Janet Fraiser closed the front door behind her and just fell against it for a long moment. She closed her eyes, trying to shut out the light that was only increasing the pounding in her skull. Strange, but she didn't even know how long it had been since SG-1 and SG-3 had returned from that fateful mission to P3X-797, only that it had felt like an eternity.
Eternity in a hell where she was surrounded by people in need and helpless to heal them. Thank God for Mr. Teal'c...Teal'c...if he hadn't succeeded in bringing back the blood sample, she might still be trapped in that nightmare.
Feeling more drained than she probably had since the night she lost her husband, Janet opened her eyes, dropped her keys on the first flat surface she came to and half strode, half stumbled into the house.
She found the message light on the answering machine blinking urgently and seriously contemplated ignoring it. But she reminded herself that it might be something urgent, so she hit the button with a sigh.
The voice on the other end of the line almost made her cry with relief.
"Heya, Kid, it's Al. Wish I could say I had news for you, but so far no change. At least he's still out there--hasn't gotten himself killed yet. Still...wanted to check in with you and see how you were settling in to the new place. Give me a call; that's an order."
Janet smiled fondly at the gruff voice. It was just like him to check up on her, and to "order" her to call him back. She wondered idly what the Marines back at the base would think if they knew that one of her best friends was a Navy Admiral, who cheerfully gave her orders but refused to let her stand on ceremony or address him by rank because her husband, the civilian, never did.
The CMO of the SGC closed her eyes again, weariness returning with the memory of the other part of Al's message: "Wish I could say I had news for you..."
But there was no news...which meant that Sam was still Leaping, and the Project was no closer to finding a way to retrieve him. For all practical intents and purposes...she was still a widow. Worse than a widow. The man she loved more than anything had abandoned her, and didn't even remember that she existed, let alone had ever been part of his life.
No...that was the bitterness talking and she knew it. Sam loved her...and he hadn't known that he wouldn't be able to get home, or that he wouldn't remember her when he was gone. But damn him, he should have known. He should have been sure he could come home before he left, instead of panicking that the private funding they relied so heavily on was going to be pulled.
Janet laughed at herself. Right--ask a dreamer to look before he Leaps? To not take the only chance remaining that could save that dream? She knew him better than that. Knew that for all his brilliance, Dr. Sam Beckett was still naive...hopeful to a fault. And she wouldn't want him any other way.
Except home. Selfish as she knew it was, there were times when she would gladly let her husband's dream be destroyed forever just to have him home again.
There were three more messages from Al on the machine, each one sounding a little more urgent, a little more worried. Poor Al--he was so determined to take care of her, even a whole state away. He'd even been the one who encouraged her to accept this new posting in Colorado--told her Sam wouldn't want her to put her life on hold forever, and the Air Force wouldn't let her anyway, so she might as well take it now, while moving on was still her choice.
He didn't encourage her to file for divorce or have Sam declared dead, like some would have--after what he'd been through in his own life, she knew he couldn't have done that even if he'd thought that was what she wanted or needed--but he'd given her permission on Sam's behalf to walk away for a time from the endless search. To rest her heart so it would be strong enough to survive the separation.
Al had been her lifeline, in some ways, just as much as he'd been Sam's. It wasn't hard to decide to follow "orders" and call him back.
"Calavicci," a grumpy, sleep-roughened voice answered the phone. "Gushie, if that's you, I'm gonna kill you with your own damned bad breath--"
For the first time since she'd arrived home, Janet looked--really looked--at the clock. 4AM--she hadn't even noticed the weak pre-dawn light on the way over, or if she had, she'd probably dismissed it as sunset rather than sunrise. "Oh God, Al, I'm sorry. I didn't realize how early it was."
She heard the bedsprings creak softly as he sat up. "Wait--Janet, is that you? Don't hang up; I just thought Gushie was calling to tell me Sam had Leaped in already..."
Janet smiled ruefully. "When did you finally get home after the last Leap?"
"Don't ask," the Admiral groaned. "Let's just say for once I'm glad he disappears into the ether for days at a time and leave it at that."
She laughed softly. It was strange to be able to joke about Sam's Leaps without feeling the raw burn of his loss. Of course it still hurt, but not as much. Hope faded, but so did the pain. And that hope wasn't gone, just...shelved for the time being. Until she had reason to pull it out again.
"So what took you so long?" was Al's next dry question. "I called..." There was a long pause before he finally concluded, "...days ago."
So she wasn't the only one for whom the days had blurred.
"That's probably because I haven't been home in days," Janet admitted with a tired sigh. "We had a bit of a crisis--what sleep I got, I snatched on an empty bed in the infirmary when there was an empty bed."
"Baptism by fire, huh?" the Admiral sympathized. She could almost hear the apologetic grimace in his voice.
"To say the least...but honestly, Al?" She sighed, collapsing on the couch and running her free hand over her forehead. "Now I really know what I'm dealing with. No more surprises...or at least, now I know to expect the unexpected."
"I'd say that sounds unusual for Colorado, but then I know the sort of unconventional things we deal with here in New Mexico," he answered dryly.
Janet smiled. "I'd tell you more if I could...God knows, you probably have the clearance--"
Al made a little "pfft" noise. "Don't worry about it. Tell me a little bit about the folks you're working with instead--they got half as eclectic a group there as we do here?" he teased.
That made her laugh. "Oh, you have no idea. Honestly, Al? If Sam is the greatest mind of his generation, then the second, third, fourth and all the way down to hundredth greatest must be here. Well..." A sly smile crossed her face. "With the exception of you and Gushie and Verbena--"
"I wouldn't exactly call myself one of the greatest minds of anything," Al snorted self-deprecatingly. "Real genius mecca you've got there, huh? Are we talking the greatest minds the Air Force has to offer?" there was a mild, playful note of derision in the way he said the words 'Air Force.' The Admiral cheerfully kept all the inter-branch rivalries alive, but with enough good-hearted humor so as not to burn his friends who belonged to some of those other branches.
"No, pretty much every branch is represented, although most of the upper echelons of the chain of command are Air Force," Janet corrected. "We have a few civilians too," she added, thinking of Dr. Jackson and Teal'c. "What I can tell you is that this is one of those projects like Sam's, that everyone wants a bite of."
Al sighed. "Until it goes ca-ca, you mean? And the nozzles out in Washington start to worry about getting their hands dirty?"
"Well, if you'll forgive me for being cryptic, I think if this particular project went 'ca-ca,' the whole world would be in trouble," she echoed his sigh.
"That big, huh?" the Admiral asked rhetorically. She heard him fight a yawn.
"I should call you back when it's a more decent hour--"
"Don't be ridiculous," he admonished. "I've always got time for my best friend's girl. Besides, it sounds like you could use somebody to talk to. You may not be able to tell me the whole story, but tell me about a couple of these second-greatest minds of their generation."
Janet chuckled again. "Well, the only one I really got a chance to meet properly was Dr. Jackson. Captain Carter--she's the other brilliant mind on our flagship team--was one of my patients, and not really very coherent at the time we were introduced."
"Dr. Jackson would be one of the civilians you were talking about?"
"Yes," she nodded. "From what I understand he has doctorates in archaeology and linguistics, with a particular interest in Egyptology."
Al grunted. "I'd ask what the Air Force wants with an archaeologist, but I have a feeling your superiors would react to that about the way the Committee would if I tried to send Sam a coded message in hieroglyphics."
She covered her mouth with her hand to keep a giggle from escaping. One thing Al had always been able to do was make her laugh, even at the worst of times.
"He reminds me of Sam, a little," she admitted once the laughter had subsided. "He has that same wide-eyed innocent quality, even after all he's been through--" She stopped herself there, stopped herself from passing on the story she'd only just recently heard. The story that made her feel a pang of sympathy for him. If anyone knew what it was like to be torn apart by circumstances beyond your control, to spend every waking moment searching for the lost love that part of your heart feared you would never find...it was her. "--and he reminds me of me a little too. His wife went missing about the time this project got started up again."
Janet knew that particular understatement didn't begin to express the magnitude of the loss, or what Dr. Jackson had already gone through to try to find Sha're, but it was enough to make the Admiral understand.
He did. "So how are you holding up? Really?"
"Better than I was. Considering the first crisis hit almost the minute I reported for duty, I haven't had time to even think about Sam, let alone dwell on his absence--"
"Whereas here you had nothing to do but dwell on it, since your only patients were the Visitors," Al finished her thought in a tone of quiet approval. "That's good...I mean, not that the place went to hell in a handbasket as soon as you got there, but that you've got something to focus on. Something to take your mind off things."
"Have you ever considered taking your own advice?" she asked. "Maybe getting away for a little while yourself?"
Al laughed coarsely. "Janet, honey, I'm the one person who can't," he sighed. "Look what happened the last time I went to Washington to talk to the Committee..."
Janet nodded. She'd known that was the answer she would get, but part of her had to ask: the part of her that still felt guilty that it was Al, not her, who had sacrificed everything to keep the Project afloat long enough for them to solve the problem of the retrieval program, to see Sam through each Leap so that he would survive long enough to be retrieved.
But she was only a Captain, not an Admiral or a General. She didn't have the rank or the connections to have any real clout with Congress or the President. And she couldn't have acted as Observer even if she wanted to; too often the success of Sam's Leaps depended on that hole in his memory that was the shape of their marriage.
"It's not fair," she stated quietly but firmly. "Not to you, not to me...Sam couldn't let go, so instead he dragged us all along on this wild ride of his. And we can't get off it without the risk of losing him forever."
"I know," the Admiral agreed, his voice soft and sympathetic. "But that's the chance you take, Kiddo, when you love a dreamer."
A long silence stretched between them as both quietly acknowledged the truth of those words. Finally, Al sighed. "You gonna be okay?" he asked.
"I'll survive," she replied simply.
As long as time and space divided them, it was all she could do: keep surviving, keep waiting and hoping for the day when Sam would come home, and keep praying for the strength not to give up on him.
"Good. If you need anything, you know where to find me."
Janet smiled faintly. "At Sam's side, where you've been ever since Star Bright. Take care of him for me, Al."
"Damned straight I will," Al agreed firmly with a mild snort. "You take care of yourself, okay? And get some sleep."
"I will. I promise." She hung up, still wearing that same half-hearted smile, and took a long hard look around her at the house, with its bare walls and forlorn stacks of boxes lining them. She'd put off unpacking, still hoping in a small corner of her heart that Al would call her to tell her to come back, that the separation was over. But now...she knew without a doubt that this was where she belonged. At least until Sam came to retrieve her himself, this was home.
First thing tomorrow, she'd open a few of those boxes and make the place look like it.