Note: First appear in the multifandom "Strong Enough" Fanzine. This fic will be archived exclusively in my site.
I never imagined that a day could turn upside down so badly like this.
There I was, having lunch with my old friend, laughing and joking. Reminicing about the past, making fun of the silly things that we did while we were younger, enjoying the chocolate cake that soon would be transformed into fat on our hips, and now...and here I am now, inside a stinking basement God-knows-where, sitting on the cold floor. I'd bet there are some bruises on my body too, courtesy of fighting those kidnappers earlier.
"Are you all right?" my friend, who uncharcteristically hasn't said a word since those goons tossed us inside their van, is asking me with concern in her voice. They had more problems subduing her than me, but when she saw that they had me, she stopped struggling. I really should have paid more attention when my father asked me to learn self-defense.
I sigh. I can only be glad that at least I'm not alone, not that I would wish this fate on anyone. "Are you?" I ask back softly.
A smile. Sad smile. "Sorry."
I quickly dismiss it. "Nothing to be sorry about, this isn't your fault anyway." As soon as the words have left my mouth, I notice the guilt that is clearly written in her face. "Is it?" Hesitantly, I ask for confirmation.
"Well..." she starts. "You know I work for the government, right?"
I close my eyes. How could I forget? She didn't have to explain further. I know it all too well. The scars all over her once smooth skin had told me long ago that she had a very dangeous job. One that she loves, no doubt, or else she would have quit long ago.
Resting my head on the wall, I look at her. "What should we do now?"
"Wait." She tilts her head to the side slighty. "They'll tell us what they want. Eventually."
"Something that you can't give," I simply state. I know her; we've grown up like a sisters since we were five years old. Although there were some periods in our life where we were apart, like when she went to boot camp, somehow our friendship survived, even after the little girls had turned into grown women.
"Yeah, something that I probably can't give." She sends me an apologetic look as well as thanking me for my acceptance and understanding in this situation, and we fall into a comfortable silence, despite our situation.
I take that moment to study her. We are both general's daughters, a privilege and a burden that can never be taken away from us. But that's where our similarities end. We're not exactly two sides of a coin, but, still, our differences are not hard to spot. Her blonde hair is in contrast with my dark brown, while my dark green eyes clearly cannot be mistaken for her blue. And she's much taller than me.
I remember the first time I met her, and before I knew it, I let out a non-so-discreet chuckle.
"What are you laughing at?" The amusement is clear to see.
"Remember the first time we met?"
She groans loudly. "How could I forget about that? You ruined my birthday."
"I ruined your birthday? No way. You ruined my new dress." I grin at the familiar unresolved argument.
"It was a stupid dress anyway. A hideous turquoise dress." She has a mock repulsive expression on her face.
She has a very good point. I know that the dress was hideous, but there's no way that I can back down, as always. "It was a new dress."
"It was a hideous new dress, then."
"Well, it was a boring birthday party anyhow."
We both stare at each other for a mere second before bursting out laughing at the same time. This is how the arguments always end.
The party was boring, and she never had difficulty admitting it. Her father had arranged it for her. Because of that, the guests were mostly his aquaintances-including my dad, who brought me with him- and not her own friends. But little Sam Carter wasn't that bothered by that fact; she was busy reassembling her new model airplane, one of her birthday presents. Glue and paints were all over her little hands when little me bumped into her. World War III could not compare with what happened that day.
But when all had been said and done, it was a beginning of a beautiful friendship.
When the laughter subsides and I have the chance to draw a breath, I smile at her. "I've missed you."
"Your busy job is keeping us apart. Lose it!" I order in a playful tone.
She picks up something on the floor and throws it at me, hitting me on the stomach softly. "Let's make a deal. If you lose that lousy husband of yours, I'll let go of my job."
I feel like stucking my tongue out. Only she can make me regress to a ten-year-old. "Nah. There's no way that I would let go of Nathan."
"I'll keep my job then."
"Sammie." I use her nickname just to annoy her. "You're no fun, you know that?"
"You've always said that, ever since I joined the military."
"But that's the truth. I still can't believe that you're in the military. I thought you would be, you know, a well-known scientist by now. Your IQ is almost double mine."
"I am a scientist." She looks at me as if I were from another planet. "Granted, I'm not famous. And don't be so modest. I know your IQ isn't that low."
"I know, I know. It's not like I-"
She makes a silencing gesture with her hands, as footsteps can be heard coming toward us. After pulling me away from the door, she takes a step forward, shielding me from whoever they are. Acknowledging that her self-defense skills are much better than mine, I comply quite happily. Besides, I'm half-hoping that I can watch her kick their asses. I've always loved action movies, especially ones with strong female characters in them.
The door opens with a creak, revealing the sight of three men standing just behind it. Peering above Sam's shoulder, I can't stop the shivers running though my body. For the first time since I've entered this room, reality kicks in.
We really are in deep shit.
Shaking slighly, I bury my head on her back. I'm scared. What are they going to do to us?
Sam is so calm, I guess she's faced these kind of situations before, like she implied earlier. I can't believe that I'm actually envious of her experience in this matter, just because I am hiding like a coward behind her like this. She's always been the stonger one.
"Who's she?" I hear one of the men ask, but the voice doesn't sound near.
"One of her friends-she was there when we picked them up. We have no choice but to take her as well."
"Very well. The Boss is on his way; he'll be here by tomorrow."
"I'm sure these ladies won't go anywhere."
It seems that time is passing at an agonizing pace; I finally hear the unmistakable sound of the door closing. Releasing the breath that I didn't realize that I was holding, I walk backward until my back touches the wall. One of my hands flies to my chest, making a circulating motion right above my heart. It was beating too fast.
"Ann, are you okay?"
I look up with some moisture in my eyes that's threatening to turn into a flood
"I'm scared," I tell her truthfully.
She puts a hand on my shoulder as she walks closer. "You should be. It's a normal reaction."
The fear turns into anger. "Normal? This is normal? What about your reaction then? How come you're so ..." I pause as I can't find the appropriate word to describe it.
"Indifferent?" she offers meekly.
"I've had worse," she admits somewhat miserably. "At least we're safe until their boss arrives. It should give us some time to think of a way out, if possible."
Thinking. I should leave that to her then; she's very good at it. Her eyes scan the room that we are held in carefully, but we both know that the only way out of here is through that door. There is a window, but it's more like ventilation window than a proper one, just for air circulation. And there aren't many items inside this room that can be used to aid us either. Empty boxes and stacks of old newspaper, is all.
Sam moves to the window, gives it a thorough inspection. Her hand scraped something from it. "I can see something from here."
But my mood is not a good one. "Well, ain't that grand? What good will it do? It's not like we could squeeze our way out."
Without pausing to consider what she is doing, she retorts back, "You know, you remind me of my CO. So pessimistic."
"Me? Pessimist? Speak for yourself."
"Funny. He said that, too."
"That guy sure knew what he was talking about."
Sam finally finishes whatever she was doing with the window. Rubbing her hands on her jeans in order to clean up, she informs me, "I have good news and bad news."
I wince at the sentence that she's using. In all the years that I've known her, it's never a good sign when she says those seven sacred words in that order.
"Let's hear it. It's not like it could get any worse than this." I brace myself for the worst case scenario. When I'm around her, life is never simple.
"I know vaguely where we are," is all that she says.
When she didn't elaborate that statement, I ask the obvious question. "And?"
"That's the good news."
"How is that?"
"Because if I can tell my friends about it, they will definitely be able to find us."
She doesn't have to tell me what the bad news is. I have a pretty clear idea of what that is. "But we have no way of letting your friends know, do we?"
She nods solemnly. The kidnappers had taken our purses, including our cell phones. To my dismay, they're not that stupid. I guess they're professionals.
"Is this the kind of danger that you face everyday?" The question was begging to be asked.
She is startled at first; no answer is given, not that I expect one anyway. Looking away from me, she folds her arms in front of her in a protective manner. I can feel fury boiling inside of me. Is this is what she really does day after day? Risking her life for the government? "Is it really worth it, Sam? Throwing away your life like this?" I know that I was the only person who could say all those things to her and not receive the consequences. But that's not the main reason why I do it. It's because I'm her friend, damn it. I know that she loves her job, but her job is becoming her life. And what kind a life it is? When we were younger, I always thought that she would be the one who get married first. Look, brain, personality, attitude; she has it all. It was such a waste to have it all hidden beneath her BDUs and blue dress-although I must admit that I quite like the blue dress uniform. It's smart.
"I'm not wasting it. My job is important and my life is never dull," she insists. "I love my life the way it is now; I'm living it. I wouldn't have it any other way."
Maybe it's the way she said it, or maybe because I am who I am. But here and now I'm making an oath. I will make her see the truth and she will come out this room a different woman. She has to see that there is a better life than her current one. I don't care if people think that I'm crazy. Hell, even I think that I'm crazy. Here I am, at the mercy of some strangers who are holding me against my wishes, and what do I do? I'm not worrying about my soon-to-be fate, not looking for a way out, not acting like a damsel in distress, and not caring about how the heck I'm supposed to get the stains out of my white blouse. Somehow I don't care about all those things anymore. She's my dearest friend, and I will not let her dig her own grave. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I will change her life.
Armed with renewed determination, I ask her, "Getting kidnapped in the middle of the day is your idea of a good life?"
Sheepishly, she clasps her hands behind her back as if I've just caught her with her hands in a cookie jar. "You caught me on a bad day."
Bad day, huh?
"But you said that you've had worse."
She smirks persistently. "That is reserved for a very bad day."
Damn, that woman can be as stubborn as a mule if she wants to.
"Tell me then, what do you do on your good days?"
The wheel is turning around in her brain. After a few seconds, she settles with, "Interesting things. Missions, projects and all that."
Heh. She couldn't even tell me about it in great detail.
"Such as?" I press her for more information.
The reply comes almost instantly. "It's classified."
Cursing inwardly at her unfair way to avoid my question, I complain, "If you don't want to tell me, just say so."
"You know very well that's not the case. Now, stop sulking like an adolescent and get some rest," she chides me like a mother hen.
"Get some rest?" She must've gone mental. How can I rest in this place? I admit that I'm a bit tired, drained physically and mentally by what happened today, but still…this is not a safe place to be asleep.
"It's late. I'll stay awake and take a watch, don't worry," she assures me while pulling me into a sisterly embrace. She then whispers into to my ear, "I won't let anything happen to you. And that's a promise."
I return the hug and smile even though she can't see it. For a moment, I forget my predicament.
Because I believe in her. I always do.
The wall and floor might not have been as soft and as bouncy as a bed, but in the end, I find I slept like a baby. Curled in the corner with Sam sitting just next to me, offering me a little comfort and some body heat. Rubbing my eyes to chase away the trace of sleepiness, I start to yawn and stretch my upper body.
But then I realize than I'm such an idiot.
Well, there's not much surprise there. I know and already accept the fact that my best friend is much brighter than me. However, success is only one percent intelligence and ninety-nine percent hard works, right? And I don't mind doing hard work.
How could I let her sidetrack me like this? I never get distracted so easily, and am very proud of my ability to stay focused when I'm dealing with something. When I set my mind to something, I will pursue it until the end, no matter what the results are.
I have a mission here, and that's to stop Sam's self-destructive path. There's one problem with that though. Just one tiny little, insignificant problem.
I don't know how.
She must have felt me staring at her; she gives me a quizzical look. Her blue eyes are laced with concern, boring into mine as if they are searching for something.
The moment is ruined by the sound of my stomach rumbling.
"Are you hungry?" she asks while stifling her laugh.
I sheepishly nod my head. I don't see the point of denying it, anyway.
She brings a plate with some sandwiches on it and puts it in front of me. "They brought this in a few minutes ago; I guess they don't want us to starve to death," she explains. And, a moment later, a bottle of mineral water follows.
"Thanks." I mutter my gratitude, grabbing the water bottle first to quench my thirst. "What about you? Have you eaten something?"
"No. I can't risk them putting drugs in the food."
That stops me dead in my tracks, which is midway through transferring a large amount of liquid down my throat-another way to say that I choke on my drink. I cough, forcing some water to spill out of my mouth.
I consider strangling her, but the knowledge that she is my only roommate for now-and I don't want to be alone in this mess-prevents me from putting it into practice. Besides, she might be my only ticket out of this problem. So I settle for glaring instead.
"Just kidding." She grins widely. "Their boss wants to talk to us, thus they would want us to be alert."
"And you feel it's necessary to mention it to me while I'm drinking?" Venom fills my voice.
She shrugs; the grin is still plastered on her lips. "Why not?"
Rolling my eyes, I drink some more water to soothe my itching throat. She can be so childish sometimes. Doesn't she realize that she's over thirty now? But at the same time, I'm relieved. It means that she hasn't lost the evil side of herself. I know some people who changed after they joined the military; they became…dull. But not her. And for that, I can only be thankful. And this means that I am not too late. She still can be saved from her impending doom. Right away, my mission sees a bright light. I see a way.
I am going to make her quit the military.
This is a perfect idea. All I have to do is to make her see that the military is not for her. How hard can it be? I've seen the worst of it. Although I must admit that it has some good in it as well.
Okay, now it's settled. Let's start. First, question the military's generosity in rewarding her work. She's always hated it when people didn't appreciate her work.
"Sam, do you earn much?"
She looks at me funny, but answers nevertheless. "I'm doing alright."
Ah. "All right", not "good." I think I'm onto something here.
"Really? I thought with your brain and all, you'd earn quite a lot."
"No. Not really," she says nonchalantly.
"But didn't you say something about rewriting the laws of physics? Surely you get some money for that." I fish for more information. "Or did the military get all the credit for your hard work?"
"It's classified information for now, so it can't be commercialised just yet. But when the time is right…" she trails her explanation.
Oh, screw it. I'm just going to say it bluntly. "But being a major in the Air Force is not that good for your bank account, is it?"
She raises an eyebrow at my accusation. "True. However, I also receive hazard pay."
Oh. Right. "How often do you get it?" My curiosity gets the better of me. And, for a moment, I am genuinely worried about her well-being.
She looks at the ceiling and does a mental calculation. Her lips press together in concentration. Finally, she lowers her head and stares at me. "I rather not say."
I can appreciate her honesty. We both prefer not revealing anything to lying to each other. Unconsciously, my gaze focuses on her hand. Year after year I watch the scars there growing in number. Burn mark, scratch mark, and sometimes unhealed bruises. I still don't understand how she can live like this. Doesn't she dream and long for a safe, perfect life where all you have to worry about is what you're going to cook for dinner?
I can never really understand her nowadays. It's frustrating somehow, because we used to be so close. I don't want to grow apart from her. But the truth is, we've been going separate ways and there's nothing that I can do to stop it. She keeps so many secrets from me-granted, most of the secrets are related to her work. We saw each other less and less frequently after she moved to Colorado. And then, after I married Nathan, the reunions were even reduced into a handful of meetings per year. Of course, we keep in touch with phone calls and emails, but it's not enough. At least for me, it isn't. Not to mention that she's often gone missing for a few days, sometimes even months, scaring me half to death. On several occasions, she was declared MIA or even "killed in action"-Uncle George always informed me if something like that happened-and it was horrible. I don't know where and how she is.
What does she do inside that goddamned mountain anyway? And how the hell can you be declared MIA there? Do you get lost inside somehow? Take the wrong turn and suddenly you don't know where you are?
I know that there is more than meets the eyes to her "deep space radar telemetry" assignment than what she's told me. However, I often find myself staring at an exiting and enthusiastic person when she describes her job. I can't bring myself to ask more and dig a little bit deeper.
She often mentions her friends. Her team. They matter a lot to her, as much as I matter to her. Maybe more. She's offered for me to meet them on several occasions, but I always refused, fearing that I couldn't help but be jealous if I ever saw her with them. And I don't want to be jealous. Jealousy can bring the worst in me.
She's happy, and that's all that matters. Isn't it?
I used to think that it was. But now? Now, after I experience firsthand how wrong I was, I'm going to ignore that little voice in my head that keeps saying, "It's her life, not yours. Stay away before you do something stupid."
Without warning, the door slams open. Jumping slightly in surprise, I turn my head to see the newcomer. I only catch a glimpse of two men entering the room when Sam steps in front of me, automatically blocking my view. Again.
The fear starts to make an appearance again. I can't hold back the shivers that run down my spine.
"Well, well, well. Look who we have here." The voice is deep and surprisingly normal.
Gathering all the scattered courage in my gut, I risk taking a good look at those men. One of them is wearing a smart business suit while the other one has a black leather jacket.
The one in the suit smiles cynically. "Welcome. I believe my boys have treated you well."
"What do you want?" I can hear Sam ask calmly.
"Nothing from you," he answers. "But from a certain general that-even though retired-still has an influence inside the military."
A general? Is he talking about Uncle Jacob, Sam's dad? I know that he was a liaison of some sort and is always abroad lately.
"What do you want from him?" she asks again.
"Just some information. Surely he wouldn't be that reluctant to share that with me now that I have his beloved daughter."
I can see Sam's hand clench into a fist in attempt to hide her emotion. "No offense, but how will you send the message to my father anyway?"
The man has a confused look on his face. "I was talking about Mrs. Price's father. And I'm pretty sure that he's in his house in DC."
Wait a minute...
My brain has no problem processing that piece of information, but it doesn't stop me from blurting out, seeking confirmation of what I've just heard. "You kidnapped us because of me?"
"I can't believe it," I mutter out loud.
"If it makes you better, I can't believe it either."
We're really in this mess because of me? Because of one Ann Price?
Sam and I exchange a glance. This thought had never crossed our minds. We were so sure that it was Sam's fault. How can this be?
In a moment of weakness, I let that little voice inside my head prick into my conscience, "Because you wanted to emotionally blackmail her into leaving the military using this when it's all over." The voice is right.
Damn. One less piece of blackmail material.
We were alone once again after the man had me posed with today's newspaper and took a picture of that. He said that he would send it to my father to make sure of his full cooperation on this matter.
"Why did they feel the need to kidnap me in Colorado if they could've done it back in LA?" I wonder. If this had happened there, I wouldn't have brought Sam into this predicament.
"So that no one will notice right away if you go missing for a few days. They must have been watching you for quite some time now, to know your schedule like this and prepare this place." Sam offers her opinion.
"You really know a lot of stuff about this, huh?"
She looks thoughtful. "I guess so."
But even after she answers, she's still lost in her own little world-which means she's thinking about something.
"Sam, what are you planning?"
"Mmm..." is all that I get. She completely ignores me now as her brows draw closer together. She is sitting on the floor, one knee drawn to her chest; her chin rests on top of it.
I hate it when she's like this. She'll cut off any ties with the real world when she's in this mode, which is not often, but it still happens now and again. She once said that it helps her concentrate more in searching for a solution to her problem. To my knowledge, only certain people can bring her out of it, and I am one of them. But because I know that it could be crucial to our survival, I let her be.
It doesn't mean that I have to like it, though.
Knowing there's not much that I can do while my only companion is indisposed to any kind of conversation at this moment, I take the newspaper that was used for the picture earlier and start reading.
I don't know what she was thinking earlier, but I have come to a conclusion. She's gone nuts in five minutes. Or maybe she's been nuts for a long time and I just noticed it now. It would explain her choice of life. And I'm more than happy to let her know.
"Are you insane?"
"Trust me, it'll work," she reassures me. "Now that I know that what they want is you, I believe this'll work."
Oh, yeah, just rub that fact in my face, why don't you?
"But, what if it doesn't?" I decide to point out the obvious and be the devil's advocate for the moment.
"We'll go to Plan B," she confidently says.
Why didn't she say so then? "You have a Plan B?"
"No. But if it doesn't work, we'll work on Plan B."
I did say that I thought she had gone nuts, didn't I?
And she said that as if I agree with her plan already. Not that it would matter if I don't anyway; she'll be the one who will do all the work. She takes my silence as a "yes" as she walks to the door. When she reaches the door, she combs her hair with her fingers to make herself more presentable.
She knocks. A few moments later, the door is opened. A man, different from the two who visited us previously, comes in.
Sam shifts nervously. "Uh...I was wondering if I could make a phone call."
It's so bizarre to actually see her anxious like that.
The man just stares at her as if she had grown another head. The door slams shut almost immediately.
Sam sighs. But she evidently won't be deterred, as she mutters, "If at first you don't succeed ..."
She undoes the top two buttons of her shirt before she knocks for the second time. Again, the door is swung open, this time rather abruptly.
"What?" Impatiently, the same man growls in annoyance.
"I need to tell my boss that I won't be in today. If I don't, he'll fire me. Please," she pleads beautifully, bending her knees slightly, her hands clasped together in the front. "He already reprimand me last week, when I missed the flight back from DC and couldn't come back to work on time. Please, just one phone call to say that I'm ill or something."
I can't believe my eyes. A hand, Sam's hand is running up and down the man's arm. Does she just use her sexuality to get what she wants? And, damn that woman, she's very good at it as well. I can't see her face right now, but the man's defense is definitely crumbling. He has an uneasy look on his face and gulps nervously.
"You can hear the conversation if you want to. I know how much Ann means to her father; he'll give you anything you want as long as you take care of his daughter. We'll be out of here in no time." She continues, "That is, if you'll let us out after that. You will, right? I mean, I trust you. You seem like an honest guy." She sighs just for effect.
I can't believe my ears. She is flirting with our captor. And is that a blush that I notice on his cheeks?
But Sam is on a roll. "If I don't let my boss know where I am now, he'll get mad and start looking for me. We've been working on this huge project for almost a week now; let's say that he'll notice if I'm not there. I told him that I went out with Ann yesterday for lunch, he'd already met her..."
That was a lie. I never met her boss.
"He also knows her husband."
That was also a lie.
"I didn't go back after lunch yesterday, and if I went missing without any explanation this morning, surely he will contact Ann's husband soon, looking for her as well. And then if both of them don't know where we are, they'll inform the police. You don't want that to happen, do you?"
Holy Hannah, that woman can tell a story.
He clears his throat, his eyes concentrating much lower than where her eyes are. "I'll let the boss know about your request." His voice is slightly higher than normal.
I never thought that she was capable of producing that kind of sultry tone. It makes me feel sick. I can only be grateful that I didn't eat too much this morning. Not that I have an appetizing selection for breakfast either. It's like...it's like...it's like watching your parents making out. That's how high the "ew" factor is.
I know that Sam is a beautiful woman, but she's never exploited her feminine side like that. Even when she's trying to get a date, she always uses her intellect and sometimes her wit. But never like this. I thought she was joking when she said that she was going to seduce the guard to get her phone call. Apparently, I was wrong.
As soon as the door closes, she turns around and winks at me.
That did it. That was just the last straw. "Who are you and what have you done to my friend?"
She rolls her eyes. "Sometimes a girl has to do what a girl has to do."
"But...but..." I'm experiencing a severe case of denial. This is not the Sam I know. Is it?
The Sam I know is not a calculating and manipulative person like that. But, then again, the Sam that I know will do absolutely anything to make sure that we're safe. And if "wooing" our captor in a non-conventional way can produce that effect, then she'll do it without any hesitation.
"But what?" she questions with a twinkle in her eyes.
It's nice to know that she finds my reaction amusing. I pursed my lips together in defeat. "Fine. Fine. What are you going to say when they do give you your phone call?" As much as I hate to admit it, I think she will get that phone call after all.
She grins widely. "I'm going to ask my boss to water my plants, of course."
I blink. "You're kidding, right?"
Surely that's not what she's going to say. Not after all the trouble that she's been through to get that phone call. I know that she loves her plants, but this is neither the time nor the place to joke around.
She shakes her head firmly and looks quite serious. "No, I don't."
I can only stare at her.
Let me ask you a simple question. How do you talk sense into a mad person? You would be right if you said, "You can't."
Maybe that's why I can't get through to her lately. Maybe she's a goner. Maybe I'm too late. Sure, she still has her sense of humor, but her common sense has definitely flown out of the window. With a very slim chance of retrieving it.
I heard stories that sometimes soldiers lose it because the battles that they were fighting were too hard for them. Is that what's really happened to her? But what kind of battle does she fight? We live in a reasonably peaceful time.
Anyway, a few minutes after she made her request, two men enter our room, the guard from earlier and the man in the suit. The latter must have been their boss.
"Carl said that you want to make a phone call?" the boss inquires carefully; he doesn't seem to be buying Sam's excuse.
Ah, so the guard's name is Carl. Nice name.
Sam nods. "Yes. Just one phone call; that's all I ask."
He searches her with his eyes; the dim lighting of the room is enough to let me see that he is trying to intimidate her. Sam is having none of it; she meets his gaze convincingly.
"Why should I believe you?"
I guess there's a reason why he's in charge. He is not easy to fool.
Sam bites her lower lips and trembles slightly. "Please, just to let my supervisor know that I can't come to work today. I'll let you think of the excuse, even. I don't want to get fired. I can't," she appeals. "And you can hear our conversation too, I won't do anything stupid. I promise."
I could give her an Oscar for that performance alone. Her desperation is hard to miss. Her fake desperation, that is. I only hope that she knows what she's doing.
He strokes his clean-shaven chin. "Very well. But one false move, don't blame me if there's a scar on your pretty face." He issues the threat with a smile on his face.
The butterfly in my stomach flutters wildly. Sam might be strong, but there are at least four men in the house that I have had a glimpse of. She can't take all of them at the same time. Not to mention that they might have guns with them.
The boss snaps his fingers and then Carl exits the room, only to be back again in less than a minute. He brings a phone with him and hands the cordless receiver to my insane friend.
"Remember. One false step..." Boss doesn't finish his sentence, but the message is loud and clear.
"Wouldn't dream of it," Sam promises, dialing the phone at the same time.
Carl has put the phone on speaker so that everyone in the room can hear it. It only rings twice before someone answers the phone.
"Before you get mad at me for not showing up this morning," she goes straight to a defensive mode. "I just want to let you know that I have a perfectly good reason."
The silence on the other line is unexpected, but then a reprimand appears. "Carter, where the hell are you?" Sam was serious when she told me that her CO is very intimidating sometimes. That voice can shake anyone in their boots. "Don't you know that we have a briefing this morning?"
She winces while mouthing, "I told you that he would be angry" to us at the same time. "I'm so sorry, sir. But, as I said before, I have a perfectly good reason." She throws us a helpless look.
"Let's hear it then. What is it that was so important so that you can't come to work today?"
Sam takes a deep breath. "Well, you know my friend, Ann, right?"
"Yeah, you said that you were going to have lunch with her yesterday."
"Well, she received rather upsetting news yesterday. And I just couldn't leave her on her own."
"One of her friends was in a car accident; I can't let her drive all the way to Utah alone, can I?"
"And why didn't you call me earlier?"
"My cell phone battery is low and Ann is not in a state to be left alone. I called you the first chance that I got."
O'Neill sighs loudly on the phone. "So, will you be back tomorrow?"
"Er, I don't know. Let me see how Ann's friend is doing first."
She covers the speaker and glances at the Boss. "What do you want me to say?"
He quickly provides the timeline. "Two or three days."
Sam returns back to her phone. "Three days at most. And don't worry about the project; Daniel has all of my notes. He should be able to continue without me for the time being. There are at least four files that you might want to see. Talk to him, he knows which ones."
"I see. I take it that you want me to water your plants while you're away, then."
"If it isn't too much trouble for you, sir."
"Any specific instructions?"
"Yes, Hubert and Deuteronomy don't need anything for today-just a little water would suffice. However, Louis needs around sixty to seventy cc's of the special fertilizer that I keep in the brown bottle. Please do not confuse it with the normal fertilizer like you did last month. I don't want to send Louis to the botanic gardens, like I did Hubert. And just some water for the others, please."
Me, Boss and Carl stare at her, dumbfounded. She's really talking about her plants? I'm beyond speechless, not capable of thinking about anything right now.
"That one was just a glitch. I forgot."
"Just promise me you won't do it again, sir. And thank you for taking care of my plants. I really appreciate it. And oh yeah, don't forget to talk to them, tell them that I miss them."
"No way. The last time I did it; it took me like an hour or so. There's just too many of them."
"All right, all right; I think they could survive without conversation for two or three days. I'll see you then."
"No problem. I'll go by your house after work. See you later."
She hangs up and returns the phone to Carl with an angelic smile plastered on her face. "Thank you."
"Your employer and you seem to be quite close," Boss is voicing his suspicion, "to talk about your plant like that."
She just shrugs. "What can I say? He's a fair man. Very strict, but fair. He knows that I have a good reason not to come in today." She bites her lower lip. "Trust me when I say that you don't want to get on his bad side."
The boss leaves the room shortly after he gave her a calculating glance. I think we share the same question in our head, "Is she for real?" Sam, of course, just smiles sweetly like an innocent child, but you can't help but wonder what she is up to. Carl follows Boss's example soon afterward, but not before Sam presents him with a bat of her eyelashes. Or I think it was. She might have just felt the need to blink at that precise moment.
Sam's not stupid; maybe she sent some kind of cryptic massage to her friends. Who knows? But if that's the case, why didn't she say so? And what kind of cryptic message was that?
"Ann." Her call wakes me up from my wondering.
"Yes?" I reply distractedly. I'm still confused about what I've just witnessed.
"I'm a bit tired and going to get some shut-eye. Can you wake me up if someone comes in through that door?"
Acknowledging that Sam had stayed awake last night to watch over me, I quickly agree. "Sure."
And with that, she makes herself comfortable on the floor with her back resting against the wall. Her eyelids flutter down as she starts to drift to dreamland.
I really don't want to disturb her, but I can't hold it much longer. I have my limits. So, I shake her shoulder lightly.
"Sam, Sam, wake up," I call her gently.
"Colonel, is this my watch already?" she responds, half-asleep.
Watch? What watch? And what does the colonel have to do with it? "No, it's me." I tug at her sleeves. "Me, Ann. Your old friend, who's now in a hostage situation and has dragged you with her into her ill-fated fate."
I don't know why I feel need to remind her of our current situation. Wait, that's not right, I actually do. It's because she doesn't act like we're in danger. She's too laid-back for my liking. I mean, it's better to say that than slap her on her face and scream, "Wake up, damn it. It's not a picnic; we're being held against our will, and God knows what they'll do to us next!"
She blinks rapidly and then sobers up. "Ann, what's wrong?"
I get straight to the point. "I need to go to the toilet."
Her blinking stops automatically as her eyes meet mine. "Oh."
"It's not my fault that I can't control my bladder completely. It's biologically impossible," I explain hastily. I don't want to go to the toilet, not in this situation. But the fact still stands, I have to pee. "And I don't want to go alone." To make a point, I grip one of her arms. I know that I'm behaving like a little kid, but I don't care. If my bladder doesn't, why should I?
I can see that she has difficulty keeping her laughter silent. "Okay, okay. Let's ask them."
I let her knock on the door and deal with our captor. The door is opened to reveal the man with the black leather jacket.
"What do you want?" he asks as soon as the door opens.
I cower behind Sam as she clears her throat. "If you could be so kind as to let us go to the toilet, please?" she requests politely.
"Both of you?" He frowns.
"Yes," I say impatiently. My nerves are tugging me closer and closer to release.
"No," he simply states. "I can only allow one at a time."
No? Why "no"? Why didn't he just say "yes"?
"Why not?" Sam whines.
Wait! Sam whines? Since when?
He doesn't bother to reply to that. "Listen, do you want to go to the toilet or not? If you want to, just one at a time."
"But," Sam protests, "we have to go together."
"Because that's what girls do. We go to the toilet together," she reasons. Although I know for certain that she hates that. She's an independent woman; she doesn't need anyone to accompany her to the toilet.
"Or are you afraid that we will do something stupid?" she continues. "Come on, what can two girls like us do with you guys watching over us? We just want to go to the toilet."
He stares at her exasperatedly. "One at a time, or no one goes at all."
Sam looks at me apologetically. She did try her best. It's just our rotten luck that he wasn't Carl. If it were him, I bet Sam could make him do whatever she wanted.
"I'll go by myself." I steel myself.
"Are you sure?" Sam asks, concerned.
"I'm not. But I have to." I look straight at the bad guy. "Let's go then."
He gestures at me to come outside the room. Obeying the order, I wait until he closes and locks the door. He then points his finger at the end of the corridor that we're in. Desperately needing the release, I walk up the stairs quickly. I have to wait for him to open another door at the top of the stairs. Then we arrive at the lounge of the house that we're in. Boss, Carl and one other man are sitting on the couch, watching television. They stare at me questioningly.
"She needs the bathroom." The one who brought her up there explains my presence.
While I stand there awkwardly, I catch a glimpse at the window. It tells me that we're in a secluded area, with lots of trees and no neighbours in sight. He pushes me slightly to the right, as I didn't know where to go.
"There it is. Be quick!"
Not wanting to take anything for granted, I get inside the bathroom as fast as possible. And thankfully, they grant me the mercy of privacy as they let me close the door. I can't find an escape route anyway; the window was simply too small for me to get through.
I do what I came here to do, anxiously wanting to go back to where Sam is. I don't like being separated from her like this. But, as I'm about to open the bathroom door, I hear a commotion outside. It's the sound of doors being broken down and people shouting. Loudly.
Getting more uneasy as the seconds pass, I step away from the door as far as I can, my back touching the far wall. I don't think that it's a good idea to come out at the moment. What's going on out there? What about Sam? Is she all right? Thousands of questions run through my mind, and they are all left unanswered.
Suddenly the door opens and a man dressed in black bursts in. He's pointing his weapon at me. I raise both hands automatically in fear.
"Don't shoot," I plead.
He relaxes as he sees me. The weapon is lowered, revealing a worried face. "Don't be alarm. I'm Carter's friend. We've got the situation under control. You're Ann, right?"
The relief washes over me like a flood as almost every muscle in my body gives up on me. I slump down to the floor gracelessly. "Thank God," I exclaim loudly, tears of joy running freely down my face. We're saved.
"Do you know where they kept Carter? We can tear the house apart if we have to, but it'll save us some time and energy if you could just show me where she is." He smiles indulgently. He offers me a hand, which I gladly accepted to pull myself up. I wipe the tears off my face.
"She's in the basement," I inform him eagerly.
"Lead the way."
My savior turns out to be Colonel Jack O'Neill, Sam's commanding officer. One of a few COs that she actually likes and respects a lot, which says a lot about the man himself. There are others that arrive with him-a lot of them, actually. There must be at least two dozen officers that come to our rescue, not including the medics that arrive later.
They bring us back to a local hospital and confine us to one of the emergency room for the time being. Even thought it was a local hospital, the staffs are from Sam's program, something about her file being classified information and she has to be checked by her own doctor.
Dr. Fraiser, a very nice woman, is giving me and Sam a quick assessment despite Sam's assurances that we're all right besides the bruises from when they first man-handled us. And it doesn't help when Colonel O'Neill orders Fraiser to do the examination no matter what, when he notices Sam's reluctance. But despite the annoyance that I usually find in her when she's forced to do something that she doesn't want to do, all I see is acceptance.
And then there's Teal'c. Strange name, an African tribe name. Or that's what they told me. I've seen his picture and her other team members' pictures many times in Sam's house before. But nothing prepared me from gasping on how big he actually is. He's ... massive. I guess picture didn't always do justice to reality. But Sam speaks to him in such a familiar manner that I couldn't help but notice. And he smiles at her in a brotherly kind of way. I have a feeling that he's very close to her, even closer than her own brother, Mark.
"Where's Daniel?" Sam asks while the nurse is taking her blood sample.
"He's picking up General Riley and Mr. Price from the airport," Dr. Fraiser answers.
"My dad and Nathan are here?" Amazed, I stare at the petite doctor from my bed.
"Yes, as soon as I received Sam's phone call, I contacted them and asked them to come here right away," replies Colonel O'Neill, who hasn't left since he found us. "The general had just received the message from them, so he was very relieved when he heard that we had located you."
Huh? Sam's phone call?
Suddenly, everything clicks into places.
"You weren't really talking about your plants, were you?" I don't bother to hide the accusing tone in my voice.
"You mean you didn't know that she was tipping us about your situation?" The colonel's eyebrows inch closer together. And then everyone's eyes are suddenly on Sam.
She lets out a nervous laugh. "Come on, you don't think that I did all those things for a phone call and then I was going to waste it only for my plant?"
Oh, I don't, do I? "But you didn't tell me about it either," I argue hotly.
"Wait, what things? What did you do for that phone call?" Dr. Fraiser inquires.
"Let's just say that I take a lesson from you," she said hastily to the doctor, who has an understanding look; her mouth transforms into a big "O" shape.
"And what kind of a lesson is that?" The colonel grins playfully at her discomfort.
"Er...something that she taught me when our old friend Hathor visited us years ago, sir," Sam replies. "I'm sure that you don't need a reminder of that...event, do you?"
I think it was supposed to mean something, as the colonel grimaces as if he's reminded of some bad memories. I swear that I can her him muttering, "I hate that woman."
The two of them must have had a very fascinating history. I wonder what that could be. Is it a case of an ex-girlfriend gone mad?
"I believe MajorCarter refers to the time when she and DoctorFraiser had to entice the male guards so that they could flee their imprisonment," Teal'c, who has been silent most of this time, says out of the blue.
Interestingly, Sam and the doctor blush quite rapidly. So, Sam wasn't lying when she said that she's been through this before. This Hathor woman must be really bad.
"T, what did I say about being tactful?" the colonel chastises the other man, but not harshly.
Teal'c raises one of his eyebrows. "The technique is formidable; I do not see why it would make them uncomfortable."
No one seems to have the answer to that.
"So, Sam." I decide to break the silence. "How did you tip off your friend, anyway? I can't really find any hidden message in your conversation. And believe me when I say that I listened to you very carefully." My curiosity is stirred.
"Well, it started with the first sentence that came out of me," she says, "when I asked him not to be mad at me because I had a very good reason for not coming in today. It means that was a hostage situation."
"Then she mentioned that you're the reason why, which means that you're with her. Or else, she wouldn't mention you at all," Colonel O'Neill adds. "And when she said 'Utah', that meant that her position was to the west of the mountain where we're posted. Around sixty or seventy clicks to be exact, as she indicated with the amount of the fertilizer that she needed."
Sam nods in agreement. "Yes, I also told him that I saw at least four people by saying that he had to read four files that Daniel had. The colonel hates paperwork. That's our sign for bad guys."
"And then we use the infamous Huey, Dewey, and Louie for Code Red, Blue or Green. That's a color code to indicate how dangerous her situation was," the colonel once again helps her explaining.
"Huey, Dewey, and Louie?" I ask incredulously. "Isn't that..."
"They are the nephews of the famous cartoon character called DonaldDuck," Teal'c informs me impassively. "O'Neill said the different colors of their shirt can be used to our advantage."
Right...do they really think that I'll fall for that one? I'm quite sure that they're making fun of me.
"It's true." Sensing my disbelief, Sam confirms her friend's revelation.
I still refuse to believe. "But I didn't hear anything about Hu-" I stop as I remember something.
They can't be serious ... can they?
"Hubert, Deuteronomy and Louis," Sam recites the names of her plants. Which, if you think about it a little bit more, are the full name versions of the three mischievous little ducks. The silent "duh" is perfectly heard.
Finding no words to say, I gape like a fish deprived of water.
"And that's it," O'Neill concludes.
"But how did you find out where we were so fast? Sam only gave you a vague direction. I'm pretty sure that you had to search over a vast area."
"We traced the call." Dr. Fraiser supplies the answer. "Sam knows which phone numbers are equipped with a tracker and which ones are not. As soon as we receive a phone call, it'll track down the position of the caller automatically, no matter what the situation is. She still told us about where she was because we cannot be too careful; we need a certain amount of time to pinpoint your location exactly."
"We arrived quite early, but we didn't want to make a rash decision. So we watched the house for quite some time. When we saw you making your way to the bathroom, I know that our time was up," the colonel adds.
"We are fortunate that your captors underestimated MajorCarter's intelligence," Teal'c interjects. "They were fools. They should not have let their guard down."
"Nah, they're not fools. They're quite smart to plan the kidnapping in Colorado, which means that they thought the plan through carefully. Their only mistake was that they didn't see Carter coming. She's too much for them to handle, that's why." Their leader disagrees.
Teal'c tilts his head to one sides; a ghost of smile is displayed. "I stand corrected."
Sam only grins during the exchange. I can tell that she feels like home here, in the midst of her friends. Her eyes shine, radiating a warm aura around her.
A pang of guilt crosses my heart. There I was, judging her present life-thus her current friends-without knowing it-or them-better.
But she risks her life every day, a part of me whispers.
She's not alone; she has her friends with her, another part of me counters.
It's not a guarantee that she'll be safe. The mini devil-or is it the angel?-on my right shoulder insists.
She's old enough to make her own decisions. The equally tiny angel-or maybe the devil; I'm not too sure anymore-on the left doesn't give up that easily.
Haven't you learned anything today? She acted as if this were a normal occurrence. Doesn't that bother you? The other voice is adamant.
Ah...but what happened today is because of you, not her. The other side smugly points out the facts.
I welcome a moment of silence as the opposing voice has difficulty making a comeback, but it doesn't stop the indecision that had started to assault me. And I think a headache will soon follow. Suddenly, someone abruptly enters the room that we're in. Before I have the chance to say anything, I am already pulled into a crushing embrace and showered with kisses.
"Thank God you're all right."
And there, in his arms I find peace. I always do. There, I don't have to think, no need to be strong. Wrapping my arms around him, I hold him with all the strength that I have left.
"Me too, Nathan. Me too."
The Colorado Springs airport is packed with not only travelers, but their family and friends as well. It's the weekend, after all.
"I'm going to miss you."
A moment later, Sam and I embrace each other. Nathan and my Dad are in one of the stores, giving us the privacy that we need. Our plane will leave Colorado in around a half hour or so. Dad felt a little guilty about what happened to me; he wanted to make it up by staying with me for a week. It's a good thing that he likes my husband; he once said that Nathan is a decent man. And that's a compliment, coming from him.
"Come and visit me sometime?" I invite Sam.
"I will," she promises. "When I have my downtime, I'll come and visit you. We'll have a great time like we did yesterday," she teases.
I swat her arms playfully. "You might have enjoyed it, but I don't."
"Sorry, it's just that..." She smiles apologetically, "I often make fun of things like this. I think this is how we deal with it."
She doesn't have to say who "we" are; I know who. It's her and her friends. The sarcastic Colonel O'Neill, the silent but strong Teal'c, the stern Dr. Fraiser, and the charming Dr. Jackson. The last one introduced himself to me after my almost make out session with Nathan and reunion with my dad. He's not military and I think he's the most normal out of the five. Maybe it's because of the glasses; they bring out a sense of vulnerability in him, a feature that the others don't seemed to have.
"I'm the one who has to say I'm sorry. It's my fault that we were in that position," I correct her. "Not to mention how I wanted to make you quit your job as well." I decide to come clean. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have judged you or your friends before I met them."
Her blue eyes darken. "I know."
Come again? "What do you mean 'you know'?"
The corner of her mouth twitches. "You need to learn how to be subtle, you know. It was so obvious. Especially when you started asking about how much I earn. I knew you were up to something then and there." A smirk is displayed. "That's why I didn't tell you about my friends knowing where we were."
"You, you..." I want to curse at her, but I realize that she was just getting back at me. And what happened was my fault; therefore, I can't really say anything.
Suddenly, her expression becomes serious. "Look, Ann. I know you don't approve of my job, for a good reason. I appreciate your concern. Sometimes I feel tired of all this too; sometimes I feel like giving up." She sighs deeply. "But there are just some things worth fighting for. I can't go into any details, but my job is one of them. And I'm not alone. I have my friends with me." She ruffles my hair like she used to when I was being difficult. "Trust me. I know what's best for me."
I feel like someone has just scolded me for doing something terrible. Sam's right. She knows what's best for her; she's been taking a good care of herself for all these years. But in my own defense, I really thought that she had lost it. However, now I know that her weird behaviour was just an act to teach me a lesson.
Nathan and my dad decide to come back at that precise moment. The announcement for our flight has just been given. It's time to leave.
Nathan automatically takes hold of my hand. He's rarely left my side since yesterday, and it feels comforting. Meanwhile, Dad approaches Sam.
"Sammie, it's nice to see you again." Dad gives her a bear hug. "Tell Jacob that he raised his girl well the next time you see him. I can't thank you enough for being there with Ann. I can't imagine what Ann or I would have done if you weren't there."
"That's all right, Uncle Tom. She's my friend too," she states, as a matter of fact. "I hope you won't have any problem with the inquiries later on."
"What inquiries?" I ask curiously.
"The inquiries about the reason of the kidnapping," Sam answers. "They want something from your dad and it's top secret information. We need to find who told them that he has it."
"I thought you already retired." I direct the question to my Dad. "What kind of information is worth pursuing like this?"
"I am retired. But my country needs my expertise. And I cannot say 'no', sweetheart, not after I know why."
"If things had turned out differently," I tread a dangerous area, "would you have given it to them in exchange for me?"
His eyes become sad at the question. "You know the answer."
Of course I know the answer. But instead of disappointment, I feel pride. Dad taught me about responsibility, and I don't expect him not to practice what he preaches. A bit sad, of course, because apparently something is more important to him than his own daughter. But I'm not so vain to think that the world would not go on without me.
"That's all right, Dad. I'll live." I assure him by giving him a peck on the cheek. He's quite all right, for a general. At least he's not as strict as Sam's dad, something that I am very grateful for.
"We'd better be going now," Nathan reminds us of the time. "It's almost time to leave."
I nod mutely.
"Give me a call when you've landed, okay?" Sam requests.
"We will," my husband answers on my behalf.
She then turns around to my dad. "And, Uncle Tom, I'll see you around soon."
"I will," he replies. "Tell Jack that he'd better not have too much fun with the prisoners."
She rolls her eyes. "It's like asking him to stop watching The Simpsons; you're asking for the impossible. The colonel thrives on the suffering of others."
Dad laughs wholeheartedly. "He hasn't changed much."
I frown. "Wait, are you talking about Colonel O'Neill?"
"Yes," Sam confirms.
"Why is he involved with the investigation?"
"He led the rescue operation; it's only prudent for him to deal with it." Sam shrugs her shoulder as if it were nothing important.
I have a sinking feeling in my stomach. If it were a normal case, the culprits would be turned in to the local authorities to be processed. However, if national security is involved somehow...
"Is that all?" I ask again.
"I thought he was in charge of the whole investigation," my Dad wonders aloud.
"Oh, he is," she says.
I know where this is going. "The information that Dad has is something to do with your project, isn't it?" It's more like an allegation than a question.
"You'd better go now; it's almost time," she ushers, ignoring my query.
Knowing that I will never get the answer from her, I settle for the alternative. "Dad?"
Dad looks at Sam as if he is puzzled by something, maybe wondering why she hadn't told me already. Tapping my foot impatiently, I ask again, "Dad? I'm waiting here."
"All right, I'll tell you" Sam finally relents. "It does have something to do with what I do in Cheyenne Mountain."
Ha! I knew it! So she's not as innocent as she's appeared to be in this whole fiasco. And she let me carry all this guilt on my own, believing that I could have been the caused of our deaths. I know I'm exaggerating, but I was truly scared for our lives back then.
As if reading my mind, Sam smirks. "Our kidnappers didn't know who I was, Ann. Their access to our program is not that deep. I had nothing to do with it."
I feel the need to stomp my foot on the ground and scream like a mad woman. Nothing to do with it, my ass. Let's look at the whole thing in more detail, shall we?
Our kidnapper kidnapped us because they want something from my Dad. That something had something to do with the "deep space radar telemetry" project. And who works there? Sam does. And she has the guts to say that she had nothing to do with it?
Only one word comes to mind if I had to describe her now. And the word is: evil.
* The End *
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