Palimpsest




Palimpsest

Sam scrambled backward off of the end of the bed, catching her feet in the crumpled sheets and comforter so that she fell as she turned, knees burning on the rug. Rolling over, she kicked viciously at the covers until she was free and then ran to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her. Tears stinging her eyes, she hung over the toilet bowl, her throat too tight to let anything out and her stomach not caring, churning and making her regret the two glasses of red wine. Nothing happened. She gasped and squeezed her eyes shut, one hand flat on the cool tile, the other in her hair, fingers twisted tight, tangled and yanking.

"Sam?" Pete's voice was pitched low with concern. She knew his mouth was close to the door, lips maybe even touching the wood a little as he tried to hear her. "Sam, you okay?"

Swallowing hard, she cleared her throat. "I'm okay. Just something I ate. I think." The lie tasted rotten. She spat into the bowl and pulled herself up onto the edge of the bathtub. With her eyes closed, she groped for a washcloth, stiff from air drying on the rack, and felt her way to the sink where she ran it under water, hot as she could stand, and pressed it to her eyes. She couldn't make her teeth stop grinding.

"Do you need a doctor?" A long pause while she bent double and rested her forehead on the backs of her hands on the edge of the counter, trying not to sob. "Can I come in, please?" His voice had an edge to it now. He was going to come in whether he had permission or not. "Sam? Please."

"It's okay. I'm coming."

Stepping back, he let her pass by him, his hand hanging in the air when she leaned away from his touch. They were both naked and she could still feel the slickness of his skin, the phantom tickling of the hair of his thigh against her cheek. Turning away from him, she closed her eyes for a second, then managed a wan smile to face him with, her back to the bed and the tangle of sheets on the floor.

"I think I'm going to go home. I'm feeling kind of awful all of a sudden."

He reached for her again, but she sidestepped him, going to the chair by the dresser and starting to pull on her clothes.

"I can take care of you." She cringed as his fingers touched her hair. "Stay."

"Look, I have to go." When his brow furrowed even deeper, she knew her face was working against her. "I'm not so good with being taken care of when I feel like this. I just want my own bed, that's all. I'll be okay tomorrow." She pulled her sweater over her head and stuffed her bra unsuccessfully into the front pocket of her jeans, leaving most of it dangling. Stepping into her shoes, she kissed him on the cheek. "I'll call you tomorrow. I'm sorry."

He didn't make it to the door in time to see her out.

^^^^

She didn't intend to end up drunk in a seedy dive. It was pretty cliched, after all, but she had nothing at home that would burn her throat the way she needed. So she ended up jerking to a stop at the curb in front of a sports bar that seemed to be so well-known to the regulars that it didn't need a sign out front, and then jerked to a stop in a booth at the back, under a suspended tv that flickered blue light across her tabletop, some game between somebody and somebody else. The one other patron sat at the bar with his coat on the stool next to him and smoked one cigarette after another, the same quarter inch of scotch getting watered down in the tumbler in front of him. Sam drank tequila straight, keeping pace with the cigarettes for the first three shots and then staring at the glass and the patterns of rainbows it made on the scarred table while the man at the bar worked his way through two more butts.

She was drunk, but she ordered another, downing it in one swallow and wishing it were sharper, more scouring. She could still feel the slick flesh in her mouth, the sinewy solidity of it against her tongue, thick, slightly yielding to her teeth, too big, too much. She gagged and ducked her head, the glass hitting the table, tipping and rolling off the edge before she could catch it.

"I think you need a cab," the bartender said at her elbow. He had enormous arms, both circled round and round with dragons, arrowhead tails stabbing the soft insides of his wrists, heads hidden under the straining sleeves of his t-shirt. His face was craggy and scarred, but his mouth was soft, the eyes assessing her condition without judgment. "Unless you want me to call somebody to come get you. Boyfriend maybe?"

Plucking the pen from the pocket of his apron, she scribbled a number on the back of the paper coaster.

When Daniel arrived twenty minutes later, she was a little more sober and a lot embarrassed. He only had to pull over once between the bar and her house, but she hung out the door with her head in the drizzling rain and gasped out nothing. No getting rid of it that easily.

At home she sat on the stool at the breakfast counter and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes while he filled the kettle and got cups out of the cupboard. After awhile there were no more sounds of puttering and she knew he was standing on the other side of the counter, waiting.

"I'm fine," she said without looking at him.

"Okay."

"Don't do that. I said I was fine."

"And I said okay."

She resisted when he pulled one of her hands away from her face, but gave in when she saw he only wanted to put a mug into it. Peppermint. She put it down on the counter and watched the steam rising and disappearing.

"Pete?"

"No." She picked the mug up and put it down again. "Sort of. Not really."

"I see."

Covering her eyes with her hands again, she mumbled, "I'm never going to be able to have sex again." Then she wished she hadn't said it and put her hands over her mouth instead. She didn't claw at her throat, though, which is what she really wanted to do.

"That seems unlikely," Daniel answered, the hint of a grin in his voice. "You've been voted the SG-1 member most likely to get laid. We're living vicariously through you."

"No pressure," she said from behind her hands. Letting them fall to the counter, she looked at her fingers, turned the hands over and studied her palms. Familiar. In her mouth the memory writhed and she clenched the hands into fists, only a little surprised that they obeyed.

"You're good under pressure." He was waiting.

"You know the difference between humans and symbiotes?"

He frowned. "Do you want that alphabetically or in order of creepiness?"

Shaking her head impatiently, she left the cup of tea on the counter and circled around to open the fridge. After staring at the carton of milk--expired--and a jar of pickles for a moment she closed the door and leaned her shoulder against it. She ran her finger over the knob for a gas burner on the stove, her hand far away, numb. With a quick twist, she turned the burner on. There was a hiss and a pop and a blue ring of flame flared out. She watched it wavering behind the grate.

"The difference is that we're mostly dead to ourselves, like we live in a tiny corner of our bodies and all the important stuff goes on without us. But they're not. They're 100% conscious. Total awareness. Total control." The flame was cool blue, almost invisible. Daniel came closer, his shadow falling across the stove, and the flame was an eye. She held her hand over it, but in her skin its heat was distant, dim. "You wouldn't believe what I looked like, what we... felt like, to her."

"We?"

"Rosha. Me. The rest."

Just as she was dropping her hand toward the flame, Daniel caught her and pulled her away, closing up her hand in his and switching off the burner. He bowed his head a little so that he could look at her over the rims of his glasses, his eyes unwavering, cool. "What happened with Pete?"

They hovered around her, the ghosted paleness of invisible flame, the off-centred blur of double exposure, and suddenly she could feel the weight of all of them, Binar's crushing heaviness, Martouf's careful closeness balanced above her, the gentle pressure of his knee sliding between her legs, the insistent grasping of Binar's too-smooth hands, Rosha retreating to a bright pinprick of awareness, curled away from him, while Jolinar controlled her responses, forced sounds of pleasure from her throat, made her taste the acrid staining of Netu on Binar's skin, and Martouf's soft mouth exploring and Jolinar riding Rosha's senses, expanding them, every pore, every nerve, everything too bright, too present, too much, and Sam jerked away from Daniel, backpedaling away from herself, from them, all of them, hitting the wall beside the fridge, grasping hands tearing at her hair.

Daniel caught her, braced her as she slid down the wall, slid with her until she was on the floor with her cheek pressed against the cool metal of the fridge door. He was on his knees beside her, one hand on her neck. Letting go of her hair, she groped for his hand and he squeezed hers hard until she felt her bones grinding and the low flare of pain brought her back a little. In her mouth was the iron tang of blood that wasn't hers.

"It should be him," she said finally, after Daniel coaxed her away from the fridge and settled her against his chest. "It should be Pete, but all I can taste is her... it." She clamped her teeth shut against the memory of flesh, scales and fins and the slickness of Nascian blood carried from the dead host, smeared across her tongue. "In my mouth. Her body. It was only a second but I can still taste it and it should be him and then they're all here and I get confused." Her hands fell to her lap, limp, forfeited.

Leaning heavily against him, she listened to Daniel's heart thumping its regular rhythm behind his ribs and the numbness spread from her hands up her arms and into her chest until she was mostly unaware, mostly, mercifully, dead to herself again. She lifted her head and met Daniel's eyes. "How can I give him this?"



THE END


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