Mathématique: The Cold Clear Light
She changes her direction, spinning on the axis of the naquadah in her pocket.
Revised Author’s Notes: This is a piece of fan fiction. It’s a trope-twisting, epic-length, crossover AU that spans all three series of Stargate. There’s a lot of science. A lot of plot. A lot of emotions. Timelines have been slightly altered so that season 4 of Stargate Atlantis (without Carter in command) occurs contemporaneously to season 10 of SG-1, which occurs in the year prior to season 1 of SGU.
Disclaimer: I’m not making money from this; please don’t repost to other sites.
Warnings: Stressors of all kinds. Injuries.
The Cold Clear Light
It’s half past one in the morning when Carolyn Lam stops in the hallway between her office and the crowded floor space of the SGC infirmary.
She is alone. Slowly, blindly, she reaches out until her fingers find the cool solidity of the wall.
The nature of the problem that faces her and its inevitable solution have hit her in the same instant. That’s why she’s paused here, palm pressed to painted brick and mortar, trying to tether the fear in her thoughts to the savage joy born of new insight.
Sometimes, not every time, the opportunity to beat the cards that one has been dealt presents itself. Seeing such an opportunity, she cannot let it go. It’s not who she is. It has never been who she is.
She begins moving again, alive to the satisfaction in the sharp strike of her heels on the floor, the feel of a file in her hands, the weight of her stethoscope around her neck, the presence of a checklist in her mind. She passes from the quiet of the hallway and plows straight into a huddle of personnel standing outside OR-3. They scatter before her as she advances.
“We’re not doing it here.” She cuts over whatever they’re arguing about. “Not here. The toxicology isn’t back on this stuff in the air. It could be infectious, a cumulative neurotoxin, some kind of vector. We’re not opening up surgical fields outside of isolation. This stuff is not coming into direct contact with tissue.”
The opposition to her statement is immediate and unified.
“But—" someone begins, the comment swallowed by other voices that rise together and settle finally into: “Carter isn’t going to hang on much longer, let alone the LA Jane Doe, and if Brightman is cleared to come down we have to move on this now—“
She doesn’t slow, but she turns as she passes. “Pack it up,” she says, lifting the hand that holds the file, pointing it toward OR-1. “Move it down the hall. We do it all the time.”
“Not on this kind of timetable,” shouts the scrub nurse.
“Pack it up,” she says, implacable. “Move it down the hall.”
“Dr. Lam,” Johansen says, stepping forward, following her a few steps away from the pack of nurses and medics. “You’re bleeding.” The medic makes a delicate gesture toward her own forehead.
Lam reaches up to touch the mirroring place near her hairline. She’s rewarded with a sharp sting. She can feel it then, the graze along her temple, the path of a bullet fired from Colonel Mitchell’s gun. The blood has subtly matted her hair. She looks down at the collar of her white coat, shifting the fabric to get a better view.
It looks fine. No stains. It’s stayed in her hair and on her skin.
She’ll handle it later.
“Thanks,” Lam says.
“I can throw a stitch or five in it,” Johansen calls after her.
“Sure,” Lam shouts back, already nearly out of sight. “Thanks. Later.” It’s not as though she’s in danger of bleeding on anyone. It’s clotted.
The main space of the infirmary is chaotic, the door to the corridor thrown wide, the air still misted. Bodies lie on gurneys, and her harried skeleton staff flit between them, occasionally breaking from a quick clip into a short dash. Military personnel swirl in an anxious, knotted mass near the doorway, bringing in the wounded, checking on their friends, offering help.
Near the wall, someone is screaming. Plasma burns will do that.
“Carolyn,” someone calls from the tangle in the doorway. “Carolyn.”
“Hey,” she shouts, turning to the anxious mass of black uniforms that block the door. “Make a path. All non-medical personnel without serious injuries can report to the med station one level up. If you’re not sure whether you should be here, you shouldn’t.”
She reaches forward to pull Dr. Brightman through the massing personnel at the door, and they form an island of stability in the flow of people around them, hands coming to forearms in a two-way grip.
"I’ve been waiting topside for six hours.” Brightman’s voice is high and strained. “They just cleared us. I ran down the stairs. MacKenzie was here when it happened. He’d been exposed to the stuff in the air, so they let him back in—I sent him to triage on twenty. He’s psych, but it’s better than nothing.”
"Good,” Lam says.
“I know it’s bad,” Brightman says. “But how bad?”
"Bad," Lam echoes, hearing the dread in her own voice. "Eighteen wounded. Of those, four are critical. Two GSWs and two with plasma burns. Unknown gas through the entire facility, with everyone exposed, including you, now. We’ve got Colonel Telford and SG-3 in secure lockdown, no critical injuries, but it looks like they were tortured, plus or minus coercive persuasion. I’m glad you’re here.”
"Like I was going to go home,” Brightman scoffs. “You need a surgeon.”
"Yes," Lam says.
"Is everyone triaged?”
"Then give me the three second version. Who’s first?”
"A Jane Doe in her twenties, past medical history unknown, presenting with a subclavicular GSW at point blank range on the left. She’s unstable.”
Brightman looks at Lam. Then she looks at the flow of people that weave in and around them and leans in. "Are—all the criticals Lucian Alliance?”
"No," Lam admits.
"We're going to get pushback on this, Carolyn." Her words are quiet.
"I know," Lam replies, her voice brusque. She edges back, widening the distance between her and Brightman.
“Who’s the other GSW?” Brightman asks.
“It doesn’t matter,” Lam says. “The LA operative was identified as a friendly. She’s—“
"We're going to get pushback on this, Carolyn. Who’s the other critical GSW?”
“Carter,” Lam says. “Colonel Samantha Carter.”
“This is on me,” Lam says, feeling the weight of her own words. “I can keep Carter alive until you finish with the girl. I’ve kept her alive. I’ve kept her alive for eight hours. I’m telling you to start on the girl.”
She’s not military, and she doesn’t give orders.
That doesn’t mean Brightman doesn’t have to take them.
“And I need ten minutes,” Lam says. “Right now. Watch things for me. Plasma burn by the far wall needs morphine, Carter and the girl are unstable, wide bore lines open in both arms. Carter’s bled through twelve units already. I placed a chest tube. Overhead page if she crashes. I’ll come.”
“Got it,” Brightman says.
Carter will crash. Lam has to be back before she does.
She weaves her way between the personnel at the door, who ignored her orders to go elsewhere, until she reaches the hall. She walks, with a quick, clipped stride through the faintly misted air. She moves through empty halls, cleared of everyone but the most essential personnel.
When she is totally alone, she removes her shoes and scoops them up by their straps with one hand.
She begins to run. Fast and soundless, though the mist.
Later, they will see her on the security cameras.
Later, they will understand why she ran.
Later doesn’t matter to her.
Her breath burns in her lungs, and she can taste the acrid tang of the impure air in the back of her throat. Her eyes water as she passes through opaque collections of mist far from the ducts of the ventilation system, where the gas is still thick. It doesn’t take her long to reach the Astrobiology Unit. She slips in through a door and goes to the far wall of the main lab, sorting through small, well-labeled drawers with hands and eyes until she finds what she is looking for.
She pulls out a small vial.
She darts over to one of the balances, pulls a plastic, disposable, weigh-boat from a drawer and carefully tips a precise amount of the silvery-gray liquid suspension into it. She transfers the minute amount she’s measured into a second vial. She fills the second vial with ten milliliters of sterile saline. She replaces the remainder of the substance back into the slot in the drawers where it belongs: after naphthalene and before naquasone.
She shakes her vial as she runs back toward the infirmary. Around the corner, she replaces her heels and weaves through the crowd near the door. She tries not to let her breathlessness show.
She’s pulled to a stop as someone catches her arm. She knows before she looks that it’s Mitchell. Eight hours ago he’d pulled her out from under a dead man and down the gate ramp. She’ll know him now anywhere. Forever. For the rest of her life.
“Dr. Lam. Dr. Lam.” His voice is hard. Her eyes flick from him to the huddle across the hall, where she can see Dr. Jackson and Teal’c, standing in silent, synchronous solidarity.
“She’s alive,” Lam says. “She’s alive. I’m doing everything I can.”
He doesn’t let her go. His eyes are hard and wild, and his face is set, but his grip on her arm is gentle.
“Everything,” she says again.
“Is she going to—“ Mitchell can’t finish.
She won’t lie to him.
“You need to let me go,” she says.
He lets her go.
She darts back into the infirmary. No one has paged her yet. She grabs an IV bag.
“Don’t bother with that,” Johansen says, materializing out of the fray at her elbow. “I can get it for you. What do you need?”
“I need you to grab the bicarb and the NAC, and the special sauce we backwards engineered from the stuff in the Ancient database and meet me in the ICU.”
“Renal protection protocol?” Johansen asks, taking the IV bag from Lam.
“Absolutely,” Lam replies, subtly inverting the suspension of naquadah in her pocket. “Get the IV rigged up, but don’t start it without me. I’ll be right there.”
“You got it,” Johansen says, turning to make her way over to the supply cabinets. The light gleams off the gold in her hair.
Lam ducks back into the hallway where her office is located. She walks to a locked, opaque cabinet that is built straight into a load-bearing wall. She opens it and removes a small case. She shuts it again, and turns back, feeling the tingle of anticipation as she waits for that overhead page. For someone to call a code.
On Samantha Carter.
There are few people who are irreplaceable; but Carter makes the list.
She walks back into the main room, heading toward the ICU.
“Dr. Lam.” A voice comes out of the organized chaos she’s trying to skirt, the tangle of suffering that could pull her in and hold her for too long. Any amount of time is too long. But she knows that voice, that silhouette, and she turns.
“General,” she says.
“Carolyn,” he says, and she knows then that he is here to see her.
“I’m here for a status report on Colonel Carter,” he says.
It’s a half-truth that they both feel, but she changes her direction, spinning on the axis of the naquadah in her pocket, because she feels she owes him this—she doesn’t owe him much but she owes him this moment.
“I’m doing my best,” she says. It’s bland and truthful and perfect, a line from medical school that she’s dressed herself in for years. The thing that she says when she has nothing else to say. Coming now, it as it does, to this man who is also her father—it sounds childish.
Or, perhaps, it simply makes her feel like a child.
“I know,” he says. “I know that.”
She can tell by his demeanor, by the shift of his gaze and stance, that his fear for her is easing while his fear for Carter grows.
“I still have hope,” she says.
“It’s bad,” he says.
“It’s bad,” she confirms. “I’ve got to go. Sir.”
He nods at her. She slips past him with her eyes down, hoping he won’t remember this moment—the case in her hand—the way he could have reached out and stopped her. But the thought is brief, and doesn’t linger.
She continues, building momentum as she goes, hitting the double doors, her mass and velocity focused in one hand. They fly inward, away from her, a perfectly symmetrical and rapid removal from her path. She passes Evans at the telemetry monitoring station and turns left, heading into one of the private rooms.
Johansen is waiting there, her eyes shadowed. “We’re ready,” the medic says. “You want me to start this?” She taps the IV pole with one perfect nail, covered with pale pink polish that technically breaks regulation.
Instead of replying, Lam turns, returns to the door, and locks it. The door is made of glass. Transparent. Bulletproof.
“Um,” Johansen says.
Lam walks forward and lays the case she’s carrying on the bed. She opens it to reveal the Goa’uld healing device. She traces over it with her fingers, following its rounded contours. Then she looks back at Johansen.
“Are you—“ the medic swallows. “Are you Tok’ra? Or are you— Were you ever—” she doesn’t finish.
“There’s no one on the base who was a former host,” Johansen says, her voice tight, as if she’s already guessed Lam’s intentions. “We checked. We checked.”
“We did.” Lam reaches into her pocket and hands the woman the suspension of naquadah. “After we start the IV,” she says, “We’re going to do a slow push.”
“Of naquadah?” Johansen asks, her hand closing unconsciously over Carter’s calf. “You can’t—“
“The IV isn’t for Carter,” Lam says. “It’s for me.”
Johansen freezes, her eyes locked on the subtle pattern in the weave of the white blanket that covers Carter.
Lam removes her white coat.
“This isn’t what we do,” Johansen says.
Lam unbuttons the cuff of her blouse.
“This isn’t right.”
Lam rolls up her sleeve.
“We don’t make trades,” Johansen finishes.
Lam says nothing, thinking of the astrophysicist who was dragged through the gate as Mitchell fired the shot that grazed her hairline. She holds out her arm.
Johansen hesitates, looking between Lam and Carter, who lies silent and pale against the sheets of the bed.
“Tamara,” Lam says. “You don’t have to help me.”
The medic puts up both her hands and looks away, as if she cannot bear the sound of her own name. She takes a lateral step and, for an instant, Lam thinks she’ll leave the room. But the other woman reaches into a drawer and tears open an alcohol packet. She begins to rub the crook of Lam’s elbow in a slow, cool, outward spiral. She lets it the alcohol dry as she pulls out the needle and the short length of tubing.
“Don’t look,” the medic whispers. “Little pinch.” The needle slides in effortlessly, and then Lam feels the pull as the metal is removed, leaving the flexible cannula in place. Johansen tapes it down beneath a square of gauze, securing it.
“Thanks,” Lam says. “Hook it up?”
Johansen attaches the tubing to the IV bag and opens the line. Lam feels the chilled saline snake through the thin plastic over her arm. She shivers.
“If it makes you feel better,” Lam says, “self-experimentation is the historical norm in medicine.”
“It doesn’t,” Johansen says. “We’re doing a push of a heavy metal? This stuff could sclerose your veins on contact.”
“There’s at least enough research to know it won’t do that,” Lam says. “You think people haven’t been looking into this as an option?”
“I’m pretty sure that if it were a good idea, we’d have done it already.”
“I’ll be a true test case,” Lam says, picking up the healing device. “Let’s do this.”
She steps laterally, dragging the IV pole with her, positioning it next to the one at the right side of the bed, blending it into the little garden of machines that surround Carter, keeping her alive. She looks down at the other woman, still against the sheets, the shock of her blonde hair fanning across the pillow.
She slips both hands through the strap at the back of the device. She has to grip it with her fingertips to keep her palm centered. She looks down at it. Feels its weight in her hand.
“I always wanted to try one of these things,” Lam says, ruefully. And it’s true. What doctor wouldn’t? To cure disease with a wave of the hand? To power another person’s healing with the energy of her own head and heart?
“Dr. Lam,” Johansen whispers.
“She’s not going to make it,” Lam replies, looking straight into Johansen’s troubled eyes. “Not without this.”
“I know,” Johansen says. “But—“
“Load up a syringe,” Lam says.
Johansen, again, seems as though she might refuse. “This could kill you,” the medic says. “It could stop your heart before you even get the chance to help her.”
“Please,” Lam says.
Johansen turns, pulls a syringe out of a cart, and draws up the naquadah. She fits the needle to the IV
“Ready?” Johansen asks.
“Yes,” Lam says, her eyes flicking back and forth between Carter and the device in her hands.
She can feel the moment the metal enters her circulation. There’s a burning in her arm, a strange taste in the back of her throat, and damn it she should have thought about the fact that this was going to trigger the chemoreceptors in her area postrema—
The nausea is overwhelming.
She watches the device in her hands.
“As soon as it lights up—“ she’s interrupted by a dry heave that she cannot suppress. “Can you please—“ she can’t speak.
“Zofran?” Johansen asks.
Her arm is hurting. Her arm has never hurt so much. Nothing has ever hurt so much. She clutches the edge of the bed.
She is afraid.
Her left hand comes to her chest, to her throat, to her eyes, back to her chest.
Her right arm is steady.
She can feel her heart hammering beneath her closed fist. She’s gasping, her breath coming in short, shallow spurts and it’s an effort to keep it coming at all, and she can’t tell if it’s because of the naquadah or because she is so frightened of what she is doing to herself, of the things this might do to her liver, her heart, her lungs, her kidneys, her nerves, her muscles, her eyes, her brain, without a symbiote to process the toxin that’s entering her bloodstream in a slow slide.
“Dr. Lam—“ Johansen says, her voice high and strained and terrified.
Lam cannot speak.
She’s breaking her oath. She’s doing harm.
Her left arm hurts. It burns on the surface and it aches deep down and it occurs to her that this could a direct effect of concentrated naquadah, or it could be pain referred from somewhere else. Her diaphragm. Her lung. Her heart.
She clutches the device, curls her fingers around it, willing it to light up. To light up, so this won’t be a waste. “Come on,” she snarls at the thing in her hand, her determination clotting into implacability. She’s not going to die. Not before this thing in her hand glows red. It’s not going to beat her.
Light up, god damn it, she thinks, envisioning a flare of bright, ready energy. Light up, you bitch.
Her teeth are clenched, she’s half turned away from Carter, doubled over.
Johansen, standing close, continues her slow depression of a plastic plunger, whispering, “Please God, please God, please God, please God, please—”
“Come on,” Lam gasps, her eyes streaming, her mucus membranes burning, her fist pressed against her sternum, choking, dying. “Come on.”
The device comes on.
With a savage intensity, Lam forces past her pain, brings her hand around, and focuses with intent on Carter. She clenches her jaw, she breathes through nasal passages that are on fire, she visualizes what she wants—bleeding to stop, tissue to regenerate—
She hears the sound of a needle hitting the sharps container, feels Johansen move away, and then return.
Lam snarls, her face twisting with effort as she imposes her will on this alien thing in her hand that’s fighting her. She’s ignoring the signals from her own body, trying to focus on Carter, only on Carter, when she snaps down to another level of awareness, synchronizing with the device in a mental readjustment that’s startling, complete, and satisfying.
Nothing hurts quite so much anymore.
The device feels warm and correct in her hand, accepting the modulations of current that define who she is and integrating with them seamlessly, amplifying her intent into something so powerful that the resulting radiation is actually visible in the air—a yellow glow between her right hand and Carter’s body. She moves the device, feeling her focus shift naturally as she does so from lung to descending aorta—from descending aorta to pericardium.
“Dr. Lam.” She hears Johansen from far away, and cannot answer.
She can’t do everything. She can’t replace blood that has been lost. She can’t fully heal damaged tissue—already she feels the beginnings of internal scarring, sees the places it will lie as the thickening and contracture of collagen production outcompetes the division of myocytes and the branching of regenerating microvasculature.
She cannot answer.
She feels Carter reenter a sustainable path. Feels the cease in the leakage of blood out of her system. Feels the moment when she knows that the other woman will live.
Lam can’t remove the bullet that’s fragmented and deformed against the back of Carter’s scapula, but now—now she knows that Carter will survive Brightman’s extraction of the vicious, splintered LA round.
The blaze of her pure satisfaction turns something in the device.
She feels its focus shift.
She feels it reflect.
She looks now at herself, moving her hand and mind, and she confronts her own options.
She sees the naquadah, depositing everywhere. Her vessels, her skin, her heart, her brain, her eyes, her lungs, her liver, her ovaries, the roots of her hair and the roots of her teeth.
She cannot get rid of it. She cannot vanish it. She cannot chelate it. She cannot sequester it.
The only option left to her is redistribution.
She purges it from her nerves, pushes it back into her blood, forcing it all into one compartment that she must sacrifice, that she knew, going in, that she’d likely be forced to surrender to pull Carter back from the brink.
When she is finished, the device shuts down.
She pushes back from Carter’s bed, staggers a few steps, tears the lid off the biohazard container near the door, and empties the contents of her stomach. It’s not much. She hasn’t eaten for hours.
Johansen is next to her. She’s dragged the IV pole across the floor to follow Lam’s dash toward the door.
“Dr. Lam,” Johansen whispers, in tears.
“I’m okay,” Lam chokes, shaking against the wall.
“Are you?” Johansen whispers.
Lam nods, her jaw clamped shut.
“We should tell someone,” Johansen says, her voice high and tight, her hands wrapped around Lam’s right arm. “You could— We should— We have to—”
“We will,” Lam says, thinking of the conversations she’ll be required to have over the course of the next few hours. “We will. But—later. I—fixed myself. I healed myself. Mostly. I—I triage out to somewhere near the bottom of the pile. Right now.”
“Do you?” Johansen asks, her eyes wide and frightened, her mascara smeared.
Lam nods at her.
They both, out of an unspoken accord, look over at Carter. On the surface, nothing has changed. Their eyes flick to the monitors.
“Heart rate is down,” Johansen says. “BP is up.”
“She’s not bleeding out anymore,” Lam says, wiping her eyes.
They stand together, very close, not speaking, breathing heavily, as if they’d just outrun something terrible
“What did you do?” Johansen whispers, swallowing.
“It worked,” Lam whispers. “It worked.”
“I meant to yourself,” Johansen says.
Lam can’t answer that. So instead, she says, “Thank you, Tamara. For helping me.”
Johansen pulls Lam into a hug, surprisingly fierce. Lam, still trembling, wraps her good arm around the medic’s shoulders.
Ten hours later, Carter is post-op and stable. Lam has changed her clothes, signed out her patient load to Brightman, and her report is in hand. She stands outside the general’s office, fingering the six careful stitches that Johansen had placed near her hairline.
“It almost doesn’t feel worth it,” Lam had said, dry and hollow, as the medic ran the line of suture along her temple. Johansen had stopped and looked away, setting sterile instruments down on a sterile tray, shaking hands pressed together, her lips compressed as she took a long slow breath. Lam had said, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” And Johansen had looked up at the ceiling and then turned back to pick up her forceps and her needle driver.
Lam has a headache.
There is no secretary outside the general’s office—the base is still cleared of nonessential personnel—so she knocks.
She steps inside, her fingers tracing the edge of the file she holds to her chest. She looks at the floor for a moment before she can look up at her father.
“The woman of the hour,” he says in that aggressively jovial, sonorous command style he seems to prefer. Underneath it, she can hear his pride. Hear his relief. “The grapevine says Carter’s going to make it. I hear the defector’s going to make it too.”
“Yup,” she says, fear and irritation and a sense of accomplishment all warring in her mind.
“What can I do for you, Dr. Lam?” Landry asks.
“Any word on the nature of the gas they pumped through the gate?” Lam asks. She already knows the answer, but she needs to create the conversational space to accommodate all she is about to set before him.
“Not yet, which I guess is a good thing. The chromatography guys say it looks pretty inert, and, pending the final toxicology analysis, it should get turned over to the Gen Chem Unit later today.”
“Great,” Lam says. “Great.”
She looks at him. He’s smiling at her. She tries to smile back.
“I came to deliver my report.”
She does not usually deliver her reports in person.
“Yes sir,” she says, releasing the file from her grip and extending it, letting it come to rest on his desk. “There’s—there’s something in there that you’re not going to like.”
“Oh?” he says, his eyebrows lifting. “Why don’t you take a seat?”
She thinks about the ways in which this news can be broken. Despite their fractious relationship, he deserves all the professionalism that she can bring to bear. She knows what he knows. She knows what he understands. She knows what he’ll need as context.
“When Colonel Carter arrived in the infirmary,” she begins quietly, “it was apparent to me that she wasn’t going to survive her injuries. The damage to her left lung was extensive. She was bleeding into her pleural cavity and—she was also bleeding slowly into the membrane that surrounds her heart.”
“But you fixed that,” the general says, still expansive, but watchful now. Wary. “You and Brightman—you fixed that.”
“Yes,” Lam says. “We did. Colonel Carter is going to be fine.” She looks down. She runs her hands over her skirt. “But in order to repair her injuries, we had to make use of a Goa’uld healing device.”
Her father looks straight at her. Straight at the little girl she thinks he’ll always see. He’s not prone to flashes of insight, but he’s a fast, thorough, and methodical thinker. “Who used it?” he asks.
“Use of the device requires naquadah in the bloodstream,” Lam says, “and there were no former hosts on the base at the time.”
“Who used it, Carolyn.”
She can feel the gathering tension in the air; the calm before the downpour. She’s sure that, by now, he must know what she's going to say. “My solution,” she begins, “was to artificially create the conditions necessary for use of the healing device.”
A nearly unbearable silence descends over them both. The general interlaces his fingers and leans forward marginally. “And how did you create those conditions?”
He’s ready to hear the words. She’s ready to speak them.
“I injected myself with naquadah,” she says.
“You WHAT?” He’s forward, out of his chair, hands braced on the desk, unleashing everything he’s held in check.
“I injected myself with naquadah,” she says again, “and I used the device.”
He’s still standing, his knuckles turning white, uncertain what to say, fear and pride and anger and loss warring over his features. He doesn’t know what to say.
She can help him there.
“I recognize that there will be an inquiry,” she says, her voice cool, reminding him that their professional relationship is a strong one, that it supersedes their troubled personal history. “I am aware that this decision could be classified as unprofessional, and potentially indicates impaired judgment. I’m fully prepared to accept the consequences of my actions.”
“You’re damn right there’s going to be—“ He cuts himself off. “Carolyn—you need to get downstairs and you need to check yourself in under Brightman, under the new guy—whomever. You need someone to check you out thoroughly and you need to be monitored—“
“Dad,” she says, startling herself, startling him.
When he comes back at her, the force behind his voice redoubled.
“I’ll take you down there myself,” he growls. “Right now. You—“
“I’ve consulted with Brightman,” Lam says calmly.
“And she released you?”
Her mouth feels dry. A strange, torqued and tortured thought flits through her mind—that moments like these were why she hadn’t chosen pediatrics. “We have a clear picture of what’s happening. Of what’s going to happen.”
He sits. He says nothing.
“I’m showing early signs of acute renal failure,” she says.
He says nothing.
“I will have a short, symptom-free window,” she says. “But I need—this is something that should be handled by a larger facility. I’ve already called CS General and set up my own chelation protocol. Their renal service is top notch. I think it’s best if I go now. The sooner the better.”
“When Vala gets back—“
“The healing device can’t remove heavy metals from the body. I’ve already done what I could to mitigate the damage.”
“What are you saying, Carolyn?”
“I’m saying that, best case scenario, the only collateral damage from this is that I lose both kidneys. Worst case scenario—“ she pauses, unable to look at him. “Well, in medicine, the worst case scenario is pretty obvious."
He stares at the desk. At his hands. She hopes that he's not thinking of that moment, hours ago, when he stopped her in the infirmary on her way to see Carter. She hopes that he's not thinking of her as a child.
“This was my decision,” she says quietly. “I don’t regret it.”
He still doesn’t speak, and she thinks maybe it’s because he can’t.
“And I’m handling it,” she finishes.
He still doesn’t speak, but he begins to move, his hands searching for something. He pulls keys out of his right front pocket. “You ready to go?” he asks. “I’ll drive you.”
“You can’t drive me,” she replies. “The base is still half-locked down, you’re—“
“I’m driving you.” He shouts it, and she flinches.
“Okay,” she says quietly, one hand extended.
The phone rings. The red phone. They both look at it.
“It’s all right,” she whispers.
The look he gives her is wrenching as he reaches out across the desk to capture her arm. His grip is tight, preventing her from leaving.
But—he has to pick up the phone, and they both know it.
Story of her life.
Story of his.
“Mr. President,” he says, his voice entirely at odds with the expression on his face.
Gently, she pulls away.
He lets her.
She nods at him once, then opens the door to the office and steps into the hallway, shutting it carefully behind her, shutting herself out of what is sure to be a difficult conversation. She looks up, and is startled to see Cameron Mitchell leaning against the opposite wall.
“Colonel Mitchell,” she says quietly. She inclines her head towards the general’s office. “He’s on the phone. The red one. Probably will be for while.”
Her words don’t seem to faze him. They don’t seem to even register. She wonders if she’s even spoken aloud.
“Hey,” Mitchell says, ice blue eyes burning in a gentle face.
It occurs to her that perhaps he's not here to see General Landry.
“Hey,” she replies. Her eyes sweep over him again, this time taking in the familiar black laptop bag that is slung over one shoulder. It’s her bag.
“Brightman told me the big picture,” he says. “TJ—filled in the details.”
“That’s—“ she’s not sure what to say. “That’s a HIPAA violation.”
“Yeah,” Mitchell gives her a small smile. “Get used to it. In about three hours you’re gonna be a legend. The med staff wanted you to have an honor guard. But none of them can leave. Too many plasma burns to deal with. You know how it is.”
Mitchell has always been kind to her. He never compares her to her predecessor. To Janet Frasier, who was compassionate and composed and brilliant. Who adopted alien children, who threatened System Lords, who could think her way out of parasite-induced psychosis. Who had died doing her job in the middle of a combat zone.
“I can manage,” she says. “Thanks.”
“I know,” Mitchell says. “Come on, Doc.” He starts forward with her bag, and she falls in beside him.
“So there’s an SG-1 tradition,” Mitchell says, when it becomes apparent she’s not going to argue with him.
“There seem to be a lot of them,” Lam agrees.
“It goes like this,” Mitchell says. “Every time one of the docs here pulls one of us back from the brink of death, SG-1 cooks them dinner.”
“I’ve been here a year and a half,” Lam says. “And I’ve never heard of any such tradition.” She looks up at him, matching his uncertain smile. “I feel like I’m owed—at least four dinners by now.”
“It’s a new tradition,” Mitchell says. “I’m starting it. We take requests. So think on it.”
Lam considers the days ahead, considers the possibility that despite her efforts with the healing device, she may not have fully assessed or controlled the damage to her body. Considers that—best case scenario, over the next months she will be spending three hours per day three times per week hooked up to a dialysis machine while waiting for a renal transplant match that may never come.
“I will,” she says. “But maybe I should be cooking you dinner. If it weren’t for you—“
She trails off, unable to complete the sentence, unable to complete the thought, haunted by Dale Volker, who wasn’t so lucky as she—who wasn’t a general’s daughter, who had been everyone’s priority number two. She knows that the guilt she feels is misplaced, but knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to grapple with.
It must be worse for Mitchell—who actually made the choice.
“Yeah,” Mitchell says, and the word is rough.
“Thank you,” she whispers, “for not letting them take me.”
“You’re welcome,” he says quietly.
They don’t speak again until they’ve emerged into the pale light of early morning. They shield their eyes against the glare that seems excessive as they traverse empty swaths of the parking lot to approach what can only be Mitchell’s car—a blue Chevy Camaro.
“If there’s anything you need,” Mitchell says, “anything you want—just name it.”
“Colonel,” she begins, absently rubbing at the crook of her left elbow.
“Call me Cam,” he says. “Everyone does. I mean, if you want—or.”
“Cam then,” she says. “If for some reason I don’t get the chance—tell Colonel Carter—” she breaks off, unsure what to say that won’t sound pathetic or pedantic or posturing. “Tell her I’d do it again,” she says simply.
“No regrets?” he asks, softly.
“Nope,” she says. “None.”
They stop at his car. Mitchell pulls out his keys. He stands with his hand on the passenger-side door handle, on the verge of opening it for her. He catches her eyes, and she feels the intensity of his presence in the bones of her spine.
“When you decided to do it, did you know? Did you know what would happen?”
“Yes,” she says, leaning against his car, tipping her face up into the cold, clear light of early morning. “I knew.”