DISCLAIMER: I wish I owned 'em, but I don't. The characters belong to some perfectly nice folks at MGM, Showtime, Gekko, etc. I'm just stealing them to work out my own demons and will return them as good as new. I do this for love, not money; I invite any of the aforementioned owners to steal freely.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I have no idea any longer if this story has merit… it simply has demanded to be written. My apologies if it sucks. Criticism welcome as long as it isn't flames; comments in general are helpful. I owe thanks to rutherford and Phil for conversations that helped me with some of the ideas; however all faults are entirely mine.
WARNING: Refs to character assault and character rape, though nothing too explicit. Minor, minor, minor religious ref. If you are looking for sex or for a traditional happy ending, do not bother reading this story.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEASON/SPOILERS: Seven   'Grace'.

Lines in the Sand
By ocean gazer


"Hey Doc!" Janet heard a note of desperation in O'Neill's voice, and looked up quizzically as he burst through the door to her research lab. He skidded to a halt in front of her and she raised an eyebrow. "Sorry to barge in here like this, but I've got a bit of an emergency on my hands and need your help."

Janet shook her head in confusion. "Colonel, if you have an emergency, there is a full medical staff in the infirmary. I am off active duty for the next few days in order to get caught up on my backlog of research projects."

O'Neill waved her protest away. "Look, I need you. It's about Carter and I don't think she's gonna let just anyone get near her right now. Plus, I kind of want to keep this off the record for the moment, until I figure out what's going on and what to do about it."

Janet's heart leapt into her throat at the mention of Sam's name and she was on her feet without conscious thought. She hated it when anyone was hurt or in danger, but she particularly hated it when the person in question was a friend.

"What's the problem, Sir?" she asked.

He glared at the wall behind her head. "The problem is that I don't know what the problem is."

"Well that certainly clarifies things," she shot at him, knowing that sarcasm would steady him better than anything else she could think of. Upon closer scrutiny, she recognized that he was not nervous or scared, as she had first assumed by the tone of his voice. The Colonel was enraged, and barely containing the emotion.

His eyes were smoldering as he stared at her. "Well, I know part of the problem. You know who Mike Jacobs is?" Janet nodded in disgust and saw an answering grimace on O'Neill's face.

Major Jacobs was the kind of man who made assholes look good in comparison. Every woman on base avoided him like the plague, given his overtly sexist attitudes. Most of the men avoided him as well, if for no other reason than his arrogance and his mercenary mentality. And no one could figure out how he had stayed in the military for so long.

O'Neill continued, "Part of the problem is that when Teal'c and I went looking for Carter--since she was half an hour late in meeting us--Jacobs was with her. I don't know how the hell he found her; she was in that out-of-the-way, soundproofed lab you guys have for your science experiments. He was beating the crap out of her and it took both Teal'c and I to get him off of her. She had already broken some of his fingers and it didn't slow him down any. I'd swear he was too drunk to feel any pain, but he doesn't smell like he's been drinking."

Alarmed, Janet grabbed her medical bag and led the way out of the room. O'Neill caught up to her and continued his story. "Carter won't say anything about it. All she says is that nothing happened."

Janet stopped in surprise and the Colonel nodded. "That doesn't make any sense," Janet said. "Sam doesn't talk much about anything personal, but something like this is different. I would have expected her to be putting Jacobs on report herself."

"Yeah, you and me both," O'Neill growled as he led the way down to the lab.

Janet could almost see the red flare of anger as an aura around his head. She took a moment to wonder why his feelings were so strong: though she knew he had been attracted to Sam in the past, she also knew (thanks to O'Neill's effusive reaction to morphine) that his feelings had mellowed into the intense friendship that comes with being teammates in a dangerous line of work.

Then Janet took a moment to wonder precisely why O'Neill's current depth of emotion was causing a surge of jealousy to rise in her own chest. It wasn't like she and Sam were anything more than friends.

"I hate bullies," O'Neill stated flatly, as if he had read Janet's mind and was answering the first part of her question. "I hate people who think their size and strength give them the power to do anything to anybody."

Janet patted his arm, in a clumsy gesture of sympathy, and then abruptly they reached their destination. Janet couldn't resist a shocked gasp as she took in the scene. Teal'c was sitting on Jacobs, who was struggling to get out from under the Jaffa. Jacobs looked bad, with rising bruises on his face and small cuts lacing his arms. But Sam looked worse—her face bruised and scraped, blood streaming down from two nasty lacerations across her forehead.

As Janet stared at her friend, she fought to steady her breathing and snap herself into doctor mode. She noted almost absently that Sam's clothes had been ripped in several places.

Sam sat stone-like on a tabletop, and didn't look up as Janet approached for a cursory exam. O'Neill's voice was dangerously calm as he asked, "So, Carter, what happened here?"

Sam regarded the floor with casual interest, but Janet had a hand on Sam's arm and could feel the tension flooding the other woman. "Nothing, Sir," Sam said quietly.

From under Teal'c, Jacobs called out, "Like she said, Colonel, there's no problem."

Janet looked up and saw O'Neill's face set more firmly into a mask of disgust. Janet left Sam's side and went over to O'Neill. "Sir," she whispered, "let me get Jacobs patched up and then you and Teal'c can take him somewhere else while I see to Sam. I don't know that she'll tell me what happened, but I think I'll have a better chance than anyone else." He nodded and she moved over to Jacobs.

Teal'c climbed off of the man, but kept a firm grip on him as he forced Jacobs to sit on the floor.

Moving quickly, professionally, and none too gently, Janet did a brief exam, first examining the man's bruises and then applying alcohol to the cuts on his arms.

"Dammit, Doc, that hurts!"

O'Neill muttered something that Janet was just as happy to not have heard.

Her voice crisp, she instructed her patient to "stop squirming and it won't hurt as much." She then turned her attention to the man's left hand. Three of his fingers were broken and Janet winced at the thought that even the pain of his hand had not slowed Jacobs down. O'Neill gave her an approving glance as she set the bones in one finger, wringing a cry from Jacobs.

Janet turned her attention briefly to Sam, to see what her reaction to his expression of pain would be. If anything, the sound seemed to have caused Sam to go even more rigid with tension, though she continued to stare at the floor with a carefully blank expression.

Janet hurried through setting his other two fingers, and then Teal'c and O'Neill stood Jacobs between them. "Ok, Jacobs," O'Neill said, as if he'd finally made up his mind about the situation, "we're gonna go have a little talk before I drag your ass to Hammond's office."

Janet gaped in shock as Jacobs snarled something nearly unintelligible, with only the phrase "that fucking bitch ruining my career" distinguishable. With a violent burst of energy, he threw Teal'c sideways and shoved O'Neill backwards. Both men landed hard on the ground, and judging by their expressions—they couldn't believe Jacobs' strength.

Jacobs shoved past Janet, knocking her down as well, and then launched himself at Carter. Sam stared, frozen, at the man approaching her, and Janet found herself thinking of a deer caught in headlights. Janet heard the sound of a hand striking flesh, saw Sam knocked off the table into a heap on the floor, and watched in horror as Jacobs kicked Sam violently in the ribs.

Teal'c and O'Neill both regained their feet and nearly had a hold of Jacobs, when the man convulsed and collapsed, landing on top of Carter.

With no trace of concern for the unconscious man, Teal'c pulled Jacobs off of Carter and shoved him aside. Janet struggled to her feet and took the man's pulse. It was racing and erratic, and spasms racked his body. "Get a medical team down here now!" Janet commanded Teal'c, who sprinted out of the room with more speed than she would have expected from a man his size. She fumbled for a syringe and injected the contents into Jacobs, noting that his convulsions slowed a little.

Then, she turned her attention to Sam, who remained in a heap and whose eyes were suspiciously glassy. O'Neill stood uncomfortable and helpless, and Janet told him to take Jacobs' pulse, just so he'd have something to do.

She placed a gentle hand on Sam's shoulder, and squeezed very lightly. "It's going to be okay, Sam."

Sam gave the barest of nods in response, and Janet turned back to the emergency happening in front of her. Teal'c ushered the medical team in and she gave them a brief over-view of the scene and the drug she had administered.

The medics hauled Jacobs out on a stretcher and Matthews, the doctor on duty, met Janet's eyes. "I'm no expert in illicit drugs," he said, "but I'll bet a year's salary that his toxicology screen will show lots of them." She nodded her agreement, and then he gestured to Carter and asked, "Do you want me to send someone to help you here, or are you coming down to the infirmary?"

Janet shook her head. "We'll come down to the infirmary in a little while. But I don't need any help; right now I think the fewer people around, the better." He nodded and ran after his newest charge.

O'Neill gestured Teal'c to a guardian position at the lab door, as Janet reached out to help Sam into a sitting position. O'Neill squatted down in front of the women, so that he was at eye-level. "Look, Carter," he began uncertainly, "I think I know why you didn't want to tell me what happened."

Janet had one arm around Sam's back, and she felt the woman's body go rigid with tension again at the statement.

O'Neill didn't seem to notice as he continued, "Given how Jacobs was acting, I can understand that you would be worried about him taking revenge on you later for putting him on report. But I guarantee that he will not be at the SGC any longer to even have a chance at coming after you."

Janet didn't claim to be a mind reader, but she was fairly sure that the thought of Jacobs taking revenge was not the main reason for Sam's reticence. The emotions Janet was picking up from her friend seemed to be only distantly related to the actual physical assault—though Janet had no idea why she was so certain of that.

O'Neill glanced at Sam and said, "I don't want to ask this, Carter, but do you have any idea why Jacobs came after you?" Sam swallowed hard and shook her head slightly.

Janet could tell Sam was lying with the gesture, and she jumped in to keep O'Neill from figuring that out. (Normally Janet wouldn't have helped cover up a lie, but something about the fear in Sam's demeanor overrode Janet's conscience.) "Sir, with someone like Jacobs, does there have to be a reason? I mean, you know as well as I do that he is a nasty man—maybe Sam was just the first victim he came across when he decided to go out and beat up on someone."

She could feel a small part of the tension drain from Sam's body as the Colonel nodded thoughtfully at her words. "You've got a good point there, Doc." He paused for a moment. "I think Teal'c and I will head down to the infirmary and then report to General Hammond. I'll let him know that you'll report to him as soon as Carter is a little more ready for a de-briefing."

Sam lifted her head and Janet could feel her struggle to keep her voice steady. "Thank you, Sir. I mean…for everything…"

O'Neill started to reach out and pat her shoulder, and then thought better of it. "It'll be ok, Carter," he said, with unusual warmth, and then he and Teal'c left the women alone.

Janet helped Sam get off the floor and sit on the tabletop, and then she reached for her medical bag. Sam stared listlessly at the wall while Janet cleaned the lacerations on her forehead and probed delicately at the bruised face. But when Janet reached out to touch Sam's ripped shirt the blonde jerked back as if she'd been struck.

"Sam, I know this is hard for you. But I need to check you out, to know how badly you've been hurt." Janet stood very still, watching a tremor work its way down Carter's spine. She kept her voice soft and soothing as she continued, "If you'd be more comfortable, someone else can examine you—that wouldn't bother me."

Sam kept her eyes averted, but gave a single, emphatic, shake of the head.

Janet studied the other woman for a long moment and when she thought it was safe, she reached out again. She felt a surge of gratitude that Sam didn't pull away, and then a surge of concern because Carter was once again rigid with tension.

Gently, moving slowly, Janet stripped Sam out of her shirt. She couldn't restrain a gasp at the livid bruises painting Sam's exposed flesh. Her arms, her stomach, and her chest all bore numerous purpling marks.

There was something vaguely troubling about the pattern of the marks across Sam's stomach, and Janet knit her brows as she examined the bruises. She leaned in for a closer look, gently unfastening Sam's pants and easing them down Sam's hips, and then Janet took a sharp breath as she realized just what she was seeing.

Janet felt a wave of nausea flood her body. "Did Major Jacobs attempt to rape you?"

Sam's eyes screwed shut and she hung her head. Janet stood in front of Carter, unexpectedly furious with the other woman. "Why the hell didn't you tell Colonel O'Neill? It's bad enough that he thinks you're covering up a simple unprovoked assault. Sam, this is serious stuff. Why the hell are you trying to protect an asshole like Jacobs?"

Sam opened her eyes and looked up at Janet. Janet winced at the bitterness reflected. Sam's words came in a rush, as though she said more than she intended. "Maybe it's me that I'm trying to protect."

Completely puzzled by the revelation, Janet rested her hand gently on Sam's leg, just above her knee. Her anger faded and her voice reverberated with warmth. "Sam, please talk to me. Tell me what's going on."

Carter bit her lip in indecision and her breathing quickened. Janet could tell from the woman's reaction that Sam wanted to talk to someone, that Sam desperately needed someone she could trust. She could also tell that Sam wasn't sure that someone was Janet.

"C'mon, Sam," Janet pleaded, "I'm your friend. There's nothing you can say to me that will change that."

Sam closed her eyes again and Janet heard the curious bitterness reflected in her tone. "You'd be surprised."

Janet continued to stand with her hand on Sam's leg, projecting reassurance as hard as she could. Just when she had decided Sam had turned mute, the blond spoke in a thin whisper, each word battling its way out of her mouth. "Yes, Jacobs did try to rape me. And yes, I know why he attacked me."

Janet burned with the desire to ask questions, but she feared the slightest sound would send Sam scuttling back into her shell. Instead she waited, spellbound, while Sam fought a battle against her silent fears.

Sam's eyes popped open, fixed on an empty point in space, her voice still barely reaching Janet's ear, each word measured. "I never told him, I swear I didn't. But somehow he found out about me…found out I am…am…gay.

"I don't know how…or who…I mean, it's not something I talk about. Ever. I wouldn't even confirm it when he accused me…but he said…he said that since I didn't deny it, it was the same as if I'd told him." Her voice trailed off for a moment. "He kept after me, kept saying all I needed was a good…fu…fuck…from a real man. I wanted to report him, but…"

Janet spoke quietly, suddenly understanding Sam's reticence, filling in the blank. "But with this policy of 'Don't ask, don't tell,' how could you report him without getting yourself in trouble as well?"

Sam nodded, her hands unconsciously curling into fists. "I thought I'd scared him off the other day; I told him if he bothered me again, I would tell General Hammond, consequences be damned. I guess it just made him mad."

She took a deep breath, and Janet could see how her body trembled with repressed emotion. Janet moved closer to her friend. "God, Sam, I am so sorry." She wrapped her arms around Sam, half expecting Sam to pull away. To her relief and surprise, Sam rested her head on Janet's shoulder, and her arms tightened around Janet's waist.

The two hung in the embrace for what could have been decades. Janet could think of nothing, save the hurt woman in her arms, amazed and honored that Sam had actually opened up to her.

After a while, Sam loosened her grip and pulled away to look up at Janet. "I'm sorry," she began, "I didn't mean…" Janet cut her off with a light finger on Sam's lips.

"You have nothing to apologize for, Samantha Carter. The only person who should be apologizing is Jacobs." Janet weighed each word carefully as she spoke, wanting to make sure Sam felt her sincerity. "We're friends, and I meant it when I said that nothing you could tell me would change that. I'm honored that you opened up to me, and that you told me what happened."

Sam hung her head, and spoke quietly, as if she hated having the words come out of her mouth, but needed to say them anyway. "I meant about the being gay thing. I shouldn't have…"

Once again, Janet laid a soft, interrupting touch on Carter's mouth. She cupped Sam's chin very gently, mindful of the bruises, and coaxed Sam's head up to meet her gaze. "I know what you meant, and you still don't have anything to be sorry about. It's not an issue for me. It doesn't change the fact that you're my friend."

She saw the relief flood Sam's eyes, and Janet pulled her into another hug, feeling the tension draining from the woman's body.

This time it was Janet who broke the embrace, saying, "As much as I hate to spoil the moment, I imagine Colonel O'Neill is waiting impatiently for me to bring you down to the infirmary. Besides, we really need to get you ice-packs for a couple of these bruises."

Sam took a quick breath, nodding her head. A trace of fear played under her words as she slid awkwardly off the table. "I don't want this conversation to go on report."

Janet raised an eyebrow. "As far as I'm concerned, Major Jacobs attacked you for no apparent reason. You are in a state of shock, which is why you wouldn't talk to Colonel O'Neill when he asked you what happened. And if Jacobs tells a different story, well, as we all know, the man is a liar."

She paused for a moment. "Besides, this is a confidential conversation between a doctor and a patient."

She helped Sam pull her shirt back on as she talked, and was caught by surprise as Sam grabbed her hand.

"Janet, I…I really feel better, now that you know. Thanks for…for being here for me."

The warmth those simple stuttered words raised in Janet's heart caught her off-guard. She smiled at her friend, using humor to keep from drowning in the intense blue gaze. "Well, you know, it's the least I can do for a woman who runs around routinely saving the universe and stuff."

Sam favored her with a soft laugh, and Janet grabbed up her medical bag and slid her free arm around Sam's waist. "Lean on me, Sam. You've taken some hard blows, and I don't want you fainting on me on the way to the infirmary. That would make me look like a pretty incompetent doctor."

Sam grumbled a little, but acquiesced, and the two made their way out of the room. Janet noted that Sam was leaning heavily against her, her face lined with exhaustion.

O'Neill looked up when they entered the infirmary, and Janet was struck by the grimness in his eyes. She looked around as she helped Sam into an empty bed, surprised to see that O'Neill was alone.

"Where's Dr. Matthews? And what happened to Jacobs?"

O'Neill opened his mouth to answer, but the arrival of General Hammond and Teal'c closed it again. Instead, it was the General who spoke. "Doctor Matthews felt that the Major's condition was too serious for us here; he accompanied Jacobs to the hospital. Given the amount of drugs in his system and our limited resources for such occurrences here, I allowed the Major to be transferred, though I am uncomfortable having him off base while this incident is under investigation."

Janet stared at the General, incredulous. "They can't possibly have gotten the toxicology screen back so quickly."

He agreed, saying, "They didn't. But one of your nurses has ER experience. He worked in a hospital that dealt with a lot of drug cases, and he is positive that Major Jacobs is high as the proverbial kite."

A muffled sound showed O'Neill's amusement with the General's choice of phrases. Janet felt the tug of a smile on her own lips, so she turned to Sam to hide the reaction.

Hammond spared O'Neill a long-suffering glance before walking over to stand beside Carter. O'Neill and Teal'c also moved in closer to the wounded woman.

While they flanked her on one side, Janet moved around the bed to stand on the other side. Sam looked uncomfortable with the ring of faces surrounding her, and Janet reached out to press her fingers against Sam's wrist. She hoped fervently that no one would ask what Sam's pulse was, since she didn't have the slightest idea; her touch was intended solely to reassure the other woman.

The General spoke in a lower voice than his usual boom. "I realize this is not a pleasant experience to recount, but I need to know what happened."

Janet jumped in before Sam could answer. "This needs to be brief, Sir. She's still in a state of shock. That's why she wouldn't say anything to Colonel O'Neill before."

Hammond looked irritated as he met Janet's eyes. "I'm aware of that, Doctor," he said curtly.

Sam cleared her throat self-consciously, drawing all the attention back on herself. She gave a very brief account of what happened, following Janet's earlier lead that Jacobs had attacked her without provocation. Lowering her head, Carter admitted that Jacobs had tried to rape her.

O'Neill slammed a fist against his own leg and muttered something to Teal'c that Janet couldn't hear.

Apparently, General Hammond heard it because he shot an icy glance at him. "Do you have something to add?" Hammond challenged. O'Neill's response was a quick shake of the head.

Janet watched as Sam sank back against the pillow, and she caught the General's attention. "Sir, I really think it would be best if we continued this some other time. Sam's been through a lot and really needs some rest."

A very young nurse chose that moment to burst through the door with a ringing cell phone, causing everyone but Teal'c to start in alarm. Faced with annoyed faces, the nurse stuttered, "It belongs to Dr. Matthews, the phone, I mean, and I don't know what I should do about it, I mean, what would I say?"

"The usual option would be to answer it and say 'Hello'," shot O'Neill as Janet walked over to the nurse, grabbed the phone, and answered it in a quiet voice.

She waved the nurse out of the room and turned her back on her companions, though she was aware of their curious glances.

"Well?" queried O'Neill, as Janet shut the phone off without saying good-bye. She turned to once again face the others.

"Well, that was Dr. Matthews. He called to tell us that Major Jacobs is dead. They are still waiting for the toxicology confirmation and will have to do an autopsy, but the doctors are certain it was a self-administered drug overdose."

For a long moment, no one moved. Janet wasn't even sure anyone was breathing, aware only of an oppressive silence.

Oddly enough, it was Teal'c who broke the silence. "It appears matters have resolved themselves without the necessity of our intervention," he stated to O'Neill. The Colonel nodded and General Hammond turned to the two men, aggravation written across his face.

While the General gave them his lecture on going through channels, Janet returned to Sam's side, her fingers once again seeking out the woman's wrist. Sam looked up at Janet, her expression unreadable. Janet could see the pallor of Sam's face even through the bruises, and cleared her throat to catch the General's attention.

He broke off mid-lecture and turned to Janet. "Given the new circumstances, I don't think we need to continue this at the moment. Major Carter's unofficial statement will be sufficient for now, especially since I'll pretty much have my hands full dealing with the hospital's report on Jacobs. Will she be released from the infirmary by tomorrow?"

Janet nodded and said, "I'll probably release her tonight; despite her injuries, there will be no real reason to keep her captive down here after I finish my treatment." Janet shot a fond smile at Sam. "I don't know why, but everyone seems to hate spending time in the infirmary."

Sam's expression didn't change, but she cocked her head ever so slightly to the side in acknowledgement, and Janet felt herself warmed by the gesture.

His voice softened as he addressed Carter. "We'll get your formal report tomorrow, and have your psychological evaluation. And then I am putting you on official leave for the next two weeks. Get yourself away from the base, and take some time to rest, and try and put this incident behind you."

Carter took a shaky breath and Janet could feel, through her touch on Sam's wrist, that the other woman was less than pleased with the proclamation. Sam spoke steadily, though Janet could see what a struggle she had to keep her voice even. "Sir, I really think I need to work. I need something to keep myself occupied."

The General's tone rang firm, but Janet noted that his gaze was kind. "Major Carter," Hammond said, "I understand that feeling, but I don't really have any limited duty assignments that would keep a mind of your caliber occupied."

Sam chewed her lip and seemed to find her lap to be of intense interest.

Janet glanced at Sam and suddenly inspiration knocked her over the head. Janet would have completely agreed with the leave time, had the patient been anyone other than Sam. But Janet knew very well that simply sending Sam home would not achieve the effect the General intended. She caught Hammond's gaze, and spoke quickly, even though she knew his last statement had been intended as a definite "no".

"Sir, if everything checks out with the psych evaluation, why not let Sam help me with my research projects? I'm off active duty for a few days to try and get my backlog under control, and her help would be invaluable. Medically speaking, I can keep an eye on her more easily if she's here. And it would only be for five days, because then I am taking a week's leave…"

She let her voice trail off and turned her gaze back to Sam, who looked up to meet her eyes. Janet could easily read the glimmer of hope in the blue gaze as the General considered the idea. Sam surreptitiously turned her wrist in Janet's loose grasp and pressed her long fingers against Janet's in a silent "thank you".

Hammond frowned as he considered her words. "Are you sure that's a good idea, Doctor?" he queried.

Janet met his frown with one of her own, annoyed that the General had questioned her expertise. Her tone was hardened steel. "Sir, I know better than anyone the injuries Major Carter has sustained. I'm also not proposing that she do anything more complicated than sit at a desk and confirm research findings, which is probably more rest than she would get if she were at home. I realize this is not usual protocol, but I am of the opinion that it is in the best interest of my patient."

Hammond met Fraiser's eyes, and he offered a brief nod. "If it's what you think is best, Doctor, then I'll let you be responsible for her care. She can help with the research projects, but I don't want her around the SGC without your presence. She'll simply have to take time away while you are on leave."

Janet felt the sudden urge to ask when her job description had been updated to read "24/7 babysitter" (as well as the urge to ask why they were discussing Sam as if she was not even in the room), but then she noticed O'Neill mimicking the General's manner behind his back.

At the sight, her annoyance faded, chased away by a sudden urge to giggle. "Thank you, Sir," she said simply, afraid that her amusement could not remain contained if she said anything more complicated.

She glanced back at Sam and was pleased to see the ghost of a smile flit across the bruised face as Sam caught a glimpse of O'Neill's antics. The blonde woman wrenched her attention back to the General. "Thank you, Sir," she echoed Janet.

The General moved forward and patted Carter's shoulder kindly. "Get some rest, Major. I'm sorry this unfortunate incident ever happened. We'll talk more tomorrow." She nodded and he left the room, calling out to O'Neill and Teal'c to report to his office as soon as was convenient.

O'Neill moved close in to the bed, Teal'c shadowing him. "Well, I suppose I'd better go see what General Hammond wants."

Janet gave a short laugh. "He probably wants to lecture you about doing public impersonations of him."

O'Neill gave a one-shouldered shrug. "Look, Carter," he began, "get yourself better. We'll do our best to keep this thing behind closed doors."

Carter looked up at the Colonel. "Thank you, Sir," she said quietly. "I really appreciate everything you've done for me. I owe you big time."

Janet watched, grinning wickedly, as O'Neill squirmed under Carter's sincere gaze; O'Neill hated displays of affection and sympathy and, well, emotion in general.

"No you don't, Major," he said quickly. "Hell, Carter, I'm just trying to catch up for all the times you've saved all our butts. You know, all that science mumbo-jumbo stuff you pull out of your as…I mean…your hat. Well, anyway, if it wasn't for you, I think the Doc is the only one who would be here, so it's just strictly a returning the favor sort of thing."

Janet bit her lip, trying hard not to laugh aloud as Teal'c jumped in to save O'Neill from the embarrassing pit he was digging deeper with each word.

Teal'c said, "I think that Major Carter has sufficient grasp of what you are attempting to say. General Hammond is awaiting our arrival."

O'Neill flushed and turned quickly away, as Teal'c offered a brief phrase of comfort to Carter. The Jaffa put a hand on the Colonel's back and propelled him out of the room.

The moment they left, Janet could no longer restrain herself. She collapsed against the side bar of Sam's bed, laughing hysterically. Tears streamed down her face and she was only vaguely aware of Sam patting her back lightly. She managed to pull herself together, recalling Sam's condition to the front of her mind. She stood and wiped hastily at her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt.

Janet looked down at Sam, relieved to see that a tiny smile creased Sam's mouth. Still giddy with laughter, Janet said the first thing that came to mind. "God, it's good to see you smile. You've given me a hell of a scare."

Sam exhaled quickly, and the smile faded into a grimace. Janet sobered immediately at the change in mood as Sam whispered, "You and me both." She screwed her eyes shut as if the images of the attack were dancing around in the empty infirmary air. "I thought…I thought…"

Janet reached out lightly and stroked a comforting path through Sam's hair. She took it as a good sign when Sam didn't pull away, and when Sam took a long, deep breath. Janet said softly, "I know." In truth, she wasn't sure she did know, but she felt like the phrase needed to be spoken. "I'm just glad you're safe," she continued.

Sam's eyes popped open at that. The smile came back to dust her lips and Janet felt a warm rush of tenderness. She pushed that feeling to one side and with a last caress of Sam's hair, reverted back to doctor mode. She busied herself with icepacks and then examined the lacerations cutting across Sam's forehead. Janet tensed as she saw Sam wince under her ministrations, but Sam made no sound.

Janet gently probed the cuts, and then told Sam, "I'm afraid these wounds need stitches." Sam nodded her understanding. Janet lowered her voice to say, "I know you really don't want to talk about this, but I need to know what he cut you with, so that I know what exactly I'm dealing with here."

Sam examined the far wall with studious care, but answered in a fairly steady voice. "He broke a specimen jar against the wall and used one of the pieces on me before I got it away from him."

Now it was Janet's turn to wince, her imagination supplying more images than she cared to contemplate. Sam must have noticed her reaction; the Major laid one hand on the doctor's arm.

Janet, caught off-guard, locked her gaze with Sam's. She was surprised to see the depths of concern in Sam's eyes, and the one corner of her mind that was still operating rationally found it interesting that their roles in the current drama had momentarily shifted.

Sam spoke quietly. "Are you okay, Janet?" It seemed to Janet that Sam wanted to say more, but didn't have the right words.

Janet shook off her own reaction and covered Sam's reassuring hand with her own. "This isn't exactly how I wanted to spend the evening. But I think, under the circumstances, that I'm doing a lot better than you are."

Sam nodded briefly, accepting the statement as what Janet intended—a reprieve from reliving the emotions of the evening in too much detail. Both women seemed somehow aware that there was a whole untouched conversation ready to break forth that neither had the energy to begin, let alone finish.

Without another word, Janet gave Sam a surface anesthetic and proceeded to stitch up the ugly lacerations. Right as she finished, Dr. Matthews stepped through the doorway, a lot more jovial than Janet would have expected under the circumstances.

She raised an eyebrow and he winked at her. "Well, it appears that my initial diagnosis was correct. Jacobs had a lot of illicit drugs in his body. Frankly, the hospital doc is surprised he managed to run around as long as he did. And I'm sure you will both be pleased to know that everything is being handled off the record."

Janet gave a simple nod in response. He raised an eyebrow at her silence, and then did a visual exam of Carter. He turned again to Fraiser. "Thanks for patching up my patient," he said.

Janet laughed briefly at that. "Sorry, Matthews. She's my patient now. You got to have Jacobs."

He shuddered in mock horror, not bothering to hide the contempt he had felt for the man. Janet took a moment to wonder if anyone would mourn the dead Major. She glanced at Sam, whose face indicated she was wondering the same thing.

Before either woman could get swept up in that train of thought, Matthews intervened, albeit unknowingly. "So, is your patient staying the night, or can I release her into your care? Given those lacerations, I don't want her staying by herself for at least 24 hours."

Janet glanced at Sam, as if for an opinion. Sam licked her lips self-consciously. "I can just stay here. I don't want to be any bother," she started.

That statement made up Janet's mind. "You can release her into my care." She saw Sam's mouth open to protest, and spoke quickly. "Sam, honestly, you won't be any bother, and I think you'd be a lot more comfortable at my house than here. And General Hammond already has assigned you to my care."

Sam's lips curved into a faint smile and Janet pressed her advantage. "Besides, Cassie is spending the next three weeks at the summer camp run by her school, so I need someone to look after." At that statement, a full smile lit Sam's face, and Janet smiled in response.

Janet agreed with Matthews that Sam shouldn't be alone, though her reasons had nothing to do with the physical injuries. Her sole concern was Sam's emotional state. And she was pleased to note that the normally stoic Sam didn't seem to want to be alone either.

Matthews, whose sensitive personality ranked right up there with Colonel O'Neill's, was oblivious to any undercurrent of emotion. He gave Carter another brief visual survey, told Janet to keep Carter from doing anything strenuous, and then sauntered off to search for his young, wayward nurse.

The two women simply stared at each other for a moment, then Janet came around to help Sam out of bed. Sam clung awkwardly to Janet's arm and said, "I feel like I'm made out of rubber."

Janet said helpfully, "Well, enjoy it while you can, since by tomorrow you'll be stiff as a board."

Sam's answering look had four letter words written all over it.

An hour later, the two were curled on Janet's couch. Sam lay on her side, eyes fixed on the fire crackling merrily in the fireplace. It seemed an odd time to have a fire, since it was nearly July, but Janet had decided she wanted the comfort of the flames. And now, watching Sam's eyes filled with flickering light, Janet was glad she'd followed her impulse.

Janet took another sip of wine and then turned her attention back to the macaroni and cheese she was eating. She had made it for Sam, hoping to get some food into her. Sam had managed only about three bites before setting the bowl aside. Janet didn't push the issue, knowing Sam was still in shock.

Hell, I'm still in shock, Janet thought, taking another sip of wine, noting absently that red wine went rather well with macaroni, using the latter observation as proof of the former.

She finished her meal, lying back against the arm of the couch, stretching her legs out and settling them on top of Sam's curled legs. The blond jumped in shock at the touch, as if she had forgotten her companion entirely, then relaxed as she realized the touch came from Janet. Neither woman spoke.

Sam's whole awareness seemed captivated by the fire. Janet found herself captivated by Sam. She studied the other woman, as if seeing her for the first time. In a way, she felt she was, given the new information she had learned from Sam earlier.

It wasn't that Janet suddenly saw Sam in a different light because she was gay. It was just that a lot of things seemed to make complete sense to Janet for the first time.

There was the way Sam held everyone at arms length, even though Janet knew she cared deeply for those around her. There was the way she avoided any mention of relationships and family, the way she skipped past any questions about her personal life. Janet knew some of that behavior was simply Sam being a work-obsessed scientist, but now she could see that there was another reason for it. Janet realized, of course, that she was simply speculating, but she knew Sam better than most people and her new observations made perfect sense.

Janet broke away from her rambling thoughts when she noticed what felt like a mini-earthquake under her legs. She sat up as she realized Sam's whole body was shaking: whether with emotion or with cold, Janet couldn't tell.

Janet reached out a tentative hand to rest on one of Sam's legs. The other woman jerked her attention away from the fire, glazed blue eyes staring guilelessly up at Janet.

"Are you cold, Sam?" Janet asked simply, her hand patting a soft rhythm against Sam's thigh.

The blonde shook her head, her body still shivering. She managed to stutter, "Just…overwhelmed. Too many memories…"

Janet suddenly knew, with a certainty that left her willing to believe in psychic ability, that this was not the first time Sam had been attacked for the simple reason that she loved women instead of men. She stared into the open blue eyes, reading the layers of hurt that normally stayed hidden, seeing the twin flashes of fear and shame.

Janet kept her voice low and soft. "How many times has this happened, Sam?"

Another tremor shook Sam's body, and she looked back to the flames, as if for guidance. "This is the…the second time I've been…assaulted…because of being gay."

Despite her own foresight, Janet felt the pangs of shock radiating through her body. And suddenly, she had to know—needed to know—what had happened the other time. She wondered why the need for knowledge was so intense, but tucked the question away since no answer was forthcoming.

She still had her hand on Sam's leg in a soft caress, and she asked quietly, "Was the other assault this bad?"

The tiniest of laughs reached her ear. A long moment later, Sam answered, her eyes suddenly bright with the tears she'd been holding in all day. "It was worse."

And before her brain could even tell her it was a bad idea, Janet blurted out, "You were raped the other time, weren't you?"

And then the flood of tears hit Sam; she broke into painful sobs, but still managed to nod in response to the question.

Janet felt her own tears welling up: she felt a sense of guilt for forcing the issue, but a sense of relief that Sam seemed to be releasing a few of her demons.

Not knowing what else to do, Janet reached out, and pulled Sam into a sitting position, and folded her in a tight embrace. She was surprised at how readily Sam clung to her. And, truth be told, she was amazed at being allowed to see Sam in such a vulnerable state.

They held onto each other as if they were the only tangible things in the universe, and Janet found herself crying just as hard as Sam, feeling a sense of grief that anyone had to endure that kind of pain, feeling a sense of anguish that anyone would be attacked simply because of who they loved.

When Sam's sobs tapered down to small hiccups, Janet pulled back to stare deep into the tear stained face. The sight of the red eyes and the purple bruises tore at Janet's heart. "I'm sorry, Sam," Janet muttered. "I didn't mean to pry…"

Sam swallowed hard. "I've never talked about this before…"

She laid her head on Janet's shoulder and Janet reached up to stroke Sam's hair. "I can't even begin to imagine what it's been like for you, Sam. Simply being attacked is bad enough, but not feeling able to talk about what happened or why…"

Janet could hear the anger flaring in her own voice as her words skidded to a halt, not sure what else to say.

She opted to stay silent, and then Sam offered unexpectedly, "I never had anyone I felt I could trust, until now."

She snuggled tighter against Janet and the doctor felt the weight of guilt lift from her heart. Janet knew she had pushed harder than she should have, but she felt reassured that Sam had confided in her because she wanted to and not simply because she had been pushed.

For a long while, neither Janet nor Sam spoke, they just held each other and watched the fire die down to embers. Finally, Janet was struck by a sudden sense of fatigue. "I think maybe we ought to head to bed. Tomorrow is going to be hell if we don't at least try to get some sleep."

She felt the motion as Sam nodded her agreement. "Janet?"


There was a slight tension in Sam's voice as she asked, "Could I sleep with you tonight? I…well…if you don't want…" Her words trailed off, as if she suddenly thought better of asking to share a bed with Janet after confiding in Janet that she was gay.

Janet felt a rush of sorrow as she recognized the reason for Sam's discomfort, a rush of sorrow that because of that one little piece of knowledge, they were closer friends who suddenly had an awkward bridge between them.

She knew Sam well enough to know Sam would be tentative around her for a while, not wanting to offend her in any way. Sam might argue a lot and state her opinions clearly in her role as a soldier, but Janet had seen the sensitive side of the woman, and knew that Sam had an empathic streak a mile wide.

"To be honest, Sam, I was going to ask if you would mind sleeping with me. It's been a fairly traumatic day all the way around, and I would feel a lot better just having you next to me."

Janet wrestled herself off the couch and held out a hand to help Sam up, noting the relief flickering in the blue eyes. She slid her arm around Sam's waist, and was gratified when Sam let herself lean against her.

They made their way to the bedroom and Janet helped Sam get ready for bed. Once the blonde was tucked snugly under the blankets, and settled as comfortably as her injuries would allow, Janet went through her own preparations. She slid smoothly under the covers, and rolled onto her side to take a last look at Sam.

Sam had fallen asleep already, her face relaxing in slumber. Janet studied her for a long time, amazed at the sudden realization of just how attractive Sam was, bruises and all. She took a moment to ponder that, reaching out to brush a feather of hair off Sam's forehead.

It wasn't that she just suddenly noticed her friend's physical beauty—even a life lived in fatigues and battle gear couldn't hide Sam's looks. Janet came to the somewhat startling conclusion that it was the sense of vulnerability and trust that she was attracted to. The two women had entered a very intimate space in the course of a single day, and Janet found that her feelings had intensified to the point that she could almost imagine herself falling in love with the woman lying next to her.

"Geez, Fraiser, get a grip," she whispered to herself. "You're still in shock. There's nothing between you and Sam other than friendship."

Giving herself a mental shake, Janet turned to her other side and turned off the light on the night table. She leaned back over and pressed a small kiss to Sam's temple. "Sweet dreams, Sam."

Janet woke the next morning to the blare of the alarm clock. She reached out and slammed her fist against it. She lay back in bed--her brain still foggy with sleep--and was momentarily confused by the warmth of a presence beside her in bed.

Sam's voice, protesting the presence of sunlight, filtered through Janet's head and the events of the previous night came back to Janet with the subtlety of a foghorn. She rolled over onto her side and let her hand drift out to brush disheveled blonde hair off Sam's forehead, careful to avoid the lacerations.

Sam looked up at Janet, who had propped herself up on one elbow. Janet smiled down at her friend. "How are you feeling, Sam?"

Sam groaned in response.

Janet narrowed her eyes as she surveyed her friend. She frowned, and spoke quietly. "You don't have to go into the complex today, Sam. Why don't you just stay here and rest. Watch some movies, read a book…" She noticed Sam's reaction to the thought and continued, "No one will think any less of you if you take some time away."

Sam sighed, very deeply. "I think I need to work. I need something else to distract me for a little while."

She wouldn't meet Janet's gaze and there was a guarded quality to her voice. Janet reached out to stroke Sam's hair, her voice as gentle as she could make it.

"Are you sorry about yesterday, about telling me what you did?"

Sam did look up then, her eyes dark with concern. With a shock, Janet realized the concern was focused on her. "That's not what I meant, Janet. I wouldn't have said anything at all if I didn't want to…believe me, I'm very good at keeping things private." She broke off for a moment and turned her gaze to the wall. "I just meant I need to have something to focus on, to keep me from constantly dwelling on the past."

And then her voice dropped so low that Janet could barely hear her. "I'm not sorry for confiding in you; I just hope I didn't make you uncomfortable…"

Janet moved her hand to cup Sam's cheek and she turned the woman's head. Sam looked up and Janet pressed a light kiss to Sam's temple. "Sam, I cannot tell you how honored I am that you let down your guard with me."

She noted the flicker of relief on Sam's face and her tone turned to doctor mode. "I know that you are wanting to escape your memories for a while, but at some point you are going to have to deal with them. You can't continue to keep something this serious bottled up inside, or it will end up destroying you."

To Janet's extreme surprise, Sam nodded thoughtfully, rather than insisting angrily that she could handle things. Carter's voice indicated she was as surprised by her reaction as Janet was.

"I know, Janet. I just need some time, so everything isn't so raw. I thought I could handle this, but after last night, I realize I need to talk about it. Just…not yet."

Janet stroked Sam's cheek lightly, careful of the bruises there. "Take all the time you need, Sam. I'm not going anywhere." They lay, looking at each other, and Janet sensed Sam was drawing strength from the simple touch.

It was Janet who broke the spell, turning briefly to look over her shoulder at the alarm clock. "We'd better get going. I don't suppose General Hammond will be overly impressed if we come strolling in around noon."

Sam's eyes widened and she sat bolt upright in bed. "What time is it?" There was an edge of paranoia in her voice.

Janet laughed reassuringly. "Oh, it's about 7:30."

Sam swatted her on the arm and Janet raised an eyebrow. "You have to admit, that got you up and moving."

Sam rolled her eyes, and Janet smiled widely. "What did I do?" she breathed in her best innocent voice. Sam simply shook her head.

Five days later…

"So are you going to stand around and admire the scenery, or are you going to help me unpack the car?" Janet called to Sam, who was standing next to the car, staring down at the sparkling blue lake at the bottom of the hill.

Janet smiled to herself when absolutely no response came from Carter. She took that as a good sign; getting Sam to agree to go on vacation with her and spend a week at Doctor Matthews' cabin had been about like pulling teeth. Sam's usual idea of taking it easy was to only spend 8 hours in the lab on her day off instead or 12 or 13.

It actually had been a fairly good week. Sam's bruises were healing quite rapidly, though the lacerations on her head were still livid and ugly. Sam cleared her psych evaluation and the two women had made quite a lot of headway on Janet's research projects. Hammond's investigation into the Jacobs situation was handled quickly and discreetly.

There were, of course, rumors floating around the SGC, but the talk Janet managed to overhear indicated that those who knew of the incident only wished they could have walked in and thrown a few punches at Jacobs themselves. There was a nearly universal disdain of the man and even those who weren't overly fond of Carter felt sorry for her in light of who her attacker was.

The mood between the two women stayed fairly light and they had not delved back into Sam's past demons. Janet was trying to trust in Sam to talk to her when the time was right. The only thing that had been difficult for Janet was the realization that the more time she spent with Sam, and the more Sam let down her guard around Janet, the more Janet felt like she was falling in love with her friend. She wanted to tell Sam, wanted to be honest with her, but she didn't quite know how to do it, or whether she even should do it.

Pulling her thoughts back to the present, Janet called out Sam's name. "So are you going to give me a hand here?"

Sam turned around and walked back to take the suitcase out of Janet's grasp. "Sorry," Sam said apologetically. "It's just been a while since I've taken a vacation."

She turned and walked over to the cabin door, pausing to catch the key Janet tossed at her. Janet watched Sam, focusing in on the grace and strength of the other woman.

Shaking her head to keep from staring too noticeably, Janet muttered to herself, "Gonna be a very interesting week."

Janet took a long sip of wine, straight from the bottle, noticing in surprise that the bottle was nearly empty. With lightening quick reasoning, she figured that she had drunk most of it, since Sam had only finished one glass and was working on a second glass. Janet certainly didn't feel like she had been drinking that much, but then she was too relaxed to care.

Janet was sitting in a beanbag on the floor in front of a roaring fire, and Sam was sitting between her legs, lying back against her. Sam had originally been sitting next to her, but Janet had insisted on giving her a shoulder massage, and once the massage was done, she had pulled Sam back to lean against her.

Janet knew, with the still sober part of her brain, that she was playing with fire—simply the heat of Sam's body pressed against her own was making Janet aware of her own growing desire to be close to Sam. She tried to rationalize things by reminding herself that Sam had not even voiced a protest, but she knew damn well that was not a good rationale.

Sam was one of the smartest people Janet knew, but her ability to pick up on subtle cues of sexual interest was not well developed. Sam had barely believed it when Daniel and Janet had both told her that Lt. Simmons had a crush on her, and his crush was so obvious that even O'Neill had noticed it.

Janet drank the final bit of wine from the bottle and tried to sort through her feelings for her friend. Not that the alcohol was helping her reasoning process any, but it made her more able to be honest with herself.

She hadn't gotten very far in her mental sorting, when Sam spoke up abruptly. "This is really nice, Janet. I'm really glad you invited me to stay with you. I really appreciate everything you've done for me."

Janet murmured something appropriate against Sam's ear, and was surprised when Sam reached out and polished off half her glass of wine in one swallow.

There was silence for a while and then Sam spoke again. "I've been thinking a lot about what you said, about needing to talk about what…what happened to me."

Sam turned slightly in Janet's embrace, sitting sideways with her head against Janet's shoulder. Janet could feel the warm play of Sam's breath against the hollow of her throat. Janet brought one hand up to caress the back of Sam's stiff neck, as Sam began her tale.

"This is really new for me…I realized in high school that I liked girls, not boys, but I never had anyone to talk to about it. My father, with his military background, would never have understood. He used to make cracks about discharging gays from the service by shooting them. And my mother was…was gone."

Janet sighed in sympathy, knowing how much her mother's death had haunted Sam. The intensity in Sam's voice sobered Janet, somehow serving to chase away the lingering effects of the wine.

Sam continued her narrative, in slow, halting sentences. "I got my share of harassment in college. I was never open about my sexuality—most of my friends didn't even have more than a vague clue. But since I didn't go out on dates, there were plenty of people who made all kinds of assumptions.

"It was mostly just name calling, something I could ignore. A few anonymous punches in crowded hallways, nothing too serious. But when I entered the military, there was a guy…Thomas Braun."

Sam paused, and her hand clutched tightly to the front of Janet's shirt. Janet didn't say anything; she was almost scared to breathe loud, not wanting to spook Sam, feeling the remembered fear radiating from Carter.

"To this day, I don't know exactly why he focused in on me. He hounded me every chance he got, just like Jacobs. Kept saying I must be gay since I didn't deny it. I threatened to report him for harassment, but I never did. I was barely out of training and he was an experienced officer. And that was one thing dad drilled into my head—you always obey and respect your superiors.

"It must have gone on for a couple of months. One weekend, I had a pass and went into town. I'd been seeing a woman I knew from college, and we planned to spend the weekend together. Tom must have been following me without me knowing it…" Sam's voice broke.

"Oh, Sam," breathed Janet, tightening her embrace on the woman. Sam snuggled closer against her, and Janet could feel the tears from Sam's eyes dampening the front of her shirt.

"Julie and I went to the movies on Friday and then went for a walk in the park. It was nearly wintertime, cold and crisp, and the park was deserted. We were laughing about something, and then suddenly Tom jumped out in front of us.

"He had a knife and was calling us horrible, hateful names I had never even heard before. He grabbed for Julie, saying he was going to hurt me by hurting my girlfriend, and I pushed her away and told her to run. He started to go after her, and I got in his way and yelled at her to keep running. I tried to fight him, tried to get away, but he was so strong and I…I was so…scared…"

Sam shuddered and Janet was aware that she had been holding her breath during Sam's tale, barely able to believe the words falling from Sam's lips. Janet felt like she was walking some sort of tightrope while she waited for the rest of Sam's story.

"I saw the look in his eyes…it's like he saw me as evil incarnate…I never truly understood until that moment what they meant by a hate crime." Sam paused to take a slow, shaky breath.

"Afterwards, he stood over me and laughed. Told me if I ever reported him, he'd do it again and the next time he would kill me. And he made damn sure I knew he already had an alibi, so that if I did try and report him, it would be my word against a whole bunch of other people's. And I believed him; I believed he would kill me.

"He just left me there. Julie came back with her father a little while later. He was a doctor and they took me to his house and patched me up. Her father told me point blank that if he ever caught me with his daughter again, I'd regret the experience. After that night, I never saw Julie again…

"The only good thing that happened was that Tom got caught stealing and was kicked out of the service only two weeks later, so at least I didn't have a constant reminder of that awful night…"

Sam's tears turned into another cascade of sobs and once again, Janet felt herself crying as hard as Sam was. For the second time in a week, the two cried together, clinging tightly to each other. A small part of Janet's mind knew the catharsis was good for both of them; the rest of her mind was overcome with grief—whether for Sam alone or for people in general, she couldn't tell.

And mixed in with the grief was a profound awareness that Sam was a lot stronger than Janet had ever suspected. She had been the victim of a horrible thing, had managed to survive it without having anyone to confide in, all while being immersed in a super-macho culture where rape jokes and gay slams were not unheard of, and she'd somehow managed to not end up being destroyed by bitterness or hatred. Janet thought briefly that if she'd gone through that, she would have ended up as a vigilante.

And in the midst of all the emotions rolling through her, Janet suddenly realized without any sense of doubt that she was completely in love with the woman held protectively in her arms.

She had always been close to Carter; the two understood each other in a way few others could with their respective careers and scientific outlooks. But now Janet knew her feelings ran far deeper, and she cursed her lousy sense of timing, knowing that the last thing Sam needed at the moment was the complication of a would-be lover.

Janet's musings were interrupted by a short, staccato burst of laughter from Sam. With a motherly air, Janet leaned forward and pressed a brief kiss to the top of Sam's head. "What's so funny?" she asked gently.

Sam pulled out of the embrace just enough to look into Janet's eyes. Janet was surprised at the unguarded nature of Sam's gaze, reading depths of emotion that she was not sure Sam was fully aware of—including an affection that seemed to mirror Janet's feelings.

"I can't believe how much better I feel," Sam announced softly; her tone and face were full of wonder, as if she had been the recipient of a miracle. "Thank you, Janet; I can't tell you how much it means to me that you've been here for me through all of this."

Janet could not believe how that simple, sincere sentence made her heart rate climb and her cheeks flush with heat. Fighting to keep her voice normal, she said, "Well, that's what friends are for."

An odd expression crossed Sam's face at the word friend, an expression Janet couldn't quite read. "Best friends," Sam whispered, laying her head against Janet's shoulder again.

Janet couldn't quite think of a response to that, so she settled for saying, "I'm glad you were able to confide in me, Sam. Believe it or not, that means a lot to me."

She bent her head, to rest her cheek against the top of Sam's head. They sat like that while the fire died down and the night air grew chill. Sam reached out with her toes to snag a blanket lying nearby, as if she was unwilling to break the embrace. She draped it somewhat awkwardly around herself and Janet.

Janet rearranged herself so that she was lying down more than she was sitting up, and Sam managed to move along with her, as if they had melded into Siamese twins who needed a physical connection to survive.

Before long, Janet realized Sam had fallen asleep, one hand still wound in the fabric of Janet's shirt. Janet reached out and let her hand wander freely through the messy blonde hair, surprised at her own audacity. Janet felt like her world had been upended: first, by the story Sam had told; second, by her own intense attraction to Sam; third, by the feeling she had gotten that Sam might feel something more than friendship for Janet.

Janet stared at the embers of the fire, her hand absently stroking Sam's hair, her thoughts running in ill-defined circles. Janet's last thought, before sleep claimed her, was that regardless of anything else, she was happy to have Sam as a friend.

Janet woke with a sense of disorientation. She blinked rapidly for the few seconds it took her brain to remember where she was.

She and Sam had drifted around during the night—they were now laying side by side, the blanket twisted in odd lumps around them. Janet had her head on Sam's chest and one of Sam's arms was draped over Janet's back.

Janet moved fractionally, and felt Sam shift beside her. The hand on Janet's back moved in a slow, massaging rhythm. "Morning, sleepy head," Sam said.

Janet's response was a heartfelt yawn. Sam laughed and Janet felt Sam press a soft kiss to the top of her head, and then press a kiss to Janet's forehead.

Janet froze at the twin gestures of affection and she heard a note of alarm in Sam's voice. "What's wrong, Janet?"

Janet swallowed hard, warring with herself over what she should say, if anything. Coming to absolutely no conclusion, she opted to sit up next to Sam, hoping that motion would jar her brain into gear somehow.


The doctor turned her head slowly to look at Sam, seeing the concern written across the woman's expressive face. Sam's next words were barely a whisper. "Is it last night? I didn't mean to overwhelm you; I just guess I felt safe enough with you to tell the story. Did I say too much?"

Janet managed a terse laugh at that, and shook her head emphatically, still not sure what to say. She simply stared at Sam, hoping beyond any rational thought that Sam would develop telepathy so she wouldn't have to say anything.

Sam cocked her head to the side and Janet could almost see the way her mind was churning as she regarded Janet. Then, without warning and as if in response to Janet's unuttered plea, Sam leaned in and kissed her forehead again.

"Is that what's bothering you?" Sam asked quietly.

Janet managed only a nod in response, and she saw the way Sam's jaw squared as the blonde took a deep breath. Janet thought she had offended her friend, and opened her mouth to formulate some sort of apology, when Sam beat her to it.

"I'm sorry, Janet. I should have thought about it before I kissed you…I don't want to make you uncomfortable."

Sam's eyes dropped away and Janet was completely puzzled for a long moment. Then two and two clicked together to make twenty-two and Janet's words came in a rush of attempted reassurance.

"No, Sam, it's not like that. I'm not at all uncomfortable with the fact that you kissed me. That's what the problem is."

Her words trailed off and Sam's head snapped back to look at Janet so quickly that the doctor momentarily was concerned about whiplash. "Are you saying…?"

Now it was Janet's turn to look away. She said the words quickly, knowing that otherwise she wouldn't say them at all. "I'm saying that I liked it. Sam, I think I'm falling in love with you."

Complete silence greeted her confession and she tried to prepare for whatever reaction Sam had to her words. Idly, she wished she hadn't finished the bottle of wine last night because she felt like she needed a drink right at the moment.

And then Janet felt gentle hands cupping her jaw and tilting her head back up. She fought the gesture, suddenly certain that she would see an odd mix of pity and rejection on Sam's face. But the hands were strong and Janet found herself staring into Carter's impossibly blue eyes.

Sam's statement was simple. "You aren't the only one; I've already fallen for you."

Janet couldn't breathe for a moment, totally overwhelmed by the recognition that this was no one way street, totally overwhelmed by the realization that they were moving onto dangerous ground given their careers and their lives.

Sam folded Janet into a snug embrace and Janet just sat, clutching tightly to the other woman. Now that the truth was out and she knew for certain what she felt and what Sam felt, she couldn't quite get her mind around it. It was no longer an idle fantasy, a game of "what if?". It was real, and for some reason Janet found herself terrified.

Sam just held her and said slowly, "I've always cared a lot about you, Janet. I just never figured you were even slightly bi-. And, to be honest, I was scared about exploring a relationship, even if you were interested."

That last bit startled Janet. "You were scared?"

Sam chuckled, very lightly, and let her hand wander up to pet Janet's head. "Still am," she confided. Her tone abruptly grew serious. "I've worked my butt off to get where I am today in my career, and my career has been the one thing I could throw myself into that wouldn't turn on me. I'm scared of the thought of losing everything because of being in love."

Janet took a long and shaky breath, and hugged Sam even tighter. "I've just now thought about that…and it's a scary thought. I have to admit, it's reassuring to know we're both on the same page, so to speak."

Sam chuckled again. "With which part: the being in love part or the fear part?"

Janet felt a laugh bubble up in her own chest. "Both!" she managed to sputter.

The two shared a round of nervous laughter, and then lapsed again into silence. Janet felt her thoughts spinning around in circles. She managed to say, "And about last night, Sam, you didn't say too much. I have to admit last night was a little overwhelming, but I wouldn't change it for anything, since it brought us closer together. In fact, I'm still in awe of how vulnerable you let yourself be with me."

Sam's voice was quiet. "I do trust you, you know. It was a little scary to relive that experience, but I feel a lot better now. I've still got some things to sort out, but…" She paused briefly. "It would probably be a good idea if we got up…moved around…ate something. The last week has been pretty intense for both of us and we need a bit of a distraction, especially right now so we aren't thinking too much. I mean, it's not like we don't have the time to talk later when things aren't so raw."

Janet pulled away from Sam, finding that just the mention of doing something physical and tangible served to focus her thoughts. "Good point," Janet offered, "though I don't know why you never told me that amateur psychologist was one of your many talents."

Sam rolled her eyes expressively.

In point of fact, they kept themselves distracted for nearly three days straight, having lots of fun in the process. It wasn't like there was a dearth of options: they went hiking and window shopped in the nearby tourist town and cooked simple feasts and played board games by firelight.

At the moment, Janet sat on one of the stools in the kitchen, watching Sam cook dinner. That had been one of the many revelations of the past few days—Janet had never known Sam could do anything more complicated in the kitchen than heat up soup.

Janet took another sip of her wine as Sam neatly chopped carrots for vegetable lasagna. This day had passed in relative quiet; they planned to go hiking again but a virtual downpour dampened their enthusiasm.

Janet baked bread earlier in the afternoon, while Sam read a magazine they'd picked up at the store. And now Janet simply sat and watched her friend, feeling the comfort of the silence they shared.

Though it was true that they had avoided further conversation about their mutual attraction, Janet didn't feel like it was a strained silence. She swirled the wine around in her glass, pondering that for a moment.

She didn't think they were avoiding it simply in hopes that they wouldn't have to deal with it. Janet had been in avoidance situations before, with her ex-husband and with one of her boyfriends; and those situations had been marked with an awkwardness that simply was not present between Carter and Fraiser.

Sam tapped lightly on the hand Janet had resting on the counter. "Penny for your thoughts?" she queried, finishing with the carrots and moving on to mushrooms.

Janet took another sip of wine and then set her glass down. She leaned forward with her elbows on the counter, propping her chin up against her hands.

"I've just been thinking," Janet began.

Sam's eyebrows lifted, and she turned her head to look at Janet. "Now there's a novel concept," she teased.

Janet stuck her tongue out at the blonde, who promptly returned the gesture.

"I've just been thinking how much I've enjoyed the past few days," Janet continued smoothly. "It's very comfortable to be here with you."

Sam smiled as she sliced vegetables. "It has been nice, hasn't it."

Janet heard a wistful note in Sam's voice. It was subtle, but then Janet was very attuned to Sam, and picked up on it with ease.

Janet sighed quietly at the revealed sentiment. "I guess I'm starting to wonder what happens now," Janet offered quietly, not really sure it was the time or setting to bring up the subject.

Sam finished with the mushrooms and set down the knife. She leaned back against the counter edge and Janet heard the soft sigh. "I've been wondering the same thing," Sam confessed.

Janet stared intently at Sam's suddenly solemn face, wishing that there were some sort of roadmap that she could have bought to figure out where she was going. Unfortunately this situation came with no maps or guideposts, no big X to cry out "You are here", no arrow pointing "This way to where you need to go".

Janet sat up straight on the stool and dropped her hands to her lap. She had no idea what she wanted to say; she wasn't even sure what she wanted to have happen. She chastised herself mentally for bringing up a subject she felt completely unprepared to speak on.

Sam walked over to send a gentle finger scrolling across Janet's cheek. "Cat got your tongue?" she asked seriously, as if Janet's answer would somehow affect the fate of the universe.

Janet could only nod, suddenly and achingly aware of how much she cared for this woman, which led her to the startling realization that above all, she did not want to do anything that would jeopardize their friendship.

Sam kissed Janet's forehead lightly and then moved away again to lean against the counter. She tapped her fingers, and Janet could see a tinge of nervousness shadow Sam's face.

Sam spoke slowly and carefully, studying the floor as if it was a complicated mathematical equation. "I meant it when I said I am in love with you, Janet."

Janet started to tell Carter she meant it as well, but Sam cut her off gently.

"And because I love you, and I believe that you love me, I can't risk getting into a romantic relationship with you." Sam paused, almost cringing, as if she was waiting for a loud, angry protest.

Janet sat perfectly still, absorbing the words, turning over their implications in her mind.

Sam continued quietly, her eyes locked on the floor, an aura of tension surrounding her. "I know what it's like to have a relationship that has to be completely hidden. It puts an incredible strain on the people involved, and invariably destroys the relationship in the process. And I want to have you in my life, if only as a friend; I don't want to risk losing you."

Janet jumped in, her voice contemplative rather than accusing. "Aren't we hiding something anyway? I mean, even if we don't start a romance, aren't we already having to hide the fact that we do have feelings for each other?"

A look of incredible sadness crossed Sam's face. "It isn't the same thing, Janet. It's easier to hide attraction than a relationship, since there are no lines that have been crossed. We wouldn't have the same stress, since our daily lives would not be so intimately bound." Sam paused and then offered, "I've been in love with you for over a year now…can you honestly tell me that you knew?"

Janet felt her eyes widen at that. She had never even suspected a remotely sexual interest on Carter's part. And as she thought about what Sam said, she knew the other woman was right: admitting feelings and acting on feelings had entirely different implications. Not that it was quite that simple, but the point remained valid.

Carter had gone silent, her hands fisting at her side, and Janet realized the woman was scared of Janet's reaction to her statements. Janet swung herself down from the stool and went to stand next to Sam.

"I do love you, you know," Janet said quietly. "And I wasn't really sure until just now what I wanted to have happen. I want us to be friends. I really would like to be more than that, but not if it means taking the risk that we'll lose our friendship."

Sam's tone was full of bitterness. "If it wasn't for 'Don't ask, don't tell'…"

Janet snorted derisively. "I know. I understand the reasons behind it, but there's got to be another way to cope with the situation. I mean, dear God, why do uptight people seem to assume that they are such hot stuff that any gay person is going to find them irresistible?"

She was gratified to hear Sam burst into laughter at that. "Isn't that the truth?" Sam exclaimed, her tone making it obvious that she had heard some of the same locker room comments Janet had. "And for the record, not a single one of them has been anyone I'd even think to look at twice."

They shared a round of hysterical giggles, a much needed relief from the previous tension.

Sam wiped her eyes on her sleeve and finally looked up into Janet's face. "I would love to be more than friends, but I just can't do that right now. I don't want to lose you, and as selfish as this sounds, I'm not ready to risk my career and I'm not ready to ask you to risk yours. And then there's Cassie to think about…"

Janet reached out and took hold of Sam's hand. "I thought about that too. If we were to get kicked out of the military, I'm pretty sure I would lose custody of her, given her background. She poses too great a security risk. Even if General Hammond were to be sympathetic to us--which is something I seriously doubt--he would never risk that sort of breach in security. We've signed some binding nondisclosure agreements, but Cass hasn't."

Sam agreed. "Plus there's the difficulty of what would happen when she found out about us being involved. From a couple comments she's made, I've gathered that homosexuality is more of a taboo on her planet than it is here. I'm not ready to risk hurting her right now when she's been through so much already in her life."

Janet nodded glumly; no more eager than Sam to do anything that would hurt her daughter.

Sam looked away again and said softly, "And I don't ever want to watch you deal with threats from people like Jacobs and Tom. Right now, since everyone knows you were married, no one would seriously speculate about your private life. But if we were involved, no matter how hard we tried to hide it, someone would probably catch us in an indiscreet moment, and you would be at risk for the same sort of assault…"

Janet heard the tiny catch in her voice and squeezed tightly at the hand she held. She couldn't find any words and settled for simple touch.

They stood in silence for a long moment and then Janet said lightly, "Just know that when circumstances change, I'll be ready to see what life as more than friends feels like."

Sam mustered up a smile at that. "Oh, I'll be counting on it. Don't think that you'll get away from me that easily."

Janet smiled in return. "Do I look like I'm running?"

A heartbeat later Sam commented, "I know this won't always be easy. Hell, it's not easy right now, to stand here and tell you I love you and then tell you that I just want to be friends."

Janet frowned slightly. "Easy? No. The right thing to do given the reality of our lives? Yes. For what it's worth, Sam, I admire you a lot more now than I did half an hour ago. You've just been through hell, you've just discovered that I share your feelings, and yet you are still aware that falling in love is not a vacuum where two people can live happily ever after. There's more at stake here than just us and our passions."

Sam sighed deeply and licked her lips self-consciously. She exhaled shakily. "You have no idea how relieved I am to hear you say that. I was scared that you would be downright furious with me. And for the record, I admire you a lot too, you know."

Janet gave Sam's hand a final squeeze, and then released it. "How nice," she commented dryly. "Our very own mutual admiration society."

Sam swatted her gently on the arm. "You're incorrigible."

Janet affected her most innocent air. "Me? You must be joking."

Sam rolled her eyes at that and Janet resumed her seat on the stool, reaching out to grab a carrot piece from the nearly forgotten cutting board.

"I am totally starving," Janet announced with an air of surprise. "I'd forgotten just how draining a heart-to-heart talk like this could be."

Sam made no verbal response, instead cutting off a slice of bread, dabbing it with butter, and offering it to Janet. The doctor took it and while she gnawed hungrily, Sam finished assembling the lasagna. She put the dish in the oven, cut her own slice of bread, and refilled Janet's wine glass.

"We've got a while until dinner is ready," Sam announced, somewhat unnecessarily. "How about I build up a fire and then I beat you in a game of Scrabble?"

"Sounds good, except I'm definitely going to win," Janet retorted, jumping off the stool to follow Carter into the living room.

They had time for two games, leaving them tied at one and one. They discussed plans for the next day while they ate dinner and cleaned up the kitchen.

Janet sat down in front of the fire, and Sam sat right next to her. Janet put her arm around the other woman's back and whispered, "Best friends, Sam."

The blonde nodded, her own arm going around Janet's back. "The best. I swear to you, Janet, we can do this."

Janet leaned her head against Sam's shoulder. "I know we can."

They stayed like that for a long time, and Janet felt herself getting sleepy. She yawned loudly and Sam chuckled.

Janet shrugged herself out from Sam's arm. "I think I'll turn in. You gonna stay up for a while?"

Sam nodded. "Just a little while. I'm still a little too keyed up to sleep."

Janet leaned down and kissed the top of the blonde head. "See you in the morning. Sweet dreams."

She turned to pad down the hall to her room and then cast a look over her shoulder at Sam, who was staring intently at the fire.

Janet gave herself a mental shake, telling herself not to stare. She got herself ready for bed and crawled under the blankets, suddenly exhausted. Despite her fatigue, she stared up at the ceiling for a long moment, as if answers to her unvoiced questions would appear out of nothingness.

She felt a rush of sorrow, wishing that either she or Sam were a person of lesser integrity, who could have talked the other into following their passions. But then, Sam's integrity was one of the things she loved about the other woman.

"You can do this, Janet," she said forcefully to the ceiling, which—not surprisingly—did not respond. "You're the unflappable CMO; you have a Masters degree in detachment."

She rolled over onto her side, letting a barrage of thoughts run through her mind—images both beautiful and sad. And then the words came to her, words that surprised her since she hadn't been to church in years and most days didn't even believe in God. But she held onto them, finding a comfort in the simple truths.

"Love is patient; love is kind. … It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

Janet relaxed and drifted into sleep, believing that someday she and Sam would feel safe to explore a relationship. And until that time, love would be patient and wait.

For now, that was enough. It would have to be.

The End

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