A Lapse of Gravity
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A Lapse of Gravity
by shalott

"Sam. Sam."

She opened her eyes to the snow-light, flakes of ice crackly on her eyelashes where her breath had frozen. The cold went all the way through. Daniel was a shadow, a memory of warmth next to her. "Just a little," he was saying, trying to press the canteen on her. Her mouth was dry, her stomach gnawing, but she couldn't bear to let the snowmelt into her mouth; just against her lips the water hurt, made her tremble all over, bone-deep. She couldn't feel her toes anymore, only the dragging weight of her boots pressing on her ankles. She closed her eyes again.

"She's too cold," Daniel said.

"I believe the temperature has dropped another twenty degrees since morning," Teal'c said; even his voice was leached, all the deep resonance gone, muffled by the snow overhead hissing against the sides of their tent. They were lying on either side of her, bodies a wall that couldn't keep out the cold.

She heard the canteen sloshing, and her throat worked with helpless greed at the sound. Daniel's hands were gentle even with the gloves, tilting her face up to his wet lips so she could drink from his mouth. He gave her another swallow, two, warmed through with heat he couldn't spare, and she squeezed her eyes shut so she wouldn't cry and waste it.

"Time's it?" she managed instead, barely cracking open her mouth; gusts of white streaming with each syllable.

"Friday," Daniel said. "It'll blow out before much longer."

"Colonel Carter, you must not go to sleep again now," Teal'c said, and she jerked awake, confused; it seemed abruptly darker.

"She can't make it like this," Daniel said, and she said, "Ow, God, no," and tried blindly to shove him away as he opened her sleeping bag; the cold was like a fist to the gut, except all over, on every part of her body that wasn't numb. He worked fast, but tears were leaking out of her eyes anyway before he managed to get them zipped in together.

"Can you get in?" Daniel asked.

"Warm her again first," Teal'c said.

He pulled the bags up over their heads and yanked the drawstrings tight; it was black and dim, and Daniel wrapped himself around her. He was opening her clothes and his own, carefully, bringing her skin to skin and making sure the layers were all still around them like a cocoon. He felt so hot she knew she had to be ice against him; but she couldn't help leaning in, mind full of warm warm warm, hungry seeking instinct.

"Get Teal'c in here," she said when she could speak, face mostly muffled against his chest.

Teal'c moved, and one flap of the tent lifted free for a moment; wind knifed through on a wave of cold, shrieking. The tea-kettle: she had to go turn off the stove. She tried to get up but the blankets were tangled around her legs, and then they weren't wool anymore but metal, gripping her, layers covering her over, with Fifth leaning in to stare at her with those sharp, hungry eyes.

She flailed, or tried to; Teal'c's big hands were clamped on her arms. "Samantha," he said.

She went rag-limp, still shaking. Daniel stirred awake and blinked at them both. "Hey," he said, as if they were meeting in a hallway, on the street. They had gotten her boots off and drawn up her legs; her feet were tucked up against Daniel's thighs, her toes stinging and alive.

"We must eat," Teal'c said.

Daniel put his arm back into his sleeve and poked it out of the drawstring hole, groped; they'd had enough time to put a handful of rations into the tent before the grey cloud had fallen down on them. The powerbars were frozen solid; Teal'c and Daniel took turns putting pieces into their mouths to let them thaw before feeding them to her, fingers sticky with honey and sugar. They gave her more water, also; she was starting to feel only dazed instead of mindless, her whole skin prickling with the pins-and-needles of returning sensation.

"Better?" Daniel asked.

"Yes," she said, heartfelt.

They snugged closer in around her. Teal'c was stroking her now, hands running slowly up and down over her arms, her back, her hips in circles, careful friction. They hadn't stripped all the way down, but close; she could feel the outline of Daniel's penis through his briefs, more than half-hard, pushing at the waistband.

"We shouldn't talk about this," Daniel said, but he gave her a cup of coffee and just sat there at his kitchen table, expectantly.

"If you're uncomfortable because of what happened," she said.

"I'm not," he said, so calmly she could almost believe him, except for the way he'd been avoiding her so blatantly, making excuses to skip meetings, drop their breakfast dates, turned down her invitations to go have a drink after work.

"Daniel," she said, exasperated.

"Sam, I'm not uncomfortable with what we did," he said again.


He stared down at his own cup, brows beetling. "If you did something and it made you uncomfortable, you probably wouldn't want to do it again," he said finally.

"Okay," she said. "We shouldn't talk about this."

It wasn't how the conversation had been supposed to go.

Teal'c was scrupulously polite to Daniel, but treated her no differently at all; until they were on the next offworld mission, and then he pitched the three tents in a long line instead of clustered, hers precisely midway between his and Daniel's, with enough distance between the ends not to be easily overheard: an invitation to choose. She came back to the camp from recon and stared; he stayed inscrutable, but with eight years of experience reading his face, she thought he was a little embarrassed.

Trailing up behind her, Daniel saw, said, "Oh," and was off, crossing to Teal'c in a spate of Goa'uld too complicated for her to follow. Mid-stream, Teal'c abruptly reached out with both hands to take Daniel's arm in that formal grip he usually saved for Bra'tac, and Daniel stopped talking and stood frowning down at their clasped arms, furiously intent.

She ducked into her tent, hurriedly. She lay awake a long while hearing the occasional murmur of their conversation, mostly Daniel; not loud enough for her to make out the words, just a steady flow of affection. It seemed like the easiest, most natural thing in the world to step outside and join them, or better still to invite them in. Instead she closed her eyes and thought about n-dimensional hyperspace equations until they put out the fire and went to sleep.

There were traces of Goa'uld occupation, but old, and no human settlements anywhere near the gate. On the second day, their widening search paid off. The mine was barely touched; signs of hasty departure all around: even the tools were still there, only a little worn, as if they'd been dropped mid-task. "Minos," Teal'c said, looking at some of the gear. "He was a minor System Lord, defeated by Heru'ur six decades ago."

"This must have been started around then," Daniel said, climbing out of the shaft and dusting his hands. "The main tunnel structure is done, but it looks like they abandoned the place before they started actually extracting."

"More naquada for us," Sam said. "Any chance the other Goa'uld know about this place?"

"It is most unlikely. From what I have heard, Minos's Jaffa fought almost to the last man to defend him, and he killed himself rather than be taken," Teal'c said. "If Heru'ur knew, he would most certainly have claimed this planet."

"Nice job, kids," Jack said over the radio, and sent them SG-3 and a team of engineers. By the time they had an iris on the stargate, three pallets of naquada had already come out, and Landeson was jubilant over the purity.

"We should transfer all our mining resources here right away, Colonel, and by right away I mean yesterday," he told Sam, waving his arms so wide Daniel had to lean away to avoid the clipboard. "The hard part's mostly done, and the richest stuff is all there still in the ground. With a crew of two thousand, maybe even less, I could have this thing producing 6 million tons a year."

"Do we have two thousand people?" Daniel asked, eyebrows flying.

"Not to dedicate to working on a mine," Sam said. "And we can't use 6 million tons of naquada yet. Sorry, Dr. Landeson," she added, seeing him crestfallen; she vaguely remembered from a personnel report he'd been a top coal-mining engineer before he'd been recruited, and he had to be used to operations on a different scale. "But I'll talk to the general about getting you some more people."

"So, are there two thousand people in the SGC now?" Daniel said, following her into the mess tent; they sat down with coffee and things felt almost normal again.

"Probably," she said. "We have about a thousand people at the alpha site, eight hundred at Cheyenne; I'm not sure how many at Area 51 or working on related projects at other bases."

"Hm," he said.

She wanted to ask him what he and Teal'c had talked about. She wanted to yell at him for complicating things instead of pretending nothing had happened. She wanted to see what his skin felt like when her hands weren't clumsy and half-numb. Instead she sat there and drank bad coffee in silence.

"It really is going to come out sooner or later, isn't it," he said.

"What?" she said, quickly, and then she realized he meant the project.

"So," Jack said, "Nice mine you got there, Colonel."

"Thank you, sir," she said. Shoulders straight. A smile, strictly professional satisfaction.

"What's with Teal'c and Daniel?" he asked, and the first thing that popped into her head, completely involuntary, was thank god, he hasn't guessed.

"Sir?" she said, lying without saying a word, and hated herself; hated them; hated him for not just knowing.

"Come on, Carter," he said. "They've been acting weird. Er," he tacked on. "They have a fight during that snowstorm, what was that, P3X-943?"

"I don't think so," she said. "But I was pretty groggy for most of it."

He fiddled with a pen on his desk, looking confused enough to make her ache. He couldn't exactly come out and tell her that she could spill anything, and he'd cover for them; but she could tell he was wondering why she wasn't taking that for granted. It was the first time she'd really felt he was off the team. Probably the first time he'd really felt it either.

"Dismissed," he said, finally, because there wasn't much else he could say, but he sounded quiet, almost defeated, and she closed the door behind herself very gently, the only apology she could offer.

She stayed in the locker room shower for a long time, hot water turned up enough to steam on the tile, head bowed and her hair a dripping fringe around her face, like blinders. She'd imagined Jack on the other side of this problem, whenever she'd let herself get as far as imagining anything like it at all. He would have taken her out for a beer someplace public, cracked a handful of uneasy jokes, and they'd have agreed to forget the whole thing about thirty seconds into the conversation. It wouldn't have meant anything, changed anything, not in the end; just another memory to blend in with all the others, more sweet than bitter.

And she couldn't blame this on Daniel, or Teal'c. They'd found a way back to their own balance; she knew neither of them would ever bring it up again if she didn't; they weren't going to push her for something she couldn't give. She was the one still off-kilter, and she didn't understand why she couldn't let go.

Pete was already used to filling the holes in conversation where her work stories would have gone; he didn't seem to notice anything unusual in her silence. She sketched pictures of alien generators on the memo pad while he talked about his cases at the other end of the phone line, and she answered with all the right sounds in all the right places, until she caught her own reflection in the mirrored handle of the refrigerator, the red O of her funhouse-stretched mouth, and she abruptly cut him off in the middle of plans for the weekend.

She left the ring sitting on the pad, two drops of blood beading on her knuckle, and drove to Daniel's apartment. She didn't get out right away, just turned off the engine and the lights and sat, watching shadows move across the blinds and other cars driving by, while the cold crept slowly in, and frost drew snowflake patterns over her side-view mirrors.

Daniel opened the door in t-shirt and sweatpants, hair spiky and damp, and Teal'c was sitting at the kitchen table: they were playing Risk and drinking beer. "You can have Australia," Daniel said, and went to get her a sweater.

Teal'c noticed her hand. He said nothing, but silently got up and went to the bathroom for a band-aid, big hands gentle on her skin putting it on. "We would ask nothing of you that would give you sorrow," Teal'c said quietly.

"What am I supposed to do?" She took her hand back and rubbed the pale smooth skin at the base of her ring finger; eleven offworld missions since the proposal, enough to get a tan line. It would be gone again in a month. "I'm not going to lie to him. I care about him." She wanted to say I love him but the words stuck. She'd said it before, though; told him so, told herself so; maybe she'd been lying all along.

The sweater smelled like Daniel, and her hand didn't hurt anymore, still warm from Teal'c's hands. They played until Teal'c managed to get North America away from Daniel and rolled them both up from there; par for the course, and he was quietly smug about it until she and Daniel looked at each other and attacked him with the last bits of popcorn.

She'd helped move Daniel in after he'd come back; she knew where the blankets and pillows were, and that she could take the couch if she wanted it. She took the middle of Daniel's bed instead, and the two of them warm around her; she reached out and drew them both closer, and they settled into sleep with their hands meeting on her skin.

The breakup went about as well as expected. The truth was impossible, but she couldn't make herself tell him the easy lies either, the ones about too much work, too much stress. Pete closed the ring tight in his fist and stared at the floor while she trailed off into silence and dropped her forehead into her hand. "Right," he said, dry. "Look, Sam, I thought we had something good going here, and until a couple weeks ago you did too. What happened? You want to clue me in here before you hand me my walking papers?"

"Not really," she said; she could be honest about that, at least. "I'm sorry. We did have something good going here. It's just—I'm sorry."

"It's not enough," Pete finished for her, meeting her head on: calm, but he was angry under it. "You were happy to play real life for a while, try on the boyfriend and the dog for size, but hey, I guess I can't expect to stack up too well against planet-hopping." He shoved the ring in his pocket and put his jacket on. "Whatever, Sam; I hope the adrenaline rush keeps you warm at nights."

She bit down on the ten sharp answers she wanted to make; all it could do was hurt him more, and he was mostly right anyway. She'd marched straight into this with a self-administered pep talk: no more hanging herself up on the unattainable, she was going to be grown-up and have a real relationship, guilt-free sex, a marriage, a life, happiness; everything she deserved, everything she was supposed to want, everything she was allowed to have.

Him, in other words: honest and solid, good-looking and good in bed, the kind of guy that was supposed to be mythical or already taken. Except how could even a Pete Shanahan be anything but a little washed-out, a little ordinary next to her three heroes; each of them ten times larger than life, and hers in a way he couldn't be, bound to her in the blood and fire of their private, endless war. They were her standard; anyone less would mean settling.

Daniel was the easiest to imagine into Pete's empty place: sitting at her kitchen table, glasses on and scribbling, reading her passages in languages she didn't know like his own odd kind of serenade. But she couldn't quite do it without Teal'c edging into the picture, maybe at the other end of the table; and Jack outside in the garden at the barbeque, or yelling at Daniel from the couch in the living room. She laughed out loud at herself, filling the kettle with shaky hands; a short, sharp bark. Of course she couldn't settle for Pete; she didn't even want to settle for only one of her three.

Jack noticed the ring was gone in the middle of their next briefing, and his tilted-back chair smacked down onto the floor so loud it managed to interrupt Daniel in the middle of one of his steamroller presentations. It was obvious on his face that he'd figured everything out, which meant he was really stunned: usually Jack was better at keeping up the not-too-bright facade.

None of them said anything, and the world tilted horribly: she could see Jack cold and rigid behind his desk, asking for her resignation; Daniel quitting, Teal'c moving off-planet; that moment of weightlessness just before gravity returned, when you were falling out of the sky. Then Jack cleared his throat and was himself again, everything righted, and he said, "Yeah, you were saying, the Froozits?"

Frowning, Daniel said, "Jack."

"Daniel," Jack said, and looked pointedly at the security cameras.

"Oh," Daniel said, and, "The Frau-Zentai don't have a historical record of Goa'uld occupation, but they do have considerable mythology that suggests a past presence, not to mention the influence on their social structures, the suspicion of outsiders, the strict insistence on formal introductions," and they wrapped the meeting like nothing had happened.

She went back to her lab and packed up some papers, her laptop, then changed and went upstairs. Jack was waiting in his car, expressionless behind sunglasses, tapping his fingers on the wheel; Teal'c in the passenger seat. Daniel came out of the mountain last, still dictating some notes into his tape recorder, in what sounded like Ancient. "My place?" he said, and got into her car without bothering to wait for an answer.

Daniel was still talking as she pulled out of the lot, Jack's truck up ahead; when he finished he put the recorder away, flipped through some papers; long legs stretched out comfortably, and she got unreasonably angry; she hated when he did this, stepped calmly outside of what ought to be heart-pounding disaster, as if he somehow knew everything was going to be just fine; it reminded her too much of how far away he'd been.

Not really trying to keep the snap out of her tone, she said, "You know, this isn't going to be easy."

"And so much of what we do is," Daniel said, and she wanted to punch him or kiss him; or maybe both, but she kept her hands on the wheel instead.

At the house, she left Daniel and Teal'c arguing passionately over Chinese versus pizza in the living room, and Jack followed her out onto the back porch. She leaned against the railing with her beer and he came to stand next to her.

"Trapped in a snowstorm, huh?" Jack said; he was busy peeling the label off his bottle and not looking at her. "Oldest trick in the book, Carter," and unspoken after that, so why did you fall for it? And she wasn't sure she even knew what the answer was.

She was clear-headed again, and she could stop this any time, just a word was all it would take. They would take their hands off her and be still, skin to skin and chaste until the storm blew itself silent, and she wouldn't have to lie to anyone when she got back. All she had to do was lie now, about the way her blood was quickening, about the hunger that she'd been living with for so long that she'd forgotten the feeling of satisfaction until the heat of their hands reminded her.

She didn't even have to do anything: her skin was warming, they could feel it for themselves. Teal'c was already slowing, ready to stop touching her; Daniel was easing back: both of them slipping away, generous and careful not to ask for anything, and all the plain, logical reasons in the world couldn't stop her from reaching out to put her hand over Teal'c's, on her hip, and look up into Daniel's face, dim and blue-tinted in the light that filtered through the sleeping bag.

Daniel breathed out and didn't ask her if she was sure, only took her face in his hands and kissed her, still as warm, as wet, as essential as water. Teal'c stroked her thighs, her belly, the places he hadn't let himself touch; fingers slipping between her legs. She worked her way out of her underwear, kicking it into the bottom of the bag, still not sure why she was doing this, all these deliberate choices. Daniel's cock blazingly hot, sliding between her thighs so easily, and Teal'c opened her for him and moved with them from behind, his own cock riding up against her, slick; she was managing to sweat, at the hollow of her back and between her breasts, where the tips of his fingers met, along her upper lip. Teal'c's mouth brushing across her shoulders, the length of her neck.

So good, and not enough of a reason; she couldn't believe she'd risk everything for this; except apparently she would, and she was, and she had.

And now Jack was trying so hard to joke, but she could hear underneath that he was pissed-off. The two of them had been backed into plenty of isolated, desperate corners together; enough chemistry between them to knock out a horse; it still hadn't ever happened between them. Now she'd gone and rolled Daniel and Teal'c the second his back was turned, and gotten them into this; and in some small corner he probably couldn't help feeling a little disgruntled that he hadn't even gotten laid out of it.

"This isn't going to break up the team," she said, and even as she said it, she realized that it was true, and why nothing had happened, why nothing ever would have happened between the two of them alone. They would have been a fault line running straight down the middle. Daniel and Teal'c were too lightly tethered to the SGC as it was; neither she or Jack would ever have risked loosening the ties to let them slip away. Daniel had managed it once anyway, but they'd gotten him back in the end, love and arguments and loyalty between them stronger than any law, even of the ascended.

He said, "Yeah," thoughtfully, and she knew he was working it out right alongside her. This was different; this bound them closer, anchored them together; official rules meeting his intuitive, gut-level approval and losing, as usual. She could see he liked the idea as soon as he'd thought about it that way: Daniel and Teal'c secured, the team strengthened.

She liked it too, uneasily: it felt like a reason, the reason, instead of the rationalization it ought to have been. Doing something stupid because you were freezing to death on a strange planet or temporarily out of your head with lust, everyone understood that; it made sense in every ordinary human way, and the only strange part was that she hadn't done it, hadn't slept with Jack in any of a thousand possible opportunities. Wanting this for real, wanting this in a cool, rational moment; that was the part that shouldn't be right. Didn't that make the love a lie, if it wasn't stupid, if she'd been thinking about it this way all along, some subterranean level of her mind quietly weighing the pros and cons before giving her the green light? An equation for everything, even when she should be running on terror and passion; another case of her thinking everything to death, another case of her being anything but normal.

She was working herself into doubt, and then Jack said, "Okay," the way he did when she or Daniel talked him into something, with the same trust that always gave her the confidence to believe the latest crazy thing that had just come out of her own mouth, and she felt the tension bleed out of her: she was right after all.

"We ordered," Daniel said, coming out to the porch with Teal'c right behind him.

"Mexican?" Jack asked.

"Yeah," Daniel said, and reached out for Jack's bottle, took it out of his hand, drank: head tilted back, one hand in his pocket; Jack watching him with his eyebrows trying to climb into his hairline. Teal'c put his arm around her waist, closing the square, and she looked at her three men and decided she was going to get what she deserved, after all.

= End =

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