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Jack was already in the gate room when the klaxons began to sound.
Walter turned on the intercom. "It’s SG-7, Sir."
"Open the iris."
He was hoping this time they had turned up something definitive on Tu. The Tok’ra operatives so far had given them nothing but dead ends. Watching the Stargate as it activated, he wasn’t prepared for the sight that greeted him. The first person through was Watson. At least, he figured it was Watson—definitely a feminine figure, but other than that, there was no way to tell. She was completely covered from head to toe in mud. The only thing he recognized at this point was her green eyes. Her hair was sticking out at odd angles—apparently the mud had worked down to her scalp. Spencer, Pisano and Mitchell weren’t too far behind her, but interestingly, they were mud-free.
Unsure of exactly how to broach the subject, Jack went with, "So, how was P3X-973?"
"Not the treasure trove of Tu-mata info the Tok’ra led us to believe, Sir," Mitchell replied.
Jack was still eyeing Watson suspiciously.
Spencer jumped in. "The inhabitants are fairly primitive. We had a chance to look around and confirm there was nothing of significance relating to Tu." Spencer fell silent, and Jack could have sworn he was on the verge of laughing.
Pisano took up where Spencer left off. "We were getting ready to leave when the chieftain’s daughter took a liking to Colonel Mitchell. Evidently in their culture, all she has to do is announce her choice of a mate, and that makes it official."
Jack could sort of see where this was going. "And I suppose she wanted Mitchell for this position?"
Jessica nodded slightly, causing a small clump of mud to fall from her head and land on the floor with a splat. "Mitchell thought it would be a good idea to say he already had a mate, which in turn made them assume it was me. After a few choice insults, the Amazon who was impersonating a woman challenged me for Mitchell."
"If there is more than one suitor interested in an individual, there is a battle, and whoever is the victor claims their mate." Pisano continued to look straight ahead, unable or unwilling to make eye contact. "They had the tactical advantage of superior numbers as well as blocking our path to the gate."
Jack looked back at Jessie. With eyebrows raised, he gestured toward her, but still couldn’t bring himself to ask.
"It is their custom for the battle to take place in a mud pit, Sir," Mitchell answered, his voice cracking slightly at the end.
Jack took a breath. "So, what happened Watson?"
Green eyes narrowing slightly, she said, "I choked the bitch out. Sir."
There was a muffled guffaw that came from Spencer’s direction.
"And they just let you go after that?"
Mitchell grinned, rocking back on his heels. "The chieftain congratulated me on having selected such a fine specimen for a mate, and assured me that she would bear me many fine sons, Sir." His Southern accent was a bit more noticeable when he said the word ‘fine’.
Jack could see that the guys were close to losing it, so he turned to Jessie. "Watson, why don’t you go and get cleaned up. You can get your report to me later."
Jessie cut her eyes over at the men standing to her right, daring them to so much as snicker. Squaring her shoulders, she headed off to the showers, leaving a trail of muddy boot prints in her wake.
SG-7 managed to wait until she was out of earshot before they lost it, laughing so hard they were gasping for breath and clutching their sides. Spencer pointed to his pack. "I’ve got it all on the camcorder." The guys loved Jessie to death and would lay down their lives protecting her, but now that they were out of danger, the hilarity of the situation overwhelmed them.
"Briefing room, now." Jack had to see this for himself.
Jessie thought she would never get all the mud off of her. She had run into a couple of people on her way to the locker room, but they wisely held their tongues. It didn’t take long before Sam and Casey got a head’s up about what had happened. Heading to the locker room themselves, they came across maintenance in the hall busy mopping up a trail of mud.
Glancing at each other, they stepped into the room, making their way to where the shower stalls were.
"Jessie? You in here?" Sam called.
The room was a little steamy, but they could clearly see the top of Jessie’s head over the edge of the stall, water pouring over her from the showerhead.
"You okay?" Casey asked.
Jessie stuck her head out the front of the stall, and Sam and Casey could clearly see the rivulets of dirt streaming down her face, dripping onto the floor at her feet. "You mean other than looking like the Swamp Monster? And dealing with Neanderthals?" Her head disappeared back into the stall, and she started vigorously scrubbing her hair. "I’m never going to get all this fucking mud out," she muttered.
"What happened, Jess?"
A moment of silence followed, then, "Are we alone?"
Casey did a quick surveillance of the locker room, then moved to where she could see if anyone came through the door. "Yeah, we are."
Keeping an eye on the doorway, they listened as Jessie recounted what had gone down.
"Stupid Tok’ra got it wrong, again. P3X-973 didn’t have any ruins related to Tu on it. Five clicks one way; humid, sticky, hot. Only the first half had an actual path. The last part was spent climbing over boulders, tree trunks, hacking through vines that were as thick as my freaking wrist. Did I mention it was hot and humid?"
Jessie rinsed her hair, then lathered it up once again. "It wouldn’t have been so bad if there had been something, anything about Tu there, but there wasn’t. Absolutely nothing." Jessie thought for a moment before continuing. "Nothing against your dad, Sam, but the rest of the Tok’ra put together aren’t worth a bucket of rocks."
Sam’s lips twitched into a smile, used to such assessments coming from Jack.
"We had just made it back out of the jungle when we encountered the natives. And I mean that in the most literal sense of the word. It would have been laughable if it weren’t so pathetic. Typical patriarchal hierarchy, chieftain, his minions, women being second class citizens." Jessica snorted. "I take that back. Make that third class citizens. I’m almost certain the goats ranked higher than the women did." More rinsing. "There was one exception to that rule—daddy’s little girl. Of course, that term is used loosely. The Amazon had shoulders just as broad as Mitchell’s, and she was a head taller than him. Decided he was exactly what she was looking for as an addition to the gene pool. Mitchell tried to tell them he was already taken, and the next thing I know I’m being thrown into a mud pit to fight this bitch, winner take all. What the hell choice do I have? It would have been a firefight to get back to the gate. I know the guys have my back, but come on! A mud pit???"
Sam and Casey glanced at one another, each biting their bottom lip trying to contain a laugh at the mental picture Jessie was creating.
"I learned real quick that there were no rules. It took me freaking forever to knock her down long enough to get the bitch in a headlock. I might as well have been wrestling Teal’c for all the difference my punches and kicks made. I didn’t know how they’d have reacted if I had actually killed her, so I choked her out instead."
Jessie turned off the water and wrapped a towel around her body before stepping out of the shower. "I managed to get out of the damned pit, only to find myself being ogled by the natives, including the chieftain. Stupid mud had my clothes sticking to me like a second skin. Apparently they do have a code of honor, though. Since I had won the battle, we were free to go. The chieftain congratulated Mitchell, something about me being a ‘fine specimen’, and that I would undoubtedly bear him many sons. I was so pissed I couldn’t see straight. I left them standing there, started walking to the gate before I did something that got us all in trouble. Two and a half clicks of listening to Spencer, Pisano and Mitchell damn near busting a gut trying not to laugh." Of course, there had been something else, but Jessie wasn’t ready to share that with her best friends, especially since she didn’t quite understand it herself.
At the moment, her friends were desperately trying to keep straight faces, too. "What did Cam say?" Casey asked.
"Not a damned thing. I was walking ahead of them, and I was in no mood to talk."
They followed Jessie to her locker, where she pulled out a change of clothes. Casey was doing okay until she saw a large brownish glob near one of the benches. Walking over to it, she nudged it with her boot. "Jessie, what’s this?"
Jessie looked over her shoulder. "Those," she said, "are my clothes."
Jessie slipped into her underwear, pulled on her jeans and T-shirt before turning back to her friends. Casey had her back to Jessie, but Jessie could see her slender shoulders shaking from the effort of containing her laughter. A glance at Sam revealed just her profile, her throat swallowing convulsively, a tear threatening to spill down her cheek as she looked up at the ceiling.
"Y’all are absolutely incorrigible. And here I thought at the very least the two of you would be sympathetic…"
A whimper came from Sam—reciting gate addresses in her mind wasn’t going to hold back the laughter much longer.
A snort broke the silence, followed by a snicker. The fact that it was Jessica who made the sound was what set Sam and Casey off, the room exploding with peals of feminine laughter, two louder at first, before all three became equal. By the time they were able to catch their breath, tears were streaming down their faces. It was this scene Cam came upon when he decided to be brave and stick his head into the women’s locker room.
His grin reached from ear to ear. He knew Jessie had been pissed, and he did feel a little guilty about finding the whole situation so damned funny. Seeing her now, hand clasped to her side, laughing hard, he felt himself relax. He should have known Casey and Sam would be the ones to break through the adrenaline and tension, defusing her anger. Quietly retreating down the hall, he left them so Jessie could continue decompressing. Besides, he had some things he needed to accomplish before they left for the day.
After having a good belly laugh, and letting go of some of the tension, Jessie made her way back to Daniel’s office. There was no way in hell she was going to go through any more Tok’ra notes that day. After knocking out some of the routine forms and answering emails, she filled out her report for Jack, absently scratching at her scalp as she did so. The water pressure in the showers on base was sorely lacking for what she really needed. Jessie absently wondered if a fire hose would get the job done. She paid little attention to what was going on around her as she went to Jack’s office. Peering inside, she wasn’t really surprised to find it empty. In fact, the man spent very little time there. She had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with avoiding paperwork, but kept that observation to herself. Placing her report in the middle of his desk, she retraced her steps back to Daniel’s office. The room was quiet as it was late in the day. Daniel and Casey more than likely had already left. Checking to make sure the computers were all logged off, she opened her purse, looking for her keys. ‘I really need to get a smaller purse,’ she thought to herself as she shifted the contents from one side to the other. ‘Where the hell are my keys?’
A subtle tinkling sound caught her ear. Frowning, she stopped digging through her purse.
"Looking for these?"
Cam was standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame, her keys in hand. That was when she remembered she had driven Cam to the base in her car—he had been over at her house when the call came in. There was something about the look on his face that caused her throat to tighten. Not wanting to squeak out an answer, she simply nodded her head.
Cam held out his hand to her. "Come on."
Picking up her purse, she walked to the door, and he switched off the lights just before she stepped out of the room. Closing the door behind them, he took her hand and headed to the elevators.
They didn’t say a word to each other as they made their way topside, though Cam did not relinquish the hold he had on her hand, even as they walked through the corridors on base. He walked her over to the passenger side of her car and opened the door for her. She didn’t ask, just climbed inside and put on her seat belt. Cam slid into the driver’s seat as if it were the most natural thing for him to do, gave her a slight smile and pulled out of the parking space.
The silence stretched out between them. Jessie wasn’t sure if Cam was mad at her, or what. There was a definite vibe in the air, something almost tangible, though she couldn’t quite put her finger on it, so she slipped into observation mode. It was the mode that had earned her a reputation among some people of being stuck up, but they were clueless as to what was really going on. She figured out long ago you learned more if you shut up, remained quiet, and just observed. It was the ones who never shut up, and never paid attention, who ended up getting stuck between a rock and a hard place. Jessie definitely wasn’t one of them.
Cam smiled to himself. He was more than aware of when she changed gears. Actually, it was one of the things he admired about her most. She paid attention. He never could stand women who did nothing but incessantly babble, the ones who talked just to hear themselves talk, thinking they were the center of the universe. No, for what he had planned, Jessie needed to be paying attention.
He made one stop, picking up Chinese for supper. He surprised her, though. Instead of making a right hand turn and heading for her house, he turned left, and a couple of minutes later he was pulling into his apartment complex.
Cam’s place was a bit of a surprise. Maybe because it was an apartment, Jessie had expected more of a minimalist atmosphere. If anything, the exact opposite was true. Warm lighting reflected off of walls painted with rich, earth tone colors; hardwood floors defined the apartment, with thick area rugs scattered throughout. The furnishings were a mixture of wood and leather. In fact, the entire space conveyed a very sensual ambiance.
He smiled, setting both his and her keys down on his desk. "Not exactly what you were expecting?"
"Truthfully? No. Most apartments have white walls, mismatched furniture." She ran her fingers over the rich Brazilian wood of his desk. "This is beautiful."
Following him into the kitchen, she watched as he pulled out a couple of plates and started opening up the containers of Chinese food. Dark granite countertops, cherry wood cabinets. Nope, nothing spartan about this apartment at all.
"Anything I can do?"
He glanced over his shoulder at the opposite counter. "Pick out a bottle of wine from the cooler down there."
Jessie’s eyebrows rose slightly as she knelt down on one knee. Opening the cooler door, she scanned the dozen or so bottles that were neatly lined up. Thinking of the spicy food, she selected a bottle of cabernet.
"Opener’s in the drawer right above it."
Pulling it out, she used the small blade she found with it to slice open and remove the wrapping around the cork. Taking the corkscrew, she twisted it through the cork until it was completely embedded, then brought the levers down, pulling the cork free.
"Cabinet over the dishwasher."
By the time she had the two glasses and wine bottle in hand, Cam had filled their plates and was headed to the dining table. Setting the plates on the table, he pulled out a chair for her, taking the glasses and bottle.
"Sit down, make yourself comfortable." Filling one glass three quarters full, he placed it by her plate, then filled his own.
Cam watched her out of his peripheral vision as they began to eat, her body language speaking volumes to him.
"Relax, Watson. You’re wound so tight, you’d probably end up clinging to the ceiling if I said boo."
Jessie picked up her wine glass, willing her hand not to shake as she took a drink. "I just wasn’t expecting to end up here, having dinner with you."
Jessie looked at him. "Are you mad at me?"
"No. The question is, are you mad at me?"
"I was, kind of, earlier today."
"I guess I do owe you an apology. I really was trying not to laugh, but you looked so darned cute."
Jessie set her fork down. "Cute? You thought I looked cute? Do you have any clue as to how scared I was today?" Jessie’s voice was starting to rise, and Cam sat back, waiting to see just how far she would go. "I’m standing there, eyeing about eighteen natives with the consolidated IQ of a tomato between us and the gate, holding spears and looking like they would love nothing more than to make a few human shishkabobs, the bimbo is eyeing you like you’re the main course of her next meal, and I end up getting thrown into a mud pit with her, knowing if I lose, you end up being her boy toy, and Spencer and Pisano get to play handmaidens!" Jessie pushed her chair back and stood up. "I’m down there getting my ass kicked, and you think I look fucking cute?"
Cam stood just as Jessie took a step to go around him. Moving faster than she had thought possible, he grabbed her wrist and yanked her towards him, taking advantage of her being off balance. By the time she had regained her footing, Cam had both her wrists pinned behind her back with one of his hands, her chest firmly pressed against him.
"Yes, I thought you looked cute. I also thought you looked sexy as hell. And you may have been getting your ass kicked, but you were also giving just as good as you were getting." Cam’s demeanor wasn’t threatening, but it was intense, and he intended to get his point across. "We could have gotten to the gate, but we would’ve had to spill blood to do it, and the mission objective is to do that as little as possible unless it’s absolutely necessary. But don’t you doubt for one minute, Jessie, that we didn’t have your back, that I didn’t have your back. If you had been in grave danger, I would have put a bullet between that bitch’s eyes, and everyone else there just to keep you safe."
To Jessie’s embarrassment, she felt her eyes fill with tears. He still had a tight hold on her wrists, so she couldn’t pull away. Instead, she leaned forward until her forehead was against his shoulder, hiding her face.
Cam brought his free hand up and stroked her back softly. "I was damned proud of you today, Jessie. You held your own, and you managed not to commit mass murder." That got a slight giggle out of her. "And I know you were angry, and had enough adrenaline pumping through you to kill an elephant. There was just something cute about you being so mad, and being so thoroughly covered in mud." He leaned down and kissed her temple. "Now, if I let you go, will you sit down and have dinner with me?"
When she nodded, he loosened his grip, making sure she wasn’t going to knee him in the groin or something when he let her go. Adrenaline affected different people in different ways, especially when it came from combat. He sat her back down at the table.
"Eat. Otherwise that wine will go straight to your head. I want you relaxed, not passed out."
Her characteristic humor popped out before she had a chance to think about what she was saying. "Sounds like you plan on taking advantage of me."
Cam chuckled. "I am planning on pampering you a little." Seeing the look she gave him, he explained, "After the kind of day you had, you need to relax and loosen up your muscles. Otherwise you’re going to be hurting in the morning."
With that, they ate their dinner, and Cam refilled their glasses once. Jessie hadn’t realized how hungry she was, and the Chinese food was just enough to satisfy her. Plus, she had a decent buzz from the wine. When they were done, she helped Cam clear the table. After loading the dishes and glasses in the dishwasher, Jessie washed her hands in the sink.
"You like hot water, or warm?"
Thinking he was asking about the water from the faucet, she shrugged her shoulders. "Hot, I guess."
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