Lines in the Sand -- Part 2 by cheerful minion

Title: Lines in the Sand
Author: ocean gazer: quietoceangazer@yahoo.com
Date: 5 Nov., 2K
Rating: R ish for violence and mature themes
Category: serious angst
Archive: yes, if I�ve already given permission (otherwise, just ask)
Summary: after a traumatic event, Sam and Janet have feelings to sort out
Disclaimer: I wish I owned �em, but I don�t. The characters belong to some perfectly nice folks at MGM, Showtime, Gekko, etc. I�m just stealing them to work out my own demons and will return them as good as new. I do this for love, not money; I invite any of the aforementioned owners to steal freely.
WARNING: Refs to character assault and character rape, though nothing too explicit. Minor, minor, minor religious ref. If you are looking for sex or for a traditional happy ending, do not bother reading this story.
Notes: I have no idea any longer if this story has merit� it simply has demanded to be written. My apologies if it sucks. Criticism welcome as long as it isn�t flames; comments in general are helpful. I owe thanks to rutherford and Phil for conversations that helped me with some of the ideas; however all faults are entirely mine.

| Part 1 | Part 2 |

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Part 2

Janet woke the next morning to the blare of the alarm clock. She reached out and slammed her fist against it. She lay back in bed--her brain still foggy with sleep--and was momentarily confused by the warmth of a presence beside her in bed.

Sam�s voice, protesting the presence of sunlight, filtered through Janet�s head and the events of the previous night came back to Janet with the subtlety of a foghorn. She rolled over onto her side and let her hand drift out to brush disheveled blonde hair off Sam�s forehead, careful to avoid the lacerations.

Sam looked up at Janet, who had propped herself up on one elbow. Janet smiled down at her friend. "How are you feeling, Sam?"

Sam groaned in response.

Janet narrowed her eyes as she surveyed her friend. She frowned, and spoke quietly. "You don�t have to go into the complex today, Sam. Why don�t you just stay here and rest. Watch some movies, read a book�" She noticed Sam�s reaction to the thought and continued, "No one will think any less of you if you take some time away."

Sam sighed, very deeply. "I think I need to work. I need something else to distract me for a little while."

She wouldn�t meet Janet�s gaze and there was a guarded quality to her voice. Janet reached out to stroke Sam�s hair, her voice as gentle as she could make it.

"Are you sorry about yesterday, about telling me what you did?"

Sam did look up then, her eyes dark with concern. With a shock, Janet realized the concern was focused on her. "That�s not what I meant, Janet. I wouldn�t have said anything at all if I didn�t want to�believe me, I�m very good at keeping things private." She broke off for a moment and turned her gaze to the wall. "I just meant I need to have something to focus on, to keep me from constantly dwelling on the past."

And then her voice dropped so low that Janet could barely hear her. "I�m not sorry for confiding in you; I just hope I didn�t make you uncomfortable�"

Janet moved her hand to cup Sam�s cheek and she turned the woman�s head. Sam looked up and Janet pressed a light kiss to Sam�s temple. "Sam, I cannot tell you how honored I am that you let down your guard with me."

She noted the flicker of relief on Sam�s face and her tone turned to doctor mode. "I know that you are wanting to escape your memories for a while, but at some point you are going to have to deal with them. You can�t continue to keep something this serious bottled up inside, or it will end up destroying you."

To Janet�s extreme surprise, Sam nodded thoughtfully, rather than insisting angrily that she could handle things. Carter�s voice indicated she was as surprised by her reaction as Janet was.

"I know, Janet. I just need some time, so everything isn�t so raw. I thought I could handle this, but after last night, I realize I need to talk about it. Just�not yet."

Janet stroked Sam�s cheek lightly, careful of the bruises there. "Take all the time you need, Sam. I�m not going anywhere." They lay, looking at each other, and Janet sensed Sam was drawing strength from the simple touch.

It was Janet who broke the spell, turning briefly to look over her shoulder at the alarm clock. "We�d better get going. I don�t suppose General Hammond will be overly impressed if we come strolling in around noon."

Sam�s eyes widened and she sat bolt upright in bed. "What time is it?" There was an edge of paranoia in her voice.

Janet laughed reassuringly. "Oh, it�s about 7:30."

Sam swatted her on the arm and Janet raised an eyebrow. "You have to admit, that got you up and moving."

Sam rolled her eyes, and Janet smiled widely. "What did I do?" she breathed in her best innocent voice. Sam simply shook her head.

******

Five days later�

"So are you going to stand around and admire the scenery, or are you going to help me unpack the car?" Janet called to Sam, who was standing next to the car, staring down at the sparkling blue lake at the bottom of the hill.

Janet smiled to herself when absolutely no response came from Carter. She took that as a good sign; getting Sam to agree to go on vacation with her and spend a week at Doctor Matthews� cabin had been about like pulling teeth. Sam�s usual idea of taking it easy was to only spend 8 hours in the lab on her day off instead or 12 or 13.

It actually had been a fairly good week. Sam�s bruises were healing quite rapidly, though the lacerations on her head were still livid and ugly. Sam cleared her psych evaluation and the two women had made quite a lot of headway on Janet�s research projects. Hammond�s investigation into the Jacobs situation was handled quickly and discreetly.

There were, of course, rumors floating around the SGC, but the talk Janet managed to overhear indicated that those who knew of the incident only wished they could have walked in and thrown a few punches at Jacobs themselves. There was a nearly universal disdain of the man and even those who weren�t overly fond of Carter felt sorry for her in light of who her attacker was.

The mood between the two women stayed fairly light and they had not delved back into Sam�s past demons. Janet was trying to trust in Sam to talk to her when the time was right. The only thing that had been difficult for Janet was the realization that the more time she spent with Sam, and the more Sam let down her guard around Janet, the more Janet felt like she was falling in love with her friend. She wanted to tell Sam, wanted to be honest with her, but she didn�t quite know how to do it, or whether she even should do it.

Pulling her thoughts back to the present, Janet called out Sam�s name. "So are you going to give me a hand here?"

Sam turned around and walked back to take the suitcase out of Janet�s grasp. "Sorry," Sam said apologetically. "It�s just been a while since I�ve taken a vacation."

She turned and walked over to the cabin door, pausing to catch the key Janet tossed at her. Janet watched Sam, focusing in on the grace and strength of the other woman.

Shaking her head to keep from staring too noticeably, Janet muttered to herself, "Gonna be a very interesting week."

******

Janet took a long sip of wine, straight from the bottle, noticing in surprise that the bottle was nearly empty. With lightening quick reasoning, she figured that she had drunk most of it, since Sam had only finished one glass and was working on a second glass. Janet certainly didn�t feel like she had been drinking that much, but then she was too relaxed to care.

Janet was sitting in a beanbag on the floor in front of a roaring fire, and Sam was sitting between her legs, lying back against her. Sam had originally been sitting next to her, but Janet had insisted on giving her a shoulder massage, and once the massage was done, she had pulled Sam back to lean against her.

Janet knew, with the still sober part of her brain, that she was playing with fire�simply the heat of Sam�s body pressed against her own was making Janet aware of her own growing desire to be close to Sam. She tried to rationalize things by reminding herself that Sam had not even voiced a protest, but she knew damn well that was not a good rationale.

Sam was one of the smartest people Janet knew, but her ability to pick up on subtle cues of sexual interest was not well developed. Sam had barely believed it when Daniel and Janet had both told her that Lt. Simmons had a crush on her, and his crush was so obvious that even O�Neill had noticed it.

Janet drank the final bit of wine from the bottle and tried to sort through her feelings for her friend. Not that the alcohol was helping her reasoning process any, but it made her more able to be honest with herself.

She hadn�t gotten very far in her mental sorting, when Sam spoke up abruptly. "This is really nice, Janet. I�m really glad you invited me to stay with you. I really appreciate everything you�ve done for me."

Janet murmured something appropriate against Sam�s ear, and was surprised when Sam reached out and polished off half her glass of wine in one swallow.

There was silence for a while and then Sam spoke again. "I�ve been thinking a lot about what you said, about needing to talk about what�what happened to me."

Sam turned slightly in Janet�s embrace, sitting sideways with her head against Janet�s shoulder. Janet could feel the warm play of Sam�s breath against the hollow of her throat. Janet brought one hand up to caress the back of Sam�s stiff neck, as Sam began her tale.

"This is really new for me�I realized in high school that I liked girls, not boys, but I never had anyone to talk to about it. My father, with his military background, would never have understood. He used to make cracks about discharging gays from the service by shooting them. And my mother was�was gone."

Janet sighed in sympathy, knowing how much her mother�s death had haunted Sam. The intensity in Sam�s voice sobered Janet, somehow serving to chase away the lingering effects of the wine.

Sam continued her narrative, in slow, halting sentences. "I got my share of harassment in college. I was never open about my sexuality�most of my friends didn�t even have more than a vague clue. But since I didn�t go out on dates, there were plenty of people who made all kinds of assumptions.

"It was mostly just name calling, something I could ignore. A few anonymous punches in crowded hallways, nothing too serious. But when I entered the military, there was a guy�Thomas Braun."

Sam paused, and her hand clutched tightly to the front of Janet�s shirt. Janet didn�t say anything; she was almost scared to breathe loud, not wanting to spook Sam, feeling the remembered fear radiating from Carter.

"To this day, I don�t know exactly why he focused in on me. He hounded me every chance he got, just like Jacobs. Kept saying I must be gay since I didn�t deny it. I threatened to report him for harassment, but I never did. I was barely out of training and he was an experienced officer. And that was one thing dad drilled into my head�you always obey and respect your superiors.

"It must have gone on for a couple of months. One weekend, I had a pass and went into town. I�d been seeing a woman I knew from college, and we planned to spend the weekend together. Tom must have been following me without me knowing it�" Sam�s voice broke.

"Oh, Sam," breathed Janet, tightening her embrace on the woman. Sam snuggled closer against her, and Janet could feel the tears from Sam�s eyes dampening the front of her shirt.

"Julie and I went to the movies on Friday and then went for a walk in the park. It was nearly wintertime, cold and crisp, and the park was deserted. We were laughing about something, and then suddenly Tom jumped out in front of us.

"He had a knife and was calling us horrible, hateful names I had never even heard before. He grabbed for Julie, saying he was going to hurt me by hurting my girlfriend, and I pushed her away and told her to run. He started to go after her, and I got in his way and yelled at her to keep running. I tried to fight him, tried to get away, but he was so strong and I�I was so�scared�"

Sam shuddered and Janet was aware that she had been holding her breath during Sam�s tale, barely able to believe the words falling from Sam�s lips. Janet felt like she was walking some sort of tightrope while she waited for the rest of Sam�s story.

"I saw the look in his eyes�it�s like he saw me as evil incarnate�I never truly understood until that moment what they meant by a hate crime." Sam paused to take a slow, shaky breath.

"Afterwards, he stood over me and laughed. Told me if I ever reported him, he�d do it again and the next time he would kill me. And he made damn sure I knew he already had an alibi, so that if I did try and report him, it would be my word against a whole bunch of other people�s. And I believed him; I believed he would kill me.

"He just left me there. Julie came back with her father a little while later. He was a doctor and they took me to his house and patched me up. Her father told me point blank that if he ever caught me with his daughter again, I�d regret the experience. After that night, I never saw Julie again�

"The only good thing that happened was that Tom got caught stealing and was kicked out of the service only two weeks later, so at least I didn�t have a constant reminder of that awful night�"

Sam�s tears turned into another cascade of sobs and once again, Janet felt herself crying as hard as Sam was. For the second time in a week, the two cried together, clinging tightly to each other. A small part of Janet�s mind knew the catharsis was good for both of them; the rest of her mind was overcome with grief�whether for Sam alone or for people in general, she couldn�t tell.

And mixed in with the grief was a profound awareness that Sam was a lot stronger than Janet had ever suspected. She had been the victim of a horrible thing, had managed to survive it without having anyone to confide in, all while being immersed in a super-macho culture where rape jokes and gay slams were not unheard of, and she�d somehow managed to not end up being destroyed by bitterness or hatred. Janet thought briefly that if she�d gone through that, she would have ended up as a vigilante.

And in the midst of all the emotions rolling through her, Janet suddenly realized without any sense of doubt that she was completely in love with the woman held protectively in her arms.

She had always been close to Carter; the two understood each other in a way few others could with their respective careers and scientific outlooks. But now Janet knew her feelings ran far deeper, and she cursed her lousy sense of timing, knowing that the last thing Sam needed at the moment was the complication of a would-be lover.

Janet�s musings were interrupted by a short, staccato burst of laughter from Sam. With a motherly air, Janet leaned forward and pressed a brief kiss to the top of Sam�s head. "What�s so funny?" she asked gently.

Sam pulled out of the embrace just enough to look into Janet�s eyes. Janet was surprised at the unguarded nature of Sam�s gaze, reading depths of emotion that she was not sure Sam was fully aware of�including an affection that seemed to mirror Janet�s feelings.

"I can�t believe how much better I feel," Sam announced softly; her tone and face were full of wonder, as if she had been the recipient of a miracle. "Thank you, Janet; I can�t tell you how much it means to me that you�ve been here for me through all of this."

Janet could not believe how that simple, sincere sentence made her heart rate climb and her cheeks flush with heat. Fighting to keep her voice normal, she said, "Well, that�s what friends are for."

An odd expression crossed Sam�s face at the word friend, an expression Janet couldn�t quite read. "Best friends," Sam whispered, laying her head against Janet�s shoulder again.

Janet couldn�t quite think of a response to that, so she settled for saying, "I�m glad you were able to confide in me, Sam. Believe it or not, that means a lot to me."

She bent her head, to rest her cheek against the top of Sam�s head. They sat like that while the fire died down and the night air grew chill. Sam reached out with her toes to snag a blanket lying nearby, as if she was unwilling to break the embrace. She draped it somewhat awkwardly around herself and Janet.

Janet rearranged herself so that she was lying down more than she was sitting up, and Sam managed to move along with her, as if they had melded into Siamese twins who needed a physical connection to survive.

Before long, Janet realized Sam had fallen asleep, one hand still wound in the fabric of Janet�s shirt. Janet reached out and let her hand wander freely through the messy blonde hair, surprised at her own audacity. Janet felt like her world had been upended: first, by the story Sam had told; second, by her own intense attraction to Sam; third, by the feeling she had gotten that Sam might feel something more than friendship for Janet.

Janet stared at the embers of the fire, her hand absently stroking Sam�s hair, her thoughts running in ill-defined circles. Janet�s last thought, before sleep claimed her, was that regardless of anything else, she was happy to have Sam as a friend.

******

Janet woke with a sense of disorientation. She blinked rapidly for the few seconds it took her brain to remember where she was.

She and Sam had drifted around during the night�they were now laying side by side, the blanket twisted in odd lumps around them. Janet had her head on Sam�s chest and one of Sam�s arms was draped over Janet�s back.

Janet moved fractionally, and felt Sam shift beside her. The hand on Janet�s back moved in a slow, massaging rhythm. "Morning, sleepy head," Sam said.

Janet�s response was a heartfelt yawn. Sam laughed and Janet felt Sam press a soft kiss to the top of her head, and then press a kiss to Janet�s forehead.

Janet froze at the twin gestures of affection and she heard a note of alarm in Sam�s voice. "What�s wrong, Janet?"

Janet swallowed hard, warring with herself over what she should say, if anything. Coming to absolutely no conclusion, she opted to sit up next to Sam, hoping that motion would jar her brain into gear somehow.

"Janet?"

The doctor turned her head slowly to look at Sam, seeing the concern written across the woman�s expressive face. Sam�s next words were barely a whisper. "Is it last night? I didn�t mean to overwhelm you; I just guess I felt safe enough with you to tell the story. Did I say too much?"

Janet managed a terse laugh at that, and shook her head emphatically, still not sure what to say. She simply stared at Sam, hoping beyond any rational thought that Sam would develop telepathy so she wouldn�t have to say anything.

Sam cocked her head to the side and Janet could almost see the way her mind was churning as she regarded Janet. Then, without warning and as if in response to Janet�s unuttered plea, Sam leaned in and kissed her forehead again.

"Is that what�s bothering you?" Sam asked quietly.

Janet managed only a nod in response, and she saw the way Sam�s jaw squared as the blonde took a deep breath. Janet thought she had offended her friend, and opened her mouth to formulate some sort of apology, when Sam beat her to it.

"I�m sorry, Janet. I should have thought about it before I kissed you�I don�t want to make you uncomfortable."

Sam�s eyes dropped away and Janet was completely puzzled for a long moment. Then two and two clicked together to make twenty-two and Janet�s words came in a rush of attempted reassurance.

"No, Sam, it�s not like that. I�m not at all uncomfortable with the fact that you kissed me. That�s what the problem is."

Her words trailed off and Sam�s head snapped back to look at Janet so quickly that the doctor momentarily was concerned about whiplash. "Are you saying�."

Now it was Janet�s turn to look away. She said the words quickly, knowing that otherwise she wouldn�t say them at all. "I�m saying that I liked it. Sam, I think I�m falling in love with you."

Complete silence greeted her confession and she tried to prepare for whatever reaction Sam had to her words. Idly, she wished she hadn�t finished the bottle of wine last night because she felt like she needed a drink right at the moment.

And then Janet felt gentle hands cupping her jaw and tilting her head back up. She fought the gesture, suddenly certain that she would see an odd mix of pity and rejection on Sam�s face. But the hands were strong and Janet found herself staring into Carter�s impossibly blue eyes.

Sam�s statement was simple. "You aren�t the only one; I�ve already fallen for you."

Janet couldn�t breathe for a moment, totally overwhelmed by the recognition that this was no one way street, totally overwhelmed by the realization that they were moving onto dangerous ground given their careers and their lives.

Sam folded Janet into a snug embrace and Janet just sat, clutching tightly to the other woman. Now that the truth was out and she knew for certain what she felt and what Sam felt, she couldn�t quite get her mind around it. It was no longer an idle fantasy, a game of "what if?". It was real, and for some reason Janet found herself terrified.

Sam just held her and said slowly, "I�ve always cared a lot about you, Janet. I just never figured you were even slightly bi. And, to be honest, I was scared about exploring a relationship, even if you were interested."

That last bit startled Janet. "You were scared?"

Sam chuckled, very lightly, and let her hand wander up to pet Janet�s head. "Still am," she confided. Her tone abruptly grew serious. "I�ve worked my butt off to get where I am today in my career, and my career has been the one thing I could throw myself into that wouldn�t turn on me. I�m scared of the thought of losing everything because of being in love."

Janet took a long and shaky breath, and hugged Sam even tighter. "I�ve just now thought about that�and it�s a scary thought. I have to admit, it�s reassuring to know we�re both on the same page, so to speak."

Sam chuckled again. "With which part: the being in love part or the fear part?"

Janet felt a laugh bubble up in her own chest. "Both!" she managed to sputter.

The two shared a round of nervous laughter, and then lapsed again into silence. Janet felt her thoughts spinning around in circles. She managed to say, "And about last night, Sam, you didn�t say too much. I have to admit last night was a little overwhelming, but I wouldn�t change it for anything, since it brought us closer together. In fact, I�m still in awe of how vulnerable you let yourself be with me."

Sam�s voice was quiet. "I do trust you, you know. It was a little scary to relive that experience, but I feel a lot better now. I�ve still got some things to sort out, but�" She paused briefly. "It would probably be a good idea if we got up�moved around�ate something. The last week has been pretty intense for both of us and we need a bit of a distraction, especially right now so we aren�t thinking too much. I mean, it�s not like we don�t have the time to talk later when things aren�t so raw."

Janet pulled away from Sam, finding that just the mention of doing something physical and tangible served to focus her thoughts. "Good point," Janet offered, "though I don�t know why you never told me that amateur psychologist was one of your many talents."

Sam rolled her eyes expressively.

******

In point of fact, they kept themselves distracted for nearly three days straight, having lots of fun in the process. It wasn�t like there was a dearth of options: they went hiking and window shopped in the nearby tourist town and cooked simple feasts and played board games by firelight.

At the moment, Janet sat on one of the stools in the kitchen, watching Sam cook dinner. That had been one of the many revelations of the past few days�Janet had never known Sam could do anything more complicated in the kitchen than heat up soup.

Janet took another sip of her wine as Sam neatly chopped carrots for vegetable lasagna. This day had passed in relative quiet; they planned to go hiking again but a virtual downpour dampened their enthusiasm.

Janet baked bread earlier in the afternoon, while Sam read a magazine they�d picked up at the store. And now Janet simply sat and watched her friend, feeling the comfort of the silence they shared.

Though it was true that they had avoided further conversation about their mutual attraction, Janet didn�t feel like it was a strained silence. She swirled the wine around in her glass, pondering that for a moment.

She didn�t think they were avoiding it simply in hopes that they wouldn�t have to deal with it. Janet had been in avoidance situations before, with her ex-husband and with one of her boyfriends; and those situations had been marked with an awkwardness that simply was not present between Carter and Fraiser.

Sam tapped lightly on the hand Janet had resting on the counter. "Penny for your thoughts?" she queried, finishing with the carrots and moving on to mushrooms.

Janet took another sip of wine and then set her glass down. She leaned forward with her elbows on the counter, propping her chin up against her hands.

"I�ve just been thinking," Janet began.

Sam�s eyebrows lifted, and she turned her head to look at Janet. "Now there�s a novel concept," she teased.

Janet stuck her tongue out at the blonde, who promptly returned the gesture.

"I�ve just been thinking how much I�ve enjoyed the past few days," Janet continued smoothly. "It�s very comfortable to be here with you."

Sam smiled as she sliced vegetables. "It has been nice, hasn�t it."

Janet heard a wistful note in Sam�s voice. It was subtle, but then Janet was very attuned to Sam, and picked up on it with ease.

Janet sighed quietly at the revealed sentiment. "I guess I�m starting to wonder what happens now," Janet offered quietly, not really sure it was the time or setting to bring up the subject.

Sam finished with the mushrooms and set down the knife. She leaned back against the counter edge and Janet heard the soft sigh. "I�ve been wondering the same thing," Sam confessed.

Janet stared intently at Sam�s suddenly solemn face, wishing that there were some sort of roadmap that she could have bought to figure out where she was going. Unfortunately this situation came with no maps or guideposts, no big X to cry out "You are here", no arrow pointing "This way to where you need to go".

Janet sat up straight on the stool and dropped her hands to her lap. She had no idea what she wanted to say; she wasn�t even sure what she wanted to have happen. She chastised herself mentally for bringing up a subject she felt completely unprepared to speak on.

Sam walked over to send a gentle finger scrolling across Janet�s cheek. "Cat got your tongue?" she asked seriously, as if Janet�s answer would somehow affect the fate of the universe.

Janet could only nod, suddenly and achingly aware of how much she cared for this woman, which led her to the startling realization that above all, she did not want to do anything that would jeopardize their friendship.

Sam kissed Janet�s forehead lightly and then moved away again to lean against the counter. She tapped her fingers, and Janet could see a tinge of nervousness shadow Sam�s face.

Sam spoke slowly and carefully, studying the floor as if it was a complicated mathematical equation. "I meant it when I said I am in love with you, Janet."

Janet started to tell Carter she meant it as well, but Sam cut her off gently.

"And because I love you, and I believe that you love me, I can�t risk getting into a romantic relationship with you." Sam paused, almost cringing, as if she was waiting for a loud, angry protest.

Janet sat perfectly still, absorbing the words, turning over their implications in her mind.

Sam continued quietly, her eyes locked on the floor, an aura of tension surrounding her. "I know what it�s like to have a relationship that has to be completely hidden. It puts an incredible strain on the people involved, and invariably destroys the relationship in the process. And I want to have you in my life, if only as a friend; I don�t want to risk losing you."

Janet jumped in, her voice contemplative rather than accusing. "Aren�t we hiding something anyway? I mean, even if we don�t start a romance, aren�t we already having to hide the fact that we do have feelings for each other?"

A look of incredible sadness crossed Sam�s face. "It isn�t the same thing, Janet. It�s easier to hide attraction than a relationship, since there are no lines that have been crossed. We wouldn�t have the same stress, since our daily lives would not be so intimately bound." Sam paused and then offered, "I�ve been in love with you for over a year now�can you honestly tell me that you knew?"

Janet felt her eyes widen at that. She had never even suspected a remotely sexual interest on Carter�s part. And as she thought about what Sam said, she knew the other woman was right: admitting feelings and acting on feelings had entirely different implications. Not that it was quite that simple, but the point remained valid.

Carter had gone silent, her hands fisting at her side, and Janet realized the woman was scared of Janet�s reaction to her statements. Janet swung herself down from the stool and went to stand next to Sam.

"I do love you, you know," Janet said quietly. "And I wasn�t really sure until just now what I wanted to have happen. I want us to be friends. I really would like to be more than that, but not if it means taking the risk that we�ll lose our friendship."

Sam�s tone was full of bitterness. "If it wasn�t for �Don�t ask, don�t tell��"

Janet snorted derisively. "I know. I understand the reasons behind it, but there�s got to be another way to cope with the situation. I mean, dear God, why do uptight people seem to assume that they are such hot stuff that any gay person is going to find them irresistible?"

She was gratified to hear Sam burst into laughter at that. "Isn�t that the truth?" Sam exclaimed, her tone making it obvious that she had heard some of the same locker room comments Janet had. "And for the record, not a single one of them has been anyone I�d even think to look at twice."

They shared a round of hysterical giggles, a much needed relief from the previous tension.

Sam wiped her eyes on her sleeve and finally looked up into Janet�s face. "I would love to be more than friends, but I just can�t do that right now. I don�t want to lose you, and as selfish as this sounds, I�m not ready to risk my career and I�m not ready to ask you to risk yours. And then there�s Cassie to think about�"

Janet reached out and took hold of Sam�s hand. "I thought about that too. If we were to get kicked out of the military, I�m pretty sure I would lose custody of her, given her background. She poses too great a security risk. Even if General Hammond were to be sympathetic to us--which is something I seriously doubt--he would never risk that sort of breach in security. We�ve signed some binding nondisclosure agreements, but Cass hasn�t."

Sam agreed. "Plus there�s the difficulty of what would happen when she found out about us being involved. From a couple comments she�s made, I�ve gathered that homosexuality is more of a taboo on her planet than it is here. I�m not ready to risk hurting her right now when she�s been through so much already in her life."

Janet nodded glumly; no more eager than Sam to do anything that would hurt her daughter.

Sam looked away again and said softly, "And I don�t ever want to watch you deal with threats from people like Jacobs and Tom. Right now, since everyone knows you were married, no one would seriously speculate about your private life. But if we were involved, no matter how hard we tried to hide it, someone would probably catch us in an indiscreet moment, and you would be at risk for the same sort of assault�"

Janet heard the tiny catch in her voice and squeezed tightly at the hand she held. She couldn�t find any words and settled for simple touch.

They stood in silence for a long moment and then Janet said lightly, "Just know that when circumstances change, I�ll be ready to see what life as more than friends feels like."

Sam mustered up a smile at that. "Oh, I�ll be counting on it. Don�t think that you�ll get away from me that easily."

Janet smiled in return. "Do I look like I�m running?"

A heartbeat later Sam commented, "I know this won�t always be easy. Hell, it�s not easy right now, to stand here and tell you I love you and then tell you that I just want to be friends."

Janet frowned slightly. "Easy? No. The right thing to do given the reality of our lives? Yes. For what it�s worth, Sam, I admire you a lot more now than I did half an hour ago. You�ve just been through hell, you�ve just discovered that I share your feelings, and yet you are still aware that falling in love is not a vacuum where two people can live happily ever after. There�s more at stake here than just us and our passions."

Sam sighed deeply and licked her lips self-consciously. She exhaled shakily. "You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that. I was scared that you would be downright furious with me. And for the record, I admire you a lot too, you know."

Janet gave Sam�s hand a final squeeze, and then released it. "How nice," she commented dryly. "Our very own mutual admiration society."

Sam swatted her gently on the arm. "You�re incorrigible."

Janet affected her most innocent air. "Me? You must be joking."

Sam rolled her eyes at that and Janet resumed her seat on the stool, reaching out to grab a carrot piece from the nearly forgotten cutting board.

"I am totally starving," Janet announced with an air of surprise. "I�d forgotten just how draining a heart-to-heart talk like this could be."

Sam made no verbal response, instead cutting off a slice of bread, dabbing it with butter, and offering it to Janet. The doctor took it and while she gnawed hungrily, Sam finished assembling the lasagna. She put the dish in the oven, cut her own slice of bread, and refilled Janet�s wine glass.

"We�ve got a while until dinner is ready," Sam announced, somewhat unnecessarily. "How about I build up a fire and then I beat you in a game of Scrabble?"

"Sounds good, except I�m definitely going to win," Janet retorted, jumping off the stool to follow Carter into the living room.

They had time for two games, leaving them tied at one and one. They discussed plans for the next day while they ate dinner and cleaned up the kitchen.

Janet sat down in front of the fire, and Sam sat right next to her. Janet put her arm around the other woman�s back and whispered, "Best friends, Sam."

The blonde nodded, her own arm going around Janet�s back. "The best. I swear to you, Janet, we can do this."

Janet leaned her head against Sam�s shoulder. "I know we can."

They stayed like that for a long time, and Janet felt herself getting sleepy. She yawned loudly and Sam chuckled.

Janet shrugged herself out from Sam�s arm. "I think I�ll turn in. You gonna stay up for a while?"

Sam nodded. "Just a little while. I�m still a little too keyed up to sleep."

Janet leaned down and kissed the top of the blonde head. "See you in the morning. Sweet dreams."

She turned to pad down the hall to her room and then cast a look over her shoulder at Sam, who was staring intently at the fire.

Janet gave herself a mental shake, telling herself not to stare. She got herself ready for bed and crawled under the blankets, suddenly exhausted. Despite her fatigue, she stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, as if answers to her unvoiced questions would appear out of nothingness.

She felt a rush of sorrow, wishing that either she or Sam were a person of lesser integrity, who could have talked the other into following their passions. But then, Sam�s integrity was one of the things she loved about the other woman.

"You can do this, Janet," she said forcefully to the ceiling, which�not surprisingly�did not respond. "You�re the unflappable CMO; you have a Masters degree in detachment."

She rolled over onto her side, letting a barrage of thoughts run through her mind�images both beautiful and sad. And then the words came to her, words that surprised her since she hadn�t been to church in years and most days didn�t even believe in God. But she held onto them, finding a comfort in the simple truths.

"Love is patient; love is kind. � It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Janet relaxed and drifted into sleep, believing that someday she and Sam would feel safe to explore a relationship. And until that time, love would be patient and wait.

For now, that was enough. It would have to be.

The end

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