She said, “You’re not going to understand this.” There were precisely three drinks left in her glass, which she swished with her wrist, one glistening trail on her cheek. Kate looked up with a smile befitting any psychologist.
Laura leaned forward, hands resting on her knees. “Try me.”
They looked at each other in the darkness. Kate sat down the glass carefully. “You know, I think that is my job, not yours.” Her words were just slightly slower than usual, more careful and deliberate.
“Do you want me to make something explode?” Laura asked.
Kate looked amused as she swallowed. She looked over, out the window. “Maybe. Weren’t you here to see me?”
“Before I found you like this, yeah. But Kate, no offense, I don’t think you’re really that up for listening to me at the moment.”
Kate laughed. “No, probably not. I’m not on the clock. Can I beg off?”
“Sure.” Laura smiled, brightly. “But you’ve got to pour me a glass of whatever you’re drinking and tell me what’s on your mind.”
Kate hesitated for a moment. “I can definitely pour you a glass.”
“So Rodney hands me this pot. It’s huge, and I ask him, ‘Rodney, what is this?’ He says, ‘How the hell am I supposed to know? Just take it back to the jumper.’ So I take it back to the jumper, and John is waiting there, and he asks me, ‘What’s with the big pot?’” Laura sighed and leaned back as if she were trying to see her breath in the air even though it wasn’t cold enough for it.
“So what happened to the pot?” Kate asked. She’d already leaned back, head resting against the back of her chair.
Laura looked over at her sideways. “Weir has it sitting beside her desk. I think one of the botanists put some sort of plant in it. It looks like Sheppard’s hair peeking out over the rim. It’s odd.”
“It’s odd you make that connection.” Kate swished the rest of the scotch in her glass, listened to the ice clink in the sides. “Really.”
Laura snorted. “Stop being all psychoanalytical with me. I doubt I have some psychological attachment to Sheppard’s hair.”
“Dr. McKay does,” Kate smiled before she shrugged, her eyes still focused on some shadows on the ceiling. She laughed, a brief quiet sound.
Cadman laughed, more sharp and joyful. It reminds Kate of a small dog, but the thought is a happy one. “Seriously?” Laura asked.
“I’m thinking about writing a book on it.”
“I know you’re joking,” Laura told her. She sounded sure of herself, except for the glances she threw at Kate every now and then. “But if you do write a book, I want to be the first to read it.”
“Why did you come?” Kate asked. She’d moved to the couch a few moments ago and let herself stretch herself over it. Sleep continued to hang over her like a blanket someone had thrown on her back.
“I just wanted to talk. I don’t know who to talk to.” Laura laid herself out next to the couch, and now they watched each other, one staring down and the other staring up. Laura had her hands resting across her stomach.
“Braved the psychologist, huh? It must be pretty bad.” Kate wondered when the room became lighter, or if she became lighter.
“I heard that joke you made to Katie. You can’t be that bad.” Laura smirked, and it reminded Kate of Rodney.
“The one about the woman who walks into the bar without clothes on?” Kate shrugged. “People tell jokes like that. All Freud thought about was sex.”
“Phallic symbols,” Laura agreed. “I bet Sheppard’s into that.”
“You talk about him a lot.” Kate looked down at her, just one slight crinkle in her brow.
“Don’t analyze it. I’m military. He’s head of the military. I’m around him a lot.” Kate opened her mouth, but a second later she closed it.
“You could tell me.” Laura shifted so that her back rested against the couch Kate was on. “I’d listen. Despite what Rodney would tell you, I do shut up long enough to listen.”
It brought a smile to Kate’s mouth. “I don’t think I could.”
“Well, I’m here. You know. Or if you asked me, I could leave.” Laura didn’t make any move to get up though, and Kate made no effort to make her leave.
Silence settled across the room, until is felt like an actual presence. “Sometimes what we do is wrong,” Kate said, and the statement sounds resolute in the air. Sometimes what we do is wrong.
The words sat in Laura’s mind, like Kate had just put down a hand of cards.
Kate was almost asleep when Laura continued, “You know that pot? It turned out later it belonged to some village leader. Sheppard accidentally shot him during an attack with the Wraith. His son said we should keep the pot, it was some spiritual custom, and we should put a plant in it.”
Kate watched her quietly. Laura turned her hand over, as if she was examining it carefully. “I guess it bothered me. It bothered Sheppard, for a couple of hours, but then he was smiling. I guess I was smiling. I guess we have to get over it. We can’t un-shoot the guy. That’s what Rodney said. ‘We can’t un-shoot the guy.’ But he had this look on his face like he kind of wished he could think up some way to.”
Kate propped herself up on her elbow. “I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but do you ever think we’re not qualified to be here?” Laura’s eyes were questioning as they rose to meet hers. “I mean these are aliens. We don’t understand their psychology. Even if they are genetically human, their cultures are so different, their environments are radically different. What gives us the right to think we can make decisions regarding them? Their mindset? Their well-being? How can we judge right and wrong out here, when we’re the only ones doing the judging?”
Laura seemed to weigh her words for a minute. “Too much philosophy for me. To tell you the truth, I never thought about it.”
“I didn’t used to think about it.” Even Kate’s sigh sounded heavy. Everything had lost the weightlessness of the alcohol, the lightness of sleep, and now there was just the cold reality of midnight. “Maybe not as much as I should have.”
“I know.” Laura rubbed her hands over her thighs before she let them rest there. “I don’t think Carson slept for nights because of the retro-virus.”
Kate kept her eyes on the ceiling. Her voice sounded hollow. “No, he didn’t.”
Laura didn’t realize she’d dozed off until she opened her eyes to the dark room. Kate was standing with her back to the window, another drink in hand, watching the waves of the ocean around Atlantis.
“You could tell me about it,” she said again.
“I don’t think I could.” Kate replied. “I’m surprised you fell asleep. The floor of my office isn’t exactly comfortable.”
“Military. I sleep anywhere.” She moved carefully as she approached the window, her footsteps making a definite sound against the floor. Kate never turned. “Where’s the bottle?” Laura asked. Kate gestured to her desk with her head.
Laura’s first kiss was sloppy and on the side of Kate’s mouth, and Kate closed her eyes, looked pained, but she never said to stop. So Laura didn’t. There was a reason why this felt wrong, but the alcohol and lack of sleep made her mind a jumbled blur.
Laura said, “Do you think this doesn’t count? Since I wasn’t here while you were on duty?”
Kate gave her a look that seemed to ask why she even brought it up before she said a simple no.
They pulled each other’s clothes off on the way to the couch. Kate almost tripped on her shirt. Laura laughed as she tossed her shirt on Kate’s desk. When they looked at each other the room got very quiet.
There were hands on thighs and whispers and Kate said, “There’s something I have to tell you.”
But Laura just let out a warm rush of air over Kate’s ear, a cascading breath of “Later.”
“We were…” Kate’s shirt was still only half buttoned, and she sat with her head on her hands. Laura watched her, head shaking ever so slightly, as if asking the words about to be said not to come. “Both upset about Michael,” she finishes, her mouth twitching.
Laura closed her eyes, wished everything away, thought if she wished hard enough it would go. Her voice sounded tight. “And?”
Kate looked up at her. “I’m sorry. I told Dr. Weir about it, but she said I was just upset, that it was understandable, that she wasn’t going to let me go home for one breach of ethics.”
Laura’s head still shook, but nothing had a chance to be taken back now. There were too many things to say. She opened her mouth, and her throat closed with them. After a moment, she let her fist fall to her side. “He would have still been dating me then.”
“I know.” Kate buried her face in her hands, her voice sounding small.
“Well,” Laura could hear the edge of anger in her voice, rising in her throat. “So what? Why are you telling me?”
“Because I can’t not tell you.” Kate pushed herself to her feet, walked around to her desk. Her palms pressed into the hard wood surface. “It was what happened.”
“Sometimes what we do is wrong,” Laura says.
Kate nodded. “Yes.” It came out like a hiss. She repeated it. “We all made a mistake. We made a mistake with Michael. Carson and I-” Laura flinched, but Kate shook her head, continued anyway. “We made mistakes, with him, with each other… with you. And it does make me feel like I don’t know who I am.”
Laura blinked away a sting in her eyes. She felt the alcohol still pulling at her system, making everything seem slower, hazy. Her feet stumbled as she tried to make her way to the door.
We all do these things. Cadman noticed the flecks of blood on Sheppard’s jacket while he laughed with Rodney.
She can picture the pot by Weir’s desk, the plant sticking up into the air. Her fingers had brushed against the blades of the plant. The memory of a ninth grade biology book had drifted through her mind, the thought of the fibers interweaving together to make up the plant. Filaments.
Laura made her way out the door, back pressed hard against the city. She closed her eyes against the darkness. It occurred to her that they shouldn’t be here. She can see the blood staining the ground. Take this, in memory, the man’s son had said.
Laura hadn’t understood. She doesn’t understand now. Her whole chest ached with the weight of it. She pushed herself away from the wall, and started towards bed. The halls of Atlantis echoed silent around her.