Six Months Later
Sam Carter took a long pull on the beer in her hand, eyes unfocused, barely seeing the familiar interior of Janet Fraiser's livingroom. The beer was her fourth of the evening, which was probably three too many, considering the depression rapidly settling on her shoulders. She'd felt the need for something to bolster her for an uncomfortable evening in her friend's company -- and are we really still friends, she wondered darkly -- and foolishly forgotten that more often than not, too much alcohol just left her feeling maudlin. Something she'd hardly needed help with of late. Carter rubbed her thumb against the peeling label on the bottle, distracting herself with the small gesture so she didn't have to think about other things; like the fact that not so many months before, it wouldn't have been a big deal if she had a little more alcohol than was advisable. Not that she normally drank too much, but she'd had a little too much a few times, knowing she was welcome to spend a few hours sobering up or to park the Indian in the garage and use the guest bedroom. Curled in a borrowed nightshirt, she'd always felt surprisingly comfortable, despite the fact that she rarely slept well the first night in any strange place, the sounds and smells of her friend's home offering a soothing familiarity that had made her feel like she belonged there.
That comfortable companionship was gone now, dissolved like so much snow on a hot stove. Oh, it was nothing obvious. She doubted anyone at the SGC had even noted the change. She and Janet still worked together, but it was different now; cool and courteous without the old warmth and comfort. Gone was the quirky synergy that had bonded them almost from their first meeting, leaving a cool aura of professionalism in its wake. On the personal front, even the closest of friends would have been hard pressed to see any obvious changes. Sam was still welcome in Janet's home and still an accepted part of Cassie's life. Only after the child had gone to bed was any difference apparent. Where once she would have felt free to stay long after Cassie was asleep, now she knew to a certainty that the moment the child was in bed, Janet would suddenly have some excuse for turning in early and sending her home. Sometimes she was tempted to see what her friend would do if she pushed to stay, but she never took the chance, half afraid of the answer she'd receive. She couldn't face seeing the evidence that their friendship was that badly frayed. God knew, it was already bad enough.
Carter pushed to her feet, pacing to the back window to stare out at the night, taking some small comfort from the glimpse of stars glittering brightly overhead. She was better with stars than people. They were nice and safe and very far away. She sighed softly, actually, these days, so were people ... well, one person anyway. Sam rested her hand lightly on the window, noting the way it frosted with her breath, the opaque glass reflecting her image back at her and reminding her of things she would rather not have considered.
Like the fact that she missed her best friend, missed the trade of ideas, the closeness and the jokes, missed playing chess with the only person she'd met in years who could occasionally kick her ass, though her playing style was so far from Sam's perfect mathematical approach that it was like they weren't even playing the same game. Despite her efforts to avoid the rest of the equation, Sam shivered softly, closing her eyes against memories of bodies touching and stroking, soft words of love that she had no business hearing whispered against silky skin. She clenched her hand around the long neck, fighting the dark impulse to put her hand, bottle and all, through the window to be rid of the unwanted reflection.
She wasn't that Carter, and any resemblance was purely theoretical.
She leaned against the glass, the chill seeping into her skin, but doing nothing to cool her brain's feverish need to go over things better left alone. She fought down a burst of resentment against that other Carter, struggling to find the pity she could have felt for anyone else in the same position, but she'd always expected more of herself -- and that included any alternate selves. Someone with her face, her mind, her entire genetic code had come here and given in to her own needs, knowing it would result in agony for someone she supposedly loved. Sam didn't want to think she could be capable of that, no matter what happened to her. The irony that she was the one person in life to whom she could never cut any slack didn't escape her as she leaned there, silently longing for everything to just go back to the way it had been before. She'd been comfortable then, at ease with her life and relationships, confident of where she stood with the people she cared for. Now, she hadn't a clue and she didn't even know how to get one.
Sam's hand fisted tightly around the neck of the beer bottle as she found herself wishing for a time when she hadn't felt like she was walking on eggshells whenever she was around her friend, when she could reach out and offer a simple hug or shoulder massage without feeling Janet tense or having to wonder if her friend wished that it was Sam herself who'd been the one to--
She cut that thought off right there, not letting it go forward because it just hurt too damn much to even begin to contemplate. But other synapses weren't playing along and despite her best efforts she found herself thinking about the last time she'd touched Janet in anything but the most cursory fashion; the hours while they'd lain twined together, waiting for the rescue that had eventually come. She let out a small, angry sound as the memory of the smell and feel of the smaller woman's body slid through her as though it were happening at that very moment, the intensity of the sensory impression leaving her shaken and so scared she could barely think straight. Despite her efforts to deny it, the friendship and mental stimulation weren't the only things she missed. She took another long swallow of beer, but it did nothing to cool the vivid memories running through her brain. She could still imagine the heat and feel of incredibly soft skin, the shape of fine curves, the smell of sweet shampoo mixed with sweeter flesh.
God, what if she really was....
Sam couldn't finish the thought.
And then, despite her best efforts to cut it off, her brain finished it for her -- what if you really are in love with Janet? A well of pain opened up in her chest, the intensity of it nearly driving Carter to her knees and leaving her on the verge of tears as she realized that she honestly didn't know the answer -- or maybe you do and you just haven't accepted it yet, the distant thought echoed through her mind. All she knew was that she was so damn lonely and tired of being shut out of her friend's life; of losing one of the very few people she'd let inside the walls. And the only one who'd ever made her feel like she'd come home.
A tiny sound escaped Sam's lips. She just wanted to feel that way again; safe, warm, and totally at ease. She wanted to know there was someone she could complain about O'Neill to or share a look with when Daniel offered one of his loopier theories or bitch with when the general was riding all of their cases. She wanted to know there was someone she could call in the middle of the night when memories of Jolinar gave her nightmares that left her shaking.
She just wanted her best friend back....
An image of Janet in her alternate's arms, her voice soft and trusting, eyes gleaming with love flashed, unwanted, in her head....
Or maybe she did want something more. She shook her head slowly, confused by emotions she'd spent most of her life ignoring. Not that she was a virgin, but she'd chosen her past relationships based more on propriety than passion, picking men -- heavy emphasis on the male part of the equation since she'd never regarded romance as something worth risking her career over -- based on the fact that they wouldn't interfere with her real passions, science and the Air Force. And when the inevitable end came, it had always been something of a relief to have her life back under her control without feeling like she was letting someone else down.
For once, there was no relief in feeling someone slipping away, no sense of impending freedom, only the realization that she was on the verge of feeling more alone than she'd felt in a very long time.
Sam spread her fingers against the cool glass, tapping a staccato tattoo with neatly blunted nails as a confusing jumble of emotions rolled through her. It occurred to her that the alcohol wasn't helping clarify her thoughts at all. In fact, unless she was vastly mistaken, it was making things worse, reminding her of too many bitter corrosive memories she would have been better off forgetting.
That was the emotional powder keg Janet unknowingly stepped into minutes later as she came wandering back after putting Cass to bed. She was massaging the back of her neck, limbs heavy with exhaustion. "Cass wanted me to tell you she had a wonderful time tonight," she mumbled through a yawn. Involved in her own thoughts, she missed the frown that flickered across the blond major's face. "God, I'm--"
"Tired," Sam finished for her. She'd managed to deny and hold back her darker emotions for months, but suddenly they were all crashing in on her. "Or maybe you have a headache ... early day tomorrow ... need to wash you hair ... and if you feel like you've used those too many times I'm sure you can come up with something new." She couldn't even begin to keep the acid out of her tone.
Taken aback by the hostility in her friend's tone, Janet rocked back on her heels. "Sam?" Her eyes dropped to the beer gripped tightly in the blond's hand, noting the tension rippling through the complex twining of bone and muscle before lifting to meet intense blue eyes. "Are you all right?" she questioned uneasily after a beat.
Suddenly realizing she'd said more than she ever intended, Sam ducked her head away. "Fine," she muttered without looking at the other woman.
Janet's frown deepened, seeing the obvious lie behind the words, but uncertain what to make of it. "Has something happened?" she asked after a beat.
Sam couldn't hold back a tiny, grim laugh, but she forced it down and shook her head. "No ... Nothing." Nothing at all. They'd been caught in a twisted status quo for months. "Just a bad joke," she muttered. The explanation made no sense, but neither of them was in any hurry to pursue it.
Janet seemed about to say something and for the briefest moment, Sam thought maybe she was going to call her on the obvious lie and push her to open up the way she once would have. But after a moment, she snapped her mouth shut, her expression closing down and becoming unreadable in a way that sent a sharp bolt of pain through the blond's chest. The doctor ran a hand through her hair, eyes sliding uncomfortably away from the taller woman. "Well, I ... uh ... I'm dead tired. I should be getting to bed." As hints go, it wasn't even subtle.
Sam hid her flinch, though her voice was ragged when she responded. "Right ... tired." Looking anywhere but at the petite brunette, she moved to set her beer on the coffee table, moving carefully in order to avoid betraying her slight alcohol caused clumsiness. She brushed past Janet without looking up, not trusting herself if she had to face her friend, and grabbed her jacket off the back of the couch, slinging it on with rough movements.
Fraiser frowned, not knowing what to say or do. "Sam," her voice caught Carter before she'd gone more than a few paces toward the front door, "have I done something?"
Sam froze in place, swallowing hard and wishing she'd just kept her mouth shut and gone home. She should never have opened this can of worms. Now she had to try and shut it again. "No," she whispered at last, her voice a rough shadow of itself.
"Are you sure, because--"
"Leave it alone," Sam cut her off without looking back, hands fisting at her sides as she struggled to contain emotions left raw by the situation.
"Sam," Janet paused a beat, uncertain what to say next, until finally she hesitantly questioned, "You've had a couple of beers and you're obviously tired and on edge.... Are you sure you should be riding tonight?"
Despite knowing better, Sam did a slow pivot, eyes running over Janet's delicate frame before she spoke, her voice soft and full of challenge. "And if I shouldn't be riding ... what then?"
A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed the question, then finally the brunette spoke, her voice unsteady, "You can put your cycle in the garage. I-I'll call you a cab--" Something was clearly going on with Sam, but she didn't understand any of it and something about the look in her eyes made her edgy in a way she didn't even begin to understand ... or didn't want to understand.
Tension rippled through the blond's shoulders as she was reminded that she was no longer welcome to spend the night. Even though she knew logically -- or would have known if she stopped to think about it -- that Janet didn't mean it that way, that was how it felt. "Right," she rasped and spun away. She'd wanted her friend to just tell her to crash in the guestroom so badly it hurt. She took a step and froze, spinning back before she could think better of it. "Can I just ask you one question?"
"You know you can," the doctor insisted, though some part of her wanted to refuse, sensing it wasn't going to make anything any easier.
Carter struggled to bite back on several responses, overwhelmed by an unexpected burst of anger that she was neither sober enough nor calm enough to tamp down. "Do I ever get to come in out of the cold, or is the banishment for life?"
Taken aback, Janet could only shake her head, disconcerted by the note of accusation in her friend's voice. "Banishment?" she repeated.
"Yeah," Sam choked, forcing the words past the tightness in her throat. "Because I'd really like to know if it's ever going to end or if you're just going to go on punishing me for something I didn't even do."
Janet's mouth worked soundlessly for a beat while she stared at Sam as though she'd lost her mind, because that was what it felt like. Everything had seemed fine when she left to put Cassie to bed, but she'd come back to find her friend acting like ... like she wasn't sure what, but it sure as hell wasn't normal. "Sam, I'm not punishing you. I don't even know what you're talking about."
At some level, Carter knew that she should just shut up and get out of there, but after months of confusion and turmoil, she didn't have the wherewithal to get herself back under control. "I'm talking about the fact that I'd die before I'd hurt you the way she did, but I'm the one who's locked out of your life...." She saw the way Janet flinched and felt a bolt of pain mixed with liberal doses of resentment, jealousy, guilt, and a tiny measure of satisfaction at getting some kind of response. She blinked away the hot tears threatening to fill her eyes, fighting them with all of her ability. "I just want back in," she said through clenched teeth.
"You haven't been locked out," Janet whispered, so buried in her own emotions that she couldn't focus on the pattern well enough to see what was ripping Sam up. "You're here--"
"And when you're not sure I'm safe enough to drive myself home, your first response is to call me a cab ... look me in the eye and tell me that's what you would have done before she came here."
Janet didn't have to ask who Sam meant by "she." She started to open her mouth to offer the denial that should have been so easy, but couldn't say the words in the face of the accusing look directed her way. Finally, she just shook her head, her gaze falling away to focus anywhere but on the woman glaring angrily at her.
"Right," Sam exhaled heavily and drew several steps back toward her friend. "Which I guess just leaves me with one last question. Are you angry because I couldn't save her ... or because I couldn't take her place?"
Janet let out a hurt gust of air as though she'd been struck. "Why the hell would you say something like that?" Anger and disbelief glittered in dark eyes as she stared up at Sam, bewildered by the accusation.
Ironically, that brief show of emotion was strangely comforting for Sam, soothing some of her fears that Janet really did feel that way. "Because every since she came here ... you don't seem to want me around anymore...."
Flinging her arms around her in a loose gesture, Janet shot back, "Sam, in case you haven't noticed, you're here ... in my home ... in my life ... in Cass' life--"
"In your home and in Cass' life, but not in yours," Sam insisted, her voice thick with hurt, "not anymore." She folded her arms across her chest just to have something to do with her hands, the pose unconsciously defensive. "We used to play cards or chess ... or just sit and talk ... but not anymore. Now, once Cass is asleep, you can't me out of here fast enough."
Janet winced and Sam thought she saw a hint of guilt in her expression before she covered it. "The last few months have been difficult. I don't deny that, but you're still very much a part of my ... of this family."
Carter heard the tiny glitch in her friend's words. "You can't even say it?" she questioned, the anger draining away as the deeper hurt that had spawned it surged to the surface. "Am I still a part of your life ... or would you rather I arranged to visit Cass when you're not around?" It felt like her heart was caught in a vise as she made the offer.
Janet shook her head, caught by a sensation of slow motion drowning. "We're friends--"
Sam's temper snapped again. "Then why won't you talk to me? I know you've been hurting over her death and I'd do anything I could to help, but you won't let me ... you didn't even trust me enough to tell me you were lovers...." Sam trailed off the instant she realized what she'd said, losing all color when saw Janet pull up short, eyes going wide as she let out a tiny gasp.
They were both perfectly still for a brief moment that seemed to last for hours. Time really was subjective Sam realized as she watched a dozen different thoughts tracer their way through Janet's mind, tumbling over each other, fractured and discordant. Then, before Sam could decode the meaning behind what she was seeing, the doctor spun away, folding her arms across her chest, teeth digging into her lower lip. "I think you should go," she choked after a beat.
"Janet...." Sam's voice was a tortured rasp and she had to fight to get the single word out.
Fraiser's eyes were tightly shut and she shook her head, holding up a hand without looking back. "Please go," she begged a little desperately. It was like her brain had seized up and she couldn't think straight. Sam knew. The thought just kept replaying over and over in her head and she couldn't sort it out with the other woman standing there, watching her. She needed time and space to clear her head. When her friend still hadn't left a moment later, Janet took a step forward, uncertain where she was headed other than out of the room. Sam's voice caught and held her in place.
"What about your promise?"
Janet froze in place, neither speaking nor turning back.
"You said you wouldn't run."
Another moment passed while they both stood frozen in time. Finally, Janet did a slow pivot. "How did you--"
"I overheard," Sam said simply.
Dark brown eyes moved restlessly away from the blond, focusing on a dozen small details in the room before swinging back to their original target. "Then you know what that promise was about," Janet said very softly, her tone hesitant, almost frightened. "Are you saying that's what you want?"
Carter shook her head, resisting the urge to panic in the face of the blunt question. "I don't know," she admitted, not knowing what she was going to say next. "All I know is I don't want you to run away." She drew a step closer, so scared she could hardly move. "Everything is ... such a confused jumble ... you ... me ... her...." She shrugged helplessly. "I don't know what I want ... I just know that it's more than I have right now." Unrehearsed, the words fell with a touching degree of sincerity.
Eyes filling with tears despite her best efforts to keep her emotions under control, Janet just slowly shook her head. She wasn't even sure what she was feeling, too shaken to look too closely at her own emotions, half afraid she might just shatter under their intensity. Even as she stood there, totally overwhelmed by the situation, the distant thought occurred to her that it was a minor miracle that Cassie hadn't wakened. Then again, maybe not. The girl tended to sleep like the dead. And thank god for that. Neither she nor Sam was up to another complication at that moment.
Carter's voice brought Fraiser back to the present. Dark eyes lifted, focusing on well known features for the first time since her lover's death, seeing the similarities and differences, reading the confusion and hurt alongside another achingly familiar emotion. And then she remembered why she'd pushed Sam away with a perverse sort of clarity. Lying in the darkness, a woman with whom she'd shared her heart and body newly dead, and she'd found herself sinking into Samantha Carter's arms as though she'd always been there, accepting the comfort and caring so easily. Too easily. She'd realized in a flash how simple it would be to transfer her feelings from one Sam to another. It had seemed so unfair to her friend and such a betrayal to the woman who had been her lover that she'd recoiled from the temptation in horror, sinking into herself rather than run the risk. She hadn't planned to push Sam away, she just had. And after that moment, her wall of denial firmly in place, she hadn't really even been aware of doing it. With that realization, the walls cracked, then tumbled, leaving her lost at sea.
"Janet?" Sam said again.
Emotions cresting over her, Janet just shook her head, turning away as she struggled against the impulse to flee. "I can't ... I can't do this ... not yet ... I need--"
The sound of the front door slamming crashed through the room and Janet spun, abruptly realizing that Sam couldn't have heard more than her shakily whispered, "I can't." She'd fled without waiting for the rest. "Sam, wait!" she shouted as she rushed outside, lunging through the front door just as the Indian roared to life. She shouted again, but her voice was drowned out by the heavy motorcycle engine as Sam accelerated and pulled onto the street. Helpless to do anything to stop Carter's mad dash, she let out an angry cry of frustration and briefly considered grabbing her car keys and trying to follow, but she couldn't leave Cassie alone. Besides, there was no way she could catch up with the motorcycle, not the way it was batting out of there.
"Dammit," the brunette hissed and hurried back into the house, grabbing for the cordless phone in the livingroom, then pounding out Carter's number from memory. It rang four times before the answering machine message came on. Teeth gritted in frustration, Janet silently ticked off the seconds until she heard the beep. "Sam, it's me. Dammit, call me when you get in. You didn't let me finish ... and I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say ... we need to talk. Please call me when you get in ... I'm worried about you." She hung up and grabbed for the small phonebook that normally sat next to the phone, flipping through the pages until she found what she needed and began dialing. The phone rang for a moment before a slightly impatient sounding Daniel Jackson picked up.
"Daniel, it's Janet Fraiser ... Sorry to bother you, but I need you to do me a favor," she said quickly.
There was a brief pause before he hesitantly answered, "Tonight?"
"Yes ... tonight. I need you to come over and stay with Cass if you can."
Another brief moment of silence. "I'm kind of busy with a translation--"
"It's important." Janet rubbed her temple to fight a growing headache. "I need to go out ... and I may be awhile. I can't leave Cass alone."
"Oh...." He sounded startled, well aware that he wouldn't normally be her first choice of people to call. "What about Sam?" he couldn't help but ask. "She's closer to Cass anyway."
She rolled her eyes and fought the urge to snap at him. "Not an option I'm afraid ... I really need you to do this." She heard the desperation in her own voice and even Daniel couldn't miss it this time.
"Oh ... well, I guess I could work on the manuscript at your place--" he muttered, then broke off suddenly, "I've got a call on the other line. Let me just grab that, then we'll straighten this out, okay?"
"I'll be here," Janet muttered impatiently even as she heard the line click, putting her on hold.
* * * * * * * *
Sam made it as far as the Quickie Mart a short distance from Janet's house before sanity reasserted itself and it occurred to her that she was in no condition to be riding. Hands still shaking, she shoved a quarter into the payphone and dialed from memory, fingers tapping nervously until she heard Daniel pick up.
"Daniel, it's Sam ... I need a favor." She ran a hand through her hair, scraping it back in a nervous gesture as she stumbled over the request. "I ... uh ... I had a little much too drink tonight and I really need a lift home."
Her teammate didn't respond for a second. Finally, he said, "I thought you were having dinner at Fraiser's place tonight."
Sam's knuckles whitened as she gripped the phone tightly under the impact of a gut wrenching wave of pain. She ignored the implied question as she spoke sharply, "Could you just give me a ride, please? I know Jack left his truck at your place while he's in DC, and I need you to bring it so I don't have to leave my bike out here all night." Janet lived in a nice neighborhood, but the Indian was an expensive and rare machine. It would look all too good to a thief if they noticed it. The last thing she needed to deal with was losing anything else she cared about.
Daniel seemed to realize it wasn't the time to discuss the situation because he just quietly asked for the address and promised he'd be there as soon as possible before hanging up.
* * * * * * * * *
Janet was on the verge of screaming by the time Daniel finally came back online. "That was Sam," he said without preamble and Janet found herself breathing again for the first time since the other woman roared out of her front yard. "She's okay, but she needs me to give her a lift home."
"Oh, thank god," she exhaled heavily. Sam was okay and not lying splattered on the highway somewhere. She swallowed hard as she realized her hands were trembling uncontrollably.
"You want to tell me what's going on? Because the last I heard, she was spending the evening at your place, and when I mentioned your name, she completely shut me out." He sounded mystified and also just a little edgy; ready to be angry on his teammate's behalf. He liked Fraiser well enough, but Carter was his friend and there was no doubt whose side he was on if there was a question.
"It's not something I can discuss...." Janet paced her livingroom as she spoke, coming to a halt in front of picture taken nearly a year before. She picked it up, studying her own image. She was grinning, one arm hooked around Sam's shoulders, the other slung around Cassie where the girl stood in front of the two of them. A poignant smile touched her mouth as she remembered those happier, more comfortable times. "Please, just get her home and make sure she's okay." She could hear him moving around as they talked, getting dressed and finding keys.
"You still need me to come by your house afterward?" Hearing the pain in her voice, his tone gentled.
She considered the request for a long moment. Knowing Daniel was looking after Sam, she could rest assured that her friend would be safe. It would be easy to just hide behind the wall of denial she'd built since her lover's death. But if she did, she risked losing the friendship for good. She couldn't take that gamble. "If you could." She had no idea what to do or how to deal with the situation, but things couldn't go on the way they were.
"All right ... it'll probably take awhile. I'll make sure she's okay before I leave her place, but I'll be over as soon possible ... or I'll call you."
"Yeah," he said softly, then they said their goodbyes and ended the call. As she settled the receiver back on the cradle, Janet felt her shoulders sag as some of the awful fear drained out of her. Weak kneed, she sank down on the couch, drawing her legs up and wrapping her arms tightly around them. She thought she'd finally gotten over the tears, but suddenly they were there again, clogging her throat and making her eyes burn painfully. What the hell was she supposed to do now?
* * * * * * * *
Carter was sitting on the stoop next to her motorcycle when Daniel drove up in Jack's truck. Huddled in her black leather jacket, hands stuffed in the pockets, she looked smaller and more fragile than he was used to seeing her; hurt in a way he didn't even pretend to understand. Something had happened, though he wasn't certain it was such a recent event. There'd been something off about Sam for awhile. Nothing definitive, just a shadow in her eyes, the way she kept to herself more than usual and barely even smirked at Jack's jokes, not even to indicate when she thought he was being an ass. That wasn't normal. "You okay?" he questioned as he climbed out of the cab.
"Fine," she lied badly, then hardly spoke while they worked together to load her bike into the back of the truck.
Time and cold air had cleared the worst of Sam's encroaching inebriation, while doing nothing to relieve the attendant depression. If anything it was even worse since her brain insisted on replaying the scene in Janet's livingroom over and over. God, why hadn't she just kept her mouth shut? Confronting Janet when she was well on her way to being drunk had been the single dumbest thing she'd ever done; an impressive feat in a personal life that was not exactly marked by intense success. She'd shoved her foot in her mouth and given a good, hearty push to swallow the thing whole. She climbed into the back of the truck, blinking away tears as she struggled to concentrate on the matter at hand and get her bike tied down so it wouldn't bounce around during the drive. But she kept coming back to the fact that in losing control, she'd managed to push away the one person in this life that she....
Sam paused, shying away from finishing the thought even though she knew with a certainty that frightened her, what word she was thinking. The thought had been hovering at the edges of consciousness for some time, fluttering through her thoughts late at night whenever she failed to work herself into exhaustion. With her defenses down, she couldn't escape the truth any longer. She had feelings for Janet Fraiser; deep, intense, very possibly love-related feelings ... actually, very probably love related feelings. In fact, if she was honest, she was almost certainly in love with the other woman -- Sam had to sort of sneak up on the realization before it flowed into the next thought -- and realizing it too damn late to do anything about it. She'd already lost her ... to herself. Oh yeah, god had a twisted sense of humor some days.
She realized she'd drifted off into her own thoughts when Daniel's voice suddenly broke in. "You about done up there, Sam?"
Carter shook free of the daze, yanking the webbing strap tight as she glanced back at her teammate. "Yeah ... just needed finish securing things." He reached up to steady her, but she ignored the offer of help and simply dropped to the ground, then pushed the rear guard back up, locking it into place with a hard slam.
"You want to talk about it?" Daniel questioned once they were in the cab and he was fighting to start the ancient engine.
Sam just shook her head. That was the last thing she wanted to do. "There's nothing to talk about," she said softly without elaborating.
He glanced at her as the engine turned over roughly, his expression doubtful. "Look, Sam, I don't know what's going on, but--"
"I told you, there's nothing," she cut him off sharply. She'd seen to that with her big fat mouth. Nothing at all and it was all her fault. Janet had told her to leave and she'd be lucky if she still had a friend in the morning.
Daniel opened his mouth as if to say something only to change his mind and snap it shut again. Moments later, he pulled out into the traffic and the rest of the drive took place in silence. After pulling into the driveway of the small house she rented, he helped her get her cycle down and locked in the garage.
"Would you like me to stay awhile?" Daniel asked gently as he watched her unlock her front door.
Sam shook her head without looking back at him. "I'm just going to try and crash ... I need some sleep." The last thing she wanted was to deal with her teammate's well-meaning questions. She just wanted to crawl into bed and try to forget the world for a little while. Maybe in the morning she could reconstruct the walls of denial and somehow clean up the mess she'd made, but until then she needed to shut out the rest of the world.
"If you're sure..." he said, hesitant to leave her alone.
She glanced back then, hearing the worry in his voice. "I'm okay," she insisted to reassure him. "Just a little tired and on edge ... don't worry, okay?"
He studied her for a long moment and finally nodded. "You'll call me if you need me?" he checked, not backing down until Sam nodded, then the two friends shared a hug. He waited until she was inside, and he heard the sound of the locks being thrown. Shaking his head, Daniel turned away, barely resisting the urge to turn back and push his way into Sam's place in order to just keep questioning her until he figured out what was going on, but instinct told him there was somebody else who needed to do that and the best thing he could do was offer whatever support he could.
* * * * * * * *
Daniel found Janet ready and waiting for him when he arrived at her house, her eyes shadowed, her expression unreadable.
"I left a note for Cass in case she wakes up," she told him briefly as she handed him an envelope. The girl had more than her share of insecurities, hardly surprising considering her background, and she'd learned through trial and error to do everything in her power to reassure her. Cassandra would be scared if she woke and found her foster mother gone unexpectedly. The note would hopefully soothe any possible fears and reassure her that everything in her life was stable.
He nodded his understanding as he took the envelope. "Are you okay to drive?" He didn't bother ask where she was going. He already knew. He didn't understand why, but he knew where.
She nodded. "I'll be fine." She'd spent the time waiting for Daniel getting her emotions back under control and doing some serious introspection. She wasn't sure what she was going to say. She supposed to some extent that depended on whether or not Sam even wanted to listen and what she had to say in return. In any event, they had things to work out.
He nodded, readjusting the briefcase strap slung over his shoulder. "Take all the time you need. I'll just work on this stuff and crash in the guestroom. If you're too tired to drive, just stay over ... or if you need a ride, give me a call."
She offered him a sad smile and a whispered, "Thanks," then slipped out.
* * * * * * * * *
Janet paused at the foot of the short flight of stairs that led up to Sam Carter's front porch, noting that the windows were all dark. The two story house was old but solidly constructed, wide and open inside, with a vaulted livingroom and a partial second story that consisted of Sam's bedroom and a small bathroom. Even though Sam owned very little furniture and her idea of decorating consisted of hanging plants, a few personal photos, and bookshelves full of every kind of scientific text imaginable, Janet had always felt totally at home in the small house. Not that she'd been there that many times, at least not when Sam was around. When they did anything together, it tended to be at her home, but Carter had given her the keys early in their friendship, trusting her to look after the plants during long missions. A hint of a smile touched full lips as she remembered the way the blond had looked embarrassed as she'd asked, unused to requesting personal favors but knowing that her place was easy in the doctor's traffic pattern to and from the mountain. Sam's smile when she'd agreed had lit up the room and made her heart beat a little faster, even if she hadn't acknowledged it at the time.
Shaking off the daze of memories, Janet climbed the steps, fishing out her keys as she reached the front door. A moment later, she was inside and entering the disarm code on the alarm panel from memory. She took the time to lock back up and rearm the alarm before leaning against the door, taking a moment to calm her nerves and give her eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. As she paused there, she couldn't help but wonder what the hell she was doing sneaking in like a thief in the night. Avoiding getting told to go home and go to hell while you're at it, the sarcastic, insecure side of her personality suggested none-too-helpfully.
Peering up the flight of stairs that led to the second floor ... and Sam's bedroom, Janet swallowed hard. They seemed steeper than she remembered. "You're not doing any good just standing here," she chastised herself when she still hadn't moved several moments later. Finally, she pushed away from the door, consciously straightening her shoulders. They had things to talk about and it wasn't going to get done if she stayed where she was.
She ran her hand along the banister as she trudged up the steps, noting the silky smoothness of the wood, the tiny detail distracting her from what she was facing at the top of the landing. She'd been in Sam's bedroom dozens of times, watering the plants that hung from the ceiling and filled the windowbox, but it had never seemed intimidating before. Quite the reverse, the warmth and familiar feel of the room had been a comfort on more than one occasion when she'd been worried about the other woman. She closed her eyes, remembering another time: SG-1 had been missing for better than two weeks, and they'd nearly given up hope. She'd found herself here, not because of the plants, but because of her own need to feel connected to her friend. She shook her head slowly, amazed that she'd managed to hide from the truth of her feelings for so long. It hadn't been mere friendship that had driven her to bury her face in Sam's pillow, clinging tightly as she fought her own panic and shook with frightened tears while seeking solace in the familiar smell of the other woman's scent still clinging to the sheets.
Janet shook her head sharply, throwing off the memory as she finished the climb. Dwelling in the past wasn't going to help.
Sam's bedroom had a slanted ceiling on one side and a pair of gabled windows that let in sunlight during the day and moonlight at night. Janet couldn't contain a soft gasp as she stepped just inside the door and saw the pale light that spilled across the woman on the bed. She was lying sprawled, half on her side, half on her stomach, arms flung wide, a simple tank top and short leaving considerable expanses of pale flesh on view, a comforter crumpled around her hips, her hair tousled and glittering gold in the thin moonlight. Dear god, she was beautiful. Without planning to, Janet stepped forward until she was standing beside the bed, eyes soft as she stared down at her friend. Her head canted to one side, memories of this Sam floating through her mind -- the friendship, laughter and tears they'd shared over the years. And the other Sam -- the lover who'd swept into her life and tipped it on its side, leaving her both certain and uncertain about so many things.
She'd tried so hard to deny that there was any overlap between the two relationships, but as she stood there, it was all laid out in front of her, undeniable and incontrovertible. Her feelings for the two women were twined together whether she liked it or not. Her lover had been right about that. She never would have slept with her that first night if she hadn't already had very deep feelings for her friend. Leaning down, Janet studied Sam's face, childishly soft in sleep, long dark lashes fanned on gently rounded cheeks, blond bangs loose across her forehead. Contrary to what she'd told herself for so long, the emotions had begun here. And now she'd come full circle. Back right where she'd begun.
Heart hammering in her chest, she nerved herself up, then reached out. "Sam ... Sam." She gently shook a slender shoulder as she hitched her hip against the edge of the bed. A hand flopped up, blindly pushing her arm away as the sleeping woman shook off her touch, rolling away with an incoherent mumble. "Sam," she said again.
This time, the soft voice calling her name sunk into Carter's sleep-fogged brain and she twisted, eyes snapping open as she pushed up on her hands, frowning at the woman seated on the edge of her bed. Blue eyes blinked sleepily as though she wasn't quite certain whether this was real or some kind of exhaustion driven dream. "Janet?" Sam croaked at last.
"Yes." Not knowing what to do with her hands, Janet dropped them into her lap, resisting the urge to reach out and brush a stray lock of pale hair away from Sam's furrowed brow. "I couldn't leave things the way they were when you left.... We need to talk."
Sam looked away, focusing anywhere but on the woman seated on the edge of her bed. "I think we said quite enough," she muttered miserably.
"No, we didn't. You walked out before I could finish--"
"You asked me to leave ... you said you can't do this ... and I left." Sam shot back, her tone making Janet flinch.
"And if you'd stayed, you'd have heard me say I couldn't handle it at that moment ... that I needed time to think. You caught me by surprise, Sam...." Janet looked away, her expression becoming distant as she struggled for words. "I had no idea that you knew ... that you even had any idea...." She looked back then, dark brown eyes soft with emotion. "I thought we'd had a nice evening ... and then suddenly you were angry ... accusing ... and everything I said just made it worse ... I didn't know what to think." She shook her head, eyes dropping to her hands where they were clenched together in her lap. "I don't know that I could think ... and when you said you knew ... I panicked and couldn't deal with my own feelings much less yours."
Sam absorbed the hesitantly spoken words, then finally sighed and nodded. "All right." She had been pretty unreasonable if she was honest about it. "I guess I can understand that ... I did kind of hit you with it out of the blue," she allowed grudgingly.
"Yes, you did," Janet confirmed. Feeling ambushed, she'd reacted badly.
They both fell silent for a long, uncomfortable moment, until Sam spoke up, uncertain what demon drove her to ask, "Were you really in love with her?"
Janet didn't pause before answering, though her voice was low and the admission didn't come easily. "Yes." She couldn't lie to Sam, though she was uncertain whether the truth made their situation easier or more difficult.
A muscle pulsed in Carter's jaw, and she took a deep breath, then let it out heavily. "Damn her," she whispered under her breath, once again angry that her alternate had inspired those kinds of feelings when she'd known she couldn't promise any kind of future.
"Don't," Janet whispered sharply, then pleaded gently, "Don't say that."
Sam's eyes blazed as she looked up again. "How can you defend her?"
Slim shoulders dipped in a tiny shrug. "Because she was so lost ... and there was a part of her that was you--"
Something flared in Sam's eyes and her jaw squared mutinously. "She wasn't me."
"No," Janet agreed quietly, easily seeing the differences between the two women. The woman in front of her hadn't been marked by life the way her alternate had. There was none of the hardness in her face, none of the loss in her eyes. Despite everything, this Sam was still something of an innocent. "Not anymore. She was too badly hurt ."
Carter winced and looked away, suddenly wishing she'd just left well enough alone. She didn't want to hear that sad, longing note in Fraiser's voice. She'd never have thought it could hurt so much.
"You know the strangest thing though ... despite everything I felt safe with her ... just like I've always felt with you." A part of her needed Sam to understand that the other woman hadn't been the villain of the piece.
A muscle pulsed in Carter's jaw. She didn't want to hear this, didn't want to know that she had anything in common with Fraiser's lover. Didn't want to wonder what could have been if she'd just been wise enough to see how she felt a little sooner.
"I know you're angry," Janet said softly, "and I'm sorry for my part in it ... but she wasn't trying to hurt me. She was just desperate--"
"I'm not angry at you," Sam whispered. "I don't want you to think that." She was silent for a long moment, not trusting herself to speak. "But I would never do that to ... to anyone I cared for," she grated at last.
"We all have the capacity to do desperate things, Sam ... every last one of us," Janet said sadly, her tone indicating she'd given more than a little consideration to the problem. She'd had to struggle with her own issues in order to come to peace with the lover she'd lost.
Too involved to hear the depth of mourning in the other woman's voice, Sam looked up, her gaze spearing Janet in place. "Is that why you didn't trust me enough to tell me? Did you think I'd do something desperate?"
"Didn't trust you enough..." Janet repeated, her voice trailing off. She was silent for a brief moment before shaking her head. "That wasn't it at all. I didn't tell you for a lot of reasons, but a lack of trust wasn't one of them." She didn't know how to explain the decision she'd made, wasn't even entirely certain of all of the reasons. She tried anyway. "I didn't know how to tell you. I couldn't just say, 'By the way, Sam, I slept with your alternate--'"
"I haven't blamed you," Sam insisted, still hurt by the reality of being shut out.
"I know," Janet admitted. "But I needed time to mourn ... to process what happened. It was all so sudden and over so quickly that I was in shock." She took a deep breath, considering her next words carefully before continuing. "And ... I didn't tell you because I know you...." She took the chance to reach out then, brushing her fingertips against the back of Sam's hand where it rested on the sheet near her thigh. Sam turned her hand under Janet's, twining their fingers together. Both women were surprised and relieved when the other didn't pull back for the first time in far too long. The tiny contact gave them a brief respite from the intensity of the conversation until Janet began again, her voice low and halting as she pleaded for understanding, "You take everything onto your shoulders ... and I didn't want you to think I was some kind of ... of responsibility."
"You're my friend," Sam said instantly. "I could never feel that way."
Janet laid her fingers across Sam's lips, silencing her. "I was never angry at you in any way -- you were completely wrong about that -- but I didn't want you to feel like ... like you owed me something ... or pressured ... to feel something you didn't."
A long moment of silence followed when Janet dropped her hand, flushing as the intimacy of the position occurred to her.
"You didn't want me to feel like I had to be in love with you." Sam frowned over the dawning realization while Fraiser's eyes slid away and she half turned, leaving the sense she wanted to flee, not out of fear but embarrassment. Before she could think better of it, Sam reached out, tucking a finger under her friend's chin and drawing her head back around. "You were protecting me," she said with sudden insight.
Janet swallowed hard, struggling to find the words to explain decisions that she hadn't allowed herself to consider too closely. "I told you, I know you ... you could forgive if it had been my alternate ... Jack's ... Daniel's ... or anyone else's but your own ... but you can't forgive yourself." She squeezed Sam's hand tightly. "I am sorry I didn't tell you," she admitted. "I wish I'd had you to lean on when things got bad." There had been any number of nights when she'd have given anything for the sound of Sam's voice offering comfort. She'd nearly called her so many times that it was almost a shock to realize she'd never given in to the desire. Loyalty to one woman and the desire to protect another had stayed her hand every time.
Carter swallowed hard. "I wanted to be there for you. I just didn't know how. It was obvious you were hurting, but I was afraid seeing me just made it worse."
Fraiser shook her head slowly. "No ... a part of me wanted to tell you...." She swallowed hard, struggling to clarify her thoughts. "Sometimes late at night when I felt the walls closing in, I even picked up the phone ... because I knew you wouldn't be angry at me ... that you'd listen and offer any comfort you could...." She couldn't quite explain that that had been part of her fear; that she might crave the comfort Sam could offer just a little too much. "...that you'd just be my friend--"
"No," Sam broke in, her eyes locked on their linked hands. Janet frowned in confusion, rearing back as startled hurt showed in her eyes. "I couldn't be just your friend--"
Before Sam could finish, Janet heard her own voice as if from a distance, flustered and stuttery, speaking quickly as she pulled back, stumbling away from the bed. "I'm sorry, I-I thought ... I'm sorry..." she gasped again and spun, barely aware of her surroundings as she started to flee. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She'd thought-- Who knew what she'd thought, but it was obviously the wrong thing.
Sam realized in an instant that she'd been misunderstood and lunged after Janet, bare feet hitting the wood floor with a soft slap as she rushed after her. Janet pulled up short at the door as strong hands closed on her shoulders and she was pulled back against Sam's body. "No," the blond whispered near her ear. "I didn't mean that the way you took it," she insisted desperately, relieved when the tension in Janet's muscles let go ever so slightly. She moved her hands against slim shoulders, massaging gently, her tone ironic as she continued, "I guess it's our night to take things the wrong way." She leaned closer, closing her eyes as she was surrounded by the scent of shampoo and a subtle dash of perfume. "I meant," she breathed near a delicate ear, feeling the tiny shiver that slid through the smaller woman, "we've seen so many things together ... been through so much.... We're a lot more than just friends."
Janet remained poised as if to flee, but the tension in her shoulders relaxed another fraction.
Sam sighed softly, grateful for the tiny bit of surrender. "You're a part of my life, Janet. I don't ever want to lose that again ... these last months ... not being close ... I've felt so alone." Working on instinct, she blindly nuzzled into sweet, silky hair. Long moments passed as they stayed like that, neither one speaking, just drawing strength from the bond they'd both missed so badly.
Drawn by the soothing massage, Janet leaned back ever so slightly, accepting the support so tenderly offered. "I should have told you. It affected both of us ... our relationship ... and you had a right to know..." she trailed off, dragging in a deep breath as she fell silent again.
"I don't know ... maybe you were right," Sam sighed. She felt Janet tense and continued the gentle shoulder massage, doing her best to soothe away the painful stress rippling through the other woman. "I'm not sure I was ready to handle it," she admitted in a burst of honesty. "I've been so confused ... so angry ... not at you ... but I'm not sure I could have kept from taking it out on you."
"You wouldn't have," Fraiser disagreed quietly. "It's not in you--"
"I sure as hell managed it tonight," Carter muttered, her tone self-lacerating.
"Sam, it had to come to a head ... don't blame yourself."
More silence followed while Sam silently slid her hands down from Janet's shoulders, massaging her upper arms with gentle strokes, then gently tracing the graceful flow of bone and muscle down to link their hands together. Long fingered hands twined with Fraiser's, then Carter wrapped her arms around the smaller woman, nestling her chin against the curve of her neck. "She knew," she whispered at last, "that I knew about you two.... You have a right to know," there had been too many secrets between them already, "because we argued about it...." Sam took a deep breath and let it out slowly to calm her nerves. "I was angry ... and she was too.... She told me I'm in love with you." She felt the woman in her arms tense with the instinctive desire to flee and tightened her hold ever so slightly. She couldn't lie to Janet -- or herself -- any longer. "I think maybe she was right." There. It was out, and perversely enough, a relief to finally say it aloud. She felt as much as heard the brunette's startled gasp, absorbing the hard shudder that tremored through her.
"Sam?" Janet's voice was choked and rough. "What are you...." She couldn't finish and trailed off into silence as Sam gently shushed her before continuing, her voice low with the effort required to get out what she needed to say.
Sam managed to start coherently, but as she spoke, the certainty of her tone broke down, her words turning to a confused jumble of thoughts spoken aloud. "I told her I wasn't; that we were just friends. I even believed it. I was so focused on protecting you and keeping the base safe that I couldn't even begin to consider what was going on in my own head ... but I've missed you so much since then ... thought about you and dreamed...." Blue eyes closed tightly for a long moment as a flood of memories washed over her, and she found herself struggling with the unwanted longing to the be one Janet turned to and touched that way, to see that look directed her way, or hear that tone whispering to her. "I can't stop thinking about being with you, no matter how hard I try.... Maybe I couldn't see what I had until I lost it ... I'm not asking you feel the same way ... I know I've probably lost any chance.... But you're my friend and I want you to understand...." she couldn't finish and fell silent for a long moment. "...how much I care," she whispered at last.
Janet couldn't speak as she struggled to process the softly spoken confession, her brain threatening to implode under the weight of this new knowledge.
"I'm sorry if it makes you uncomfortable," Sam apologized when the silence stretched on awkwardly. She started to pull her hands away, convinced she'd blown things again. "I won't--"
"Don't," Janet whispered instantly, tightening her hold on Sam's hands and keeping her arms right where they were. "Don't let go." She closed her eyes, leaning into the taller woman's body, absorbing the warmth and sense of safety. She needed them to regain some sense of balance and self-control. It was all so twisted and convoluted; a tangled maze of emotion and need that she was still struggling to understand. "I think I've wanted you to hold me for a long time ... but I could never have asked and wasn't ready to face everything it meant ... the risks ... the problems." She made a tiny frustrated sound in the back of her throat. She'd hidden from her feelings so successfully that even she hadn't seen them. "I probably could have kept the image up if nothing had changed ... but I can't unring the bell...."
Wordlessly, her heart hammering in her chest, Sam tightened her hold, nestling the brunette tighter against her body. "Janet?" Her voice was a bare whisper, the single word pleading for so many things.
The smaller woman couldn't contain the smallest of wry laughs. "I fell in love with her because of my feelings for you ... because I already cared so much that adding another level was just too easy. I would never have felt the things I did for her if I hadn't already been halfway gone over you."
Sam blinked against the sudden weight of tears, burying her face in silky hair as she let out a tiny groan of intense relief. She slipped one hand from Janet's, gently trailing upward until her fingers skimmed into her hair. Her touch impossibly gentle, she tugged her friend's head around until their eyes met. "I want you," she breathed, longing gleaming in pale blue eyes, "your company, your friendship ... your love." She pressed a small kiss to Janet's cheek, tasting the warmth of her skin. "I know it's not easy or simple, but I need you in my life--"
"I know," Janet breathed. A hand lifted and reached back, fingers digging into thick blond hair, to pull Sam's head down with surprising strength. "I need you too," she groaned a millisecond before their mouths met, the first brush of their lips incredibly tender. The kiss that followed was soft and tentative, a first learning experience for two people still struggling to understand where they stood with each other.
And when it finally ended, Sam was amazed to find herself trembling and weak in the knees. She'd never reacted like to that to anyone before in her life. "Janet?" she whispered, her eyes reflecting shock.
"I know," Fraiser exhaled, the simple words a confirmation of so many complex things. Her own body was shaking with the effort required to stay on her feet, her voice full of the knowledge that what they'd just shared went way beyond lust or physical desire. She felt Sam's hands shift and moved with her gentle touch, turning and leaning into her body in one move. Wrapping her arms tightly around the blond, she buried her face in a warm shoulder as she found herself held close.
"God, I've missed you," Sam exhaled in a voice full of wonder, not quite believing it wasn't all just a pleasant dream conjured by her wandering mind to escape a less pleasant reality.
Another moment passed, then Janet tipped her head up, offering a watery smile as she sniffed back on a few tears. She reached up, her touch light as she brushed overlong bangs back from Sam's forehead. "You need a haircut," she observed, the non sequitur making the blond smile wryly.
"Haven't been quite my usual spit and polish self lately," Carter admitted, her eyes sliding closed as slender fingers combed back through her hair, the caress unconsciously sensual. "I ... uh ... probably let a few things slide...." The words trailed off into a low groan as Janet tugged her head back down until their lips met. The kiss started sweet and soft, but they were both too wound up for it to stay that way for long. Trembling hands found the front lapels on Janet's jacket, shoving it back off her shoulders until she shrugged out of the heavy garment, not caring where it fell. The doctor's loose t-shirt easily came free of her waistband and Sam slipped a hand under the bottom edge, stroking her stomach, every touch sending a shudder of awareness through both of them.
Thought and planning were out the window as delicate hands slid over Sam's body, pulling at the neckline of her shirt to caress the line of her throat, skimming under the waistband to massage her lower back and pull her closer, moving and caressing with eager abandon. Neither of them was thinking about where it was leading, they were just following their bodies' dictates.
It took both women a moment to hear the soft ringing sound that intruded on their passion and another moment to recognize the source.
"M-my cell," Janet gasped as she pulled back from the kiss, her chest heaving with the effort required to draw air into her lungs.
"You'd better get that," Sam groaned, but didn't let go of the smaller woman, half afraid that the intrusion might break the spell and leave them right back where they'd been when the evening began.
"I know." The doctor nodded, regretfully releasing her hold on Sam's waist and pulling away, so intensely aware of the other woman that she felt the precise moment fine boned hands broke any last contact with her body. She swallowed hard as their gazes met, still overwhelmed and a little uncertain if any of it was real. The phone rang again, making her wish she'd remembered to leave it off so voice mail would pick up. Stepping back from Sam, she snagged her jacket off the floor, quickly retrieving the tiny cell phone tucked into an inner pocket. She even managed to sound reasonably coherent as she flipped it open and activated the receive switch. "Fraiser here," she spoke sharply, very aware of the woman standing so close she could feel her body heat, while her lips still tingled with leftover arousal from the sensual weight of the kisses they'd shared and her skin seemed alive with electricity. "Daniel," she said as she recognized the voice on the other end of the line, though she barely registered his greeting.
Sam stepped back a pace, silently watching as Janet spoke to her teammate.
"Actually, Sam and I were just talking ... it's going to be okay ... but I'm not really sure how long we'll be." Her eyes lifted, meeting Sam's gaze. Janet swallowed hard as she suddenly flushed with awareness and lost track of the phone conversation. She realized she'd fallen silent when she heard Daniel repeat her name on a questioning note. "Wha' ... oh, Daniel ... I'm sorry," she apologized quickly, though she couldn't take her eyes away from the blond where she'd was leaning against the door jamb, her arms folded loosely across her chest. "I'm just a little tired ... it's been a long day." Sam continued just leaning there, watching her closely, the look in her eyes making Janet's heart beat steadily faster. Daniel started speaking again, but she barely heard him, totally lost in a pair of bold blue eyes. "Mmhm," she mumbled distantly. "No ... just an argument that got out of hand ... everything's fine ... okay, thanks ... if I'm not back in the morning, just tell Cass I'll see her when she gets home from school ... and, Daniel, thank you for helping out. I owe you one." A moment or two later, she clicked the phone off, stuffed it back in her jacket and tossed the garment aside, not caring where it landed.
They both stood paralyzed for a long moment, well aware that the momentary loss of control was over and sanity was busy reasserting control. Finally Sam spoke softly, "It's too soon, isn't it?" She dragged trembling fingers through her hair as she struggled with raging hormones. "We'd be making a mistake." She said it aloud as much to convince herself as the other woman.
Janet nodded unsteadily. Daniel's call had broken the mindless need enough for cooler heads to prevail. "I think so. We both need time ... to come to peace with everything and to learn to trust each other again."
"Trust," Sam exhaled heavily, then nodded. Janet still needed time to mourn, and she needed to be certain that she was the only other person in the room when they did finally make love. "Yeah. We ... uh ... we need to start a little slower, I think."
"A little," Janet agreed and couldn't hold back a wry smile as their gazes locked and held.
"Think we can try it again, but a little less ... intense this time?"
Janet nodded, and the lanky blond pushed away from the door jamb, stepping forward until they stood toe to toe. For a long moment, they just stood and stared at one another, studying each other in a way they hadn't done before. Finally, Sam reached out stroking impossibly fine hair back from Janet's temple as she cupped her fingers alongside the smaller woman's face. "This feels nice," she breathed at last.
Janet nodded, a smile touching her lips. "It does." Dark eyes slid closed as she turned into Sam's caress, her breathing growing heavier as gentle fingers stroked her cheek.
"I've missed feeling it was okay to touch you," Sam whispered, clarifying the comment in the face of Janet's answering frown. "Every since ... since that day ... you've tensed if I came anywhere near you. I just figured it was a reminder of..." she stumbled verbally, momentarily hunting for the right words, "of what you'd lost."
Janet shook her head, lifting a hand to rest it lightly on Sam's upper chest as she stammered out a response. "It wasn't that. It was too tempting ... too easy." She toyed with the knit collar of the other woman's shirt. "I was afraid of doing some stupid ... or asking for too much."
"You couldn't," Sam assured her friend and tugged her into a gentle hug, resting her chin lightly on a narrow shoulder as they held each other. "I just wanted to be there for you."
Unable to speak, Janet swallowed hard, leaning against Sam and clinging tightly. She made a tiny sound in the back of her throat as gentle fingers combed through her hair, sifting through the silky strands, the slow caresses soothing and warm.
"I've missed you so much," Sam whispered near Janet's ear. "I never really thought about how close we were ... how much I've relied on knowing you were there ... that I had someone to come home to. You and Cass, you've become my home base." She pressed a soft kiss to the smaller woman's forehead. "I didn't see it until we weren't close anymore." She tipped her head up then, ducking down to share a longing kiss that didn't break until they were both breathing hard. "This is going to be harder than I thought," she panted.
Velvet brown eyes slid closed as Janet hid her face in Sam's shoulder. "I know," she whimpered.
Carter went back to petting auburn hair rhythmically as she breathed slowly and deeply to cool her ardor a notch or two. "The thing is," she said a little cautiously, "I know it's too soon, but I don't want to let go. I want to hold you ... feel you here with me...." She pressed a soft kiss to Janet's temple. "Not to make love ... just to hold each other."
Nosing into the curve of Sam's throat, Janet sighed softly, her breath playing over velvety skin as she wrapped her arms around the taller woman. It took her a moment to dissect the softly spoken words and then she simply nodded without lifting her head.
Carter experienced as wave of relief, some of her nervous tension eased by the wordless reply, uncertain what she would have done if the other woman had refused. "Thank you." They stayed that way for a long time, just holding each other before she finally dropped a hand to tug very lightly on the front of Janet's blouse. "You can't sleep in this," she said softly, then let her fingers trail lower. "Or these."
Abdominal muscles tightening as sensitive fingers brushed the top button on her jeans, Janet gasped sharply, "I'm not sure that's a good idea." Her eyes lifted, meeting a warm blue gaze. "Neither of us seems to be especially good at resisting temptation tonight."
Sam responded with a shrug and a small smile. "We'll manage." She released her loose hold on the brunette, turning away to cross to a nearby dresser and digging through the top drawer before turning back, a black t-shirt and a pair of shorts clutched in her outstretched hand. "Try these," she said as she held the clothes out.
Janet took the soft-worn cotton from Sam, a smile touching her mouth as their fingers just barely touched, the tiny contact sending a shiver of awareness through both of them. She swallowed hard, then made a tiny circling gesture with her free hand. "If you could just..." she mumbled, blushing pink.
Sam blinked, then suddenly realized what Janet was asking. They'd seen each other nude in the showers on more than one occasion and shared quarters when emergencies in the SGC had required officers to double up, but this was different. Desire and emotion changed everything, leaving them both aware of things they would have just ignored in the past. "Right," she exhaled at last and pivoted away, muscles pulling taut in response to the soft sounds of a body moving and cloth ruffling. Something made a soft whuffling noise as it landed on a nearby chair and she felt her pulse pick up as she realized it was Janet's shirt. It was quickly followed by her jeans and underclothes, and the blond couldn't help but wonder at her own sanity as she felt her body respond to the knowledge.
A moment later, Sam couldn't contain a tiny shiver as a hand ambled down her spine, then she felt the press of familiar curves against her back and the weight of Janet's cheek on her shoulder. Exhaling a breath of air she hadn't even been aware of holding, she lifted her arm up over the smaller woman's head as she turned to face her, then settled her arm back down around narrow shoulders, pulling Janet close. She both saw and felt the woman in her arms draw in a deep breath, then release it again. "Nervous?"
"About tonight ... a little," the brunette admitted, then added, "about everything else ... probably a lot ... but not so much as long as you're with me."
Sam nuzzled Janet's temple, holding her close as she whispered, "Me too."
They stayed like that for a long time, drawing strength from their closeness. Finally, Sam stroked a velvet cheek tenderly, drawing Janet's head up until their eyes met. "I don't know about you, but I'm dead on my feet ... think maybe we could move this to bed?"
"Just to sleep?" Fraiser whispered. She had her doubts either of them was capable of keeping it to that, but she didn't think she could walk away either way.
Sam ducked her head to press a soft kiss onto velvet lips. "Just to sleep," she confirmed.
"Or not sleep, which is probably more likely," Janet said completely deadpan, her tone eliciting a soft laugh and earning another quick kiss.
"That too," Carter allowed through a smile before catching Janet's hand in her own and tugging her the last few steps to the bed.
Moments later, they were snuggled together under a cocoon of covers, Sam on her back, Janet stretched out next to her, her head pillowed on a warm shoulder, one arm draped across her midsection. Folding her arm up, her hand dangling loose at the wrist, Carter toyed with auburn hair as she lay there absorbing the warmth of the other woman's body, taking pleasure from the beat of her heart and the rhythm of her breathing.
They lay quietly for a long time, drinking in the closeness and comfort before Sam finally spoke, her voice low and intense in the darkness. "Tell me about her." They needed to get it out between them and deal with the other woman if they were ever going to move past it.
A moment passed before Janet questioned, "What do you want to know?" This wasn't going to be easy, but like Sam, she understood that it needed to be done.
She felt the tiny shrug as Sam answered, "Whatever you want to tell me."
A long moment passed, and then Janet took a deep breath. "All right...." she said hesitantly, then began speaking quietly, surprised when the words flowed more easily than she expected, comforted by the soothing caresses and sense that Sam wanted to understand.
One day soon, they would make love, laugh, whisper sweet words of affection, tease each other, and lose themselves in all of the things, large and small, that lovers share, but at that moment, they enough. They had each other.