"Come on," Eli prods, "even you have to admit it's weird."

Dr. Nicholas Rush looks up from his reconstituted rations and finds Eli, Volker and Brody all staring at him expectantly. "What?" he snaps. He hadn't been listening to their blather. Point of fact he ignores at least ninety-five percent of what they say on any given day. It's the only way to maintain his sanity.

"The new girl, Belle," Eli says, sotto voce, eyebrows raised in the direction of Belle who is sitting on the other side of the mess with TJ and Greer.

Rush shakes his head, already exhausted by this conversation. "You think the new girl is weird," he repeats before he can think better of it.

Eli rolls his eyes in exasperation. "No." He stops himself, considering. "Well, maybe, but no. That's not what I'm talking about. I don't think she's weird … much. I think it's weird that she follows you around."

Rush stares at them for two heartbeats and then gets up from the table. He refuses to participate in this inane conversation for another moment.

Unfortunately, Eli is not easily dissuaded and he bounds up, jogging after Rush down the hall toward the bridge. Volker and Brody follow, a testament to just how little there is in the way of gossip aboard Destiny.

"Rush," Eli goads. "Come on. She's like your shadow."

"You make her sound like a cocker spaniel or something," Rush snaps. "She doesn't follow me around."

"Okay, maybe I was a little harsh. Maybe." Eli admits. "But she's around a lot. Around you."

Rush shakes his head wishing like hell they would all just go away. He takes a seat in one of the chairs and pulls up the FTL diagnostics job he kicked off before they broke for lunch, carefully studying the read outs. "Maybe she just prefers intelligent conversation, Eli, did you ever consider that?"

Eli thinks about it for a moment. "No," he says flatly.

"Maybe she's a zombie," Brody offers, leaning against one of the railings.

Everyone turns to face him.

"No, really," Brody says. "Think about it. Maybe she's an alien life form that needs to eat brains to survive, so she's stalking Rush, waiting until she can get him alone, crack open his skull and have dinner. It would explain why she's singling out Rush. He would be the most efficient in terms of effort expended for payoff."

Volker and Eli clearly consider this theory.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Rush curses, "she's not a zombie. She's a girl."

"Woman," Eli automatically corrects.

Rush arches an eyebrow at the young mathematician.

"Woman," Eli repeats. "I've seen girls." He stops himself. "I don't mean I've seen girls. I just mean - "

"Eli!" Rush bellows.

"Okay, okay," Eli says, holding out his hands in a placating gesture. "I'm just saying. Belle's a woman. Not a girl."

"Exactly," Rush says sourly. "And not a zombie or a cocker spaniel. I'm so glad we can agree on Belle's taxonomy."

"But she's an odd woman," Eli qualifies.

Rush presses his eyes tightly closed and fights the urge to bash his head into the console just so he doesn't have to listen to anymore of their nattering.

"If she followed TJ around, I would get it," Eli says, continuing with his theory despite Rush's complete lack of interest. "Or Matt. I'd get that. Or Camille. Or even me. I'm approachable, funny."

"Is there ever going to be a point to this, Eli?" Rush asks, finally giving up. Maybe if he can force Eli to get to the point, he can be put out of his misery more quickly.

"My point," Eli says with flourish, "is that you're … well … awful."

Rush gives him a withering glare.

"Really," Eli continues happily. "You're terrible. You're always in a bad mood. You yell at everyone. You lie. You cheat. You're generally untrustworthy."

"Thank you, Eli. I get the point," Rush says, turning away.

"Yeah, but she still follows you around," Eli finishes. "Why?"

Rush sits there for several long moments, staring out at the vast array of stars. "I have no idea," he finally says quietly.

No one knows where Belle came from, not even Belle - or if she does, she's not saying. She wasn't indigenous to the planet where they found her, wandering in the wilderness, half dead from exposure. She claims to have no memory of how she arrived on that planet. There was much discussion as to whether or not they could safely take her aboard Destiny, but TJ finally convinced Young, provided Belle was quarantined until TJ gave the all clear.

The first week on Destiny, Belle seemed terrified. But she tried hard to put on a brave face and mix with the crew. Wherever she came from, it wasn't Earth. It wasn't any recognizable human civilization the SGC or the Lucien Alliance had ever encountered - which considering they were at the ass end of the universe really wasn't all that shocking. Technology seemed completely foreign to the young woman, but she learned quickly.

Despite the fact that she was learning quickly and the crew was warming to her, Belle's loneliness was palpable. Shockingly, it seemed to have been Rush that turned the tide on her homesickness. Belle had been aboard Destiny for weeks, but there had been no reason for her path to cross with Rush's. He was cosseted in the bridge most of the time and she tended to stay in her quarters or the hydroponics lab. But both of their numbers came up in the rotation for gating to a nearby planet and they finally met.

Rush had given the young woman a cursory glance over and walked away, not bothering with any formal introduction. He knew who she was and she knew who he was, by reputation if nothing else. There was no crowd in which to hide on Destiny.

The mission was simple enough. The planet didn't seem to have any animal life and mostly they took plant samples for TJ. Every time Rush turned around, there was Belle, watching him with unbridled curiosity.

Rush prided himself on his ability to ignore people and social graces, but Belle's attention to him became so unnerving that he was forced to acknowledge her. Actually engaging her in conversation seemed to help and he quickly realized that beneath the attractive veneer lived an incredibly astute mind. She wasn't educated - at least not in the same manner he was educated. But she was bright, very bright, with a keen analytical mind.

Rush quickly commandeered Belle and put her to work, much to TJ's chagrin. Rush wasn't clear on whether he had the authority to do that or not - so he did what he always did in such situations - he acted as though he did. Belle had been assisting TJ in the infirmary. But thanks to Varro's fascination with TJ, the medic wasn't exactly short on assistants these days. And Rush was down three people. Rush knew it irritated Young, but now that they had finally reached a shaky truce, Young was far more judicious in picking his battles. And Belle apparently wasn't worth battling for - yet. At least that's what Rush assumed Young was doing. He refused to consider that Young might have any other reason to not complain about Belle's reassignment.

Belle wasn't familiar with technology, but she learned quickly and soon became nearly indispensable to Rush, Eli and Brody while Volker and then Park were recovering from illness and injuries.

Rush makes it a point not to notice people, but even he can't deny Eli's point. Belle does seem to be wherever he is. It isn't obtrusive and he certainly isn't complaining. Somehow she simply inserted herself into his daily life. And much to his shock, he finds it oddly enjoyable. Perhaps she just improves the view. After a year spent looking at Young, Eli, Volker and Brody, how could she not?

Belle doesn't seem bound by the arbitrary numbers on the clocks the way the others are. He asked her about it once and she made some vague reference to having been kept. And time having no meaning. When he'd attempted to pry, she immediately fell silent. He doesn't get the feeling that Belle was physically abused, but there is an unmistakable loneliness to her, even when the bridge is bustling with people.

He found over the course of several weeks that he actually enjoys her company. Unlike the others, Belle can actually be quiet and still. And her facility for language is outstanding. In no time at all her Ancient was far better than Eli's and quickly approaching Rush's own level of fluency. And he has to grudgingly admit that she is better at coaxing the nuances out of the language. There is an art to tongues, not a science and Belle's soul is far more artistic than his own. Her learning curve with the language is definitely aided by the fact that she seems to love nothing more than reading. While poring through exabytes of text looking for information is a chore that everyone else dreads, Belle seems to approach it as an adventure.

Rush considers for a moment what Dr. Jackson would make of Belle. Surely her competency with Ancient had to be nearing his - and hers without aid of actually having been an Ancient, an archaeologist or an SG team member.

Strangely though, the idea does not sit well with Rush. To his own dismay, he realizes he doesn't want to share Belle with Dr. Jackson. It is fine that the rest of Rush's lackeys ask her questions and utilize her growing expertise. They are harmless. Discomfited, Rush pushes the thoughts away, not caring to examine them closer. No, it was the right decision to make her a part of his team and he will leave it at that.

Belle walks onto the bridge and stops dead in her tracks. The force of her attention is so great that eventually everyone - Eli, Volker and Park - all turn to look at her. Rush is already looking at her - and her at him. She sputters for a moment, her hands gesturing wildly toward Rush. "What? What is … this?"

The others awkwardly turn away - except for Eli who is clearly enjoying the proceedings. Rush in various states of disrepair is nothing new to any of them. It isn't uncommon for him to work himself to the point that he literally drops where he stands and has to be dragged to his quarters. Injuries, like the ones he has now, also serve no impediment to his work. Flesh wounds, concussions, illness, Rush merely ignores them and does whatever it is he is going to do. Anything short of arterial splatter that could damage the hardware and he generally just ignores it.

Pressing her lips into what is clearly a look of censure, Belle turns on her heel and leaves the bridge.

Eli chuckles, turning back to his display. "Someone's in trouble," he says in a singsong voice.

"Shut it, Eli," Rush snaps, but he does glance furtively toward the door Belle just exited. Yes, it appears he is in trouble. And he isn't sure why.

Belle is very careful with the tray as she steps onto the bridge. It would be more efficient to relocate Rush rather than her supplies, but she understands that one has to pick one's battles and this particular lion will be far easier to beard in his own lair, even if there is an audience.

So far, Belle had judiciously avoided examining her feelings toward Dr. Nicholas Rush. She found his presence comforting - and disturbing, but more comforting - in this strange new land. Belle really doesn't know how she came to be here. She spent years locked in Regina's dungeon. She heard the frantic chatter that The Dark Curse had been cast. And then … she remembers nothing before Lieutenant Scott and Sergeant Greer found her wandering the wilderness on that deserted planet.

She spent the first several days aboard Destiny profoundly disoriented. Having spent years locked in a tiny, dank cell, simply being able to walk around, to interact with people was an assault on all her senses. But then she came to the realization of just how different this world is from her own - this world where magic is a tale for children and science takes its place.

She had done her best to make the most of the situation. This new land is terrifying, but at least she isn't locked in a cell. At least she isn't at Regina's mercy. She does fear for what happened to those whom she loved when the curse was cast. But until she can figure out where she is, there is certainly nothing she could do for them.

And then Belle found him. She heard him before she saw him, the melodic tones of his voice so similar to when Rumple would actually speak to her, with her. Not the shrill, frantic chatter he used when he was toying with some desperate soul. For several long minutes, she was able to do nothing but stare at him. He looked different, certainly, but she had little doubt that when Rumplestiltskin had been a human man, that is how he appeared. She thought for several endless moments that perhaps the curse had sent them both here, that he found a way for them to be together without the taint of his dark magics.

But alas, physical and mental similarities aside, Dr. Nicholas Rush is not Rumplestiltskin. As far as Belle is able to discern, Rush is as much a part of this new land as TJ or Greer or Scott or any of them. He was born on Earth, educated there. He had a wife, a career. He was a professor and a scientist.

It makes sense, she supposes, that in this land without magic where science is revered, he masters science the way Rumple mastered magic. And while Rush seems just as prickly and caustic as Rumple, Rush is also merely human. His soul may be tarnished somewhat by his own ambition, ego and grief, but it isn't blackened by the darkest magics and a lengthy litany of deeds too horrible to speak. And while Rush seems mercenary enough to do nearly anything in pursuit of his own goals, he doesn't revel in human misery the way Rumple did. It is the occasional by product of his actions, not a means to an end in itself.

Dr. Nicholas Rush is simply a man. A man who clearly has no idea how to look after himself. Belle sighs and sets the tray down on the console. Rush makes a slightly pained sound and Belle glares at him, daring him to tell her to move it. He falls silent, looking sheepish.

With exacting care, Belle takes the little strips of linen - cut from the rags she was wearing when they found her and carefully laundered with TJ's soaps and antiseptics - and lays them out on the tray. In her makeshift mortar and pestle she carefully crushes the herbs she has spent weeks cultivating in the hydroponics lab and then carefully drying. She adds several drops of steaming hot water to make a paste.

"Quite the potion you have there," Rush says quietly.

Belle's eyes dart to his and she realizes that this must just be a figure of speech among these people. He doesn't really have any understanding of potions. That softens her heart, despite her irritation with him. What a lonely way to live, without even the simplest magic to ease the discomfort. She smiles, "You rely too much on your science."

"Do I now?" he asks, curious rather than offended.

"Yes," she says brightly, gifting him with another smile. "A little magic might do you good." A little she qualifies mentally. Given his similarities to Rumple it may not be an association to encourage.

"Is that what this is, then?" he asks, eyeing the mortar and pestle carefully. "Magic?"

"Of course," she says evenly. "Any woman worth her salt can make a simple healing poultice woven with care." And it is true. She was not a magic worker by any means, but certain magics were ubiquitous. Tinctures to calm a cough, a salve for a child's scraped knee. Those were magics that any woman from princess to peasant could perform as easily as breathing. She forgot the simple joy of caring for someone like this. Rumple never let her care for him like this, always preferring to heal himself immediately with his own dark magic.

She takes one of the linen strips and some of TJ's antiseptic and gently cleans the gruesome looking wound on the back of Rush's left hand. She knows it must hurt, but he doesn't complain as she gently dabs at the dried blood and dirt. Taking another strip of linen, she does the same for the scrape across his right cheekbone. She's fascinated by his skin, his human skin, so soft and warm. And by his whiskers. She smiles trying to imagine Rumple with whiskers. It simply would not do.

"What's going on in that mind of yours," he asks, pulling her from her thoughts.

"Nothing," she says softly. "You just remind me of someone."


"Yes," she says sagely, "my beloved sheepdog, Magnus."

"Oh, I see," he says sourly, slouching further back in the chair. "Abuse me while you claim to be healing. I'm afraid that magic doesn't seem like it's all it's cracked up to be."

She laughs quietly and continues dabbing at his abrasions. It takes quite a while to thoroughly clean the wounds and by the time she's done, Rush's eyes are heavy. Reaching for the mortar, she gently mixes the contents and then using clean fingers, gently spreads the poultice across his injuries.

"Should you be using your fingers?" he asks, mostly, she assumes, to keep himself from falling asleep. "Seems like a good way to get an infection."

She tsks at him and shakes her head. "How else could I press the magic into the paste?"

He stares at her in wonder and it is clear that he does not believe a word she's saying. She shrugs. It doesn't matter if he believes or not. All that matters is that it's true.

Setting down the mortar, she takes a step back and offers him a hand. Somewhat warily, he takes it and allows her to pull him to his feet. He stands there, trying to figure out what she's doing. Firmly, she places a hand at the small of his back and urges him toward the door.

"Now," she says, "you need sleep."

He turns to look at her, exasperation on his face as he opens his mouth.

She gives him another look, the one that brooks no resistance.

And there obviously is some magic in her medicine because for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, Dr. Nicholas Rush doesn't argue. He simply nods and heads for the door.

The End - For Now