The God-King and I
One Day Later
Jack O'Neill stared past the high walls of the Routtuan Royal City through binoculars, mentally calculating how far the palace was from the outer walls. It was cutting it closer than he liked, but he didn't see any other way. As he lowered the binoculars, handing them to Daniel where the Egyptologist stood next to him, he glanced first right then left, noting the mortar placements spaced regularly along the ridge, each of them manned by experienced soldiers who knew exactly what they were doing. It had been nearly forty-eight hours since his last contact with Carter, when she'd informed him she was handing herself over to the Routtuans.
Meanwhile, his efforts to contact Prime Minister Idri had been completely unsuccessful and beginning sometime during the early part of the night, they'd all been able to hear the sound of music, firecrackers, and cheerful shouts inside the city, the happy din heralding a celebration of some kind.
The wedding. Without enough time to properly prepare beforehand, they'd been forced to sit and listen to the sounds as one of their own was forced into god only knew what, well aware that any attack before they were ready would be tantamount to suicide.
He felt sick about it.
"Give us at least a half hour to get into position," Makepeace said grimly, yanking the colonel out of his thoughts. Jack glanced over at the big marine. He was in full, desert, special-ops gear, his face criss-crossed by camouflage war paint. A dozen men stood behind him in similar dress, two carrying RPG's while the others were more lightly armed. Teal'c stood with them, his expression grim, staff weapon gripped tightly in one hand. It was a testament to the seriousness of the situation that the marine colonel hadn't complained once about having the Jaffa on his team. He might not trust Teal'c, but he was realistic about his skills and, since his team might well be walking into a viper's nest, he was just as happy to have the best along. "We'll get 'em back, O'Neill," the marine added, then looked fully at Jack, "or flatten the city trying."
A muscle pulsed in Jack's jaw as he nodded. He'd rather they just brought Carter and Fraiser back. He hated the idea of turning the mission into the city over to the marines, but Hammond had specifically ordered him to command the heavy artillery and let Makepeace take the special ops team inside.
"You have my word, Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c added quietly, "I will return with them or not at all."
"I know, Teal'c," Jack said through gritted teeth, wishing someone would give him some reassurances that were just a little more goddamned reassuring. He turned toward Makepeace. "Get moving. Don't worry, we'll give you time."
Makepeace nodded and waved to his men as he turned toward the trail.
"Wait!" Daniel Jackson broke in, drawing every eye his direction.
"What?" Jack looked at the Egyptologist, resolved that it was time to send him back toward the gate. He knew the younger man was as worried as any of them, but this was about to turn into a war, and he didn't have the experience or training to do anything to help. Better he be safe at the back.
"There's someone coming," Daniel said, passing the binoculars back to O'Neill, "two figures in what could be skirts." There was a note of hope in his voice.
Jack adjust the lenses, scanning the landscape until he found what Daniel was pointing at.
"O'Neill?" Makepeace questioned, signaling for his men to hold their positions as he hurried back.
"Definitely two figures," Jack said as he tried to make out some kind of detail that might answer the question. "And it does look like they're in skirts," he had to admit. "Really big ones." He dropped the binoculars, frowning as he stared at the two dots that were visible with the naked eye, uncertain what to make of things.
"Perhaps the Routtuans have seen our preparations and decided to surrender them," Teal'c said softly, a note of hope lightening his voice every so slightly.
"Haven't seen anybody scoping us out," Jack muttered, then glanced at the artillery positions. "But we haven't exactly been all that secretive. Let's hope you're right."
"So, do we move or not?" the marine colonel asked Jack. Hammond had put the other man in charge and, while it might make him grind his teeth, he followed the chain of command.
"Hold your position for the moment." Jack would just as soon avoid any violence if possible. Getting people killed because of his screwup in communication wasn't something he had any desire to do. If the Routtuans were willing to return his people without a fight, he was more than happy to play it that way. "I'm going down there."
"I will accompany you," Teal'c said as he joined Jack on the trail, easily keeping pace.
"Wait for me," Daniel said, jogging to catch up with them. Jack and Teal'c both flashed a look his way, but didn't argue. He'd spotted the figures headed their way. That earned him the right to come along.
By the time they were halfway down the base of the rocky crag, it was obvious that whoever was headed their way was definitely female. Either that, or the local men were into hoopskirts and low cut bodices ... not to mention narrow waists and the ability to carry off an off the shoulder gown like it was nobody's business.
Jack sincerely hoped the figures headed their way were female, since anything else was going to be deeply disturbing.
"It is them," Teal'c said confidently several minutes later as the newcomers drew close enough to make out sunlight glinting off of glittering crowns of gold and copper hair.
"I do believe it is," Jack agreed as he stared at the odd sight headed their way. They were both wearing gowns that left slender shoulders bare and molded to their upper bodies in a way that his male instincts found entirely too pleasing considering they were fellow officers -- and he wasn't supposed to notice such things as General Hammond had recently reminded him -- before flaring into wide belled skirts. Fraiser was in a glittering black ensemble, her eyes hidden behind a pair of dark sunglasses, while Carter wore a pale blue dress that played well against her light coloring. "So, Carter," he shouted when they drew within hearing distance, "what's with the Gone with the Wind look?"
She rolled her eyes, shoulders hunched, arms folded across her chest. "Don't ask?" she pleaded, miserable with embarrassment. She would almost have preferred walking up to her teammates naked to the outfit she was stuck in. She knew Jack O'Neill well enough to be comfortably certain he was never going to let her live this down.
Fraiser glanced back at the blond, a hint of a grin lifting the corners of her mouth. "Don't mind Sam," she drawled. "She's just not thrilled with the maid-of-honor look."
"You're both okay though?" Daniel asked quickly.
Fraiser glanced at Carter, who shrugged. "Yeah. More or less. One or two bruises, but that's about it."
"Were you released to deter our attack?" Teal'c questioned.
"Your...." the doctor trailed off and looked up, noting the armaments and lines of men visible over the edge of the cliff. "Oh." She shook her head. "I doubt anyone noticed, actually. Everybody's pretty hung-over this morning."
Jack found himself trying to decide if that statement included the doctor herself. Or maybe she was just still drunk. She was looking a little too happy for someone who'd been kidnapped and forced into an unwanted marriage with a kid young enough to be her son. And she'd dealt with marriage by getting bombed before, so it wasn't like it was a new thing for her. "But you were released?" He turned a hard look on Sam, hoping for a little more clarity, worried it might be some kind of trick that they should respond to quickly to get everyone out okay.
"Um ... not exactly..." his 2IC exhaled a little uncertainly, then continued as she saw the colonel's mystified expression, "not released exactly, I mean ... but we're free ... we just ... umm ... it's kind of complicated actually." She shrugged a little helplessly.
Janet, meanwhile, tipped her head down and eyed Jack, then looked back up at the line of troops and heavy artillery. She tipped her sunglasses down and peered at him over the top rim. "Sir," she said a little hesitantly, "I gather you were planning on firing all of ... that ... in that direction?" she indicated the royal city.
"Well ... yeah," he said a little defensively as he turned his attention back on the doctor.
"I see," she exhaled, then indicated herself and Sam. "And did it occur to you that Captain Carter and I were also in that direction?" she enquired politely.
"Well, yeah. That's why ... we were gonna take the walls down so we could take you back."
She nodded again, eyebrows lifting in polite disbelief. "Remind me to continue rescuing myself in the future," she murmured as she peered back up at the standing battle lines. "Much safer that way by the look of it." She pushed her glasses back up before proceeding on past the colonel.
Jack and Daniel traded confused looks. "What happened?" the Egyptologist finally asked Sam, who was keeping pace with the doctor.
Both women turned back and Janet looked vaguely uncomfortable. "Well, truthfully, I don't normally believe in corporal punishment," she said without explanation, leaving the men even more confused than they had been before.
"She spanked him," Sam translated. "Turned the little bugger right over her knee and went at it."
Janet began the massaging the hand in question. "I think I bruised myself," she observed.
Jack O'Neill's brain was starting to hurt, which wasn't that unusual on the Stargate Project, but the weird part was that for once, he wasn't the only one.
"God-King?" Daniel said by way of question, then added, "Unlimited power, death to all who defy ... yadda, yadda, yadda. Why didn't he have you killed?"
"Oh that," Janet murmured as though it was a dumb question. "We all assumed that the whole system was based on a presumption of gender superiority, but it's not, it's an age thing ... and when the oracle decided to proclaim me Goddess-Queen, I pretty much became boss of the whole planet...including his highness," she explained, her tone almost perky. She offered a mockingly wide smile as she allowed the news time to sink in.
"You mean you...." Daniel didn't finish the question as he struggled with the concept.
"Yup, it's all mine now." She made an airy gesture. "Which meant the guards couldn't stop me when I turned the little wretch over my knee for a much-needed lesson in manners--" He'd been nice enough to her once the announcement was made -- terror can have that effect on a person -- but had exploded and begun hurling threats at the servants almost immediately.
"Actually, I think some of them were ready to buy popcorn and settle in for the show," Sam informed her. "They didn't look all that bothered when he was wailing like banshee."
"Well, of course not. They're the ones he's been screaming at and threatening on a daily basis for the last several years."
Jack massaged his temple firmly. The headache was getting worse.
Janet continued, her tone practical. "Then I threw everyone out, and Adoh and I had a very serious discussion about how he's allowed to treat people if he wants to keep me from ever coming back." Her smile turned absolutely evil. "And then I made a few changes in how things are run around here before we all agreed that it would probably be best if I carried the message of the High God Father through the Stargate--" She was still smiling that evil, nasty smile, and it was starting to give Jack the creeps.
"I really wanted her to say, 'Considah dis a divahce,'" Sam added in a bad Ahnuld impression.
O'Neill just looked at his 2IC a little hopelessly. "So, no more marriage?" he questioned, his gaze swinging back to Fraiser.
"Technically? Actually, once I was proclaimed Goddess-Queen, the marriage was nullified, since he became my brother according to local law." She looked at Sam and rolled her eyes. "And I thought my real siblings were brats when we were growing up. However, the good news is we're free to go ... and I only have to return if he needs another spanking... which I promised his sister I'd be willing to do if he gets too obnoxious again. It seemed like the right thing to do since I kinda left her in charge...."
"Of course," Daniel muttered dazedly. He shook his head as if that might help settle it all into place. It didn't do any good. He was still completely baffled.
Teal'c just stood listening, though one eyebrow did rise ever so slightly.
"But somehow I don't think anyone's too eager for me to come back and demand any of my godly rights--" A little change was one thing. Nuking the whole system quite another. Even the oracle had been starting to look a little green around the gills after Janet had finished with her proclamations. Only the harem girls had still been relentlessly cheerful by then -- but then they had every reason to be cheerful, since they were suddenly in a considerably more powerful position, even if they were overly inclined toward heavy sighs and fluttery eyed looks that were more than a little confusing.
"And I know I'm not welcome back," Sam drawled, eyes glittering with good humor as she massaged her right hand, then shook it as if to resettle the bones.
Jack suddenly noticed her knuckles were bruised and reddened. She looked entirely too happy for someone who'd apparently been in a fight.
"Well, you did kind of break the prime minister's jaw," Janet reminded Sam.
Carter's smile broadened a notch, becoming positively feral. "I did, didn't I?" she said happily, then noted her teammates' shocked looks. "He deserved it," she assured them.
Jack didn't know what to say to that. He just didn't. "Oh."
"That he did," Janet agreed cheerfully. "Nice enough man, but he really needs a few lessons in hospitality." She glanced over at Sam as they continued up the trail.
The blond continued massaging her hand. "Well, hopefully he'll remember some of the pointers I gave him ... once his jaw heals." She looked at Janet with a knowing grin. "So, how many people you figure will stay now that they can't legally be held inside the royal city?"
The doctor shrugged. "Probably most of them ... though marrying his highness off may get a lot trickier
Both women laughed as they disappeared around a bend in the trail.
Jack O'Neill scratched the back of his head thoughtfully, then peered at his two teammates and shrugged. "I guess we stand down," he sighed, sounding relieved, if entirely too mystified for his own comfort. "And go home." He looked back after the women. "And I don't know about anyone else, but I can't wait to hear the full story in the debriefing."
"Indeed," Teal'c exhaled, keeping pace with O'Neill as they began to climb back up the trail.
"Oh yeah," Daniel added meaningfully.
* * * * * *
Janet flopped into bed, heaving a relieved sigh as she sank into the comfort of her familiar mattress, snuggling under the heavy quilt and nosing into a sizeable collection of pillows. After two weeks of lousy food, less than comfortable quarters, and the stress of constantly being screamed at, it was beyond wonderful to relax into her own, blessedly quiet home, in her own bed, after a meal of recognizable food, none of which made her want to retch. Despite bone deep exhaustion and the leftover soreness from the unintentional pummeling she'd received from the Routtuan castle guards, not to mention a two mile walk in shoes that had never been meant for anything rougher than a polished marble floor, and an overlong debriefing in which General Hammond had been rather insistent about getting every single solitary detail of what had happened during her kidnapping (like that was going to happen), she was feeling remarkably pleased with herself.
Life was good.
Relaxed. Easygoing. And she was very nearly asleep.
And then the phone rang.
She rolled onto her back to glare at the thing as the sound continued to pierce the night until she heard the faint echo of her own voice in the livingroom as the answering machine picked up. Someone responded, but the voice was too muted for her to tell who it was. She waited a moment, considered her options, then rolled back onto her stomach and pulled a pillow over her head.
The SGC had other doctors; ones who hadn't just gotten back from a kidnapping. Let 'em call one of them.
Except only moments after the answering machine hung up in the livingroom, the phone by the bed was ringing again. She sighed in surrender, accepting it as a sure sign they weren't going away. If they weren't willing to just leave a message, they never went away. Her colleagues at the SGC could be remarkably persistent when they were of a mind. Some days she suspected several of them got their training moonlighting in phone sales.
"Fraiser here," she groaned into the phone as she dragged it off the cradle.
"Janet ... oh ... did I wake you?"
Much as she liked Sam, there were days she could be a little obtuse. "Ah huh," she groaned, bringing the cordless phone along as she rolled back onto her stomach, pulling the comforter and pillows over her head as she moved. The quilt caught on the antenna and threatened to wrench the phone out of her hand. Growling softly, she yanked it free and settled into something approaching a comfortable position, the phone braced between her ear and shoulder so she didn't have to hold it in place.
"Sorry," Sam exhaled without a trace of sincerity. She had her scientifically excited voice on, which meant she was ramped up and enjoying herself. Janet seriously considered whimpering. Sam could not only go for days without sleep when she was in that state, she tended to drag others along for company. Normally, she enjoyed it, but just then, she was nowhere near up to the task. "I just thought you might like to know that SG-7 has the observatory set up on P8X-987 and General Hammond has okayed SG-1 gating there to help with Project 169, studying the singularity."
Janet considered pointing out that it wasn't really her field, and even if it had been, she still wouldn't have cared, but the passion in the other woman's voice held her back. God knew, Sam loved the science of it all above everything else. Dashing that excited fervor required a crueler edge than Janet had ever possessed. "That's great," she sighed unenthusiastically instead. "I know you were hoping you could be there." She knew the general had held back on promising anything since SG-1 was his lead team, and the study of the accretion disk of a black hole visible during a solar eclipse was only a middling priority -- particularly when compared with the life and death issues the SGC faced every day. Still, Hammond was smart enough to understand that a woman like Carter needed intellectual stimulation like she needed air to breathe. As a result, he gave her free rein when he could.
"Yeah," Sam sighed happily. "With all the trouble on P4R-I3X, I was afraid we'd have too much catching up to do on other projects to have time, but the general okayed things. Gave me a call to let me know."
"Tha's nice," Janet mumbled sleepily, her body so exhausted it was starting to get a little numb here and there.
She heard the sudden hesitation enter Sam's voice as it occurred to her that her friend was so dead-tired the call bordered on being a séance. "Guess I should let you get some sleep, huh?" she murmured.
"Mmm, prob'ly," the doctor mumbled, eyes closed, her body limp. She thought Sam had already hung up when the blond spoke again, her voice low and admiring.
"Well, before I go, I just wanted to say how well I think you handled everything on P4R-I3X."
Janet pushed up on her elbow, frowning in surprise. "Really?" she said a little doubtfully. She was inclined to think she'd been a basket case, and nobody would ever want to let her near a gate again as long as she was on the project.
"Yeah ... I told General Hammond as much when we talked."
"Really?" Janet repeated. Normally she was considerably more clever when it came to words, but exhaustion has a way of dulling even the sharpest tongue.
"Yeah," Sam repeated a little uncertainly. A brief moment passed, then she quietly added, "I told him how well you handled the pressure ... and how you worked things out to help the Routtuans, and still get us access to the library, and you and I freed without a fight--"
A tiny embarrassed laugh escaped the doctor's lips as she flopped onto her back. "Just trying to do my best," she sighed, staring at the ceiling blankly.
"And, personally, I think Sélan will do really well as the goddess-queen's personal representative. She's a smart kid, and she loves the little pain in the ass even if he is her brother."
Another soft laugh and then the doctor shook her head. "I thought Idri was going to faint again when I announced that one."
"Well, for what it's worth, I think you did the right thing by opening things up ... making it so people can't be forced to stay in the royal city against their will ... or be forced into marriage--"
"I hope so," Fraiser exhaled thoughtfully. It was one hell of a responsibility. One she would just as soon not have had.
"Well, the oracle clearly thought it was time. She gave you enough clues in her speech."
A moment passed as Janet sleepily contemplated Sam's comments. True, the oracle had clearly been pushing for opening things up, but she was comfortably certain she hadn't expected to find herself dealing with the young woman ... or a harem of giggling girls either. Janet frowned. "Sam," she asked as something occurred to her, "do you have any idea what was up with those harem girls? Are they all asthmatic or something? I swear, the whole bunch just kept breathing hard and fainting." She shook her head in confusion. "I was beginning to wonder if I should open an allergy clinic."
A brief moment of total silence greeted the question. "Why would I know?" Sam asked too quickly. "I mean, you're the doctor. If you don't know, why would you expect me to?"
Janet shrugged. "Just asking. I thought maybe Sélan had mentioned something while you two were talking--"
"No, no," Sam said quickly. "Nothing about any health problems ... just ... cultural ... stuff.... Well, I shouldprobablyletyougetbacktosleepnow." The words were coming fast now as she all but stumbled over her own tongue to end the call.
Probably finally noticed I'm too tired for this, Janet thought sleepily. Sam tended to notice things like that ... eventually. "Mmm, yeah, sleep, sounds heavenly," she sighed, rolling back onto her stomach.
A momentary pause and then Sam continued, "It sounds like you could use it," she said, her voice suddenly softer and appealingly gentle, the tenderness in her tone reminding Janet of her mother when she'd been very small, sometime before the bedtime ritual had included the words, "Now!" and "Or Else!" She'd been a high energy child, inclined to use every trick in the book to avoid actually going to bed. Looking back, it was wonder neither parent had throttled her somewhere around the ninth glass of water of an evening. She was drawn back to the present by Sam's whispered, "Well, you crash and get some rest. You've got tomorrow off and things should be quiet when you get back. We're the only mission going out on Wednesday and it's not like black-hole gazing is likely to cause many injuries. You can kick back, catch up on a little paperwork and go home early."
"Speaking of sounding heavenly," Janet exhaled, liking the idea of some stress free downtime entirely too much.
"Yeah, everything should be quiet for awhile." The blond's voice was low, lulling Janet into a trance-like state that was only one quarter step removed from unconsciousness. "Sleep now."
Janet barely heard Carter's whispered, "G'night," before she clicked the phone off and slid off into an exhausted slumber.
* * * * * *
Thousands of candles glowed from every corner of the greatest hall in the kingdom, their flickering light reflecting off the polished gold mirrors and chandeliers and glittering on the jewels that graced the throats and gowns of the women circling the room on the arms of eager-eyed men anxious to please.
She stepped into this fairy tale world, a peasant in a stolen gown, wondering if she'd given herself away every time someone looked her way. "No," she reminded herself. They had no way of knowing. The room was full of strangers -- royalty from nations near and far -- and the gossamer dress she wore, with its glittering diamond trim and silver threads, was as fine as any in the great hall.
She only meant to slip in and see this alien world of the rich and powerful, but dark eyes fell on a tall figure standing amid an adoring crowd and she couldn't move. His back was to her, but it was definitely the prince himself. Standing amid the royal courtiers, his blond hair caught the light in sculpted, gold waves, while square shoulders and a tapered back were ramrod straight in a white satin, officer's tailcoat. He was speaking animatedly to his advisors, long, graceful hands slicing the air as they punctuated every word. Then the prince turned, laughing blue eyes locking with her own across the crowded hall, drawing her into their intimate embrace.
In an instant, the peasant fell and fell hard, her heart shuddering under the impact of emotions she barely knew how to feel. She was already gone when she realized the prince was no prince. No man had ever had eyes so gentle, or a mouth so soft. She'd heard there was a royal princess who defied convention by defending their kingdom with the same determination as her brothers, but had dismissed the story as nothing more than gossip. Obviously, it was something more. Much more.
Suddenly the princess broke from her advisors, waving them off when they would have pulled her back. Tall and graceful, her face an amazing mix of sharp angles and soft features, her eyes remained locked on the peasant as she started forward, not seeming to notice the way the crowd automatically parted to make way for her passage.
Watching that determined advance, the peasant stood utterly frozen, barely able to breathe, certain she was about to be found out and thrown into the stocks for her presumption. She would have bolted if not for the fact that her feet suddenly seemed to have been glued firmly to the floor.
"And from which kingdom do you hail?" the blond princess (and why was it princesses were always blond and blue-eyed, the peasant wondered -- genetics, a flair for the poetic, or simply a run on bleach and contacts in the royal stock holdings) murmured as she drew close. "I'd like to know so that I may thank whichever ally sent you here tonight." A gentle hand caught her own, lifting it to velvety lips, the delicate caress sending a bolt of pure pleasure through every nerve ending in her body.
"I ... uh ... it's just that--" The peasant couldn't take her eyes off shapely lips as they slowly spread into a wide smile. A faintly callused fingertip landed on her lips, ending the torment of a babbling non-answer.
"Take a breath," came the gentle advice, "then simply say it. That's how I get through battle."
"You've been in many battles?" She hated the thought.
Square shoulders tipped in a diffident shrug, as though it was nothing. "A few ... unfortunately. Sometimes it's necessary to defend our home." The princess' smile became positively charming. "Now, will you reward a simple soldier fighting for all our lives the pleasure of your name, M'lady?"
"May I have this dance, Your Highness?" The formally asked question came from a man in uniform, the medals across his chest proclaiming him a highly decorated general. His eyes gleamed hungrily as they fell on his leader, but she dismissed his efforts with a wave of a hand.
"After the trenches, General, I'd think you'd be eager for different company." The confident crystalline gaze never wavered from the nervous peasant as she spurned him. "I know I am."
The peasant saw a flicker of jealousy in the soldier's dark eyes, but he ducked his head in acknowledgment and drew away from them.
"And still no name," the princess whispered, studying the peasant with a calculating look.
"I-I'm no one," the peasant whispered. She would have fled but a tender hand landed on her bare shoulder as she turned away, just barely stroking, the impossibly light touch leaving trails of fire on her skin.
"Now, that I can't agree with." The hand on her shoulder continued the slow, measured caresses, each touch sending a fresh burst of heat over achingly sensitized flesh. "You're definitely here. I can see you, hear your voice," the princess' voice dropped a notch, throbbing with unspoken heat, "feel your skin," the soft words took on an unpredictably, and unexpectedly erotic spin, "so you most definitely are someone. The only question is who."
"You don't understand." The peasant could almost feel the stocks locking around her wrists and throat, but she couldn't lie to this woman. "I'm not who you think I am."
"Then who are you, little princess, other than a than a beautiful seraphim sent to steal my heart," a single fingertip trailed lightly down the back of her neck, tracing the line of her spine until it disappeared under the low cut edge of the gown, "and remind me what I'm protecting when I'm on the front lines?"
No words came for a long moment. The peasant swallowed hard, fighting the urge to simply lose herself in the delicate caresses sliding over her shoulders. It was such a tiny bit of contact, yet so incredibly sensual it took her breath away. "I'm no princess," she whispered as she turned to face her ruler again. "Not even a lady. I'm a commoner ... and a poor one at that.... I could be punished for even being here." She stood waiting for those incredible eyes to turn disdainful, to see the generous mouth twist into a sneer.
But the princess' look only gentled. "I knew there was something I liked about you," she whispered, leaning closer, not seeming to care about the difference in their station.
"Why aren't you turning me in? You know it's against the royal edicts for someone like me to be here."
The princess responded with a wry laugh. "One of my father's more foolish proclamations." She ran her thumb along the full curve of a generous lower lip. "When I'm fighting on the lines, it's as much for commoners as any lord or lady." She shrugged, "Maybe even more ... since they're the ones who actually get things done around here."
She blinked in confusion, not understanding the total acceptance and caring at all. "Don't you understand what I'm saying?"
The princess' charming smile turned ironic, as though she got a joke no one else did. "I've seldom been accused of stupidity, so I think so."
The peasant didn't know what to say to that and stood with her mouth hanging open for a brief moment. "B-but...." She trailed off as a warm hand caught her own, a callused thumb stroking her knuckles.
"Come with me," the princess murmured suddenly, tugging her along. She paused long enough to look back. "Unless you don't want to?" she said by way of question, her eyes showing an unexpected hint of vulnerability.
She was lost all over again, a peasant so in love with something she could never have that she ached with it. She knew she should run as fast away as fast as possible. When it was time for someone to pay the piper, she would be the one whose life became the coin. Even knowing that, she couldn't refuse. "I want to," she breathed.
The princess' silky-soft mouth tipped up in a pleased grin. "Come then." An ornately dressed courtier momentarily blocked their way, but she chased him off with a look, her voice firm as she informed him, "Tell my father I've found what I'm looking for."
Then they were hurrying through the palace, until finally, they were alone together in the royal apartments. A fire danced and played in a large fireplace, warming the peasant's skin as she was pulled forward into its light. "What did you mean by what you told that man?" she whispered huskily as her ruler turned to face her.
The princess' head canted to one side, her eyes dancing merrily. "What do you think?"
An uncertain headshake was the only reply as the peasant turned away to stare into the fire. Despite her denial, she knew perfectly well what use royalty had for the peasantry. And she knew she'd grab at even that tiny bit of this woman, if the chance was offered.
Gentle hands curved to her shoulders, carefully urging her back around, blue eyes meeting brown. "My father threw this party to find me a spouse," the royal heir explained practically. "And now I've done so."
It was like being struck by lightning and surviving. The peasant didn't know what to say or do as her heart clenched with desire for it to be true. But even as hope burned in her breast, the truth was an ugly reality. "A princess can't marry a peasant."
"It seems to me the only advantage to being royalty is the freedom to marry who you wish. Otherwise, it's a lousy deal." A gentle hand found hair burnished to a coppery glow by the fire, and graceful fingers combed it back from the peasant's brow, careless of the pins that slipped loose to let it tumble down around bare shoulders. "But if you prefer, think of me as a simple soldier ... begging for her lady's graces." She ducked her head then, cautiously seeking soft lips, allowing ample opportunity to pull away.
The peasant couldn't have pulled away had her life depended on it as that silky mouth claimed her own. Lost in heaven, thick arousal pulsing through every nerve ending, her breath came in ragged gasps. The sweet kiss continued for an eternity, ebbing and flowing, while hands stroked and touched, peeling unwanted clothing aside. The princess threw her jacket aside and loosened the back of the peasant's bodice, spreading her hands against her narrow back as she tugged the garment down enough to taste the upper curve of warm breasts. Groaning low in her throat, the peasant tipped her head back, fingers working into thick, blond hair to draw her new lover even closer.
And then the princess leaned back to give peasant free rein to explore at will. Shaking hands pulled the front of her fine, linen shirt apart, then delicately trailed over smooth curves. Drawn to touch and tease this woman's body as she never had any man's, the peasant pushed her shirt back off her shoulders as she leaned forward. She tasted the princess's moan along with the faint salt of her skin and felt slender fingers comb through her hair. Fascinated by the flex and play of taut muscle, her mouth trailed lower and she pressed her princess back as she outlined firm abdominal muscles in tiny kisses. She found a pale, white scar and felt her chest constrict with the realization that this woman had been injured somewhere along the way. Wanting to soothe some of that long ago pain, she fitted her hands to the curve of the princess' ribcage, steadying herself as she trailed the very tip of her tongue along the old injury. Strong hands found her shoulders, holding on tightly and already taut muscles contracted as the princess gasped, her body trembling under the force of her arousal.
"Tell me this means yes," the princess begged at last as she pressed her peasant back to stare down at her, her skin flushed with passion, eyes glazed with need.
The peasant lifted her fingers to a soft cheek. "They'll never allow us more than this." She knew the rules and how society enforced them. Then those velvet lips came down, teasing hers until she could refuse her new lover nothing.
"Then we'll find a way in spite of them--"
Janet snapped awake with a low groan, her body almost painfully aroused, her heart thudding solidly in her chest as she dragged air into her lungs in harsh gasps. God, she'd just about....
Oh, that didn't bear thinking about.
She flopped onto her stomach, folding her arms over her head as she fought the urge to finish what the dream had started. It was just a dream, she reminded herself. Just the most goddamned erotic dream she'd ever had, beating out the hormone driven sexathons she'd had under Hathor's influence by at least a mile. Not only erotic dreams now, but whole plots and feminist versions of Cinderella with herself as Cinder and Sam and as Princess Charming. And she didn't even have the comfort of blaming Hathor for this one. Those she'd been able to talk herself through, but this.... This was.....
Oh, this was bad. Very, very bad.
Not necessarily, Janet tried to remind herself, going over every college psych class she'd ever sat through and struggling to remember that, as often as not, even the most erotic of dreams had no real meaning. They were just the subconscious mind's way of experimenting a bit. She pushed up on her elbows, talking herself through it all, using all the right psychology arguments to push the panic and arousal down through logic, and if that didn't work, sheer force of will. It wasn't so surprising, really. She'd had all the hormone-driven, erotic dreams, then been locked away in a magic kingdom with Sam, their contact eroticized by fear and desperation. It was nothing at all worth worrying about.
She felt arousal recede, some of the burning heat fading from her veins.
Nothing. It was nothing in reality. With luck, she wouldn't even remember any of it had happened in the morning. Right. Wouldn't remember it. Yeah, that was gonna happen. She pushed that thought down, sublimating it into professional concerns as she concentrated on some of the work matters that had occurred during her absence. That was safe and not likely to cause any level of excitement. She exhaled, feeling a measure of relaxation slide through her muscles, and continued mentally going over schedules and events as she felt her body begin to go limp again. More schedules and business and she began to float, sleep threatening to overcome her, until finally, she surrendered once again.
* * * * * *
"...time to awake, Sleeping Beauty," a soft voice whispered then she felt silky lips teasing her own and bringing her back to life. Her eyes fluttered open, meeting a vivid blue gaze and the most beautiful smile she'd ever seen in her life.
"Who?" she whispered dazedly, uncertain where she was. She looked around her glass casket in confusion. "I was eating an apple and then...." She shook her head as though she could throw off the fog of confusion, then looked back up at her blond, blue-eyed rescuer, almost instantly lost in those eyes. "Who are you?" she whispered in a voice full of longing. She felt her pulse accelerate and her body throb to life as that mouth found hers in a hungry kiss.
"Some day your princess will come," a silky voice whispered as their lips parted....