By the time Carter and Fraiser staggered back to the cabin, additional personnel were arriving by military transport, flack jacketed special ops teams swarming around in a ballet of organized chaos.
Jack O'Neill was at the center of it all, cursing volubly as he was loaded onto a stretcher by a pair of field medics.
"'Bout Goddamned time," the colonel growled as he saw the two women. "Fraiser, get your butt over here before these two ham-handed yahoos kill me," he added, glaring at the medics.
Janet eyed the perfectly competent dressing on the colonel's wounded thigh, then flashed a look at the men caring for O'Neill. "Give him something for the pain," she advised dryly. "He's quieter that way."
One of the medics snickered to Jack's outrage, and Fraiser offered the young man a sympathetic smile. "Don't feel bad," she said crisply. "Working on Colonel O'Neill is always a bit of a challenge." She threw a quelling glance at the colonel when he would have argued. "At one time or another, almost every doctor in the SGC has vowed to just let him bleed to death the next time he comes in."
"Har dee har har," Jack muttered as the men lifted the stretcher into the back of a transport vehicle, though he didn't deny the accusation. "Will you just check the damn thing?" He trusted her judgment, something that couldn't be said for the two men who'd dressed the wound, neither of whom looked old enough to be trusted to put a bandaid in place, much less treat a gunshot wound.
Drawing closer, Janet leaned into the vehicle, her touch light as she checked the dressing. She glanced at one of the techs. "How did the wound look?"
"The bullet hole was clean, Ma'am, but we gave him an antibiotic injection anyway. His pulse and blood pressure are good, though his temp's a little low--shock, and being out in the cold most likely-- and he's lost some blood."
Fraiser nodded. "Keep him warm, ignore the insults, and make sure you track his blood pressure closely during the drive."
"Yes, Ma'am," the medic murmured as he hopped into the vehicle.
Jack flashed a look at Carter, who was hanging close to Fraiser and watching the havoc swirling around the small clearing with a professional eye. "You look like shit, Carter," he said without preamble. Jack was well past any form of tact--something he had no great facility for even at the best of times. He looked down at Fraiser, spotting the blood and bruises he'd missed on first glance. "And you're no better, Doc." He flashed a glance at her hands as she continued to check the area around his wound, noting they were as sure as ever. But then, he'd long since concluded she could probably work steady-handed in the middle of total thermonuclear Armageddon. God knew, he'd seen her manage the trick in conditions that were close enough. "Teal'c said it got pretty exciting out there. You both okay?"
Sam ran a hand through her hair. "It's been an interesting evening," she sighed exhaustedly, "but we'll live."
A sudden image of what he had seen before all hell broke look flashed in Jack's mind and he had to tamp down several sarcastic remarks that would have earned him a rightful punch in the mouth from his 2IC. "Right," he exhaled, pushing the memories to the back alleys of his mind. "Hammond's around here somewhere. You should probably check in with him."
The medic standing next to Janet eyed the two women. "You should probably get yourselves looked at too," he pointed out. "Looks like you've got some nasty cuts and bruises there."
"I think we're okay for the moment...the damage is superficial," Janet assured the young man. "But we'll see to it ASAP."
As she listened to the conversation, Sam stood massaging the bridge of her nose in an effort to relieve a sudden throbbing headache. Knowing she was going to have to give a statement to the general, she went over everything, sorting out the confusing jumble of information running through her brain. She was still getting it all straight in her head when a disturbing thought occurred to her. Just before it all began, she'd been on the porch with Janet, wrapped in the sort of embrace that couldn't possibly be explained away as mere friendship. Had O'Neill seen? And if he had, what was he going to do about it? She slanted a sideways glance at her CO, trying to read his expression.
Jack saw the realization strike Carter like a physical blow, then those intense blue eyes swung his way and he saw the fear flickering in their depths. Fear. Of him. Well, that was about as much fun as having his fingernails ripped out one by one. Then Carter's gaze touched on Fraiser where she was speaking to the medic, and he experienced a bolt of uncomfortable jealousy at what that look revealed; the raw emotion, tenderness, caring...love. His ex-wife, Sarah, had looked at him like that once upon a time. And when the doctor's eyes lifted, momentarily locking with Sam's, he saw the link between them that left the rest of the world behind. Whatever else happened, he was out of the running. Hoping Daniel didn't contradict him when he gave his statement, he forced a smirk. "Should've sent Teal'c here instead of assigning him to block the road," he muttered, hoping the segue wasn't too clumsy. "He might've gotten here before Blanchard started shooting at you two instead of after."
"You didn't reach the cabin until after the first shots were fired?" Sam questioned, trying not to sound too interested in the answer.
"Nah...the bastard had already squeezed off a couple when we arrived." He shook his head regretfully. "Sorry about that, Carter. A minute or two faster and we might have spared you some bruises."
Sam contained a heavy sigh of relief. "Don't worry about it, sir. You got here as fast as you could...and we're okay--"
"You!" an outraged voice broke in suddenly and both women looked up to find Bert Samuels glaring down at them from another stretcher where it was anchored to a seating platform. He'd pushed up on an elbow and appeared to have just regained consciousness. His head was swathed in a thick bandage, one forearm wrapped tightly in a protective splint. He pointed at Fraiser. "This is all your fault," he snarled. "How dare you accuse me of anything improper."
"Like what," O'Neill's mocking snort took some of the wind out of Samuels' outrage. Normally, he probably would have played things closer to the vest, but he was dead tired, pissed off, in pain, and he felt like putting the screws on the colonel. "Bugging the SGC, running the signal over an unsecured phone line, ignoring security protocols, standing two feet away while your personal aid smuggled out Top Secret materials in your briefcase...is that the sort of impropriety you're referring to?"
"Oh, I see," Samuels snarled defensively, his skin paling several notches with panic, "you're going to try and hang this whole mess on me--"
"Yeah, right where it belongs," Jack jeered as he twisted to glare at the other man. "God, can anybody get me out of this truck...I'll walk back if I have to."
"Sorry, sir, I'm afraid this is the only vehicle present that can handle the stretchers--" the medic inside the truck said apologetically.
"Sorry, Colonel," Janet cut him off firmly, if regretfully. "You really do need be...lying...down..." she trailed off uncomfortably as he glared at her.
"See if I ever save your life again," he grumbled, while Samuels fumed in the background.
"Sorry, sir," she apologized weakly, politely not pointing out that it was actually Sam who'd saved her life.
The driver came around the side of the vehicle. "We've got clearance to leave as soon as the prisoner's loaded...it'll just be another few minutes," he told the small group, then peered at the two battered women. "Shouldn't you two be on the truck?" he suggested. "We're heading straight for the hospital."
"Actually," Sam began, eyeing Samuels and then O'Neill as she considered just how much fun it would be to ride into town with those two in close quarters, "We really should report in to General Hammond." She looked at Janet, who nodded instantly. Obviously, the same thought had occurred to her.
"Our injuries are really very superficial," Fraiser assured the young man. It was a small lie--they could both had several cuts that should be cleaned and dressed--but all things considered, it didn't bother her in the least.
Sam glanced to the side, spotting the general through the crowd. "In fact, we should probably get over there now."
"Cowards," Jack grumbled, though he really couldn't blame them. If he could have gotten a different transport, he certainly would have. He could still hear Samuels muttering in the back.
"That's us, sir," Sam confirmed wryly, then added, "Anything we can do for you before they leave?"
"Other than get you off the truck," Janet clarified before he had a chance to speak, making it clear that any requests along those lines were off the table.
Jack pursed his lips in frustration, then nodded. "Yeah, would you send Daniel over here before the truck leaves. I need to speak to him for a moment."
Sam nodded. "Of course, sir." She ducked her head, and glanced toward the general again. He was standing on the front porch of the cabin, speaking to Teal'c and Daniel, while investigators moved around them, gathering evidence. "But we should hurry, so he can get over here before you leave."
Jack grumbled something impolite under his breath, but nodded in agreement.
"Well, we'll go ahead and do that...and probably see you at the hospital later."
"Yeah," Jack muttered, then lay his head back down.
Having been more or less dismissed, Sam had to catch herself to control the automatic impulse to catch Janet's hand in her own, instead gesturing for the other woman to go ahead of her. "I'll send Daniel back to speak to you, sir," she said as they hurried off. Once they were out of earshot, she glanced over at Janet. "They got here after the first shots were fired." Relief flickered in the depths of her eyes. "They didn't see anything."
Janet nodded, her expression shuttered. "I heard," she said softly. She reached up to massage her temple where it was beginning to throb viciously.
Sam noted the gesture with a worried look. "Are you sure you shouldn't go in with the truck? That lump on your head is pretty nasty."
Janet flashed a look on her lover that was a combination of disbelieving and ironic. "I'd like something that would reduce the headache, not increase it." No way in hell did she want to be trapped in a truck for a couple of hours with O'Neill and Samuels sniping at each other. There were several forms of Goa'uld torture she suspected would be vastly preferable.
Knowing exactly what Janet meant, Sam was still laughing softly as they reached the porch.
"Major...Doctor," the general said as he pivoted toward them. "Teal'c and Doctor Jackson were just briefing me on what happened out here." His eyes slid over their battered frames, appraising the damage. "If you two need to go on in with the medical transport, you can give your statements later."
Both women looked back, noting that Jack was already arguing with the medics again. "Oh, sir," Sam began, and Hammond took note of events on the truck, "I'm really not sure that's such a good idea."
"I'll arrange another vehicle to take you back," he said without argument.
"Thank you, sir," Sam sighed gratefully, then transferred her gaze to Daniel Jackson. "Daniel, the colonel wants to speak to you before the truck leaves."
"Thanks, Sam," the Egyptologist said with a nod and took off at a dogtrot.
Still massaging her temple, Janet sank down on the edge of the porch with a soft sigh and leaned up against the railing. "With your permission, sir," she requested as an afterthought.
He nodded, gesturing for Sam to do the same, then called to a passing airman to bring a first aid kit. "Feel up to giving me your version of events?" he questioned, crouching down to put himself on level with his people, while Janet accepted the newly delivered first aid kit and began rooting through the contents.
"Well, sir," Sam began, wincing when Janet caught one of her hands and began washing the blood off her badly bashed knuckles, "we'd just gotten back from a hike and were standing on the porch talking, when...."
* * * * * *
Daniel noted the direction of Jack's gaze as he reached the rear of the truck and sighed softly. To anyone who didn't know the nature of their relationship, the doctor's careful tending of Sam's injuries would have looked perfectly normal, but he couldn't help but notice the familiar way she handled Sam's hands, her touch oddly intimate and somehow even gentler than usual. Daniel's head swung back and he saw the same knowledge in Jack O'Neill's eyes. "Jack?" he questioned, his voice too low for anyone else to hear. "What are you going to do about what we saw?"
"Don't go there, Daniel," the older man responded on a warning note.
"But, Jack--" Daniel hissed.
Jack glared at the other man, seeing the fear of what might happen in his eyes. "Drop it, Daniel, I'm not going to do anything." He stressed the last word, wanting Jackson to understand that the last damn thing he wanted to do was file charges against either of the two women. "Jesus, I wouldn't do that to Sam or Fraiser." He heaved a sigh and ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. He was exhausted and the pain shot the medic had given him on Fraiser's orders was starting to kick in full force. He glanced back over his shoulder, noting that Samuels appeared to have passed out again, and the medic was sitting with him, checking on his vitals. "Whatever they're doing, it's their own damn business."
"Then what did you want?" Daniel questioned uncertainly. He honestly didn't know what to expect from Jack on this one.
"I need to know what you told Hammond about when we arrived."
Daniel frowned, not quite understanding. "Truthfully, I sort of glossed that part over...I wasn't quite sure what to say." He shrugged helplessly. "Not exactly your average situation."
Jack heaved a sigh of relief. "Okay, that's good, because I told Sam we got here after the first shots were fired."
"You mean you lied?" Daniel clarified Jack's comment.
The colonel shrugged, mouth twisting. "Seemed like the right thing to do at the time," he muttered defensively. "Just go along with it, okay?"
"But, Jack...are you sure that's the right thing to do?"
"It won't make any legal difference and...well...it just makes things easier...." He just didn't want them to know he knew. The obvious blow to his male ego aside, there was just too much chance it would change the easy camaraderie of the team, leaving everyone--himself specifically--feeling uncomfortable. Not that he wasn't already feeling uncomfortable, but...well...he figured he could do denial and just avoid the whole subject entirely. And Daniel--Jack eyed the younger man--he'd probably be pleased as punch for Carter and Fraiser once he'd assured himself that Jack wasn't going to shaft anybody's career or flake out. University types were like that in Jack's experience. Just let everything out, including things everybody would be more comfortable keeping bottled up--or at least things Jack would be more comfortable keeping bottled up.
"All right...I guess I can do that," Daniel allowed. "But, Jack, don't you think you should discuss this with Sam at some point?"
O'Neill looked horrified at the idea. "No," he said as though Daniel had made the most outrageous suggestion imaginable. He saw Daniel draw breath to speak and held up a hand to forestall any lectures. "Look, the last thing Sam would want is for me to be poking around in her private life. And since the last thing I want to do is go poking around in her private life--all things considered--it works out perfectly."
"Not up for discussion," O'Neill cut Daniel off sharply. "Just stick with the story that we got here after the first shots and drop the rest of it."
After a beat, Daniel threw up his hands and nodded. "All right," he surrendered.
"And you keep your mouth shut too," Jack added with a sharp look.
Daniel threw up his hands defensively. "Don't worry. I won't say anything." Though his tone made it obvious he disagreed with Jack's decision. Further discussion ended when a pair of medics arrived, carrying a stretcher with a well-bound prisoner aboard. Blanchard was barely conscious, his nose taped and visibly broken, neck braced, both eyes swollen shut, mouth bruised and bloodied. He groaned softly as the medics lifted him aboard the truck and began securing the stretcher.
"Sorry for the delay, sir," one of the men apologized to O'Neill. "But we had to stabilize the prisoner for transport." He shook his head, his expression impressed. "Major Carter worked him over pretty good."
Jack nodded, eyebrows high on his forehead, then flashed a look at Daniel. "Remind me never to piss Sam off."
"You got that right," Daniel murmured. He tugged nervously at his collar, hoping Sam would forgive him for not dragging Janet out of the woods and to safety. A moment later, he jumped back as a medic waved him out of the way to snap up the rear gate on the truck. "Sorry, sir, but we've got to be moving."
"See you later at the hospital, Jack," Daniel said as he backed out of the way.
"You do that," the colonel shot back and if there was more than a trace of sarcasm in his voice, Daniel understood it was just a byproduct of the situation. He stayed where he was until the truck had pulled out onto the road, then turned and headed back toward the others with a soft sigh.
* * * * * *
Well under an hour later, after Sam had given the general a brief outline of what had happened, with occasional input from Janet, who looked up from cleaning Sam's wounds and then her own to clarify her own point of view of events, the general helped the two women into a waiting Humvee.
"They'll take you straight to the hospital," he informed them, then offered a paternal smile. "By the way, if I haven't mentioned it, good work not getting yourselves killed. The SGC would have missed you both."
"We would have missed us too," Carter murmured, tipping her head back against the seat and letting her eyes slide closed. She was suddenly exhausted beyond belief. And judging by the way Janet sank into the corner, she was no better. "I've grown rather fond of myself over the years."
"Doctor Jackson said he'd see to it that your car got back to the SGC, Doctor," Hammond added as an afterthought.
Fraiser raised a limp hand in acknowledgment. At that point, she didn't really care.
"All right then," the general murmured, realizing that they were past any further communication. He slammed the door shut, then stepped forward to speak to the young airman assigned to drive them back.
Moments later, they were moving, the dull growl of the vehicle's engine wiping out the world beyond their small space in it.
They weren't exactly alone, but the Humvee was large enough that with only a driver and the two women in the far back seat, they had some small measure of privacy. Not enough to start necking without being noticed, but since neither one was up to anything like that, it wasn't really a problem.
With a glance forward to assure herself that the driver was busy navigating the narrow mountain road, Sam eased closer to Janet, sliding a careful arm across her shoulders. The doctor turned into the loose hold, leaning up against Sam's side with a soft sigh.
"You okay?" Sam questioned near Janet's ear.
"I am now," came the mumbled reply. Janet nuzzled deeper into Sam's side, beyond caring even if there had been a risk of someone seeing.
Sam rested her chin against Janet's head with a soft sigh. "Me too...." She pressed a tiny kiss to her lover's temple. "Promise me you'll never scare me like that again," she whispered. It took a moment before she realized Janet had nodded off. With a hint of a smile, she closed her own eyes. Within moments, she was snoring gently.
* * * * * *
Soft groans and the sounds of bodies shifting against the sheets filled Janet Fraiser's darkened bedroom.
"Sorry," Sam apologized almost instantly. "I just thought if I shifted over a little, we might both be more comfortable."
"I'm not sure comfort is a viable option at this point," Janet mumbled where her head was pillowed on Sam's shoulder, but after Sam's position change, she was suddenly feeling more pressure on the rather colorful bruise that decorated her left hip. She wiggled ever so slightly to ease the strain, then felt as much as heard a low groan bubble up from Sam's chest. "Sorry. I just--"
"I know," Sam drawled, a touch of humor threading through her voice despite the physical discomfort.
"We could sleep apart," Janet suggested hesitantly. They were both dead tired and beat to hell, and having spent half the night and the better part of the day being poked, prodded, X-rayed, taped, and bandaged, they both looked like they were wearing football pads under their nightclothes.
A brief moment of silence passed, then both women murmured, "Nah," at the same time.
Janet couldn't restrain a tiny laugh, which made her bruised ribs ache. "Haven't we been here before?"
"It does seem like familiar territory," Sam sighed, trying to stay perfectly still in the vague hope that lack of movement would equal lack of pain. It didn't work.
Janet sighed softly, while Sam lifted a gauze taped hand, resting it on what was probably the only couple of unbruised inches on the smaller woman's back. "Well, we got another week or so of downtime...if we keep this up, we may never need to go back on duty."
"Don't even joke," Sam growled mock-angrily. They both fell silent for long moment, lost in their own thoughts until Sam shifted ever so slightly to a dual chorus of low groans. She sighed softly and pressed a small kiss to Janet's forehead. "Let's just try and get some sleep," she sighed, willing sore muscles to relax.
"Sam?" Janet whispered after a moment.
Janet shifted just enough to peer up into intelligent blue eyes. "Have I mentioned lately that I'm in love with you?" In those moments at the cabin, when she'd thought it was all over for both of them, she'd accepted it completely, surrendering in a way she'd never expected to. Amazing how easily the words came now.
Sam smiled, her expression returning the emotion full-force, though she teased gently. "I think you just want me for my body."
Janet raised her eyebrows, gaze gliding over Sam's bruised, battered, taped, and gauzed frame.
"Okay, so maybe not right now," Sam chuckled, sounding mildly insulted. "But give me a few days to get back in fighting form."
Laughing softly, Janet sank back down into Sam's tender embrace. "I'm holding you to that."
"Count on it," Sam assured her sleepily, then quietly added, her voice serious this time, "I love you too, y'know." Janet wasn't the only one who'd faced an epiphany of sorts. No more pulling back from the thought. Sam embraced it, accepting the emotions burning in her chest gratefully.
"I know," Janet sighed as her breathing began to slow with impending slumber.
Finally, wrapped safely in each other's arms, the lovers slept, confident they were right where they belonged.