* * * * * *
Daniel picked his jacket up, checking to make sure he had his wallet and pager.
Jolinar busied herself, sifting through any memories he opened to her for anything of use.
He'd known it would be impossible to keep that under wraps for long.
*He and Martouf have been posturing from the beginning. It's a whole Alpha Male mix and the fact that Martouf was obviously interested in Sam brought out Jack's protective streaks. She's been hurt before.*
Jolinar winced at the reminder of Samantha being near her husband and mate.
She tried to squash the feeling, knowing it would only agitate Daniel and serve to make her flippant with Samantha the next time she saw her.
Daniel winced, too, knowing he could have phrased that a bit more tactfully.
*I'm sorry. That's why I didn't let you see anything else of what happened on Cimmeria, though. I didn't want Jack's version to be upset and the Asgard have shown a preference for us before, so he wasn't totally off the mark.*
Jolinar did a little Tok'ra snort in his mind and he grinned as she went back to sifting.
He heard Amber and Cassie talking before he entered the dining room.
Smiling, he picked up Janet's forgotten watermelon juice and took a sip, enjoying the taste sliding across his tongue.
Janet always had interesting juice choices.
His smile widened as he walked into the kitchen.
"I know, but still. It's not fair. My teacher said I should enter the contest."
"But your mom said no, so maybe instead of griping, you should sit down and calmly ask her why. She might know something about the contest you don't...something she doesn't approve of."
"It's an art contest, Amber...what could possibly be wrong with entering an art contest."
"From what you've told me, nothing, but you're a kid, no matter how mature you are for your age. Adults won't necessarily tell you everything you think you should know. It's a quirk of being a grown-up. You get to stump kids."
Daniel choked on a laugh, remembering many times as a child that his parents, foster parents, and pretty much every other adult in his life hadn't made any sense at all.
Cassie was sitting on the counter, her legs flicking back and forth as she and Amber chatted.
"It's probably over that nude painting someone entered last year at the last minute. Janet was mad."
Amber offered Daniel a mug of coffee and passed him a plate of cubed cheeses that Cassie had been munching on.
"Where'd the cheese come from?"
"Mom found it in the bottom of the cooler in one of those new throw-a-way containers she loves. We stood in the store for fifteen minutes while she talked and talked and talked about how great they were."
Amber grinned at the impatience in Cassie's tone.
"You don't like 'em?"
Daniel sipped his coffee, mixing the taste with the juice in his mouth, surprised a bit at the easy camaraderie between Amber and Cassie.
"I don't care about 'em."
Amber chuckled, plucking a white-yellow swirly cube from the plate.
Amber winced suddenly.
At Daniel's inquiring look she muttered.
"Janet's cleaning Jonathan's scratches. The antisceptic stings."
Daniel winced in sympathy and popped another cheese cube in his mouth.
Jolinar was disgusted with the combined taste of cheese, coffee, and watermelon juice.
He chuckled softly at her insistance that he go clean his mouth immediately.
Amber slanted him a glance and then zoned out for a second.
Then, with a grin, she clucked Cassie under the chin.
"There's a problem with the contest. Your mom's right. You're not entering."
Cassie stuck her tongue out, wagging it at her before crossing her arms.
"You're not my boss."
"That wasn't from me, that was from Jonathan."
"Why do you call him that?"
"It's his name. Jack's a nickname. I like his name better."
Cassie cocked her head, "Duh" just screaming from her eyes.
"What's it mean?"
"Your choice, your opinion, your preference. Mine's Jonathan. It's just as valid as yours is. Disagreeing with me just makes the world interesting. It doesn't invalidate my prerogative."
"Ok, off the soapbox. I get the point."
Daniel chuckled at the Janetism.
"What a rude child you are. Maybe naptime is in order."
Cassie started to retort and then paused.
"That's from you, not Jack, right?"
"You'll never know."
"Tell him he can't speak through you anymore. If he does, I assume it's you and I don't hafta do anything."
Daniel's eyebrows raised as Cassie's comment not only didn't upset Amber, it sent her into gales of laughter.
Everytime she'd smiled or made any amused sound, he'd counted it as an improvement.
Another chink out of whatever hell that Iraqi experience had put her through, but the sound of her laughter surprised him.
She laughed as if she'd never laughed before.
Cassie sent Daniel a look letting him know she was doubting Amber's sanity.
"What did you do to her?"
Daniel looked over as Jack and Janet, hand-in-hand, entered the kitchen.
He noticed Jack's face had been cleaned and the deeper gouges covered in gauze.
"Cassie smarted off and Amber lost it."
Disbelief etched itself into the lines of Jack's face as he let go of Janet and walked toward Amber, stopping at her feet where she'd slid down the counter to the floor.
Her laughter went silent, but by the shaking in her shoulders, it hadn't abated in strength.
Jack sent Daniel a suspicious look before hauling her to her feet.
Her knees wouldn't support her so he held her up with an arm around her waist.
Daniel glanced over at Janet and was curious at the complete lack of jealousy in her stance and expression.
Jack held Amber, waiting until her hilarity had eased.
**You know...I'm beginning to wonder if you're just trying to get out of work. These moments of insanity are becoming a bit convenient, don't ya think?**
Amber gasped lightly, her laughter dying to giggles.
**I'm not really laughing, I suppose.**
Jack frowned, holding her closer.
That was the real reason he was concerned.
If she'd been laughing at something funny, he would've been thrilled, but it was the lack of humor behind her almost hysterical laughter that tugged at him.
**What can I do?**
**I don't know. Part of me wants to just live as though nothing's happened, but each time I try, I fall further behind.**
**No, not further behind, just moving forward slower than you want to.**
**Yeah, I guess. I just started laughing and couldn't stop. I think I scared Daniel.**
**He did look mildly curious. I think it's Cassie you freaked out, though.**
Amber smiled up at him as she pushed away, forcing herself to stand alone.
Jack kept his hands out a bit in case her shaky knees lost control.
Janet watched Amber carefully, noting the weakness in her arms and knees, but knowing the younger woman wouldn't appreciate a verbal comment on it.
Sam had finally gotten Janet to let her have the Colonel's file again, this time unabbreviated.
She'd opened to the first page of the report, glancing up briefly to say thank you to Janet when she paused, looking closer at the viewscreen.
*Umm...Janet, isn't that yours?*
*What is...oh! Yes, it is...that snake.*
Sam chuckled as the viewscreen moved so Amber was still in view, but so was Janet's unsuspecting target.
Janet moved around Jack, making sure everyone thought she was centered on Amber.
As soon as she was close enough, she snatched her juice...what was left of it...out of Daniel's hand.
Her hand knocked him upside the head as he spluttered.
Janet smiled until she realized just how little was left.
"Daniel, do you know how much these cost?"
"Yes...that's why I drink yours."
Janet sighed in not completely mock-exasperation.
"You're replacing this one."
"After I've drunk over half of it, sure."
Janet glared at him before his irreverent baby blue eyes cracked her.
Smiling as little as possible, she turned back to Amber.
"Are you feeling better?"
Amber scowled a bit.
"Yes and no. I'm ready to go with Daniel, though."
"Are you sure?"
Sam turned her attention back to the report, skimming over most of the medical jargon until she came to a report, obviously written for non-medical personnel.
[Addendum to the medical results of Maj. Jonathan O'Neill, USAF.
This report to be made available to immediate Commanding Officer before classification level is initiated.
As with the other POWs released, subject is no longer in the acute post-torture state. However, a few major sub-acute, possibly chronic effects of the torture the subject endured have been noted in this report. Subject has refused to detail much of his time as a POW, implying memory loss without directly stating such. All information herein is gathered from physical evidence, and the few informative, de-briefing sessions, as a result.
The subject's physical manifestations have included scarring, temporary hearing loss, rib fractures...]
Sam tried to see it from a completely objective point of view, but couldn't help her imagination conjuring up images of the Colonel.
She'd seen him hurt so many times that it was easy to simply put him in her mind's version of a prison and she winced with each injury named.
Janet deliberately ignored Sam, not having any desire to join her in her choice of reading material.
"Yes, I'm sure."
Daniel downed the rest of his coffee and stepped closer to her, motioning to the door.
"I'm ready if you are."
"Don't pull any fast moves unless something goes down. The less they know, the better. Even if they've heard a reference to it, they probably don't really know and we want to keep it that way."
Amber emptied her coffee and set it down on the counter before following Daniel to the front door.
Jack watched them leave and turned to Cassie.
"No art contest."
Janet smiled, secure in his support of her decision.
No way Cassandra was wheedling him on this one.
* * * * * *
The gravel crunched under his boot as Daniel walked down the road.
Jolinar prodded him to ask, curious as well.
"So what's with the lingerie?"
Amber snorted lightly.
Daniel supplied Jolinar with info on Sara as he motioned with his hand for Amber to continue.
"While we were gone, Sara needed a place to stay. She called his cell phone on the base just after Sam died."
Daniel stopped, looking at her.
Amber sighed, kicking a rock across the road.
"That's how he thinks of her. She's like his little sister. He calls her Carter and Sam in his mind. They're interchangeable and mean the same thing. It just came out."
Daniel held up his hands.
"It's okay. I mean, it makes sense. Why did she need a place to stay?"
"She didn't say. She just said she really needed a place and Jonathan's warning me now."
Amber giggled a bit and Daniel smiled in response.
She saw his curiosity.
"Sara's involved with someone and, well...it has to do with them."
"When I got clothes out to wear, I didn't see any female clothing in the drawer."
"Sara knows about Janet...has for awhile. She and Jonathan aren't best friends, but they've tried to keep each other up on the latest things going on just so they could have someone to talk to."
"So she left the lingerie on the off-chance that Janet...?"
"Essentially. At least, that's what Jonathan thinks. He can't see her actually forgetting that stuff."
"According to Jonathan, she's never made sense to him, but her instincts tend to be right on."
"A woman thing, I guess."
Amber smiled at his cluelessness.
"So she's okay with Janet?"
"Well, she doesn't know they're actually together, just that Jonathan's interested in her. They've met a few times when Jonathan had Cassie. Sara either came over or Jonathan dropped something off and so Cassie knows her. Janet met her later...a few times. Jonathan's hoping everything's okay in that corner, but, well...you never know."
They walked in silence until they started up Mrs. Hamper's drive.
"What are we going to tell her?"
"My sister or Mrs. Hamper?"
"Dunno. Guess I'll wing it."
Daniel just gave her a look.
"What happened to rules?"
"Following the rules...you're, well...just different."
"No...the rules have changed. Besides, it's not as if you knew me very well before prison anyway."
Amber rang the bell, waiting for the woman to answer.
As soon as the door opened, Amber was smiling.
The elderly woman in front of them smiled back, her short, fit body just bursting with energy.
"Hello Mrs. Hamper. I'm Amber, a friend of Jack O'Neill's. His phone service is giving him fits and I was wondering if I could call my sister."
"Oh! So you're his latest, huh? Well, certainly pretty enough. Maybe you have the brains to stay and take care of the poor boy too?"
Amber's grin widened at the mental groan Jonathan was making in her mind.
"Yes, well I promise to take really good care of him."
She elbowed Daniel when his quiet choking became noticeable.
"Well come on in, dear. The phone's this way."
Daniel's cheeks were flushed with the effort of not laughing.
His eyes took in the comfortable, but incredibly clean house as they followed the speeding woman.
Her silver hair was cut in a short, neat bob that framed her face.
It was the hair ornament that caught his attention.
"Where did you get that barrette, Mrs. Hamper?"
She turned to him, grinning as her hand touched it.
"Oh, that sweetie. Jack's always looking out for me and when I got my haircut I told him I wanted something a little off the norm to wear and he had this made for me. Wasn't that nice? Here's the phone, dear, just dial your sister up while I get some stuff for you to take back to Jack. You know that boy just never eats. He's practically wasting away over there. I'd be over more often if I knew when he was home. He's military, you know."
Daniel smiled, wondering what had gotten into Jack to have a barrette made with Earth's symbol on it.
*Your world is strange. You keep the Chaapa'ai a secret. No other world that knows its use does this. It is typical of Tau'ri arrogance and greed. You keep it a secret because if you did not, all might have an equal chance to use it for their own purposes and you lose control.*
Daniel gritted his teeth.
He agreed with her to a point, but knew that even the slightest acquiescence on his part would send Jolinar into another moral tirade.
Sometimes Tok'ra superiority really got on his nerves.
Jolinar quieted, knowing Daniel would try to tune her out if she spoke too long or too often.
Amber spoke quietly on the phone while Mrs. Hamper spoke to Daniel.
When she hung up, Mrs. Hamper had given Daniel three Tupperware containers as well as a bag of breads.
"Now you make sure he eats some of that casserole. I worked hard on that recipe. Oh and the cookies are the peanut butter chocolate chunk he loves. I put some extra in for his little girl. Such a sweet thing she is..."
Daniel grinned widely as Amber was handed a box.
"There's some fruits and vegetables, but I know he prefers meat...so like my husband, he was Navy, though...so I included some sliced roast, a ham I cooked until it almost charred, just the way he likes it, and some pastrami. I didn't slice it since he sometimes eats it chunked instead. Are the two of you hungry?"
"No ma'am, but thank you. Her sister should be arriving at any time so we'll be going. Thank you."
Mrs. Hamper just waved her hands.
"Not a problem. You just make sure he eats. He's always getting hurt and then his time in the hospital just makes him lose more weight. I swear if I don't feed him, the boy doesn't eat. You take care now and come back if you need anything."
Daniel waited until they were as out of earshot as possible before laughing.
Amber grinned at him, sharing the moment.
They were both trembling with mirth as they walked.
"So she's coming?"
Daniel looked over, the question hanging for a second.
"Her companion is coming over and taking a taxi back. My sister is apparently so large they've put an ambulance on stand-by because she doesn't fit through a car door."
Daniel's mouth twisted in sympathy.
He couldn't imagine how women managed it.
His respect for them as a group went up another notch.
"I woke her up, actually."
"Ouch. Yeah, I guess it is a bit early."
"Yeah, just a bit."
Daniel kicked a few rocks, darting glances at her.
"I know you probably don't want to talk about it, but...well..."
"Just ask and I'll tell you whether I'll answer or not."
Amber sighed, knowing it had to be a prison question from the way he was skirting it.
**Keep your voice down in case there're parabolics. No need to help them get info. Other than that, anything you're comfortable telling him, but don't feel obligated.**
Amber nodded, even though she knew Jonathan couldn't see.
Memories flashed before her eyes and she deliberately concentrated on walking.
"The false walls."
"What about them?"
"Are they metaphoric or real?"
"Where were they?"
"Most of the prison I was in was just warehouse sized rooms with fake walls. The walls moved to wherever they were needed. They formed interrogation rooms, other rooms...just change the furniture and while a prisoner's asleep, you just move the walls around so he thinks he was moved in his sleep. It just adds to the disorientation."
"I can't imagine it. I try, but I can't."
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you think Jonathan never told you? It's not because he didn't want to talk about it. It's because he can't, because each word he speaks about it brings back the memories...as vivid as the moment in which they actually happened...and that means that to unburden himself, he has to re-live it. Then, the other reason. Whoever he tells will try to live it in their mind. Not only do they have no idea unless they've been there, so they really aren't able to empathize, just sympathize, but they get just enough mental input for nightmares...inaccurate nightmares. He can't do that to anyone any more than I can."
Daniel frowned, her words hitting a core in Jolinar.
Her silent agreement moved him.
Her memories had faded a bit for him, but each time Jack's stay in Iraq was mentioned in any way, Jolinar remembered her own incarcerations and interrogations.
He guessed that was just an inescapable side effect of being imprisoned.
"Then I won't ask you to."
His quiet sentence silenced Amber.
She knew she'd been harder than she'd wanted to be, but she'd meant every word and Jonathan's agreement cemented her opinions.
She watched him for a moment before walking to join him.
* * * * * *
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