DISCLAIMER: I think it's obvious that I don't own them; they belong to MGM, Showtime (SciFi channel?), Gekko, Double Secret, and so on and so forth. I'm just borrowing them for a while because I find them so doggone interesting and fascinating. No money or bribes have exchanged hands; I do this solely for my own demented entertainment.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: I'll admit I wasn't all that interested in the episode Pretense, but the exchange between Sam and Lya towards the end completely intrigued me, especially since Sam was clearly bothered by Lya's actions in light of the Nox being pacifists. And I couldn't help but wonder why … and after much pondering, this idea came to mind. Once it got into my head, I just couldn't let go of it. I know that it's clearly outside of canon since we've never seen Sam really question her role as a soldier … but I hope I've kept it true enough to her character that it doesn't feel too much like poetic license. I do know the piece is still a little rough … partly because it's mostly conversation and partly because of the intensity of the subject matter. Feedback would be very much appreciated. And hell, if you feel the need to send flames, go right ahead … the beauty of democracy is that we're all entitled to our own opinions and have the right to express them <g>. A multitude of thanks to Barb; she knows why.
SPOILERS: Pretense (obviously), In the Line of Duty, Jolinar's Memories, The Nox, The First Commandment … I think that's it.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEASON: 3, a follow-up of sorts to Pretense.

The Road Less Traveled
By ocean gazer


"Hey, Doc."

Janet Fraiser looked up from her paperwork, crinkling her brow in surprise as her eyes focused in on Jack O'Neill. Given that SG-1 had been off active duty for the past week, and given that the colonel tended to avoid the infirmary like the plague – even when he was in dire need of its services – he was about the last person she would have expected to see.

The colonel didn't seem terribly thrilled to be there either, for all that he was lounging casually against the open door of her office. Janet could easily read the tension in his limbs and see the rigid set of his jaw, despite the deceptively lazy pose. For some reason, it set off all the doctor's internal alarms, though she carefully kept her face and voice neutrally pleasant. It was a trick she'd learned well in medical school, and she found it useful for all sorts of situations.

"Come in, sir," she offered politely. The man followed the summons, pushing the door shut behind him and taking the seat across the desk from her. She noticed the way he couldn't quite meet her eyes and the not-so-subtle drumming of his fingers against his thigh.

Janet couldn't help but wonder what on earth – or perhaps, more accurately, the known universe – she was getting herself into. The colonel's discomfort was almost palpable. Taking a steadying breath, she asked calmly and smoothly, "So, what can I do for you, Colonel?"

He didn't respond right away, and she hadn't really expected him to. He was a man of action, not of words, leaving that category to Daniel. She waited patiently, watching as he unfolded himself from the chair and began to pace. Abruptly, he stopped and turned to the doctor, his voice and words hesitant.

"It's … well … it's about Carter. There's something that I … uh … want to talk to her about … but I don't know how to bring it up … or what kind of stuff I should say … and I was hoping that you could, y'know, maybe help me." She watched as he swallowed hard, finishing in a rush as though he wasn't sure he could force the words out any other way. "I'm pretty sure you're better at the whole heart to heart talk thing than I am."

Janet felt her heart skip a beat or twenty as the sentences bored into her brain. And as the words clicked into place and meshed with her own pre-formed assumptions, she knew, she just knew, that O'Neill wanted her advice on how to broach his romantic feelings for Sam with Sam. The feeling that idea raised in her chest was abject horror. She'd known for a while that the colonel's feelings for his second-in-command were not precisely professional … you'd have to be blind, clueless, and a professional in the art of denial not to notice. But she'd hoped to never actually have to deal with the knowledge in any direct fashion. The idea of giving advice to a ranking officer about his unprofessional feelings for a woman who just happened to be her lover was a place she never – EVER – wanted to go, if it was all the same to the universe.

Janet pulled her spooked kitten thoughts back into a somewhat coherent ball of on-end fur and cleared her throat. With a resigned sigh, she looked up at O'Neill, who had resumed his pacing, seemingly intent on wearing a tread in her floor. As steadily as possible under the circumstances, she said quietly, "I'll do what I can to help, Colonel, but I'm probably not the best person to be asking advice from."

She was surprised when that simple statement stopped him in his tracks. He sat down with a thud and regarded her with raised eyebrows. "You've got to be kidding. You're her best friend, right?" Fraiser nodded slowly, wishing fervently that they weren't having this conversation. "So you're the perfect person. She talks to you about stuff that she would never bring up around the rest of us."

Fighting the urge to just hide under her desk in hopes that he'd go away, Janet repeated hesitantly, "I'll do what I can to help, sir."

O'Neill nodded in grim satisfaction, and Janet was aware that he seemed completely unconscious of her uneasiness. She figured it was because he was too busy dealing with his own discomfort. For some reason, she felt a miniscule bit better as he raked a hand through his hair, leaving pieces standing on end, and said, "God, this feels weird." She silently agreed with his assessment. Sarcastic barbs and vaguely worded threats about what she could do with her needles, no problem. She could handle that. But this sort of vaguely serious and intimate conversation was ranking right up there with having a root canal sans anesthesia.

She took a deep breath to steady herself as O'Neill plunged right in. "Carter's been really quiet ever since we got back from Tollana, but whenever Daniel or I ask her what's going on, she just smiles that polite smile of hers and says she's fine. I know something's been bugging her since that mission and I just want to talk to her about it. I mean, we do some things in our work that can leave some scars on a person … and I don't want her to feel like she has to hold things in all the time. I'm not real good at the talking thing … but I want to be there for her."

When he paused, looking away for a moment as if to gather his thoughts, Janet let out the breath she'd been barely aware of holding. This wasn't quite as bad as she'd been imagining, but then again, she could tell he wasn't remotely finished with the conversation. She sat up straighter in her chair as his eyes drifted back to her, seeing a glimmer of intense feeling in his gaze. She couldn't identify it clearly and didn't have time to analyze it as he cleared his throat and continued. "The problem is that the whole Ska'ara/Klo'rel thing is hard for me to put into words. And talking about the Goa'uld isn't something I'm really comfortable with in the first place. I never know how to talk about the snakes without it being really clear that I'm not a big fan of the Tok'ra … and I know it hurts her when I lump them all together. And she's obviously having a tough time with the whole thing anyhow … and I don't want to make it worse by sticking my foot in my mouth. So I was hoping that maybe you could help me figure out what to say. I don't even know what's bothering her … and I don't want to bring up the Goa'uld if she's really thinking about something else. That would probably make things even worse."

She felt her eyes widen in surprise since this was pretty much the last thing she'd expected to hear. She'd been braced for a totally different sort of conversation and she nearly burst into hysterical, relieved laughter once she realized that the universe had – indeed – granted her wish. She fought down the reaction, but she could see the colonel watching her, and could tell from the furrowed brows that he knew something was going on with her.

She opened her mouth to say something to explain herself, when he beat her to the punch, apparently thinking he knew why she seemed so surprised. "I know this must be weird to have me coming here for advice. But I usually go to Daniel and this time he's as much in the dark as I am. And if Carter isn't confiding in Daniel, you're the only other person I can think of who she might talk to. I just … we just want to help her get through … whatever it is she's going through. Have you noticed her acting weird, and has she said anything to you about it?"

Janet mustered up a wry laugh as she decided her earlier relief over the tone of the conversation had been premature. This was quickly leading towards equally uncomfortable territory. He cocked his head to the side as he examined her, and opened his mouth as if to speak. She spoke quickly, managing to beat him to the punch this time, hoping to forestall whatever sardonic observation lay on the tip of his tongue. "Actually, sir, I have noticed Sam has been really withdrawn, and yes, we have talked about it."

As she'd hoped, the revelation hauled his mind away from wherever it had been going, to refocus on the matter at hand. He offered a soft sigh of relief, which the doctor took to be because at least Sam was talking to someone. He leaned forward in his chair, his voice softening, as his words grew more earnest. "Look, Doc, I know there's probably a lot of stuff that you can't tell me … but … what's going on with Carter? I'm worried about her and I just want her to know she's not alone."

Janet felt her muscles tense fractionally at the sentiment in his last sentence, still a little on edge from the thought of the colonel sharing his romantic feelings with her. She could maintain her sense of denial about that situation as long as the words were not directly spoken.

He must have seen something in her face and known the gist of her thoughts, if not the precise cause of them. He said, somewhat hastily, "She's a team member and a friend, and I'm worried about her the same way I'd be worried about Daniel or Teal'c. As her CO it's part of my job to look out for her. And it's not just me … Daniel and Teal'c are worried about her too."

She nodded at him, seeing that he was still as uncomfortable with this whole conversation as she was. She and the colonel had never really talked much about anything related to Sam's state of mind before … the closest they'd ever come to it was in the aftermath of the woman's possession by Jolinar. And that time, they'd danced around the topic … focusing instead on what tangible things they could do to help her recover. Janet sighed deeply, wrenching her thoughts back to the actual subject of the conversation. "Well, sir, you're right … there's a lot of things that Sam and I have talked about that it isn't my place to discuss. But I can tell you that something that happened on your last mission is really weighing on her mind and she's been doing some soul searching."

O'Neill sighed unhappily. "Let me guess. The whole Ska'ara/Klo'rel thing is giving her flashbacks about Jolinar."

Janet sympathized with his unhappiness. The alien symbiote that had taken over Sam's body had left the woman with some serious emotional scars. Not the least of which was the knowledge that Jolinar had ended up dying to save her life, leaving both a void and a sense of carrying around an un-payable debt.

But even though the mission had triggered some flashbacks and was causing Sam to once again have some horrific nightmares, that was a lot more personal information than the doctor was willing to share. And even though it seemed like the obvious answer, it wasn't actually the cause of Carter's quiet mood and her heavy pondering. Janet mused that while it was troubling information, it was irrelevant to what O'Neill really wanted to know.

She took a deep breath and then blew it out between her teeth, speaking carefully. "Actually, colonel, that's not the problem. It's … well … it's related to something the Nox woman said."

Every pore of O'Neill's body radiated confusion. "Lya?" Janet nodded briefly, knowing she'd said too much already, but also knowing that it was better to give the man something to work with than to not say anything at all. Hopefully, a bit of information would prevent him from hounding his second-in-command. She knew her lover was in a far more fragile state of mind than she was letting on; she'd been there, holding Sam in her arms after the nightmares, petting her hair gently in an effort to soothe her back to sleep. The last thing Carter needed was the colonel on her ass, determined to find out what was bothering her. That would just add a layer of stress that the other woman wasn't up to dealing with right at the moment. She just didn't operate that way – she wasn't a Daniel who needed conversation like he needed air. She needed time and space to process things. She needed time and space to heal.

Janet sat quietly, watching the man across from her as he screwed up his face in concentration, as if he were mentally replaying the entire mission in his head. Abruptly, he sat bolt upright, a distinct look of amusement in his eyes. "You don't mean that little snippet of conversation about Lya being a pacifist, do you?"

In spite of herself, she couldn't prevent a sarcastic smile. "Give the man a cigar," she murmured dryly. Then she shifted gears rapidly. "Just remember, you didn't hear it from me. You figured it out all on your own."

She couldn't tell if he actually registered her words, since he was too busy chuckling aloud. She could hear the humor in his tone as he stated, "You have got to be kidding. I thought we'd hashed all that stuff out the last time we dealt with the Nox." She could easily read the doubt in his eyes as he stared at her. The look on his face was suspicious, as though he suspected she was playing an elaborate joke on him, clearly not certain whether she was serious.

Despite understanding his sense of relief that the problem seemed so minor, she found the humor annoying. After all, no matter how minor or trivial the matter seemed to him, it was definitely serious to Samantha Carter. She couldn't help but wish he didn't find it so damned entertaining.

She must have glared at him without being aware of it, she realized, as he abruptly reined in his reaction and couldn't quite look her in the eye. "Sorry," he mumbled, a brief hint of guilt flickering across his features. "It's just … well … she's really still upset over that?" Janet watched as he shook his head and then brought his gaze back up to meet hers. "I mean, yeah, there are times when pacifists just bug the crap out of me … they stand around passing judgment on the very people who are responsible for keeping them safe. But y'know, it's just really not that big an issue. Not everyone's got the guts to stand up and fight."

Janet sighed unhappily as he fixed an earnest gaze on her. She heard his voice grew fractionally softer in what sounded like his attempt at reassurance. "Listen, Doc, I'll sit down and have a little talk with her … and don't worry, I'll leave your name out of it … tell her I'd been doing some thinking and came up with the Lya thing. Maybe it'll do her some good to talk to a career military type who understands the frustration."

At that, Fraiser could not resist an acid glare and he abruptly remembered just whom he was talking to, and that – labcoat aside – she was a career type just like he was. "Oops." She could tell by the look on his face that he intended to say more than that. But he closed his mouth abruptly – apparently deciding his attempts to dig himself out of that hole might actually make it bigger.

Janet held up her hand to get his attention. "Don't do that, sir," she pleaded quietly. His eyes held more than a touch of challenge and she leaned forward in her chair, arms folded on the desk, closing the gap between them. "I know you want to help, Colonel," she said softly, "but Sam needs time to process things in her own head. You know how she is … how private she is. If the subject comes up naturally, then by all means, talk to her. But if you push when she's not ready, it may well push her deeper into her shell. Right now, the best way to help her is to just leave her alone."

She felt a rush of guilt for saying so much – as if she was betraying her lover's confidence by talking about her. But she was a doctor, being asked for advice by a senior officer about an issue of health (albeit of the mental variety), and it was her duty to give the same kind of information and advice she'd give about any patient, provided it didn't violate issues of confidentiality. It was one of the many sticky situations and issues that came with the territory of working in close quarters with her lover. Especially since their relationship wasn't exactly public knowledge, so there was none of the deference to that aspect that might otherwise have been offered.

He drummed his fingers on the desk for a long moment, and she could easily tell he was turning her words over in his head. Finally, he leaned back and sighed dramatically. "I know you're right. I just hate not being able to do anything, y'know?"

Janet nodded briefly, empathizing all too well with the man. She was suddenly aware that for all their differences she and O'Neill had a lot in common. It wasn't the most comforting realization she'd ever made, since she often thought the man was aggravating and boorish. But it was that same desire to be able to do something that led her to medicine in the first place.

"I know," she countered, with more than a trace of sympathy audible in her tone. Despite the fact that Sam was actually talking to her about a few things, she still had the uncomfortable feeling that she wasn't actually able to do anything to help the other woman wrestle with her demons. Her lover had things locked tightly away inside her head, and Janet didn't have a magical key to get in.

O'Neill flashed her a tight smile and she continued, "For what it's worth, sir, Sam knows you're concerned about her and I think that means a lot to her. And even though I know it's hard to see her withdrawn, it isn't anything life-threatening, and nothing that poses a danger to the team." She knew all too well that she was leaving out the spectre of the nightmares related to Jolinar, which could well be considered a danger to the team. But SG-1 was off active duty for a few weeks for Daniel to translate a set of rather important looking documents, for Carter to catch up on some of her naquada experiments, and for O'Neill and Teal'c to run a group of newly assigned officers through some field training excursions. Janet was confident that Sam would be back to normal on that front by the time the team was back in the field together. If she wasn't, then the doctor would find a reason to ground her. There was no way she would let anyone – her lover especially – go through the Stargate if they posed a danger to themselves or others.

They sat in silence for a moment and she watched him as he processed her words, his head tilted to the side as if he were weighing out scenarios. For all that the man didn't understand much of the science at the heart of the SGC, and for all that he played to the hilt his role as "just a dumb soldier", he was not a stupid man. Janet found it interesting to watch him putting together all the pieces of information to try and form a coherent picture.

Without preamble, he stood up, pushing away from the desk and chair in one fluid motion. "Thanks, Doc. We'll just kinda keep an eye on her, but not bug her about stuff."

She nodded, not feeling the need for a verbal response. He made his way to the door, opened it, and then paused with his hand on the knob. Turning back towards her, his face crinkled in thought, he asked quietly, "She's really still bugged by the Nox? I just figured – military upbringing aside – that Carter was a lot more open-minded. I mean, she agrees with Daniel's peaceful and diplomatic approach to things almost more often than she agrees with me and Teal'c and our 'the best offense is a good defense' approach."

Janet sighed, blowing her breath out between her teeth. She realized in an instant that until O'Neill had the entire picture in his head in a way that made sense to him, he would end up hounding Sam, despite his best intention not to. That, in its own way, would probably be worse for the other woman than her divulging tiny pieces of information. She wrestled with what to say for a second, and then just offered quietly, "Actually, Colonel, you have it backwards. It's not Lya she's questioning, it's herself."

Despite the serious situation, his face lightened and he offered an understanding, "Ah, I see." And looking at him, the doctor realized that he finally had a logical picture put together in his mind. Surprisingly, his face shifted into a mode of sympathy, and Janet got the distinct sense that he'd been in Carter's shoes more than once in his life. "She never did the whole rebellion thing, did she? Never questioned how she was raised or whether she shared the same beliefs as her folks or anything?"

Janet sighed deeply and just shook her head.

O'Neill echoed her sigh. "Well, I guess if it had to happen sometime, it came at a good time. At least we're not on back to back missions while she's doing all that soul searching." He raised his eyebrows and flashed her a reassuring smile. "Don't worry, Doc. If the subject comes up, I'll keep your name out of it. As far as I'm concerned, this is just between you and me. I'll just tell Daniel and Teal'c that she's thinking about meaning of life stuff. And … well … it'll be ok … she'll come around. You'll see."

Janet walked through her front door, frowning as she realized the house was dark. She knew Cassie was spending the night at a friend's house, but she figured that Sam would have been home by now. Of course it wouldn't be the first time that the other woman had gotten delayed at the SGC. In fact, delays and emergencies were pretty much par for the course for anyone who worked there.

She stepped slowly into the living room – her eyes not quite adjusted to the dark – and reached out her hand to turn on the lamp that sat on the end table.

"So, what did you tell the colonel?"

Janet jumped in surprise at the unexpected sound. She breathed deeply for a moment, trying to calm her racing heart. Hearing a voice in the darkness had been about the last thing she'd expected. As her pulse rate settled back to something approaching normal, she found herself frowning at the flat, monotone echo of Sam's voice.

She flipped the lamp on, blinking hard against the sudden, soft glow, and looked over to see her lover curled up on one end of the couch. The blonde wasn't looking at her; those expressive blue eyes were fixed resolutely on her long fingers, which were tangled into a knot and resting in her lap.

The doctor shrugged out of her coat, letting it drop in a heap on the floor, and kicked off her shoes. Slowly, she walked over to the couch, settling herself on the unoccupied end of it. Rather than answering the question that hung in the air, she asked one of her own, not entirely sure how to interpret the downcast eyes and the flatness of Sam's tone.

"Are you mad at me?"

The question was both odd and abrupt, and she knew it the moment it tumbled from her lips. But she wanted some gauge of what she was dealing with, so she'd have an idea of the best approach to take. And, a tiny voice whispered in her ear, you want to hear her say she's not angry, even though she has a right to be. Janet spent most of her days reassuring others and keeping her own feelings hidden under a professional mask of detachment. But she had come to rely on taking that mask off around her lover, and had found she needed the reassurances that the other woman gave her.

Sam slowly brought her eyes up to meet Janet's. The doctor felt a lump in her throat when she saw the stony paleness of her lover's face. It wasn't often that that expressive face was unreadable – especially to her – and it worried her to see that reaction now. She didn't trust her voice to say any more, and wouldn't have known what to say even if she could have mustered words. She just locked eyes with her lover, trying to broadcast her concern and her love.

The blonde let out a shaky breath and her features softened as she shook her head minutely. "I'm not mad at you," she breathed, her voice soft, but firm. "I probably should be, but I'm not. I know you were just doing your job … that you have a responsibility to give out information relevant to an officer's performance and health." She broke off and glanced back down at her hands for a long moment, clearly uncomfortable with some aspect of the conversation. Finally, she lifted her eyes again and looked at Janet, the blond brows bunching in a question. "I just … well … I just wondered … what you said … what he knows … was it the … the nightmares?"

It wasn't the most articulate sentence ever spoken, but Janet understood it completely. She saw in an instant that it wasn't a blank mask of anger on her lover's face; it was actually one of fear. She scooted slightly closer to the other woman, close enough that her hand could make contact, but not quite touching, not yet. She knew Sam wasn't always receptive to touches when she was under emotional stress and she had learned to hold back until she knew her lover was ready to receive physical comfort.

"No, I didn't say anything about the nightmares. They aren't really related to what he wanted to know. And as long as they're gone by the time you're back on active duty, I see no reason that anyone else needs to know about them." She saw some of the tension drain out of Sam's body at that assurance. Given the strain that the field teams were expected to endure, she knew that Carter didn't want to give anyone reason to doubt her strength … or her sanity. That had happened before, after the other woman had been taken as a Tok'ra host, and Janet never again wanted to see that experience repeat itself. Her lover had been as scarred from the doubts and animosity of her co-workers at the SGC as she had been from the trauma of the forced blending and subsequent tortured death of the symbiote. Thankfully, the members of SG-1 had stood behind her, as had the doctor, but it hadn't been easy for any of them, particularly Sam.

"He just wanted some sense of why you've been so quiet and withdrawn, and I told him it was related to the Nox woman. He figured out the details on his own." She watched her lover carefully as she spoke, needing to gauge her reactions. It was hard on both of them, having a relationship that could never be shown openly, having to always sublimate their personal feelings in the realm of work. And it was especially hard when their duties were in direct conflict with their personal lives. They dealt with it fairly well most of the time, but that didn't make it any less hard at others.

As much to remind herself as to remind Sam, Janet said gently, "He needs to know about things that affect the members of his team."

She could easily read the flash of guilt that shone in Sam's eyes. When her lover spoke, the words were whispered, but sincere. "I know … and I should have told him what was going on … rather than putting you in that position. I'm sorry."

Janet found herself surprised by the apology. She rather thought that if anyone should be apologizing, it should be her. But, then again, she mused, her lover was the overly responsible type. She scooted closer to Sam, curling her legs under her in an imitation of the other woman's pose. Their knees were touching and judging that it was ok, she reached out to lightly cover the woman's tightly knotted hands with her own hand. Gently, she traced over the stiff lines of those long, deft fingers. Then she moved her hand away, letting it rest against the spot where their knees and thighs were pressed together. "I'm sorry too," she offered after a beat. "I should have let you know that the colonel had come to talk to me, rather than making you find out indirectly."

She studied the other woman closely as the apologies hung in the air between them. For a long, uncomfortable moment, silence reigned.

Then she saw the blonde head swing up and she released a breath she hadn't known she was holding. Sam's face was still set in serious lines, but there was warmth in the blue eyes, and long fingers reached out to find Janet's hand, tracing her knuckles lightly.

She had expected Sam to say something, but the other woman remained quiet. Sighing softly, Janet turned her hand over, pressing her fingers against her lovers, taking comfort in the light touch. Her voice was quiet as she said, "I hadn't planned on talking to the colonel. But he's worried about you. Daniel and Teal'c are worried about you." Her next words came in a whispered rush, as if she couldn't get them out any other way. "I'm worried about you and want to help you through this, but I don't know how … you won't talk to me."

She winced when Sam froze. It wasn't too hard for Janet to feel the sudden burst of tension in the other woman via their connected fingertips. Her lover took a deep breath and bit out sharply, "Don't you think I know you're all worried? I'm not trying to make this hard on any of you … that's exactly why I haven't been talking to you."

Well, that was certainly news to the doctor. In her experience – both medical and mundane – talking about things tended to make people less worried, not more. She shrugged off the hurt that welled up from Sam's bitter words, from the sense that her lover felt like she couldn't share all of herself with her. Janet shook her head, trying to make sense of what her lover had said. When the words still failed to gain any clarity after some contemplation, she let her own frustration come out in her tone. "I can't imagine what you could have to say that would make things harder for us. At least if we knew more of what was going on, we might be able to help you come to peace with it."

She wasn't terribly surprised when Sam pulled away from her and scooted closer to the arm of the couch, though she took it as a good sign that the other woman hadn't gotten up and left. Running her fingers through her hair tiredly, she rested her arm on the back of the couch, cradling her head in her hand and studying her lover. She knew she would probably have to be the first one to speak, but she delayed it for the moment, knowing she had every reason to be frustrated with the entire situation. Being understanding and comforting were both a basic part of Janet's nature, but she wasn't a saint and she had her limits.

She was mulling over what she was going to say, when Sam – staring resolutely at her once again knotted hands – opened her mouth. "I'm sorry, Janet, that was out of line. It's just … well … I hate feeling like I'm burdening people with my problems … my dad would be so ashamed of me … he's from the 'stiff upper lip' school of thought."

That tidbit turned on the proverbial light bulb above Janet's head. But in an admirable show of restraint, she managed to not exclaim, "Aha!" since she sensed that the other woman wasn't quite finished.

In a small voice, Sam admitted quietly, "And even though I really didn't want to burden anyone, I think I'm also scared of letting you down … of not being what you think I am."

That hard wrung confession melted Janet's heart and she reached out to gently massage a tense shoulder. She couldn't quite contain her incredulity at the sentiment, since she couldn't imagine what thoughts her lover could be hiding that would make anyone think any less of her. It wasn't like the other woman had ever shown any sign of being someone likely to end up on the Jerry Springer show. "Sam, what we see in you is a brilliant woman, a loyal teammate, someone who cares deeply about making a positive difference in the world. That isn't going to change just because you're having to wrestle with some issues."

Janet paused briefly, seeing the flicker of surprise in the shadowed gaze, and then offered a light quip. She was well aware that it could backfire, but she felt relatively certain the humor would break up some of the tension. "For a genius, you're not always the sharpest crayon in the box."

She held her breath as Sam turned to regard her, the blue eyes clearly showing the woman's confusion about how exactly she was supposed to take that comment. Janet let the corner of her mouth quirk upwards in a half smile and suddenly an embarrassed smile edged onto the face across from her.

"I've been a complete idiot again, haven't I?" muttered Sam, dropping her gaze back down to her hands.

More certain now of her lover's mood, Janet scooted closer, placing a finger under Sam's chin and coaxing her head up. "Not a complete idiot," she offered in a light tone. "You're just too easily convinced that people will think less of you if you show them that you're human."

Since that particular statement had been uttered many times before – and since it had been uttered by both women in regard to the other – Janet wasn't surprised to hear a tiny chuckle and an indignant, "What? You mean I'm only human?"

She leaned closer and pressed a soft kiss to her lover's forehead, then dropped a kiss onto the tip of her nose. "C'mere," she whispered softly, and was gratified when Sam followed the mild order, snuggling her body against Janet's and resting her head on the doctor's shoulder. She knew that her lover's acceptance of the physical comfort was a sign that she was in a space where they could talk. And hopefully that meant they could finally get to the heart of what was bothering Samantha Carter.

She waited patiently, letting her lover take the lead in pursuing the conversation. Though she dearly wanted to know exactly what was going on in the other woman's head, rather than just getting random bits and pieces, she had a sense that the silent snuggling was just as healing for both of them as any long, drawn out discussion. At the very least, it was easing some of Janet's worries and her sense of inadequacy with regard to helping Sam.

She smiled softly when Sam reached out and twined their fingers together. Slowly the blonde began to talk quietly, her uncertain pauses showing that she was thinking out loud.

"You know that I've been thinking a lot about what happened on Tollana … about how the Nox live … just wondering what they know that the rest of us don't."

It wasn't the most elegantly worded summation, but Janet nodded in understanding and offered a simple, "Yes."

"My whole life has been lived in the shadow of the military … I've never really paid attention to the fact that there is a whole other way of life that doesn't involve weapons and violence. I've always tried to live up to the expectations of my father … and he let us know in no uncertain terms that anyone who wouldn't pick up arms and fight was a coward and a sissy. That's one of the reasons he and Mark have been estranged for so long … Mark turned his back on that and went his own way. It wasn't just about my mom's death."

Janet heard the shuddering sigh and held her lover tighter, knowing that the memory of her mother's death still had the power to reduce Sam to tears. There were some pains that – while they faded in time – never completely went away. She ran a hand through the blonde hair, feeling the way the other woman snuggled deeper into her embrace.

She heard a faint touch of desperation in Sam's voice as she continued. "In the past couple years though, I've just seen so much death … so much destruction. We've fought the Goa'uld and killed some of them … but more just rise to fight us … they pass their hatred onto their offspring just like we do … and the cycle of fighting never seems to end. I look at Earth … how many wars have we fought over the centuries … how many people have died fighting with people who ought to be neighbors? There are people fighting each other today because of something that happened hundreds of years ago between their ancestors … and everybody thinks they're right and everyone else is wrong. And with all the wars and all the fighting … what has really changed? All we've done is perpetuate the cycle of violence … all we've done is preach the gospel that might makes right."

Janet heard a soft sigh and knew from experience that it meant the other woman was searching for the right words to try and explain her thoughts. She continued gently sifting her fingers through blonde hair, offering the only comfort she knew how. And the small part of her mind that wasn't fully preoccupied with the quietly spoken words was amazed at the fact that Sam was still curled up in her arms and accepting the comfort she was offering. It wasn't often that her lover allowed herself to be held like this unless it was when she was half asleep after a nightmare.

It was a rare gift, and one that Janet didn't take lightly.

After several minutes of silence, Sam shifted slightly in Janet's embrace, her words low. "I'm really not sure I can do this anymore … not sure I can keep making the choice to pick up a gun as a way to try and make a difference. I keep thinking of something the colonel said to me a couple of years ago. It was on the mission where we were sent after SG9, when Captain Hansen became unstable and thought he was a god. I could have ended things. I could have stopped him. We were inside the cave and I was able to get his gun … I had it pointed at him, hoping he'd come to his senses and surrender so the whole nightmare would be over. He just looked at me without any trace of fear and dared me to shoot him."

She broke off and Janet could feel her shaking her head slightly, as if trying to erase the scene from her mind. "I couldn't do it. I couldn't shoot him in cold blood … not even to save the lives of my teammates … not even to save the lives of all the people on that planet. When I told the colonel about it, about my weakness, he reminded me of the Biblical commandment that 'Thou shalt not kill.' He told me that no matter the reason, every time we break that commandment we get a little closer to becoming someone like Jonas."

Janet felt her heart catch at the words, not because of the content, but because of the obvious guilt and grief in the other woman's tone. She'd known bits and pieces of this from prior conversations, but even she hadn't expected this from Sam. She was simultaneously impressed with the depth and breadth of her lover's thoughts and alarmed by the idea that her lover felt like she was making things worse in the universe rather than better.

She wanted to say something wise and profound, but couldn't think of a single, solitary thing that qualified. And she wanted to say something comforting and reassuring, but couldn't think of anything that wouldn't sound like an empty platitude. And she knew as well as anyone that her lover hated empty platitudes. So Janet simply sat holding Sam close, her fingers lightly brushing through blonde hair in an almost absent-minded manner … clueless as to what else she should do. She realized that she'd been hoping that a solution would present itself when she finally had the whole picture of what the problem was. Whoever said knowledge was power clearly didn't have a clue what the hell they were talking about. At least not when it came to situations like this.

As the silence stretched on, she heard a soft sigh from her lover. Then she heard a tiny whispered confession, the words tinged with what sounded like embarrassment. "I was afraid to tell you guys what was going on in my head. I know the colonel and Teal'c would think I've lost my mind, while Daniel would want to spend hours talking morality. I just don't have the energy to deal with those reactions …" the soft voice dropped even lower " … not while I'm still so worn out from the nightmares."

Janet fractionally tightened her hold on her lover, knowing how hard it was for the strong, stubborn woman to even talk about the nightmares since she perceived them as a weakness. And then she suddenly realized there was a glaring omission in Sam's words. The thought tumbled from her lips before she could think better of it. "What about me?"

She heard the faintest quiver in Sam's voice, though it was so slight that no one else would have caught it. "I … I've been afraid that you'd think less of me for …"

After a few moments, it became clear that the other woman wasn't trying to be difficult, but that she really wasn't sure how to voice her fears. Janet finished the thought for her, speaking quietly and holding Sam close. "For having doubts? For wondering if weapons and military might are the best ways of solving problems?" She felt the tiny nod her lover offered as confirmation.

If it wasn't such a serious conversation, she might have found it amusing that for all Carter's confidence and intellectual brilliance in the realm of her work at the SGC, the woman was so tentative and uncertain when it came to the realm of emotions. It was a paradox that alternately fascinated and irritated Janet. It was usually fascinating because it showed how incredibly complex her lover was. But it was often quite irritating because there were times when she wished her lover was a little more grounded in reality and didn't need so much reassurance about things most people would take for granted.

At the moment – despite the situation – it was the fascination that was predominant in her thoughts.

She let her fingers wander gently through silken gold hair. "Believe me, if anything, I think more of you for having these sorts of doubts." She could literally feel the start of surprise her words prompted in Sam and she pressed her lips softly to the top of her lover's head. "And I'm not just saying that to make you feel better."

Janet paused for a moment, not sure how best to explain what she meant, especially since these weren't things she thought about on a routine basis herself … and hadn't for a long time. She'd followed her father into the military, much as Sam had, and yet there had been a time when she found herself opposed to using violence to deal with violence. It had been the single biggest reason she'd pursued medicine once she'd made the decision to join the military. At least she was doing something to preserve life, not simply take it away. But once she'd made the decision, she'd rarely given any more thought to the whys and wherefores.

She exhaled slowly, not quite sure what she was going to say until she heard her own voice. "Throughout history, the people who have done the most harm have been the ones who were certain that they were right … who felt they had some kind of Divine mandate to destroy anyone who didn't see things their way. The people who never have doubts about using force, the people who never wonder what they're killing for … those are the people I would think less of. Doesn't mean they stop using force to stand up for what's good and what's right … just that they've thought about the fact that there are consequences for every action."

She could almost hear the wheels turning in Sam's head, and she wasn't terribly surprised when the other woman shrugged out of her comforting embrace, opting to sit next to her and be able to face her while they talked. If anything, she was surprised that the other woman hadn't pulled away earlier. "But what if using force isn't what actually makes the difference in the end? What if all it does is reinforce the idea that might makes right? What about all the people like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. – the people who used words and nonviolent action to make their points? Maybe changing the cycle of violence starts with one person putting down a gun."

Janet sighed softly; she'd never particularly enjoyed debating philosophy. But she knew that it was not so much what arguments she made that were important here, but rather her willingness to entertain the subject matter. Yes, Sam was looking for some sense of reassurance. Unlike many other people, however, she tended to find reassurance in the simple ability to debate and question. It was as if the ability to question things somehow made them more real and tangible. And often, just the ability to debate an issue gave her the insights she needed to resolve it for herself.

Janet opted to piggyback on the opening she'd been given. "Or maybe one person putting down a gun just leads to more slaughter. Maybe the cycle of violence actually stops when those who prey on the weak and innocent are defeated once and for all." She was far more cynical about human nature than Sam was, and she truly doubted that anything short of lethal force would impress some of the people who preyed on those weaker than themselves.

There was a brief, mirthless chuckle from the other side of the couch. "The difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is simply the difference between who wins and who loses." There was a brief pause while Janet tried to decipher that, not entirely sure how to take the statement. While she was still considering, Sam continued softly. "I just mean that our perceptions of who holds the moral high ground largely depends on who wins the fight. To the British, the colonists in America who fought their rule were probably not considered freedom fighters. But that's what we call them because we won … we gained our independence. Had the colonists lost, they'd probably be described as terrorists in our history books."

Janet shifted position on the couch, sitting up straighter and draping her arm over the back of the couch. She was fully aware that she was fidgeting as a delaying tactic, since she really wasn't up to differentiating that carefully between shades of grey. She studied her lover's face, seeing the way the lamplight cast shadows across Sam's troubled features. Somehow, it seemed wholly appropriate for the nature of the conversation.

She watched as Sam cocked her head slightly to the side. She knew it was a sign that her lover was preparing to shift mental gears, and she listened carefully to the other woman's solemnly spoken question. "When we use violence to achieve our goals and to keep the peace, how does that make us any different from our enemies who do the same?"

Janet finally felt like she had some stable ground under her feet. She wasn't naïve enough to think that meant she had any of the answers … just that she had better questions. "Do you really think we're the same as the Goa'uld? Do we run around enslaving entire worlds and posing as gods? Do we have that same callous disregard for life?"

Sam quickly shook her head, very real distress in her eyes. "Of course not. We don't gate through the galaxy, taking innocent people as hosts, casually killing anyone who doesn't worship us. But that's not exactly the point. We've caused death and destruction … and we've killed some innocent people in the process. I know you're going to say that it's an unavoidable consequence of the war we're fighting with the Goa'uld and the work we're doing. But that doesn't change the fact that we're responsible for their deaths and for the destruction we've caused. No matter the reason, their blood is on our hands."

Janet reached out to lightly touch the other woman's shoulder, as if the motion would drive home her point. "The problem is that you're seeing things in the abstract, but we're living in the real world. We have to do what we can with what we have available. We do our best to not harm the innocent, but sometimes it can't be helped. And it's for damn sure that if we weren't fighting the Goa'uld, a lot more innocent people would die."

She took a deep breath, wanting to lighten the mood, if only for a moment. "And you can't honestly tell me that you think the Goa'uld would be impressed if we held a love-in and told them we wanted nothing but peace. They'd wipe us out without a second thought and there'd be no one left to love them."

She couldn't resist a wry laugh at the image that scampered through her brain as accompaniment to her own words. And apparently Sam found it amusing as well, judging by her surprised chuckle. But the blue eyes still radiated a very real sense of concern.

"I guess I just wonder how long we can run around using weapons to make our point before we start to lose our own morality … before we turn into those we despise."

Janet shook her head, wishing there was some easy answer to the question, knowing full well there wasn't. If there was a simple solution to the age old questions of war versus peace, then humans would have never seen the need to develop ever more sophisticated and deadly weapons in the name of deterrence. But then again, maybe the answer wasn't to find an easy answer to try and set Sam's mind at ease, but rather to ask the difficult questions and let Sam figure things out for herself.

She cocked her head to the side, studying the blonde as she spoke. "Do you think the colonel or Teal'c enjoys killing?"

The denial was immediate and emphatic. "God, no. I mean, they both are soldiers and sometimes they take the 'shoot first and ask questions later' approach. But as far as I've ever seen, they see killing as a grim necessity."

Janet nodded, having already known what response she'd get. "Ok, so why do they keep doing it? Surely, Teal'c could find a planet where he could live in peace, where Apophis and the other system lords couldn't find him. And the colonel's retired once … why doesn't he retire again and refuse to continue getting blood on his hands?"

Sam looked away from Janet, her troubled eyes focused on the far wall. It wasn't too surprising, the doctor thought, since the other woman was more than smart enough to figure out where she was going with the questions.

The blonde's voice was low and distant, as though reciting a lesson she'd memorized. "Teal'c's fighting for freedom for his people … and he's fighting to destroy the false gods so that they cannot continue to enslave and destroy whole peoples. The colonel … I think he feels like there's not a lot of choice … that we could sign a treaty to protect Earth, but that there are a whole lot of people on other planets who need someone to stand up for them. And since he's a soldier and is trained to fight … he has a responsibility to do what it takes to protect those around him."

Janet heard the deep sigh that followed that statement and wasn't particularly surprised when Sam argued, "I know where you're going with this, Janet. And I know … I know that we've done a lot of good out there … we've saved people's lives by making sure that creatures like Ra and Hathor can't attack them … can't destroy them. But does that give us the right to do it? Do we have any more right to take a life than they do?"

Janet offered up a short laugh, leaning back against the arm of the couch and bringing her knees up to her chest. This was something she'd struggled with in medical school, only there, it was in the form of debating euthanasia. "I don't know that anyone has the right to take a life. But sometimes it's not a matter of whether you have the right, it's a matter of whether you have the responsibility. Hitler didn't have the right to take the lives of millions of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and political prisoners … and no one had the right to take his life. But they had a responsibility to ensure that he could not continue to kill anyone he thought was unclean or unfit. And sometimes that responsibility involves killing someone to prevent them from doing something evil. I remember once reading about a rapist and killer who preyed on children … when he was caught and sentenced, he asked for the death penalty … because he knew if he ever was released from jail, he would kill again."

At that, Sam pushed up from the couch and began to pace, showing that some of the colonel's habits were rubbing off on her. Her voice was deathly quiet. "He has the right to decide that because it's his life in question. But what gives me the right to decide something like that? You're making it sound like there's only one way to deal with the Goa'uld or with someone like Hitler. There's always another way … there's always more than one choice."

Janet rubbed her eyes with her hand, suddenly worn out by having a deep, philosophical conversation after having a very long workday. "You're right, of course, there's always more than one choice … and everyone has to decide for themselves what they're willing to do." She paused for a long minute, feeling like she was on the verge of saying something important, and not sure what it was. "Pacifism is a personal choice … and it's not something that everyone can do, just as being a soldier isn't something everyone can do. It comes down to that very choice … do you choose to use force and violence, if necessary, to protect someone from harm? Or do you refuse to respond to violence with violence, even if it means letting someone beat you into a pulp and not fighting back? Ultimately, that's what it comes down to."

She looked up at her lover, noting that Sam stood shock still, as if her whole being were listening to and absorbing the words. Janet sat up straight again and her voice softened as she said simply, "I went through a phase where I detested the military and everything it stood for, until I realized that I don't have it in me to not fight back if someone attacks me or someone I love. There are people who can … they're willing to put their own bodies and lives in the line of fire to stand up to oppression or allow their loved ones to run to safety. But they're not willing to use force to protect themselves, because it means harming another human being. It's not cowardice … it's a personal belief that all life is sacred. That's what pacifism ultimately comes down to … it's whether or not you're willing to cause harm to another person in defense of yourself or others. And I know I don't have it in me to take a blow and not fight back."

It hadn't been exactly what she'd planned to say, but she was struck by the sudden sense that she'd finally managed to find the very heart of the problem and turn it from some abstract principle to a very personal question. And that's really what it was … a matter of personal convictions.

She watched as Sam turned slowly towards her, making her way back to the couch. The other woman sat heavily, her face contorted in thought. Janet waited patiently, giving her lover some time to wrestle her thoughts into something she could put into words.

After several minutes, Sam spoke quietly, her voice full of an emotion that Janet couldn't quite name. "I don't think I could do that either. As much as killing someone makes me sick … if I could pick up a gun and prevent someone innocent from being hurt, I'd do it without question. Even Daniel has learned to shoot a gun and has no qualms about using force to protect himself … or to protect us. And he's one of the most peace-loving people I've ever met."

Janet slid across the cushions, once again sitting knee to knee with her lover. "Sweetheart, the fact that you're even asking these questions shows that you are light years away from turning into your enemy. You don't use force and violence because you enjoy it, but because it's the only realistic means you have of defending the people you care about." She felt a slight tension radiating from Sam's body, and sensing that the other woman wasn't completely convinced, she added gently, "Maybe the cycle of violence ends when the only people left with guns are the ones who know how to put them down."

Sam shook her head as if in denial, though Janet could tell from her expression that she was turning the words over in her head. "Maybe," the blonde conceded reluctantly. "I just can't help but wish I understood more about the Nox and how they can live in such harmony with everyone … even the Goa'uld."

Janet sensed the conversation was coming close to a natural stopping point and she let her tone grow wry. "Well, I would guess that it might have just a little bit to do with their ability to turn themselves and their cities invisible. It's not too hard to maintain peaceful relations with people who can't find you to kill you."

She was relieved when a startled laugh greeted that statement. "You may have a point there."

"Score one for me, "Janet muttered. She wanted to say something else, but was interrupted by her stomach, which chose that moment to growl loudly. She felt an embarrassed blush creep across her face, especially when she saw Sam staring intently at her. "Sorry," she mumbled, "lunch was entirely too long ago.

She saw a flash of guilt in guileless blue eyes. "And then instead of getting to come home and eat dinner, you end up having to debate philosophy with me." Absently, Janet noticed that Sam's voice seemed less haunted and more normal than it had been in quite some time. She was pretty sure the other woman still hadn't quite come to terms with her fears and questions; they were too deep to be easily resolved. But maybe, just maybe, she would find enough peace to be able to deal with her other demon … namely the nightmares.

A soft voice interrupted her rambling thoughts. "I appreciate you listening, Janet. I can't say I don't still have doubts and questions … but I feel a lot better now that I've been able to verbalize things." Janet felt her lover's arms circle her in a hug and she leaned into it, enjoying the gentle touch.

"Anytime, sweetheart," she said. "I'd much rather debate philosophy with you than have you feel like you can't confide in me. I love you for who you are … and I can't imagine that ever changing." Unable to resist teasing the other woman, she pulled out of the hug and added drolly, "Even if you become a neo-hippie and walk around saying things like 'Peace, man.'"

Sam shook her head and rolled her eyes, but managed to retort, "I'll have you know that I look good in tie-dye."

Janet merely laughed. "Yes, and we all know that it's clothes that make the woman." She stopped laughing a moment later as Sam leaned in and kissed her. Just a short, sweet kiss, but it felt like sunshine after rain.

"Seriously, Janet … I want you to know how much that means to me. And I'm sorry that I hurt you by not telling you what was going on."

Janet saw the continued flickers of guilt and her tone softened at the obvious contrition. "I should have known you'd talk to me when you were ready. I know how you are … I know you need space to process things. Just …" She trailed off for a moment. "I don't want you to be afraid of me. I love you, Sam. Never forget that."

Another soft kiss and a whispered, "I love you too."

After a moment of simply sitting together and drawing strength from each other, Janet pushed off of the couch and held out a hand to Sam, helping the other woman to her feet. "I don't know about you," she drawled, "but these types of conversations always work up my appetite."

She smiled as Sam chuckled softly. "Amazing how soul searching will do that to a person. I think maybe we'd better feed you. I'll even buy dinner … since it's my fault that you're so hungry."

Janet reached up and brushed an errant lock of blonde hair off her lover's forehead. "I'm not going to refuse such a gallant offer." She stretched up lithely and pressed a kiss to Sam's cheek. "You're going to be ok, you know," she said impulsively, not even sure why she felt the need to say anything."

"I know," Sam replied thoughtfully.

She looked up into her lover's face, seeing the gleam in blue eyes that always heralded a new idea or a solution to a puzzle. Not bothering with the niceties of conversation, Janet asked simply, "What?"

Despite the still-present spectre of nightmares, she felt the last of her worries about her lover lift from her heart as Sam said softly, "Maybe the cycle of violence ends when the only people left with guns are the ones who want to put them down."

The End

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