Title: Stray Dogs
Author: Shenandoah Risu
Rating
: M/ NC-17
Content Flags: explicit mature subject matter
Spoilers: Season 2, up to "Trial and Error"
Characters: Emily Young, Everett Young, David Telford
Prompt: Emily Young - Life goes on
Summary: Suddenly I was thrown into this reality where people weren't just minds in bodies, but where mind and body could be separated, exchanged like a set of clothes, and where imprints of spiritual fabric could be left on the wearer.
Author's Notes: Written for the LJ Women of the Gate Ficathon and Art Challenge.
Thanks for reading! Feedback = Love. ;-)

oOo

Stray Dogs

The best sex I ever had with my husband was when he was in another man's body.

To be fair, it wasn't his fault – I couldn't think of a kinder or more considerate lover than Everett, but he's rather on the big side, and despite what many women think this can be a problem, and for me it meant pain during sex. We were never a good fit, physically, and after the first few times of accidentally bruising my cervix he decided that whatever we did would be my call. We were in love and determined to make things work in bed. I have never known anyone else who was so selfless, so bent on making sure I got what I needed.

Looking back, I see now that sex was never about him – it was always about me. We tried all kinds of different positions and kept only what was good for me, where I was in control. And truthfully, he loved me being on top.

"I can see more of you that way," he'd always say, and I felt like a pampered princess. He always had a knack for making me feel so special. And when he admitted to having an affair with a subordinate, what hurt me the most was the knowledge that he was making someone else feel the same way. And that I simply couldn't share. I told him it was over.

oOo

just in case you're wondering
what was really on my mind
it wasn't what you took my love
it's what you left behind

oOo

It was the wildest story I'd ever heard – so wild, in fact, that it simply had to be true. We had already split up by the time he came to me looking like somebody else. He had accepted the posting as a base commander against my wishes, and for me his infidelity had been the last straw. I had moved out. I saw no purpose in staying in a place where everything reminded me of him – the man who had chosen his job over me yet again. I thought about a divorce but I needed time to sort things out, to figure out what I was going to do. He looked me up, of course, and after I'd listened to the crazy tale his escort provided I agreed to see him. Or rather, see a stranger who said he was my husband.

I knew him well enough to understand that his pain was genuine, even though his face was so different, but I couldn't forgive him for not being able to come right out and tell me the truth – that he had come to say good bye because he knew he would not come back. Could not come back, ever.

I sent him away. It was difficult, but I sent him away. I told him nothing had changed, and that I hoped he would be all right. I had made my choice, and he had made his. After all we'd been through, his affair, his all-consuming career, I couldn't carry his guilt as well.

And I felt relieved, a big weight taken off me.

A week or so later he was there again. The broken stranger who sobbed at my front door was him, I knew it right away. It wasn't his voice, but it was his choice of words, his cadence, his awkward stuttering, his sniffles, so very much him. I shut the door in his face and told him to go away, threatened to call the police, even, but he stayed, begging me to talk to him. And when I didn't respond he grew quiet, hesitated and then turned and walked away. I opened the door, saw him at the gate, looking so lost and so small and so helpless.

And suddenly my heart just shattered, the way it does when I see a stray dog or an emaciated feral cat, and all I wanted was to comfort the man who had spoken my husband's words, and I hugged him and held him and everything about it was so wrong.

I hadn't taken the time to really look at him the last time, too spooked by the body-swapping story, but now that I felt him next to me he couldn't have been more different. He was taller, though less broad-shouldered, his scent unfamiliar, his hair was coarser, his features exotic.

I invited him in.

He stood there, wide-eyed, frightened, like an injured animal ready to bolt.

And I touched his hand as he quietly put his head on my shoulder and pressed his face against my neck.

He was never a man of words, he was always good at keeping things to himself, but every now and then he'd let me in and share his pain and grief. The day he came to me his door was open long before I opened mine, and he let me into his world the way he never had before, and we talked and we cried and we held each other.

It seemed like the most natural thing to head for the bedroom. I could sense his desire for me and I wanted him, wanted him more than ever, but there was this other man and everything seemed like some fantastic dream.

"Can we even do this?" I asked him. He nodded. "He signed a waiver. Conjugal visits – special dispensation." And he dug into his pocket for the little foil packets. "Since we don't know where he's been..."

Of course – it had never even occurred to me.

But that was Everett – always considerate, always caring, always looking out for me.

We'd always been careful. After three miscarriages I got it straight from a specialist that our genes were downright incompatible – there was nothing wrong with either one of us – we just couldn't have children together. Who knows how many fetuses I really lost – most of them too early to even notice. I know he loved children and I wouldn't have minded, but when I almost bled to death after the third incident we called it quits and I went on the pill. We talked about sperm donors and adoption and all that, and never quite decided what to do. I'm glad now that we left it at that.

I threw the last pack of pills away after his first visit, after I'd kicked him out. Why bother? But then…

"Would you mind," I said to the man in my bedroom, "I'm just going to keep my eyes closed." He touched my face and kissed me. His lips felt all wrong – thinner, harder, but his movements were exactly right, his hands knew all the right places to go, all the right things to do, all about where and how to touch me.

We undressed and he lay down and pulled me on top of him, and I noticed right away that we didn't have to be careful this time – his body was different, a better fit for me, and so I turned us around. And for the first time since we met, there he was, laboring above me instead of beneath, and it was all so wrong and so wonderful. I relished the weight of his body, I never knew how much I'd missed it. He pushed into me, slowly, waiting for me to relax. There was no pain, and he watched me the entire time. He was sweet and gentle as always, and even though we hadn't had sex like this in ages it was all him, his way, his humility. I listened to his breaths, the sound so foreign but the rhythm all his, the tender little words. He took his time, stopping to kiss me before moving again, braced on his elbows, his thrusts gaining in intensity, going deeper, faster, carefully, reverently, his soft groans in my ear. Finally there was his choked cry, his stuttering breath, a few hard thrusts, and it was beautiful. He was beautiful.

He rolled us over, I knew he just wanted to see me, and I felt momentarily bad about not looking at him, so I just tried to feel him inside me as I rode him, the movements so familiar to me, his hands on my breasts, my sides, his trembling fingertips on my skin. I heard his whisper, urging me on, helping me along, "Come on come on…", his head pressed back into the pillow, throat exposed in complete surrender, vulnerable.

It was him, and it wasn't him, and yet –

"Oh baby-"

I came deep and hard, almost painfully so, the kind of Little Death that shoots you in the head and makes your heart stop, and all you want is to do it again. He held me as I convulsed in his arms, his hands stroking my hair, ghosting over my naked back. He kissed me as he gently slipped out of me.

I must have fallen asleep afterwards, because then there were candles lit all over the house, and he held out my robe for me. We sat in the kitchen, my feet in his lap, and sipped a few drinks. He dropped his glass, looking utterly confused for a moment as the shards littered the floor.

He cleaned up the mess. We talked. We made love again.

He finally had to leave, and by that time his body seemed oddly familiar, and as long as I kept my eyes closed it was all right. Still, we knew we couldn't do this again, it was just too upsetting and wrong. Maybe he would come back. Maybe not.

But come back he did, just a few days later. But it wasn't him, this time, it was the body of the man he'd inhabited.

It was awkward, at first. I'd slept with this man, with his body, I'd tasted him, tasted his tears. Smelled his sweat, his come.

He already knew.

And so there we were, two people betrayed by the same cruel twist of faith. He said that yes, he'd signed the waiver, of course, and he'd agreed to everything, said it was no big deal, but I still felt like a rapist, a thief.

We sat and talked. He was charming, a good listener, he smiled easily.

He understood.

"Call me David," he said as he left.

I nodded. "OK."

He turned around on the front walk. "May I – come back? To visit?"

"As you? Or as him?"

"Me. As David."

I thought about it. "Yes," I finally said. Who else would understand what I was going through? Who else could I talk to?

He smiled again and left.

I brought myself off to thoughts of Everett in his body many times after that. There was something about the absurdity of it all that I craved, so much more than I wanted to see my husband.

He came for visits, I ordered take-out, he brought wine. We talked.

He'd been on the ship several times, had been on the Destiny in Everett's body, had seen her, seen him.

So when he told me my husband was still sleeping with the other woman I thought it was the truth. I should have known better, of course, but back then David could do no wrong. I refused to think of him in any other way.

Oddly, it didn't hurt as much as I thought it would. Even after Everett came back in the body of an airman and saw David and me together, misinterpreting the whole situation and flying into a rage, I was more annoyed than hurt. And of course I couldn't help but lash out, telling him I knew he was still sleeping with her.

I might as well have stabbed him in the heart.

He was gone again as quickly as he had appeared, the connection having been severed at David's signal.

And that night I slept with David – with the man whose body my husband had used to see me, but this time I did not just have sex with his body, this time it was David, all the way. It was strange, to experience the same man in two such different encounters. David was definitely a top, and oh, how odd it was not to be in charge! I let him use me in any way he wanted and I loved every second of it, because this wasn't him, because this was David. He was fun, he laughed with joy as he pressed into me, telling me how good I felt around his cock. After a few rough thrusts he pulled away again and lifted my legs, resting my calves on his shoulders. And this time I watched in fascination, as he pushed in and down, hard, the sound of flesh slapping. We were noisy and he encouraged every one of my cries by redoubling his efforts. I reached up and braced myself against the headboard and his raw strength and power took my breath away. There was something vaguely brutal and possessive about him, something dangerous that was quite intoxicating. I came well before he did, and when he finally followed me I was out of breath as well. I was exhausted afterwards but I couldn't wait to do it again, to exorcise the memories of the kind, gentle man he had been the first time. Everett would have never – could have never – done this with me without causing me great pain. Maybe in my heart I blamed him for that, knowing at the same time that it was unreasonable. David was just a perfect fit for my body, that's all there was to it.

Or was it?

In hindsight I now seem to remember seeing that glint in David's eyes that should have told me that something was not quite right, that manic expression of a chained dog, trying to escape and not knowing how. I had dismissed it as raw passion at the time, but now I know better. I never asked him about it, and even if I had he probably wouldn't have known how to answer.

He came over almost every day after work. I didn't ask about Everett, and he didn't offer any more news. We would eat and I would let him fuck me afterwards, and he was never gentle or sweet but rather ruthless and dominating, and sometimes, when I closed my eyes, in between his hard thrusts there was that sweetness, and for a split second it felt like Everett again, and my heart would skip a beat as the shock of recognition lanced through me. Now I know it was his way of getting back at Everett, perfecting his imperfections, a secret triumph. I also know Everett beat him up over it at least once, even though he denied it and claimed his bruises and split lip were from a mugging. I was caught in the middle. I relished the attention. And I relished the rough sex, a punishment I felt I deserved and that I wanted so much, and it felt so good, so right.

I still loved Everett, I did. But maybe it was just the memory of him that I loved, the ghost of him in David's body, the throaty breath, the sigh, the moan that was just like that first time, that strange inside-out world of unsettling magic, controlled by a technology nobody truly understood. And there were those moments when David was different, over the blink of an eye, like Everett, or like someone else altogether.

I consider myself a very rational person; there isn't much mystery in my life, but suddenly I was thrown into this reality where people weren't just minds in bodies, but where mind and body could be separated, exchanged like a set of clothes, and where imprints of spiritual fabric could be left on the wearer.

Everett tried to come back, tried to see me. I refused him entry. He left without another word, without an argument, without looking back, like the stray dog slinking away, back into the shadows, after begging and not receiving even a scrap of food.

I felt oddly victorious.

I had betrayed him, we were even. I was just as bad as he was now. But I was still having fantastic sex, a very guilty pleasure. I never went back on the pill since David always used a condom anyway.

Until my period didn't happen. At first I wasn't unduly alarmed; I figured it would take some time for my hormones to get back to normal but finally I went to see a doctor.

"Congratulations, you're pregnant," she said.

I was reeling.

A damaged condom, maybe, and truthfully, I hadn't been all that careful anyway. My world shattered once again, and I couldn't even decide whether it was a good thing or a bad thing. I wasn't sure that after three confirmed miscarriages I would still be able to carry a child to term. I never considered not having the baby, but it left me with the question of who the father really was, when it really happened. When Everett was in David's body – it must have been then. I was pretty sure it was, judging from the time frame. Genetically, it was David's child. But was that all there was to it?

I was devastated to learn that I could have a child with Everett after all, but only with his mind, not with his body. How could I explain this to anyone? How could I really understand it myself?

I waited for David to come over. He didn't show up that day, or the next, or the day after that. His phone was turned off. Fearing the worst I called the Command Center. "Stand by," the operator said. They patched me through to General O'Neill. "David's on an extended mission," he said. And no, he didn't know when he'd be back.

Life went on.

I moved again, away from everything, started over in a new place. Being on my own made me feel stronger, independent, free. I was lucky to find another job that I liked and new colleagues and friends who cared about me. I filled out the divorce papers, just waiting for Everett to sign the rest.

Sometimes I dreamed of David, of Everett, of a ship I'd never seen. I even dreamed of the other woman, Tamara, and she was young and beautiful. And in my dreams I was her, and I was pregnant, and I had both Everett and David with me, and I was happy.

After all I'd been through, I was prepared for the worst, but I had the easiest pregnancy in the history of pregnancies. No morning sickness, apart from the odd queasy spell. No cravings for ice cream and pickles (although I kept a good stash at home, just in case), no aches, no pains. The baby never kicked but moved gently, and only when I sat still and talked and encouraged it. I worried about all that, had every test in the book but everything was fine. I knew it was a girl from an ultrasound image. I told her about her fathers who would never hold her, because I'd lost them both and I could not decide who I thought of as her actual father.

I often dreamed of her, her little hands on my arms, her little feet in my lap, and we lived on the ship, and sometimes it was just the two of us. I dreamed of us living in a log cabin, in a snowy valley near a lake, with people I didn't know but who were kind and loving and took care of us and told us how special we were to them. We were healthy and happy and warm, without a care in the world, everything was provided for us, hot coffee in a pot on the wood stove, a wooden cradle for my daughter. And I dreamed of a sky full of strange stars and swirling colors, of beauty so raw it makes you cry.

I was eight months pregnant when David called. He didn't have time to come see me, and I was glad – what could I have possibly told him? He told me what had happened to him, that he had been brainwashed, and he apologized over and over for taking advantage of me, as he put it, and that he was his old self again, Everett's friend, and that he realized how much he'd hurt us both, and that no, he didn't tell Everett about us.

My world fell to pieces yet again. The David I had known was not David at all, either, but some mind-wrecked guy who would normally never have done what he had done, like the stray dog who loses his dignity stealing another dog's bone.

Was I even real anymore?

I managed to get out that it was all right and I didn't blame him. Then he told me how he had come to be on the ship, and that Everett and Tamara had had a daughter who was killed in a firefight before she was even born. "Her name was Carmen," he said, and that the whole ship was in mourning over her death, that even the ship itself seemed to grieve.

And then he was gone again.

She should have been mine, not the one inside me.

I sat in a stupor for hours, trying to wrap my mind around this messed-up world.

And I cried for the little girl somewhere out there among the stars who had every right to be and then wasn't. If she had been here… I might have loved her, because she was his. If she had been mine, everything would have been all right. And the little one inside me was quiet, as if she understood, as if she agreed, and I felt her sadness.

Everett called later, with another man's voice. I cut him off. I told him I had filed for a divorce, and there was no more discussion. I didn't want to see him, didn't want him to see me. We'd suffered enough, and I could never stand the look in his eyes – even someone else's eyes – if he saw me pregnant, if he saw that I had done what together we were never able to do.

"I love you," he said, and I know he meant it, in his own way.

And suddenly I realized how truly alone I was. Just me and my little girl, and somehow nothing else mattered. I'd never seen myself as a single mother, never wanted a child I couldn't share with anyone, but now that I was in that situation she became the center of my life. And I realized that it was okay, that I was okay with it, that I wanted her more than anything else in the world. She wasn't Everett's, she wasn't David's, she had only me. We were the stray dogs now.

I gave birth three weeks later, just as the divorce had gone through, mercifully expedited via Air Force channels; Everett had signed the papers without contest. Like the pregnancy, it was an easy birth, no complications, the pain well within tolerable levels, and it was over before I knew it.

I held her, wondering how in the world she managed to exist, with all the heartbreak and the confusion and the betrayal, and still be so perfect.

She was healthy, she was beautiful, and she looked like David. But her eyes – her eyes were Everett's.

She looked at me, and there was recognition in her – in his eyes, an ancient wisdom in her steady gaze, and I lost myself in the memory of him, the gentleness, the warmth, the trust, and I wondered whether there really was something of him in her, something he'd given to me in that encounter, something that can't really be explained. Who knows what really happens in those transfers of consciousness? How much is left behind? How much of your soul is tied to your body, and how much can travel? How much is passed on?

I realized then that she was Everett's daughter as well as David's.

She had a wedge-shaped birthmark on her sternum, like the letter T with the top in a gentle arc, then sweeping inwards towards the bottom. I'd seen the shape before – a sketch of the ship Everett had made the day he had come to me, the day we made love, the day he and David and I made our daughter.

She smiled at me, wrapping her tiny fingers around my thumb, as if to comfort me, as if she was in fact holding me, anchoring me, completing the circle, bringing us both home.

I named her Carmen.

oOo


Song Lyrics Excerpt: The Moody Blues - The Day We Meet Again