The God-King and I
Despite the situation, Sam had to fight the urge to gawk as she followed Idri on a wending path through the city, her view of the gardens and buildings well lit on all sides by tall gas lamps and brightly glowing windows. Janet hadn't lied when she'd described it over the radio as something out of a fairy tale or fantasy painting.
They walked in total silence for several minutes. Sam considered speaking several times, but something about Idri's expression kept her silent. He was clearly lost in thought -- hopefully reconsidering the situation -- and it wasn't until the palace itself came into view that he finally cleared his throat and spoke, distracting Sam from the passing sights and her own thoughts. "You value Lady Fraiser as a friend?" he murmured, studying her from head to toe.
"I value Doctor Fraiser, yes," Sam said, putting extra emphasis on the other woman's title, sensing that the change was another part of the equation; a way for the minister to put distance between the reality of Janet's life and what he was trying to turn it into.
"Then perhaps you can understand why my Lord would value her as well and would wish to learn what she can teach Him." She was struck by the hopeful note in his voice.
"I can understand," Sam admitted, keeping her tone as calm and placating as his, but determined to make her point. "But that doesn't make it right. She saved his life when you couldn't, and you're repaying her by locking her away from her real life."
A frown creased the minister's brow and for a moment Sam thought she'd gotten through to him, but then he raised a hand, sketching the air to emphasize his points. "I understand there will be things she misses ... that my Lord has not given her the easiest of fates, but she cares for Him already ... and her strength and loyalty are things He needs in order to rule wisely."
Sam bit back on an angry response. During one of her check-in calls, Janet had remarked on her conversations with the minister, commenting that she had to be careful about some subjects since they were so at odds with the more dogmatic elements of his philosophy. Sam suddenly understood what she meant. He simply could not envision any point of view that didn't entail worshiping his god-king. "And what about what she needs?" she questioned, hoping for some clue that might help her figure a way out of the mess.
Idri let out a long sigh, nodding to the guards as they mounted the steps to the front entrance of the royal palace. When they were past, he spoke softly, his tone a combination of apologetic and thoughtful. "I hope you understand, Captain, that I would do anything in my power to make this easier for her. She is a remarkable woman ... and I have no wish for her to spend any time unhappy."
Blue eyes narrowed faintly as Sam watched expressions trace their way over the older man's face. Admiration, she wondered, or perhaps something more. "And how do you think keeping her prisoner is going to do that?" she pressed.
His voice took on an oddly desperate quality. "She will come to see my Lord's grace ... to love Him--"
"You can't force that kind of loyalty," Sam broke in. "She'll never feel what you want her to."
He looked at her again, something sad in his eyes that almost made Sam pity the man. "You're wrong, I think," he disagreed quietly. "She'll do what she believes is right ... not merely what's easy or comfortable."
The quiet comment caught Sam by surprise because, in some respects, she knew he was right. Janet Fraiser would do everything in her power to escape, but only within the parameters of her morality. "Probably," she admitted, even though she wanted to deny it. Anything that might convince him to release the doctor or make her a less desirable prisoner. "But how can you approve of taking advantage of her decency that way."
They continued in silence for several more minutes before he spoke again. "You are much like her," he observed and Sam experienced a crawling sense of unease. Had O'Neill been right and she'd simply turned herself over to be kidnapped?
"We're friends," she said, her tone noncommittal.
"And you are willing to risk your life for her," he pointed out.
"Any member of the team would have done the same thing." Which was true enough, if not exactly the whole truth. Despite some bumps in the road, Janet Fraiser was the closest friend she'd had in more years than she could count. She'd die for the other woman ... and she knew it was mutual. It was that simple and that complex. Suddenly aware that the minister was staring at her oddly, she shook off the brief daze. "I do have your word on my safety," she reminded him, suddenly uneasy with the way he was watching her.
"Your safety is guaranteed." He nodded decisively. "Of that I can absolutely assure you."
They passed stunning tapestries and paintings, but Sam paid them little heed, focused instead on the conversation. "And can you assure me of her safety?"
"Of course," Idri said instantly and with such intensity that it relieved some of her fears. "Her safety ... indeed, her comfort and happiness are paramount importance to me ... to us," he corrected quickly.
Catching his forearm in a strong grip, Sam came to a halt in the middle of the hallway, forcing him to do likewise. "Then how can you do this to her?" She expected some pre-prepared, pat answer from his standard script, but this time he had no ready response, and finally just turned away and continued down the hallway, forcing her to follow after him, continuing their journey in silence this time.
* * * * * *
Janet heard the sound of the locks being thrown and moved quickly, grabbing for the heavy, cast-iron lamp -- the closest thing she'd found to a weapon -- she'd placed near the door. She hefted it up over her head even as she saw the door start to move, then had an impression of a figure considerably taller than herself. She started to bring the improvised weapon down.
Sam's startled squawk caught her by surprise, and she tried to pull the weapon back even as a slender hand snapped into the air, catching the lamp by the narrow neck and stopping it in its path.
"I thought you'd be happier to see me," the captain deadpanned, still holding the lamp well away from her head.
"Sorry about that," Janet panted, then leaned to the side to peer around the other woman, noting the stiff figure of the minister backed by at least ten guards ... several of whom showed assorted bruises and black eyes from their earlier confrontation. Her momentary hopes dashed in an instant. "I guess that means you're not here to break me out?" she said with a small gesture at the wall of men.
Sam glanced back and shook her head, her expression apologetic. "Sorry."
Janet's expression fell. "Oh god, don't tell me they got you too."
"No," Sam assured her. She looked at Idri pointedly. "I'd like to speak to Doctor Fraiser alone," she requested. "So that she can speak freely."
His head canted to one side. "As you wish." He gestured to one of the guards who stepped forward and pulled the door closed. A moment later, the sound of the locks being thrown echoed through the room.
Sam felt the tiny shudder that rippled through the lamp and realized it had come from the doctor's hand. She gently tugged the elaborately cast iron out of Janet's hands and set it aside on the floor. "You okay?" she questioned as she straightened and turned to face the other woman.
"A little shaky," Janet admitted, "but better now." Just seeing Sam was a much needed reminder that SG-1 would do everything possible to get her out. Being locked away alone let the mind run down some very scary pathways until she'd had visions of her friends thinking she was already dead or giving up because the task was impossible.
Blue eyes slid over the other woman worriedly. "I saw some pretty colorful bruises on the guards outside," Sam said by way of question.
"There was a bit of a confrontation when I realized they weren't taking me to the gate," Janet explained. "But they got the worst of it ... physically at least." She offered a small, lopsided smile. "Teal'c's lessons have helped ... and the radio Colonel O'Neill sent makes a pretty good club."
Sam responded with an encouraging smile of her own. "That'll teach them not to mess with the doc," she teased gently.
"I dunno about that," Janet sighed and gestured at the locked door. "Since I seem to be on the wrong side of the door. Something I'm hoping you're going to tell me--"
"What the hell?" the captain interrupted and reached out, catching one of Janet's hands in her own. She turned it back and forth, noting the bruises and torn nails with growing outrage. "He said you weren't hurt."
Janet blinked, looking down at her hands with a vaguely surprised expression. She'd almost forgotten them with everything else going on. "It's really not that bad. I lost my medkit in the fight, but I washed them in the--"
"Sit," Sam ordered, pointing at the luxurious couch, then turned back to the door, hammering with a solid hand as she shouted out. "Prime Minister Idri!" She shouted again after a brief moment, curiously relieved to concentrate on something other than her own thoughts for a moment. That way she didn't have to think too closely about the thickness of the walls she'd seen, the size of the city, or even the twisting maze of corridors that had left her uncertain exactly where they were in relation to the outside of the building. But mostly she didn't have to think about the fact that Janet was going to ask how they were going to get her out, and she didn't have a single suggestion to offer.
The door opened a moment later to reveal the portly figure of the politician, looking worried. Sam glanced past him and noted there were several more guards now. "I need her medical kit ... now!"
The minister frowned. "I'm afraid--"
"She hurt her hands," Sam cut him off impatiently and gestured to where Janet was sitting on the couch, elbows resting on her knees, torn nails and bruised knuckles plainly visible. "And they need to be cleaned or they'll infect ... you made a point about guaranteeing her health and safety." She continued bitterly, "Or is that like the rest of your guarantees?"
A moment passed and then he ducked his head. "I'll see to it the things you need are delivered."
"Do that," Carter clipped, then shoved the door shut in his face, taking some measure of comfort from being able to control the situation, even if only for a moment. She was still standing there a beat later when Janet spoke, her voice low and a little scared.
Carter took a deep breath and let it out slowly as she turned to face the other woman. There was a low coffee table of some kind against one wall and she tugged it over in front of the couch, using it as a bench.
Janet leaned forward, elbow braced on her knee as Sam wrapped gentle fingers around her other hand and she turned it over, carefully studying the injuries, focusing on those because she didn't know what else to do. "I've got to be honest here, Sam, my hands are the least of my worries at the moment." She stared at her friend's downbent head for a long moment. "Tell me you've got a plan to get me out of here."
Sam sighed softly, but didn't look up.
She just shook her head.
"But they let you in." Janet had almost gotten the fear under control, and seeing her friend had given her a sort of irrational hope that Carter had some kind of miracle to pull out of her pocket. She was so damn good with those. "I assumed that meant you're negotiating my release...." A beat passed and then Janet answered her own unasked question. "But it doesn't, does it?"
"No." Sam shook her head and looked up then, her expression apologetic. "It's because I all but accused Idri of murdering you, and the colonel threatened to attack in full force if they didn't at least prove you were alive. I tried to get them to bring you out ... figured we could get you back to the gate once you were outside the wall ... but Idri wouldn't agree to that...." She swallowed hard, just barely stroking the hand resting in her own with the pad of her thumb. "So I agreed to come inside. I hoped I'd see some kind of vulnerability ... something we could exploit...."
"Now, there's a sentence with a 'but' on the end of it if I ever heard one," the doctor whispered, her voice threatening to crack.
"I'm sorry," Sam whispered. "I couldn't see anything, and I'm not even sure where we are in relation to the outer walls right now. The best option I see is negotiation--"
Janet pushed to her feet suddenly, pacing as she felt the panic threatening to start again. "But they won't negotiate," she told Sam, "because they're marrying me off to their goddamned little god-king." She slapped a hand into the wall to punctuate the point and hopefully let off a little stress, only to wind up wincing as it sent a bolt of pain radiating through her arm.
Carter was on her feet and standing behind Janet in a beat. She curved her hands to narrow shoulders, her voice low and intense as she gently tugged the smaller woman back from the wall. "Don't ... you'll hurt yourself." She was incredibly aware of the warmth and strength of the body beneath her hands and an unwanted image of the last self-defense session they'd had under Teal'c's watchful eyes flashed in her head. She was incredibly proud of how well Janet had held up and fought back. No surprise if she was feeling a little overwhelmed now. She massaged slim shoulders with soothing strokes, hoping to wash away a little of the stress. "Listen to me, I know things look bad at the moment, but we're not leaving you behind. I don't know how we're going to get you out, but we will." A gentle tremor slipped through the doctor.
"How soon?" Janet whispered tightly. "Before the white shotgun wedding or after?"
"I don't know," Sam admitted, "but he's a little boy ... hopefully--"
Janet spun, her expression sliding over into desperation as everything she'd seen during the previous two weeks washed over her. "An adolescent boy," she corrected, "who alternates between threatening me and being caught in the throes of a hormonal crush ... who thinks he's a god, Sam ... and so does everyone else. They'll do anything he orders them ... anything," she repeated with added emphasis.
Sam paled as she realized what the doctor was saying. "He wouldn't...." She couldn't finish the thought.
"I don't know," Janet admitted, shaking her head, her tone hopeless. "I'd like to think he wouldn't and that if he tried, Idri wouldn't allow it, but I'm not sure even he could stop things if it came down to it."
The two women stared at one another for a long moment, then Sam shook her head, forcing down her own sudden influx of fear. "It won't happen," she said flatly as though she could control the elements through sheer force of will. "We won't let it."
Janet couldn't quite contain the note of hysteria in her voice. She was too tired, too stressed, and aware she'd be facing the situation alone again once Sam left. "I'm open to suggestions for how to stop it."
Sam ran a hand through her hair in frustration. She was still trying to come up with some kind of answer when the sound of the bolt sliding rattled through the room, and the door was pushed open.
Prime Minister Idri stood there, Janet's medical case in hand. "Here are the supplies you may have for the moment," he informed them as he set it on the floor. "However, I'm afraid, Captain Carter, that you must come with me now."
Sam frowned. "But her hands--" She hadn't allowed herself to consider that sooner or later, she was going to have to leave ... and certainly hadn't considered that the deadline would come so quickly.
"Now," Idri repeated urgently. "My Lord comes to see His bride, and if you do not leave quickly, you risk seeing Him."
And seeing Adoh Arim meant being trapped inside the royal city. Sam felt a band tighten around her chest as the reality that she had to leave Janet behind washed over her. She suddenly realized that she'd caught one of the doctor's smaller hands in her own without even noticing, the tapered fingers warm where they tangled with hers. Sam had no idea what she wanted to say ... an apology for not having any magic answers maybe ... perhaps beg her forgiveness for not being able to trade places ... or maybe something else she didn't even have words for. "Janet--"
"Get out," the brunette hissed, her eyes overbright. "There's no use in both of us being trapped here."
"Captain, now!" Idri said sharply and grabbed her sleeve to give it a solid tug, pulling her with him. "Unless you wish to stay permanently."
Still half turned toward Janet, Sam felt the exact moment their outstretched hands lost contact, and then everything was a blur as Idri shoved her through the line of soldiers, then a cluster of giggling teenage girls, down a corridor that looked onto several lush apartments, and through the lavishly decorated main room of the harem.
"This way," the minister said urgently, still pushing her ahead of himself. Then he saw the main doors start to open and made a sudden right turn, shoving Sam through a pair of double doors and onto a balcony. It wasn't a part of his plan, she realized as she heard him curse softly, then the sounds of booted feet and a child's voice, sounding angry and impatient even through the walls. "Stay here until I come for you," he hissed sharply, and spun on one heel.
"When's the wedding?" Sam demanded, grabbing his arm before he could escape.
"Tomorrow afternoon," he answered simply, then yanked his arm back and disappeared through the double doors as he exited the balcony.
The answer left her shaken. She'd thought they'd have more time. She did a slow pivot, staring out at the lights of the royal city, trying to get her bearings, but it was impossible in the darkness, any familiar markers in the landscape too shadowed to be seen. She glanced back over her shoulder, wondering how much time she'd have even as she toggled the radio on, hoping that O'Neill could hear her despite any interference. "Carter to SG-1, Carter to--"
"Carter, O'Neill here," the colonel's voice cut in almost instantly, signaling he'd been waiting with the radio on. "What's your situation?"
"I've seen Doctor Fraiser. She's alive and more or less unhurt." She continued to stare out at the surrounding landscape, hunting for anything that might help, depressed to realize she couldn't see a thing. "But they've got her locked up tight."
O'Neill muttered an expletive that pretty much said it all. "Any suggestions for how we might get her out?"
"No, sir ... the main walls are at least six feet thick, and the palace appears to be at the center of the city ... surrounded by several layers of buildings ... most of them out of cut stone or block with walls between one and three feet thick. Short of a tank, there's not much going to go through them ... and even that would take time."
O'Neill was silent for a moment. "Any idea on her position relative to the outer walls?"
"Not much," Sam admitted, her frustration coming through in her tone. "Once we were inside the palace, there were too many twists and turns...." She quickly described what little she could remember of their route, then quietly added, "but I'm not really sure where we wound up. The northwest corner of the palace maybe ... but I'm far from certain."
Another moment of silence before the colonel cursed softly, then caught himself. "We'll figure something out when you get back here," he said when he couldn't think of anything else.
"Sir, they've apparently scheduled this ... marriage ceremony to their god-king," Sam's lip curled at the words, "for tomorrow afternoon." They wouldn't be able to get her out ... at least not in time.
The colonel uttered an epithet considerably more obscene than his first. Unfortunately, it didn't even come close to covering the situation. "We'll figure something out," he said again. "Christ, he's just a kid ... we've got time--"
"A kid who thinks he's a god and has the power to enforce his will," Sam pointed out, just as Janet had done for her. She couldn't contain a shudder of horror at the thought of what that might mean. And even if it didn't ... Janet was going to be all alone facing god only knew what. "We can't assume we have time." She couldn't just leave and let it happen any more than she could have stood back while Phillips went after her friend. She sighed softly, some of the tension leaving her muscles as she suddenly realized what she was going to do. Funny how she could come to a decision without even realizing she'd been debating the options. "I just wanted you to know everything I do, sir."
"Carter?" O'Neill questioned uncertainly. "Don't tell me you got caught too." He sounded ill.
"No, sir," she denied, then took a deep breath and let it out to calm her jangled nerves. "At least not yet."
"Carter," his tone sharpened as he realized what she intended.
"I'm sorry, Colonel," she apologized sincerely.
"Carter, I mean it. You are not to do anything stupid!" He was shouting so loudly she could still hear him after she pulled the headset free. The sound didn't go away until she clicked off the radio's power switch. She took a deep breath and let it out, then turned and stepped back through the doors to the balcony.
The main room of the harem was empty and she hurried past the sprawling furnishings with hurried strides, following the sounds of giggles and shouts. As she reached the foyer that led to Janet's rooms, she found it once again packed with scantily-clad young women all avidly listening to what was going on inside of the rooms. Without the aid of the minister, they made no effort to move out of the way for her, so she finally settled for pushing and shoving her way through the small crowd until she reached the line of soldiers. As she pushed forward, she noted the door to Janet's apartment was open a crack, allowing the muffled sound of voices to escape.
"She will do as told." The voice was young and imperious, full of confidence that every order would be obeyed without question. That had to be the god-king himself.
"Like hell I will!" That was Janet, and she wasn't having a good day either.
More spread out and, in many cases, already battered and limping, the guards were more easily pushed aside than the women when Sam applied a few hefty shoves. One or two made half-hearted attempts to stop her, but a well applied elbow and a threatening glare put a stop to that.
"My Lord--" Idri began.
"I am your God-King!" Even high pitched and creaky, the enraged bellow rattled the rafters.
Sam glanced back, half expecting more resistance from the guards, but Janet had already put the fear of god into them. After one look at the determination in her eyes, they decided discretion was the better part of valor and stayed well back. No wonder the previous god-king had been assassinated. Considering what Janet had already told her about the current one, it was a wonder he hadn't followed suit. She grabbed the intricately carved door handle and gave a solid shove. The door moved perfectly silently, and for a moment, she stood unnoticed by the gathered crowd inside the apartment -- though the one outside gaped in open fascination. Sam couldn't blame them. For a moment, she had much the same response as she tried to sort out the players and decide what to do next.
The god-king, scrawny and over-decorated in a resplendent purple robe that was at least three inches too long, stood in the center of the room, arms folded across his chest in what was meant to be an intimidating posture, but came out looking more like a bad sixth-grade production of the King and I. Idri was off to one side, clearly trying to keep some semblance of peace and failing miserably. There were more people; several women hovering nervously on the other side of the room, and two men who had a myriad of heavy jewelry hanging from their hands. At the center of it all stood Janet Fraiser, struggling in the grip of two hefty looking guards. Judging by the way they all winced anytime she came close to getting loose or landing a blow, they'd either heard about -- or been a part of -- the earlier confrontation. As Sam watched, one of the hovering women tried to move closer to the doctor, while brandishing what looked for all the world like a tape measure and Janet twisted wildly. Though she didn't gain her freedom, she did scare the woman back.
"Hands off!!" the doctor snarled for added effect.
"My Lord?" the seamstress wailed helplessly.
Idri stepped forward, panicked from what little Sam could see of his expression. He came up short as Carter cleared her throat and every eye in the room swung her way.
Janet's eyes went wide, her expression panicked. "Sam, no!" she shouted in warning, thinking Carter didn't realize that Adoh was still there. She tried to break free of the harsh hands pinning her in place, but wasn't strong enough.
"It's okay," Sam reassured her friend, then ran her gaze back to the small figure standing in the center of the room, his arms crossed across his narrow chest, the look on his face arrogant beyond measure. She looked at Idri, brows raised in question and he canted his head to one side, acknowledging her return. She had the definite sense that he wasn't terribly surprised. "This is your god-king?" she asked doubtfully, then looked back at the boy. "Kinda puny." She moved past him as though she had every right to be there, her arrival such a surprise that no one made any effort to stop her. She eyed the guards holding the doctor with a dangerous look. "Let her go."
The men looked uneasy, used to responding to her tone of command from their regular officers but uncertain of her position, while Janet just stared up at her with a disbelieving look. "Sam, you shouldn't have done this," she whispered, her expression a poignant mix of disapproving and grateful as she realized the other woman's arrival was no accident.
Carter shrugged, a wry smile twisting her lips. "Tell me something I don't know," she said drily, then looked over her shoulder, ignoring Adoh in favor of turning a hard glare on Idri. "Tell your men to let her go."
"The dressmakers need her measurements to finish altering the wedding gown," the prime minister told her as though she had some responsibility to help him. "And I'm afraid Lady Fraiser was not ... was not..." he trailed off again, not knowing how best to describe the whole situation.
"The gown was my mother's," Adoh said with childish anger, "yet she resists wearing it."
Sam glanced at the boy, realizing he had absolutely no concept of what was being done in his name. As furious as she was, she almost pitied him. As she brought her head back around, she met and held Janet's darker gaze, well aware of the guards and Fraiser's position, muscles still tense with resistance. It was a fight she couldn't possibly win. "Let them take their measurements," she ordered Janet quietly. She saw the flash of denial in the other woman's eyes and the faint head shake meant to reject the idea. "Pick your battles wisely ... this one doesn't matter. Let it go." They needed to get some space to find a way out of the mess. That wouldn't happen if she didn't play along a little and avoid getting hurt. She reached out, resting her hands on slim shoulders until she felt some of the obdurate tension leave Janet's muscles, then looked at the guards again. "Now, let her go."
Idri turned a hard look on Carter. "First, you will surrender your radio. You are a part of His home now, and such contact is forbidden from now forward."
Sam experienced a moment of indecision as she was forced to accept her own advice. Finally, she ducked her head in acknowledgment and handed the radio over. Now wasn't the time for a fight.
The minister nodded to his men. "Release Lady Fraiser."
The guards released Janet's arms and stepped back out of the way, their expressions distinctly relieved. Sam felt her friend tense as though she might make another break for it and shook her head ever so slightly; just enough to abort the momentary thoughts of escape before they were even fully formed. "Pick your battles wisely," she mouthed in reminder.
Oblivious to the currents running through the room, Adoh broke in with a petulant demand, "Why does she not do as she's told?"
For a moment, Sam thought she'd lost the battle when Janet's eyes flashed dangerously, but calmer and feeling less cornered, she caught a handle on her temper before it exploded.
"She will, my Lord," Idri soothed, "she is merely unused to our ways."
A moment of total silence passed and then Janet nodded, her voice a ragged grumble as she told Idri, "Let's get this over with."
Sam stepped out of the way to make way for the fluttering seamstresses that hurried forward, their eyes on the glowering figure of the doctor as though she might suddenly decide to bite -- which judging by her expression wasn't an entirely impossible option. Her teeth gritted, she nonetheless allowed them to poke, prod, move her this way and that and take every possible dimension known to man, though a sharp look quelled them when one began to suggest that perhaps it would be best if she took off her heavy uniform so their measurements would be more accurate. Sam caught Janet's gaze and held it -- afraid her already frayed temper might just detonate -- until the women were finished and had backed away.
"We are finished my Lord," one of them said, still watching Janet carefully.
"Go," Adoh clipped and snapped his fingers impatiently, the single word banishing the women in an instant.
Sam looked at the boy then, and had to suppress an instinctive shudder of revulsion as she watched him leer at Janet. There was something unbelievably eerie about the expression that twisted his mouth and glittered in his eyes, like seeing a forty-year-old man superimposed over a boy's face. Sam thought of the girls in the harem and found herself wondering if he'd already sampled what they had to offer. That thought sent another shudder through her, leaving the blond with the need to draw his attention away from the other woman. Sam caught sight of movement out of the corner of her eye and realized that Janet had started to move away.
"No," Adoh said, his voice cracking on the command. "Remain where you are."
Sam didn't even think, just stepped between them, every protective instinct she'd ever had on full alert. "Actually, if you're finished here, I think it's time you leave." She looked to Idri, again purposely ignoring the boy. "Doctor Fraiser's hands still need to be treated." She heard a tiny gasp behind her, then Janet's voice very low and intended only for her ears.
"Sam," Janet warned, "he can do anything he wants."
"Indeed," the boy sneered, signaling that he'd heard the quiet reminder. He glared resentfully at her as though he sensed she held far more loyalty from the object of his crush than he ever could. "I do not know you." He treated her to the same assessing gaze, and she found it no more pleasant when directed her way. "You are beautiful enough, but you are insolent," he accused Carter, eyes blazing as though he could back her down the way he did everyone else in the castle.
Sam only shrugged, mouth twisting in a dark smile. "You have no idea."
The boy drew himself up to his full height -- which still only reached mid-chest on the woman staring down at him -- and pointed at her in a way that usually reduced his servants to cringing puddles. "You will never be allowed into the royal bed if you do not learn respect."
Clearly it was intended as the most dire of threats and insults, but somehow it just didn't work that way. Instead it triggered a certain appreciation for the black humor of the situation. "Promise?" Carter drawled. She watched the boy's face turned purple and wondered vaguely if it was possible for someone that young to expire from apoplexy, then she resolved to ask Janet what the hell apoplexy actually was.
"You," he hissed furiously, "are now a handmaiden." He scowled at Idri who was just drawing breath to intercede in some way. "She is never to be on the roles of royal concubines. She will live her life here in service to other women and know nothing of my touch."
Janet couldn't help it, a tiny bubble of hysterical laughter escaped her lips and she leaned past Sam's shoulder, waving one hand in a bid for attention. "Any chance I can get in on that action?" The stress of the day was finally threatening to push her over the edge and she seriously considered having a nervous breakdown just for the hell of it.
The boy reached all new levels of purple, his breath coming in ragged gasps as he stood glaring at them both impotently.
Sam was comparatively certain that the only reason he wasn't shouting any insults or threats was that he couldn't think of anything sufficiently hideous to do to her. It occurred to her that she probably wasn't taking the best possible tack with him, but after facing his insolent leer, she couldn't seem to care.
"My Lord," Idri interceded while Adoh was still struck dumb by a level of insolence he'd never experienced before in his entire life, "perhaps it would be best if you retired to your apartments now and left the women to their preparations. Your bride is clearly," he flashed an annoyed look at Janet, "nervous and not herself over the coming joining with Your Heavenly Self."
His ego slightly soothed, the boy relaxed fractionally, though he continued to glower at Sam. "I meant what I said about that one," he said, pointing at the blond. "She will be nothing more than a handmaid." A flicker of a smile touched his lips. "In fact, she shall serve as handmaid to my queen ... forced to forever witness what she can never have."
Sam started to draw breath to respond, but a narrow-eyed glare from Idri stopped her. "Drop your eyes before the God-King, handmaid," the minister ordered, once again doing the startling transformation from toadying lackey to powerful politician in an instant. "Now!" he barked after a beat when Sam still hadn't moved.
She swallowed a sarcastic retort unspoken, reminding herself that she couldn't help Janet if she was flayed alive on his highness' orders. The boy continued to scowl at her until she finally summoned all of her willpower and dropped her eyes as ordered.
"Better," Adoh said, sounding satisfied at her capitulation. "But you will still spend the rest of your life denied my touch." With that he turned and swept out, snapping his fingers sharply to draw his guards and retainers after him.
"Lady Fraiser," Idri said with a faint inclination of his head, then followed his lord out. The door closed in his wake and they could hear the locks being thrown again.
"Why do I have this urge to do my best Br'er Rabbit impression?" Sam drawled when they were alone again. "Please, Br'er God-King, don't throw me in dat ole Bryuh patch wit d'uther handmaids." She heard a tiny, hysterical giggle, then felt the warmth of Janet's forehead as the other woman leaned against her shoulder. "Y'know, he could really use an anger management class," she added and smiled as she got another tiny laugh before the doctor fell silent for a long moment.
"You really shouldn't have come back," Janet exhaled at last, still leaning against Sam's shoulder "And you definitely shouldn't have done everything in your power to piss the little monster off."
"I know," Sam admitted on a soft sigh. "The colonel's going to kill me when this is over...." She turned, lifting an arm over the other woman's head to settle it on Janet's shoulders, pulling her into an unplanned hug. Despite everything, she felt a burst of warmth as strong arms wrapped around her, holding on tightly. Janet nosed into her shoulder, hiding her face there, her body trembling gently in the aftermath. "Shhh, it's okay," Sam soothed and just held her, offering a safe hiding place for a little while.
Finally, she felt Janet take a deep, shuddering breath, then the doctor carefully disentangled herself and stepped back a pace, her expression somewhere between apologetic and embarrassed. "Sorry about that," she said a little raggedly and dashed a few tears from her eyes with the edge of her hand. "It's been a long day."
"To say the least," Sam murmured, which drew a watery smile.
"Yeah," Janet exhaled heavily and tipped her head back, rolling her shoulders in an effort to work out a few of the tension driven kinks. "You're crazy. You know that, don't you?" she said after a beat.
"Yup," Sam admitted, then curved a light hand to Janet's shoulder, nudging her back toward the couch with the single word command, "Sit."
Janet sat, her expression questioning.
"Your hands," Sam reminded her as she moved to retrieve the medkit where it sat forgotten on the floor.
The doctor glanced down, staring at them as if just remembering they were injured. "I keep forgetting," she admitted as Sam dragged the table back from where the guards had moved it. Sitting on the edge, she began rummaging through the kit, digging out various supplies and setting them aside.
"Do you actually have any idea what you're doing?" Janet asked as she watched the process with a raised brow, perversely relieved for the brief distraction from more serious problems.
A teasing grin played about the blond captain's mouth. "Hey, do I ask questions like that when you play doctor?"
Janet opened her mouth, several responses on the tip of her tongue, but considering everything they already had to deal with, she opted for the relatively benign, "Sam, I am a doctor."
"Picky, picky," Carter complained, but her tone was light, the look in her eyes gently reassuring. "The answer to your question just happens to be yes, by the way," she added as she soaked a gauze pad in disinfectant. "Something you should realize, since you know perfectly well just how often Daniel and the colonel get hurt."
Janet chuckled despite herself. They did have a knack for that. "And that has bearing on this discussion because...."
"You don't think they actually treat themselves when we're in the field," Sam continued, babbling to distract the doctor as she began washing the blood away from bruised knuckles, her hands light and surprisingly gentle. "Please ... the colonel turns green at the sight of blood ... at least his own ... and Daniel whines like a baby." She rolled her eyes, pleased when she got another soft laugh. After that, shelaunched into a light-hearted story about a minor injury the colonel had received on a mission that had left him acting like he was on the verge of death while she continued the painstaking ministrations, gentling whenever she felt even the tiniest of flinches.
"Sam," Janet said softly when she was nearly finished, eyes glued to the site of the captain's hands as they moved so carefully over her own. "Thank you."
Blue eyes rose and a hint of a smile touched Carter's mouth. "Happy to help, though you wouldn't be nearly so grateful if there were any way of dressing this ... never could wrap a field dressing worth a damn."
"I don't mean my hands," Fraiser said softly, the look in her eyes serious. "I mean coming back here ... helping me ... everything." She shook her head, her expression openly astonished. "I can't believe you did this."
Carter was silent for a long moment, her concentration firmly on the task at hand. Finally finished, she released her loose hold on Janet's hand and tossed the used gauze-pad aside.
"Sam?" Janet whispered when she still hadn't looked up after a long beat.
"I radioed the colonel just to update him on the situation." Sam swallowed hard, then looked up. She reached out, resting a hand lightly on Janet's shoulder only to find it ranging upward, fingers brushing soft hair aside as she stroked a velvet cheek with the pad of her thumb. "And I suddenly realized I couldn't do it ... couldn't leave you here alone." She shrugged. "I just couldn't...." She trailed off, not knowing what else to say. They were still staring at each other when the sound of the bolt being thrown rattled the door.
Sam bounded to her feet and spun in one move, putting herself protectively between the doctor and the door as she felt the other woman push to her own feet. If his highness was coming back for another look at his bride, there was going to be a fight. Braced to deal with the omnipotent boy and his less than competent guards, she was caught by surprise when a diminutive, figure in fluttering black robes stepped through the door, several brawny men blocking the way behind her. They were dressed in simple black robes wrapped in a way that reminded Sam of those worn by Buddhist priests. Unlike the palace guards, she had the distinct impression they could -- and would -- bust heads if need be.
"The royal oracle," Janet whispered almost inaudibly. "I had to pass muster with her when I arrived."
"Indeed, child." The voice that floated from beneath the hood was soft and almost musical, though the hands that rose to lift the fabric away from her head were badly twisted by arthritis. "And pass you did." As the hood fell away, Sam found herself facing a pair of young eyes set in a very old face; blue and piercing, they inspected her from head to toe. "So, the handmaid has finally arrived." She sounded mildly peeved, as though Carter's arrival had run later than planned. She glanced back at her guards. "We need to speak alone."
"My Lady," one of the men said doubtfully. "Perhaps that is not wise, considering the damage already done by the strangers."
She raised her head imperiously. "They are no longer strangers now that they reside in His home." She swung her head back around, assessing both women carefully. "Nor will they attempt to harm me."
He seemed hesitant, but finally nodded his head. "As you wish, my Lady," he said as he pulled the door closed behind his mistress.
When the latch had clicked in place, the blue eyes swung back around to spear through Sam where she stood, then slid past her to take in the slighter figure of the woman behind her. A faint smile touched the heavily wrinkled mouth. "You are the handmaiden," she said as she looked back at Sam, sounding satisfied with what she saw.
"I do believe your god-king mentioned something about sentencing me to being nothing but a handmaid," Sam responded, her tone dry.
The old woman's smile broadened a notch, and her eyes danced with something akin to humor. "At times, his human-self does out of spite what His Godly-self knows is right." She chuckled softly. "And His Godly Self knows that your presence is needed to work His will so that she," she nodded to Janet, "may teach Him what He must know."
Sam felt a burst of resentment at the oracle's obvious mirth even as Janet snapped, "The only lesson I care to teach that little monster concerns manners." Whatever else they had planned was definitely a no-go as far as she was concerned.
The old woman's expression never faltered. "Then perhaps that is the lesson He needs to learn," she commented quietly. Her tone became thoughtful as she added, "He has been asked to assume far too much at far too young an age ... and I fear it will destroy Him." She waved a hand, indicating Janet should step out from behind Sam. "I wish to see you better."
"I'm beginning to feel like a prize cow at the state fair," Janet grumbled. Several people had already made comments about child-birthing hips that were seriously getting on her nerves. Despite the way they said it, there was nothing about that phrase that sounded the least bit complimentary as far as she was concerned.
"Come, child," the old woman encouraged, waving a hand to urge her along. "While I'm not certain what a prize cow is, nor a state fair, I am quite certain that you are neither."
"I won't marry him," Janet insisted as she stepped out from behind Sam. She folded her arms across her chest, glaring angrily.
"Yes, you will," the oracle disagreed mildly. "You have no choice in the matter--"
"Because I'm your goddamn prisoner," Janet snapped. She'd been pushed, poked, prodded, manhandled, and now lectured. Sam's arrival had broken the cycle of raw fear, reminding her that the real world was still out there, and she had every intention of returning to it.
"No," the oracle said, her tone one of gentle reproof. "Because you are who you are ... and because the High-God-Father has decided your fate. Even if I threw open the doors tonight, it would still happen because it has been ordained."
The doctor sighed, turning turned away briefly as she stepped back to the couch and dropped onto it with a disgusted snort, stretching her legs out and hooking one ankle over the other. "Bullshit," she said firmly. "I don't know why any of this is happening, but it's certainly not ordained by the universe. Personally, I think it's primarily because you couldn't get anyone who'd ever actually met your precious god-king to marry the little fiend." She shook her head, the absurdity of the situation washing over her. "No, instead you had to kidnap someone from another planet and lock her up ... and force her! Not exactly a stirring endorsement any way you look at it." She snorted impolitely, well aware when Sam pivoted to face her, her expression worried.
"Janet," the blond soothed, "Maybe this isn't the best time to--"
"No, she may speak candidly," the oracle interrupted, head canting to one side as she studied the doctor carefully. "And what would your answer be, Lady Fraiser."
Dark eyes narrowed. "It's Doctor Fraiser ... got it, Doctor Fraiser." She was getting very tired of the change in titles. She'd earned that damned degree and they weren't taking it away so she could play house with a bratty adolescent.
"Very well then, Doctor," the old woman allowed. "But the question stands. What would your answer be?"
Janet pushed to her feet, meeting the sharp gaze turned her way. "You want the truth?" she demanded impatiently. "I'm not one for corporal punishment, but the first thing I'd do would be turn that little brat over my knee and teach him a lesson in manners he wouldn't soon forget." She thrust her chin pugnaciously forward as if challenging the oracle to say something to that.
"He is the God-King," the old woman reminded her, a hint of a smile still playing about her mouth.
"He's an overbearing, autocratic, rude, uncivilized, leering, sneering, dictatorial, tyrannical, insolent" Janet ticked each adjective off as she listed them in no particular order, "insulting, bullying, nasty, disrespectful, ill-tempered, vicious little lout in dire need of a few manners before someone kills him for the sheer joy of it!" Judging by her tone, she wouldn't have minded that job herself at that point. Sam was just impressed she could pull that many insults out of her head on the spur of the moment. But then she suspected the other woman had probably been storing them up for the last two weeks.
Sam swung her head around, worried about how the oracle might have taken the stream of less than complimentary terms. After all, god only knew how much power the woman had. She was surprised when the old woman only continued to smile benignly.
"The High-God-Father has chosen well--"
Janet plopped back down on the couch. "Bite me," she muttered, though it was mostly under her breath.
The oracle looked up at Sam then, her expression almost sympathetic. "She's had a very long day," she commented dryly.
"You got that right," the woman on the couch muttered.
"And hasn't slept well since she's been here," the oracle added, her eyes dancing with humor once again.
Sam glanced back just as Janet growled, "You can say that again."
The blond's head swung back around in time to catch the old woman's crinkling smile as she continued, "And the food is not to her liking."
"No, the food is disgusting," Janet grumbled. She folded her arms across her chest, looking sulky as she looked up, her expression suspicious. "And how did you know that? I didn't tell anyone."
The old woman laughed very softly. "I'm an oracle," she pointed out gently. "Knowing the unknowable is my job." A munificent expression spread across her feature that almost made Sam believe, then she added more practically, "Also, you don't hide your gag reflex very well."
Janet stared up at the old woman for a long moment as the mild hysteria slowly drained away under the kind gaze. Her shoulders slumped and she shook her head. "I don't want this," she said at last.
"I know, child," the oracle murmured sympathetically. She drew closer and reached out, gnarled fingers finding one of the doctor's finely made hands. She noted the injuries with a hint of a frown, then turned it over, studying the younger woman's palm as she quietly continued, "When I was young this was hardly what I wanted. My dream was to marry a boy ... a farmer from a neighboring village ... and then I began to see things others couldn't, so I was brought here ... he's probably long dead and I have more power than I even knew existed then." She sighed softly, a flicker of a frown touching wrinkled brows. "I hated it then," she confided. "And I still do some days...."
"And this is supposed to cheer me up somehow?" Janet demanded a little hopelessly.
"No, child," the oracle allowed, releasing Janet's hand without further explanation. She straightened then, chin lifting, her expression becoming distant and imperious. "When you wed Adoh Arim, I will ordain you Goddess-Queen. Only I have this power, and my decision is made."
The doctor reacted as though struck. "No," she gasped. She'd already seen what they'd made of the boy and how they clung to him. Once that was done, they'd never let her go. Shaking her head in denial, she surged to her feet, only to have Sam catch her, bracing an arm across her chest as though she was afraid she might attack the old woman. "You can't do this. You have the power to stop it--"
"No, child. I don't." The wizened head shook back and forth. "And even if I did, I could not do that to my Lord. He needs you far too desperately."
Janet made a small, unintelligible sound in the back of her throat as the walls threatened to close in. She looked up at Sam, the sight of the other woman clearing her head. She stepped back and gently pushed at the restraining arm, making it clear she was back in control of her temper. She looked up at the blond again, unbelievably touched by what she'd done. "You really shouldn't have come back." The situation was desperate now. There weren't going to be any deals and escape was nearly impossible.
Carter shrugged. "I'd do the same thing every time."
Dark eyes slid closed for the briefest second, then opened with a new look of determination. She stepped past Sam, fixing a hard look on the old woman. "All right," she said at last. "I'll do whatever the hell you want."
The oracle's head canted to one side, a frown touching her brow.
"But in return, you arrange for Captain Carter," she indicated Sam with a loose hand gesture, "to be returned to our people -- and don't say you can't because we both know you have the power."
Crystal blue eyes narrowed another fraction and the old woman shook her head, her expression kind. "I'm sorry, but the answer is no." Her gaze swung to touch on the taller woman, noting the tense set of her shoulders. "Nor do I believe she would go even if I agreed."
Sam reached out, resting a hand lightly on Janet's shoulder. "We'll get out of this together," she addressed the doctor, ignoring the mage.
Janet shook the hand off and stepped forward, scowling at the old woman. "Has it occurred to you that I can make things very difficult here or very easy.... Now, let her go." For a moment, she sounded every inch the queen they planned on making her.
Again the old woman only smiled, her expression gentle. "I'm sorry, child, but just as I cannot let you go for my Lord's sake, I cannot let her go for yours." She put extra emphasis on the last word. "You need her as my Lord needs you."
Janet's teeth gritted and she drew breath to argue, but the old woman spoke before she had a chance to say anything. "You are the handmaid now ... see to your mistress and care for her. Tonight will be difficult ... and tomorrow even moreso, but believe me ... all will be as it should be."
The doctor was about to offer a colorful response when Sam settled the hand more firmly on her shoulder, cutting the comment off, and stepped forward, putting herself between them. "I think you should go now," she said firmly.
The oracle stared up at Sam, noting the protective posture and grim look in her eyes. An odd, almost affectionate smile touched her mouth. "The High-God-Father has chosen well in you, Lady Carter." She straightened fractionally, though arthritis and osteoporosis still left her stooped, her look transforming into a regal stare. "Now care for your mistress."
Sam bristled at the tone of the command but swallowed the acidic retort that nearly danced off her tongue
"Just go," Janet inserted, sounding more exhausted than anything else.
The oracle studied the younger woman for a long moment. "There are comforts I could offer, Lady Fraiser," she said at last, "but right now, you cannot hear them right now, nor would you believe them coming from me." The sharp blue gaze touched momentarily on Sam before swinging back to the doctor. "So I will simply suggest you trust in yourself, trust in her, and trust in the High-God-Father that all will be as it should be."
Janet just shook her head and rolled her eyes. Bad enough to be kidnapped and married off; now she had the added pleasure of religious lectures in the bargain. Since every single response she could think of was rude in the extreme, and seemed unlikely to improve the situation, she simply held her tongue.
Sam folded her arms across her chest in an effort to look as forbidding as possible ... a technique she'd learned from Teal'c, though she didn't even come close to his effectiveness with the maneuver. It was either enough to do the job or -- more likely -- the oracle was finished, and the old woman slipped out without further comment.
After the door had closed and latched in her wake, and the rattle of the locks had faded into nothingness, Sam did a slow pivot, dropping her arms to her sides as she studied the other woman with worried eyes. "It's going to be okay," she said as much to reassure herself as the doctor. "I promise."
Tired eyes rose until they met Sam's paler gaze. "Don't make promises you may not be able to keep," Janet said a little sadly and turned away. Warm hands landed on her shoulders before she could take more than a step.
"Listen to me," Carter said insistently, finding it oddly easier to say what she needed to this way. Something about the doctor's dark, intense gaze made it hard to think or know what to do sometimes ... like some crucial circuit in her her randomly short circuited, leaving her brain-dead and mute. "I admit, I don't know what's going to happen, but it's going to be okay."
Janet tipped her head back on her shoulders and sighed heavily, the whipsaw intensity of emotional moodswings she'd been subjected to during the previous several hours leaving her so exhausted it was a wonder she was still on her feet.
"Trust me," Sam pleaded, needing some sign of approval for reasons she couldn't even begin to articulate.
"I do, Sam ... believe me, I do," Janet sighed, eyes sliding closed as she let her head rest against the much needed support of Carter's shoulder.
Knowing that stress had to be knotting up her friend's shoulders, Sam pressed her thumbs into tendons that felt like they'd been constructed from cement and airplane cable, offering the much needed massage without comment. She increased the pressure as she felt spring steel muscles begin warm and lengthen, and narrow shoulders rolled ever so slightly under her hands.
"That feels good," Janet exhaled, grateful for something to distract her from her worries about the seriousness of their situation.
Sam continued the slow massage, drawing her thumbs along taut cords until she felt them warm and relax ever so slightly. "You are a little tense," she deadpanned.
Despite herself, Janet laughed softly. "Ya think?"
"Well, that sounded a bit less hysterical," Sam commented, "if entirely too much like Colonel O'Neill."
"God forbid that should happen," Janet groaned. She leaned her head forward until her chin was resting on her chest as Sam smoothed a hand up the back of her neck, pressing lightly. "I was getting a little giddy, wasn't I?"
"I think we both were," the blond said, still working taut muscles, coaxing them to relax and let go of their cramped tension.
"It's just so surreal," Janet mumbled. "I keep expecting Ming the Merciless to go by."
"I think his highness is a little young for a Fu Manchu," Sam drawled, surprised to realize that giving the slow massage had soothed her as much as it had the doctor.
"But you have to admit he's got the personality for it," Janet riposted neatly.
"That he does," Sam had to agree. Her one encounter with the god-king had left her less than impressed. A moment of companionable silence passed, then she gently suggested, "You're on the verge of passing out. Think maybe you could get some sleep?"
"Sleep?" Fraiser repeated as though her friend had used a foreign word. "Somehow I doubt it."
"Well, why don't you give it a try," Carter pressed. She slid a hand loosely down Janet's spine, gently urging her along. "See if you can at least relax and get a little rest. I'm going to take a look around and see if I can find anything that might do us some good."
Janet glanced back, a grim smile touching her lips. "I checked ... several times. The best thing I came up with was that lamp I tried to brain you with."
Sam shrugged. "Maybe I can find something you missed."
"Can't hurt to try," the doctor allowed, then pulled away, looking back at Sam as she staggered toward the bedroom, a poignant look in her eyes. "There aren't words," she whispered, struggling to get the words past the tightness in her throat. "Thank you."
"Go on," Sam said softly, standing where she was until Janet had disappeared into the bedroom. She heard the rustle of the mattress and covers and then silence. Turning away, Sam made her way into the library, fumbling with the gas lights before she began going through things seriously. She emptied a desk drawer, carrying it with her and using it to hold anything that looked at all promising as she searched the rooms with a fine toothed comb.
When she was finished with everything except the bedroom and attached bathroom, she stuck her head through the broad arch that led into the bedroom, noting the shadowy figure sprawled face down on what was possibly the largest bed she had ever seen in her life. At least twice the width and half again the length of a king sized mattress, it was topped by a thick duvet and piles of huge pillows, while a draped fabric overhang supported a thick curtain clearly meant to be pulled around the rest of the bed, turning it into a private cocoon. Just showing a person a bed like that probably qualified as foreplay all on its own. It was impossible to look at the thing without knowing exactly what it was intended for. And that definitely wasn't sleeping.
"Sinful, isn't it?" The wry question made Sam jump as she abruptly realized the doctor's eyes were open and watching her. Janet pushed up on one hand, ruffling her hair as she yawned sleepily.
"Sorry," Sam apologized quickly, "I didn't mean to wake you."
Fraiser waved the apology off. "I wasn't asleep, just meditating." She nodded toward the drawer in Sam's hand. "Any luck?"
Sam shrugged. "Not much," she admitted. "I was just going to check the bathroom ... see if there's anything there ... maybe something chemical." She shrugged as she headed toward the bathroom door, moving slowly in the darkness.
"Do you know how to turn on the lamps?" Janet called out. It had taken her several days to adjust to the intricacies of living with gas lights.
"Yeah," Sam called from the other room, even as a dull, greenish light glowed to life in the bathroom. "Took me awhile in the library, but I figured it out."
The soft sounds of cupboards opening and closing echoed from the room as Sam rifled through the contents. When she exited several minutes later, she found the doctor sitting cross-legged on the bed.
The blond shook her head. "Powder based makeups, water based perfumes ... and some very lovely soaps in the shape of flowers." She made a face. "But then I guess you already knew that."
Fraiser shrugged. "I hoped you'd find something I missed."
Sam carried her makeshift box of supplies over to the bed, turning up a wall sconce to light the room as she passed. She set her collection down, then took a seat, one foot on the floor, her other leg folded beneath her on the bed. "There's a balcony off the main harem," she murmured thoughtfully as she rifled through the jumbled contents of the drawer. "If we can get out of here, maybe--"
"Sam," Janet reminded her, "we're on the fourth floor ... there are vaulted ceiling below us. It's probably a fifty or sixty foot drop."
Carter considered that information. "Anything we might use as a rope?"
"No rope and there's not enough yardage in the sheets or curtains ... not that they're strong enough anyway." The doctor sighed softly and made a loose gesture. "I also thought of starting a fire with some of the books in the library, then escaping in the confusion--"
"Too dangerous," Sam dismissed. "You could die of smoke inhalation if no one heard you."
"Also the pages wouldn't burn," Janet added practically.
Sam slanted a questioning look at her friend.
"I got a little desperate before you got here," she admitted.
"So you tried to burn the place down?"
Janet shrugged, a blush crawling over her cheeks. "Seemed like a good idea at the time." She flopped onto her back folding her hands behind her head and listening to the noises Sam made as she sifted through the contents of the drawer. Several minutes passed without comment from the blond and she finally opened her eyes and tilted her head up. "Well?"
"Not a damn thing," Sam said disgustedly. She snorted softly and tossed the letter opener in her hand back into the drawer. "Looks like you were right about the lamp."
"And I thought I had premarital jitters the first time I got married," Janet muttered to no one in particular.
Sam looked at the doctor, a frown ghosting across her expression. "We'll find a way out of it," she said by way of reassurance.
A smirk twisted the doctor's mouth. "That's what I kept telling myself the first time," she muttered, "and it didn't work then either."
Sam's frown deepened a notch. "If you didn't want to marry the guy ... why?"
A soft snort escaped the doctor's lips by way of reply. "I got myself into a situation and didn't know how to get out."
A dull flush crawled over Sam's cheeks at the implications of that, though Janet's offhanded tone seemed to belie her sudden suspicion. She'd never heard any mention of a child, and she doubted the other woman would be so blasÚ about a miscarriage. "Oh."
Janet looked up and saw the expression on her friend's face, her suspicions obvious. "I wasn't pregnant," she muttered defensively.
"Oh ... I didn't ... I mean--"
"It's okay," Janet sighed, sounding tired. "Considering how I phrased it, it's an understandable assumption." She settled back into the mattress. "I just meant that by the time it came down to the wedding, I'd realized I was making a mistake, but I couldn't figure out how to get out of it. The invitations were sent, families in town ... entirely too much money spent ... and I was like a deer in the headlights ... so when my little sister threw me a bachelor party ... complete with strippers, I might add ... I got completely tanked. I thought maybe it would give me the guts to call the whole thing off."
A queasy look came over Sam's expression.
"Sadly, it didn't work ... I don't think I sobered up for about a month after that." She shook her head disgustedly.
Sam offered a sympathetic wince. "Sorry."
A sarcastic smile twisted full lips. "You and me both," Janet snorted disgustedly. "Clearly I don't have much of a knack where men and marriage are concerned." She stretched out, crossing her legs loosely at the ankles. "Though at least my last adolescent male was technically an adult even if emotionally he wasn't much older than his highness."
"How did you wind up with that guy?" Sam asked the question that had bothered her since she'd first caught a glimpse of him and found out how badly he'd screwed Janet over. She abruptly realized how that sounded, especially given her own less than sterling choices on the romantic front. "Scratch that," she said quickly. "Not a question I have any right to ask ... especially since my ex-fiancÚ tried to murder my team and declare himself a god." Hurt showed in her eyes at the memory, though it was hard to pin down the precise cause of the grief.
"No, it's a fair question," Janet disagreed. She pushed up on one elbow, gnawing thoughtfully on her lower lip as she tried to formulate an answer that made sense and came up empty. "Stupidity," she sighed at last, "and good hair. I've always had a weakness for hair." She made a sound that was half snort and half grim laughter. "Plus he had a knack for knowing when I was feeling vulnerable ... and being young and stupid, I thought that meant something about how he felt about me, rather than what a manipulator he is."
Sam set her makeshift box aside and flopped onto her back with a sad sigh. "I know how that goes." Once upon a time she'd thought Jonas' possessiveness was somehow romantic. "Oh, how I know."
"Jonas Hanson," Janet murmured thoughtfully. "Speaking of wondering how someone wound up with such a winner...." She trailed off meaningfully.
Sam shrugged, closing her eyes against the memory. "I thought his obsession with me was a compliment.... It was flattering to feel so important to someone else ... or at least it was at first ... until he started treating me like his property...." She shook her head. "Sometimes I wonder if it was my fault ... the way he ended it all."
"Your fault?" Janet repeated doubtfully. "And you come to that conclusion how exactly?"
Sam was silent for a moment, then she quietly admitted, "I never loved Jonas ... I thought I did, but I didn't." She pinched the bridge of her nose tightly between thumb and forefinger to stave off the threat of tears. "He knew it ... what if that's what--"
"Bit of an ego you've got there, Captain," Fraiser interrupted with a trace of humor.
Sam opened on eye and peered at the other woman, not quite believing what she'd heard. "Excuse me?"
Janet sat up again, resting her elbows on her knees. "You don't honestly think that your not loving Jonas Hanson made him a narcissistic sociopath, do you? My God, if that's all it took, half the SGC would be out to take over the universe." She saw Sam's expression melt into one of genuine confusion and realized she truly hadn't noticed how most of the people in the place were constantly falling all over themselves in an effort to impress her. And since telling her wasn't something Janet had any desire to attempt.... "After all, a fair percentage of us have been dumped or had a bad case of unrequited love somewhere along the way," she covered the near gaffe neatly.
Phrased that way, it seemed like a silly idea, leaving Sam uncertain how to respond, so she simply stared at the doctor for a beat. "It's just that he seemed to need me--" she began at last, but Janet cut her off.
"It doesn't work that way, Sam. Not having someone love you back when you love them hurts, but it doesn't make a sane person crazy ... thank god, or the world would be even more screwed up than it already is."
Sam sighed softly. It was hard to argue with that comment. "I just worry sometimes ... I feel like I failed him somehow," she admitted. It was why she hadn't been able to do what she'd known was right and simply shoot him. She'd felt responsible for what he'd become somehow.
"You didn't make him crazy, Sam," Janet pointed out, in case there was any doubt. "He should never have been on the project. In fact, Dr. McKenzie said as much during his psych eval. Unfortunately, his recommendations were overridden because of Colonel Hanson's service record ... just like a breakdown he had three years ago was covered up." She dropped the last bombshell with quiet seriousness. "I wasn't on the project yet, or there'd have been one hell of a fight, but believe me, Jonas Hanson's problems began long before you broke up with him."
Sam frowned. It was all news to her. She knew Jonas had had some problems, but hadn't known it had gone that far. "I didn't know."
"Jonas Hanson had no business in the military. He should have been thrown out ten years ago, but there are always officers who have a use for soldiers on the edge."
Sam closed her eyes for a long moment, not quite trusting herself to speak. She reached up, running her bangs back from her forehead as she felt hot tears slip from the corners of her eyes and trail back into her hair.
"He's not worth your tears, Sam," Janet said gently.
"I'm not crying for him," Sam denied, though she wasn't entirely certain who she was crying for. A warm hand landed on her thigh, patting lightly in an effort to soothe her turmoil.
"I thought I was supposed to be the one falling apart tonight," the doctor sighed in a fit of grim humor.
Sam sat up abruptly as it all came rushing back, vivid blue eyes snapping open to stare at Janet. "I won't let it happen," she swore intently.
"Sam--" Janet began, but Sam cut her off.
"I mean it." She reached out, cupping a hand along the side of the other woman's face. "If he tries to touch you, I'll break his neck." No doubt about exactly who and what she meant.
Janet shook her head. "Sam ... no--"
"Yes," Carter disagreed. Normally, Sam Carter was about as non-violent a person as there was, but the notion of any woman being victimized in that way -- but particularly a friend -- made her blood boil with raw rage. Janet had already had to deal with one stalker. No way was Carter going to stand by and see it happen again.
Janet caught the hand cupping her cheek and held on tightly. "No," she repeated firmly. "You said, 'Choose your battles wisely,' and you were right. They'd kill you."
Sam shook her head in denial. "I can't just stand by and let--"
"You'll do what you have to," Janet cut her off, her voice close to cracking. "There are too many of them ... we'll both lose if you fight...."
Sam stared at her friend through a haze of disbelief. "So ... what .... you plan on just surrendering?"
Janet swallowed hard, answering with deceptive calm. "If that's what it takes." Only the turbulent look in her eyes gave away what it cost her to make that concession.
"Janet--" Sam's voice had a desperate, pleading quality.
"I mean it," the brunette snapped. Dark eyes slid closed for a brief second, then opened again; twin wells of pain. "I don't believe in fates worse than death ... I can survive whatever I have to ... but if you hurt him, they'll kill you...."
Sam didn't know what to say. What Janet was asking went against every instinct she possessed, but at the same time, she saw the truth in what she was saying.
"Promise me," Janet whispered, staring intently into overbright blue eyes, "that you won't leave me alone in here." They had both seen enough of the oracle's determination to know that Sam wasn't going to be released, so she wasn't asking her to turn down an opportunity to leave. That left only one meaning.
Sam swallowed hard, the constriction in her throat making it hard to speak. She shook her head stiffly. "I don't think I can do that." Standing by while someone she cared for was hurt wasn't in her nature.
"Dammit, Sam, I don't think I can survive this if you get yourself killed." Her voice was tempered steel as she made her demand. "Now, I want your word."
Carter's fingers ached from the desperate pressure inflicted by the doctor's hard hold. "All right," she exhaled at last, the answer torn from her.
A harsh, shuddering sigh escaped Janet's lips and, without planning, she leaned forehead against the solid support of Sam's shoulder, soothed by the gentle hand that curved to the back of her head, just barely stroking her hair.
"I want your word in return," Sam husked, her breath ruffling silky hair as she rested her cheek against Janet's temple, "that you'll hold on and you won't lose faith that we'll get out of this."
"Your word," Carter said implacably.
"You have my word, I won't lose faith in you," Janet promised. "That's the best I can do."
"Then it'll have to do," Sam whispered. "I'll just have to live up to your trust."
A small smile curved Janet's mouth as she nuzzled deeper into Sam's shoulder, feeling incredibly warmed and protected. "You have so far...."
* * * * * *
Molars grinding with barely contained anger, George Hammond glared at Jack O'Neill. For a moment, he was perfectly silent as O'Neill finished his explanation of what had taken place on P4R-I3X, not entirely certain he'd heard what he thought he'd heard. He glanced back and forth between O'Neill, Jackson, and Teal'c and knew it was true when even the Jaffa looked almost uneasy. Finally, he drew a breath, his tone a thermonuclear blast of disapproval when he finally spoke. "Colonel, can you possibly give me even one good reason why in the hell you allowed a second officer to enter the Routtuan Royal City after they had already made it plain they weren't going to release the first one who went in there?"
O'Neill shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other under his superior's angry gaze. Normally, he wasn't one to take remonstrances to heart, but Hammond wasn't saying anything he hadn't thought himself. For once, none of the usual sarcastic rejoinders came out. He offered a hangdog shrug that was part embarrassment, part defensiveness. "Captain Carter felt strongly that she could gain intelligence that could aid in freeing Doctor Fraiser--"
"And it didn't occur to you that you were simply handing the Routtuan's a second hostage?" Hammond bit out furiously.
"Of course, it did," Jack snapped back. "But she was supposed to come back out.... She felt the risk was minimal and I...." He made a disgusted sound, furious at himself for going along with Carter's plan. "I hoped she was right."
"In fairness, General Hammond," Daniel began more calmly. "Sam apparently made the decision to purposely reveal herself to the god-king in order to stay--"
Hammond turned the flinty gaze on the Egyptologist, making him flinch. "And this surprises you because?" he demanded impatiently.
"Captain Carter is the kind of officer who places loyalty above damn near everything else ... particularly personal loyalty. They're not just colleague, they're friends...." Hammond snorted angrily and glared at Jack. "You should have known this would happen."
"You are correct," Teal'c said, finally breaking his self-imposed silence as he drew himself a fraction straighter, commanding their attention. "However the situation exists. Recriminations change nothing. Now we must decide how we will respond."
A moment of total silence passed after the Jaffa finished speaking.
"He's right," Jack said practically. "It's done. The question is what we're gonna do about it."
Hammond's sharp gaze pinned O'Neill in place. "What do you think, Colonel?" he demanded, his tone acid.