She came though the giant door and stopped full-halt in shock.
"Cassie! My God, Cassie, what happened?"
Cassandra, pale, sweating and dressed in the most ridiculous fancy-dress costume, leaned for support on a gurney which in turn supported an unconscious man. Their escort was Major Davis but, apart from registering his presence, she paid him no immediate attention - he wasn't the patient.
Curled into a foetal position, the man on the gurney seemed oblivious of the people around him, but the fingers of his left hand were tightly interlaced with Cassandra's.
"Mom." Cassie sounded awkward; her eyes flicked around the Gate room, never settling on one spot. "It isn't really me."
"I know. My Cassie is visiting friends. It doesn't matter; I'm still your mother." She started forward to get a better look at her patient in order to make a quick diagnosis, but Davis blocked her path.
"Don't touch him," Davis said quickly. "He's been infected by Ma'chello's page-turning device. He said that you'd know what to do and that the cure was in Cassandra's blood."
Cassie's blood? She'd treated the problem last time with an extract of Sam's blood. As a former host, Sam carried the protein marker from a dead Goa'uld that convinced Ma'chello's bugs that their task was complete.
Cassie had been a host?
Professionalism warred with the need to comfort her daughter and won for the instant - Ma'chello's devices were deadly.
"Davis, get him to the infirmary. Cassie, how many bugs does he have in him and how long ago was he infected?"
It was Davis who replied, talking crisply even as he manoeuvred the gurney. "One, two or three, maybe. It's hard to be certain. It's been at least twenty minutes. It took me longer than I anticipated to get the gurney through the Gates via Ma'chello's lab. I'd guess Maybourne's been unconscious for at least half that time. Cassandra's been getting worse too. We killed Nirrti, but there's some kind of aftereffect."
Maybourne! She looked again at the figure on the gurney as she walked beside it, now seeing past the blue utility garments and the unfamiliar beard to the face she detested.
Set it aside. He's in your care for now.
"Cassie! Let go of him, then I can support you. I daren't touch you while you're in contact with anyone infected."
"I... He..." She pulled her hand free and held it out imploringly.
Whatever the poor child had been though, it must have been hell. Fraiser caught her in her arms and held Cassie's head against her shoulder. This girl had to be from Sunlight's reality: the Cassandra Jack had spoken of so movingly, struggling to care for the sick in the SGC whilst trying to cope with her own traumas.
"You're safe, my sweet. I'll take care of you for as long as I can." Though that might not be for very long. Two Cassandra's couldn't coexist in one reality; they'd discovered that long ago when Sam's duplicate came through the quantum mirror.
She stroked the girl's hair, feeling the soft sheen of it and longing to be able to run a comb through it as she had done when Cassandra was younger. This Cassandra needed the chance to be a little girl again, to be able to let go and allow someone else to take the responsibility for a while.
Professionalism reasserted itself, and she quickly grabbed a passing airman to help her support Cassandra's weight quickly to the infirmary.
"Is your blood group still A positive?" she asked Cassandra, as they walked.
"Yes, but I don't know what..."
"He'll be in the data base." They steered Cassandra through the infirmary door and lifted her onto an empty bed next to Maybourne's gurney. "If his blood group is different from yours, then I'll have to spend time removing the components of your blood that will clot. If it's the same, then I'll just inject directly. Time may be critical here."
Cassandra lay limp, staring up at the ceiling, as Frasier whipped tubing round her arm to increase the blood volume. Her breathing was laboured and there was a yellow tinge to the white of her eye.
"Reynolds," she called to her senior nurse, "find Colonel Maybourne's blood group, stat. Then pull up all records relating to Shan'auc's autopsy and Major Carter's records immediately after Jolinar died."
"He really is a colonel?" Cassandra asked faintly.
"He was." She inserted the syringe and withdrew it full of blood. "He's a traitor and a thoroughly nasty piece of work. Keep away from him."
Some expressions transcended universes. She'd known Cassandra for four years now, and that stubborn set to her jaw needed no words to accompany it.
"A positive," Reynolds called out.
No time to argue now; she had to get the blood into Maybourne. A man could survive for several days with just one of Ma'chello's bugs in his system, but if she was any judge then Maybourne was as far gone as she had been when she'd gotten infected, and she'd had three in her system and had only just made it.
Apart from an occasional twitch, Maybourne lay completely motionless, curled up tight with his head buried in his arms. She'd been there; it wasn't a pleasant memory.
"Maybourne," she said brusquely, "I'm just going to give you an injection."
He showed no sign of having heard.
She hesitated a moment; if he moved while she was injecting him, then there was a chance of them touching. She tapped the back of his hand with the side of the syringe, but there was no response of any kind.
She inserted the needle and pressed the plunger with a practised hand.
For ten long seconds, nothing happened. She was aware of Cassandra's accusing gaze and of Davis trying hard not to look at his watch. Then, a brown blob began to ooze out of Maybourne's ear, closely followed by a second. She quickly moved a kidney bowl into position to catch them for later analysis.
Maybourne's shoulders relaxed and his breathing deepened. His arms uncurled; he blinked his eyes and slowly pushed himself to a sitting position. He looked slowly round him, before speaking.
"Doctor Fraiser," he said finally, with condescending politeness, "I believe I owe you a debt of gratitude."
"Then you can best repay it by getting out of my infirmary as quickly as possible." She glanced over at the doorway where two armed guards stood. "Inform General Hammond that Colonel Maybourne has fully recovered."
Cassandra flinched. The venom in her mother's voice was painful to hear, just as painful as the dislike in Harry's. Why couldn't life be like a children's story where the people you cared about came together because they both loved you?
"Harry?" She held out a hand towards him.
He swung his legs over the edge of the gurney, with surprising ease, and came to stand beside her. He took her hand in a light grip and placed it back on the bed. She stretched out her fingers, but he ignored the proffered contact.
"How is she?" His concern sounded professional, rather than personal.
"Is it safe to take her home?" Davis added. "We can't stay long; the Aesir will close the route via Ma'chello's lab and the quantum mirror has already been decommissioned."
"I need to run some tests," Janet said. "When a symbiote dies, the effects can vary. If organs are ruptured, there may be a sudden release of toxins."
"That is how my father died," a voice said from behind her. It was good to hear Teal'c again, there was something so reassuring and solid about him. "Cronus crushed the symbiote inside his pouch. Shan'auc was murdered in the same way by Tanith."
Harry's brow lowered. "Major Carter survived," he said quickly.
"Jolinar was Tok'ra," Janet said sharply. "She was mortally injured by the ashrak, but did all she could to protect Major Carter from the effects of her death. Even then, Sam was sick for a couple of weeks."
"Nirrti wanted to kill me." Even the words were an effort now; speaking made her feel nauseous. She wanted to say that if it hadn't been for Harry she might not have made it at all, but Harry wasn't even looking at her. His eyes roved restlessly over the infirmary, but at least whenever Janet spoke, he paid attention.
"I'm not going to let Nirrti win," Janet said. "You've come this far on your own; now you've got me with you."
Behind Janet's back, Harry's face twisted into an unpleasant irony.
Why was he being like this? He'd never treated her this way before. She was too tired to try and work it out. All she knew was that she wanted his support and he wasn't giving it. You saved my life, but you won't hold my hand.
"I'm going to take some more blood," Janet said. "Just a small sample for tests. I need to see how much of the toxin is present."
"Is there likely to be anything that will help?" Davis asked.
Janet looked down at her and hesitated a moment before replying. "When dealing with toxins, the most important thing is often good nursing care, to help the patient survive the effects of the toxin while the body clears it out of the system." And don't ask what I will do if the toxic load is more than she can cope with. Nursing care got Sam though this, but I think Jolinar chose to die in a way that avoided the organ ruptures that could have killed Sam. Nirrti may well have done the opposite and deliberately mixed her body fluids with Cassandra's.
"I'm sorry, Colonel, but that's out of the question."
Even over the phone, O'Neill knew the expression that would be on Hammond's face. It was the one that said: 'this is the Air Force and there are regulations'.
"General," he said carefully, "I know Maybourne's a pain, but I owe him a debt that I can never repay."
Sunlight, sitting on Sam's knee, was listening to the story that Jacob was reading her. At least, O'Neill hoped she was listening, as he really did not want her overhearing this conversation. He'd have taken the call in the bedroom, if he'd thought Sunlight would allow him to leave her sight.
Why did Maybourne come back here? Kantele wondered.
If he was dying, he may not have had much choice.
A death sentence is an improvement on dying?
"I am well aware of what you owe Maybourne," Hammond said. "I am also well aware that he was convicted of treason against several of our allies including the Tok'ra. We currently have several Tok'ra refugees on the base. I won't allow Maybourne to destroy that alliance."
"He's helped us on more than one occasion. Is this how we repay him?"
"Concealing an escaped prisoner carries a three year sentence. Just how many members of this command do you wish to be implicated?" The real hell of it was that Hammond was right. "Jack, take it through the proper channels and maybe you'll be able to negotiate a sentence reduction in recognition of the help Maybourne has given us in the past."
"And maybe pigs will fly. Past favours don't count squat."
And you'd still run the risk of ending up in jail yourself. He wasn't sure if that thought was his or Kantele's, but he still hated himself for acknowledging it.
Look, Pal, Maybourne took a death rap for Sunlight. He wouldn't want us to bargain for him if we got landed in jail as a result.
Sunlight wouldn't be able to cope with the shock.
He'd accepted Harry's right to to offer his life for Sunlight's. What would he want if he was in Harry's position now? It was hard to second-guess, and equally hard to be sure that his own desires weren't influencing his guesses.
"I'll be asked to explain how Maybourne came to be on this base," Hammond said.
We landed him in that situation...
If Maybourne says he went through the SGC's quantum mirror, then Hammond will be as guilty as we are because he knew where Maybourne was and didn't turn him in.
It was a whole new can of worms. Was there any way of explaining Maybourne' presence without landing everyone in the soup? He couldn't even start to think it through: to work out who knew what and who'd lied about what. Subterfuge didn't come easily to O'Neill, but some people drank it in with the air they breathed.
"Don't explain, Sir. Leave it to Maybourne; if he's good at anything, it's creative lying."
"You think he'll cover the SGC's involvement?"
"Can you be sure of that?"
"Yeah." Definitely. Well, almost.
"I hope you're right, Jack." Hammond sounded old and weary. "If you want to speak to him, do it soon. There's a squad coming to collect him. They'll be here in another hour."
Fraiser rubbed her eyes. Staring too long at the monitor made them feel dry and itchy. Probably too much dust in the air, though the filters ought to deal with that. Maybe it was static on the screen. Or maybe she was just tired and stressed. It would be so much easier if she didn't have to send Cassie back to her own reality in a few hours. With so few nursing staff, what kind of quality of care could they provide?
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Daniel. He was talking quietly to Cassandra, telling her some story about his grandfather. Daniel was good at that; he could give the kind of quiet support that helped a patient focus on something other than their illness without tiring them out. In doing so, he made her task easier. Knowing he was with Cassie made it easier for her to concentrate on what she had to do.
The toxin wasn't always fatal, but it was when the dose was high enough. Shan'auc's autopsy had revealed clearly how it acted - her symbiote had been crushed by Tanith, leading to an almost instant overdose. Sam had gotten off much more lightly. Jolinar's organs had been fatally damaged by the ashrak, but Jolinar had chosen to concentrate all her remaining energy on reducing the amount of her body fluids entering Sam's body. The same load had been absorbed in the final analysis, but it had been gradually over a couple of weeks as Sam's body slowly absorbed Jolinar's remains.
Why did the symbiote produce the toxin in the first place? The ability to kill a host had no evolutionary advantage.
Maybourne drifted past. He picked a mechanical pencil, examined it, put it down, and reached out for a stethoscope.
He raised a casual eyebrow.
"If you touch anything else, I'll have you thrown out."
He clicked his heels together. "Ja, mein Führer."
"Or I could just have you thrown out anyway."
Taking the hint, he moved away from her and 'behaved' himself by going and watching Rak'nor's symbiote as it twined around its artificial backbone. Rak'nor maintained the symbiote, the symbiote maintained Rak'nor. Perfect balance.
Why have a substance that was toxic to the host?
Because it was essential to the symbiote. Humans produced a myriad of chemicals in their bodies: hormones, pheromones, ATP, RNA, amino acids; the list could fill a textbook. Goa'uld were every bit as complex as humans, but they had evolved into a state of dependency on hosts. Like any parasite, they took much of what they needed from their host, and only made internally what they couldn't get from outside.
For a substance to be made in quantity in the symbiote, it had to be important for survival and unobtainable from the host. But suppose it became available from the host... Suppose that the energy involved in manufacturing it could be saved?
She knew from Maybourne's research how long a Jaffa could survive without a symbiote; that time might just be enough to save Cassandra's life.
"Cassie." Mom was all action, all of a sudden. "We're going to try and use Rak'nor's symbiote to filter your blood. I don't know if it will work, but I'll take regular readings to see if the level of the toxin in your blood decreases."
"How long will it take," Davis asked, as Janet fiddled around removing tubes from Rak'nor's arm.
"I don't know. I'd expect twelve to twenty-four hours if it works at all." She disconnected the tubing from a tank containing a Goa'uld symbiote and wheeled the tank over to Cassandra's bed.
She'd always hated having needles in her arm. She didn't mind injections, it was when the needle had to remain there. The idea of the piece of metal inside her body violated some deep inner instinct, and the idea of being linked, no matter how indirectly to another Goa'uld...
She bit her lip to fight down the panic attack; this was a medical procedure; it was necessary; she had to be rational and accept it. Another Goa'uld.
Mom was sterilising all the equipment and finding fresh I.V. tubing. It wouldn't do to have any of Rak'nor's blood in her body. Harry was watching her. She knew it without even looking. Her blood was in his veins now - it was an odd feeling. She'd never had HIV or hepatitis or any other blood-borne disease, so at least there was no risk to Harry, but Rak'nor had lived on alien worlds all his life and might carry things that she had no immunity to.
Davis was hovering, there was really no other word to describe it.
"When will she be able to go back? The Aesir are going to close the portal."
While connecting the I.V. line to the tank, Janet replied, "Unless you have another symbiote, there's nothing you can do for her back there."
Another symbiote. Somewhere, somehow, she had a feeling that there should be one: a symbiote that wouldn't hurt her. If only she could remember where.
"Can Cassandra stay here?" Davis asked.
"No." Janet swabbed alcohol over the back of Cassandra's hand. "There's interference between the realities. One person cannot exist twice in the same reality. After a few days, the newcomer will develop seizures and die." She slid the needle carefully in and taped it in place.
Harry tapped a finger against the glass of the tank. She could see his reflection staring at her. "Is the interference electromagnetic in nature?"
Janet ignored him, more concerned with connecting a second needle to Cassandra's upper arm.
"Cassandra can manipulate her body's e-m field."
"That," her mother said sharply, " was a short-term effect caused by Nirrti's retrovirus."
"I think," Harry said, "that the virus simply enhanced something that was already there."
Had it? It made sense in a way. Nirrti's plague on Earth had spared those who had even a trace of a mutant skill. She'd survived that, so she must still have the potential inside her.
But how? And did she even want to? There were people she loved here, but it wasn't her home.
How had she used the ability before? She could remember the chess piece turning and turning, obeying the command of her mind as though she'd always known how to do it. It was as instinctive as reaching out a hand to pick up a mug.
When the ability had been switched on by the virus, she'd automatically known how to use it. As it was, she'd nothing to use and no idea of how to use it even if she had.
"Can you test for it?" Davis asked.
She really felt for him. He wouldn't abandon her, but every minute he spent here was a risk. He would get trapped as well if the portal was closed. Did he exist here too? She had to ask.
"Is there another Major Davis?"
Janet nodded. "There's a high risk for both of you in remaining. Major, you should go now."
He stood firm. "I have a responsibility to Cassandra."
"And I have a responsibility to you. If you remain here, you may endanger your own life. The moment I think the toxin levels are low enough for her to survive without a symbiote, I'll send her back."
"And if she can stay here?"
"Former hosts make such fascinating subjects for study," Harry said, with a sneer.
"You should know," Janet snapped.
"She might be in danger from President Kinsey," Davis said, "but not here surely?"
"No." Janet connected up another tube for blood to leave the symbiote's tank. "She has friends here." She didn't even glance at Maybourne as she said it.
O'Neill swung the pick-up around into the Cheyenne Mountain car park and parked more or less evenly between the painted white lines of a bay. He had mixed feelings about this, but then he had mixed feelings about all sorts of things these days. This was going to be distressing for Sunlight, but taking her to visit Maybourne in prison would be worse. He'd promised her she'd see Harry again...
Walking from the sunshine into the dark of the mountain's entrance had rarely felt more difficult. Even with Sam walking beside him, holding Sunlight's other hand, he had the oddest feeling that he was being swallowed in the throat of some giant creature grown of stone.
You just don't want to tell Maybourne that he's getting shafted.
He's not stupid, he already knows. Explaining it to Sunlight is the impossible part.
Corridors and security checks and elevators and more corridors. It only felt like it took forever. Sam was chatting brightly to Sunlight, trying to interest her in a shopping expedition tomorrow, but Sunlight had reverted to her subdued state and showed little interest. If he was any judge, she was tired, stressed out and heading for either tears or a tantrum.
"Sunlight, how about I give you a shoulder ride?"
Taking silence as assent, he swung her up and took long strides down the corridor while she held silently on to his hands.
"I'm sorry, Major." Janet lifted her head from the microscope. "The cell tests were both positive. Neither you nor Cassandra can remain here for long."
Watching Maybourne's back, Cassandra caught the flinch of his shoulders, saw him straighten and turn and smooth his expression into a cynical half-smile. Catching her eye, he glanced at Janet and Davis still looking at the microscope slides, then gave a slight shrug.
For the first time since she'd entered this reality, she experienced a sense of connection to him. You can't talk to me, can you? Not in front of other people. Are you ashamed of what you feel for me? Is that why you keep being nasty? Or is it that you can't face saying 'goodbye'?
I won't know if you don't tell me.
I'm just as bad. I haven't even said 'thank you' for saving my life.
"Colonel Maybourne." Even to speak a few words was draining.
He raised a silent eyebrow.
"I would like to thank you," she said formally, "for saving my life." Embarrassment coiled inside her. She felt as though she were exposing her inmost feelings to Teal'c and her mom and everyone else there. Harry just looked bored, but she knew better than to trust whatever expression happened to be on his face.
"Thanks may be premature."
I thought men were supposed to go all romantic when someone they loved was dying? Is this how you cope instead? Or is it guilt?
She looked him in the eye. "Even if I die, it's still what I wanted. Being Nirrti's host..."
He gave a short, tight nod of understanding.
Cassandra looked around in surprise to see Sunlight in the doorway, riding on her father's shoulders.
"Princess!" Harry's face broadened into a wide, open smile. "Come here." He reached up to catch her as she tumbled down from Jack's shoulders into his arms.
"I thought she ought to..." Jack said awkwardly. "You know."
"Understood. How long do we have?"
"Half an hour, but I can stretch it a bit."
Harry nodded, the same sharp nod he'd just given her, but she knew she was missing some of the meaning. From the way Harry held Sunlight, he obviously wanted to be with her, but something was wrong. Sunlight was clinging to Harry like she was afraid he'd vanish, and Harry was way too tense.
"Colonel?" Mom managed to pack a wealth of question into the word, starting with 'Do you trust your daughter with that man' running all the way to... Actually, she wasn't sure what.
"Long story," Jack said shortly. "Doc, could you alter Sunlight's medical records to show Maybourne as next of kin after myself and Carter. List him as her godfather."
Harry glanced up sharply. "What do you want?"
"Why should I want something?"
"Because you just did something for me."
"Why assume everyone is as manipulative as you are?"
"Experience. What do you want?"
Jack sighed. "Silence. Or better yet, some way of explaining your arrival in the SGC that keeps everyone's neck out of the noose."
"Don't you think-" Harry began in a low, dangerous voice, then caught himself as Sunlight squirmed in his arms and whimpered.
"Christ crucified, Jack. You really did learn to fight dirty."
Was this Harry's world? One in which nothing was done without an ulterior motive? How could he live, viewing everyone's actions through that kind of filter?
"I want an hour," he said. "I'd ask for longer, but Sunlight will be too tired. Svenska's several hours ahead of Earth; it's evening for her already.
"She missed Cassandra a lot. Leave the three of us alone for a while and I'll make sure Sunlight doesn't touch any of the medical equipment."
When Jack called you manipulative, he understated it. Does he even realise what you want?
Do I want to be alone with you?
Do I want to say goodbye to Sunlight?
Yes and no to both.
"Agreed," Jack said.
"Not agreed," Janet said. "This is my infirmary and I need to keep an eye on my patient. Cassandra will need continual monitoring. She could go into shock; she may need to be put onto a ventilator; and I have to monitor the level of toxin in her blood to see if the symbiote is having any impact."
Suiting action to words, she went to take a small sample from the tube carrying blood back from the symbiote to Cassandra.
"I'll let you know the result as soon as I've carried out a comparison."
"Mom." Cassandra held out a hand to touch her mother's wrist. "Give us as much space as you can. Sunlight looks pretty tired. Too many people will just stress her out. I want to say a proper goodbye to her, before I have to say goodbye to you."
Now who's being manipulative?
"I love you too, honey."
"Mom!" Don't embarrass me.
"You may be sixteen, but you're still my daughter, and I still love you."
From behind Janet's shoulder, she could see Harry grinning. Bastard. To Hell with him.
"I love you too, Mom. Even when I bitch at you, I still love you."
Janet squeezed her hand gently, then, holding the blood sample carefully, she headed towards her equipment and Harry slid neatly into the space she'd vacated. He didn't say anything. just looked at her with a calculating expression while he sat down and settled Sunlight onto his knee.
"No," she said. "Whatever you're going to ask, the answer's 'no'."
"Wouldn't dream of it. Well, maybe. You can't fault a man for dreaming."
With a look of concern, Sunlight reached out a tentative hand towards the needle inserted in the back of her hand.
"It's medicine," Cassandra said. "I was very ill, but I'm going to get better."
"Is the angel helping?"
"Yes," Harry said, adding as an aside, "they're all Tok'ra to her."
Tok'ra... Again, she had the feeling that there was another symbiote somewhere, one that Nirrti had despised and occasionally thought about experimenting on. A Tok'ra - an important Tok'ra.
Harry shifted in his chair, cradling Sunlight against his arm. This close, Cassandra could see the lines of weariness in his face. He looked older, more drawn, and the fingers of his right hand were never quite still. They twisted endlessly round one another and drew circles on the leg of his pants.
Catching the direction of her gaze, he stopped.
"I'm no good at goodbyes."
Sunlight picked up on the tone of his voice. "Harry?"
"I've got a job up north, Princess. I'm going to be a teacher."
"What?" said Cassandra. The idea was ridiculous.
"I thought you knew?"
Knew? The idea was crazy. Harry was Air Force. He was... And then it finally clicked. He was an escaped prisoner on an Air Force base. She'd had the clues, simply hadn't put them together. He was saying goodbye to Sunlight as well as herself.
Did they allow children to visit maximum security prisons? Would Harry want Sunlight to visit him there even if Jack was able to bring her? There was so much she wanted to say, but there was Sunlight's presence to consider.
"I think you'll be an excellent teacher," she said firmly. "Won't he, Sunlight?"
Sunlight nodded and began to suck the joint of her thumb.
Harry winced. "Would you like me to tell you a story?"
Before Sunlight could reply, they were quietly interrupted by Janet.
"I thought you'd like to know," she said, "the symbiote is definitely absorbing some of the toxin. If it carries on absorbing at this rate, you should be safe to go home well within Major Davis's deadline."
"Thank you, Doctor."
She knew Harry meant it, but it didn't exactly come across as effusive. It was as though Maybourne's world revolved around rank; he couldn't show weakness to anyone lower down the system. And I think, maybe, you're clinging all the harder to that because you're about to lose it all.
"Call me if you need me," Mom said, and returned to her studies on the other side of the infirmary, far enough away to allow a degree of privacy, but close enough to still be a chaperone. And how do I feel about that? Grateful, or not?
"Story," Sunlight said.
"Okay, boss." Harry pursed his lips in thought. "Here's one out of the book your dad gave me. It's called 'Othello'."
"We're doing that one at school," Cassandra said.
"Then you can help me if I get stuck.
"Once upon a time, there was a city called Venice, and in it there lived a man called Brabanzio. Now, Brabanzio had a beautiful daughter; she had long dark hair and brown eyes. Many men came to court her, but she refused them all.
"One day, an evil man called Iago came to Brabanzio and told him that his daughter was-
"Cassie, I find myself in need of a suitable euphemism...
Was he hiding a grin? "'Making the beast with two backs.'"
She struggled with the unfamiliar Shakespearian phrase, then blushed as she worked it out.
"Why not do Romeo and Juliet instead?" There wasn't any actual sex in that, was there? And she hadn't actually done anything with Harry. Not really. "We studied that last year."
Now he was definitely amused. "You want me to promote under-age sex? Juliet was fourteen."
Harry stroked a finger across his beard. "Your teacher appears to have missed out all the interesting bits."
"You're just getting at me because of what I put in my diary."
"Ah. Guilty." He bit at his lower lip. "Did Davis...?"
He said quietly: "Then you know what I need to know."
She knew. But it was hard to find ways of saying it. And there were things she needed to know as well, and they were just as hard. How did you discuss something like statutory rape in front of a four-year old?
Sunlight was quiet, and the quietness bothered her. She and Harry had dragged the conversation far away from the story and Sunlight wasn't complaining. It might just be tiredness, but the way Sunlight clung tight to Harry's arm suggested fear. Was she afraid Harry would leave her, if she complained? Harry wasn't much better; his eyes might be on Cassandra, but his hand rested on Sunlight's. He was too tense in the way he sat and he kept making small fidgety movements. Was he worried about the diary, about Sunlight, about going to prison, about... Okay, it could be the whole lot. If flirting with her helped him forget for a minute or two...
It wasn't fair. She had things she wanted to forget too. She'd been host to a Goa'uld.
And if she asked for his support, he'd give it. He'd given more than that already. So tell him, but tell him in a way that protects Sunlight as much as possible.
"Iago told Desdemona's father that she'd been kissing Othello, that they'd been sleeping together. He was very rude about it, because he knew Brabanzio would hate the idea. Othello was a soldier and in command of all the armies of Venice, but he was much older than Desdemona and he was black. In those days, black men were considered to be ugly and inferior, instead of strong and handsome like Teal'c."
"Hey," Harry protested, "when did Teal'c get into this story?"
In spite of the nausea, she smiled.
"Othello and Desdemona were summoned before the city council. Othello was an honourable man - he told them that he had married Desdemona."
"Moot point," said Harry. "He'd married her without her father's consent. Was that legal? And she didn't ask her father's permission either, which means she knew he wouldn't give it."
How come Harry always had a way of twisting things round? Surely Othello had acted honourably when he married Desdemona? He was the good guy.
"What if he didn't know whether it was legal or not?" she asked.
"What if he didn't give a toss for the law and simply considered her an adult woman capable of making up her own mind, regardless of what anyone else told her she could or couldn't do?"
He never made it easy for her, never would. She was too tired and queasy to work it all through.
She sank wearily back against the pillows. "You never tell me what the right answer is."
"You're worth more than that. People I can manipulate are two a penny. You're independent-minded enough to reach your own conclusions."
"I think Nirrti drained all that out of me."
Harry shook his head. "You underestimate yourself. When you know what you really want, you won't let anything get in your way."
What I want is for you to put your arm around my shoulders, and lie to me and tell me everything's all right.
I want to be well, and to walk in the sunshine with you, and talk to you and argue and laugh with you.
I want time to understand my own feelings, to try and figure out why you're so important to me.
I want to look at you and fix your face forever in my memory, because I don't want to forget you.
I want to give you back something of what you've given me.
He was looking at her, with haunted eyes that spoke of too many trials. What had the Aesir done to him? She knew what had to be said, but it was still so hard to say, so hard to expose herself to him.
"When I went to Washington," she began, "I had time to spare, so I went to visit the Jefferson Memorial."
"What? Oh yes. She went there when she needed to think. I needed to try and sort things out in my head. I couldn't bear the idea that you'd lied to me; it hurt so much. You'd let me get close to you..." She looked down at the bed, not wanting to meet his eye. "You'd shared part of yourself with me - I couldn't bear the idea that you... I can't explain it properly."
"Lies create barriers," he said quietly. "Which probably explains why people in my line of business have so few real friends."
"Anyway, I sat down and looked out at the view. And I thought of you. It was as though you were sitting there beside me - and you needed me. That was the crazy thing: I was sitting there being mad at you, and you were there sitting next to me."
She looked up. "It was the flowers that made me forgive you. So many people had died; but if you hadn't come, there would have been so many more. So, I stopped being mad at you, because you'd cared about all those people, and I missed you so much, and... And then the men came, and..."
His hand wrapped warmly around hers, and she closed her eyes and focused on the physicality of his touch. He was solid, and he was real, and she needed him. She was content to simply lie back and let the tiredness take her, knowing that she was safe because he was there.
Cassandra opened her eyes in shock. The speaker was a tall, broad-shouldered major with two airmen at his side. "You will accompany us."
"Quiet," Harry said. "You'll wake Sunlight."
Sunlight was asleep? How could she possibly have fallen asleep? How long had they been sitting there?
Harry slid his hand discreetly from hers, and looked around him, easily finding Jack who stood there looking tall and embarrassed.
"Take her," Harry said quietly. "If you're lucky, we can do it without waking her."
Jack slid an arm under Harry's and took Sunlight's weight, while gently disentangling hands and arms. Sunlight stirred, but settled into a new position without waking.
"Make sure she gets my letters," Harry said, with an odd note in his voice.
"Sure, Harry. I'll do that." Jack didn't sound any more comfortable than Harry did.
"Colonel Maybourne." Low-voiced, but unmistakably an order.
Harry walked over with a quiet dignity that made her ache for him. What was it costing him to be arrested in front of everyone he knew? Because they were all there now: Sam, Daniel, Teal'c, even her mother and Davis. Maybe they meant well, but she had a sense of his pride and suspected he would rather have been alone.
She bit her lip, trying hard not to let too much show. If she broke down, she had a nasty feeling that Harry might lose it. She couldn't do that to him, expose him to the derision of strangers.
The Major gestured for him to spread his arms. Anger flashed in his eyes for an instant, before he submitted quietly to the search. Hands patted arms and legs, and checked pockets with casual expertise.
With brusque efficiency, they cuffed his hands, and she felt a sharp stab of pain on his behalf.
They'd taken him away from her already. A calculating, emotionless stranger looked out of Harry's eyes and she no longer knew him.
The airman who'd searched Harry tossed something small, blue and furry into the air, and in that split instant she felt it-
The violent swing arrested itself in mid-motion and Harry froze, breathing ragged, hands trembling, caught on some precipitous cusp between madness and sanity.
No one else reacted. It was as thought the two of them were the only people in the room. Even Sunlight slumbered on, untroubled by the cry.
Because no one had heard her; no one except Harry...
Her mind was running round and round like a hamster on a treadmill, catching on random fragments of memory and tossing them together in a pile.
General Maybourne survived Nirrti's plague; I always knew he had to be a freak.
Sometimes, when I was alone and needed you, I felt as though you were there.
When I screamed for help, Davis didn't hear me, but you did.
What kind of freak are you?
Can you hear me now?
There was no recognition in his face, only bewilderment.
"Colonel," she sought carefully for the words, trying to tell him, without stripping away what little privacy he had remaining. "You remember when you said you thought Nirrti's virus just enhanced a skill I already had?"
His eyes struggled to focus on her.
"I guess maybe you're right. I mean, I could just use it, but I had to learn to walk and to ride a bike, and so how could I do magnet things straight off unless I'd somehow used them a tiny bit before? It's like, imagine someone was a little bit of a telepath and the ability would only work if someone was really shouting at them or it was really important for them to hear." Do you hear me because you're in love with me?
"Maybe I've always had the skill a tiny bit, and I've leant to use it without even realising it. So, if I want to do something, then maybe it's enough just to want to do it." She struggled to find the words. "Like, if I walk, I don't need to know what muscles I'm using. I just do it.
"The thing is, I want to stay here. I have to stay here." I have to, because I can't leave you.
"Mom, can you try the cell test again? It has to work, because I can't face going back again." She let her face show all her emotion, in the sure knowledge that it would be misconstrued. "I was a host, and I think I'm remembering some of what Nirrti knew. They'll never leave me alone. Never."
"What sort of things?" Harry said, and that was odd, because it didn't bother her, and it should have done.
He was the one of all of them whose duplicate would have threatened her for that knowledge, intimidated her and badgered her until she was nothing more than a nervous shadow of her own self.
Harry asked the question as a way of balancing himself. It gave him the illusion of being in control and it gave him contact with her.
She barely noticed Janet taking another blood sample; she was focused on Harry, trying to help him find the calm he needed to survive. If she was calm, then maybe he'd pick up on that. Did he read emotions? Was he a telepath or an empath? Both? Neither?
"When I look at the symbiote," she gestured at the tank, "it reminds me of another captive Goa'uld. She's in a jar or something and she's Tok'ra, and Nirrti hates her."
She'd forgotten about Kantele.
"Yes, I think she's a queen. Is it important?"
It was the way he said it, as though every hope of his entire race was bound up in that single word.
"Egeria?" said Teal'c. "She could be the difference between extinction and survival for my people."
"Peace," said Daniel. "If anyone can bring human, Jaffa and Tok'ra together in a common cause, it would be Egeria.
Sam looked thoughful, hopeful and scared all at once, but Cassandra barely had eyes for any of them, she was watching Harry, watching the hope flare bright in his eyes.
'When you know what you really want, you won't let anything get in your way.'
We've learnt from one another haven't we? Maybe I had an influence on you in some way, gave you the chance to bring out the better side of your nature, but I think I've absorbed something from you too - when you really want something, you don't play by the rules.
"Where is she?" Jack asked.
She watched the slow, knowing smile spread across Harry's face, the smile of a teacher discovering an unexpected prize pupil.
You're a bastard, but you're my bastard and I love you.
Janet was saying something from the other side of the room, but it barely registered. She belonged in this reality now, didn't need the negative test result to tell her what her body's instinct already knew.
"Where is she?" asked Daniel.
"I'll tell you," Cassandra said, "when Colonel Maybourne has a full presidential pardon."