You're Gonna Get Your Fingers Burned
Janet Fraiser wanted to help the surviving members of SG-1, wanted to offer some kind of comfort, but every effort was either rebuffed or so completely ineffective as to go unnoticed. She sighed softly as she considered the three people in her infirmary, trembling, dazed, deep in shock, their gazes unfocused and barely seeing her. They were all in bad shape. O'Neill had nearly torn her head off during his checkup; Teal'c had stared at her and jerked back, an odd kind of near-hostility in his gaze; and while Sam had turned to her momentarily, searching Janet's face as though she held some kind of answer as she gave a stumbling account of what had happened during the mission, she'd since shut down and sat mumbling to herself as she trembled violently, still wet, cold, and in shock.
Physically, there wasn't much wrong with them -- a day or two's healing time and their bodies would be fine -- but mentally....
She shook her head, resolved to discuss the situation with General Hammond. He was old line about such things, and she suspected he would want to put them back in the field ASAP, something Janet was convinced was a bad choice at best. They needed healing time, otherwise, she was far from certain how trustworthy their judgment would be in an emergency.
Her eyes touched on Sam where the woman sat buried in a blanket, narrow shoulders trembling, her wet hair slicked back from her face, eyes unfocused. Without any real plan, she crossed the distance between them, reaching out to loosely pat her friend's trembling shoulder. Sam never really noticed. "Captain Carter?" she said very softly. "Sam?" She spoke again, hoping their friendship would let her reach through on a more personal level.
Sam only continued rocking very gently, lips moving, the barest sound escaping them. "I can't believe he's gone."
Her eyes sad, Janet simply pulled away, accepting that for the moment, there was nothing she could do for the other woman, or the rest of SG-1 for that matter, but protect them as best she could and see to it they had room to heal. They were too lost in hell for anything else to register for the moment. No surprise, really. Daniel Jackson had been one of their own, a part of that unique bond that forms between people in the field who must trust each other with their lives under the worst and most challenging of circumstances.
And now Daniel Jackson was dead.
* * * * * *
When the time came, the memorial ceremony for Daniel Jackson went smoothly. Janet stayed close the remaining members of SG-1, worried about their shaky mental states. They'd held up, but there were signs of instability that worried her deeply. Despite the illusion they all tried to project that they were handling it well, they'd been on edge, unfocused, and prone to sudden outbursts of irrational temper. They needed help -- more than she could give them -- not simply to be put back on duty or handed responsibilities they weren't ready to handle.
Which was why she thought General Hammond's latest plan was bone-headed at best; a sentiment she phrased considerably more delicately as she faced her superior officer over a glass of wine at Daniel's wake. They were outside, well away from the crowd, his certainty doing nothing to ease her worries. "Sir, I really don't think that's a good choice at this point," she said carefully. "Cleaning out Doctor Jackson's apartment is likely to bring up a lot of reminders--"
"I'm aware of that, Doctor," he said impatiently, though he kept his tone low and his expression bland. He'd tugged her away from the crowd in order to avoid any gossip, but there were always sharp eyes ready to pick up on anything unusual. He'd waited for this discussion until after informing Colonel O'Neill of the new assignment in hopes of at least muting her arguments because he'd been certain she'd be against his decision. "However, I think you would agree that the members of SG-1 are not individuals who deal well with feeling useless ... they need something to do." There was a flicker of disapproval in his voice, a subtle reminder of their disagreement over the right approach to handling the team. "And since you've insisted they be removed from the rotation ... and Dr. Jackson's apartment needs to be dealt with by secure personnel, I felt this was best."
"General--" she began carefully, but he correctly read her intention to continue arguing with his decision.
"It's not up for discussion, Doctor," Hammond said firmly, his flinty expression a clear warning that she wasn't going to get her way this time.
Janet took a sip from her drink, gaining some time to tamp down a brief surge of temper at having him go against her professional advice in what she considered a medical issue. "Yes, sir," she exhaled after a beat.
He nodded, satisfied with her response, his expression going from harsh to understanding in a blink. She was every bit as passionate about her job as any other officer under his command, and he knew she was just trying to do what she felt was best for her patients. That drive to put her charges above everything else was one of the reasons he'd chosen her over other candidates for the position. She was every bit as brilliant as any of the others who'd wanted the post, though not always as confident of it as he might have wished, and seemed to be wholly lacking in the political impulses that drove too many other officers in his experience. "Doctor," he said, allowing a note of sympathy through now that he'd laid down the law, "I realize you're worried about them. So am I. The bonds formed in the field are intense ones--"
"I know that, sir," she snapped, tiring of the speech. It was as though he thought she'd just missed sight of that fact when in reality it was why she was so worried about their stability. They hadn't just lost a workmate. They'd lost one of their own and she was afraid there was more going on that simple mourning. She wasn't sure what it was, but she couldn't get over the sense that something was very wrong.
"I know you do," though he sounded more placating than confident to her ears, "but I also know what they're feeling ... like they owe Dr. Jackson something. Since bringing him back isn't possible, it's the safest way I know of for them to feel like they've paid that debt." He paused thoughtfully, eyeing the crowd visible around the back porch. "It's like this wake ... it may hurt, but it's a gesture they need to make." He wanted her to understand his logic and know that he wasn't simply making an end run around her.
Janet nodded after a beat. She could see his point even if she didn't entirely agree. Arguing was clearly pointless however. "I see, sir," she said simply.
"Good," her superior murmured, "because I won't change my mind."
Janet nodded, accepting her loss as gracefully as possible. A few more words and he moved on, satisfied that the situation was dealt with. Janet took a long drink from her glass, draining the last of her wine and debated getting a refill only to decide against it. This was no time for a temper tantrum, something that would only get harder to avoid if she had a few more drinks. Everyone's emotions were high, hers included.
She was still contemplating rifling through O'Neill's kitchen in hopes of finding something non-alcoholic -- he had to at least have some soft drinks on hand for mixers -- when Sam Carter's voice cut through her thoughts.
"I don't believe you," blond said tightly.
Janet spun, eyes going wide as she saw the captain step around the near corner of the house. Her eyes flashing angrily, the blond glared at Janet with open hostility. "Sam?" the doctor croaked, eyes flicking back to the house as she realized how easy it would be for someone to stand just around that corner and eavesdrop on the conversation she'd had with General Hammond. In her current mental state, that probably wouldn't go over well. "Are you--"
"Save it," Carter snapped, cutting her off.
"I'm not sure what you think you--" Janet began again, her tone placating.
"I said, 'Save it.'" Sam hissed, one hand slicing the air to emphasize the point. "You're not a part of this and you don't understand it," she ground out, "so stay the hell out of it." It wasn't the clearest sentence she'd ever uttered in her life, but Janet got the message loud and clear.
The doctor held up a hand in a calming gesture. "Sam, we need to talk about this," she exhaled, caught off guard by the seething anger radiating from the other woman. She'd known Sam wouldn't agree with her judgment, but she hadn't expected this level of anger.
Carter just shook her head. "I said, 'Stay the hell out of it,'" she repeated through gritted teeth, then pulled back, stalking back toward her teammates with long strides, leaving Janet staring helplessly after her.
Janet glared at her glass, suddenly wishing she'd gone for the refill, and swallowed hard. Something alcoholic would have been a very welcome crutch at that point, though wine would hardly have been her preference. She stared at her friend, but the blond never looked her way. When Sam was calmer and had more distance on the situation, she was certain the she'd understand, but at that precise moment, Janet felt like she'd been blasted by Teal'c's staff weapon, and logic did nothing to ease the ball of hurt in her chest. She'd felt an instant bond with Sam Carter, and she hadn't really realized until that moment just how important the other woman's respect had become to her. Carter was the one person on the project who never seemed to question her opinions and consistently listened to her ideas. There was a funky energy present whenever they worked together, and it hurt more than she cared to consider that maybe that had all been little more than an illusion based on her own wishful thinking. She sighed softly, suddenly feeling intensely out of place in a crowd of people who probably felt much like Carter and Hammond; that she just didn't get it.
By the time her cell phone rang a half an hour later, it was almost a relief to have an excuse to leave when she recognized the slightly slurred voice on the other end of the line.
* * * * * *
Daniel was dead.
Sam tried to wrap her brain around the concept, but it wasn't sinking in. She'd seen him die; she knew because any attempt to bring up the hated memory sent agony rolling through her. So why didn't it seem real? She hunted her memory, trying to bring up the details that might offer some peace and leave her feeling less like he was lost somewhere, and she should be doing something to help bring him back. Images flashed in her head ... fire ... water ... Daniel screaming... and she fought to drag air into her lungs despite the band pulling steadily tighter around her chest. Knuckles whitening, nails digging into her palms, she tried to stay objective and study the memory; to find and understand the flaws, but agony pulsed through her temples, worsening with every passing second until something inside of her snapped.
"Dammit, Daniel, why?" She swept a hand across the kitchen counter, sending a bottle of wine and a star shaped pasta container (a present from her father two years before in a clear fit of no-idea-what-to-get-her-for-Christmas-itis) careening across the tile. Both shattered as they tumbled into each other. Most of the glass fell into the sink, but several shards remained on the counter and as she moved to brush them after their counterparts, she felt a brief slash of pain. Sam stared blankly down at the sharp slice across her palm and the steadily flowing crimson streamers. Fisting her hand tightly, it was frightening when she hardly felt the physical pain that followed. She knew it was there, but it was an intellectual kind of knowledge, not a real one. Nothing felt real anymore, not even her own body.
Maybe if she could have gone back on duty, going through the familiar routine with someone else in Daniel's place it would have driven the truth home. But all of SG-1 was off for the rest of the week, a decision made at Janet Fraiser's insistence. She'd assumed the choice was Hammond's -- something which had rankled, but she'd respected her superior's opinion -- but after overhearing the doctor's conversation with the general, she'd asked around and, according to the gossip, the two had argued rather vociferously in a hallway. Sam had heard several versions of the story, each one more colorful than the last, until the last rendition virtually had the two officers coming to blows.
She shook her head, once again angry at the other woman. General Hammond was right, and she'd been out of line to argue with his experience. They should have been on the job, focusing on the mission Daniel died for.. Dammit, Janet should have asked them before pushing to take them off duty ... or gone along with the general ... or something. But no. She'd gotten a bug up her ass and just had to win. She hadn't been worried about doing what was best for the team -- for Sam -- she'd been obsessed with winning a confrontation with the general.
Sam slammed her hand into a vase as she hurried out of the kitchen, accidentally sending it flying into the far wall, the resulting crash offering a tiny flickering sense of satisfaction. Sam paused, staring at the shattered pieces. That's what her soul felt like ... shattered and unrecognizable. She wasn't even thinking when she picked up the glass figurine that had sat on the end table next to the vase and flung it as hard as she could. It shattered into a thousand shards as it hit the wall.
And then she was grabbing for everything breakable she could reach, throwing knick knacks, lamps, and glassware with a perverse sort of abandon, the sound of shattering glass promising a sense of relief that never came. When there was nothing left in reach, she froze, standing helplessly in the middle of the chaos, chest heaving, hands fisted tightly at her sides. It hadn't helped at all, hadn't released any of the frustration or anger ... and certainly hadn't brought Daniel back.
Suddenly, she was moving, hurrying through the house, then grabbing for the keys hanging on a hook next to the door to the garage.
Moments later, she gunned the engine on the lovingly restored Harley in the garage, accelerating it out onto the street with a rumble of the well-tuned engine without pausing to hit the remote control for the garage door to close it behind herself. Daniel was dead. Why should she care if someone stole everything she owned?
She hit the streets too fast, swerving the corners and pushing her speed as though she could leave reality behind. Luckily, it was late enough that the streets were relatively empty, and she was a good enough rider to keep the bike under control even when she wasn't at her mental best.
When she reached Janet's, she dumped the Harley on its side in the grass in front, never looking back as she stormed toward the front door with long, aggressive strides, no longer caring about the machine she'd put so much time and care into rebuilding. No more than she cared about the pain that throbbed through her hand as she began knocking on the front door hard enough to bruise her knuckles. It was like the cut on her hand; she knew the pain was there, but she couldn't feel it. "Dammit, Janet, open the door. I know you're home," she hissed to herself. She knew she was dangerously close to losing it, but she didn't have the wherewithal to pull of the emotional tailspin on her own.
The pale yellow porchlight flicked on, and Sam stepped back a pace, fully intending to let loose a torrent of angry words the moment the door opened. Standing poised on the balls of her feet, eyes intense, she was ready for battle. She'd planned the speech out in her head during the wild ride, laying out every brutal word she'd use to make Janet pay for her self-centered insistence on getting her own way. Spurred by her anger, the mental speech had gone on, every word calculated to lacerate and draw emotional blood. They'd spent so much time talking that Sam knew where best to use words like a razor on her friend's ego--
And then the door slid open to reveal Janet Fraiser, her hair tousled, still yanking the belt on a dark blue robe tight around her waist. She looked up at Sam, concern etched in her expression, but no anger or resentment at the unexpected late night visit. The sight was like a solid punch to the gut and Sam froze like a fly caught in amber. The hateful, ugly words were still there, but on the tip of her tongue, but--
"Sam?" Janet exhaled, running her gaze over the blond, hunting for any sign of injury. Concluding the blond was unhurt, she looked past her, eyes widening as they touched on the motorcycle lying discarded on her front lawn. She knew how much effort Sam had put into that bike. For her to treat it so cavalierly was not a good sign. "What's wrong?" she whispered as her gaze swept back to clash with overbright blue eyes.
Blue eyes drank in the slender figure standing in the doorway, suddenly hungry for the sympathy and comfort promised by wide, dark eyes. Caught in their gentle trap, Sam was reminded of all the times she'd been scared or hurt and Janet had been there for her, offering any kind of succor she was able. It wasn't an act; the concern and worry were completely real, and any other thought suddenly seemed painfully ridiculous. In an instant she realized she couldn't hurt the other woman the way that battered, agonized part of her had wanted.
Sam shook her head like a punch drunk fighter after a particularly vicious uppercut as reality came back into focus, jarring her out of the temporary madness. Slim shoulders sagged, the anger replaced by a sick shame at what she'd been about to do. She shook her head again, her throat suddenly painfully tight. "I'm sorry," she exhaled raggedly. Janet stared at her in confusion and Sam flushed under a wave of embarrassment. The doctor probably thought it was time to measure her for a straight jacket. "I...I didn't ... I'm sorry," she repeated, the embarrassment growing worse with every passing second as it occurred to her there was no reasonable explanation for her sudden appearance. She saw Janet take a step forward and started to turn away, eyes sliding closed, her head jerking back. She would have fled, but incredibly gentle fingers touched her cheek, their scorching heat arresting her chagrined retreat.
"Sam," Janet's voice wrapped around her, soothing and protective, giving the confused woman something to hold onto when it felt like she might implode, "talk to me."
"I can't," Sam gasped, her anger replaced by fear, though it had a far more logical cause. How the hell would Janet even be able to look at her if she knew the truth? Sam couldn't live with the disgust her imagination suddenly conjured for the other woman. Harsh tremors shook her lanky frame, sick shame at what she'd intended turning her stomach into a Gordian knot. She wanted to explain it all away ... but the words just wouldn't come. The truth was too unpalatable and she couldn't lie.
"Shhh," The fingers on Carter's cheek were gently caressing now, just barely stroking her skin, the tiny contact somehow reaching deep inside Sam and uncoiling some of the awful tension in the pit of her stomach, making it possible to breathe again. "Don't run," the doctor coaxed, her tone the same one she might have used with a wild animal ready to take flight. "Let me help you."
"I'm sorry," she croaked when she finally found her voice again and opened her eyes, tears spiking her lashes and making her voice unsteady. "I can't." Only semi-coherent, she shook her head, pulling away from the tenderly caressing hand, the only thought in her head that she had to get out of there before something bad happened. She couldn't trust herself any more. A firm hand curved to her forearm, stopping her wild flight before she could do more than turn away.
"I can't let you leave," Janet said softly, but with an undercurrent of steel, "not in this condition."
Sam swallowed hard. Blue eyes dropped to focus on the hand clutching her arm, then rose to meet the doctor's worried gaze. "I'm sorry," she whispered again. She knew she sounded crazy repeating the apologies over and over, but she didn't know what else to say. "I shouldn't have come."
Dark brown eyes searched blue, seeing entirely too much for Sam's comfort. "Why not?" the doctor asked quietly, still keeping a firm hand on Sam's forearm, unwilling to let go.
Sam's gaze fell away, dropping to her boots. She wanted to lie, even intended to, but when she opened her mouth, the confession came out in flat, simple words. "I came here to hurt you."
A frown ghosted across the doctor's expression, but the hostility Sam feared didn't materialize. "Hurt me?" she repeated doubtfully. "I don't understand ... how?"
"I was angry," Sam exhaled, shaking her head dazedly. She didn't have any better explanation; not for Janet and not for herself. Nothing made sense any more and hadn't since Daniel's death. It was like she'd stepped through some kind of internal looking glass and her head and heart hadn't been working right every since. "Because you kept us off duty." She closed her eyes tightly to block out the woman watching her so worriedly. She didn't deserve the sympathy she saw in those eyes.
"And now?" Janet questioned quietly. The hand on Sam's arm became almost caressing now that the blond was no longer on the verge of fleeing.
Sam shook her head. "No." And then a horrible thought struck her. Blue eyes rose, finding Janet with almost desperate intensity. "I don't mean physically ... I wouldn't do that," she insisted quickly. After everything that had happened between them, it was imperative that the other woman understand she'd never intended to go that far. "I just meant to yell at you ... nothing more." She almost didn't recognize the seemingly disembodied hand that reached out as her own and found herself watching in fascination as tapered fingers just barely stroked the doctor's cheek, amazed by the sensations that suddenly flooded the tips of her fingers. "But I never want to hurt you."
"I know," Janet exhaled, turning her cheek into the gentle caress.
Sam turned her hand, running her thumb along a sculpted cheekbone, relief washing over her at the note of absolute trust in Janet's voice. She wanted to say something profound, but words wouldn't come. It was hard to describe what she was feeling when she was working against the distinct handicap of not knowing herself.
"Come on," Janet urged after a beat, still using that same low, coaxing voice as she used her grip on Sam's forearm to tug her inside, pushing the front door closed in her wake.
Docile now, the blond allowed herself to be quietly led down the hallway. "Why are you helping me?" she whispered as they entered the pleasantly informal livingroom. "After what I told you?"
A tender smile curved full lips. "Because you're my friend ... and you need help...." Janet settled Sam on the couch, kneeling down in front of her. "And because you couldn't do it."
No, she couldn't. That was the only faint comfort Sam could find in the whole, sorry mess. She leaned back into the cushions, pressing the heels of her hands into her eye sockets, her muscles rubbery in the aftermath of the emotional storm. A gentle hand rubbed her knee lightly, until she dropped her hands to stare into worried brown eyes.
"You okay alone for a couple of minutes?"
Sam nodded, leaning forward to rest her elbows on her knees, her head hanging limp from her shoulders. Her voice was little more than a soft mumble when she answered. "I'm fine." It wasn't the most believable claim she'd ever made, but it was apparently enough to convince the doctor she was safe to be left alone for a short time.
"Okay," Janet exhaled, rising easily. She tugged the lapels of her robe together in front, the movement drawing Sam's gaze. The blond suddenly realized that the other woman almost certainly wasn't wearing anything under the soft velour. "I'm just going to ... ah ..." she paused, a dull flush crawling over her cheekbones, "slip into something a little less comfortable."
Nodding her understanding, Sam let her head fall forward again. A beat passed, and then she realized Janet hadn't moved. Another beat, then gentle fingers combed through the overlong bangs that fell across her brow, stroking soft hair very slowly, ready to pull back if she tried to run. Already coiled muscles pulled taut, quivering faintly with tension, but she didn't move.
"It's going to be all right," Janet promised, using that gentle, coaxing tone again, soothing away some of the instinctive terror as her fingers sifted through pale blond hair. "Promise me you won't leave while I'm gone," she added, the steel underpinnings returning to her voice.
Sam nodded stiffly, then risked a look up, more of the tension flowing out of her when she saw the tender smile directed her way.
"I won't be long," Janet assured her and Sam nodded, then let her head fall forward again, suddenly exhausted and feeling more normal than she had in what seemed like decades. "It really is going to be okay," the doctor reiterated and for the first time since Daniel's death, Sam almost believed it. She heard the soft pad of feet and looked up, silently watching as the doctor hurried out.
After Janet was gone, she glanced around the room, a wry smile touching her lips as she noted the two packing boxes still stacked in one corner of the room. The SGC didn't leave much time for real life. She'd finally given up and shoved her own last couple of half full boxes into the storage room when she finally got sick of tripping over them.
And then her eyes fell on the low coffee table in front of the couch, a hint of a frown touching her brow as she noted a pair of wine glasses and a nearly empty bottle of Chardonnay. Both glasses still had a few dregs in the bottom, and when she reached out a tentative hand to touch the nearest one, she found it still cool to the touch. They hadn't been there long. She ran her thumb along the glass, making trails in the condensation, then outlining the faint imprint of lipstick along the rim.
Sam leaned back in the couch, still staring at the glasses, wondering who Janet might have been sharing the wine with after the wake. She'd left rather suddenly. Had she simply gotten together with a friend ... or had the purpose been less innocent? No, that didn't make sense. Sam was certain Janet would have mentioned it if she was seeing someone. No, she'd probably felt the need to cry on a supportive shoulder after the angry words that had passed between them. Probably Gaudino; the woman all but worshiped her superior and she'd be more than happy to step in and play the friend. The thought had her hands curling into tight fists at her sides until she suddenly realized one hand had brushed up against something incongruously soft in contrast to the texture of the couch. Startled, she looked down and then the color drained from her face as she spotted the out of place patch of fabric half-wadded into the space between the pillow and the back of the couch. Hooking a finger under the pale scrap of cloth, she lifted it, her movements cautious as though she thought it might bite.
A bra; the fabric wispy and delicate, the cut low and sexy.
Sam's eyes flashed toward the hall, then back to the garment dangling from her finger. Made from silk and sheerest lace, it wasn't the sort of thing made for daily wear. She couldn't see the doctor hiding that under her uniform. No, it was meant to be seen and touched; designed for a lover to remove between silky kisses and sweet caresses, the feel of the fabric inviting, the front catch delicate and easily manipulated.
Her eyes swept away from the thing as though the sight burned, only to land on what she'd thought was nothing more than a decorative throw tossed over the nearest arm of the couch. She picked out the shape of sleeves and a scooped neckline, suddenly realizing the pale cr�me silk was actually a blouse haphazardly thrown there ... the same one the doctor had been wearing at the wake by the look of it. She turned on the couch, her feet shifting and bumping something, drawing her attention downward to land on cr�me pumps trimmed in gold, the heels high and sharply tapered and meant to draw attention to a slender calf.
Then she remembered the car parked in the driveway. Something large and American made. She hadn't thought anything of it then, but suddenly it occurred to her that Janet drove a compact sports car ... and she always parked it in the garage.
"Oh God," Sam exhaled as the myriad of details sank in, quickly organizing themselves into a mental image. She tried to remember if Janet had arrived at the wake with someone, but she'd been so focused on her own losses that they'd barely spoken until everything exploded. The only person she could remember seeing the other woman speak to was General Hammond, and that scenario just didn't seem possible even if they were both single.
Her gaze swept back to the bra suspended from her finger. "Oh God," she said again. Janet hadn't been wearing anything under the robe. She'd assumed the other woman had just been getting ready for bed or a bath when she knocked, but....
A tiny beat and then Sam's head snapped up as she heard a door opening somewhere on the other end of the house, then the muffled sound of voices, one of them distinctly male -- and thankfully not one she recognized. She leapt to her feet as though hit by a shock, then froze, uncertain what to do, the urge to flee tempered by the certainty that there was no way of avoiding Janet's visitor if she ran for the front door now.
She was still trying to decide what to do when the sudden slam of the front door made her jump like a rifle crack. Blue eyes dropped back to the fragile garment still clutched in her hand as a heavy engine roared somewhere close and tires squealed noisily. He was leaving, she realized in an instant, undoubtedly angry at being denied what he'd wanted. She rubbed her thumb against the silky bra, her mind summoning an image of what it must have been like; Janet and her lover growing more passionate, trading wanton kisses as he pressed her back into the couch, his hands sliding under her blouse and peeling it off to reveal the pale, white bra. In her mind's eye she saw Janet's head tipped back, her eyes closed, tiny sounds escaping her lips as her lover freed the clasp on her bra to make way for his eager hands and mouth....
Lost in thought, Sam missed the faint sound of footsteps headed her way until the last moment. Panicked, she shoved the crumpled bra into a jacket pocket less than a second before a shiver slid down her spine, warning her that she was no longer alone. Blue eyes rose to lock with brown, a deep flush crawling her cheekbones. "I'm sorry," Sam croaked, nearly stumbling over the words as she staggered stiffly forward, feeling like a rather clumsy puppet master as she fought to make her muscles work the way they should. She looked away, nervously running her hand through the bangs that fell across her eyes. "I ... uh ... had no idea...." Not knowing how to finish the sentence, she tried again. "I mean I didn't think ... I just assumed..." her eyes fell away as she mumbled the rest, "...that you'd be alone tonight." She risked a glance at the other woman, realizing that she'd changed into black sweat pants and an oversize black t-shirt with a slightly faded image of Rocky and Bullwinkle emblazoned across the front. The doctor looked every bit as uncomfortable as she felt. "I'm sorry," she muttered again, though she wasn't entirely certain whether she was apologizing for interrupting or for the knowledge that neither of them could escape or avoid.
A dull flush settled on sculpted cheekbones and Janet made a hesitant, half gesture with her hand, waving it off. "Don't worry about it," she demurred. "Actually ... I ... uh ... I didn't mean for you to realize ... anyone was ... here...."
But Sam was already moving, slipping past the other woman in the narrow hallway before she could say another word, a muttered, "I just didn't think," escaping her lips as their shoulders brushed.
Caught by surprise, it took Janet a beat to play mental catch-up and realize Sam was headed for the front door at full speed. "Sam, wait," she called out, pivoting on one foot and hurrying after the blond, who was still muttering apologies for interrupting, her face bright crimson with embarrassment.
Sam got the front door open, relieved to find the driveway empty and her bike still where she'd left it on the grass. "I never meant to bother you," she gasped as she shoved a hand in the front pocket of her jeans, fishing for her keys.
"Sam," Janet snapped sharply in an effort to break through Carter's embarrassed haze as she grabbed her upper arm in a firm hold. "Dammit ... Sam!" Barely feeling the tight grip, Sam barreled ahead and would have broken loose, but Janet threw her other arm around her shoulders from behind, dragging her to a halt. "Will you stop?" the doctor panted in frustration.
Carter froze, chest heaving with her harsh breathing. The panic was back in full force and it took all of her self control to fight her instincts to break free and bolt.
"Listen to me," Janet insisted. "You have nothing to apologize for--"
"I didn't mean to bother you," Sam exhaled heavily, Janet's words just barely penetrating her brain, still tense and ready to run as she stood wrapped in the de facto hug.
"You didn't ... I swear.... You just walked in on something that shouldn't have been happening anyway. Hell, I'm grateful for the interruption...." The tension gradually left Sam's muscles until she was simply standing perfectly still in her friend's arms. With a soft sigh, Janet leaned forward, resting her forehead against Sam's upper back. "Please believe me ... you're anything but a bother," she added after a beat, the soft exhalation sounding almost as tired as Sam felt.
"It's nothing." The words came out sharp and tired, but not angry. "I asked him to leave ... and I'm asking you to stay. That should tell you something." She pulled Sam back in with firm pressure. "Now, will you please stop apologizing and get back in here?" she demanded, her tone wryly exasperated.
Sam did a slow pivot as Janet released her hold and stepped back. "Are you sure?" she questioned haltingly. She had to be certain. The last thing she wanted to do was cause more trouble.
"Yes," Fraiser confirmed on a soft sigh, "I'm sure." She tugged Sam back another step and shoved the front door shut and throwing the lock before she could make another run for it. Bracing a hand lightly on the taller woman's back, she gave her a solid push toward the livingroom.
Sam's chin was firmly glued to her chest, her eyes downcast as the doctor settled her back on the couch, though she did catch a flicker of movement out of the corner of one eye and glance sideways in time to catch sight of Janet lobbing her discarded blouse somewhere out of sight behind the couch. Feeling a fresh wave of heat slide over her skin, she snapped her gaze back to the floor. That seemed much safer. She heard a faint clink and realized the doctor had pushed the glasses aside and taken a seat on the coffee table. Janet leaned forward, elbows braced on her knees, unconsciously mimicking Sam's pose.
"You want to talk about it?" Janet asked after a long moment of silence, then flinched, abruptly realizing how that sounded. "I mean ... about what's going on with you," she clarified quickly, not wanting to discuss anything ... else... "Issues with Daniel ... and all...." She trailed off at last, concluding that talking was only making things worse.
Sam swallowed hard, relieved to have other ... issues ... taken off the table ... at least for now. It just wasn't something she felt up to looking at too closely. A faint head shake, then she quietly admitted, "Not really." She didn't understand any of it herself. The notion of trying to explain and sounding like she was ready for anything but a padded room seemed an insurmountable task.
Janet didn't bother to argue. "Okay," she said softly, still watching Sam.
"What, no argument?" the blond asked dryly, "no psychoanalytical attempts to figure out what's going on in my head?"
A brief moment of silence followed before the doctor quietly answered, "Would it help?"
Sam couldn't contain a small, dark laugh. "I don't think so," she exhaled, massaging her temples as if she could erase the pain burning through her brain. She just wanted to crawl into a nice, safe hole and pull it in after her. Then she wouldn't have to think about anything, not Daniel, not herself, and not whoever had been hiding in the bedroom when she arrived.... Lost in her musings, she jumped when gentle fingers curved to her dangling palm, turning it up to get better look at the source of the dark streaks that ran down the side of her hand and stained the cuff of her jacket.
"This should be treated," Janet exhaled, concentrating on more practical matters for the moment in hopes of giving them both a few minutes to emotionally stabilize.
Sam glanced down at the gash, noting the dried blood ribboned across her palm. She'd forgotten the injury. "It's nothing."
Janet muttered a soft imprecation under her breath, then rose sharply. She reappeared a moment later carrying a plastic first aid kit.
"Shouldn't you have one of those big black medical bags like you see in movies?" Sam mused out loud, sounding a little disappointed.
Russet brows rows rose. "I think this will do for the problem at hand," Fraiser assured her with just a trace of wry humor, a welcome sign that she knew Sam was herself again. Her touch light, she used a disinfectant soaked gauze pad to wash away the dried blood, head canting to one side as she studied the wound. "Nasty cut," she observed, her tone neutral. Cleaned, the injury wasn't as bad as she'd feared, but it was still deep enough to raise an eyebrow over the fact it had been left untreated.
Sam nodded jerkily, reminded of the wild emotion storm that had nearly dismantled her living room. Swallowing hard, she quietly said, "I broke a bottle in the kitchen." Brown eyes searched hers, drawing out the added confession, "And probably ten or twelve other things in the living room."
"Decided you didn't like the Hummel figurine collection, or did you discover the Franklin Mint is really a communist conspiracy?" Janet asked after a beat, the wry humor somehow relaxing Sam where a more serious response would have made her self-consciously aware of her own wobbly sanity.
"I'm not going to dignify that with an answer," Sam complained through a half smile. Janet was well aware of her less than enthusiastic opinion on both subjects, which meant she was just teasing. She was rather proud of herself for figuring that out. Her sense of humor hadn't been at its best since Daniel's death. A long moment of companionable silence followed as the doctor finished sealing the cut. Sam let her eyes fall back to the floor, studying the faint pattern in the carpet as her mind ran on, thoughts unchecked, going over every crazy thing she'd done since the loss of her teammate. "Am I going crazy?" she finally voiced the black fear she couldn't escape.
"No," the doctor's answer was reassuringly immediate and unreserved. "Post traumatic stress can make it feel that way, but you're not crazy ... and you're not going to go crazy."
Said out loud, the words offered incredible comfort and Sam clung to them. She just wished she could feel as confident of that fact as Janet sounded. "No, I'm just running around like a maniac, pounding on people's doors late at night, and babbling like an idiot...." she trailed off, not knowing what else to say.
Janet shrugged, her expression tender. "You're hurting ... I'm just glad you came here instead of doing something stupid."
Blond brows rose as Sam shook her head. "Yeah, I think this was stupid enough...." She was caught by surprise when delicate hands wrapped around one of her own.
"Don't say that," Janet insisted quickly, then skidded to a verbal halt. Taking a breath, she continued in measured tones, "I'm your friend. I don't ever want you to feel you can't come here or can't ask for my help." She stared down at the undamaged hand trapped between her own, running her thumb along the fluid twining of bone and muscle between the slender wrist and faint rise of knuckles. Sam had fascinating hands; graceful, articulate, controlled, and surprisingly powerful despite their finely tapered length.
Sam swallowed hard, unable to tear her eyes away from the sight of Janet's thumb slowly tracing the shape of her hand. She couldn't think of a single thing to say.
Janet continued, her voice low and intense. "I can only guess how hard this has been for you," she looked up, the impact of wide, brown eyes hitting Sam with near palpable force, "but you're not alone. You've got a lot of people who care for you and I'm here any time you need me." A gentle smile curved her mouth. "All you ever have to do is ask, okay?"
Sam swallowed hard, not trusting herself to speak for a moment, and nodded jerkily. "Thank you," she husked at last.
"Any time," Janet exhaled, her voice little more than a soft breath. They sat there a long time, silently absorbing the comfort they both needed after everything that had happened. Finally, Janet took a deep breath and straightened her shoulders, reaching out to pat Sam's knee lightly. "Better now?"
Peering at the other woman, Sam nodded slowly, amazed to find that it was true. "Better." Suddenly self-conscious, she glanced down at her watch, noting the time with a guilty flinch. "But I should probably get the hell out of here so you can actually get some sleep tonight ... oh shit ... and I left my garage door open," she suddenly remembered with a nauseous groan. She started to push to her feet, only to sink back into the couch as a hand snapped out to press firmly on her upper chest.
"You're not driving anywhere," Janet said in a tone that brooked no argument. She had no intention of allowing Sam back on her motorcycle any time soon. She briefly debated putting her up for the night then discarded the idea. As shaky as she was, the captain would probably do better on her home turf. "You can park the Harley in my garage and I'll drive you."
"No argument," the doctor cut her off. "You're lucky you didn't break your neck getting here. I'll be damned if I'll deal with the guilt involved if you make the grade leaving."
All things considered, the doctor had a point. Still, Sam started to draw breath to argue -- she'd already been too much of a pain in the ass to consider imposing further -- only to deflate under the arch look thrown her way.
"Don't make me get rough with you, Captain," Janet warned.
Sam couldn't help it, a tiny grin curved her lips in response to the mental image that thought produced. It was like being threatened by Mighty Mouse.
Janet was apparently reading her mind again because she leaned forward, her tone low and confidential. "And before you get too overconfident about that idea, let me remind you that I deal with airmen a whole lot bigger than you every day ... and they're terrified of pissing me off." Which was true actually, now that Sam thought about it. a wicked smile curved full lips as the blond looked up again. "Now let me have the keys to the bike," the doctor requested politely, holding her hand out, palm up.
"I don't think--"
"I know," Janet interrupted pertly, "which is why I want your keys before I go get ready."
A tiny, annoyed snort escaped Sam's lips, but she fished into her front pocket and handed the keys over. "There," she muttered with just a tiny dose of resentment at being treated like a child, though another part of her was oddly pleased. She couldn't have done too much damage to their friendship if Janet cared enough to look after her this way.
"That's better," the doctor drawled, a smile playing about her lips. "I'll just be a couple of minutes," she assured Sam and straightened. "Hopefully your couch is more comfortable than mine." She dropped her bombshell, then turned toward the hallway.
Sam blinked in confusion, eyes wide as she stared at Fraiser's slender back. "What?"
Janet glanced back, still smiling, though there was an edge to her expression as though she expected resistance. "You didn't think I was planning on leaving you alone after everything that's happened tonight?" she demanded in a tone of polite disbelief.
"Well, I...." Sam trailed off. She hadn't really thought about it actually.
Janet shook her head. "Not gonna happen, Sam. You can either put up with me or go back to the SGC and put up with Dr. McKenzie." She wasn't joking now, Sam realized as she noted the obdurate look in the doctor's eyes. "Your choice."
A long moment of silence followed and then Sam nodded in surrender. "My couch isn't quite as comfortable as yours, but you'll survive," she sighed at last.
"Good girl," Janet praised, then slipped out.
The doctor reappeared a few minutes later, an Air Force duffle bag slung over one shoulder, and nodded to Sam. "Let's go." She took a moment to toss her bag in the trunk of the late model Celica, then helped Sam right the Harley and move it into the garage. Minutes later, the house and garage were locked up and they were on the road.
It wasn't a long drive and the doctor was a good driver -- fast, but confident and careful -- so Sam just settled into her seat, content to be a passenger for a little while. Lost in their own thoughts, neither woman said much during the short trip. When they arrived, Janet parked on the street in front of Sam's house, hurrying after the other woman as she bailed out and jogged up the walk to check on her house.
The blond heaved a sigh of relief as she found everything secure. There were expensive tools and parts in the garage and, from there, an easily kicked in door that would give a thief entrance to the entire house.
"Everything okay?" Janet questioned as she watched Sam go through the contents of the garage and check the interior door to the house.
She got a quick nod in return. "Looks like it." Sam waited until Janet retrieved her duffle and rejoined her, then activated the control to close the garage door and unlocked the door to the house. It led in through the kitchen and she felt Janet pause as they passed the sink where broken glass still sat glittering against the enamel. "I told you there was some breakage," she muttered, half expecting a pithy remark or two, but Janet only raised an eyebrow in eloquent, if silent, comment. "There's more in the livingroom," the blond added after a beat.
"I'm guessing a broom and vacuum might not be a bad idea," Janet said at last without offering any further opinion, "since I don't plan on sleeping in my shoes." And sooner or later, she might want to get up and walk somewhere. That could get painful if they didn't do a bit of cleanup.
"I'll take care of it," Sam said haltingly, and started to turn away to get what she needed. A light hand on her shoulder stopped her.
"We'll take care of it," Janet corrected gently.
Sam looked back over her shoulder, eyes meeting the doctor's. She nodded, a watery smile curving her mouth. "Yeah ... we will...."
* * * * * *