Bits and Pieces #7
Consciousness returned with the awareness of a blinding headache and violent bodyache, along with a taste in her mouth that just screamed for at least a gallon of Listerine. Janet Fraiser moaned softly as her stomach did a barrel roll that the old time barnstormers would have envied for its sheer inventiveness.
"Well, Doctor, decided to rejoin the living, I see." The cool voice had a supercilious note she'd always found mildly annoying, but at that moment, it was almost unbearably irritating. But then, everything was irritating at that precise moment.
She slitted one eye to glare at David Hawkins, wincing as the infirmary lights threatened to fry her retina and leave it a smoking, charred husk. She groaned again for good measure. "How bad is it?" Annoying he might be, but after her, he was the best person in the place when it came to anything infectious.
He checked his chart. "We're still getting in results, but it looks like you're right and it's bacterial ... and you and Phillips are both infected... but we'll know more when the rest of the tests are in."
"Phillips?" she whispered, fighting a cough as her lungs threatened to seize up.
"Physically, he's doing better than you are at the moment," Hawkins admitted through a frown. "He's running a low grade fever, and his body chemistry is all over the map, but his vitals are stable. Mentally ... well, let's just say the good ship reality isn't passing in his part of the ocean right now."
She nodded, swallowing against the pain in her throat. "Antibiotics?"
"We're running tests to see what might work," he responded. "But I'm not sure you're really going to need anything. Whatever this is, your immune system is in full battle mode now ... and it seems to be the winning side." He glanced at the monitors off to one side. "The fever's coming down, pulse and respiration are normalizing, and your EEG is looking good again." He looked up and saw her fighting to draw breath to speak. Taking pity, he added, "Phillips is another matter. His condition appears to be more or less static."
"How long was I unconscious?" she croaked, closing her eyes against the painful brightness and folding an arm over her face.
"Completely down? About three hours ... plus you've been in and out for another couple," he responded, and she heard an unusual note of unease in his voice. "Had us a little worried there for awhile. Your fever spiked up to 105 and we were close to icing you down." He rehung her chart on the foot of the bed and continued, knowing she'd ask anyway. "Then suddenly everything just turned around and your vitals started normalizing." He offered a small shrug. "I'd love to take credit, but it's nothing we did."
Janet silently absorbed his description of what had happened while she was out of it, trying to form a pattern in her head. Unfortunately, the screaming headache was making that hard. She shifted her hand to rub her temple in an effort to relieve some of the pain only to find too much light getting past her tightly closed eyelids. She folded her arm back over her eyes with a low groan.
"Doctor, the lab's calling up with a question," a nurse broke in on their conversation.
"I'd better take this," he said quickly. "We're running a steady barrage of tests to figure out what's going on here, and we can't afford any mistakes."
She nodded, pretending to still have some small measure of control over the situation as she dismissed him with a wave, though she suspected he never noticed.
Janet slowly peeled her arm back with a low groan, a hint of a smile touching her lips as she slitted her eyes to stare up at a familiar silhouette. "Sam ... how long've you been here?" she mumbled.
A gentle smile touched the captain's mouth. "Came in with the transport and never left," she murmured as she leaned over the bed. "After everything that happened, I needed to make sure you were okay," she admitted. "You scared the hell out of me when you collapsed so suddenly."
"Sorry 'bout that," Janet groaned and folded her arm back over her eyes. "It all happened so fast after he kissed me. Suddenly the world was spinning ... couldn't think straight or see straight ... and then the floor kind of came up and hit me." Another hard cough rattled through her, and she paused for a moment to catch her breath. "Just when I'd figured it all out too...."
"Yeah," Sam said softly, remembering that moment of panic when Janet had seemed to slide totally out of reality and begin babbling. "You told me as you were passing out."
The doctor nodded weakly. "I hoped you'd realize I wasn't nuts and make sure Hawkins got the message."
"I figured out what you were trying to tell when I realized you had a fever." Sam leaned against the bedrails, smiling down at the other woman and trying not to think about the moment of sheer terror when she'd thought she was dead. "Got a little scary there for awhile." Her eyes slid closed for a long moment as relief slid through her with palpable intensity. She'd stayed in the background during the hours while the medical staff worried over their supervisor, clearly afraid she was on the verge of taking a dangerous turn for the worse. "But it looks like you're going to be okay now." She reached out with dangling fingers, just barely touching her friend's hand, a tiny gesture to reassure herself she really was getting better. Her skin was still too warm, but most of the devastating heat had drained away.
Janet felt gentle fingers stroke her knuckles and turned her hand into the soothing caress, squeezing Sam's palm in gratitude. "Thank you," she whispered huskily. Her eyes slid closed as the enormity of it all washed over her. If Sam hadn't gotten there....
"Any time," Carter breathed, her own voice tight with emotion. She swallowed hard as she noted the way Janet sank back into the pillows. "And now I should probably take off and let you get some sleep. Besides, I promised the others I'd give them a progress report once they knew something."
Janet nodded and offered a wan smile. "Tell everyone thanks for the help," she murmured.
"Will do," Sam said softly, squeezing Janet's hand a last time before slipping out.
Closing her eyes, Janet relaxed back into the mattress and was just starting to drift off despite the miserable aches and pains when Hawkins broke in on her thoughts.
"Well, Fraiser, looks like you've managed to get yourself infected by one seriously complex little bugger."
Janet lifted her arm to glare at him through slitted eyes. "Try not to sound so cheerful about it, would you?" she groaned as her stomach decided to try an all new aerial maneuver. "Some of us are dying here."
"Actually, you're getting better," he disagreed and began checking her vitals in a way that made her wonder why the hell she'd become a doctor when they could be such an annoying species. "Though I don't recommend you man the SGC kissing booth anytime soon." He turned to face her, offering an unsympathetic smirk. "You're still contagious."
"Ha ha," she muttered. Clearly someone was enjoying his chance to be in charge a little too much, she mused acidly.
"The good news though is that it the prelims indicate that Amoxycillin kills this thing, so we'll get you both started on an antibiotic regimen. No idea of dosages though, so this may be a little trial and error." He studied the lab results he was carrying for a long moment, frowning thoughtfully. "I do have one question; where are you in your cycle?"
Janet finally opened her eyes, squinting to stare up at him. Thankfully the photosensitivity seemed to be lessening rapidly, so it wasn't quite the painful experience it had been when she first woke. "'Scuse me?" she croaked.
"Your cycle ... y'know, your--" he started to explain.
"I know what it is," she interrupted him impatiently. "I just can't figure out why the hell you care."
He handed her the printout he'd been reading so she could see. "Since it seems to have Phillips' hormone levels all over the map, I couldn't help but wonder if it's affecting yours too. We ran a full battery of tests and according to those if you're in the mood to get pregnant and have a candidate, now's the time." He faced her obvious irritation with a wry look.
Janet flashed the other doctor a dirty look. "No candidate, no desire to get pregnant and no," she added even more emphatically, "I shouldn't be fertile right now." Jaw muscles clenching, she ground her molars together, unable to decide who she was more ticked off at, Hawkins or the Goa'uld witch that had apparently played fast and loose with her body. She glared at the printout as though it was somehow at fault, then flipped the page, reading through the preliminary test results. "This isn't a microbe," she muttered at last, "it's a goddamn experiment in social engineering."
He nodded. "I'd say what you were infected by was way past the experimental stage," was his only disagreement.
Her anger draining away as she continued to read, Janet couldn't argue. "My God," she whispered at last. "We need to test everyone who was exposed to Hathor...."
* * * * * *
Four Days Later
"...it's social engineering. Just that simple," Janet Fraiser explained to the group of officers arrayed around the briefing table. After four days in the infirmary, she was recovering remarkably quickly, though the worst of the cuts and bruises were still visible. The quick recuperation time from the bacterial infection meant that she'd already had time to assemble a solid portrait of the disease that had wreaked such havoc.
"Working with what we know from Teal'c," the doctor nodded to the Jaffa, who ducked his head in acknowledgment, "and based on what we've seen, it seems obvious this is an engineered organism created by Hathor for the express purpose of controlling her followers. It allowed her to reward the men in her service and assure their loyalty, while also controlling any women not already taking her order. And by choosing who was paired off, she could even guarantee strong stock to replenish the human coffers." She made a disgusted sound in the back of her throat, still unable to believe how it all came together. "They didn't even have the option of rejecting her choices ... or the men wound up mad and the women raped or murdered."
"Am I the only feeling a little queasy?" Jack muttered, the whole ugly business making his skin crawl.
"No, sir." Sam shook her head, her own distaste showing in her expression. "But you have to admit, it is very Hathor-like," she muttered, her lip curling with disgust.
"Meanwhile, it all comes down in legends as Hathor having the power to make people fall in love," Daniel said softly, shaking his head at the irony of it all.
"No love involved," Fraiser muttered. "It was a cold-blooded way to completely control a population."
"And the psychosis seen in Airman Phillips?" Hammond asked practically.
The doctor looked back down at her notes to cover her own response. That more personal aspect of the whole thing still had her edgier than she had any desire to admit. "That's probably a product of the lack of contact and delays in ... things.... Basically the bacteria sits in the woman's saliva glands until it's exposed to male hormones via his saliva--"
"You mean until she kisses some guy?" O'Neill asked just to clarify the point. Well, okay, so he was tweaking the Doc too, but she'd scared the hell out of him when she'd gone down and it was his personal way of making sure she was okay now. A healthy Fraiser was one who gave him exactly the look she was giving him at that precise moment. He felt rush of satisfaction and had to resist the urge to smile. He didn't trust Hawkins as far as he could throw him, but if she could glare at him that way, she was gonna be okay.
"Yes, sir," she exhaled tersely. So much for keeping things objective and scientific. "Until she kisses some guy." She took a deep breath, straightening her shoulders and allowing herself a brief moment to regain her composure. Everyone in the room suddenly found an excuse to look at their own notes, not looking up until she began again. "...then apparently that exposure triggers it to mutate into what we're terming stage two ... which is actually the infectious form that causes all the symptoms. It incorporates DNA from both subjects, creating a truly designer bug that can only infect those two people."
"Does it appear to be contagious by any other means?" Hammond questioned worriedly.
Fraiser shook her head. "No. Apparently without that combination -- it's completely harmless. The disease just sits there, waiting to be triggered. But once the cycle begins, the bacteria attacks the male's brain chemistry," Janet continued, grateful to have things back on formal, scientific footing, "at first flooding his system with hormones and endorphins whenever he's in the infected female's presence ... effectively creating a high so intense it borders on addiction, coupled with a strong sexual response. But as time goes by -- if he's denied sexual release -- the bacteria begin altering other aspects of his brain chemistry ... including the serotonin and dopamine levels ... which can be tied to depression and psychosis.
"So, that's what caused Phillips' behavior?" Daniel murmured.
The doctor nodded before continuing, "Meanwhile, in the female, it's effectively asympomatic until stage three is triggered and then it virtually self destructs." Janet offered the somewhat more in-depth explanation of the disease than she had during her opening. "Her immune system is ramped up and on the warpath in a matter of minutes." She didn't comment on knowing what that felt like from personal experience. They all knew it anyway. "It looks like it's a second kiss that triggers that response, though it could just be a matter of extended contact after the disease has passed a certain point in both of them. It's hard to be certain." She hadn't exactly been up to tracking her symptoms all that closely.
"And Airman Phillips' belief that somehow Hathor was speaking to him?" Hammond questioned. That part had him more than a little worried. If the Goa'uld had a way to infect his people with something that allowed them some level of control without her presence, it could change the face of things very quickly.
The doctor shrugged. "We still don't know enough to say for certain, sir," she had to admit. "It may be nothing more than coincidence; Phillips taking every dark impulse the id can come up with and calling it Hathor...."
"Or?" Hammond prompted when she didn't immediate continue and instead paused, seemingly uncertain what to say next.
Fraiser shrugged. "Or it may be more complex than we have any way of understanding. She may be capable of controlling the afflicted men ... whispering in their ears in a sense...." Logic told her it was impossible, but conventional logic wasn't always applicable when dealing with Goa'uld technology. "However, if that's the case, it's almost certainly something pre-programmed and not ongoing contact. Everything Phillips has related to us about what she said is tied to her desire for him to take the gift she gave him. There was nothing regarding the base or taking over." She offered a shrug. "I can't guarantee anything, but if I had to bet, my opinion is that at most, there's a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion ... but that most of his hallucinations were his own." She had to be honest though. "Still, there may be some control from her end ... and if there is, it could always be altered with a different message."
"God, that's creepy," Jack exhaled. And he'd thought the notion of Daniel and Hathor was the most disgusting thing anyone had ever come up with. He shuddered with horror.
Fraiser looked over. "Try having it in your bloodstream, sir," she muttered resentfully.
O'Neill studied her for a moment, suddenly glad they were seated on opposite sides of the table and quite a ways from each other. He no longer envied Phillips in the least. "So are you safe for the next big Spin the Bottle playoff, or should we be wearing a full body glove to even look at you?" he asked before he could think better of it. Even Jack winced at that one.
Fraiser rolled her eyes, holding up her hand to silence the recriminations both Hammond and Carter were on the verge of hurling. She was more than healthy enough to deal with O'Neill's jokes now. "Well, I retired undefeated at Spin the Bottle at fourteen, sir, so that's not an issue." He had the good graces to flush, she noticed with some measure of satisfaction. "However, just to ease everyone's worries, I do seem to be user friendly once again. By the time my fever dropped to normal, my immune system had dealt with the bacterial infection ... though I am taking antibiotics just to be certain. As I said, my current thesis is that the sudden fever and massive show of symptoms are essentially a self-destruct mechanism to prevent any possibility of further infections. If you're Hathor, you'd rather not wind up with several men in your service all addicted to the same woman--"
"That could definitely make for some nasty fights," Sam murmured, more than happy to help guide the subject away from more personal topics
"Absolutely," Fraiser confirmed with heartfelt sincerity, "particularly when you consider how unstable it can make the men. This would have to be very closely controlled. She probably had her chosen two locked away together once she'd made sure the deal was sealed with a kiss.... With forced contact, there'd be nothing to impede the organism's progress. Sooner or later, things would advance to their logical conclusion. Neither party would have a choice; he'd be driven by the disease and once he got aggressive; she'd quickly be too sick to fight back ... and by the time all was said and done, she'd be carrying the next generation of Jaffa." She couldn't contain a shudder of revulsion. She could have wound up in a similar condition all too easily.
The entire room was silent for a long moment as the sheer weight of it struck them all.
It was Carter who spoke first, still sounding more than a little shellshocked as she asked, "Since it's bacterial, any chance of creating a vaccine?" After what she'd seen, she didn't want to think about what could happen if something like this was used on a broader scale.
"We're working on it," Fraiser confirmed. "And I think it's very possible. At least for the women. Since men aren't susceptible to the primary form of the disease, but rather the mutated strains, protecting them may be much harder. Meanwhile, antibiotics seem to attack it very effectively. Phillips isn't cured yet, but he's doing well ... and the worst of the symptoms seem to have let up. He's not entirely stable yet, but he is coherent and seems to understand that this was something that Hathor did to him."
"Given up on wanting to take you to the prom, huh?" Jack asked, his tone conveying a note of worry that defused any anger the actual words might have drawn.
"Mostly," Janet said softly, the look in her eyes momentarily distant. "Though he still seems to have a problem with it at times," she admitted after a beat. "Doctor McKenzie is treating him for the psychological damage ... but he won't be returning to active duty with the SGC by his own choice...." She fell silent for a long moment, pitying what had been done to the young airman despite everything. It hadn't been his choice to be turned into Hathor's slave.
"And yourself?" Teal'c questioned, speaking for the first time, his expression unfathomable as he watched her carefully.
"I'm a little shaken," she admitted, "but that seems fairly predictable. Wouldn't mind strangling Hathor," she added wryly, then quickly continued when no one laughed at the half-hearted joke, "but barring that opportunity, I'm primarily focused on dealing with the practical matters associated with this disease." She was well aware of every eye in the room watching her carefully. "But, just so you all know, I've had a complete psych exam and been cleared for active duty. I never had any of the psychotic side-effects and there's no sign of any programming by Hathor." She was aware of the almost palpable sigh of relief that moved through the room. "In view of the fact that Hathor seems to reserve most of her efforts for controlling men, I'm not too worried."
"Any chance this is related to the power Hathor had over the men when she took over the base?" Sam asked the obvious question since no one else had.
Every man in the room except Teal'c flinched, and suddenly found their notes of supreme interest. It wasn't exactly a subject they were comfortable with.
Janet took a deep breath, exhaling to release some of her own unease with being on the hot seat. "It was probably distributed the same way, but other than that, there doesn't seem to be any direct relationship. That was purely chemical as far as we can tell, whereas this is bacterial. Which is why that dissipated fairly quickly after she left and this held on. Indirectly, the fact that she has the ability to design either of these substances is..." she paused, hunting for the right way of saying it.
"Scary as hell?" Jack offered when the doctor still hadn't spoken after a long moment.
She couldn't argue with his description. It wasn't exactly technical, but it was definitely accurate. "Well, let's just say that comparing what we've seen with our ability to engineer weaponized chemical or biological agents is roughly analogous to comparing the ability to make a blunderbuss with the ability to build a nuclear missile."
To say the least, it wasn't a comforting sentiment.
"I want your full efforts directed toward creating a vaccine," Hammond said after a long moment. "Past that, I trust your judgment to have your team working in the right direction, but I want you to keep me updated."
She nodded. "Of course, sir."
The briefing continued, but in a more subdued fashion as the subject shifted to a discussion of ways of making certain the security data kept on file couldn't be misused in the future and improving response times during emergencies.
When it finally ended, Fraiser remained seated for a long moment, reorganizing the information she'd brought with her. It took her a moment to realize that several people had hung back and the most immediate of them -- Jack O'Neill -- was looming over her. She looked up at him. "You wanted something, sir?"
He shifted from foot to foot, then glanced over his shoulder at his teammates who sent a collective glare his way. "Yeah," he said at last, then looked fully at her, his tone sincere when he finally spoke. "Look, I acted like a jerk the other day ... y'know in the gym?"
She nodded and any hope he'd had that she might dismiss it as nothing evaporated quickly under the ironic look she cast his way.
"Right," he exhaled. "Well, I just wanted to apologize for behaving like an ass then." He glanced back again, apparently trying to decide if that was sufficient only to decide it wasn't. "And also for anything I said today that was less than entirely ... politically correct." He sighed, folding his arms across his chest, and didn't bother looking back at the others this time. "And while I'm at it," he added, his tone practical, "I should probably apologize for the next time I open my mouth, put my foot in, and shove hard ... because we both know I will."
She couldn't help but laugh at his mildly pathetic expression. "Apology accepted, sir," she assured him through a smile.
"Besides," he added thoughtfully, "it's not like you can't give as good as you get. That Spin the Bottle line you got in was pretty--" A three-way throat clearing from his teammates warned him he was treading on dangerous ground. The colonel rolled his eyes. "Sorry," he muttered.
"Don't worry about it," she murmured, surprised to find herself feeling just a little sorry for him. "No hard feelings. And while we're getting things out, thank you." Martinez had quietly told her about what had happened at the bar when they were going over test results the day before. Already well aware of the young medic's sexual orientation, she'd been worried he might have a serious problem on his hands, but he'd assured her that the colonel hadn't seemed to give a damn about that, just the information concerning any danger she and Carter might have been in. "Miguel told me about what happened at Mike's...."
His brows shot up in silent question, and she nodded ever so slightly in confirmation that she was aware of the secret he was keeping. "Thank you," she said softly, her tone such that he realized she wasn't just thanking him for what he'd done for her. "If you hadn't handled things the way you did, a lot of people could have been hurt."
He shrugged, the acidic wit nowhere in evidence for once. "Yeah, well, just trying to do the right thing ... don't spread it around, okay?" The wit made a brief return before he quietly added, "I hope you know how glad we all are that you're okay."
"Thank you, sir."
Then Jack looked back at his teammates as to say, 'So there.' He ran a hand over his short cropped hair. "Now, can we go for a beer?" The sarcasm firmly back in place, he looked far more comfortable.
"You guys go ahead," Sam said softly. "I think I'm just going to bag it tonight and get to bed early."
"Your loss," Jack said without a trace of sympathy as he headed out. To his mind, anyone who opted for a night in when their buddies were headed out for a beer deserved whatever they got.
Daniel paused for a brief moment in front of the doctor. "I just ... um ... sorry my whole part in all of ... that," he said quickly. "Glad you're okay too." She simply nodded and he fled as quickly as possible, still heaving a relieved sigh.
"We will arrange future defense training when you are again completely fit," Teal'c said with a formal duck of his head. "You performed adequately, but made many errors which we will concentrate on in the next session." He didn't wait for her acquiescence before he too hurried out.
Of course, Janet doubted she'd ever complain about self-defense sessions again. Hell, he could slam her into the mat face-down if he felt it was absolutely necessary.
Sam waited until the door had closed behind the last of her teammates, then hitched her hip against the edge of the table, arms loosely folded across her chest. "Thanks for not mentioning..." she trailed off, not finishing the sentence.
Janet shrugged and carefully closed the folder in front of her before looking up at her friend. "Since they're not involved in the research, I saw no reason to inform them that I wasn't the only one infected by Hathor's little love bug." The fact that Sam had been infected had given them enormous insight into how the disease worked, since she still had the pre-mutated strain. Without what they'd learned from her, the medical team wouldn't have been nearly as far along. "However, the research team is fully aware of the situation ... and I did have to inform General Hammond." she clarified quickly. "I can't guarantee the information will stay completely locked up."
Sam nodded. "I know," she admitted, barely resisting the urge to reach up and scratch a phantom itch at the back of her neck that had been periodically tormenting her since testing had revealed that Hathor had actually initially infected two victims with her bacterial time bomb. "If possible, I'd just rather avoid having the guys know ... not to mention being the butt of the latest jokes going around the base...." She trailed off with a flinch as the implication of the statement occurred to her.
The doctor's look was ironic. "Like I am?" she finished for Sam and blew overlong bangs out of her eyes, thinking she really needed to get a haircut. It was an idle distraction, but all she had and it didn't keep her busy for long, especially since Sam began babbling apologetically almost instantly.
"I didn't mean it that way, I just meant--"
"It's okay," Janet sighed philosophically. "Right now, the gossip factor just doesn't seem all that important when balanced against other things." She folded her hands together over her midsection and leaned back in the chair. "And, hey, look at the good side, I'm not getting any unwanted propositions these days." In fact, most of the men on base were cutting a wide berth around her, which had its good and bad sides. "And thankfully, you haven't kissed anyone lately, so we didn't have any more little problems to clean up." Another soft sigh, while Sam looked mildly depressed.
"Never thought my inability to manage a successful relationship could be such a positive," she murmured wryly.
"Or my clever plan would be such a negative," Janet drawled knowingly. She shook her head disgustedly, then looked up at Sam. "We're quite the pair...." Her tone didn't make it a compliment for either of them.
"Yeah," Carter muttered, drawing the single word out on an annoyed sigh. "So, any idea how long I'm gonna have to be on the antibiotics?"
"In a hurry to be back on the market?" the doctor questioned, the attempt at humor coming out sharper than she intended.
Blond brows rose. "No," Sam exhaled slowly, "they're making me nauseous."
Janet flinched. "Sorry," she apologized quickly. "Bad joke."
"You need to reset your default mode to respond to me instead of Colonel O'Neill," Sam pointed out gently.
"Yeah, dealing with his sense of humor has me a little on edge... and it's probably not helping that the hormone storms are still making me a little nuts," Janet had to admit. Hathor's last little prank on her life was wearing off, but it was taking its own sweet time about it.
"Really nasty, huh?"
Fraiser rolled her eyes. "Yeah. Sort of a combination of PMS and Spring Fever all rolled in one." Blond brows rose in silent question and Janet sighed softly. "I'd be tempted to pick up a sailor except I'm not sure whether I'd kill him or kill him." The dry spin she put on the words made the meaning obvious, though she was anything but serious.
Sam felt heat stain her cheeks and hoped the other woman hadn't noticed. "Sorry," she said with a sympathetic flinch.
Massaging her temples, Janet shrugged, then straightened her shoulders as she fought to put the professional mask back in place. "As for how long you'll be on the meds," she changed subjects in her best bedside manner voice, "we're just going to have to track it and see what happens. The good news is that they do seem to be working on Phillips remarkably quickly, so hopefully it won't be too long." She shrugged. "Past that, you have my sympathies. I'm on 'em too, and I can't say it thrills me...." She closed her eyes for a moment, leaning back in the chair.
"So, I gather you've been completely released on your own recognizance?" Sam questioned after a beat. She knew there'd been some discussion by Hawkins earlier of the doctor staying another night on base, though he'd been willing to let her move out of the infirmary to her own quarters. To say the least, there'd been some argument.
"Yep," Janet exhaled, a tired look entering her eyes. "One of the joys of being in charge," she said softly, but with an undercurrent of steel, fully expecting an argument from Sam, "is that you don't always have to listen to the more prudent voices."
Carter saw the determination in her friend's eyes and didn't even bother to try and dissuade her from going home. "Well, how about you listen to at least one," she suggested after a beat, "since we're all off for the rest of the day, why don't you let me drive you." She was a little worried about how Janet might react to returning to her house after what had happened, particularly with her emotions so clearly on edge.
"Actually," Janet said, offering a slightly wan smile, "I was going to ask you if you'd do just that. My car's not here and I'd just as soon not ask General Hammond for a driver." She just wasn't in the mood to be stuck in a car with someone she barely knew.
"It's a plan then." Sam jumped on it quickly. Janet tended to be so independent that she was half afraid she might change her mind. "If you can stand the company, I'll even spring for Chinese for dinner." That would give her excuse to stay until she was sure all was okay.
"If you're doing the driving, shouldn't I be the one paying for the food?"
Sam waved the implicit offer aside. "Consider it my way of saying thanks for your discretion." She was really grateful the doctor hadn't felt it was necessary to inform the rest of the team about her condition. That just wasn't a pleasant idea at all.
A wry smile curved full lips. "Well, I'm nothing if not discrete," the doctor drawled. It was a good thing too, considering how many secrets she knew. "Nor am I likely to turn down free food any time soon," she added with a grin. "So consider it a deal."
Sam glanced at her watch. "In which case, I need to pick up a couple of things in my office. How does your office in twenty sound?"
"Sounds perfect. That should give me just enough time to check on one or two things and then I'm good to go." With their plans set, they both hurried off to see to their respective duties before leaving for the day.
* * * * * * *
Fully expecting to find her home a mess in the aftermath of everything that had happened, Janet was more than a little surprised to find things eerily normal as she entered through the front door. She stuck her head in her bedroom, taking in the lack of expected havoc. Phillips' attack had ripped things up, and she knew full well that a bomb squad had been through to check for booby traps, then an evidence team had taken at least a full day collecting things for analysis. She glanced back at Sam, who offered a diffident shrug.
"I got a key from security," the blond said after a brief moment, then looked around. "I didn't figure you needed to come back to find things looking like ... well ... like a small hurricane had been through." She didn't go into detail about how thoroughly various teams from security and science had torn things up. They'd just been making sure it was safe again and it was a necessary part of the aftermath, but she hadn't wanted the other woman to have to go through dealing with the sense of having her home raided by yet another source.
A startled look slid over the doctor's features. She'd been avoiding thinking about what she'd find when she got home, knowing how the teams were likely to leave things. It had been one more demon she'd known she'd have to face, so she'd simply pushed it to the back of her mind.
"Look, if it's a problem--" Sam began when Janet still hadn't spoken after a long moment.
"No," the doctor said quickly, shaking her head to indicate it wasn't. She offered a small smile, incredibly touched by the gesture. "It's not ... you just caught me by surprise." Stepping into the livingroom, she glanced toward the door that opened onto the back porch, fully expecting to find it boarded up.
"I just went ahead and replaced it," Sam said when she realized where Janet was looking. "It should be more solid than your old one ... and I added a dead bolt."
Dark eyes swung back to land on the blond, their expression questioning.
"Kinda redid some of the security while I was here anyway," Sam explained, then nodded toward the alarm panel near the front door. "I upgraded your alarm system and wired the door from the garage into the kitchen into it when I had it replaced ... went with a solid core door with double dead bolts. No one's getting through there without permission ... plus I installed additional motion sensors ... and upgraded your garage door opener ... and tapped it into the rest of the security system...." She trailed off as she realized Janet was staring at her with a faintly wide-eyed expression, her mouth hanging a little lax. "I hope that was okay," she exhaled after a beat as it suddenly occurred to her that maybe she'd been as invasive as the various teams from the base, but she'd been determined to make certain she'd plugged any holes in the security system for the small house, and just gotten sort of carried away with the project. At least she'd resisted the urge to have all the windows barred.
A beat passed while Sam couldn't read Janet's expression and then she seemed to catch her breath. "I...yeah...." She shook her head a little dazedly. "I just ... I didn't expect...." She paused to take a breath and marshal her thoughts. "Thank you," she said at last, not knowing what else to say. That the other woman would take the time to see to everything to save her the trouble touched her more than she knew how to say.
"I cleaned things up in your bedroom too," Sam added, with another tiny shrug. Things had been strewn from one end of the room to the other by the time the various teams were finished clearing it and collecting evidence. After what had happened, even Sam had found herself feeling mildly disturbed by the sight. She didn't want to think about how her friend might react.
"I guess it was pretty bad, huh?" Janet reached up, massaging the back of her neck tiredly.
"Those are guys aren't the neatest types around," Sam said by way of confirmation.
"Yeah, the bomb squad probably got a few cheap thrills going through my underwear drawer," the doctor drawled, her tone sub-Saharan. She unlocked the newly installed deadbolt on the back door and stepped onto the porch, tipping her head back and inhaling the fresh air. After several days locked in the bowels of the mountain, it felt good to just breathe something that hadn't been refined and recirculated a dozen times already.
"It had to be done," Sam reminded her gently as she followed a few paces behind.
Unable to gauge the other woman's mood, Sam leaned up against one of support posts for the porch, watching her carefully in the waning light. "You okay?" she asked at last.
Janet turned back, a reassuring smile curving her lips as she nodded. "Yeah ... just a little...." She looked around herself and shrugged helplessly, not bothering to shield her feelings for once. She'd been keeping it all bottled up, determined not to let any weakness show as long as she was on base and forced to play the officer in charge. It wasn't that she was falling apart. Far from it, but Sam was one of the few people involved in the project with whom she felt safe to let the walls down. The blond waited silently, content to allow her friend to explain in her own time. "I guess it just all struck me as I stepped inside ... Hathor managed to breach the castle walls ... by proxy maybe, but she got in all the same."
Sam frowned ever so slightly. An Air Force brat, she'd grown up never having any one physical space for too long, so she'd learned to simply make one inside her head. At the same time, she'd understood enough to know that it was important to clean things up before Janet came home. "The walls..." she said at last, "...they're a lot stronger now." It was the only real comfort she had to offer.
Janet did a slow turn, folding her arms loosely across her chest as she nudged her shoulder up against another post and offered a watery smile of reassurance in response to the worry she saw in intelligent, blue eyes. She couldn't help but wonder if the other woman had any idea how much easier she'd made it for her to return and face her demons. Carter was a brilliant woman and being around her could be an utterly fascinating adventure, but hidden behind the genius there was also a damn nice human being. One who had a gentle streak a mile wide and a way of seeing through the walls Janet erected to protect herself in a way that never made her feel like her space was being invaded. More than that, Sam Carter was a genuine friend. Something Janet had to admit she'd been rather short of in recent years. Her career had become the driving force in her life and everything else had tended to fall by the wayside -- particularly anything akin to a personal life. She glanced toward her bedroom window, a shiver sliding down her spine as she remembered the moment when she'd realized Sam was standing in the doorway and she wasn't facing Phillips alone anymore. She'd never thought it was possible for one moment to contain so much relief and terror at the same time. Phillips had already been wound up about Sam, making strange insinuations and demanding answers to questions that made no sense, and she'd been terrified he'd simply open fire. At the same time she'd instinctively known Sam would find a way to make things right.
Trust. It was just that simple. Somewhere, somehow, Sam Carter had gotten around the barriers she normally kept between herself and the rest of the world, and she trusted her as she'd trusted no one since childhood. She'd known she wasn't going to die because Sam wouldn't let it happen ... which was probably putting an unfair burden on the other woman's shoulders, but that was simply how it was.
"Janet?" Sam said softly at last, her voice a gentle prompt. "You wanna talk about it?" She could see the thoughts moving behind soul-deep eyes that were a window to a complex soul, but there weren't enough clues to let her interpret them.
"It's nothing coherent," Fraiser admitted. Besides, she was in no hurry to discuss her feelings about Sam with Sam. That seemed far too confusing a subject at best. She'd never been one to delve too easily into her own thoughts and feelings ... and even less skilled at expressing them. And her friendship with Sam Carter had become unexpectedly complicated somewhere along the way. The notion of trying to put it -- or its importance -- into words was intimidating at best.
"Then do it in an incoherent way," Sam suggested, breaking in on her friend's silent musing.
Janet considered it for a long moment, shying away from any discussion that might touch on things she just wasn't up to thinking about. "I'm just glad everything turned out okay, I guess." She took a deep breath, struggling with the tangle of her own thoughts. She wondered if maybe the fever was back because it was suddenly hard to think clearly ... or maybe it was just that it was more feelings than thoughts that were involved and putting those in words had never been her specialty. "And I want you to know how grateful I am ... for this...." She made a tiny gesture to the door, and then the entire house. "And ... for everything." There simply weren't words and everything she tried to come up with to say seemed to fall so far short of the mark as to be an insult. "If you hadn't come back when you did...." She trailed off again, the words seeming too ugly to use now that things were quiet again.
The team probably wouldn't have made it in time, Sam filled in mentally, a shudder of sick horror sliding down her spine at the thought. Phillips would have--
She cut that thought off as her stomach knotted with tension, and ugly images painted themselves on her mind's eye despite her best efforts to stop them before they could start. She swallowed hard, forcing down the worst of the visceral response. Even knowing he was a victim of Hathor's machinations, there was a part of her that would have cheerfully beaten Phillips within an inch of his life. Which was a dark irony indeed, considering she'd once done something not so different ... she'd even had the same excuse of being out of her mind due to an alien disease. She looked up and caught a brief glimpse of the haunted look in Janet's eyes before she hid the fear away behind high emotional walls. Tension rippled through the blond as she found herself wondering if she'd ever missed a look of fear like that about herself. "Are you ever afraid of me?" she blurted before she could call the words back, suddenly uncertain she really wanted an answer.
Chocolate brown eyes widened with confusion. "Afraid? Why would you...." And then Sam saw understanding enter her friend's eyes. "No," she said at last and shook her head emphatically. "Never."
"But it's not so different," Sam whispered with an edge of fear. "I was one of the Touched, and he was infected by Hathor, but we both tried to ... to hurt you. Hell, maybe I'm the worse one because Phillips at least has the excuse of being driven nearly insane by Hathor."
Janet didn't speak for a long moment, thoughts rolling through her head in a disjointed tumble as she struggled to make heads or tails of it all. It had never occurred to her that Sam might bring that up now ... and she really wished she hadn't. There were superficial similarities, yes ... maybe even deeper ones ... but not when it came down to what mattered. "But you weren't really trying to hurt me," she sighed at last, not wanting to look too closely at any other differences.
"Do you know you're the best friend I've had since I was in my teens?" Janet blurted in a burst of honesty that surprised no one more than herself. She fell uncomfortably silent as blue eyes widened fractionally, then took a deep breath and began again, "Do you have any idea how much I trust you ... or how goddamned grateful I was when you showed up the other night? What happened when you were one of the Touched is nothing compared to that." She shook her head, needing to make Sam see what she'd known for months. She'd seen the flicker of guilt in the other woman's eyes at the oddest times, but they'd both avoided the issue, sticking to safe topics and ignoring the 500 ton elephant in the room. Time to look the elephant in the face and cut it down to size. "And even then, you weren't trying to hurt me ... just...." She didn't finish, just waved it aside. Well, it was time for one elephant, but maybe taking on two was a bit much. "Hell, it doesn't matter." She stared at Sam, her expression intent. "What does matter is that you are one of the few people I can trust ... and that even then ... even when you were as far from Samantha Carter as you are capable of being, I knew at some level that I was going to be okay...." She'd never put it in those words before -- even to herself -- but it was the truth. She'd been afraid of Sam in that cell, but when compared with the soul stealing terror she'd felt with Phillips, it wasn't the same animal at all. There had been nothing degrading in Sam's touch, just feral desire with no sense that she wanted to cause pain or humiliate ... and her regret at the pain she had unintentionally caused had been as real when she'd been an animal as it was now. "You just can't compare the two. There was a part of him that wanted to hurt me ... not just physically but at every level imaginable...." She looked up again and shook her head. "Believe me, you have never ... never ... made me feel like that."
Sam's mouth hung open for a moment, the flurry of words leaving her uncertain how to respond, but comforted more than she could have thought possible. "I'm glad," she rasped after a brief moment, her expression serious, "because I don't want you to ever be afraid of me." Her hands fisted tightly despite the peace her friend's hasty words offered, the realization of what had been done to her leaving her so angry she could have cheerfully killed something. That someone ... anyone ... had inflicted that kind of hurt on the other woman made her sick. Hathor might not have been there in person, but she'd managed the next best thing. And she'd done it with malice in her heart ... to punish Sam for her defiance. Hurting Janet hadn't been about taking over or controlling a populace, it had been about punishment and causing pain. She shivered as the sense of the Goa'uld's malevolent presence slid over her, making her feel as though the creature was there with them. "Are you sure you're going to be okay back here?" she whispered after a beat, suddenly fighting her own urge to flee.
The doctor offered a tiny shrug. "I suspect I'm going to have a few rough nights," she admitted the truth that she wouldn't have felt free to tell anyone else involved in the SGC.
"You can come stay at my place as long as you want if that will help," Carter offered instantly, hating the idea of the other woman alone in what now felt like a tainted space.
"No," Janet refused quietly, "but thank you."
"Then I can stay here," the blond said without missing a beat, more than willing to crash on the couch if it would help.
Fraiser took a deep breath. It was tempting -- so very tempting -- to just say yes and let someone else do the worrying for her. The other woman's presence had a way of calming her fears and making her feel safer than she sometimes thought she had a right to. But.... "No," she sighed after a long beat. She saw Sam's expression fall even as she felt a wall rise between them, and knew what she was thinking almost before the thought finished making its way through her cerebral cortex. Sam Carter had the most readable eyes she'd ever seen in her life. "It's not what you're thinking," she whispered, needing to soothe away the fear she saw in her friend's gaze. "It's my home, Sam, and I need to take it back ... for myself ... or she's always going to own it."
'She' was Hathor, Sam realized in a rush as she struggled to understand what felt like a rejection. She was still studying it from all angles when she realized the doctor had pushed away from her comfortable leaning post and stepped closer. Her head tipped back on her shoulders as her gaze rose, searching paler Sam's paler gaze.
"Listen to me, okay," Janet whispered, "I appreciate what you've done here more ... much more ... than I can say." She glanced back in through the open door, her profile silhouetted by the lights glowing inside the house. "I was dreading coming back here ... feeling like Hathor had violated my home ... and knowing it would feel like security had finished the job." She knew it was for her own safety, but she also knew how they went about things, and what doing a thorough job meant. She looked back at Sam. The sun had fallen completely out of sight, leaving the other woman's face cast in deep shadows, the sharp cut of her jaw and cheekbones made even starker by the thinning light. "It didn't feel like the walls had been breached. It felt like they'd been obliterated ... and then I walked through the door...." She didn't even think about it as she reached out and caught a fine-boned hand in her own, wrapping her fingers tightly around the warmth of Sam's palm. "...and found you'd rebuilt them...." She swallowed hard, the tightness in her throat making it hard to speak. "No one has done anything like that for me since I was a child...."
"I just want you to feel safe," Sam whispered hesitantly after a long moment.
"I know," Janet exhaled, rubbing her thumb lightly along a corded knuckle. "And believe me, it's tempting as hell to just let you take care of everything ... but I can't. This isn't like a fixing broken door or improving the security system. You can't fix this for me, Sam. If this is ever going to be my home again, I can't go ... and you can't stay...."
It went against every instinct, but Sam knew she was right. She sighed softly, wanting to argue, but knowing it would be pointless. "Does that mean you're retracting your dinner invitation?" she whispered after a long moment.
A gentle smile touched the doctor's mouth. "I dunno. Are you still paying?" she teased to lighten the moment.
"Whatever it takes," Sam said softly, her tone surprisingly serious as she searched her friend's face. She reached out with her free hand, gently brushing Janet's hair back from her cheek, flinching she saw the faint shadow of a bruise, visible even in the waning light. "Promise you'll call me if there's a problem ... or if it closes in on you. I know you need to do this ... but don't feel you can't call for help."
Janet nodded, a tiny core of emotional warmth flaring to life. She'd almost forgotten what it was like to know there was someone out there she could trust that much. "Thank you," she breathed, then straightened her shoulders. "I hope you know that if there's ever anything ... anything ... I can do for you ... that I don't consider friendship a one way street."
Sam smiled, her expression tender for a brief second before it melted into something more teasing. "Then you can pay for dinner," she joked lightly.
The doctor's answering laugh was ironic as she turned to step back inside. "Well, considering what you must have spent on the security upgrades, it seems like the least I can do. By the way, what do I owe you for that?"
"Well," Carter said a little hesitantly, "actually, there's a distinct possibility that the money sort of came out of a discretionary fund I have control over at the SGC." She offered a tiny shrug as Janet glanced back, her brows rising in disbelief.
"Are you telling me you embezzled the money to fix my house?" she asked just to clarify the point.
Sam shook her head decisively. "No," she said quickly, though her tone was just the tiniest bit defensive. "The money was for security matters related to my scientific research ... it was a security matter," she explained with impeccable logic, "and you're definitely related to my scientific research ... and besides," she added more practically, "your place got trashed because of the SGC. It only seemed right for them to pick up the bill to fix things up."
"Well, at least Levenworth is the last place Hathor will look for either of us the next time she's in town," Janet sighed, rolling her eyes as she heard Sam's soft laugh. They both knew perfectly well Hammond would look the other way over something that minor. Hell, all things considered, he'd probably have encouraged Sam to go for it if he'd known. She grabbed for the folded menu sitting near the phone, its worn state testifying to the heavy use it had received since she'd arrived in town. She glanced through the contents, barely seeing the print, since it was more or less committed to memory. "So, you want Chicken Curry or Shrimp LoMein?" Sam was amazingly reliable, though she occasionally threatened to live dangerously, which invariably meant Mongolian Beef. Even her dangerous streak was comfortably reliable.
Sam went with the live dangerously option and had the Mongolian beef, then spent the time while they waited for it to be delivered showing Janet how to work the upgrades to her alarm system and garage door. Two hours of relaxed chatter followed as they sat on the floor in the livingroom, the low coffee table serving as an impromptu dining table, stealing food back and forth as they argued about everything from politics to astrophysics, though Janet couldn't help but complain about the obvious mismatch on that one. At some point though, even the vagaries of eating with chopsticks could only stretch things out so long.
"I guess I'd better be going," Sam sighed at last as she found herself standing at the front door with no more excuses for staying any longer.
"Yeah," Janet agreed, her firm tone as much for her own sake as Sam's.
"You sure about this?" the blond questioned as she retrieved her coat from the rack and slipped it on.
"No, but it's what I need to do," Janet murmured, holding the front door open.
Carter nodded her understanding, thinking it was almost as hard for her as it undoubtedly was for her friend. "Okay, but you call me if you need me, okay?"
"I promise," Janet assured her.
"No being brave about it either," Sam said softly, and stepped back inside, stuffing her hands in her pockets as she leaned close enough to momentarily lose herself in infinitely deep eyes. "I know what it's like to be scared ... and you don't need to tough it out alone."
They were so close, Janet could see her own reflection in the expanded onyx of Sam's pupils. "I know," she breathed.
The backfire shattered the air like a rifle shot, and Sam spun, blocking Janet behind herself and bracing for an attack that didn't come. It took her a moment to realize it was just a rattletrap Dodge edging down the narrow street, its multi-hued paint job in the colors of grey dope and wrecking yard reject parts, marking it as some teenager's fixer-upper. She tensed as a hand landed on her shoulder, then relaxed fractionally as she recognized its owner.
"Relax, it's just McCudahay's kid. He lives four doors down."
Sam tracked the coughing vehicle till it turned into a driveway and disappeared. "Not much of a mechanic," she said at last.
"No, and he does a lousy job whenever he talks me into paying him to cut my grass too," Janet said idly, babbling about nothing in general because they both needed a moment to catch their breath. She leaned her forehead against Sam's upper back as she worked her hand against her shoulder, feeling taut muscles relax. And then it struck her.... The similarity of response to another time when Sam had spun like that and stood braced between herself and an intruder. "My God," she whispered as she reran the past in her head, seeing it for what it was this time. She'd seen Sam adopt that pose so many times -- part trained response, part instinct to protect those she cared for -- that it was a wonder it hadn't struck her before. The only excuse was she'd always been too busy during those times to think about it much.
"What?" Sam demanded worriedly as she looked back, afraid something was wrong after all.
Janet looked up, meeting Sam's gaze over the slope of her shoulder. "You were protecting me," she whispered as the truth sank in and everything suddenly made sense.
Blond brows rose. "Well, it sounded kind of like a gun shot," Carter murmured a little embarrassedly. "Okay, so not a big caliber gun shot, but it could have been something small like a thirty-two or a--"
"No, not now," Janet said, interrupting the thought. She shook her head as it all fell into place in her head. Instinct. It all came down to instincts at some point. And Sam's were to protect the people in her life. "Before ... you were protecting me," she repeated, shaking her head in amazement at the obvious truth.
Sam did a slow pivot, staring at Janet oddly as she tried to understand what she was talking about with so few cues to go on. "Janet, what are you talking about?"
A hint of dazed smile touched the doctor's mouth. "When you were one of the Touched--"
Dark blond brows rose doubtfully. "I was anything but protective at that point," Sam muttered disgustedly, uncertain what that had to do with anything.
"You're wrong," Janet disagreed quietly. She looked up at Sam, suddenly understanding why she hadn't been all that afraid, even then. "When you realized I was hurt, you froze ... then reached out to me...." She trailed off, the scene replaying in her head, the memory confirming what she was suddenly utterly certain of. "But when the attendants returned ... you spun, braced to fight--"
"Right," Sam exhaled. "A cornered animal ready for a fight." Her teeth gritted at the thought of how she'd behaved.
"No ... you were braced like you were just now ... like you always do when you're in protective mode. You were an animal," she confirmed, remembering the feral creature Carter had turned into. "But you weren't an animal blindly attacking ... you were an animal protecting her territory."
Sam shrugged, not understanding why it seemed so important to the other woman. "I guess I'd decided the cell was--"
"Not the cell," Janet whispered, though she almost let it slide, suddenly unaccountably uncomfortable with her discovery. "That's what you do whenever you're protecting a person."
Sam drew breath to speak, only to have the words dry up unsaid. She couldn't help but remember the dream and the sense she'd had in it of laying claim to her ... her mate. The thought hiccupped in her brain even as sensory memory slid to the fore, reminding her of the sense of pleasure and possession she'd felt when holding the other woman close ... and the desire to keep and protect what was hers she'd felt when the attendants had entered. She suddenly realized her mouth was hanging open and snapped it shut. She didn't know what to say, uncertain whether to be incredibly relieved or profoundly uncomfortable.
"You asked before if I'm ever afraid of you," Janet said, leaving Sam in the frying pan but saving her from the fire at least. "I don't think you quite believed me when I said no...." She paused for a long moment, gnawing thoughtfully on her lower lip as she tried to find the right words. "And I know it's worried you," she admitted. "I've seen it in your eyes sometimes ... but, Sam, even then you were trying to protect me in your way ... you just had a slightly skewed version of what a threat was at that point."
Sam was silent for another long moment, her heart pounding in her chest, a confusing array of emotions leaving her very uncertain how to respond. "I've just didn't want you to ... to think I would ever do something like that...." she whispered at last.
"I know," Janet assured her, "but it's time to let it go and forgive yourself ... even at your worst, there was a part of you trying to do the right thing ... you just didn't know what it was."
A beat passed while Sam absorbed the softly spoken words. "I never want you to be afraid of me," she said at last. "And the thought that you might be has scared the hell out of me."
"I'm not ... and I wasn't for more than a few seconds ... and since then ... well," she looked away for a moment. "Since then, I've learned who you are ... and who you are is nothing like Hathor," she added meaningfully, purposely blowing any comparison out of the water. "Who you are is possibly the truest friend I've ever had."
Sam was silent for a long moment. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I feel the same way," she said at last. "That's why it's bothered me so much ... what I did...."
Janet shook her head. "A disease drove you to behave against your nature ... but even then, there was a basic core of who you are ... the need you have to take care of people. That drive was the only thing that happened in that cell that was a part of the real Sam Carter." She searched pale blue eyes, trying to see if Sam believed her. "A woman whose friendship I am incredibly grateful for."
Staring at her boots intently, Sam felt a blush crawl over her cheekbones. "Thank you," she whispered after a beat. Then, with nothing else to say, she quietly asked, "Are you absolutely sure you want to be alone tonight?"
"No," Janet admitted, "but I need to do it anyway."
"Okay," Sam exhaled, her eyes shadowed. She didn't want to leave and felt guilty for even considering it even though it was what her friend wanted.
"Go on," Janet said softly. "I'll be okay."
"All right," Sam whispered, turning and walking toward her car, her steps slow and hesitant. She paused on the walk to look back. "Go ahead and lock up," she called out, needing to know for certain Janet was safe before she left. The doctor nodded after a beat and pushed the door closed. Sam could just see her shadowed figure in the smoked glass window beside the door as she armed the alarms. She waited until she saw the faint red glow that indicated it was working, then hurried toward her car.
Janet leaned against her front door, wondering if maybe she'd said too much with what she'd told Sam, but after her questions earlier in the evening and guilt she'd glimpsed a time or two over the previous months it had seemed important. She turned away with a soft sigh, wandering through the house and reacquainting herself with her own space, concentrating on driving Hathor's presence out. It was her place and that witch might have gotten through, but she wouldn't make the grade a second time. A hint of a smile touched her mouth as she entered the kitchen and saw the new door blockading the entrance to the garage. Heavily reinforced and locked and chained, no one was going through it easily. The wood was cool under her touch, its solidity a tactile reminder of her friend's caring. Incredibly enough, she'd managed to turn something that should have been a reminder of pain and fear into a symbol of comfort and safety. She really had rebuilt the walls, Janet thought with a fond smile. Finally, she ambled back through the living room, a faint hint of Sam's perfume teasing her senses as she passed through. Half expecting a moment of sick terror as she re-entered her bedroom alone for the first time, she was braced for a moment of panic that never came. Everything was back where it belonged, the damage and blood spatter on the walls and floor cleaned up so thoroughly they might never have happened, her things clean, clothes where they belonged, the soft scent of laundry soap heralding freshly washed sheets.
Any evidence of the invasion by Phillips on behalf of his mistress had been removed.
The only change was an incredibly subtle tint of perfume still hanging in the air and clinging to the sheets. It was like a ward against the fear and a steadying comfort as she slipped into a nightshirt and climbed into bed.
She was in her home ... and the barbarians had been thrown out and locked out. Rolling onto her side, she snuggled into the freshly washed comforter, doing her best to simply not think. Hathor was banished, Phillips locked up, and she had her home back.
And she had someone she trusted guarding her back. Someone who'd proven that even at her worst, she was driven to protect those she cared for.
And if there was a tiny flicker of danger to that realization, not to mention a tiny part of her that wondered if that desire to protect had truly been the only remaining element of the real Sam Carter in that cell that day ... well, she ignored those whispers and questions, cataloguing them under 'Unimportant' in her mental file system. She might worry about them another day, but they could wait.
And then, feeling amazingly safe and sound, she slid off to sleep.
Stomach fluttering nervously, she became aware that she could hear the soft growls and muted snarls of something in the darkness, the sense of threat implicit in the sound, inescapable and intense. But at the same time she knew somehow it wasn't directed at her ... would never be directed at her. Even knowing that, it was hard not to be a little afraid of the wildness she sensed stalking her.
Then a hand slipped around her waist from behind and warm breath ruffled the hair that fell over her ear. "You're safe now." The voice was low and familiar, soothing her fears even as the hand that spread against her stomach caused an all new set of nervous flutters.
Lips teased the curve of her throat and she felt the press of warm curves against her back as a second hand played at her waist. At some level, she knew she should pull away, but the reasons just didn't seem to make any sense. "You were never in any real danger, you know. She couldn't hurt you any more than I could."
Janet's breath caught, the growls still in her ears as she leaned back against the phantom lover holding her from behind. She reached up and back, fingers slipping into thick, short hair that she instinctively knew was colored in shades of honey and cornsilk. "I know ... I think I always knew that."
The soft snarls drew closer and a lean figure, tall, blond, and incredibly beautiful, her eyes intense and feral stepped out of the darkness, moving gracefully, her strides loose and confident. Janet tensed but her unseen lover stroked her gently, soothing her fears as the creature stepped closer, putting them nearly toe to toe. She expected roughness from the mouth that came down, but the lips that brushed hers were as tender as they were demanding, drawing a tiny whimper of need and want as they tasted and teased. Hands found the curve of her breasts and stroked, then shakily wrenched buttons loose, not caring when the fabric ripped and tore. She had no sense of the two lovers becoming one, just the knowledge that the speaker and the feral lover were one and the same as she sank down in strong arms, losing herself in the raw sensuality of their lovemaking.
Lips and tongues meshed, fingers touched, bare flesh moving against bare flesh as bodies twined together in the darkness. And as the moment came, her head snapped back on her shoulders, fingers clawing into silky hair, a soft cry of total surrender torn from her throat. "Sam."
Janet Fraiser awoke with a gasp, jacknifing up on one hand, her heart racing, skin damp with sweat. It took a moment for the erotic reality of the dream to slip away, then she flopped back into her mattress, drawing a pillow over her head with a tiny whimper of annoyance.