"Now that is freaky."
Sam had tried to stop looking at her right hand, but she couldn't help but follow the direction of the Colonel's gaze. She squinted, and looked away again quickly. The sort-of blurriness was giving her a headache. "Yeah. It should wear off in a few hours. We hope." She wasn't thinking about the alternative.
"It's..." He scrunched up his face and tilted his head, apparently trying to look at it through his nose. "Ow. Does it hurt?"
"No." Looking at it from the corner of her eye was almost bearable. "It's... It's a bit like having pins and needles while wearing a glove full of jell-o. Only... not." She met his eyes. "It's very weird."
"Yes, well." He scowled reprovingly at her. He'd gotten almost as much a shock as she did, when the Ancient device had come to life and zapped her. She had a feeling she knew what he'd been thinking about, from the expression she'd seen fleetingly on his face as she blinked up at him from the floor. "Maybe next time you'll put on some rubber-soled shoes before you go sticking your fingers into these things."
Sam smiled. "I don't think that would've helped, sir."
"No. I'm not sure what kind of protection is good against faulty Ancient technology, but I'm pretty sure we don't stock it."
"Pity, because—" The Colonel stepped back involuntarily when the hand moved towards him. "Whoa." It kept moving, pulling Sam helplessly along behind it, and the Colonel kept walking backwards until he bumped into the wall of her lab, backed into the corner where the AVV-100 had stood until it was sent away for recalibration. "Uh, Carter? You wanna call that thing off?"
"It's okay, sir – it doesn't seem to be infectious or anything. But I've got no control over it," she explained. "It's just a moment or two ahead in time, we think. It appears to be following decisions I've not yet made – the problem being that what it does may affect those decisions, in a feedback loop, so..."
"Ack! Causality loops give me a headache." Sam stared at him. "Hey, I sat through that 1969 debrief, too, you know." Actually, she'd thought he'd slept through it. He flinched when her hand touched his face. "What're you – what is it doing?"
"I'm sorry, sir, I really don't know," she said.
"Well, make it stop."
Trying to pull it back felt like fighting gravity. "I can't—" She sucked in a breath as her fingertips relayed the sensation of his slight stubble, moments before her hand moved up and across his jaw. Sam stared in fascination as the ghostly pressure of her fingers trailed along his cheek an inch in front of her unwatchable hand. "Wow. This is fascinating. It seems to have a highly localized P-wave effect. There's an imprint on your skin before my hand actually gets there," she explained, to his blank expression. "And I'm getting sensations ahead of actions."
"How does that even work?"
"Well, Daniel thinks it's another unsuccessful Ancient experiment in time travel."
"Damn Ancient litterbugs."
Rather than looking at the hand, she had opted to gaze into his eyes. It was only slightly less problematic. "Cause and effect seem to work out of order around it." Maybe if she kept talking, he wouldn't notice that her fingers were brushing gently across his lips. Yeah, and maybe if she painted herself purple and stood very still people would mistake her for an eggplant. "It moved to catch nothing earlier, pulling me around so I knocked a batch of slides off the bench—"
"Carter," he said, tightly.
"Okay, yes, I'm going to try to move away."
She stepped back, but it was no use – it was impossible to pull away. She tried twisting, reaching an almost impossible angle before he said, "Okay, stop it, stop it, Major! I don't want you to wrench your arm out just because your freaky hand is... being freaky."
"Okay," she said, stepping closer again and sighing with relief at the release of pressure on her elbow and shoulder. He patted her on the shoulder.
"Nice try. Maybe I should..." He gestured to the left.
"Worth a try, sir." She shifted aside to give him some room – it was cramped, but it should be perfectly possible for him to slip past her.
"Right." He drew in a deep breath, and started to slide away – and stopped. "Okay, can you stop it doing that?"
"That's kind of the problem, sir," Sam said, through her teeth.
"No, I mean..." He trailed off, and frowned, trying again, struggling to get away from the hand that seemed to rest so lightly against his cheek. "Okay, ow."
This time, she'd felt it too. A kind of pulling at her fingertips where they touched his skin – as though they were glued together – as though... "Oh."
"What?" Not his politest and most respectful tone, but she'd forgive him, under the circumstances.
"Um, I think it may be possible that the – the field may extend just far enough to affect you, too." He gave her his explain-that-again-but-with-fruit look. "My hand and the area immediately around it seem to be affected. That includes, well, any object in its immediate vicinity. Your skin, where my hand is touching it, is in the – the same alternate space or time. You can't pull away without detaching that bit of skin."
He stopped trying to get away, and narrowed his eyes at her. "How far from your hand does the field extend?"
A good question. "Roughly an inch, I think," she hazarded.
"So... I'd need to tear off an inch of skin? Because—"
"An inch in all directions, sir – including depth."
"Ah. Okay, that would be painful."
"I expect so, sir."
"You're sure it's not an evil hand?" he suggested, as though they'd been debating it. "You know, possessed by the spirit of a departed maniac, that sort of thing?"
"I don't think so, sir." Her hand was smoothing over his scarred eyebrow, something she'd always wanted to do. He wrinkled his nose. "Sorry, does that tickle?"
He shrugged. "I, uh... don't mind," he said, cheeks reddening slightly. He liked it. She tucked that bit of knowledge away. He cleared his throat. "So, uh... how long d'you reckon it's going to keep doing this?"
"No idea." If she had her way, she could stand like this for hours. No, wait... "Maybe it's connecting with an alternate universe," she quickly began to theorize, keeping her mind occupied in the hope that her hand would eventually follow suit. "One almost exactly parallel to our own, except that we're not in the same chain of command."
The Colonel's eyebrows shot up. "And if we weren't, this is what you'd be doing right now?" he asked. Sam winced. "Um. Forget I asked."
"Yessir." Not so easy to do, actually, when her hand was trailing tenderly down his throat. "Daniel said that the inscription—"
"Uh, Carter..." His top button came undone. "I think your hand is trying to undress me."
"I can't help it, sir."
"It's your hand!"
"But it's not controlled by my brain – or, not by my brain now." Her hand blurred slowly and confusingly down his chest, leaving a wake of popped buttons. "And apparently I'm about two seconds away from losing my mind," she muttered.
The Colonel drew in a slow breath as her hand reached the bottom of his shirt, undoing the final button. "I know the feeling." Her hand slid up and over the black T-shirt he wore underneath, and rested against his heart. Even through the weirdness in her hand, she could feel the rapid pounding of his pulse. Because of her? He shifted, and their knees brushed – and it was ridiculous for that simple contact to set her heart going just as wildly, but apparently her hand wasn't the only part of her that refused to listen to reason.
"Maybe we should go to—" she began.
"No. No going anywhere."
"Well, then maybe we can call Janet. Or Daniel."
The Colonel frowned at her. "We can do that?"
"Well, no reason to stay here," she said, gesturing with her free hand at the corner – the nice, cosy, out-of-range-of-the-cameras corner – in which they'd ended up.
Awkwardly, they moved out towards the phone by her door. But, just as she was about to reach for it, she heard footsteps approaching – and looked down at her hand, now curled around the back of his neck. It looked anything but platonic. Oh, crap...
He yanked her back against the wall, out of sight of casual passers-by. A shadow passed her door, and Sam breathed again, leaning her head against his shoulder, and resolutely ignoring the arm around her waist.
"Carter, listen, I admire your dedication to duty, I really do," he said, from above, "but how exactly are we going to explain why your hand decided to... caress me?" Sam lifted her head and opened her mouth, considered the possible options, and paused. "Exactly. Unless you want to go with 'possessed by evil'?"
Sam thought about it. "No," she concluded, eventually. "It's ridiculous. This is going to look bad whatever we say, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I think so," he sighed. "So. This is going to wear off in a few hours?"
"Maybe sooner. We don't really know," she admitted. "But presumably it'll leave you alone before then – I mean, no matter what universe or timeline, there's only so long we could..." She trailed off, because he was quirking a new and different kind of smile at her, from only inches away, and she'd forgotten what she was saying.
"Well, eventually we'd have to stop for food," he said, lowly.
The urge to give in and kiss him was almost overpowering – and a sudden wave of jealousy swept over her, directed at whichever alternate self in some parallel universe was getting to do this with him, her only concern the clock's slow advance toward lunchtime. Or perhaps, suggested a quiet voice in the back of her mind, that wasn't her alternative's only concern – after all, it would need to be a very close parallel. Perhaps it wasn't pure serendipity that the hand had cornered him out of view of the cameras – perhaps the only difference was that her alternate self had decided to put personal feelings before the regulations.
She realized that they were staring at one another, and that she was still leaning against him, his arm around her. His gaze dropped to her lips, and after a long, agonizing moment, he dragged it back up again.
She straightened, and his arm dropped away – she ordered herself to ignore the reluctance. With considerable effort, she forced her mind back onto possible solutions. "If it stops touching you, you should be able to get away, if you're quick."
"Great. Well, I'll just... wait for that to happen, then."
Her hand continued to meander down his neck and across his chest and shoulders – and then, to her horror, she realized that it was drifting back down. Oh, no, no, no... It ran teasingly over his tensed stomach, and down to his belt. Oh god. Then it pulled his T-shirt free. She was pretty sure neither of them was breathing, by this point. It slipped underneath, making him jump, and – to her profound relief – headed back up again, roving across his chest. Well, at least now it was under his shirt she didn't have to look at it. Sam stared up into his eyes, feeling the crinkle of hairs beneath her fingers. Her hand moved, searching, and stopped at the soft flatness of a nipple.
He closed his eyes. "I always suspected the Ancients were out to drive me insane, one way or another."
There was a long, complicated silence.
Slowly, her hand began to trail back down, dangerously down, circling and dipping into his belly button. Sam bit her lip. At least her left hand was behaving itself, gripping tightly on to her BDU pants.
Wait a second – those weren't her pants...
Her right hand slid around to his back, bringing the full length of her body up against his – and the pressure against her stomach told her of his rising interest. "Um."
The Colonel thumped his head back against the wall. "So, how 'bout them Canucks?"
She seriously, seriously wanted to press forward a little with her hips. Just a little. Just... But that would be bad. Very, very bad. The hand was justifiable; anything else wasn't. "Sorry, sir."
"Oh, you know, all in the line of—" His determinedly casual tone wobbled as her hand had dipped below his belt. "Duty," he finished, breathlessly. Her hand – which might actually be evil, after all – continued to knead the muscles of his lower back. His skin was very warm: she could feel the heat of it sinking into her, everywhere their bodies met.
There was a long moment of silence, and caressing, and quickened breathing. "Were you really about two seconds from...?" he began, and then shook his head. "No, on second thoughts, don't answer that."
"I didn't think so," she said, answering anyway. "But I must admit, right now I'm about two seconds away from doing something much worse."
He gave a quiet groan that she felt vibrate through his sternum. Then he leaned forward, gently bumping his forehead against hers. "Don't tell me that," he murmured. "I'm trying to be an officer and a gentleman here."
"Sorry." It was impossible to inject any sincerity into the apology. Her hand stroked slowly up and then down the length of his spine, up and down, up and down, mesmerizingly. Then it moved to his side, and gripped. And Sam knew. Somewhere, some when, an alternate Sam was being thoroughly kissed.
"Lucky bastard," breathed the Colonel.
Slowly, the grip melted, and then her hand began to restlessly stroke and knead his skin – clearly, the kiss was extremely enjoyable. Sam found herself pressing closer to him, tantalized by her own responses. His hands were on her shoulders, she realized distantly, and he was as close to wrapped around her as he could get without actually being wrapped around her. It felt like she was already in his arms, and the reasons she wasn't were getting harder and harder to recall.
"Sam," he whispered, making her shiver. Her name, oh god, her name... "I'll keep resisting, if that's what you want."
Sam closed her eyes. That was the eternal issue, really: what she wanted and what she ought to do were very different. She ought to tell him to keep fighting it. She wanted to tell him to forget the regs, forget everything, and just kiss her already.
He mistook her hesitation for decision, and started to withdraw. "No!" said Sam, unthinkingly, and reached up with her unaffected hand to hook around his neck and pull his lips down to hers – and he didn't resist, not even a little bit.
As he spun her around to press her back into the wall and kiss her in a way that made her forget her name, rank, serial number, the camera, and the need to breathe, her rogue hand snaked out and slapped the emergency lockdown.
For once, she was in complete agreement.