. "I'll take my chances," he says, and disappears into the bathroom with his own sweats, a clean t-shirt, and a pile of toiletries. She's positive she's going to find a damp mess of towels on the floor afterwards. He just seems like the type.

She could do worse. It's been a long time since she scratched that particular itch, and he's been treating her right. It might be fun.

Then again, it's been even longer since she's had a good guy friend, and it really has been a long fucking week -- hell, a long fucking year -- and so she's three-quarters asleep, on top of the comforter, when the shower finally clicks off and a long minute later he re-appears. "Hey," he says, softly. "You'll wake up freezing if you don't get under the covers."

"Mmm," she says, but he's probably right. She rolls over after a minute, wiggles under the blankets. It's too much effort to really arrange them right. He comes across the room on soft bare feet and fusses briefly with the covers, somehow recognizing that she hates to have the edges of the sheets tucked in around her. God, there has to be something wrong with him, because any man this sweet is gay or married or pathologically insane.

"G'night, baby," he says, softly. "Sweet dreams."

If it weren't for the respect and warm affection in his voice, she'd wake up enough to tell him what happened to the last man who called her 'baby', but there isn't any condescension there at all. More like she's made it onto his list of people to have pet names for, which is totally charming, in a demented kind of way. She drops over the edge of sleep still breathing in the scent of him, plain soap and cheap shampoo and green and growing things, and she doesn't dream about sand at all.

2. november 1994

It takes forever until Sam can convince Jonas that it's just dinner and drinks with an old service buddy, but he still insists on coming along. She winces when Mitchell greets her with one of those pick-her-up-off-the-floor bear hugs and a "long time no see, baby, do you ever get out of that office?" But Mitchell doesn't seem to notice the way Jonas's eyes narrow, the way he mouths 'baby?' and raises an eyebrow, and shakes his hand with a firm sort of enthusiasm Sam knows is lost on Jonas entirely.

She tries her best not to exclude Jonas from the conversation, and Mitchell's too well bred to give anyone at the table the cut direct -- having met his momma, Sam knows she'd be willing to fly to D.C. just to smack him with a wooden spoon if he did -- but there's a certain level of "do you remember --" and "whatever happened to --" that's unavoidable. Jonas is trying to be polite, Sam can tell, but when he finally excuses himself to the men's room, Mitchell leans back and spreads one arm along the back of his side of the booth.

"You could do better," he says, flatly. She doesn't hear that serious tone from him often, and it's always bad news when she does.

Sam toys with the band of her engagement ring. "He's a decent man," she says. "He's good to me."

"Nobody's good enough for you," Mitchell says. She can tell he's trying to make it teasing, but she knows him well enough; he keeps fiddling with his beer bottle and he's not quite meeting her eye.

She leans over the table and puts her hand on top of his to stop him from fidgeting. "He's good enough to me," she repeats, and then Jonas is coming back to the table, so she pulls her hand back.

Jonas has early duty, so he excuses himself after they finish dinner. She knows the look he's giving her is a cue for her to follow him home, but the night's been awkward enough that she's not feeling charitable, and dammit, she's never begrudged him a night out with old buddies, even when those nights turn into him crawling back into bed at four in the morning stinking drunk and fumbling between her legs. She turns back to Mitchell and says, brightly, "I know this pool hall over in Northeast that's open until two in the morning. You up for a few games?"

Mitchell's trying his best to keep the judgement off his face. "Rough neighborhood there, baby," he says.

She raises an eyebrow. "You lost your guts?"

He tosses back the rest of his beer and reaches for the check before she can even start the protest. "I just didn't know that driving a science lab at the Pentagon kept you in such good shape, that's all," he says. Then winces. "Sorry."

For a second, she considers getting mad, but she does still owe him for three hours of putting her fiancee at ease, so she just shakes her head. "It's okay," she says, and summons a smile. "Come on. Let me kick your ass a few times. I'll buy."

"Hell you will," he says, and they bicker pleasantly all the way to the bar.

He's never been able to beat her at a game of pool, but it's okay, because he's cheerful about losing -- he's cheerful about just about everything, she thinks, on her fifth Corona and starting to feel it around the edges. She's drunk enough that he won't let her drive home when they're done, but not so drunk that she wants to waste a minute of his visit, so she makes him stop off at his hotel to keep the conversation going.

He stops her when she's reaching for the vodka in the mini-bar. His hand is strong and warm against her skin, and he holds firmly, but not painfully. "You'll want to kill yourself in the morning from the hangover," he warns.

She makes a face. "Wouldn't be the first time."

"I know. That's why I'm stopping you." He sighs. "Call it big-brother instinct if you want, baby, but you're not happy and drinking yourself stupid isn't gonna do a damn sight to make it better."

"I'm perfectly happy," she insists. "I've got a good job. Good research." She doesn't say anything about Project Blue Book, the one that got away, but she tells herself it's because he doesn't have the clearance. "A good fiancee. A good apartment. I'm fine."

For a second she thinks he's going to buy it. Until he sighs and wraps his arms around her shoulders, pulling her close, even when she puts up the pro forma struggle. "You're worth better than him," he says. "Stop being so self-destructive."

Nobody can cut closer than an old friend. She stills in his arms, and the quick flash of self-awareness penetrates the drunken haze -- he's right, she is being self-destructive, and for a second she wonders what would happen if she took it to the logical conclusion, pushed him back on the bed and made him help her forget the way Jonas's fingers pinch when they rub over her breasts, the way half the time she's left staring at the ceiling, cold and isolated. It's been so long that she's starting to wonder if the problem's with her. Mitchell would be able to help her figure it out.

But just as quickly as the thought comes, he's steering her, gently, in the direction of the bathroom. "Take a shower," he says. "You always feel better under hot water, and it'll help you sober up."

Jonas doesn't say a word when she comes home with wet hair, but he looks at her like he's considering putting her under a bright lamp and interrogating her until she confesses. She puts up with it for four days. On the fifth, she returns the ring and moves into an extended-stay hotel until she can find a place of her own, but Mitchell's already gone by then.

3. august 1997

Sam's dozing on the table when Mitchell slides into the chair across from her, and she's groggy enough that it takes her a few minutes to blink the sleep out of her eyes.

"You look like shit," he says, but he's smiling when he says it.

She looks like shit because she spent three of the past five days trying to help her quantum double liberate her world from the Goa'uld, and then slept for absolute crap for two more days remembering watching Dr. Carter kiss the colonel. Kiss Jack. It isn't often you get your nose rubbed in what-ifs like that.

"You're looking pretty good," she says, rather than saying anything that might get her in trouble. He is; he's in his blues, and he's sprouted a few more medals than the last time she saw him. "I'm glad you called."

"In the neighborhood," he says, and slides his hand over hers on the table. No hugging, not here in the Academy officer's mess, but his warmth is almost as good. "I'm glad you could get away. General Kerrigan said he doesn't see you as often as he'd like."

"Deep space doesn't radar-telemetry itself," she says. The colonel's taught her that self-deprecating smile, the one that says "nothing interesting here, move along".

Mitchell doesn't return the smile; he turns her palm over in his, studying the ridges and whorls of callus across her hands. He doesn't have to say anything at all. When he looks up, the "yeah, right" is written across his face. But he does her the courtesy of not calling her on it. "Anybody good as your CO?"

This is the part she wishes they'd managed to find a good lie for, because the roster at the Mountain doesn't sound like a research project at all. "He's pretty decent," she says. "Colonel Jack O'Neill."

Mitchell blinks, then blinks again. "Batshit Jack? You're serving under Batshit Jack? You're serving with --" He drops his voice, looks around them. "Okay, baby, you gotta stop telling people that, because, yeah, not a lot of people know that name, but one of the guys in my squad ran with him through Desert Storm and I've heard stories. And there's no way in flaming hell Batshit Jack O'Neill is babysitting a bunch of eggheads and their science projects."

"Don't talk about him like that," she says, sharply. Then stops herself, because this is Mitchell she's talking to, and they've never had off-limits topics of conversation aside from the ones that are classified.

She'd be just as defensive if he was talking about Daniel, she tells herself. Or Teal'c. Except he wouldn't be talking about Teal'c, because nobody knows about Teal'c. But Daniel, definitely.

"Okay," Mitchell says, slowly, drawing it out. "Sore spot, I got it. I'm zipping." He mimes turning the key across his lips, tossing it over his shoulder. "What else is new?"

"Not much," she says, and suddenly needs to get away from this room, away from the military, away from this machine she's giving everything she has. She pushes her chair back from the table. "C'mon, let's go back to my house. We can get takeout, watch a movie or something. I even put clean sheets on the guest bed for you."

"Five-star hotel," he says, and gives her that familiar grin. "But we're stopping at the grocery store, not whatever Chinese joint you've got on speed-dial."

"Oh, God." Just the thought of his mother's biscuit recipe makes Sam's mouth water. "You don't have to --"

He holds up a hand. "You put me up for the night when I'm in town, least I can do's feed you dinner. I'd take my chances with the contents of your pantry, but I got a feeling it's four cans of soup, a jar of peanut butter, and a stale loaf of bread, right?"

She winces. "Three cans of soup, and the peanut butter started growing mold sometime last month so I threw it out and haven't replaced it yet."

"Some things never change," he says, and slings an arm over her shoulder as they make their way out to her car.

Dinner winds up being some kind of lamb stew, heavy on the Middle Eastern spice. She eats two bowls before she finally admits she was full three biscuits ago. "God," she says. "Kiss your mother for me for teaching you how to cook, the next time you see her."

"I'm stopping there next," he says. "I'll be sure to send her your love. She wants to know if you're coming for Thanksgiving this year. I'm probably not gonna be able to get back to the States, but you know you're welcome anytime."

He's been bringing her home with him for intermittent holidays since he first realized her relationship with her family was best from two thousand or so miles away. She realizes, suddenly, that he doesn't know about her father, and then realizes she can't even tell him half of it. It must show on her face, because he raises a questioning eyebrow.

"Dad and I ... worked some stuff out," she says. She stumbles against the words, wanting to say we said half the things we've never said to each other and he's got a snake in his head who's turned out to be the best stepmother I could possibly have and I think it might turn out okay in the end. "I don't know if he's going to be able to make it back to the States for the holidays either, but if he does, we'll be doing the family thing --"

He breaks into a smile. "That's great, baby," he says. "Whatever made it happen, you should count your lucky stars."

She experiences a quick and bizarre impulse to laugh herself stupid and say I can tell you the Gate addresses for half of them. It's harder than she thought to keep from saying anything. She gets up, instead, and picks up their bowls to bring them into the kitchen.

"Shoo," he says, following her in and making flipping motions with his hands.

"You cooked. I clean. Even division of labor."

He gives her the look that says she's come up against one of his prejudices again, something like women don't do dirty work when I'm around to do it instead. She's not sure why it's never bothered her when even a hint of something similar from someone else would have her spitting nails, except he's one of her best friends and he's never once intimated by word or by deed that she's any less capable than he is. Just wants to save her some hassle, is all.

The look makes her cave, the way she always does, even when she knows she shouldn't. "Fine, we'll split it," she says, and he straightens up and beams at her, then starts running the water in the sink.

It's frighteningly domestic, the way they can dance around each other in Sam's small space. She puts the leftover biscuits in her fridge, where she's sure they'll be a science experiment in another month, and then picks up a dishrag to dry what he's washing. He takes his dishwashing duty seriously, she realizes, when he takes a bowl back just because he sees a smudge on it.

"Seriously, let it go," she says. "It's not like I'm going to use these dishes in the next three months."

"Hush," he says, takes the dishtowel from her with soapy hands and snaps her on the ass with it. She squeaks and dips her fingertips into the sink, flicks them so the water sprays his chest. His eyes narrow, and he's just ready to cup his hand and slap it across the surface of the water when she reaches out and grabs his wrist.

"You are not splashing water all over my kitchen floor," she says.

His lips quirk. "I'll clean it up," he says. He tugs a little at her grip, but she's gotten stronger in the last three years, and in a one-on-one, he'd eventually win on stamina but she'd give him some hassle first.

"My kitchen, my rules," she says.

He looks down at her hand wrapped around his wrist. When he looks back up, his face is casual, but it's the kind of casual that somehow seems hard-won. "Yes'm," he says, and -- just when she thinks he's about to capitulate -- leans over and raspberries her neck.

They wind up getting water all over the kitchen floor anyway when it turns into a wrestling match, so he mops before he heads to bed for the night. He turns out scrambled eggs and hash browns for breakfast. Daniel catches her whistling through the base corridors on her way to the lab in the morning, and even though he doesn't ask, she can tell that he's wondering.

Let him wonder. It just feels good to be happy for a change.

4. january 2003

When she can, Sam likes to be there for the "graduation" of every X-302 training class. Watching their first flights gives her insight into how Earth fighter pilots can adapt to their adaptation of Goa'uld technology, she tells people. It's to see what alterations they need to make in the next revision of the cockpit design. The colonel nods very seriously whenever she mentions it and makes sure she gets scheduled to head on down to Nowhere Field whenever they're sending up the next class. They don't talk about it, won't ever talk about it, but she's pretty sure he understands how much she misses the sky.

Seeing the boys' faces when they get their first taste of the 302, though -- that's almost good enough. She wouldn't trade what she's doing for anything, but she still likes to see their wonder and glory when they first get to play with the cool new toys, and it's a small enough pleasure that she doesn't feel guilty about indulging in it, especially not given how shitty the past six months or so have been. Besides, The Powers That Be still aren't letting Quinn -- Jonas -- off base without an escort, and Sam's been trying her best to get over herself and come up with excuses to spring him every chance she gets. She and the colonel don't talk about that, either, but she wonders if in his own way he might tentatively approve.

This is the third class they're graduating; most of the first batch did fine in simulations but couldn't handle the absence of a true local vertical once they got up past the thermosphere, inertial dampeners aside. The second batch, picked for flexible thinking as much as for pilot skills, did better, but they still had a 60% washout rate; Sam's beginning to wonder if they might do better by picking people from the SGC, people who have already demonstrated the ability to adapt to new and crazy things, and teaching them from, no pun intended, the ground up. The only thing that's stopped her from suggesting it is that they need everyone they've got at the SGC, and she's positive, positive, that there's gotta be at least a few flyboys out there who can make the adaptation.

She's got high hopes for this bunch, though, and not just because she's known one of them for years. They worked their tails off to screen what felt like half the service to find this group of ten, and the flight instructors -- both trained by the colonel himself -- have nothing but praise.

Jonas catches her fingers twitching as the third glider gets the go-for-launch. "Are you upset that you can't be up there?" he asks, with his typical earnest disregard for social niceties -- all right, she's too hard on him; he doesn't know the social niceties, doesn't know what's appropriate to ask and what isn't. It's not his fault he's not Daniel, who would have understood that of course she was upset she couldn't be up there and never said a word about it.

"A little," she says, her eyes intent on tracking Xray Three across the sweep of the radar screen. "Mostly I just want to see if we managed to find the right ones, this time. There's starting to be some grumbling about how long we're taking to staff the squadron."

"That's -- silly," he says, and she wonders what word he was going to use before he stopped himself. "Everyone should know it takes time to find the right people for the job."

She's saved from having to make some kind of noncommittal response when the radio crackles to life. "Flight, this is Xray Three," comes the voice, the faintest Southern drawl in its calm tones. "We have lost power to aft engines and stabilizers. Repeat, lost power to aft engines and stabilizers. Requesting diversion to alternate landing site."

There's a half second of frantic pause, and then the technical sergeant says "fuck a duck, we fixed that," and grabs the microphone. "Negative, Xray Three," he snaps, "alternate landing site has not been cleared of nonsecure personnel. Can you return to base?"

Sam's fingers twitch again. She's about to leap in, talk the pilot through cold-booting the system -- the screens say he's just edging up on the Karman line, and -- yes, almost enough velocity to keep him up there for long enough to cold-boot, even without further thrust; it'd be cutting it close, but better than touchdown in the ocean, or worse, on a nonsecure airstrip. He's too far to have enough time to reverse and land without the aft engines to stablize, not without knowing the glider far more intimately than any of them have had time to learn --

But the radio crackles again. "Affirmative, Flight. Request you clear the landing zone; this may get ugly."

"Holy shit," one of the guys at the flight board says, his eyes on the video feed from Comsat 4. "That's got to be Colonel MacRae flying her --"

Sam knows better, though. MacRae's a decent enough pilot, but he's never been an aerobat, and she's never seen a more perfect Immelman loop. As she watches, Xray Three's nose comes up, the pilot goosing her into a vertical climb and a soft, lazy roll until she's on course for base. Sam helped design the 302, she knows how much of a whale it is with a few engines down, but Xray Three seems to practically float back home as she holds her breath, watching.

"Flight, this is Xray Three, requesting permission to land. Or crash, but we're really hoping to avoid that," comes over the radio. Sam's already on her feet and on her way out to the observation platform.

The landing's not textbook, but under the circumstances, it's about the best anyone could hope for. The ground crew comes running the minute she's down, and the pilot doesn't even bother waiting for the staircase; he pulls off his helmet and vaults the edge of the cockpit, grinning from ear to ear.

Sam leans over the edge of the observation balcony, puts her fingers in her mouth, and whistles. The pilot's head turns, and she can see his eyes light up even further. She grins at the look and motions that she'll be down in a second. By the time she's gotten down to ground level, he's on his way in to report for debriefing.

"She flies like a goddamn dream. Best toy ever," Mitchell says, beaming like a loon, and catches her up in a bearhug, swinging her around. A Senior Airman scuttling by ducks out of the way to avoid accidentally getting kicked.

She bangs on his shoulders, laughing. "Put me down," she says, because the guys at Nowhere Field might not be sticklers for protocol, but she still knows she's never going to hear the end of this. He does, but he folds her in his arms anyway.

"Baby," he says, against her hair, "I owe you big time," and then he's pulling back and kissing her.

It's supposed to be a quick smack, she can tell. Not exactly regulation, but nothing to look twice at. The minute he touches her, though, it's like she can feel the adrenaline and excitement all catching up to him, and he plunges his hand into the hair at the nape of her neck and devours her lips.

God, it's like falling into a furnace of heat and need. He kisses like a dream: strong mouth, soft tongue, sweet taste. For a second she forgets where they are, what they're doing, forgets everything but yes please oh, and then he's tearing himself backwards and looking at her with startled apology in his eyes.

There are people watching; she knows there are people watching. And there are enough rumors about her already, the way there are always rumors about a strong and competent woman. She gives him an apology with her own look as she hauls off and socks him in the shoulder, pulling the punch so all it does is make him wince a little.

"Hands to yourself, flyboy," she says, firmly. "You're still on the clock." And so is she, despite the tug and flutter in the depth of her belly, despite the heat uncurling between her legs.

"God, Sam, I'm sorry," he breathes, and she knows he's not talking about kissing her in front of others; he's talking about kissing her at all. They've been friends for a long time, and they'd agreed, back at the very beginning, that they'd stay friends. This isn't part of the agreement.

And because he's not calling her 'baby', because she can see the fear in his eyes, she makes herself smile, casually, even though her pulse is still leaping. "You treat the 302 that sweetly, she'll keep bringing you home," she says, and motions him towards the conference room. He licks his lips and nods, and she pats him on the shoulder before going back to collect Jonas and heading for the hangar. They're both here, and as long as they're here, they might as well see if they can figure out why the damn rear engines keep cutting out.

5. september 2006

"How long you think we're gonna be stuck here?"

Sam shifts her weight a little, reaches underneath her left ass cheek to dislodge the stone that's poking her. "Well, eight klicks to the Gate, and Vala moves fast when she wants to. Daniel and Teal'c are drawing them away from our position and once SG-3 gets here, they should be able to secure things pretty quickly -- eh, I'll say three hours? Four? How's your leg feeling?"

"Well, I'm not gonna be taking you out dancing anytime soon," Mitchell says. She can hear him trying to hold on to the light and casual, which makes her worry more than if he were bitching and whining; she knows, knows, how much the thought of being crippled again terrifies him, and it's a pretty nasty compound fracture. She's still considering dipping into the medkit in her pack for a shot of Demerol, even after he vetoed it.

They're sitting back-to-back near the mouth of the cave, each of them covering a different angle of approach. He'd insisted on that, too; she'd wanted to stick him back behind cover, but he'd argued that just because Ba'al's Jaffa hadn't made their position yet didn't mean they wouldn't, and another pair of eyes would be useful. She'd let it go, but the way he keeps leaning more of his weight back against her, letting his head droop, means that she's a little jumpy with trying to cover both their lines of sight. It isn't that she doesn't trust him -- she's seen him pull off some damn impressive maneuvers, even in their limited time on the same team -- but she knows how much pain he must be in.

"Let me give you the shot," she tries again. "I'm perfectly capable of covering us while you're down."

"I know you are, baby," he says. Even through his pain, she can tell he's startled at the thought that she might believe he thinks she's not. "I just really don't wanna make Teal'c have to sling me over his shoulder and carry me back to the Gate. I'd never hear the end of it."

"You don't really think you're walking home on that leg," she says.

"Hell fucking no," he agrees. "But you know how stupid the damn drugs make me, and I'm not leavin' you here watching my sorry ass with nobody here to watch yours."

She sighs. "Stubborn fucker," she says.

She can feel him nodding against the back of her head. "And proud of it," he agrees, and they fall back into silence again.

It's actually a pretty nice planet, all things considered. Warm without being too hot or too humid, and the local foliage is a very aesthetic shade of greenish-purple. She can hear the soft burble of an underground river further back in the cave somewhere, which means that if they get stuck here for longer than they're expecting, at least they'll have water.

Mitchell's breathing is getting rougher, and she figures it's time for a little more distraction. "So how'd your date with Dr. Pirandello go last week?" she asks.

He shifts a little, and finally gives up and drops his head back against her shoulder. He's warm -- a little too warm, really -- and he smells like damp fabric softener; his pants are still soaked from the tumble he took while they were crossing the river. "Not bad," he says. "Nothing special. She's a nice girl, but --"

He cuts off, abruptly. She frowns. "But what?"

"She's not you."

Oh. Oh.

When she doesn't say anything, he picks his head up; the motion of him rubbing a hand over his face translates through his back, broad and strong against her, and seems to worm its way into her chest. "Can we just pretend I didn't just say that?" he tries.

"You never said anything," she says. She feels like she's stuck in mud, spinning her tires to get loose. It isn't like she never thought about it, but -- it was always a casual thought. A passing fancy. She'd always figured --

"Yeah, well. Chalk it up to pain making me stupid. Imagine how bad it'd be if you'd talked me into the drugs." He's trying, she knows. Passing it off as a joke so she can, too, if that's how she wants to play it.

She needs to keep one hand on her P-90 in her lap, but she reaches behind her, blindly, and lets the other one rest on top of the one he's still using to prop himself up. "How long?" she asks. "God, Cam, how long?"

There's a hitch in his breath she knows isn't entirely from the pain. For a second she thinks he might keep up the casual front, but he manages to surprise her. Again. "Fifteen years, give or take," he admits. "I'm not counting days."

Her fingers clench, convulsively, on top of his. She makes herself smooth them out and keep her eye on what's going on outside the cave. She can't hear the staff-blasts anymore, hasn't for a while, but that doesn't mean she can let her guard drop. "I never realized," she says.

He turns his hand over so their palms are touching, but he doesn't close his fingers. "It's okay," he says. "You do your thing. I'll be waiting right here if you ever change your mind." A beat. "Well, hopefully not right here. I'm kinda actually looking forward to the infirmary right about now."

"You should have said something," she says, quietly. She can't afford to think about it right now -- oh, the timing sucks -- but she's casting her mind back through all the years, all the times she's almost said something, all the times she's wondered what if?

He shrugs against her back. "Didn't want to fuck up what we had," he says. "What we had was pretty nice by itself." He pauses. "I do have to say, though, baby, I'm getting pretty tired of waiting. Because I hate watching you hurt."

She feels like she's been punched in the gut. "We can't talk about this now," she says. Clutching for some semblance of normal. "Not here."

"We don't have to talk about it at all," he says, and drops his head back down against her shoulder. He must be in agony, she thinks. She's not too fond of watching him hurt, either.

Best damn friend she's ever had. She just hadn't realized how much.

"When we get home," she says, and turns her head to rest her chin, briefly, against his hair. Then turns a little more and presses a kiss against his temple, because she's on guard but it's quiet and she can take a second to reassure him, dammit.

His eyes are closed, but he's smiling, like a weight has dropped off his chest. "Come over to my place," he says. "I'll cook."

"It's a deal," she says. "Once you can stand."

His voice is drifting off, like he's managing to find some kind of peace in the waiting. "Maybe I'll make you come wait on me hand and foot while I'm recovering."

It should be her cue to say something teasing, but she doesn't really want to, not with the weight of all this new knowledge unfurling inside her brain. Time to theorize from new data, she thinks. And then realizes it's not new data at all, just a new interpretation.

"You know I would," she says, soft and quiet against his hair, and settles back to wait until Daniel and Teal'c give the all-clear.

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