Kingdom of the Blind by Pink Rabbit Productions

Title: Bits and Pieces #10: Kingdom of the Blind
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Feedback: Always much appreciated at pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Archive:
The Pink Rabbit Consortium (www.altfic.com) only. Please ask before linking directly to any stories.
Season: One
Spoilers: Singularity, Engima
Disclaimer: It all belongs to assorted other folks (MGM, Gekko, Double Secret, Showtime, and possibly Santa Claus for all I know), or at least the characters, settings, situations, et al. The actual arrangement of words is mine own, though God knows, if any of those entities were to opt to sue, I'd disavow them all in a New York second. Hmmm, normally, this is where I'd include a warning about female/female romantic type activities, and hey, there is at least a flicker of emotional, if not physical stuff in this one, so you know the drill, if that idea offends, will get you tossed in jail, or your underaged, so it could get us tossed in jail, head out now.
Author's Notes: This is part of an oddball little idea for a series of stories -- some short, some a little longer, but none monstrously huge. One of the things that's hard to do in any one story is build a believable relationship over time, to show the beginnings and play with how attraction begins and grows, so I'm giving it a try with a series of stories set over the course of the series, starting from the beginning (if you're just looking for sex, you're gonna have to wait awhile). Some stories will be tied into eps and some won't, but I'm trying to make each of them a standalone piece, rather than chapters. There will, however, be elements that carry through and hopefully, the relationships in each story will build on what's come before. And I figure it also gives me a chance to to incorporate little scenes and shorter ideas that have fluttered through my brain over the years. Past that, my only comment is that hopefully, it won't be awful.
Special Thanks: to the most cheerful of caffeine driven minions around for the beta reading efforts.
Additional Author's Note: Silly me didn't notice that the order for first season eps listed on assorted webpages doesn't quite mesh with what's on the box my DVD set came in, sooooo, though I don't think it ever matters too much, in case anyone cares, I'm using the order on the DVD set. The following link leads to an overview in outline form and contains spoilers for the first two seasons of the TV series, as well as for accompanying stories through most of the first season and will be updated as I'm writing (it also contains links to all the stories in the series currently posted on the site).
http://www.altfic.com/subtextfic/stargate/prp/bap/overviewoutline.htm

| Part 1 | Part 2 |

Bits and Pieces #10:
Kingdom of the Blind
Part 2

Cassandra was tucked safely in her bed, the latest babysitter with a top secret clearance already ensconced on the living room couch, when Janet walked Jack O'Neill to her front door. Well aware of the speculative ear listening from the living room, she tugged the door shut in her wake. "Why do I get a feeling that wasn't an accident either?" she asked drily as she peered up at the colonel. Despite her arch look, she was feeling surprisingly relaxed after a few hours away from her problems.

O'Neill shrugged. "I figured it wouldn't hurt to have someone other than you, me, and the munchkin know we'd been out to dinner," he admitted.

"You really think Mayborne's going to play that nasty?" she questioned hesitantly, not so much worried by what she might have gotten herself into as worried they might all be in trouble. Getting on the bad side of the spooks at NID was rarely a good idea in her experience.

He nodded. "I think it's a possibility," he admitted. "That's why I figured I oughta give you a head's up before we left ... in case you wanted to back out." He'd been comfortably certain she wouldn't, and he knew he could trust her to keep quiet, but it hadn't seemed to fair to involve her in Mayborne's games without warning.

They heard a shuffle inside as the lieutenant wandered past the foyer on the way to the guest bathroom.

O'Neill glanced back over his shoulder, noting the way she paused in front of the smoked glass, her figure a hazy blur. "Y'know, if I tried to kiss you right now, it'd probably be all over the base by tomorrow," he mused out loud, thinking that even Mayborne would have a hard time questioning his motivations in taking the doctor out if that particular bit of gossip were making the rounds. He grinned. And he was willing to make the sacrifice ... maybe.... "You ... um ... are over that little Hathor thing, right?"

"Yes, sir," she snapped, her tone more annoyed than outraged, "and, no, sir."

"Is that, yes, it would be all over the base, and no, you're not over it yet, or--"

"That's yes, I'm over it, and no, I'm not going to kiss you to add to your alibi ... or for any other reason," she quickly added to forestall any further musings. "Your cover story will just have to be limited to pizza and video games with Cass and I." He was probably out ten bucks from teaching the girl how to play Star Raider. Sadly enough, she'd been killing him by the time they left. Clearly, there was something about twelve year old's -- even ones from societies without electricity -- and video games. Thank God they hadn't figured out a way to use it to take over the world ... at least not yet.

He grinned his best little boy grin, shrugging when it didn't melt her forbidding expression at all. "It was just an idea."

"A bad one," Janet assured him, though at some level, she almost wished she could have been attracted to Jack O'Neill, even if he did make her crazy sometimes. It would probably have been easy enough to float into a comfortable affair with the man since he was undoubtedly as lonely as she was. He was more interested in Sam, but she knew men well enough to realize he was attracted to her, if not passionately so. If she showed some sign of reacting to the gentle flirtation, he would probably be more than amenable. He was a decent human being, undoubtedly a caring lover, ethical, good with Cassandra; his sense of humor could get annoying, but no moreso than hers ... and, oh yeah, he was male.

And wasn't it just too damned pathetic for words that the last one was the one the world -- or at least the Air Force -- would probably worry about most?

She glanced at her watch to distract herself from her own thoughts. "Do you want me to wait a few minutes so we look like we arrived at discretely different times?" That would probably be more noticed by suspicious souls like those at NID, since it would look like they were trying to hide something, rather than overtly creating a cover story.

He thought about it for a moment, then grinned. "Yeah ... that'll work," he decided out loud, then winked at her, admiring the tactical maneuver. "Y'know, you're a lot like me some days." At her arch look, he added, "Except about ten times smarter."

"When are you going to drop the illusion that you're a stupid man, sir?" she enquired politely, still not understanding why he played that particular game when it clearly wasn't true.

"Shhh," he hushed quickly and looked around himself worriedly. "Careful about comments like that. You know how much work they give me to do thinking I'm a dummy. Imagine the load I'd have to carry if they thought I had a working brain."

Despite herself, Janet was still laughing as she watched him hurry back to his car. "Can't have that, now can we?" she muttered to herself, glancing at her watch as he drove away, and concluding fifteen minutes ought to do it.

* * * * * *

Omoc held out the readout on his monitor so Narim could see, his expression coldly furious. "Is this true?" he demanded without preamble.

Narim paled when he saw what his superior was pointing at. His eyes flashed up and he seemed to wilt under the forbidding look in Omoc's eyes.

"Narim?" Omoc growled impatiently, making it clear he wouldn't ignore insubordination this serious as he had more minor bits of defiance.

"I ... nothing came of it," the younger Tollan insisted defensively.

"That's not the question! She's a primitive," Omoc bit out. "First you show her that this kind of technology exists ... and then you attempt to take advantage by using it on her." The older man's eyes blazed and he shook his head in disbelief. "You know better than this."

"She's no primitive," Narim felt the need to defend Samantha Carter, "And I'd hoped perhaps to...." He trailed off, suddenly aware of how his superior would view his fantasies.

"What?" Omoc snapped, well aware of the other man's hopes to stay, doubtless sprung from fantasies of being a great man among the primitives. In truth, it had frightened him that Narim might just find a way to stay ... and he had just enough knowledge to bring disaster to these people. "To stay with her ... or perhaps to bring her along."

Narim didn't answer, his gaze downcast. "She's considered brilliant among her people ... she could learn from m-- from us," he corrected the near slip, but not quickly enough.

Omoc shook his head, then reached out and snatched the emotional recorder off the younger man's sleeve. He saw Narim twitch as if to grab it back, and froze him in place with a look. He made an adjustment, reviewing the records in more detail than was revealed on his master unit, his expression growing grimmer with every passing revelation. "If you truly believed she cared for you in any real way," Omoc ground out at last, "you would never have used this. To expose any being with no experience of the EDT in this way...." He shook his head, not knowing what to say. "And then to record her responses...." He turned to glare at the other man. "Did she even know you were doing it?" Narim's guilty look was all the answer Omoc needed. He made a quick adjustment on the device.

"No!" The younger Tollan showed his first sign of raw emotion, but it was already done. "You had no right," he swore, the passionless mask slipping for a moment.

"You will not see her alone again," Omoc said flatly and made another adjustment to the device before handing it back to the other man. "Nor will you use that in any capacity for the remainder of time we spend on this world."

Narim stared at the now blank recorder, nearly overwhelmed by the loneliness that had so briefly been assuaged by the thought he might be able to win this woman. "You had no right," he said again, his voice returning to its usual soft timbre.

Omoc stared at the other man, his look showing a hint of something that might have been sympathy mixed with the disapproval and anger. "It was you who had no right," he intoned. "You risked exposing a dangerous level of technology ... and you attempted to manipulate this woman. If these people are greedy for our secrets, then you risked handing them a dangerous one ... and if they're sincere, you risked harming one of them for your own gratification." He fell silent for a moment. "You attempted to use our technology in as primitive and savage a manner as we fear they would ... to push your emotions into her head when she had no experience or training to help her resist your efforts."

A muscle twitched in Narim's jaw. "It wasn't like that," he insisted, though his tone remained almost too mild. "Perhaps you underestimate them." He remembered the contents of the recording, the thick haze of arousal that was little more than a reflection of his own emotions, then the changing tide as arousal drained away and was replaced by a distrust she didn't understand or even fully realize she was feeling. He'd found if he stopped it at just the right moment, he could pretend her feelings for him were real ... and completely ignore the doubt and that second burst of heat that had nothing to do with him. If he worked hard enough, he could almost pretend they'd never even happened. If nothing else though, Samantha's ability to resist his desire was a clear indication she wasn't the simple, appetite-driven creature Omoc would have liked to believe.

A part of Narim honestly wished Omoc had been right.

Omoc nodded. "Perhaps I do," he allowed. "Thankfully, she possessed enough control to maintain her own emotional center ... and not be unduly influenced by your efforts." His expression stiffened. "In which case, perhaps it is we who are the primitives." His tone hardened as Narim stiffened. "In either event, you are not to see her alone again. Do you understand?"

Narim nodded.

"Now, you will help the others finish what needs to be done. With luck, we will be leaving soon." Omoc watched the other man quietly return to his duties, his gaze cloudy with guilt. He was nearly convinced that these people were sincere in their efforts and to think that one of his own people had attempted to take advantage of their youth and ignorance was disturbing at best. He shook his head slowly, suddenly wondering if perhaps it was the weaknesses of his own people that he truly feared more than those of the so-called primitives.

* * * * * *

Janet arrived at the SGC the agreed-upon fifteen minutes after Colonel O'Neill, and even managed to 'accidentally' let that fact slip to the chattiest nurse on her staff -- which meant the entire base would know within the hour ... and another hour after that, they'd probably know a whole lot more than had actually happened. That done, she hurried out again to drop a report off with the general -- and maybe find out if she'd either made or hadn't made any other recent decisions she wasn't aware of.

She was just stepping off the elevator on her way to the briefing room when alarms began blaring, the red warning lights in the corridor flashing their pulsing warning.

"Attention, all personnel, offworld activation. Unknown source,"

a familiar voice warned over the intercom system.

Her pulse kicked into overdrive almost instantly. It was never a good sign when unknown sources started trying to open the gate from the other end. That invariably heralded shooting, bombs, shock troops ... or some other unpleasant event. Nobody ever went to that kind of effort just to send flowers.

Fraiser broke into a run. The control room was only one level down from the briefing room, and fully accessible by a narrow staircase. If there were any injured, she could do more good if she was already there rather than waiting to be called up from the infirmary. Besides, she was only a short distance away.

And if she was honest, she knew Sam would be in the gateroom -- right in the thick of things -- and even if she wasn't entirely happy with the other woman at that moment, she still needed to know she was okay.

Easily dodging men and women headed the opposite direction, Janet cleared the distance in near record time. Ducking through a door, she hurried down the stairs that led to the control room just as the windows that looked onto the gateroom flared in an explosion of otherworldly lights....

She saw Sam silhouetted by the bright pulse where she was poised at a control console. Hammond, O'Neill and others were clustered nearby, but Janet barely noticed them as she hurried forward. Another few stairs down, and her angle and timing were perfect to see everything going on in the gateroom as well as the control room.

The gate was open, armed security personnel braced at the edges of the area, while the Tollan and Daniel were standing close to the gate platform. As Janet skidded to halt, a creature she was oddly certain was a Nox -- though she'd never seen one, Sam had described them in considerable detail, and it had been a unique description -- finished stepping through the watery surface of the Stargate, her smile beneficent as she graced the entire assemblage with a gentle look.

Janet blinked in surprise, startled by the oddest sense that the woman had even momentarily focused on her, though, at that distance, she didn't see how.

"Hello," the voice was soft and musical, even through the tinny, control room speakers, somehow sounding both young and old at once.

Daniel bounded up the gate platform. "Lya," he said, sounding unbelievably excited, like an effusive golden retriever at a two-for-one sale in a butcher shop.

Before anyone else could say or do anything, an officer stepped forward ... a colonel, she realized as she glimpsed his rank pins -- undoubtedly Mayborne. He looked like an NID sleazeball. Apparently unimpressed by the alien's entrance, he grabbed the mic on the console, depressing the switch that would allow him to communicate with the men in the gateroom. "All personnel in the gateroom, I have a presidential order to take the aliens with me!" he barked, desperate to have the Tollan -- and their knowledge -- under his control. "Do not let them pass! Use force if necessary!"

Janet flinched, tensing as she saw the security personnel cock their weapons and take aim, apparently ready to follow the colonel's orders. Was he insane? He couldn't seriously think it was better to see the Tollan dead if they refused to be his slaves. And Daniel and Teal'c were down there in the line of fire as well.

The Nox shook her head, sadly, "Your race has learned nothing," she addressed Daniel, though Janet had a feeling her words were directed at all of them. She fastened a gentle gaze on the Egyptologist, somehow managing to include the others who'd helped him in her quiet addendum, "But you have." She smiled at the other aliens. "The Tollans are most welcome to join us. Please come."

Even the Tollan seemed slightly in shock as they began trudging up the ramp, leaving Janet with the distinct impression, for the first time in their lives, they were feeling a bit overwhelmed and perhaps a bit less superior. Well, good, after the way some of them had spoken to her, it might do them some good to learn a touch of humility. Then she saw the man she'd seen with Sam among the Tollan and everything else fell away for a moment. He was carrying an orange striped cat of all things, and turned to stare up at the windows with such a look of longing that she almost felt some sympathy.

Almost....

Of course, sympathy would have been easier if she'd had some feel for Sam's expression, but Carter's back was to her so she had no way of knowing what was going on in the blond's head; whether the emotion was returned or even noticed. With Sam, either option was entirely possible.

- - - - -

As Narim spun, desperate for one last look, Schroedinger held tightly in his arms, he caught a brief glimpse of the woman on the stairs when Samantha ducked down out of his sight. It was the same one from the hallway .... and Samantha's thoughts. He was unsurprised to see that her expression was a mirror of his own ... except he'd had to bribe, seduce, and finally force his way into the blond's thoughts while she was there without even trying. And then the blond straightened back into his view and he saw the expressions flickering across her face with a complexity that wouldn't let him look away. She was totally concentrated on the problem; fascinated by what the Nox woman was doing, angry at Colonel Mayborne; struggling to understand everything at once, and so close to succeeding that he couldn't help but envy her brilliance. It was frightening to realize, but in an instant he knew that, even with his advantages, he would have bored her at some point. She needed more than simple knowledge. She needed that same rabid curiosity and creativity she possessed; two things he would never have. Just as he would never have her.

Then for one tiny instant, she looked up and her gaze met his with a look of genuine sympathy and nothing more.

He'd not only lost. He'd never really had a chance.

Then the world was swept away in a wave of silver as the Nox took him somewhere else. But by then, it was an absolute relief.

- - - - -

Janet clung to the stair railing, her pulse a roaring freight train in her chest as the last of the visitors disappeared and the stargate winked out of existence. That was definitely impressive.

Mayborne was enraged, his screams for the security teams to shoot having been thwarted by the Nox woman's gentle smile, not to mention the fact that she'd somehow gotten rid of every weapon in the area with nothing more than a wave of her hand. She saw the NID colonel start hammering on the control console in impotent rage, an impressive explosion of profanity filling the air, and realized her presence wasn't likely to help the situation at all. Somehow she doubted Mayborne would be terribly thrilled to learn any more people than necessary had witnessed this little bit of humiliation.

Hurrying back up the stairs before anyone even noticed she'd been there, she stepped through the landing door into the corridor. She all but ran away, uncertain whether she was fleeing for strictly political reasons, or if there was a more emotional core to her rationale than she cared to admit, even to herself.

Remembering the look in the Tollan's eyes, she had a bad feeling she knew the answer as a raw wave of unwanted jealousy slid through her veins. So much for any thought that the lack of erotic dreams meant she was back on safe emotional footing. Even ticked off at Sam for ignoring Cass' needs, she was far too invested in whether or not the blond had been interested in the Tollan.

After ducking into a side corridor to avoid one of Mayborne's security details, Janet caught the elevator and headed back toward her nice, comfortable infirmary, though even as she stepped aboard, she found herself wondering if it was going to feel quite as comfortable as it once had. Stuffing both hands in her pockets, she wasted the time during the ride staring at nothing in particular, fighting to keep her mind as unfocused as her eyes. The times, they were a changin'. She just wished she knew if that was a good sign or a bad one.

* * * * * *

Still in a huff over losing his prisoners, Mayborne spent the day stomping all over the base, conducting interviews, making insinuations, implying that people were going to be prosecuted, and generally making a pain in the ass of himself.

Unfortunately for him, he had no real proof of anything. Even Dr. Jackson's presence in the gateroom didn't prove he'd known about the impending retrieval of the Tollan by the Nox. And since the archaeologist's talents were still needed on the mission -- and he'd had so many successes -- higher-ups were loathe to throw him out. As for the others, they all conveniently had alibis that protected them from any accusations of direct involvement, though Mayborne was more than certain that the entirety of SG-1 as well as Hammond had been in on it.

They'd even brought other officers in on their little game as was evidenced by the fact that O'Neill's alibi was the base CMO. The colonel's mouth turned down in an angry frown as he remembered her interview and the way she'd responded to his insinuation that if she didn't come clean about covering for O'Neill's involvement, everyone would think she was having an affair with the colonel. She'd almost laughed, then gently pointed out that since they were both single, officers, and she wasn't in his command, no one was likely to care, even if they were ... which she refused to confirm or deny.

Obvious where her loyalties lay, the colonel mused acidly as he discarded any notions of trying to get her on his payroll as an inside player. Pity really. She probably knew as much or more about what went on in the base as Hammond. She was young and had advanced quickly. That meant she was ambitious, and ambition often made for a wonderful way of getting people to do things. Unfortunately, she appeared to have a core of ethics -- or at least dislike for his idea of authority -- that would make that difficult. The only mild rise he'd been able to get out of her had come when he'd mentioned the child she was caring for, but since that issue had been placed entirely under Hammond's discretion, he had no leverage -- at least not for the moment.

He finally spun to face the waiting officers clustered around the briefing room table, his eyes falling on Hammond. A small smirk twisted Mayborne's mouth. He had to give Hammond credit. He'd played the game better ... and if the colonel was honest, he had to admit, he'd underestimated the older man. He'd made the mistake of assuming his ethics would keep him honest, but apparently not. He was that most dangerous of souls, capable of seeing the forest for the trees.

A small nod of acknowledgment and then Mayborne spoke, his tone covertly acid, though he doubted anyone was unaware of his opinion of them. They weren't stupid people. "Well, my investigation has concluded and, as you predicted, General Hammond, we have no answer as to how the Tollan contacted any other species." He flashed assessing looks around the table, noting the responses of the various players. Only the marine colonel who'd been in charge of the security staff in the gateroom, Makepeace, looked genuinely confused. Well, maybe they hadn't included everyone in the loop after all. Even as he continued speaking, Mayborne filed the information away. Might be important one day, he reminded himself. It was one more personal detail and he'd always prided himself on noting things and using them later when opportunity arose. "Obviously, their ability to come and go at will means it's impossible to be certain one of them didn't get out of the base and signal the ... what did you call them, the Nox?" He tipped his head to one side, feigning confusion. "And since according to your reports, these creatures," a hint of a smile touched his mouth as he saw several of them tense at the disparaging term -- more facts to file away, "can't be traced by our science, it's really all a dead issue now, isn't it?"

"That's right," O'Neill growled, not even bothering with a pretense of professional courtesy.

That temper would be his undoing one day, Mayborne thought with some satisfaction, hoping he'd have something to do with it.

"In which case," Hammond broke in before O'Neill could say anything else, his tone smoother and more polished than the colonel's, though the underlying hostility was no less real or intense, "I don't really see any need for you to remain here."

Mayborne ducked his head. "True, General Hammond." He pasted a mockery of a smile on his face, an expression even he had to admit came off with all the sincerity of a used car salesman in the bad part of town. "Though I doubt this will be my last visit to the SGC." He turned to leave, but a sarcastic crack from O'Neill brought him back around.

"I guess that means we'd better put the base exterminators on notice they'll need to spray for cockroaches again in the near future," O'Neill drawled, his tone caustic enough to melt plastic.

The visiting colonel's smarmy smile turned into an even smarmier smirk. "You do that, Colonel," he agreed, matching sarcasm with leering dislike, "And then I'll notify the ones at NID to set out lots of mouse traps." He ran his eyes over the group. They'd managed to outwit him and cost him that day, and it wasn't an event he planned to allow to happen again. "But, after that, I promise, I will be back. And I promise you, if you try and interfere again, I'll make damn certain you pay for it...." He moved to leave again, stiffening fractionally as he heard a sotto voce comment.

"And your little dog too."

The whisper was so soft as to make the voice completely unrecognizable.

Teeth gritting in fury, Mayborne dug his nails into his palms to resist the urge to turn back and glare in an effort to find the offender. It didn't matter. They were all on his shit list as of today. So let them enjoy their moment of victory. It wouldn't last. He hurried out, slamming the door in his wake.

* * * * * *

"I can't believe Fraiser said that," Jack said, still laughing over the wisecrack as he and Teal'c wandered into the locker room several hours later.

"I still do not understand the comment. What would Cassandra's pet have to do with Colonel Mayborne?" the Jaffa questioned, clearly confused.

"It's not Cass's pup, it's from a movie about a--" he began, then yelped as he nearly sat down on a figure sprawled on the bench in front of his locker. "Carter!?"

She was lying stretched out, legs loosely crossed at the ankles, hands folded together on her stomach, and she opened one eye and then the other, peering sleepily up at him. "Sir?" the captain mumbled through a yawn, and lifted her arm to peer at her watch. "Sorry. Just wanted to close my eyes for a moment before I head home." She pushed into a sitting position, still yawning sleepily, and shook her head. "Suddenly hit me how tired I am."

"You have quarters on the base," Teal'c pointed out logically. "Perhaps you would be wisest to stay there."

Sam shook her head as she found her feet. "The way I'm feeling I'd be asleep the moment I hit the mattress, and I don't wanna spend another night in this place." She shook her head and made a face at the idea. Even she had her limits. "Wanna go home, have a nice hot bath, and crash for the night." Or maybe the week. She yawned again.

Jack drew breath to speak and -- for once -- considered what he was going to say before the words left his mouth, then asked, "Doncha think maybe you ought to stop by the doc's and see Cass first?" Remembering what Fraiser had told him about how rough things were for the kid and how thoroughly she worshiped Sam, it seemed to him like she really ought to head over there and lend a hand ... particularly since she was the one who'd talked Fraiser into taking the kid in the first place.

Sam stiffened a little guiltily, remembering that Janet had mentioned being worried about Cassie, but she forced her own sudden sense of unease down. After all, the other woman would have told her if it was anything really serious. And after everything that had happened with Narim -- the confusing array of emotions and sensations -- she needed a little time on her own. "Actually, I think I'm going to go straight home tonight." She needed space to decompress and, for reasons she wasn't comfortable looking at too closely, the notion of doing so in her friend's presence seemed impossible. There were too many things about the whole experience she wasn't ready to share with the other woman. She smothered another yawn, pushing it a little this time to demonstrate how tired she was. "I'll give Janet a call tomorrow and see what's up." Busy with another yawn, she didn't see the way her superior's eyes narrowed fractionally.

O'Neill jerked his head toward the door as he flashed a look Teal'c's way.

Taking the hint, the Jaffa tipped his head in acknowledgment. "I believe, Colonel O'Neill wishes to speak to you privately, Captain Carter, so I will return when he is finished."

So much for the subtle approach

, Jack thought as he resolved to explain the concept of white lies to Teal'c at some point in the near future.

Sam frowned as the Jaffa disappeared, then looked at her superior. "Sir?"

Releasing a soft sigh, Jack reached up to rub the back of his neck. He made a face. He really hated getting stuck with stuff like this, but Carter had apparently gone into oblivious mode and he couldn't help but remember the doc's obvious frustration. If Carter wasn't careful, Cass was gonna wind up somewhere else, and somehow that was just ... wrong. In a weird way, the kid was kinda like one of them, even if she was a kid. She was a part of the tiny group of people who knew about the gate, who'd actually stepped foot on another world -- even if, in her case, the alien world in question was Earth. That made her special in his eyes and a part of things at the SGC. She belonged with one of them, but it was obvious Fraiser was having some serious doubts, even if she was crazy about the kid. And if she didn't get some help, he wasn't sure she could keep going. And, hell, with everything he'd found out, it just seemed ... right to him.

"Sir?" Sam said again when he still hadn't spoken a moment later.

O'Neill released a sharp gust of air as he tried to figure out how to approach the problem. "You checked your messages lately, Carter?" he asked at last, one eyebrow rising as he saw a guilty flush stain her cheekbones.

"Things have been a little busy the last few days," she reminded him defensively. "I figured if there's anything important, somebody will get me word."

"Ah huh," he exhaled. He gnawed on his lower lip. "Except sometimes, it can be a little hard to get through to you, Carter ... especially when you've got scientific theories on the brain."

She frowned in confusion, not following him at all. "Sir?" she said again.

He tried being more blunt. "You need to start spending more time with Cass--"

Which only made her more defensive. "I told you, I'll call Janet tomorrow and--"

"I think you'd be better to do it tonight," he broke in firmly.

Sam made a small, annoyed sound, not getting why he was pushing so hard when it wasn't that big a deal. All right, so, yes, it had been longer than she'd intended since she'd been able to spend any time with the child, but she was safely with Janet, and Sam had called a couple of times to check on her. Cassie hadn't mentioned any problems, and Janet had said it wasn't an emergency. Besides, he knew just how busy her schedule had been the last couple of weeks. She'd barely had time to stop by her own place and grab an occasional shower. "Janet left at least an hour ago. She's probably in bed by now--"

This wasn't working. Subtle wasn't his style at all, and his hints were not only soaring over the captain's head, they were pissing her off as well. "Look, Carter, I'm about to do something I wouldn't normally do," he decided at last, "and break a confidence." He flashed her a considering look, thinking he'd given the wrong woman the speech about the gravity of adopting a kid. "Y'know I had dinner with Fraiser last night, right?"

A muscle twitching in her jaw, Sam nodded. "Your alibi, sir," she reminded him, slightly annoyed that he'd set the doctor up as his cover story when there were a dozen other things he could have used. "I think the whole base knows by now." And they were enjoying the whispered rumors too. By tomorrow, the gossip would probably have the colonel and the doctor doing a naked tango in front of Mayborne.

He rolled his eyes, a smirk twisting his mouth. "Yeah, well, what the whole base doesn't know," he pointed out acidly, "is that Cass has been having bad nightmares ... and Fraiser is at the end of her rope trying to deal with it." He looked pointedly at Sam, and this time she didn't say anything, just stared at him, her frown deepening. Remembering the frustration and tinge of anger in the doctor's tone as she'd talked to him, he continued, "You're real close to losing both of them, Carter, and if you don't wise up, you're in for a world of hurt."

Sam reared back, looking like she'd been punched in the stomach. "Not exactly mine to lose, Colonel," she choked, uncertain what he was implying. Had he read something into their innocent friendship?

"I don't mean that," O'Neill snorted softly, though he couldn't exactly blame the woman for some paranoia. There were always rumors about any unattached woman in the military, and they could trash a career. "I just mean that you've got a real friend in Fraiser." He stared pointedly at her, hoping she'd get the message. "Carter, you're a damn genius ... but your social skills aren't what you'd call black belt level, if you know what I mean. You can't afford to go tossing friendships away."

Shaking her head, she stared at him in genuine confusion. He wasn't making any sense as far as she could tell. "I'm not throwing anything away. I don't even know what the hell you're talking about." She massaged her temple, wondering if this conversation would make more sense if she'd had a little bit of sleep in the last twenty-four hours, only to conclude it probably wouldn't. "Yeah, Janet and I are friends ... and I can't think of anything likely to change that." Annoyed with his pressure tactics, she started to turn away.

"Not even if she doesn't keep Cass?"

Sam froze, then did a slow pivot, a band of tension tightening around her chest. "What?" she whispered tightly. They hadn't talked about it ... hell, she'd barely had five minutes free since Cass' arrival, but Sam had been certain -- despite her initial insistence that things were temporary -- that Janet would fall in love with the girl and be unable to give her up. Cassandra had sounded happy enough when they'd spoken on the phone, and Janet hadn't mentioned any problems. Well, at least not until the day before. "But she's--"

"What she is ... is trying to run a lab and an infirmary in this madhouse while taking care of a kid who's lost an entire world ... and who worships you. She can't compete ... and with Cass' nightmares getting worse, she doesn't feel like she's doing her any good. Without your help, she can't do this." His voice was flat, refusing to show any understanding for her position. "Now, I dunno that I get your reasons for arranging things the way you did, but I don't think you're ready to lose that kid ... and if you aren't careful, you will ... and if that happens, you really think you're gonna keep that friendship together?" He was being practical. Carter had built her hopes up until she wasn't going to be able to forgive easily if things didn't go her way.

"She would have told me if it was that bad," Sam hissed suddenly, spinning away from his quietly accusing tone.

"Apparently she tried," he reminded Sam. "But you haven't been picking up your email ... and apparently you kind of brushed her off...." He trailed off, letting Carter fill in the blanks for herself.

Sam swallowed hard, not wanting to admit that she'd gotten so involved in her own excitement -- and maybe in her own ego -- to the point of just not noticing that the situation wasn't quite what she'd thought. "She said there was a problem, but she didn't say it was serious," she exhaled after a beat.

"Well, it is," O'Neill said very softly.

Carter flashed a resentful look over her shoulder. "She told you all of this?" she asked, her voice a husky shred of itself. She had a hard time believing Janet would dump on the colonel's shoulder, unless.... She suddenly found herself wondering if maybe some of the gossip was more on target than she'd thought. Head canting to one side, she studied her superior more closely, wondering if she'd missed something recently. Certainly, Janet was a beautiful woman, and she couldn't blame him if.... No, she'd know, Sam decided with a sharp head shake as the colonel answered her question.

"Some of it," he allowed, "and I put some of it together." He stuffed his hands in his pants pockets. "But if you stop and take a look, you might just notice the circles under her eyes. She looks like hell, Carter, and probably hasn't slept the night through in the last week. Actually, between the SGC and the kid's nightmares, she may not have slept the night through since Cass got here."

A hard swallow against the sudden tightness in her throat left Sam momentarily mute. She dragged a hand through her hair, and wound up rubbing the suddenly taut muscles in the back of her neck. She tried to remember what Janet had looked like when they'd seen each other in the corridor, but she'd been too focused on what she was learning from Narim to notice, and then later, she'd been totally zoned in on Mayborne and his sick little games. And when she'd had that momentary flash of awareness after Narim had used his emotional recording device, she'd pushed it away, not ready to deal with what it meant ... not even certain what that was. She just hadn't seen or maybe had avoided the problem, but now that she thought about it, her friend had been ... off somehow. "You think it's still fixable?" she asked at last, a sinking sensation forming a hole in the pit of her stomach.

"I think you should read your email ... then go over there. Apparently, the nightmares have been happening almost every night lately, so it's good bet they'll happen again. You need to start being there for both of them." Implicit in the comment was the harsh reality that she hadn't done so well on that front of late.

Blue eyes slid closed for a long moment and then Sam silently nodded. "I guess I should thank you," she said after a beat, none too thrilled with the idea.

O'Neill's answering laugh had a dark quality to it. "Somehow, I don't think you're up to that at the moment," he sighed realistically. She might not be out to shoot the messenger, but she was human enough to resent the hell out of him.

She didn't argue. "I'd better go," she said at last, shoving her hands in her jacket pockets as she strode toward the locker room door.

"Just remember what I told you and be careful," he advised, wanting Sam to fix the problem for all their sakes. He liked Cass, and it was nice having a kid around. He'd even been half tempted to ask Fraiser out just to have a chance to play dad again.

She simply nodded and hurried out.

Jack sighed softly, still staring after her, his mind on what he'd just done. Fraiser would probably strangle him if she found out he'd blown her confidence, but Carter needed the kick in the ass, and Fraiser needed the help, cos no way in hell did she want to give up Cass. Unfortunately, if she couldn't figure out how to help the kid, she'd do it, and think it was for the best too. Which he in no way believed. Cass might not've bonded to her, but she'd bonded to Cass. And she understood what the kid had been through better than any carefully screened, utterly appropriate couple the DOD would choose to look after her. Because no matter how well they were briefed, they hadn't been there, and wouldn't understand where the kid had come from, or what she'd survived. He twitched free of his silent musings as Teal'c reentered.

"You have addressed the necessary issues?" the Jaffa questioned.

Jack nodded. "Some of 'em, Teal'c." He offered a sarcastic smile. "But you and I have one or two things to discuss on the subject of when and how to tell the truth...."

* * * * * *

Her stomach sinking with realization, Sam read through her last several days of email, shoving most of it aside and simply plucking Janet's address out whenever she found it amid the various notices and requests for information. Despite her best efforts to shove the colonel's warnings aside, she couldn't help but notice an increasing sense of desperation underlying the formal words her friend was using. Sarcasm flickered here and there, slipping through in subtle ways she might have missed if O'Neill hadn't said something. Normally, such twists on words weren't something Sam noticed, but she'd come to realize Janet was a little like the colonel in how she used humor; as both a shield and a sword, depending on the circumstance. It tended to cut mostly sharply and most subtly when she was at her most frustrated or angry.

And judging by that fact alone, she had a whole lot of hostility going on.

Sam sighed softly as she flicked off the computer, her brain wrapped in an orgy of self-examination that was rapidly turning to recrimination. She'd just assumed everything was okay, confident that everything would work out the way she'd set it up. Helloooo, Earth to Carter, the Clue-Phone is ringing. Please pick up.

Obviously not. Cass' nightmares had been getting worse -- a lot worse apparently -- not better, the way the shrink had said they would.

Muttering a curse under her breath, Sam snapped her laptop shut, locked things up, and hurried out.

Less than an hour later, she pulled up to Janet's house, climbing out uneasily as she noted that the doctor's home was dark and quiet. A tiny shiver sliding down her spine, she couldn't help but remember the last time she'd been standing in almost the exact same spot, staring at her friend's dark and quiet home. Then she'd been terrified an airman infected by Hathor would kill her friend.

Now she was just afraid of facing her own mistakes.

Sam ran a hand through wind tousled hair, trying not to think too hard about the terror she'd felt when she'd thought she might just lose that friendship forever. Which led her right back to the colonel's warning ... and too many other things she wasn't sure she really wanted to think about. Shaking off any dark thoughts, she studied her friend's house, noting that the lights were out. She was tempted to just turn and leave again, hesitant to risk waking the other woman when she knew just what kind of hours she'd put in recently.

But the colonel had seemed so certain ... and if she was honest, after reading Janet's email, she wasn't as confident as she would have liked that he wasn't right.

Stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets, she moved forward, crossing the narrow street at a trot. She'd just knock, then, when Janet didn't answer, leave ... and tell O'Neill just how nuts he was the next time she saw him. Feeling better about that plan, she stepped onto the porch. She'd almost reached the front door when she heard the first, blood curdling scream ... high pitched, panicked and sounding like someone was being tortured or murdered.

Definitely a child's voice.

Cass.

Sam didn't even pause to consider her actions. Already resolved to make sure the next front door was a hell of a lot heavier, she took out the locks with one good lunge that left her shoulder throbbing in agony. Ramped up by panic, she barely noticed the pain. Cass was still screaming, and she snapped a hand sideways, entering the security code into the alarm system without looking, not wanting a screeching alarm to warn anyone who hadn't already heard her noisy entry.

"Easy, Cassie! Stop it!" Janet's voice was scared and sharp. "Wake up! You're safe!"

She reached the door to the child's bedroom at a dead run, then skidded to a halt in the archway as she realized neither Cass nor Janet was in any immediate danger. Cass was sitting bolt upright in bed, struggling against the arms wrapped tightly around her body as Janet held onto her tightly, her voice hoarse as she shouted, both so involved in their own drama that they didn't notice Sam's entrance.

"Cassandra, it's okay, I'm here."

"No!" the child sobbed. "You're not Sam."

"But I am here!" Janet insisted, letting go of the tight hold to draw the child's head around, her voice softening as she begged, "Cass, I'm here .... please ... let me help you." Her voice cracked with the intensity of the plea.

Cassie shook her head stiffly, tears filling her eyes. "I know, but I need Sam," she whispered helplessly.

Sam felt her heart clench at that small, heartbroken voice. "I'm here too," she said as she stepped forward, the desperate plea breaking her brief paralysis.

"Sam?" the girl croaked, her voice hoarse from the harsh screams, her tone not quite believing. She looked around herself as though making certain she really was free of whatever dreamscape had terrified her so badly.

"Yeah, honey, I'm here," Carter exhaled, sinking down on the edge of the bed to scoop the child into her arms, even as Janet released the last of her tight hold, no longer in danger of getting hit by flailing fists. "I'm sorry I haven't been around lately, but I'm here now." Guilt and panic thickening her voice, she held onto the child tightly, her heart clenching at the way small hands clung tightly to the front of her jacket. "I'm so sorry," she whispered again, her voice nearly inaudible.

"I knew you'd come," Cass sobbed as she hid her face in Sam's chest, hanging on as though her life depended on it. "I knew you'd know ... that you'd understand...."

"Shhhh, it's okay," Sam whispered, petting silky hair tenderly as she met Janet's gaze over the child's head, her eyes wide and confused. She could feel the harsh shudders still rattling through the child, and the flutter of her unsteady pulse. The colonel had warned her there was a problem, but nothing had prepared her for this. "It'll be okay," she exhaled, still trying to quell her own panic.

"I know," the girl whimpered, "now it will ... you'll know what to do." She seemed to deflate in Sam's arms, the worst of the awful tension draining away. "You'll know," she whispered again, sagging against Sam, while Carter just kept whispering soothingly. At some point, she glanced up at Janet, where the woman was sitting near the head of the bed, one hand petting Cass' hair absently, her expression unreadable.

"You okay?" Sam mouthed, noting for the first time just how tired her friend looked.

Fraiser nodded, though she reached up and massaged her brow in a way that left Sam doubting the sincerity of the answer.

"You might want to check the front door," Sam whispered almost inaudibly after a beat. "I ... uh ... came through kind of quickly."

After one last gentle stroke over the hair that fluttered down Cass' back, the doctor rose and slipped out.

Sam kept petting the child's hair and whispering soothing nonsense phrases until she felt the small body go completely limp, then she carefully eased the girl back into bed, tugging the covers up over her as she settled into the mattress with a tiny sigh. Her touch impossibly tender, she brushed fine hair back from the child's face, staring down at Cass for a long moment before she rose and slipped out.

She found Janet in the foyer, using a screw gun to reattach the shattered remains of the inner door frame where Sam's lunge had torn the wood apart. She'd tugged a robe on over her nightshirt and was focused on the problem at hand. Scratch the plan for a new door, Sam realized as she noted the damage. Clearly, the frame was the problem.

"Sorry about that," she exhaled apologetically. So much for the notion that she'd safetied everything possible.

The doctor shrugged without looking back, handling the zip gun more comfortably than Sam would have predicted as she ran the screws into place. "This'll hold it together temporarily," Janet sighed without further comment.

A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed as Janet worked.

"I can do that for you if you want," Sam offered.

"No, it's almost done." Fraiser ran a last zip screw into place, then ran a thumb along the ugly crack in the wood. Shaking her head, she pushed the door closed, giving it a healthy shove to get it to latch before she threw the dead bolts.

"Are you angry at me?" Sam asked at last, sensing an ocean's worth of underlying currents to what wasn't being said, and not knowing what to make of them.

"No," the doctor answered none-too-believably, then abruptly turned, easily side-stepping Sam on her way to the kitchen. "Just tired."

Not knowing what else to do, Sam followed close on her heels. "Are you sure, because--"

"I'm not, okay?" Janet cut her off as she popped the batteries out of the handle of the screw gun and tossed them into the charger, then tucked it into a cabinet. "It's just been a really long couple of days." She rubbed the back of her neck tiredly as she turned to face Sam, leaning against the low counter at her back. "What are you doing here?"

Sam was surprised to find herself feeling unwelcome for the first time she could remember since that first uncomfortable morning after she'd spent the night looking after the doctor. "I...uh...well," she stammered uncertainly, caught by surprise by Janet's tone and still a little shaky in the aftermath of Cass' nightmare. "I picked up your email ... and remembered what you said about Cass having problems...."

Janet's expression didn't change as she continued to watch Sam carefully, picking up on the subtle signals that broadcasted her guilt over the dissembling nature of the comment like a neon sign. "And maybe Colonel O'Neill opened his big mouth?" she asked after a beat. Sam's obvious discomfort was a sure sign that something was up ... and she should've known O'Neill wouldn't be able to resist the urge to meddle.

Sam's guilty flush gave her away. "He mentioned you've been having a hard time," she admitted haltingly. "But I was going to call you tomorrow morning anyway," she added quickly, wanting to erase the look that darkened her friend's expression.

Janet felt tension ripple through her muscles, exhaustion, adrenaline, and unwanted resentment making for a dangerous emotional mix. "I see," she said very softly.

"After I talked to him ... and went through my email," Sam added, a tiny hesitation making her voice catch as she remembered the increasingly edgy tone of the notes she'd read, "I thought I should go ahead and drop by on the off chance you were still awake." She paused, uncomfortably aware of the close perusal ... not to mention how close to a lie her words were. "Then I heard Cass scream." She offered a tiny, embarrassed shrug. "And kinda panicked. Sorry about the door," she apologized again.

Janet shook her head, pinching the bridge of her nose tiredly. "It's not a big deal," she sighed heavily, consciously ignoring everything but the most immediate and easily solved problem. "I'll take care of it tomorrow." She wasn't up to dealing with anything more serious at that point.

"I can fix it," Sam assured her instantly, but the doctor shook her head, dismissing the idea.

"I'll get it," Fraiser snapped, her voice carrying a hint of an edge despite her best efforts to control it.

Sam winced at her tone, uncertain how to react. "Janet," she began at last, "obviously, you're upset--"

A slender hand rose in a halting motion as the doctor shook her head. "Sam, can we just not do this tonight?" she whispered, her voice hoarse with stress. She was too tired and too on edge for this discussion and if she didn't put a stop to it, something bad was going to happen. She knew her temper well enough to be certain of that much. She'd been on edge before, but then to have Sam skate in and calm Cass down just by showing up, when her every effort hadn't done a whit of good, was just a little too much. There was a part of her that wanted to throw an old fashioned hissy fit and demand to know why the hell Sam had put her in the position of being so emotionally invested when the child didn't want her, just Sam. She'd felt like goddamned babysitter when mom came home after a long trip ... and that hurt. On top of everything else, it was just one straw too many.

"Look," Sam began, needing to say some things and too tired to pick up on the other woman's emotions well enough to see it was the wrong thing to do, "I'm sorry if I haven't helped as much as I should have lately ... or if I've been distant, but--"

"Sam," Janet said again, her tone sharper this time, "I really don't think this is the time." She'd needed Sam for the last two weeks, but at that precise moment, she needed to her get the hell out. She took a deep breath, letting it out as she fought the anger and resentment. Maybe tomorrow, after she'd caught her breath and gained a little emotional equilibrium, she could deal with this discussion.

"I just want--"

"Right now, what you want is not my primary worry." Janet didn't quite explode, but she was close. She held up a hand in a sharp gesture, finishing the task of silencing anything Sam might have said. "I'm very glad you showed up, because Cass needed you ... and we're going to have to do something about these nightmares ... and figure out what is going on ... but right now, I need you to leave." Because if she didn't, Janet's temper was going to blow. She could sense that abyss right in front of her, and she was trying desperately to avoid it, well aware that a lot of what was going on in her head wasn't even Sam's fault, just a product of her own jealousy and frustration. But that knowledge didn't change her emotions, and she needed some space and some rest to get things back under control. Having Sam stand there and stare at her wide-eyed, totally unaware of the emotional havoc she'd created wasn't helping.

Carter swallowed hard, momentarily paralyzed by the obvious anger in the other woman's voice. "I'm sorry," she whispered at last, not knowing what else to say or do.

Janet couldn't contain an exhausted sigh, some of the anger draining away in the face of such genuine regret. "I know."

Not knowing what to do to fix things, Sam turned away ... and bumped the wall with her shoulder ... the one she'd used as a battering ram to go through the door. Without the adrenaline rush of sheer terror to insulate her from the pain, she nearly collapsed under a wave of agony. She grabbed for her arm with her other hand as one knee buckled, and the world momentarily greyed over.

By the time Sam could breathe again, Janet was kneeling next to her, one hand resting lightly on her upper back, the other tucked under chin to draw her head around. "Sam, what is it?"

Fighting to draw air into her lungs, Carter groaned low in her throat. "I think I may have broken my shoulder," she admitted, and heard a tiny sigh of disgust escape her friend's mouth. "Your door was more solid than it looked." Even if the frame wasn't.

"Do you think you can stand?"

Her expression grim, Sam nodded. "Since I didn't kick the damn door down, probably," she groaned. She was feeling pretty weak in the knees, but she'd stand if it killed her.

Hooking a hand under her good shoulder, Janet carefully helped her up, then guided her onto a low chair. Still gripping the injured shoulder with her opposite hand, Sam leaned back in the chair with a soft moan. She winced as the doctor carefully peeled her hand back, then eased her out of her jacket. Her touch professionally gentle, she carefully ran her fingers lightly over Sam's back and shoulder, pressing here and there before hooking one hand gently under her upper arm and manipulating her arm and shoulder.

"I don't think it's broken," Fraiser said after several minutes of the gentle efforts. "More likely it's bruised or sprained ... and you may have done some damage to your rotator cuff, though I don't think so. How's the pain level?"

"It's backing off," Sam admitted, her voice husky with a combination of exhaustion, emotion, and physical pain. She heard Janet step around in front of her, but kept her eyes locked firmly on the floor between her feet. It seemed safer that way. A long moment of silence followed, then she heard Janet's soft sigh.

"Can you drive yourself home, or do you need to either crash here, or have me take you?"

Unable to contain a tiny, bitter laugh, Sam whispered, "I don't suppose there's a door number four?" She didn't think she could drive safely at that point, staying over seemed impossible, and at that point, she wasn't sure she even felt comfortable locked in a car with the other woman. She knew what she'd done ... sort of ... but she wasn't sure what was going on in Janet's head, and facing such a confusing unknown was mildly terrifying ... especially on top of everything she already had to deal with.

"Sam," Janet murmured after a long moment, sounding more tired than angry now, "I'm not angry at you ... at least not the way you think." She massaged the back of her neck in an effort to release the knot of tension pulling taut along her spine. "I'm tired and not dealing well with some things tonight."

"I screwed up," Sam admitted to herself as much as to the other woman, the tender care her undoing in contrast with the anger that had allowed her to maintain some degree of defensiveness.

"We all do," the doctor said quietly as she sank down into another chair. "It's part of being human."

The dangerous ebb and flow of anger seemed to have dissipated from Janet's voice, and Sam risked a glance at the other woman, relaxing fractionally when she saw that the lines of tension around her mouth and eyes had nearly dissipated. She looked worried now, but the anger seemed to have disappeared. "I just didn't think," she admitted, the words tumbling unchecked from her mouth without much interference from her brain. "I thought everything was okay ... that I'd taken care of things...." She shrugged helplessly.

"She's not an alarm system, Sam," Janet whispered as she searched the other woman's eyes, more touched than she wanted to be by the genuine hurt and confusion she saw there. "You can't just fix people like they're machinery and then assume that they're working right. It takes time ... effort." She shook her head, the anger gone, but the practical frustration still present. "Cass lived through something no one should have to go through. She's going to need a lot of time, and a lot of care, to heal...."

Sam flinched, remembering O'Neill's none-too-kind comment about her social skills. "I know that," she sighed, wondering how she could have forgotten something she knew so well for herself. "I just ... I thought...." She trailed off, not knowing what to say or how to describe what she'd been thinking ... or maybe that she hadn't been thinking, just hiding from herself. A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed as she stared at her own hands, wondering how she could have done something so boneheaded. "I didn't mean to lose track of things," she whispered at last, wishing there was a way she could change her recent mistakes "Or to lose track of you and Cass." She looked up then, staring into dark brown eyes and momentarily finding herself lost.

"I know." The doctor exhaled a tiny sigh, her lips moving in some private comment as she leaned back and massaged her temple.

Sam looked down again, guilt twisting her expression, but also a flicker of resentment. "But you should have told me sooner if there as a problem ... even bashed me upside the head with a two-by-four if need be." She looked up at Janet, her eyes liquid with a confusing tangle of emotions. "I thought everything was okay...." she added, her voice soft, some of the resurgent defensiveness draining away.

Janet was momentarily struck dumb by the wide-eyed look thrown her way, and it struck her that Sam had a point. "And that's partly my fault," she exhaled after a long beat and shrugged. "I thought you should just know ... and I let my resentments fester." She looked down at her own hands, studying them silently for another long moment as she considered some of the things she'd been afraid to say ... or even think. "Part of the problem is you have a way with Cass that I don't ... which can be hard emotionally ... and sometimes -- maybe most of the time -- I don't think I'm up to this...."

"Do you know why I wanted you to take her?" Sam whispered at last, then didn't give Janet time to respond before she answered her own question. "Because I knew you'd be there for her ... that I could trust you not to disappear into the ether ... that you wouldn't lose track of what's important ... the way I do." She ran a hand through her hair, being as honest as she knew how. "I knew she'd be better off with you ... and I knew you'd always take care of her." She blinked rapidly to dispel the threat of tears. "Sometimes you remind me of my mom that way. I always knew she'd be there...." She trailed off, staring down at the floor again. "I just wanted that for her."

Janet closed her eyes momentarily, trying to resist the urge to melt under the impact of those rich, blue eyes, but her wishes didn't seem to have much to do with anything lately. "But, Sam ... she doesn't want my help," she said at last. "She wants yours. And I don't know what to do about that ... or even if anything can be done." Emotions couldn't be reprogrammed just because she wanted them to be different. "I don't think I can do this alone."

Swallowing hard, Carter nodded in understanding. "And I left you feeling like you had to," she whispered, her voice threatening to break.

Janet couldn't argue, and simply offered another helpless shrug. She didn't know what else to do.

"I didn't think," Sam admitted. "God, no wonder you wanted me out of here," she muttered, mentally flaying herself. She'd dumped the problem on her friend, assuming that solved things, and completely fumbled the ball.

"No," Janet said quickly, shaking her head in denial. "I want you to understand something ... the reason I asked you to leave," she said seriously, "isn't so much what you did ... as what I was afraid I would do." Another pause followed before she continued. "I was in a bad space when you got here ... and it didn't help that you could calm Cass down when I couldn't.... I was hurt and afraid I'd say things I couldn't take back.... I don't ever want to hurt our friendship that way." It was a mistake she'd made before and come to regret. It was also as close to the truth as she dared come on the subject of her all-too-confused emotions. "I just wanted a little space, that's all."

Sam nodded silently. "And now?" she asked, trepidation coloring her voice.

Janet took a deep breath and let it out to calm her nerves as well as possible when they were frayed within an inch of total meltdown. "Right now, she needs us both ... and I think we both need to grow up and find a way to do what's best for her ... whatever that might be."

Uncertain exactly what that meant ... or maybe it was purposely phrased so that it could mean almost anything ... Sam simply whispered, "I just want what's right for her."

"We both do," Janet sighed.

"Now that I know there's a problem, I'll be here ... for both of you," Sam said, her expression intent. "But you need to tell if there's more I need to do." She shook her head. "I need help too."

The doctor nodded. "I'll try." It was the only promise she could make.

Uncertain what else she could say to fix things, Sam simply sat silently, back to staring at the floor.

Finally the doctor leaned forward, running a hand through sleep tangled hair with an exhausted sigh. "However, right now, I think the best thing for both of us is to get some rest," she said practically. Nothing else was going to come of extending the discussion. They were both too tired and too confused to be dealing with the situation in their current condition. She eyed the way Sam was hunched in the chair to protect her bruised shoulder. "You want to stay here tonight?" she asked quietly, telling herself it was just because neither of them was in any condition to drive.

Sam looked up then, swallowing hard, staring into deep eyes in an effort to decide how welcome she was. "I'd like that," she admitted after a moment, wanting to make up for not being there if she could.

Janet nodded silently. "As much as your shoulder's obviously hurting, why don't you take my bed?" That way she could stretch out, unlike on the couch.

"The couch'll be fine, really I..." Sam shook her head, not wanting to put her friend out, especially after everything that had already happened, only to trail off into a low groan as the movement pulled bruised shoulder muscles.

"Go on," Janet chided. "I'll be fine on the couch. I've slept there more than a few times anyway ... and I'd rather not have to drive you into the SGC for an X-Ray tonight because you try to scrunch yourself onto my couch and wind up making things worse." Sam started to argue, but Fraiser held up a hand and cut her off before she could get any words out. "Consider it an order from your doctor." She smiled to lighten the words, and struggled to get a teasing note into her voice. "Go," she added after a beat when Sam still hadn't moved.

Another moment passed while Sam looked down at her own feet, then back up at Janet. "Thank you," she whispered huskily, not entirely certain why the gratitude was so important, but knowing it was.

"Go on," the doctor said again, offering a gentle smile as she watched Sam trudge toward her bedroom. The expression dropped away once the blond was out of sight and she reached up to massage the back of her neck with a tired sigh, wondering at her own sanity. She'd had her opportunity right there to put some distance between them. With her own self-righteous anger driving her, jealousy burning a hole in her guts, and Sam being more than a little clueless, she'd had all the impetus she needed right there to make some kind of emotional break; gain a little ground; regain her footing; and all else failing, run like hell.

And she just couldn't do it.

Couldn't pull away when Sam was hurt, then couldn't maintain her anger when she saw that look of pained regret in her eyes. Couldn't even pretend to herself that she was doing it all for Cassie's sake.

Oh, Cassandra had something to do with the decision, but she wasn't the reason. Not by a long shot.

Janet shook her head slowly, eyes sliding closed as it all sank in on her with more force than she was quite prepared for. Her voice was soft and a little sad when she finally whispered to herself, "Oh, Fraiser ... you're digging yourself in way too deep...."

END

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