I always felt, and readers agreed, that AFS was missing something. Here, then, is that missing section. Only one question remains: Is it arrogant for an author to tag his own story?
Thanks to DaniWilder for beta reading the first scene many moons ago.
Disclamer: MGM owns SGA; KOI does NOT.
To all outward appearances, Jennifer recovered quickly. No trace of the entity remained to plague her consciousness, and both Carson and the staff psychiatrist gave her a clean bill of health. All that remained was to wait for the tendrils to slough off on their own. As their first attempt to remove them had nearly sent Jennifer into cardiac arrest, neither Carson nor his patient were eager to tempt fate again.
"I could use the rest," Jennifer joked.
"You'll have plenty during your leave," Carson returned.
Said leave had been strongly "recommended" by the shrink. Normally, Jennifer would have fought it, but truth was, after her ordeal, she just wanted to go home. She smiled up at Carson. "Admit it, you just want your old job back."
The Scotsman broke into a grin. "What I want is to be rid of your fiance for a couple of weeks. Did you see the mess he made of his arm?"
Jennifer nodded solemnly. At least she tried to; the tendrils weighing her down still hampered her movement.
"Of course he wants me to patch him up, all the while he's going on about how medicine isn't real science." Noticing the serious look on Jennifer's face, Carson added, "I'm sure he was just teasing, love."
"I know," Jennifer said, and she did, long before she and Rodney began dating. The medical department still resented the head of science comparing their field to voodoo, and even though he'd apologized for it long ago—to her if not to the department—she still loved to tease him about it. "That's not what bothers me."
"I don't like that he hurt himself so much to try and save me." Jennifer sighed. "I don't like that so many people risked themselves to save me."
Carson chuckled. "You're one of ours, Jennifer. Of course we'd risk ourselves for you, just as you'd risk yourself for any one of us. As for Rodney—"
The door to the isolation suite swished open just then, and in strolled the man himself. "As for Rodney, what?" he said.
Jennifer's heart sped up as she heard the voice of the man she loved. She strained her neck to see, and he quickly moved closer to save her the effort, reaching through a gap in the tendrils to grasp her hand.
Carson answered, "I was just saying that it's a man's responsibility to risk himself for the woman he loves, especially when she's as lovely as Jennifer."
Rodney extricated his hand long enough to pull up a chair. "Can't argue with that. Right, sweetheart?"
The worst part of Rodney's daily visits occurred when Carson left them alone. Her dearest had backslidden to his old ways of limiting displays of affection while in the company of others. Such behavior would deserve a scolding under ordinary circumstances, but for now, Jennifer was thankful.
Unknown to all, even the man sitting beside her, the hive ship virus had taken something from her, something she might never recover. Carson took Jennifer's vitals, mumbled something about giving the lovebirds their privacy, and disappeared from view as he moved toward the exit. On high alert, Jennifer listened for the telltale hiss of the door sealing behind him, and braced herself.
Like clockwork, Rodney leaned toward her.
"Don't," she pleaded. Then, as if to soften the blow, added, "Don't look at me."
"Hey, hey," he soothed. "I'm not looking away. I owe you that kiss, right?"
He pressed his lips to hers, but she didn't kiss back. She didn't feel it, hadn't felt much of anything since the virus manifested itself. There were medical reasons, she knew. Undiluted, the pain of tendrils exploding from her abdomen would have sent her body into shock, most likely killing her. Dulling her senses had been a mercy.
But at what cost? The joy of a simple kiss was lost to her. And if the organism had veiled her senses so that a kiss sparked no reaction, what else had it done to her body? What else had it stolen from her?
The night before she awoke covered in tendrils, Rodney had wanted to be intimate. Albeit kindly, she rebuffed him, and now she wondered if she had cheated them both of what could have been their last night of pleasure. And for what? To catch up on paperwork. To get an extra hour of sleep. A sob caught in her throat.
He broke off the kiss and whispered in her ear, "Nothing will ever hurt you again."
It was a promise neither could keep, but it was precious to her, and as the tears fell and Rodney gently wiped them away, she decided, if need be, she would be content with an emotional and mental relationship with the man. Some of the greatest love stories ever told went unconsummated. Hemingway and Dietrich. Heathcliff and Catherine. Vermeer and Griet. Were these loves any less real for being denied physical expression?
Ah, but their love—hers and Rodney's—had been consummated. She could remember his touch, knew well the craving that could suddenly well up inside when sitting across from him in a meeting. She recalled those long nights alone when he was off world and she ached for him. Most of those nights she let herself into his quarters and fell asleep with her nose pressed into his pillow. Only Marie knew about those nights, and only so Jennifer could be contacted in case of an emergency. She certainly never told Rodney. Knowing the depth of his effect on her would have scared the man half to death.
Carson assured her that sensation would return in time. He'd noticed how upset Rodney's visits made her and threatened to revoke his visiting rights. Jennifer couldn't have that—Rodney was her lifeline. So, she'd broken down and confessed the truth to Carson, endured his well-deserved scolding, and began working toward accepting her disability. If nothing else, it felt good not to be shouldering the burden alone. She was considering taking Marie into her confidence as well.
But not Rodney. At least not yet. Having risked so much, he deserved to recuperate before she foisted this challenge upon him.
The door opened, he entered, and Carson gave her an encouraging nod before making himself scarce.
Giving Rodney the best smile she could manage, Jennifer braced herself for what she knew to expect. Every day he came in and dutifully pressed his lips to hers. After the first few days, she began responding, moving her lips beneath his and playing with the hair on the back of his neck the way he liked. By now the tendrils were receding, and she'd managed to free one of her arms.
She'd already decided to be the passionate and responsive partner Rodney deserved. If she couldn't feel it, she'd fake it, relying on memory to guide her through the proper motions. She consoled herself with the notion that maybe Carson was right. Maybe the sensations would return.
But Carson was seeing through the eyes of a friend. Jennifer was far more pragmatic. There was no guarantee—
The taste of cinnamon swirled in her mouth. His gum! She tasted. She felt! Rodney ended the kiss and started to pull away. Jennifer grabbed him by the lapel and pulled him back. She devoured his mouth, caressed his tongue, moaned her joy. It was as if she'd never kissed before.
"Cinnamon?" she asked when they both managed to catch their breath.
He shrugged. "Didn't have any mint." (1)
Every blessing came with a curse. Now that she knew her relationship with Rodney could and would become physical—very physical—once again, she began to fear the toll the experience would have on her appearance.
One did not inhabit the Pegasus Galaxy without accumulating a collection of scars. She knew and lovingly traced every scar on Rodney's body. Before they began dating, she'd inflicted a few of them herself during surgery.
But it was different. He was a guy. Women were expected to be flawless. Sexist or not, the attitude endured. Though she knew Rodney would never judge her for any lingering scars, she wanted to be beautiful for him. Rodney...he deserved to have a woman on his arm who would draw envious gazes from the colleagues who once mocked him. Jennifer wanted that for him, wanted to be that for him.
She learned in passing that a small group of nurses had begun praying for her. Rather than roll her eyes, the knowledge warmed her heart, and though she would never admit to it, more than once during her recovery, she whispered a prayer herself.
As the weeks passed and the tendrils withered, the blotches faded, and she could at last stand to see herself in a mirror again, it hit her with all the suddenness of love at first sight—the realization that, in all that time, Rodney hadn't once looked away from her.
As a resident, she'd seen family members steel themselves for unpleasant sights, love or obligation forcing them to suppress shudders when they encountered hideous injuries. Tears slid down her cheeks at the knowledge that she hadn't once seen that look in Rodney's eyes. Her illness hadn't repulsed him He hadn't visited out of obligation or in anticipation of how she'd look when her condition improved. Those weeks he spent by her side because he loved her.
She didn't think it was possible to love him more deeply than she already did. She was wrong. And as they stood in the gate room, arms around one another, luggage by their sides, waiting for the wormhole to form, she knew they had much to discuss. The road to recovery would be long, but with this man to share it, the journey ahead didn't seem so dark.
Thanks for reading; reviews are appreciated.
(1) See first chapter.