"Your silence is speaking louder than words, you know." Daniel spoke softly, but his voice sounded loud in the early morning stillness that surrounded them as they drove down the empty mountain road an hour later.
"Excuse me?" Janet asked, unsure whether she'd heard him correctly.
"We usually talk about stuff like this, Janet. Big or small, hash it out; get it off our chests and into the open. Like you always say, 'Let it out or it'll eat you alive,' remember? The fact that you're not talking this time... that says a lot about how deeply it's affected you."
Janet's eyes widened in annoyance. "I wasn't aware you had a degree in psychology, Daniel," she said, unable to hide the irritability in her tone.
"I don't. I just know you."
This simple, matter-of-fact statement made Janet cringe as well as filling her heart with a pleasant feeling of warmth. She knew it was true - Daniel knew her better than most people in her life ever had or ever could. He was the only man she had ever enjoyed such a close friendship with, and she had often found herself opening up to him about things she was never able to share with anyone else. It was so easy to do with Daniel, simply because he listened and he cared. Sure, there were times when his thoughts would carry him far away, and no one and nothing could distract his attention from whatever artifact or text he was studying, but he also seemed to have some kind of sixth sense when it came to people he cared about. If there was something on someone's mind, or if they were hurting in any way, he was there in a heartbeat to do whatever he could to make them feel better. It was one of the traits she admired the most in him, yet at that particular moment she wished he wasn't quite so perceptive.
Janet took a slow, deep breath as she tried to think of something to say that would at least buy her some time before the inevitable discussion had to take place. "Daniel... I appreciate your concern. I really do. You're absolutely right - I've been on an emotional roller coaster ride these last few days, and there are certain things I need to come to terms with... but right now, all I want to do is go home, put my feet up, have something to eat, watch a good movie, and just relax. I'll take a rain check... okay?"
Daniel glanced over at her for a second or two as though testing the sincerity of her speech. Janet forced herself to meet his gaze openly. She saw his jaw clench as he returned his focus back to the road. "Okay," he said a moment later.
Janet studied his profile with suspicion. 'That was easy,' she thought. 'Too easy.' She wasn't about to question it, however. "Thank you," she said as she turned to look out of her window.
They spent the remainder of the drive in silence. Until, that is, it was broken by a groan and a rather unladylike mutter from Janet as they pulled up in front of her house.
"Are those yours?" Daniel asked needlessly, gesturing towards the two large, empty garbage cans that were rolling back and forth in the wind from one side of the street to the other.
"Yes," Janet answered with an aggravated sigh. "Cassie was supposed to bring them in yesterday after school, before she went over to the Patterson's house for the night. She must have forgotten."
"I'll get them," Daniel volunteered, unfastening his seatbelt as he spoke.
"No, Daniel, you don't have to..."
"I'll. Get. Them." He shot her a look that she supposed could rival one of her own no-nonsense glares, and got out of the car.
Janet couldn't help but roll her eyes and wince in frustration. She had hoped that he would just be dropping her off and driving away, but now that he was out of the car she was no longer sure that she'd managed to escape a confrontation after all.
She quickly left the vehicle and walked up the driveway, fishing in her jacket pockets for her keys as she went. If she could open the door before Daniel brought the cans up to the house, she could call goodbye to him and that would be that. It wasn't until she inserted the front door key in the lock and felt the now-familiar snick that she remembered - the lock on the front door was broken. She and Cassie had been using the side door for the past two weeks because Janet hadn't had time yet to call the locksmith. She groaned again and rested her head against the doorframe in defeat.
"Something wrong?" Daniel called over to her as he placed the cans in their holders by the side of the house.
"No, everything's fine. The key just gets jammed sometimes. There's a bit of a trick to it." She jiggled the key up and down and pushed at it with all of her might, but it didn't budge. Words she hadn't uttered in years suddenly flooded through her mind in regards to that key.
"Need some help?"
The question made Janet jump slightly, as she hadn't realized that Daniel had joined her on the porch. He was standing at her elbow, watching her with a hint of amusement on his face.
"No, I can manage just fine, thank you," was Janet's acidic reply.
Daniel shrugged and stifled a grin. "I thought you were going to get that fixed weeks ago."
"Well, I've been rather..." She gave it one last yank for all she was worth, and it finally turned. "Busy," she finished with an air of weary triumph.
"Right." Daniel nodded. "Um... mind if I come in and wash my hands? One of those cans was kind of... sticky." He wrinkled his nose and held his hands up for inspection, the action making him look all of twelve years old.
Janet smiled and shook her head in amused wonder. 'If I didn't know better, I'd swear he arranged this whole thing,' she thought. She had to hand it to him - a moment earlier she had been determined not to let him inside for any reason, but he had won the battle without even putting up a fight. 'That man could charm his way around anyone. Incredible.' "No, of course I don't mind, Daniel. Come on in," she said as she swung the door open. She entered the front foyer and held the door while he followed her in.
Daniel wasted no time in making a beeline for the kitchen, so by the time Janet had shut the door behind him, placed her keys on their tray, picked the mail up off the floor and shed her jacket, he had come back. "So, is there anything else I can do? Anything I can get for you? Anything at all."
"Want me to find a jar for you to open?" she asked flippantly.
"Yeah, if you're having trouble with one."
Janet resisted the urge to laugh at his eagerness to please, though at the same time she felt an urge to strangle him for it. "No, Daniel, you've done more than enough. Really, I'm fine. Thank you for the ride, thank you for rescuing my garbage cans... thank you for everything. Now you may go." She tried to keep her tone as light as possible, feigning the air of a queen as she waved him toward the door, but it was difficult to keep her irritability in check. Especially when he didn't take the hint.
"Yes, I'm sure," she said with yet another sigh. "Why are you treating me like a child all of a sudden, anyway?"
"I'm not, I'm just trying to help..."
She wasn't able to keep from snapping at him that time. "And what makes you think I need your help, Daniel?"
Daniel stared at her in silence for a long moment. His voice was gentle and serious when he finally replied, "Everyone needs help sometimes, Janet."
"Really?" she said with an edge of sarcasm in her tone. "You're not about to burst into song, are you?" She folded her arms and turned away from him, knowing she was acting irrational and saying things she would later regret. She fought to get herself under control, to stop feeling so angry and annoyed with the dear friend whose only crime was his good intentions, but for some reason unknown to her, it seemed to be a battle she just couldn't win.
"Janet." He stepped up so closely behind her that when she turned around she had to crane her head right back just to look at him. "You are one of the strongest people I've ever known, and I've always admired you for that. But the old adage applies here. The doctor takes care of everyone else without hesitation and with barely a moment's rest, but at the end of the day... who takes care of the doctor?"
Janet knew where he was going with this question, but she wasn't about to make it easy for him. "The doctor takes care of herself," she answered, the stony, defensive tone in her voice mirroring the walls she had built around herself throughout her life. She had always believed that, especially since her divorce - she could and would take care of herself, and didn't need help from anyone, least of all from a man. Despite the fact that Sam and Daniel had both managed to soften that wall over the past few years, getting her to the point where she would share confidences and open up more on an emotional level, the thought of needing someone still made her cringe. She was a grown woman and could take care of herself, thank you. She was determined that she would never need anyone ever again.
Daniel, however, wasn't falling for the act. Once again, he was looking directly into her eyes with such intensity that she was sure he was looking straight into her soul and could read her deepest, most carefully guarded secrets. "Does she?" he asked quietly.
Those two little words were spoken with such tenderness and compassion that they were enough to bring those pesky tears back to her eyes. She tried to blink them back, but that only made them sting all the more. "Daniel..."
"Why won't you let me in, Janet?"
She stared at him in shock at this question, her eyes still held captive by his gaze. She knew what he was asking, and it was something that the dedicated doctor in her did not want to hear. "Daniel, please don't do this. Not now..."
"If not now, then when? If you can't accept help or... comfort from me now... then when?"
"Maybe never," she replied, but she knew he could see it for the lie that it was. She wanted to turn away from him - wanted to stop him from looking through her eyes into her heart and reading it as easily as he read any one of his countless books - but she found she couldn't move.
Daniel shook his head and laid a hand on her shoulder. "I'm not military, Janet. You don't have to keep up the 'emotionally detached' act around me."
"You're my patient," she said almost automatically, trying not to notice that her shoulder was tingling under his touch.
"Not at the moment, I'm not."
Janet felt a shiver run down her spine, but she wasn't sure whether it was from pleasure or fear at the words he was saying and the tone in which he was saying them.
"If nothing else, Janet, I'm at least your friend. I've got two shoulders if you need to borrow one for a little while."
Janet's heart was aching at his soft tone and the caring look in his eyes. He was looking that way at her. He felt that way about her. Suddenly, nothing else seemed to matter. She could feel something inside her begin to give way as she slowly leaned forward to rest her head against his chest. His strong arms wrapped around her shoulders like a warm blanket, blocking everything else out and giving her a feeling of security that she hadn't felt in years.
After a few moments of comfortable silence, Daniel said gently, "I overheard you telling Sam that you would resign if... if Teal'c didn't make it."
This was the conversation Janet had been dreading, yet somehow it didn't seem quite so intimidating when he was holding her like this. "I know," she answered simply. She had glanced over at Daniel just in time to see the look of surprise and dismay cross his features as she had spoken those words to Sam hours earlier in the infirmary.
"You meant it, didn't you."
Janet knew that was a statement and not a question, so there was no sense in trying to deny it. "Yes."
"And what about now? Are you still considering it now that he's recovered?"
There it was. She had known that he would ask her that question... and it was a question she did not, as yet, know how to answer.
Or did she? Suddenly, standing there with those calming, reassuring arms around her, the answer became all too clear. "Yes."
There. She'd said it. Daniel had managed to drag, or perhaps soothe, the truth out of her before she'd even had a chance to fully discover what it was herself. Yes, she was still on the verge of resigning her commission, or at least her position within the SGC. The past few months had just been so horrible. First she had lost so many patients all at once to the after effects of the addictive "light", and she had almost lost Daniel to it as well, just as she had discovered how much she was coming to care for him. She had almost lost Sam to an alien entity just a short time later, and had come within a hair's breadth of having to "pull the plug" on her best friend. Soon after that, she had spent two long days in agony, not knowing whether SG-1 were alive or dead after they were supposedly killed in the blast from the sun they had exploded in order to destroy Apophis' fleet. Last but not least, she had watched Teal'c rail against his "Tau'ri captors", trying to kill his own friends because of Apophis' thorough brainwashing job, and then was forced to watch helplessly as Teal'c's symbiote had been removed in an effort to "save him." She just didn't know how much more she could take.
"Yes, I am," she repeated, stepping back from Daniel slightly in order to look up into his face.
Janet gave a short laugh at this question. "Why? I think you of all people know the answer to that question, Daniel." To her annoyance, her voice wavered as she spoke, betraying the depth of her emotion and the sensitive nature of the answer that she hadn't voiced.
Daniel picked up on it right away. He touched the side of her face gently as he searched for the words to say to her. "Look... maybe I don't always agree with the way things are done at the SGC... but isn't that why I'm there? To provide another viewpoint?"
Janet was momentarily confused by this response. They had had this discussion many times before, but she failed to see the relevance it had for her right now. "Yes. That's why you're there, Daniel. I'm there to monitor and maintain the health of the base personnel."
"Yes, exactly. And you did. Teal'c would have died today if it weren't for you. You really came through for him when it came to the end of the line, and while Bra'tac was the one who helped save Teal'c's soul, you were the one who saved his life. Anyone else might not have tried so hard or acted so quickly, but you..." His expression softened even more as he looked down at her and traced the outline of her cheekbone with his thumb. "You were amazing."
Janet's heart fluttered at this pronouncement, and she felt herself begin to blush at the awe and reverence Daniel was clearly feeling towards her. She was almost rendered speechless, but managed to repeat the word questioningly, "Amazing?"
"Amazing," he affirmed in all seriousness. "The SGC needs you, Janet. We need your strength and determination if we're going to survive all that's thrown at us out there."
While still feeling flattered by his praise, the enormity of that thought began to press down hard upon her shoulders. She suddenly felt drained, and leaned against him for a moment as if to draw on his strength. She soon pulled back, but her hands still rested on his chest, and she unconsciously started up a slow stroking motion as she spoke. "I'm just so tired, Daniel. I'm tired of losing so many... of coming so close to losing the people I care about... of having to just nod and say 'Yes, Sir,' when I'm asked to do something I believe is wrong!"
"I know." Daniel's voice was so full of empathy that he almost seemed to choke on the words. He began fingering her hair with one hand while gently tracing circles on her back and shoulders with the palm of the other. "I know how hard it can be. Believe me, I do. You know all too well that there are times when I feel the same way, but you also know that I stay because I believe in what we do. As long as there are still people who need us, as long as there are still lives to save, we have to keep fighting for them."
Janet shook her head sorrowfully. "I don't know if I can take much more of it, Daniel," she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.
"You can," he said firmly, tilting her face up to look at him. "But you don't have to do it alone. You have me, Janet. Don't be afraid to lean on me every once in a while when things get to be too much. I'll always be here for you."
Janet was so touched by this that she could no longer hold back her tears. She let them flow unrestrained as she buried her face in the front of his shirt and felt his arms fold around her again. The strange thing was, she didn't feel at all embarrassed or ashamed to do so. There was something about Daniel that brought emotions out in people, she realized. He possessed a soft, compassionate, comforting air that made those around him feel safe enough to bare their souls to him... to let their guard down and allow their true feelings to rise to the surface where he could then take a part of their weight upon his own shoulders and soothe the hurt away.
And so he did. With every tear she shed, every sweet and comforting word she heard whispered into her hair, and every tender stroke she felt along her back, Janet could feel the weight of worry, grief, anger, and doubt that had been building up inside of her over the last few days beginning to disappear. For the first time in a very long time, Janet found herself completely opening up and leaning on someone else for support... and liking it. This was the most startling revelation of all. She had told herself for years that she would never need or want a man in her life ever again, yet the moment this man drew her so close to himself that she could feel his heartbeat against her cheek, feel his warm breath in her hair, and feel his love for her seeming to emanate from every fiber of his being, she suddenly felt as though a part of herself that had long been missing had now been found.
Her tears ceased as she closed her eyes and allowed these new sensations to surround her and drown out everything else in the world. She realized as she drew in a slow, deep breath to inhale his unique, wonderful scent that she was clutching the front of his shirt in her fists. Releasing it from her grasp, she snaked her arms around his back, enjoying the feel of his muscles beneath the palms of her hands. A thrill of pleasure ran through her when she felt him give a soft sigh and relax into the embrace.
A moment that felt like half a lifetime passed before she felt him move away from her, and she opened her eyes as he removed one arm from around her waist. He placed one finger under her chin in order to tilt her face up to look at him, and she found herself hypnotized by the beautiful, love-filled blue eyes that gazed down upon her.
"Feel any better?" she heard him ask, though his voice was so quiet that it was barely audible over the sudden rushing in her ears as her heart began to pound wildly.
"Much better," she whispered.
"Good." A smile played at the corners of his mouth, doing strange things to Janet's insides.
And then it happened. His face slowly drew closer to her own, and she found herself unable, or perhaps unwilling, to pull away. She closed her eyes as his lips met hers, savouring every sensation of that wonderful moment. What began as a gentle, hesitant kiss soon became loving, passionate, intimate... magical. Daniel was holding her in his arms... Daniel was kissing her so tenderly... Daniel had fallen in love with her... she had fallen in love with Daniel... this felt so very, very right...
This was so very, very wrong.
The thought echoed in her ears as though it had been shouted through a bullhorn. What should have been one of the most beautiful, enchanting moments of her life was ruined as her conscience reminded her loud and clear of the very important rule that had been drummed into her mind all throughout her medical training - "Doctors must never allow themselves to become romantically involved with one of their patients." Even if she tossed the military and all of its regulations out of the window, that truth still remained. This was Daniel... he was her patient... oh, what had she done?
She quickly pulled her face away from his, pushing against his chest until he released her from his embrace. "Daniel, I'm sorry, I... I can't," she said, gasping for breath. "I think you should leave."
Daniel stared at her open-mouthed, obviously hurt and confused by the sudden change that had come over her. "Oh Janet, I'm so sorry," he said, his voice tight with concern. "I didn't mean to upset you, I thought..."
"I know... you didn't... just please go." She could feel herself shaking as her eyes once again filled with tears, her heart breaking at the look on his face. Folding her arms across her chest as if seeking some small sense of comfort, she turned away from him and walked a few steps across the room before his voice stopped her dead in her tracks.
She turned back around to face him, though she avoided making eye contact at all costs. His look of confusion was gone, and in its place was a look of determination and... could that be anger she saw there as well?
"I'm not leaving until you can look me in the eye and tell me honestly that you don't want me to stay."
Janet closed her eyes in despair. That was the one thing she could not do. She wanted him to stay more than anything else in the world. She wanted to feel his arms around her again, wanted to taste his kiss, wanted to hear him whisper words of love into her ear... but it was the one thing that could not, must not be. "Please, Daniel," she begged, "don't make this harder than it is already."
Daniel stepped forward and laid his hands on her shoulders, the action sending a sharp pain straight through Janet's heart. "Why does it have to be hard?" he asked, his voice gentle and caring.
"Because this is wrong." Janet all but choked on the words; she hated so much to say them.
"Why? Because you're the doctor? Janet, you're the doctor of an entire base full of people; how is it wrong for you to grow to care about just one?"
Once again, he was reading her mind. She chanced a look up into his face as he spoke, and her resolve almost crumbled when she saw the love that still shone in his eyes. Gritting her teeth in determination, she struggled to regain her sense of detachment. Unfortunately, it was easier said than done. "Have you forgotten that I'm also a military officer, Daniel? There are regulations..."
Daniel knew very well what the regulations regarding fraternization between officers and civilians under the same command were, but it didn't seem to faze him in the least. "It can't be labeled 'an inappropriate relationship' in this context, Janet," he interrupted her, tenderly brushing locks of damp hair back from her face with his fingertips. "It's called falling in love."
Janet shivered and turned her head to the side in a vain attempt to avoid his touch.
"They do make exceptions for some cases, Janet. I'm sure if we just talked to General Hammond..."
He stopped mid-sentence when she winced and shook her head slightly, biting her lip to keep the tears at bay.
"Unless... you don't feel the same. Do you?"
She glanced at him briefly, but immediately had to look away again. It was too late, however; her tears threatened to fall afresh at the wounded look she had seen on his face.
Daniel let his hands drop to his sides as quickly as if he'd been burned. "Of course you don't. Boy, do I feel like an idiot," he muttered as if to himself.
Janet felt a shudder pass through her from head to toe at the hard edge of self-derision she heard behind his words. "I'm sorry, Daniel," she said, shaking her head in sorrow and regret. She knew what her rejection could potentially do to him, and in effect, to their friendship. "It's not your fault. I just can't."
He gazed at her for a moment in silence; then to her immense relief, she heard him murmur, "Okay." He pulled her in toward himself once again and laid her head against his chest. "Okay," he whispered into her hair as he brushed a kiss against the top of her head - a kiss that somehow felt like a goodbye.
This only made Janet's tears even harder to contain, and she found herself clinging to his shirt and leaning heavily against him for physical support rather than emotional comfort as she sobbed. This time, however, her tears were exhausting rather than cathartic. The man who had soothed away her pain just moments earlier was now the reason her heart was breaking. The arms that had been so warm and comforting now felt cold and stiff, and held onto her painfully tight.
"It's okay. Shhh, it's alright," he was saying, but nothing could be further from the truth. Janet felt as though things would never be okay again.
She soon felt herself being pried away from him, and she looked up as he cupped her face in his hands. He had been crying, too, she could see, but his voice was calm and steady when he spoke.
"Janet... I really am sorry that I put you in this position. If you don't want to take our relationship any further, I do understand. I just want you to know that I care about you too much to lose your friendship over this. Please don't tell me that I've messed things up so badly just now that we'll never be the same again."
His eyes searched hers with such innocent anxiety and pleading that Janet had to use every ounce of strength she possessed to bring her emotions under control. "Of course not, Daniel," she assured him, trying to keep her voice steady and stop the tears escaping from her eyes. "You haven't messed anything up at all. It was just... one of those things." She knew her attempt at making light of the situation wasn't at all convincing after everything that had just happened, but it was the best she could do.
Daniel gave a faint nod of understanding. He seemed to sense that she felt the need to pretend from now on that nothing had happened, though he was obviously hurt and saddened by the fact. He didn't step away from her, however, and he again brushed her hair back from her damp cheeks with one hand while still cupping one side of her face with the other. "Will you be okay?" he asked, seeming to be unwilling to break their contact while it lasted.
Janet nodded. "I'll be fine." She wanted to return the question out of politeness, but she feared the answer he would be forced in all honesty to give - with his expression if not with his words.
Daniel took a deep breath and exhaled it slowly, his eyes never leaving her face as they stood there in silence for a long moment. "Okay," he said at last. This time he removed his hands from her face with obvious reluctance as he backed one step away from her. "I should... let you get some rest." He hesitated, but then gave a sharp nod as if resolving something in his own mind. "I'll see you tomorrow," he said as he moved toward the door.
"Bye, Daniel." Janet hated herself for managing to sound so nonchalant, and she felt even worse when Daniel froze momentarily, looking back at her with eyes full of sadness and pain.
"Bye," he said in return, forcing a tiny smile before he jerked the door open and stepped outside, closing it firmly behind him.
The sound made Janet wince just as though he had slammed it in her face. She stood rooted to the spot, rubbing her arms and biting her lip to keep from crying again as she heard Daniel's car start up and drive away.
On to Part 3