Like Barley Bending

by regann

She remembered it so vividly, although it had been weeks and weeks and weeks since it had happened. She couldn't keep it out of her thoughts; it was there, just behind her active thought processes, lurking, waiting, glimmering under the surface waves of her mind. It was waiting for her around corners, in doorways; and every step down that one, certain hallway was a step into the past, to that moment.

That moment she couldn't forget.

Weir waited impatiently for the Daedalus's return, counting days and weeks and reports to the SGC. That moment -- the moment -- had happened two round-trips ago but he had been busy on the last one, so busy that she'd only seen him once and that had been during a senior staff meeting. She was growing impatient.

When she talked to Landry on week two, she'd wanted to ask about him, about the ship, but she knew it would have been ridiculous to do so.

Then she'd said goodbye to Landry, she had marked another week off her list, her mind had already been thinking ahead to the next and the next.

But the next hadn't quite come because it had turned out that the Trust had invaded Atlantis. And Weir had allowed the moment to fall to the back of her mind along with the questions that stemmed from it and instead had focused on the fact that they might not live past this crisis, this unbelievable, untenable, unfortunate crisis that she had had no idea how to stop.

She'd reached her point and passed it -- passed it a moment of panic, a simmering history of anger. She'd given Ronon and Sheppard permission to do something that she wouldn't have even thought about two years before but, of course, that had been before she'd learned about a Stargate, or had seen Rodney tortured before her very eyes by the Genii or been given an impossible deadline, an impossible suspect and an impossible puzzle to solve.

But then the crisis had ended and everyone was safe but Weir wondered if she'd ever sleep soundly again.

First, her mind wouldn't let Kavanagh go, wouldn't stop worrying that sore place like a tongue pressing against a painful tooth. In her own memory, she heard her morals collapsing under the strain of her nerves, heard his voice -- so obnoxious and uncompromising and obstinate even in the face of it all -- arguing, heard her own quiet acquiescence. She knew that it would worry her for a long time, that it would stay with her through every decision she'd make through the rest of her life.

Weir had no desire to live with the burden but she knew she couldn't live without it now.

But there was something else on her mind, something that had been bothering her before but now had completely twisted and writhed into another problem altogether, even bigger and more problematic in the way that a problem can.

She still remembered that moment, the one from weeks and weeks ago, and it had spawned a few questions; but now --

Weir had been walking down the hall with Caldwell, arguing as usual. Except this time it hadn't been that kind of abrasive antagonism that was usually there but something kinder, more playful -- something that was theirs alone, shared and secret between the two of them.

But then something had changed -- the ease between them sparked into something electric; she'd felt it dancing on her skin, prickling at her neck even before she realized something had changed but it wouldn't have mattered because she'd suddenly found herself pressed against the wall and kissed in a way since she hadn't been since she'd arrived at Atlantis and probably even a good deal of time before.

There were strong, rough hands on her arms, holding her in place, steady but not pushy -- insistent and arousing in the same way as the mouth against hers was, surprisingly without the force she might have expected. But Weir was also surprised by the strength in Caldwell's body, in his hands, in his touch; she was suddenly aware of it, of a physical strength that she never thought of him having, not the way she did of Sheppard. But Caldwell did have power in his limbs, in the lines and planes of his body, all of which he was using to his advantage to hold her in the kiss, ruthless in a calculated way of never giving her time to think, just feel -- feel his hands, his body, his mouth, his skin.

Then Weir was being released and he was murmuring words that might have been an apology and she watched through dazed awareness as he excused himself, walking away, down that damned hallway, and she never thought to stop him, to say...

-- but now, there were questions of import to ask, questions about consent and intent and motive.

Now Weir's most important question was whether that kiss had come from Caldwell's mind or if it had only come from his body.

The thought of the Goa'uld touching her through Caldwell made her feel sick and angry, made that memory -- confusing but exhilarating -- tainted and abscessed. She didn't want to think about that possibility, although she had to. She knew she should go, ask Caldwell these kinds of questions as soon as he was lucid, questions like "How long were you possessed?" and "What else did the Goa'uld do that might harm us?" which were the kinds of questions that Dr. Weir, the head of Atlantis, should ask. But then she had questions -- Elizabeth had questions -- that had nothing to do with security or intelligence. Questions about smiles, and secrets, and wonderful, breathless moments that ended too soon in soft, murmured apologies.

Elizabeth's questions haunted her as much as Weir's did.

But she couldn't bring herself to do it, to ask those questions, not while Caldwell lay in the hospital, paler than she'd ever imagined he could look, more frail and human than she'd ever given him credit for being. She'd stopped by several times, peeking around corners when he was asleep, watching for word from Beckett. Only once had she actually went into the small, cloistered section of the infirmary where Carson's staff tended to him and that had been just after the last round of CAT scans, when Carson was sure that Hermiod's procedure had been a success and the symbiote was gone but all that was Caldwell remained -- at least physically. Weir doubted that being the host of a Goa'uld was something that wouldn't leave the psyche unscathed.

She'd tiptoed into the room and glanced down at him, noticed his pallor; she knew from Carson that he was heavily sedated and that even with Hermiod's ingenious plan, the toll of the symbiote removal was hard on the body. Weir had been struck by the incongruity of seeing Caldwell in such a way -- quiescent, unmoving. She'd never seen him in a way that wasn't controlled, active, commanding, whether it was in sitting in command of the Daedalus or in her office, or arguing with Sheppard. But now he lay still -- too still -- and vulnerable and it was an another one of those unnerving facts that the Pegasus Galaxy was so fond of throwing into Weir's face. She'd spent months thinking that Colonel Steven Caldwell was a pain in the ass that she could do well without; now, faced with being rid of him permanently, she realized that she'd never really meant it.

Elizabeth lightly traced a finger over one of Caldwell's hands, over the knot of a knuckle and down over the calloused palm. She remembered the way his hands had felt on her that day in the hallway, the way she'd felt about them and how Caldwell had suddenly fled -- then she had fled, fled from his unconscious form in the hospital, scaling down her sudden panic to get away into something that looked authoritative and commanding to the people she passed in the hallway as she headed back to her office.

There were so many questions that needed answering. She just wasn't sure she was up to asking them.

In the end, she didn't have a choice because Steven Caldwell was nothing if not a man of decision. A few days after she'd last visited him in the infirmary, Beckett released Caldwell from the infirmary. But while he was well enough to be on his feet again, Carson had explained to Elizabeth, he still wasn't well enough for duty.

Less than three hours later, Caldwell found her standing on one of the city's balconies, watching fire dance across the water's surface as the sun set. She should have suspected that he wouldn't let the questions linger between them for long.

"Doctor," Caldwell cleared his throat, respectfully trying to alert her to his presence as he joined her on the balcony.

Weir straightened, turning away from the brightly-colored sky. "Colonel," she nodded in greeting, leaning back against the railing. Caldwell was still standing almost the whole balcony's length away from her, as if he were afraid to get too close.

Or perhaps because he was afraid that she was afraid that he'd get too close.

She shook away the image of his eyes flashing gold and the sound of his Goa'ulded voice. Weir crossed her arms and looked him straight in the eyes, spine straight and face carefully neutral. "I assumed that you'd be resting," she said.

Caldwell rolled his eyes. "I think I've rested enough already."

It was strange, Weir decided, to see Caldwell in civilian clothing. Even when he was off-duty, he had never worn civilian clothing while on Atlantis, at least to her recollection. It was always either the jumpsuit that was common among the Daedalus crew or his basic service uniform paired with the ubiquitous sweater. She'd wondered before about it, wondered if it meant that he never thought of his time on Atlantis as anything but a duty, as if he never felt like anything but a soldier when here. It made him so different from the rest of them; Atlantis was so much more than a duty, a job, a post. She knew that she thought of Atlantis as home, as did so many others -- Sheppard, Rodney, Carson, Zelenka. It struck her as sad that someone like Caldwell who worked as hard as anyone to save and maintain the city didn't seem to take any joy out of being in it.

Despite all that, Caldwell was dressed in civilian clothes, probably as a physical and visual testament to the fact that he still hadn't been cleared for duty. Beckett had only released him from the infirmary on the stipulation that he would rest -- which Weir thought he'd do by staying in the rooms they'd assigned him or returning to his quarters on Daedalus. Instead, he was with her, looking strangely subdued and unlike himself in faded jeans and a dark gray T-shirt, no sweater or khaki jumpsuit to be seen.

"Beckett's orders," she finally managed to say in reply, remaining still, keeping distance between them.

"With all due respect to Dr. Beckett, I think I'm a better judge of how much rest I actually need. And I've had more than enough already." Caldwell glanced away, eyes trailing over the sea. "A man can only rest for so long."

Weir wasn't sure how to respond, so she said nothing, the silence and the awkwardness that hung between them, stretching, weighing heavy.

Caldwell cleared his throat again. "I assume that Landry has asked for a debriefing as soon as possible?"

She nodded tightly, remembering the terse conversation she'd had with the general after Caldwell had been successfully apprehended. "As soon we felt you were well enough for one."

Caldwell crossed his arms, almost mirroring Weir's stance. "I thought you'd have...questions."

She thought of all the questions that burned in her mind, that longed for answering. "Some," she admitted. "There are certain ... issues that we need to discuss."

Caldwell made a short, gruff sound that Weir belatedly realized was a forced laugh. "I can see where there would be," he answered.

Detecting the -- bitterness? vulnerability? confusion? -- that lay beneath his composed tone, Weir took a step forward, one hand raised in an allaying manner. "It can wait until you're up to it," she assured him. "Whenever you're ready to...discuss it."

"I'd like to get it over with as soon as possible," Caldwell told her quickly. "The sooner, the better, in fact."

Weir heard the unspoken and then I can forget about it in Caldwell's words, his desire to put the whole thing behind him. Caldwell was still hovering close to the entrance of the balcony while Weir was still leaning against the ledge, the painted sky behind her, bathing them both in warm, rose-colored light. The light filtered toward Caldwell, lending him a touch of warmth that he didn't have in his ashen face, a virid sheen to his dark eyes. The moment lingered as the colors seemed to seep into them even as the light continued to fade.

"How much do you...remember?" Weir asked quietly, a vague question that voiced so many unvoiced concerns.

Caldwell thought a moment before answering. "Everything, Doctor," he told her slowly, carefully.

She arched an eyebrow. "Everything?"

He nodded. "There were varying levels of lucidity during the...experience...but, for the most part, I was awake. And aware." He paused. "And in limited communication with my...with the symbiote."

Something shadowed took hold of his face for a moment, something brief and painful that reminded Weir of what Caldwell might have to live with after this, the memories and knowledge of it all. Sympathy flooded through her, shining out of her eyes where she'd tried to remain aloof and professional because of her own questions and worries. None of them seemed important in the face of that. "Did you learn anything...about it?"

"A great deal, although most of it isn't very pertinent." He took a tentative step forward, moving more fully into the dying light and away from the slanting shadows of the Atlantian architecture. "There weren't any more acts of sabotage that I -- he -- it knew of. Atlantis should be safe."

"I've had Rodney and Lt. Cadman checking some other systems," Weir admitted. "Still, it's good to hear that."

"I figured that would be your first question," Caldwell admitted.

Weir looked away. "I've had a great deal on my mind, thanks to this," she told him, thinking of the kiss and the moment and the questions on her mind, questions that had little to do with Atlantis's safety from sabotage. It shamed her that her personal affairs -- and what an inappropriate word her mind had supplied -- were foremost on her mind over the concerns of the city, her beloved city, that had come so close to being destroyed.

"So have I," he said, a faint smile on his lips and a touch of grim humor in his words.

Weir returned the small smile, although there was a touch of reproach in the way her eyebrows slanted, as if some part of her didn't agree with making light of something that had frightened her as much as the idea of him being possessed by the Goa'uld did. "I can imagine."

"No, you can't," he quietly contradicted her, a dark look flaring in his eyes.

"No, " she admitted, reconsidering. "I can't."

Another silence fell before Caldwell cleared his throat. "I must admit, Doctor, that I'd thought you'd have more questions. I've been bracing myself for it all afternoon." He kept his eyes steadily on the sunset as he spoke, his demeanor so patently relaxed that it was obviously forced.

"I do have...questions," she admitted, watching him as he snuck a glance in her direction, as if he were trying to read them in her face. "I'm just not sure if now's the right time to ask them."

"Has that ever really stopped you?" Caldwell wanted to know as he glanced toward her again, the gaze lingering longer than the one before. There was a new rumble in his voice, one that echoed the faint, dry humor he'd expressed earlier and its appearance heartened Weir. "With me?"

Weir caught the teasing in his words and returned it. "You know, on Earth, people actually consider me a very diplomatic person."

He raised a playful eyebrow at that. "People on Earth have never been on my end of one of our...conversations."

Weir fought a smile and found that the knot of tension she'd felt since Caldwell's release from the infirmary was loosening. "Colonel, I'm suddenly under the impression that you have a very bad opinion of me."

The look she received for that was long, measured and heavy with something she couldn't quite identify. Caldwell's voice was warm and low. "I assure you, Doctor, that nothing could be further from the truth."

She gave him a suspicious look, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. He met her suspicious look with an unfathomable look of his own, his dark, sunset-sheen eyes alight with something mysterious.

"Go on, ask your questions," he told her, nodding his consent. "Now is as good of a time as any."

Weir looked out over the sea, her voice soft and hesitant as she asked, "How...long?"

"Long enough. I can't be entirely certain. Even though a host is conscious of everything that the Goa'uld does, it's hard to keep track of time when you're...you're..." He let his words trail away.

"Oh."

"I remember events better than time," Caldwell explained. "When something happened, I remember if I was in control or if I ---"

"Wasn't?" Weir finished softly.

He nodded. "Exactly."

"Then perhaps I should ask my question another way?" That knot of fear was tightening in the pit of her stomach again and she briefly wondered if it would erupt into her throat as bile if she learned the truth was that it had been the Goa'uld who had kissed her with Caldwell's body. She knew, if that were the truth, it would have had to have been for a nefarious reason and she didn't think she wanted to contemplate the fact that it had been meant to do exactly what it did -- confuse her, distract her from more important events so that the Goa'uld could more cleverly hide his acts from her.

As worried as she was that it was the Goa'uld, though, Weir had no idea how she'd react if the truth went the other way.

"Perhaps." Caldwell said, watching her closely as if he could read the question in her face. She hoped that wasn't the case.

Weir didn't blurt it out; instead, she thought it over carefully, mulling over the words, rolling them around in her mind before opening her mouth, still tentative to speak. "Do you remember a walk down a hallway...with me...one that ended...?"

"Differently?" Caldwell finished, in the way she'd done to him earlier.

Weir watched as his face went blank, unreadable, and it made something tighten in her chest. "I was going to say strangely, actually," she managed to retort, a bit sharply.

"Were you?" he asked, frank and disbelieving. He had inched closer to her, until they were side by side against the jut of the balcony, arms almost touching, neither of them looking directly at the other, eyes focused on the colorful smudged horizon.

"Yes," Weir said emphatically. Her bravery faltered; it took a few deep breaths and a long, lingering look at Caldwell's set profile before she could speak again. "I'm assuming you remember that day."

When Weir glanced back at him, she caught him doing the same to her, watching her with such careful precision that she wondered what he was thinking behind the stoic expression and dark, inscrutable eyes. They watched each other for a moment before Caldwell looked away, back out to the sea. "Yes," he admitted quietly. "Very well."

The next question she needed to ask stuck in her throat, heavy and choking. Weir couldn't believe that her bravery had been enough to bring her to a distant galaxy with little hope of ever returning but it couldn't get her to open her mouth and ask a question to which she desperately wanted the answer.

But she didn't have to.

"That wasn't...it," Caldwell finally said, anticipating the question that would rise from Weir's throat. She felt the gentle pressure of his strong calloused fingers brushing against her hand where she gripped the balcony rail, a fleeting, physical comfort. "I was the one there."

Weir hadn't known how she'd react to that news before she'd heard it; it had all been speculation and nerves and the sick feeling that that wouldn't be true and she'd have to deal with the ramifications of the Goa'uld using her in some limited way. Because, the truth of the matter was, Elizabeth might have been made sick by the thought of being kissed by a Goa'uld who had infested Caldwell's body, she didn't mind at all when she was sure that it was Steven Caldwell who'd kissed her.

She could feel the turmoil leaching out of her as she glanced at him, dissipating into the cooling air around her with each passing second. She shifted her weight toward him, leaning against him so that their arms touched. "Make a habit of that, do you?" she murmured teasingly, her smile knowing and mischievous.

Caldwell's blank mask fell away, replaced by a warmth that she'd only glimpsed in his face in fleeing moments, a warmth that reached his eyes and lit his half-smile. "I can safely say that I've never done that before in my life," he told her, his voice rumbling with the same warmth. His words, like hers, were gently teasing, amused and drenched in relief.

"Then I should be...flattered?" she teased, brows arching as she turned toward him, steadily watching his face as his grin widened.

"You're welcome to be," he retorted, also turning. They were standing face-to-face, so close that they were touching; Weir could feel the difference between where the heat of his large, warm body brushed against hers and where the chilly metal of the balcony bit into her skin. "And I'm hoping you'll feel the same about this."

Weir had been right; Caldwell was a man of action. His hands settled on her shoulders and slid down her arms, pulling her to him. He met little resistance from her as she wrapped her arms around him, twisting a hand in the cotton of his shirt once her arms were around him, making sure he knew she wanted him close. He was the one that kissed her first, lowering his head to place his lips on hers and it made her just as breathless as it had the last time. They pulled away for a second, to catch their breaths, but then she kissed him, kissed him the way she'd wanted to reciprocate his kiss weeks ago, with the same, sudden intensity and ruthlessness, holding on tightly and indulging herself in the fantasies that had chased her as insistently as the memory had in the intervening weeks.

The squawk of Caldwell's ear piece broke them around, both flushed and breathless. Weir shot him a disapproving look for even having it when he wasn't on duty but Caldwell ignored it as he reached up with one hand to flick the radio on. The other arm, she noticed, remained around her. "Caldwell."

From where she was standing so close, forehead resting against him, Weir could hear Novak's tinny voice on the radio. "Colonel, Hermiod is finished with all the maintenance diagnostics. Everything's in perfect condition. We're ready to head out."

"Acknowledged." Caldwell answered before turning off the radio. He sighed, leaning into Weir's touch. "Daedalus. Landry. Briefing," he reminded her regretfully, his voice expressing everything he didn't say.

Weir nodded.

"I have to go." It was obvious from the way he held onto her, from the reluctant echoes in his voice that it was the last thing he wanted to do.

"I know," she sighed, glancing up at him. "You'll be back?"

"As soon as I can," he promised her, a hard glint in his eyes that told Weir that she probably hadn't seen Caldwell at his most disagreeable quite yet. She didn't think Landry would delay Daedalus's return trip for too long.

"Goodbye," Weir said softly as she pulled away, gently disentangling herself from his embrace.

Caldwell stepped away, jaw set as he activated his radio again. "Dr. Novak? We're ready to head out. Just let me ----"

Novak's static-laden voice cut into his. "I've found you, sir. Just give us a second and we'll beam you from there."

"All right." Caldwell shot Weir one last, lingering look, dark eyes softening as they settled on hers. She returned the warm expression, unable to resist giving one last hint of smile. He looked back as if he might have wanted to say something but before he could, he disappeared in the bright light of an Asgard beam.

It was only after the beam's light had faded that Weir noticed how dark it gotten in the last few moments. The setting sun had all but slipped away, the striking colors gently fading into the cool, dark black of the Atlantian night sky. The air was cooler, too, rolling off the water no longer warmed by the sunlight. Weir shivered, glancing up into the dark sky.

Caldwell was gone again and she was left with another moment like the first. But this time there weren't any questions to plague her or worry her, just a kind of fond exhilaration left rattling in her system. She thought back over those last few moments and she smiled; a small, secretive smile that kept everything to herself except for a glimpse of that exhilaration that manage to slip through.

Weir was back in almost the same position she'd been in only a few days before: waiting for Caldwell to come back to her. Except this time, she knew what she had to look forward to.

This time, she let that moment linger in her mind, no questions, no regrets staining them.

This time, there was only the thrill of what was to come.

finis.