Janet Fraiser sat on a convenient rock, her shoes and socks folded together a short distance away, her bare toes dangling in clear water, while she leaned over, watching as tiny fish, none more than an inch long, played around her feet.
Seated behind her, her legs splayed on either side of Janet's hips, knees upthrust, boots braced against the rock well short of the water's edge, Sam peered over her lover's shoulder, watching as several of the tiny algae eaters decided her toes were rocks and mouthed them delicately, hunting for their next meal. "What does that feel like?" she asked, pointing at a particularly large one with its mouth pressed against Janet's big toe.
The doctor canted her head to one side, also watching the tiny fish closely. "Kinda tickles."
"Sounds like fun." Sam nuzzled her ear gently, whispering, "I just asked because it's the first time in my life I ever envied a fish."
Janet leaned to one side enough to peer up and sideways at Sam, one eyebrow climbing high on her forehead. "I think I know why your pickup lines have bombed so badly in the past," she deadpanned.
Sam laughed. "Nah, I just wasn't trying that hard." She wrapped her arms loosely around Janet's upper torso, resting her chin lightly on her shoulder. "Y'see, there was this cute little doctor who'd already caught my eye."
Janet leaned into her loose hold, resting her head against Sam's shoulder. "Ah, so that's your story."
"And I'm sticking to it."
Janet hooked her hands loosely on Sam's forearms where they were braced across her shoulders, then closed her eyes, sighing contentedly. "This is nice...peaceful.... We ought to bring a picnic up here tomorrow...just spend the day relaxing."
Sam ruffled Janet's hair with a gentle hand, watching the way sunlight played across the dark auburn strands, burnishing them to a fiery copper. "I like that idea." The silky curve of Janet's neck drew her lips like a magnet, and she pressed tiny kisses to that warm pulse point, tasting the salty sweetness of her skin.
Her pose relaxed, Janet enjoyed the gentle attention for several minutes, pleasantly aware of the low grade arousal burning through her. "Do you think they'll find anything?" she questioned as it occurred to her that SG-1 had had several hours to research the information she'd given General Hammond.
Sam's answer was hesitantly given. "I don't know.... I guess it depends on what there is to find." She sighed softly. "But if there is something, I'm sure SG-1'll come up with it. When Colonel O'Neill gets a bug up his--that is ... a bee in his bonnet--he can be very determined."
"Yes, he can." Janet fell silent again, lost in her own thoughts. She tipped her head back against Sam's shoulder, leaning deeper into the warmth of her body and folding her legs underneath herself as the sun continued its journey across the sky high overhead. "I think I could just stay here forever," she sighed happily.
Sam rested her chin on Janet's shoulder. "Ready to go all Thoreau on me, huh?" she teased lightly.
"Something like that." Janet snuggled deeper into Sam's hold. "Or maybe I just like the company."
"I like that," Sam whispered, her breath ruffling Janet's hair. She lifted the hand resting across her lover's chest to tenderly guide her head around until their eyes met. "I have to admit, I kind of like it myself," she said softly before tasting soft lips. They kissed sweetly, trading caresses back and forth, and generally necking like a couple of teenagers, confident they were the only people left in the world.
* * * * * *
"Jack," Daniel Jackson said uneasily as he watched his friend fiddle with the lock on the door to Colonel Samuels' temporary quarters, "I'm really not sure this is such a good idea."
O'Neill glanced over his shoulder at the younger man, still manipulating the delicate metal pick protruding from the doorknob. "I know, Daniel," he said in a tone that indicated they'd already had this conversation. "But there wasn't enough evidence on the tapes...and once we make a formal move, there won't be any way to back away from it. I just want to see if there's anything in his quarters that will push things one way or the other."
"It's breaking and entering," Daniel reminded him, trying to decide if he was hoping that Jack would just hurry up and finish picking the lock, or fail altogether. He looked around nervously, hoping no one happened by while they were trying to get in.
"Nah, it's just having a friendly little look," Jack disagreed with grim good cheer, then turned his attention back to the lock, cursing softly when his hands slipped and he skimmed his knuckles.
"Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c broke in, stepping past Daniel and reaching for the doorknob. "If you will allow me...."
"Sure," O'Neill murmured, yanking his hands back and expecting to see Teal'c pull some kind of trick out of his hat.
Instead the Jaffa leaned in, pressed his shoulder against the door and gave one solid shove. The door opened with a creak of wood giving way.
"I could've done that," Jack complained as he stepped past Teal'c and inside.
Sighing softly, Daniel shoved Teal'c inside behind the colonel, then hurried in himself, yanking the door shut in their wake. "All right, so what are we looking for?"
"I don't know," O'Neill admitted, "but I'll know it when I see it."
Careful not to disturb things too much, the three men began checking through the room. Daniel made a beeline straight for the laptop sitting on the desk, flipping the top open as he realized it was still running, though power-saver mode had darkened the screen. "Um...Jack..." he said after a beat, "I think you'd better have a look at this."
"What is it?" the colonel questioned as he moved to stare at the screen over Daniel's shoulder.
"It looks like Samuels has some kind of link into the base's security cameras," Daniel explained, punching a key to change to another view."
O'Neill frowned darkly. "What the hell? How?"
Jackson shrugged. "If you could get a tap into place, it's really not that difficult. Looks like the signal's just running over the phone lines."
"And with his clearance, getting a tap in place would be easy." Jack snarled a disgusted curse.
"Yeah...it gets worse," Daniel murmured as he returned the image to its previous camera angle. "Recognize that view?"
Jack frowned, staring at the grainy image for a long moment before comprehension dawned. "Shit...that's the tape archive."
"That's right...what if he was watching when we were there? He would have heard us...he could have found out what Fraiser told the general."
"Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c interrupted before Jack had a chance to say anything and thrust a piece of scratchpaper into his line of view. "This was next to the telephone."
O'Neill frowned, reading the jotted notes twice before their meaning sank in. He straightened, paling several shades. "Crap...he knows." He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair. "The son-of-a-bitch knows."
"Jack?" Daniel questioned.
Jack handed the paper over. "It's directions to Rosenberg's place in the mountains."
The younger man stiffened. "But that's where Sam and Janet are."
"That's right," Jack agreed grimly, reaching inside his jacket for his cell phone. "Which is why he went there."
"God only knows how long ago he left," Daniel exhaled, feeling ill.
O'Neill was already dialing, his tone sharp as he navigated his way through the switchboard. When he finally got through to Hammond, he explained the situation in staccato syllables. Later, there would be hell to pay for breaking into Samuels' quarters, but right at that moment, Hammond was all business as he listened to the colonel's explanation.
While the two men discussed the situation, Teal'c continued studying the room, frowning as he suddenly noted a dull stain near his foot on the dark, mottled carpet. Crouching down, the Jaffa touched his fingers to it, then used a nail to scrape off some of the drying material.
"All right," O'Neill clipped as he hung up the phone. "He's sending a chopper to meet us at the landing pad here. It'll have our equipment and night scopes...they'll drop us as close to cabin as they can."
Daniel looked surprised. "Wh-what...has anyone called the sheriff's department out there?"
Jack shook his head. "If we send in some local yokel sheriff, he's as likely to get himself killed as anything." He flashed a hard gaze Daniel's way. "And for all we know, Samuels isn't even working alone."
"But there might be someone who can get there faster than we can."
"Or stumble into the middle of something and get them killed. They're pros, Daniel. They'll play it smart. Their best shot is if we get there fast." He glanced at his watch. "The chopper's supposed to meet us on the landing pad in ten minutes. Hammond thinks it must be about a thirty minute trip out there at best speed."
Teal'c rose gracefully. "I do not mean to interrupt, Colonel O'Neill, but I believe this stain on the carpet to be blood."
A muscle pulsed in O'Neill's jaw. "You sure?"
"Quite. I believe it was shed within the last hour. It is not fully dry yet."
"That's not good," Daniel exhaled.
"Hammond was sending somebody over to secure these premises. We're going to have to leave it for them to deal with." He didn't like leaving the problem as it was, but the safety of his fellow team members was more important.
Daniel nodded toward the laptop. "Samuels didn't have the technical expertise to set up something like that."
"Yeah. It's probably the poor bastard he got to do his dirty work," Jack agreed as he ushered the others out the door. "But since there's no one in that apartment, there's nothing we can do for him here. If he's already dead, Samuels will dump the body somewhere, and if he's not, he's probably in the trunk of the guy's car somewhere. The best thing we can do is move out."
"I concur," Teal'c said softly.
Jackson looked uncomfortable, but finally nodded. "Yeah," he agreed after a beat, following the others out.
* * * * * *
"We should probably be getting back," Sam exhaled, her breath playing over Janet's cheek. Around them, the world was fast growing dark, the sky overhead sliding from gold to amber to a deep purple that would soon give way to velvet black. And with night advancing, the temperature was rapidly dropping. A few more minutes and their light jackets wouldn't even come close to warding off the chill, no matter how close they cuddled. Already Sam could feel the cold breeze rustling against her back, and she was sure that Janet could feel a frost slipping up from the granite slab where they were lying.
"I guess it is about time," the doctor sighed regretfully, resting her head back on cold grey stone as she stared up at Sam, a tender expression lighting her features. She couldn't hold back a grin. "But this was fun."
Sam laughed softly, pushing up to sit back on her knees. "Been a few years since I spent an afternoon making out--"
Janet pushed forward on her hands, pressing a quick kiss onto Sam's mouth. "Don't worry. I never would have guessed you were out of practice."
Sam trailed a finger down the tip of Janet's nose. "Well, with you around, I have a funny feeling I won't be for long." A chill breeze blew through, toying with her hair and lifting the ends of her jacket until Sam shivered gently. Without the warmth of their bodies pressed together, it was even colder than she'd realized. "The cabin," she said through a tiny shiver.
"Toss me my shoes and socks and it's a deal."
Janet was just tying her shoelaces when Sam suddenly tipped her head back on her shoulders, peering skyward.
"Did you hear that?"
Janet frowned, listening for a moment. "Sounds like a helicopter. It's probably a fire-spotter. They do a lot of patrolling this time of year."
Sam was still watching the darkening sky, her arms wrapped loosely around her torso for warmth. "Yeah...probably," she agreed, then looked back down at Janet, shaking off the brief frisson of uneasiness that crept down her spine. "So, you about ready for the hike back?"
Janet reached up to meet the proffered hand, letting Sam tug her to her feet. "As I'll ever be," she said, dusting off her jeans. Their hands still linked, they turned in the direction of the cabin, Sam a step or two ahead and tugging ever so slightly. "Lead on McDuff," Janet said as they started toward their temporary home.
* * * * * *
Stable on his feet now, Jack O'Neill unclipped himself from the drop-line, then checked to make sure that both Teal'c and Daniel had also freed themselves from their lines. "We're clear. Take the cables back up," he spoke just loud enough to be heard into the microphone hanging in front of his mouth.
Well above the thick forest cover, an Iroquois light transport helicopter lifted a little higher as heavy cables were drawn back up into the passenger cabin. With no clearings anywhere close to the target zone, they had finally simply dropped the three men, lowering them to the forest floor on winched cables.
"Do you want us to stay and keep an eye out, sir?" the helicopter captain questioned over the wireless link.
"No," Jack answered instantly. "Clear out. If he sees you, he'll know something's up."
"We'll remain within radio range, sir, but we'll clear the immediate area. General Hammond said to tell you that a backup team should be here by ground within the hour. Good luck and be careful."
"You too," Jack responded, eyes lifting as the helicopter rose, then banked and headed East. He swung his head back around, making eye contact with the two men waiting a few feet away. The chopper had come in low enough for them to get the basic lay of the land, and it was still light enough to see without the night-vision goggles they all wore perched on top of their heads, but it wouldn't be much longer.
"Okay," Jack began, his mind already racing. They had come in over the cabin, low enough to make out Fraiser's car parked in front and there had been no sign of anyone else or any trouble, but they didn't dare take chances. "Teal'c, you head for the road. Make sure no one surprises us."
"It will be done," the Jaffa assured him seriously.
"Daniel, you're with me. And remember, the first priority is Carter and Fraiser's lives. Anything else is secondary."
Teal'c inclined his head respectfully. "Understood, Colonel. No one shall get past me to do them harm."
"I know, Teal'c," the colonel said, then nodded westward. "Now, let's go."
Teal'c split off from the other two men after about a hundred yards, heading toward the dirt road that led to the cabin at a dogtrot.
Daniel didn't even try to talk as he jogged alongside O'Neill, instead concentrating on the terrain around them. The last thing he needed to do was stumble in a chuckhole and break an ankle.
"There it is," Jack hissed as they saw the dim outline of the cabin set against the darkening forest. There were no lights in the windows and no smoke coming from the chimney. "Damn," he exhaled, his voice thick with the fear that they had arrived too late. As they neared the edge of the woods, still under cover, but where they could see the front of the cabin, he stuck out an arm, pulling Daniel up short. Jack swung his field rifle off his shoulder, automatically checking the safety, and setting it to semi-auto mode. "Stay here and cover me. I'm going to--"
Before he could finish, Teal'c's voice came over their earpieces. "Colonel O'Neill, I have reached the road and there is a car parked just off the road, but well out of sight of the cabin. There is someone inside and it appears to be Colonel Samuels. Do you wish me to take action?"
Jack and Daniel shared a look. "What's he doing, Teal'c?"
"I cannot see well enough to tell."
"Are you sure it's him?"
"I am quite certain, O'Neill."
"All right then, I'll--"
A sudden high-pitched squeal brought Jack's head up, and he dropped to one knee, lifting his weapon to his shoulder in a shooter's stance.
"Dammit, Sam!" Janet Fraiser's voice rang across the night, even as a slender blond figure broke from the forest at a full run, a second smaller figure only a few paces behind her. Fraiser was running just as hard as Carter.
O'Neill's finger tightened on the trigger as he waited to see what might be pursuing his teammates.
"Give it back!" Fraiser shouted, and Jack suddenly realized she was laughing and backed his finger off from the trigger.
"O'Neill, do you wish me to take action?" Teal'c repeated the question.
Laughing, Sam vaulted the low railing around the edge of the porch to land lightly. "Nope, I stole it fair and square."
"No, Teal'c. If he tries to get out of the car take him down, but otherwise just hold tight." As long as they knew where Samuels was, there was time to get Carter and Fraiser out of there, then deal with the colonel, preferably in a way that thoroughly incriminated the SOB.
Unable to copy the taller woman's easy leap over the railing, Janet added the extra strides required to hit the stairs, leaping onto the porch in one bound.
Jack started to rise, intending to shout to the women as he stepped forward, while Sam played keep-away with Fraiser, holding something well over her head when the brunette tried to grab for it. They tussled momentarily and it occurred to him that it looked like the time away from the base had been good for both of them. They were playing like kids.
And then Fraiser hooked a hand around the back of Carter's neck, dragging her head down into a tonsil-checking kiss that brought O'Neill up short.
Jack froze, waiting for Sam to push Fraiser back, waiting for Fraiser to grab whatever the hell it was Carter had stolen and laugh over outwitting her so thoroughly, waiting for something that might explain what the hell he was seeing.
Almost anything would have done.
"Oh...my..." Daniel exhaled next to him.
Sam's arm fell, but it wasn't to push Janet back. Instead, she wrapped it around the smaller woman's waist, leaning into her body as she pressed her up against one of the heavy, carved porch lintels.
"Jack?" That was Daniel again, sounding uncertain and slightly panicked.
Probably thinks I'm going to storm up there and tell 'em both they're out of the SGC, Jack mused distantly, strangely impressed that he was still capable of coherent thought. And the worst part was there was a part of him--the old line Air Force officer part--that wanted to, warring with the parts of his nature that were Carter's friend, Fraiser's colleague, the practical unit commander who knew the SGC needed both women in its ranks, and the man whose feelings for one of his officers were not entirely within the boundaries set by Air Force regulations.
No wonder then, that he couldn't seem to move as he watched the two women lose themselves in each other, kissing and caressing with the comfort of lovers totally at ease. Blindsided out of left field, he could only stand and stare. He'd always just assumed he'd wind up with Sam at some point when the time was right. After all, they'd been together in the two alternate universes they'd encountered so far. He'd just figured that whenever he was feeling ready, it would happen in this one.
"Colonel O'Neill?" And that was Teal'c, yanking him back to the present situation.
"Not now, Teal'c," Daniel answered for him and Jack found himself perversely grateful to the younger man. He wasn't sure what the hell he was feeling, but he was damn sure that he didn't want Carter or Fraiser to realize what he'd seen.
"Jack," Daniel kept his voice low and soothing.
O'Neill held up a hand. "Teal'c has Samuels under observation. They're safe enough for the moment...and I don't know about you, but I'm really not in a hurry to...ah...interrupt...at the moment."
Daniel rested a hand lightly on the older man's shoulder. "Jack, this can't be easy for you--"
"Drop it, Daniel," Jack snapped, shrugging away from the offer of comfort.
He was still standing there wondering if Fraiser and Carter were planning on coming up for air sometime during the current year when the sharp crack of rifle fire echoed across the night.
In an instant, both women went down and for a single, horrified moment, Jack thought one or both of them had been hit, then he realized Sam was crouched and shielding Janet. She grabbed a heavy table that sat on the porch, upending it and dragging it into place to use as a shield as another shot hit the thick lintel just above their heads and sent wood chips and splinters flying. Snapping the night vision goggles down over his eyes, he hunted for some sign of the shooter amid the trees, even as he shouted at Teal'c. "Teal'c, we've got gunfire--"
"I heard, Colonel." Jack could hear the sounds of movement on the other end of the connection. "Samuels has not moved..." More sounds of movement as well as what sounded like static. "He is tied to the steering wheel and unconscious or dead."
"Shit," Jack exhaled, "We need you here, Teal'c...now." The game had just changed because he had no goddamned idea who they were hunting.
* * * * * *
"Janet?" Sam gasped as she swung the table into place between them and their invisible assailant.
"I'm okay," she gasped, ducking her head as more wood chips rained down on their heads. "But we can't stay here."
Sam looked up, mentally calculating possible exit strategies. The door was clearly in the line of fire and unlocking it would take too much time--anyone who tried would be cut to pieces--and it was heavy wood with a good brass lock, so trying to smash through it quickly was iffy at best. That really only left one option and Janet seemed to realize it at the same time as Sam.
"The window," the brunette exhaled.
Only a few feet away, a broad picture window looked out over the clearing. Just on the other side sat a futon style couch the would cushion their fall as they went through.
Sam hooked a hand under Janet's elbow as a bullet tore through their flimsy cover, just barely missing her side. "The window," she confirmed. "Go!" she urged, pushing Janet ahead of her, so she was between the shooter and her lover's back. Janet flashed her a brief look of horror, but she didn't pause to argue, just launched herself forward, throwing her arms in front of her face as she hit the glass.
Only a step behind Janet, Sam closed her eyes tightly as the window shattered in front of her, sending knives of broken glass flying. They tumbled over the window ledge together, dropping amid falling shards to land hard on the couch, glass crunching under their combined weights.
"Out the back," Sam growled as she rolled off Janet and hit the floor.
No time to think about anything but escape as more shots were fired.
"You're bleeding," Fraiser hissed and Sam looked down to note crimson streamers running down one hand.
"It's just a nick from the glass," she said, hoping it was true. "You've got a few of your own."
Janet hit the floor on her feet, instinctively keeping her head down. Sam grabbed her arm, pushing her toward the bedroom. "Get out the back window!" she ordered, pausing just long enough to grab a heavy fireplace poker that might make a decent weapon before hurrying after her. She heard the crash of glass just as she entered the rear bedroom and saw Janet smash out the glass and screen with the heavy chair that had sat in one corner. "Go!" Sam snapped when her lover paused, looking back for her.
Janet vaulted out through the window, dropping several feet to the ground below, where the cabin was slightly cantilevered. Sam dropped down beside her a second later and grabbed her hand. "We've got to get out of here."
* * * * * *
Jack O'Neill stood perfectly still, his gun trained on the area the shots were coming from, his total focus on the images playing out before his eyes in a dull green haze. The shooter was somewhere in that image and for all of the fact that he wanted to be moving and attacking, his best shot for helping Sam and Janet lay in taking out their assailant with one shot. He'd sent Daniel headed for the back of the house the instant he realized what Sam had in mind. So now he waited, willing the shooter to break from his cover to pursue the women.
One good shot and it would all be over.
Then he spotted something moving amid the trees and tightened his finger fractionally on the trigger, blinking at the sweat stinging his eyes. "Damn," he hissed, unable to get off a shot that even might hit before the figure disappeared into the thick trees again. "Daniel, heads up. You've got company coming."
And then the shooter broke from the forest only a few yards from the back of the house, a heavy sniper rifle gripped in his hands.
One good shot.
Jack centered the sight on his body and squeezed the trigger. His shoulder absorbed the slight kick as the weapon fired. The shadowy figure on his night vision scope faltered, arms pinwheeling momentarily as he fell forward.
O'Neill pushed upright, tipping his weapon up several degrees, a hint of a smile touching his mouth.
One good shot.
He was so convinced he'd made the grade that it took him a beat to realize the shooter didn't collapse, just dropped to one knee, pivoting toward him as he raised the sniper rifle to his shoulder. O'Neill lifted his weapon to fire again, but not before he heard the sharp percussive impact of fire aimed straight at him.
* * * * * *
Hearing shots coming from a new direction, Sam tackled Janet into a covered position against a nearby tree, using her body as a shield as she hunted for this newest attacker. She was in battle-mode now, her breathing controlled, senses at optimum, completely alert to her surroundings.
Carter held a finger to her lips, signaling for total silence as she strained to hear anything that might be moving through the thick forest undergrowth. They were at least fifty yards from the cabin, and standing at the top of a fairly steep ridge that curved around the clearing in a semi-circle. She had hoped to draw their attacker after them, then sneak back around and get to Janet's car, but if there were two shooters, that plan was out. Too much chance that one would continue covering the front of the house while his partner hunted them down--she gnawed on her lower lip--which meant they were trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea.
Time for another plan.
"Okay, it's what, maybe a half mile back to the main road?" she panted almost inaudibly.
Janet nodded. "Maybe a little less."
Sam touched her lover's cheek softly, wishing she had time to say all the things running through her mind. "We make for the road...and whatever happens, you don't stop. Do you hear me?"
"Promise me," Carter whispered intently.
Something creaked nearby and both women froze, pressing more deeply into the shadows. Sam redoubled her grip on the fireplace poker, listening carefully in an attempt to spot their assailant by sound alone.
A soft crunch reached her ears. Somebody was close; only a few yards back and to the right and headed in their direction. She glanced back at Janet, meeting her gaze, which glowed, luminous, even in moonlight. Motioning for Janet to remain where she was, Sam slowly rose to her feet, careful not to make even the smallest sound.
Another footstep. Closer this time.
Despite Sam's emphatic gestures, Janet rose, shaking her head sharply when Sam signaled her to stay put. She pointed at Sam, then at herself, then crossed her index and middle fingers.
The message was clear. They were in it together.
Sam barely resisted the urge to curse, but she nodded.
The hunter was still coming, crunching pine needles with each step.
Sam could feel her heartrate accelerating with each passing second and she had to fight to keep her breathing under control as she tracked his advance by sound alone.
He was almost on top of them now; just on the other side of a small stand of trees.
Sam gestured to Janet to stay put, hoping she'd actually follow orders and fairly certain she wouldn't.
In an instant, Sam was moving, rolling around the cover of the trees and grabbing for the outline of a rifle that she could see in the faint light, forcing the barrel up and yanking it out of his hands, even as she raised the poker, intending to use it to smash their assailant's head in.
"Sam?" The startled gasp held her hand in place as she recognized the figure that stumbled back a step.
"Daniel? What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded brusquely, her pulse still racing, hands trembling ever so slightly as the 'fight or flight' instinct sent adrenaline coursing through her veins.
He swallowed hard and pushed the night vision goggles up. "You're both okay?" he said, relieved that neither of them appeared to have been badly hurt.
"Yeah...mostly. What are you doing here?" she repeated the question.
"We found out that Samuels had been bugging the base...that he probably knew that Dr. Fraiser had accused him of helping Barnes and where she was--"
"So, he came up here to kill her," Sam growled, fury racing through her veins. She was going to kill the son-of-a-bitch.
Daniel shook his head. "He's down the road, tied to the steering wheel of his car and unconscious or dead--"
"It was his aid," Janet interrupted, her voice low and breathless. The other two looked at her. "It has to be. He was there...he could have been carrying the briefcase. If it wasn't Samuels, he's the only other option. I couldn't really see that well, and I just assumed...." She trailed off, shaking her head angrily.
Daniel nodded. "Makes sense. If they overheard us, he must have figured he could kill you two and set it up so Samuels looked like he'd done it. We'd have all believed it."
"Well, right now, we need to stop this asshole."
"Yeah, well, Jack's hit and Teal'c's gone quiet," Daniel panted, sounding overwhelmed. Despite everything, he wasn't a soldier, and stalking killers in a dense forest was not something he'd ever been trained for.
"The colonel's hit? How bad?" Sam demanded, her tone all business, though she continued scanning the surrounding forest. "Give me your earpiece," she said sharply, and gestured for Daniel to hand it over.
He did, noting that she kept the rifle as she accepted it. Daniel didn't argue. He was under no illusions as to which one of them could do more good with a weapon in hand, though he did draw the pistol holstered on his thigh and ease the safety off.
"Colonel?" Sam spoke into the microphone, hooking the earpiece in place as she spoke.
"Carter, glad to hear you're okay." O'Neill's voice was low and taut with pain.
"We're fine, sir. How about you? Daniel said you're hit." Sam stripped the night vision goggles off Daniel's forehead, peering through them as she assessed their situation.
"It's not that bad...a clean shot through the thigh. Hurts like hell, but it's not bleeding that badly--"
"What about the shooter?" Sam demanded.
"He kept moving. My guess is he figures to take you out, then come back for me. It's not like I'm going anywhere. Teal'c stopped responding just after he reported on Samuels. Didn't hear shots, but I don't know what happened to him. You may have more than one hunter out there."
"Damn," Sam hissed almost inaudibly. She quickly tightened the straps on the goggles, blinking rapidly as she focused on the dull green images in front of her eyes. With the night vision goggles settled, she hefted the MP10 she'd taken from Daniel, automatically checking it over with a professional mien. "Daniel, I want you to take Janet and get back to the colonel–"
"Sam--" Janet started to argue, sensing what her lover planned to do.
"Shhh," Sam exhaled, laying a finger over cupid's bow lips. "You go with Daniel. The colonel's hurt and he needs a doctor--"
"Sam," O'Neill broken in over the earpiece, "this guy's good--and he must be wearing a vest--I managed to hit him and he still dropped to one knee and tagged me without even pausing to think about it."
"Don't worry, I'll be careful, sir."
Daniel Jackson rested a hand lightly on Fraiser's shoulder, offering what little support he could.
"Sam," Janet repeated the single word, drawing her lover's gaze back to her.
Carter stroked Janet's cheek tenderly. "Go with Daniel," she repeated. "I'll be okay, but somebody's got to stop this guy...with the colonel's down, and Teal'c unknown, that leaves me." She could only pray the Jaffa was just being quiet for his own reasons, both for his sake and because she didn't want to consider the possibility of facing an enemy that could take out Teal'c.
Janet started to speak, but Sam pressed her fingers over her lips again. "I know," she said very softly, then looked at Daniel. "If you can get the colonel out in Janet's car, go," she ordered him brusquely. She reached up then, stabilizing the microphone hanging in front of her mouth. "Teal'c, if you can hear me, I'm about 50 yards north of the north end of the cabin...the shooter was last seen to the south and headed this way. I'm going to try and take him out, Teal'c, but I wouldn't turn down some help." Knowing the tiny two way radios weren't always absolutely reliable, she hoped the microphone had crapped out on him, but he could still hear her. She glanced over, noting that Daniel and Janet were still standing there and made a gentle shooing motion with one hand. "Go.... It'll be all right." Then she turned back toward the cabin, quickly disappearing into the thick forest growth.
Daniel grabbed Janet's sleeve lightly, tugging to indicate the direction they needed to take. "Come on."
She stood stiffly, resisting the pressure on her sleeve to stare after Sam, hunting for some sign of her as she melded into the trees.
"We have to go," Daniel reminded her as gently as possible, but she still resisted the prodding.
Suddenly, Janet's head swung around and he saw the grim intent in her eyes. "You go on, Daniel," she said very softly.
He recognized her intention with a rush of disbelief. "You can't."
A small smile touched her lips. "Wanna make a bet? Now, you'd better go. The colonel needs your help."
He clenched his teeth together, but didn't bother to argue. He recognized the determination in her eyes too well. He'd seen it often enough in his mirror whenever he thought of Sha're. He thrust the pistol into her hands. "At least take this," he urged her, wondering if she had any idea how thoroughly those wide brown eyes broadcast her every emotion.
"Take it," he said flatly. "This guy doesn't even know I exist. I'll be okay...you're the one he's really hunting."
"Thank you," she breathed, "Now, go on."
Daniel nodded and turned away, moving to circle around to get back to the colonel. He didn't even want to think about what Sam was going to do to him when this was over for letting Fraiser remain behind. They were probably going to find bits and pieces of his broken body spread around the SGC. Still, he understood Fraiser's feelings too well and couldn't demand she leave with him when he knew what she was going through.
Janet watched Daniel for a moment, then turned back, pausing only momentarily to check the weapon before following in Sam's footsteps. Her plan was simple, stay back out of sight, but cover Sam's back. She knew her lover was far more qualified than she was to be hunting a killer. Her training and her experience had prepared her for this, but Janet was realistic; alone on unfamiliar ground thick with trees and undergrowth, she was vulnerable. If someone could get behind her....
Janet forced down a shudder. That didn't bear contemplation.
Without the night vision equipment, Janet was at a disadvantage, but she'd always had good night vision, so she moved surprisingly quickly over the rough ground, sticking to the shadows and using trees for cover, her footsteps light and sure.
Finally, she spotted Sam well ahead of her, her hair a bright gold badge moving through the trees. God, if anyone chanced to look, they'd never miss her. The thud of Janet's heart against her sternum was so hard it was becoming painful.
As Sam broke from the cover of the trees into the small clearing behind the cabin, Janet moved forward, searching for any sign of their attacker. She watched as Sam hurried until she was up against the wall of the cabin, using it for cover on one side as she continued in her hunt.
Janet held back, just watching, palms sweaty where she gripped the pistol tightly. As she stood there in the crushing darkness, it occurred to her to wonder what the hell she was doing. Sam knew what she was doing. She was smart, capable, competent, and probably better off without help under the circumstances--particularly from someone who just barely knew which end of the gun to point. Janet silently kicked herself for thinking otherwise. Doubts suddenly assailing her, she mentally berated herself for not just doing what Sam had told and going back with Daniel.
And then something moved.
Janet pulled back into the shadows, tightening her grip on the pistol as a tall figure stepped from the trees behind Sam. For the briefest moment, she saw the breadth of his shoulders and had some small hope that it was Teal'c, but then she realized he had a healthy head of hair and his build was all wrong. What looked like broad shoulders was really the heavy padding of a flack jacket.
Which made the pistol Daniel had given her was more or less useless. She might be able to get in a shot to the arm or leg, but not before he fired on Sam, and her angle combined with the high stand collar on the vest made a head shot almost impossible.
Janet saw their attacker start to lift the rifle in hand to his shoulder and didn't think, she just acted, stuffing the pistol into her waistband at the small of the back as she broke into a run. He was twenty feet away at most and fully concentrated on Sam. He didn't hear her coming until she was almost on top of him.
"Sam!" Janet barked at the last moment to warn her. She launched herself at her opponent as he started to turn toward her, charging forward in a desperate flying tackle, straight-arming the rifle aside as she impacted, barely aware of the weapon's explosive retort. In an instant, her momentum sent them hurtling over the edge of the steep incline at the back of the cabin.
Suddenly, they were both plummeting, rolling end over end, bodies impacting rocks, rough ground, sticks, leaves and each other. Hard hands dug into Janet's shoulders as her attacker tried to halt the sliding tumble and she struck back, trying to break free. She had no idea how far they'd tumbled when he finally got a foot into the soft needles, grabbing her shirt front so they skidded to a stop together.
Tasting blood and half in shock from the fall, Janet stared into the face of her would-be killer. Samuels' aid. "Blanchard," she whispered. He'd lost his rifle, but he was still a hell of a lot bigger and stronger than she was and wearing a flack vest that padded out his body protectively. If it came to personal combat, she was in deep trouble.
"JANET!!" Sam's shout from the top of the short hill had a panicked, desperate quality.
Her attacker glanced up, expression twisting with frustrated anger. Clearly, he wasn't having the best night of his life.
"SAM!" Janet heard her own shout through the ringing in her ears as she pushed up on one hand, scrambling in an effort to escape her attacker. He grabbed for her, fingers clawing into her jacket to drag her back. Janet lashed out with a closed fist and kicked off, but he didn't lose his grip. Instead, he lunged at her, heavy body colliding with her smaller frame and throwing them both over backwards. They rolled once or twice and then a small scream was wrenched from the woman's chest as she abruptly found herself in freefall, the world spinning by at an alarming rate until she impacted hard packed earth with a dull grunt.
"JANET!!" Sam shouted again as she bounded down the steep incline, boots digging into soft loamy earth and the thick blanket of pine needles with every step. Hunting for any sign of movement that might lead her to her lover, she hurtled downward as quickly as she dared, gripping the rifle tightly, her teeth gritted against the terror threatening to buckle her at the knees. She couldn't quite believe what she'd glimpsed in that instant as she'd spun and seen Janet tackling into the shooter before the two disappeared over the ledge. Goddammit, Daniel was supposed to get her out. She was supposed to be somewhere safe, not caught in hand to hand combat with whoever it was who was out to kill her. "JANET!!" she bellowed, not caring if it made her more of a target. If it would draw fire off of the other woman, she'd gladly throw herself into danger.
A low groan reached her ears, and she turned toward the sound, hunting the mountainside and moving in what she thought was the right direction. Sam bounded over a downed tree trunk, one hand clawing into the steep bank on the high side to steady herself when she skidded downward several inches on the unstable ground. "JANET!!"
Another soft sound reached Sam's ears, and she broke into a near run, moving as fast as she could on the hillside, trusting the murky green images reflected in the nightvision goggles to keep her from killing herself.
And then suddenly, the world dropped away so abruptly that Sam barely managed to skid to a halt before toppling over the sheer granite ridge. It took her a beat to realize what she was looking down at, and then she recognized the figure lying sprawled in the dirt at least ten feet below, followed in fast succession by the realization that she wasn't alone. Another figure, this one taller and heavier framed shifted as Sam watched, until he was kneeling over Janet, then lifted his arms, raising a heavy rock above her skull.
Sam didn't stop to think. She couldn't shoot--too much chance of hitting Janet--so she hurled her weapon aside and leapt, crash-diving into her lover's attacker with a feral snarl. She hit him mid-chest, her momentum throwing them away from Janet, though the heavy flack jacket absorbed much of the force of her impact. As they tumbled across rough ground, he tried to push her off and come up fighting, but Sam held on with furious tenacity. She lost the night vision goggles and earpiece somewhere in the first moments of the fight, but in such close quarters, no longer needed them. He came up swinging and she bodychecked him, sending him crashing back into the forest floor, then leapt, straddling his body as she hammered her fists into his face with all of her strength.
He had come here to kill Janet; come to kill her lover, and something exploded inside of her, a primal rage that drove her to start hitting and never stop. Snarling with raw hate, she pummeled him with blow after blow. Her knuckles split and bleeding, but beyond the pain, Sam slammed her fist into his face again, gratified by the dull crunch of bone shattering.
"Major Carter." The voice deep and familiar didn't penetrate the red haze of hate and fury until a hand grabbed her by the scruff of her jacket and hauled her back from Janet's attacker.
Sam twisted, lips pulling back from her clenched teeth in a savage snarl as she brought her fists up, ready to deal with this new threat. Seeing only the large, imposingly male frame that had grabbed her, she was so lost in her rage that she didn't recognize her teammate.
"Major Carter," Teal'c said again, releasing his hold on her collar and stepping back in time to avoid a hasty swing of her fist.
Suddenly arms wrapped around her from behind, the feel and smell instantly familiar. "Sam, it's okay," Janet whispered near her ear.
Sam froze, blinking rapidly as some of the madness receded. She fought to bring the world back into focus. "Teal'c?" Her voice came out a dusty rasp that felt as though it belonged to someone else.
"Yes, Major Carter," the Jaffa said softly, though he remained out of reach.
"It's okay, Sam," Janet repeated, petting her hair soothingly. Blanchard was unconscious or dead; she didn't care which. Her only concern was for her lover.
Sam turned her head, frowning as she stared into liquid brown eyes. "You're okay?" she breathed uncertainly.
Janet nodded, not letting on just how beat up she was. It was nothing serious and Sam didn't need any additional worries at that moment. "I'm fine," she assured her.
Sam turned back, finding the figure lying sprawled in the dirt as Teal'c knelt down beside him. "What about him?" she panted, ready to fight again if that's what it took.
The Jaffa glanced up. "I do not believe he will make further attempts at resistance," he assured her and reached out, flipping the man onto his stomach. The movement drew a low groan from Blanchard that had Sam tensing up, ready for more, but he made no further movement. Thrusting a knee into his prisoner's back, Teal'c simply latched his wrists together with a pair of handcuffs from his belt, giving him no chance to struggle even if he had been able.
With the threat ended, Carter felt the tension slip from her muscles like snow on a hot stove and twisted inside of her lover's hold. Lifting a hand to the back of her head to pull her close, she buried her face in Fraiser's neck as the terror caught up with her. "I thought..." Sam croaked and couldn't finish the sentence. Trembling violently, she held on desperately. "God, I thought...."
"I know," Janet breathed, her voice strained. They leaned their foreheads together, just barely touching, both comforted by the nearness.
Finally, Sam remembered her silently watching teammate, and twisted to look back at Teal'c where he stood guard over his prisoner. He met her gaze, raising one eyebrow ever so slightly.
"You are the through the Sha'kar Za'ref," he said very softly.
Still holding Janet, Sam frowned in confusion. "Sha'kar Za'ref?" she repeated.
He inclined his head. "Among the Jaffa, it is the madness that comes when loved ones are threatened with harm," he explained. "It can be useful, but also dangerous." His gaze lifted to rest on Fraiser. "Most often, only a loved one can break its hold."
Sam swallowed hard, realizing he meant the berserker rage she'd experienced. She dropped her gaze to where her hand was twined together with one of Janet's, noting the gashed and bloody state of her knuckles. She hadn't even felt the damage as it was happening. She looked up again, noting Teal'c's assessing gaze and realized the truth in a moment of stark clarity. He knew. He'd sat back, watched, seen the evidence, and put two and two together. "Teal'c?" his name came out on a ragged note.
"You need not fear," he responded as though he'd read her mind. "I will tell no one." Then he hauled his softly groaning prisoner up over one shoulder in a fireman's carry without appearing to notice the added weight. "Now, I must return to Colonel O'Neill and inform him that we have apprehended your attacker." He gestured to his ear where a headset should have been settled to allow him to stay in contact with the team. "I must also apologize since I lost my communications device somewhere in the forest." He appeared momentarily perturbed. "It caught on a branch, and I did not deem it worth the time to try and retrieve it."
"That's why you went silent?" Sam said by way of a question.
He inclined his head ever so slightly in confirmation. "I could hear Colonel O'Neill yelling, but I concluded tracking the assassin was more imperative than salvaging the equipment."
Sam shook her head slowly, still processing the details, not quite believing it was all over. "I think he was worried about you, Teal'c, not your earpiece."
The Jaffa raised an eyebrow, contemplating her response. "The colonel is aware that I am capable of seeing to my own safety," he said at last, dismissing her argument. He eyed the two of them where they knelt, holding each other. "Do you require assistance?" he questioned politely, leaving Sam with the mental image of Teal'c carrying his prisoner and the two of them out in one trip. Strangely, it didn't seem all that outrageous.
Sam glanced at Janet who shook her head, then back at Teal'c. "We may not move real fast, but I think we'll be okay," she responded. Besides she wanted a moment alone together before they had to deal with the outside world.
He nodded. "Then I will return now. If you have not arrived in a reasonable amount of time, I will return to aid you." Then he turned, moving along the edge of the rock droppoff until it tapered back into the gentler incline of soft earth where he began climbing with ease.
They watched him until he disappeared into the trees, then Sam's gaze slid back to meet Janet's. She lifted a hand to stroke her face very lightly, noting the bruises that were already beginning to show, even in the faint light, as well as the drying blood that ran from her nose and mouth. She slipped her fingers into tangled hair, combing out leaves and pine needles as she went and felt her lover wince as her fingers encountered a rapidly swelling lump near her temple. "God," Sam exhaled heavily as it struck her again just how close Janet had come to dying. "You were supposed to go back with Daniel," she accused at last, "where you would have been safe."
"I couldn't leave you," Janet whispered. She shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable. She traced a finger along the curve of Sam's lower lip. "If anything happened to you...." She couldn't finish the sentence. "I couldn't take the risk."
Swallowing against the tightness in her throat, Sam simply leaned down to taste warm lips, her touch incredibly tender, though they both winced as assorted cuts and bruises protested even that slight contact. As the kiss broke, she hugged Janet carefully, and both women just held on for long moments, savoring the closeness.
"We should get back," Sam exhaled at last, pulling back regretfully to stare down into warm chocolate eyes. A hint of a smile touched her lips. "Before Teal'c decides to come look for us."
Janet nodded, but didn't move to rise, instead lifting her hands to frame Sam's face tenderly. She searched familiar features with hungry intensity, the look in her eyes enough to make Sam's heart melt. Her mouth worked silently as she struggled to find the right words.
"I know," Sam exhaled at last. "Me too."
Janet looked confused. "But I didn't say anything."
"You didn't have to." Sam rested her hand lightly over Janet's chest, feeling the solid throb of her heart. "I know what you meant...."
* * * * * *