Where Angels Fear To Tread by cheerful minion

Title: Where Angels Fear To Tread (but dear God, I don't know why�please please please help me find a better title)
Author: ocean gazer: quietoceangazer@yahoo.com
Date: 4th Dec. 2K
Category: hurt-comfort
Spoilers: In the Line of Duty
Disclaimer: They aren't mine, but I wish they were. They are owned by some perfectly nice folks at Gekko, Double Secret, MGM, Showtime, and a bunch of others I cannot recall. No characters or actors were harmed in the production of this story�in fact, I'm returning them in better condition than when I found them (and that's a fact). I do this for love, not money, and any of the aforementioned owners should feel free to steal at will.
Archive: yes to Pink Rabbit, AR, Area 52
Notes:  I will say that I'm posting this with relatively few revisions, so it's a little rough. Feedback is quite helpful�and I will say that that definitely includes constructive criticism. (If I don't get any of that, how will I ever learn to get better?)

 

Dr. Janet Fraiser stared down at the medical chart in her hand�though her attention was actually focused on the woman lying in the bed in front of her. Janet didn't need the chart�there had been no change in the woman's physical condition in the last few days�but it was a convenient medical prop, despite the fact that she had just gone off-duty.

Janet frowned as her eye was caught by one word, in a nurse's blunt scrawl, "Unresponsive". She set the chart back on the hooks at the foot of the bed, and moved up to stand at her patient's side, reaching out automatically to take her pulse. The doctor let her hand linger against the cool skin of the woman's inner wrist, hoping that in some way the touch would convey a small measure of comfort.

Captain Samantha Carter lay perfectly still on her side, her eyes focused on some invisible point in space. She didn't move a muscle in response to Janet's hands and--on the surface--did not seem to even register the doctor's presence. Only a slight increase in Carter's heart rate gave Fraiser any indication that the woman was aware of her presence.

Janet sighed, very softly. She could never have explained it to anyone, but the increased heart rate sent a sense of relief rushing through her veins.

Carter had spent the past week and a half in the infirmary in the aftermath of being used as an unwilling host to a Tok'ra known as Jolinar. While combined with the alien, Sam had been tortured, and it was only the death of the Tok'ra that saved the Captain's life. Except for a brief outburst immediately following Jolinar's death, Carter had not spoken since the incident. She didn't respond to her teammates when they came to visit; she seemed oblivious to the doctors and nurses charged with her care. She had turned in her bed to look up at Cassie when the young girl visited, and that had been the extent of her interaction with those around her.

Other than Cassie, who was too young to handle the strain of seeing Sam in this state, Janet was the only one who elicited any response from the profoundly depressed woman. The doctor knew it wasn't much, but it was the only thing she had to hold onto, and she liked it a lot better than the alternative, which was that Sam was out of even her reach.

Janet offered a light caress to Sam's wrist before walking away from the bed and shutting the door to her room. Janet knew rationally that none of her staff would be prone to wandering in: she had given strict orders about not disturbing Carter. And her entire staff knew that as long as Fraiser was on the premises of the infirmary, she would see to the Captain's care personally.

But Janet wanted the sense of privacy conveyed by a closed door, knowing that at this moment in time, she was here as Carter's friend rather than her doctor.

Janet pulled a chair over to the side of the bed, sitting so that she faced Carter's back. Truth be told, it tore at her heart to see the distant look on the woman's face, and she admitted to herself that it hurt immensely to see her best friend in this state. More than that, it hurt to know that for all her medicine and technology, there was nothing she could do that would help Sam.

Janet rested her arm on the bed and tentatively reached out to rub lightly against the small of Sam's back. Carter stiffened�ever so slightly�and then her muscles relaxed minutely under Janet's hand. It was a subtle shift; Janet barely caught it, and she was hypersensitive to anything involving the blonde's current physical and mental condition.

Breathing a silent prayer of thanks, Fraiser continued the gentle caress. She watched Sam, hoping just for an instant that something would break down the wall of silence around the woman�that the power of touch would draw Carter out of her shell. But unlike the movies�there was no miraculous change, no musical score to accompany the Captain's reconnection with the world. There was just Sam--still and sad and silent.

Janet felt the pangs of depression settle over her�a multitude of feelings she had been pushing aside for days. She tried to chase them away, but her efforts didn't work; the feelings were too strong to be ignored any longer.

There was the horrible helplessness she felt as a doctor. She was used to fixing people's hurts, used to mending physical ills so people could go back to leading normal, happy lives. And she was used to offering words of comfort to set patients' minds at ease. She'd done what she could for Sam, and the woman was healing well, but the reality was that there was nothing more Janet could do for her friend. She wanted to, God how she wanted to figure out what was still wrong with Carter so that she could find a way to make it better. Janet hated to watch someone suffer and not be able to do a damn thing about it.

And then there was the way every interaction Janet had with either General Hammond or Colonel O'Neill left her ready to scream at both of them and resign on the spot. She knew, rationally, that both men trusted her judgment. But they didn't seem to understand that there was nothing more she could do for Sam, medically speaking. The way they both would offer suggestions on approaches Janet should try, left the doctor ready to strangle one or both of them; and as tired as she was, also left her doubting her own judgment.

And then there was Cassie. Janet was extremely worried about her adopted daughter, though not for the obvious reason of Sam's withdrawal. She was worried because Cassie had turned to Jack O'Neill rather than to her. She knew that the girl saw O'Neill as a bit of a superhero, but it hurt to watch her daughter cling to someone else.

Janet felt the tears begin to well up in her eyes. She blinked them away angrily--trying to hold onto to what little emotional strength she had left, trying not to give in to her depression. She managed to keep herself from crying, but she felt like she was walking on a very thin tightrope.

She looked down to where her hand was still making light, soothing circles against Sam's back. And suddenly, the need hit Janet�the need for comfort of some kind, some word or touch that would reassure her that everything would be ok so she could, in turn, reassure everyone else of the same thing.

Ironically, the only person Janet knew who could provide her with that comfort was the one lying silent in the infirmary bed.

Janet loved being a doctor, but she was under no illusions: it set her painfully apart from those around her. Her fellow officers were friendly, but to all of them, she was "The Doctor" in capital letters and they were potential patients. And to the other medical personnel, she was the boss, not simply a colleague.

It was different with Sam. Both of them were slightly apart from the people they worked with�Sam because she was bright, and beautiful, and blind to anything other than work. The two women understood each other and had grown close because of their bonds to Cassie. Janet was one of the very few people to whom Sam could admit weakness and Sam was one of the very few people to whom Janet could turn for comfort.

Janet was pushed by the intensity of her need (and by the fact that fatigue made it difficult to think rationally) to do something she had never before contemplated. As if she were no older than Cassie, Janet climbed slowly and cautiously into the bed next to Sam.

She sat next to the silent woman, her legs pressed against Carter's back. She reached up to stroke lightly at the blonde's hair. The warmth of Sam's body against her seemed to dissolve, for a moment, the lump of un-shed tears in the back of Janet's throat.

And then, with the abruptness of an electric shock, Janet wondered precisely what the hell she was doing. She was the doctor, damn it, and doctors did not jump into bed with their patients just to calm their own fears. Under her breath, Janet cursed herself for being an idiot, and took her hand out of Sam's hair.

Janet braced both hands on the mattress, ready to lever herself up and out of the bed, when Sam rolled onto her back. Carter's blue eyes were wide and fixed intently on Janet's face. Janet felt the flush of embarrassment in her own cheeks, and hoped fervently that she had not offended the other woman.

Janet stared back at her friend, noting the pain reflected in the woman's gaze. Somewhat absently, Fraiser realized that this was actually a good sign�Sam had moved without prompting and was focused on something real, rather than simply something in her mind's eye. She studied the blonde for a minute, seeing that she seemed to be waiting for something.

Not sure exactly what she should do, Janet reached out once more and let her fingers walk a path through Sam's hair. A flash of intense, unreadable emotion momentarily lit the blue eyes. Carter offered a quiet sigh, and rolled over so that her head was resting in Janet's lap.

Whatever Janet had been expecting, this had not been it. She looked down with a sense of surprise at the woman snuggled against her. She let her hand continue to stroke the tousled hair, while her other hand reached down to lightly caress the pulse point in Sam's wrist. In another surprise move, Carter jerked away from the caress on her wrist�instead turning her hand in order to twine her fingers with Janet's.

Without really thinking about it, Janet started to hum quietly, the same sort of tune she used to soothe Cassie after some of her nightmares. She felt the slight shift as Sam snuggled even closer to her.

She felt incredibly warmed by Sam's hand holding tightly to her own. It felt as if a weight had been lifted from Janet's shoulders by the simple touch. Carter was not entirely out of reach�she would be okay. The relief was so sharp it nearly took Fraiser's breath away. For the first time, she realized just how worried she had been about the woman.

Leaning back against the propped up pillows, Janet let herself ponder that, her free hand still busy strolling through the blonde hair.

It wasn't just that Carter was her patient, or even that she was her friend. There was something more hovering just on the fringe of Janet's mind�a feeling that wouldn't quite define itself.

Janet glanced back up at the closed door, reassuring herself that the two were alone, and then her gaze went back to Carter. The woman had reverted back to doing her best imitation of a statue, but Janet could see the faint easing of the lines in her face.

Sam closed her eyes and Janet let her hand stray from its path through the blonde hair to stroke lightly at Carter's cheek. She was as amazed at her own audacity as she was at the fact that Sam seemed to be letting her in.

As she watched Sam, Janet tried to sort out and define her feelings for the woman. She turned over options and emotions in her mind�weighing each one and discarding it as being not quite right. Her feelings for her friend were akin to the devoted, motherly ones she had for Cassie�but even that description did not quite touch the same depths of emotion. And then a phrase walked into her head, one that was both unwelcome and uncomfortable.

"She feels like your lover."

Janet completely froze at the thought: her mouth suddenly dry, her hands suddenly still; she was not even sure her heart was still beating or that air was entering her lungs. Sitting motionless, she turned the words over and over in her head, examining their implications.

She�feels�like�your�lover�

The doctor felt paralyzed by the simple sentence. She wanted to argue with herself, wanted to chase the thought away as if it had never entered her consciousness. All she could do was sit and taste the words in her mind and know that she had broken down a wall of denial that could never completely be rebuilt. No matter how hard she tried to ignore the revelation, she couldn't do it: the awareness was there, it felt right, and there was no way she could erase it.

It was Sam who finally broke the paralysis. Her voice was hoarse and rough from disuse. "Janet? You ok?"

They were the most barren of questions, two short phrases stuttered uncertainly. But it served to focus Janet's thoughts and bring her out of her frozen state. She looked down and saw that Sam had flipped onto her back and had her eyes glued to Janet. The blue eyes were dark with worry.

Janet smiled down as convincingly as she could. "Yeah, I'm ok. I was just thinking."

Carter nodded slightly, and her fingers tightened against Janet's. The blonde managed to whisper, "Scared me."

The irony of the statement overwhelmed Janet. Not even thinking, not even considering that her own words might send Sam back into her shell, Janet pointed out, "That's exactly how I've felt watching you."

Carter winced as though she'd been struck, and her eyes screwed shut.

Janet gave herself a quick mental slap as her brain caught up with her mouth. 'Bright, Fraiser; great thing to say,' she berated herself silently.

Aloud Janet said, "I'm sorry Sam. I�" She broke off, not sure what to say to repair the damage. She was overwhelmed by the intensity of her own emotions and by the way time seemed to have slowed down, every second seeming to last a minute.

She dusted her fingers over Sam's cheek, frowning at the tension in the muscles under her touch. She tried again to apologize, this time managing, "I didn't mean to sound like that. I know this has been a nightmare for you. You've been through a lot and it's okay�"

"No," Sam disagreed instantly, her eyes snapping open. Janet's heart broke at the depths of pain reflected in the woman's gaze.

"No, it's not okay. Nothing's okay. Jolinar is dead. And I don't know anymore what's me and what's�" The voice trailed off for a second. "And all I've done is hurt everyone around me because I'm hurting and I'm not strong enough�" Sam's eyes closed again and she turned her head away from Janet, rolling back onto her side.

Janet sat perfectly still for the span of a heartbeat. She was grateful that Sam had finally broken through her wall of silence, truly grateful that she now had some clue as to what was going on in the Captain's mind. At the same time, Janet felt a surge of bone deep anger on her friend's behalf because of what the words had revealed.

Painfully aware this time of the risk she was taking, given Carter's fragility, Janet grasped the woman's shoulder and turned her so that she could see Sam's face.

"Look at me, Sam," Janet said softly, in her best soothing mom voice.

Carter slowly, reluctantly, let her eyes flutter open, and she cringed slightly, as if unsure of Janet's intention. Fraiser once again let her fingers travel the smooth skin of Sam's cheek.

"This is not your fault, Sam." She kept her voice gentle, but firm. "The one to blame here is Jolinar."

Carter broke in unexpectedly�tears brimming in her eyes, voice barely a whisper. "It is my fault. Jolinar died to save me."

Janet felt another surge of anger at the guilt in the blonde's voice. Not anger at Sam, but anger at the way the alien being had forcefully taken over Carter's life, allowed her to be subjected to torture, and then died a "noble death" to leave a debt Sam would never be able to repay.

The doctor wondered briefly if Jolinar had even considered the price Carter would end up paying. Janet knew all too well that Sam didn't think about things the same way most other people did. Anyone else would have been overwhelmingly angry with the alien, would have been glad that Jolinar died so that they could live, and would have felt justified in feeling that way. There would have been traces of guilt, but nothing like what Sam seemed to be feeling.

Janet resolutely pushed her attraction to Carter aside, pushed aside all of her feelings for the woman save protectiveness. She kept her voice low and soothing.

"That choice was Jolinar's to make. You didn't demand the sacrifice. It was a gift. Maybe it was a way of saying 'thank you' for forcing you to be a host."

A brief flicker of relief crossed Sam's face�it disappeared quickly, but its mere presence seemed like a good sign. The blonde sighed softly.

Janet continued gently, her hand moving to brush hair off Sam's forehead, "I can't pretend this whole mess has been easy on anyone. But that isn't your fault. You've been through a nightmare and all we want is for you to be okay."

Fraiser watched Carter carefully as she processed the words. Janet could almost see the wheels turning in Sam's mind, and various shades of emotion crossed the landscape of her face.

"But I hurt you," Sam whispered, the shame standing out in sharp relief on her features. "You all tried to help and I pulled away. That wasn't Jolinar; I hurt you all by myself."

The words tore again at Janet's heart. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to gather Carter up in her arms and rock her as if she were a child in search of succor. Instead, she contented herself with stroking the blonde hair.

"What if it had been Daniel instead of you? What if Daniel had been lying here depressed and withdrawn? What would you do?"

Carter thought for a moment, and then replied in a tone that indicated there was only one right answer. "I'd do whatever I could to help him. I'd come visit and talk to him and tell him it would be okay."

Janet kept her voice neutral and low. "What if he didn't respond? Would that hurt you?"

Sam's forehead crinkled in puzzlement. "It would hurt, but he's my friend. I'd keep trying for as long as it took. He wouldn't be doing it on purpose."

Fraiser could tell from the look on Sam's face that the woman had not yet made the connection. It didn't really surprise her: Carter was not exactly the most emotionally literate person on the planet.

In a patient tone, Janet pointed out gently, "Well, that's the way we feel about you. Yes, maybe it did hurt to see you withdrawn. But you're our friend, and we know you aren't doing this on purpose."

A look of innocent surprise crossed Sam's face. And then she sighed, very deeply. "I'm such an idiot."

Janet laughed at that. "No you aren't. You have a long way to go before you're even close to O'Neill."

Carter smiled at the words, and Janet breathed a prayer of thanksgiving that she had somehow found the right things to say. The woman's smile was like sunshine after rain.

"I don't know how I would have made it through this without you, Janet. There's so much I want to say�"

Fraiser laid a finger on Sam's lips, interrupting her. "Not now, Sam. You look exhausted. Just rest and give yourself some time to sort things out in your mind. You have plenty of time to say things; I'm not planning on going anywhere."

A deep flash of gratitude lit Carter's fair features, and Janet momentarily wondered at the intense look in the blue eyes. The doctor licked her lips uncertainly, feeling like there were so many words and yet nothing to say. And then Sam broke the spell, her fingers tightening against Janet's as she closed her eyes and turned back onto her side.

Janet had no problem reading the gesture; she smiled to herself and stroked the blonde hair, soothing the woman so she could finally fall into a peaceful sleep. Fraiser watched the way Sam's breaths slowed and she found herself once again amazed at the depths of her feelings for the other woman.

As she pondered that, Sam snuggled tighter. "Best friend I ever had�love you Janet." Her voice was thick with sleep, and moments later she lay blissfully oblivious to all around her.

Tears did come to Janet's eyes then, and this time she did not try to stem the tide. She wasn't sure any longer just what she was feeling, knowing only one thing with absolute certainty.

Voice low, to not disturb Sam's sleep, Janet whispered tenderly, "I love you too Sam."

The End

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