State of Grace by Pink Rabbit Productions

TITLE: Bits and Pieces: #12 State of Grace
AUTHOR: Pink Rabbit Productions
SEASON: One
Spoilers: There but for the Grace of God
Feedback: the lifeblood of authors is always welcome at pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Archive: The Pink Rabbit Consortium ( www.altfic.com )
Linking: Singularity-SG-1 -- all others ask
DISCLAIMER: It all belongs to assorted other folks (MGM, Gekko, Double Secret, Showtime, and possibly Santa Claus for all I know), or at least the characters, settings, situations, et al. The actual arrangement of words is mine own, though God knows, if any of those entities were to opt to sue, I'd disavow them all in a New York second. Hmmm, normally, this is where I'd include a warning about female/female romantic type activities, but since there aren't any to be found in this particular story, I guess I'll just babble for the moment.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is part of an oddball little idea for a series of stories -- some short, some a little longer, but none monstrously huge. One of the things that's hard to do in any one story is build a believable relationship over time, to show the beginnings and play with how attraction begins and grows, so I'm giving it a try with a series of stories set over the course of the series, starting from the beginning (if you're just looking for sex, you're gonna have to wait awhile). Some stories will be tied into eps and some won't, but I'm trying to make each of them a standalone piece, rather than chapters. There will, however, be elements that carry through and hopefully, the relationships in each story will build on what's come before. And I figure it also gives me a chance to to incorporate little scenes and shorter ideas that have fluttered through my brain over the years. Past that, my only comment is that hopefully, it won't be awful.
SPECIAL THANKS: to the most cheerful of caffeine driven minions around for the beta reading efforts.
Additional Author's Note: Silly me didn't notice that the order for first season eps listed on assorted webpages doesn't quite mesh with what's on the box my DVD set came in, sooooo, though I don't think it ever matters too much, in case anyone cares, I'm using the order on the DVD set. The following link leads to an overview in outline form and contains spoilers for the first two seasons of the TV series, as well as for accompanying stories through most of the first season and will be updated as I'm writing (it also contains links to all the stories in the series currently posted on the site).
http://www.altfic.com/subtextfic/stargate/prp/bap/overviewoutline.htm

Bits and Pieces #12
State of Grace
by Pink Rabbit Productions

Prologue

Samantha Carter's brow was furrowed with concentration, graceful hands perfectly controlled, her every movement made with the absolute attention to detail that was her trademark.

"God, Sam, you're driving me crazy," Janet Fraiser's voice came as little more than a breathy gasp, her body moving restlessly beneath her lover's, her fingers clenching in pale hair.

"Mmm, could be the plan," Sam breathed without hurrying her leisurely exploration of her lover's body. The sandpaper warmth of her tongue followed the path made by a single bead of sweat as it rolled down the gentle slope of Janet's breastbone then spread into little more than a faint sheen on the heaving plain of her abdomen. Delicate butterfly kisses followed, outlining taut muscles, the teasing caresses making them flex and twitch. "O'Neill wouldn't keep a lunatic on his team, would he?" she mused out loud without looking up, well aware that her lover would be glaring down at her in spite of her obvious pleasure. The low-level fight had been going on since dinner. Despite their mutual desire -- or perhaps because of it -- it showed no signs of ending. She dipped her tongue into the gentle well of the smaller woman's naval, purposely teasing her in a way she was well aware spurred her passion.

Janet hooked her calf over Sam's hip, teeth gritting as her head tipped back on the pillows. "Dammit, Sam," she ground out, torn between the ongoing argument and the thick pleasure rolling over her, "not funny."

Sharp teeth grazed the outer curve of Janet's hip, pressing just hard enough to leave a ghost of a pink pressure line over the ridge of her pelvic bone. Her gaze rose, clashing with her lover's. "Not particularly meant to be," she admitted, the tinge of anger in her tone countered by the gentleness of her touch.

A muscle flexed along the line of the brunette's jaw, passion and frustration equally responsible for the tension that rippled through her expression. She sifted through silky hair, playing with the pale strands, spreading them out and letting them trickle through her fingers in a golden waterfall as she debated whether to continue the fight or let it slide. "Sam..." she began, wondering if maybe they should just have it out and get it over with.

Then, realizing she'd pushed too hard, Sam's lips floated lower on her lover's body, soft kisses and tender caresses making the decision for her. Before Janet could say any more, her tongue flicked sharply, finding the single most sensitive point on her lover's body with unerring accuracy.

Janet's head snapped back on her shoulders, slamming into the pillows, a low whimper escaping her parted lips. Her fingers found slim shoulders, nails scoring the skin lightly as she brushed trembling caresses everywhere she could reach, then slid a hand up into pale hair, clinging desperately, her voice little more than a ragged moan. "Please."

It was a request Sam was more than happy to fulfill as she lost herself in her lover's pleasure, pushing her farther with every caress until her climax was like a raging fire, gaining strength and power with every second, rolling over her and leaving nerve endings crisped and fried in its wake. By the time Janet collapsed into the mattress, her entire body limp and trembling, Sam was so aroused from simply making love to her that she nearly joined her. Hands shaking out of her control, she pushed up, staring up the length of Janet's body into eyes that were fathoms deep. For a moment, they just stared at each other, both too breathless and weak to move, then Janet worked her fingers back into her lover's long hair, applying just enough pressure to draw the taller woman back up the length of her body.

Lips met, trading ragged kisses, then Sam dragged a hand up the length of her lover's body, cupping the gentle curve of her face in long fingers while she fitted her other hand to a slender hip.

"God, Sam," Janet groaned, wrapping her arms around the taller woman and spreading her hands against her back. Her whispers trailed off into throaty groans that were all that escaped the blending of their mouths. Long moments passed, then she found Sam's hands with her own, twining their fingers together. Muscles pulling taut, she applied just enough strength to roll the taller woman onto her back, then stretched out above her. Breaking the twining of their fingers, she slid one hand down the length of an elegant arm, tracing the faint curve of bicep and tricep. Ambling a little lower, she curved sensitive fingers to a rounded breast, stroking gently, and dropped another slow kiss onto velvety lips before pushing up on one elbow and staring down into blue eyes. "I love you so much," she breathed, kissing Sam again before the blond had a chance to say a word. She trailed her fingers up from her breast, barely dusting a delicate caress up the length of her throat, then stroking her chin with the callused pad of her thumb. "But in my next life," she sighed, sliding her fingers on up to tenderly comb a few stray strands of hair away from her lover's face, taking pleasure from the long, silky threads, "I think I'm just gonna have an ant farm for companionship." The deliberate teasing forced a stiff smile from Sam. "Ants never fuss about your career choices."

"That's because they don't care if you live or die," Sam said very softly, her fear obvious in pale, blue eyes. "I do."

"I know," the brunette allowed, still toying with her lover's hair, "and I love you for it ... but this won't work if it's a battle with you trying to change me."

Sam shook her head, sliding her hands up to rest them along the lower curve of her ribs. "I'm not trying to change you," she denied instantly, then continued, "I'm trying to keep you safe."

"I know, but I'll be okay. You know General O'Neill. He doesn't take this lightly ... and he sure as hell isn't going to let anything happen to any member of his team if he can--"

Sam slid a hand up into sweat damp, auburn hair, her expression more than a little desperate. "Dammit, you're not some grunt who should be risking her life on the line. You're more than qualified to be in the lab, working with me. If I spoke to General Stewart--"

"No," Janet snapped, her voice far harsher than normal. She saw Sam flinch and her tone and expression quickly gentled. "Look, I'm the mission specialist on this project. I have the training and the knowledge to do this job ... better than anyone than you -- if you're honest about it -- and more than that, I want to do this job." She kissed Sam softly, hoping to blunt some of the hurt and fear she saw in her lover's eyes. "Trust me...."

"I do," Sam whispered intently, "but I also know better than anyone else how little we really know about this technology. We barely know what the hell we're doing ... and we have no idea what's out there...."

Janet kissed Sam again, then smiled down at her. "That's why we're going to take a look ... to find out."

Sam shook her head unhappily. "The project is moving too quickly. It has ever since...." She trailed off and didn't finish the sentence.

Janet finished it for her. "Ever since the military took over."

Blue eyes swung away, the reticence as much of a confirmation as words would have been.

A hint of hurt touched dark eyes, but Janet didn't respond directly. Instead, she exhaled a tiny sigh, then spoke, her voice low and serious. "Y'know, Sam," she began carefully, "I'm sorry your father died on a mission ... and, yes, things do sometimes go wrong ... but we're professionals. I'm not gonna take any stupid chances ... and I'm in no hurry to get myself killed. I've got too much to live for...." She ducked her head to kiss Sam again, but her lover twisted away at the last moment, refusing the gesture.

Every muscle in her body tense, Sam glared at the far wall, refusing to look at her lover or acknowledge that old bitternesses against the Air Force had anything to do with her feelings on the matter.

Not pushing the issue, Janet continued quietly along another tack, willing to compromise, but not surrender. "I'm also sorry that having the military take over the SGA has been hard for you ... but I'm not sorry that we're here ... because I think this should have been under military control from the beginning." She felt the resistant tension that slid through the taller woman, but ignored it, knowing it was an argument neither of them would ever win. Her voice and expression softening, she tucked a finger under Sam's chin, drawing her head around until she had little choice but to look at Janet. "And because if we weren't, I would never have met you...." The kiss that followed was unbelievably tender, drawing the civilian scientist in, teasing her until she couldn't resist the need to relax and return the gentle passion. "And you are the best thing that has ever happened to me," the military officer panted when the kiss finally broke.

Sam reached up to stroke the soft curve of Janet's cheek, taking pleasure from the warmth and texture of her skin. She sniffed softly, clamping down on the threat of tears as she slid her fingers back into sweat damp hair, stroking gently. "I just love you so much," she sighed at last. "I don't want to lose you."

"You won't," Janet assured her and kissed her again. "It'll be okay," she whispered, feathering delicate kisses down Sam's chin and along the curve of her throat. She tasted her soft groan and fluttered her lips down a taut cord in the taller woman's throat. "Hell, maybe I can find some erotic, alien sex toy during my travels." She pushed up on one hand, grinning as she waggled her eyebrows suggestively.

Despite herself, Sam couldn't contain a genuine laugh. "You don't need any sex toys," she teased, her breathing coming in steadily tighter gasps as Janet's hands slid over her body with knowing skill. "You do just fine all on your own."

Grinning, Janet increased the pressure of her fingers, enjoying the leap of arousal in her lover's eyes. "Ooo, I think you need a reward for that," she whispered, then leaned forward, lips brushing soft skin. Eager to please, she made her way lower on her lover's body, every kiss and caress designed to take her to heaven....

The descent into hell would come a mere four days later. The first mission through the gate was scheduled to run twelve hours, but the recall code came only two hours after the team's departure as the event horizon exploded through the gateroom, then settled into the flat, watery depths that heralded the stargate.

Warning klaxons went up and armed security teams rushed to cover the returning team.

Standing in the control room, Sam felt her pulse accelerate until she doubted the average hummingbird had anything on her.

Then General Jack O'Neill stepped through the gate and her heart skidded to a halt, turning to a dead lump of rock in her chest. She was already moving as fast as fast as she knew how when the rest of the team stumbled through behind their commander, their uniforms torn, equipment lost, flesh bloodied. She hit the gateroom floor as the gate winked out of existence. O'Neill's legs buckled and he toppled to his knees, nearly losing his grip on the burden in his arms. Sam barely noticed his battered condition, her entire focus on the limp figure he lowered to the base of the metal ramp that led up to the gate.

Janet, her uniform burned and torn, blood everywhere, her chest broken and imploded. "No," she whispered as she reached them, coiling her arms around her lover's head and shoulders, touching soft cheeks and sliding up to stroke bloodied hair. "No ... please, god, no." Unable to believe the truth, she tried to find some sign of life, desperate for something to give her some measure of hope. "SOMEBODY GET A DOCTOR!!" she screamed even though a part of her knew it was already too late.

O'Neill leaned forward on one hand, his voice thick and harsh, blinking hard to clear burning tears. "She never had a chance," he groaned. "She was checking the monitors when they hit us ... some kind of laser weapon or something ... some kind of a staff." He just kept shaking his head. "Just never had a chance."

Sam's lips brushed her lover's as if she could will some measure of life back into her body, but as she pulled back ever so slightly she saw the way dark eyes were open and unfocused, no sign of the life that had always glittered so vibrantly there. She just barely stroked auburn hair and felt O'Neill's hand on her shoulder.

"I tried to get to her ... but it was too late..." he rasped, the words barely making sense to Sam until she looked up and saw the shell-shocked, guilty agony in his eyes. For a moment she'd thought he was apologizing to her because he understood her relationship to the woman he'd brought back. They'd kept it secret to protect Janet's career and Sam's civilian security clearance, but she knew her lover trusted her superior. Would she have trusted him with that information for some reason? No, she realized as she stared at him. He wasn't really even seeing her, just unburdening his soul. She'd never really liked the man, finding him an annoying combination of coldly off-putting and acid-tonged, though she knew Janet got along with him well enough. Staring into his eyes, she saw nothing even faintly cold or acidic, just soul deep guilt and pain. "I'm sorry," he whispered over and over, rocking back and forth on his knees, his own injuries running with blood.

Suddenly on autopilot, her heart frozen in her chest, she looked back down at her lover, barely registering everything going on around her as she closed dark brown eyes, unable to bear seeing them so empty of life when she was used to watching them dance with humor and intelligence. She had no way of knowing she was only looking at the first casualty in a war that would eventually encompass her entire planet.

* * * * * *

Two Years Later

Daniel Jackson's fingers tapped a nervous rhythm on the counter as he stared out over the gateroom, waiting for what was probably the longest several minutes on earth -- unfortunately, not his earth -- to end. He offered a sickly smile to Katherine Langford where she sat nearby, then went back to the nervous tapping. It wasn't like there much of anything else he could do at that point. This was not good, not good at all. Being trapped in an alternate universe was bad enough, being trapped in an alternate universe on a planet on the verge of being annihilated by the Goa'uld was ... well ... it definitely wasn't good. Not good at all. He tugged his glasses off, polishing the lenses on his sleeve, then slipped them on again. It had to work. The improvement to the dialing sequence Sam -- a very civilian Sam -- had worked up had to beat to the Goa'uld's efforts. The aliens were keeping the gate open, preventing anyone from escaping the besieged Cheyenne Mountain base, but they could only maintain any connection for roughly thirty-eight minutes. Once that link was broken, the humans would have only minutes to dial out. If they couldn't do it, and the Goa'uld were able to reopen the gate first, it wasn't just everyone with him who would die, it was probably his earth as well. He might just have the secret for stopping an impending attack on his world in the gate address he'd translated for these people, but if he couldn't get back to the mirror that had probably transported him through the looking glass, it wouldn't matter anyway. Over 1.5 billion people were already dead on this earth, murdered by Goa'uld ships. He had no reason to believe the tally would go any better if they made it to his earth.

"As many times as you've done that," Sam's voice cut into his thoughts as she glanced over, her work done for the moment, "you must have the cleanest glasses in this universe ... or any other." She offered a watery smile, struggling to vent some of the awful tension caused by waiting to find out if they would live or die.

The archaeologist looked up, grateful to see her familiar face ... even if it was attached to decidedly unfamiliar hair and clothes. He shook his head, wondering if he'd ever get used to seeing Carter in long hair, playing the role of the serious civilian scientist.

Not to mention Jack O'Neill's fianc´┐Że. No, that wasn't what he would have predicted at all.

"I ... are you okay?" he whispered, suddenly feeling a wave of guilt as he realized he might well have talked Jack into walking into his doom ... and she loved Jack. It hadn't been obvious to him, but he remembered that last hug before O'Neill went to try and talk this universe's Teal'c into giving them a little time. It had been full of deep emotion if not the passion he might have expected.

She shrugged, her lips pursing tightly for a moment, the tension moving from her mouth and sliding along her jawline as muscles compressed and relaxed again with conscious effort. She looked far older and sadder than he could ever imagine the woman he knew looking. He'd seen flashes of the same brilliance in her analysis of his situation and the way she dissected the probability that he was indeed trapped in an alternate universe, but it had all been done without the excited vibrancy that had always been a trademark of the woman he knew. "He knows what he's doing," she said very softly, her voice tight with pain.

Daniel didn't know what to say, so he simply nodded. Jack O'Neill was nothing if not experienced in the field, he reminded himself. He'd talked Teal'c into changing sides once. Maybe he could do so again ... if Teal'c didn't know that O'Neill had already ordered the destruction of his home on Chulak.

Katherine glanced over, a hint of a frown touching her brow. "I need to finish loading the sequencer," she said as they all watched Hammond lecturing the troops who would be their final bulwark against the invading Jaffa in the gateroom below.

Sam nodded. "Go on," she said quickly. "But hurry. We'll have to move fast in just a couple of minutes."

The older woman nodded and quickly rose to step into the next room where the rest of the equipment for programming the gate filled every available nook and cranny.

As he turned back, he couldn't help but stare at Sam's profile as she watched the computer monitor, comparing this woman with the woman he knew, seeing much of the same strength and intelligence, but also a well of sadness that made him hurt just to look at it. He supposed it wasn't surprising. Watching her world dying a city at a time and being unable to do anything to stop it had be killing her. "I'm sorry," he offered the totally inadequate sympathies, thinking that nothing could make up for what had already been lost.

She looked over, willing to be distracted for a moment now that it had become a waiting game. "They said that when they tested you for a Goa'uld, you asked for Doctor Fraiser," she said suddenly, the inferred question catching him by surprise."Probably some eighty year-old guy used to giving recruiting physicals, huh?"

Daniel frowned, trying to dissect her tone without success. There was something odd there, as though she was trying to sound like she didn't really care, but couldn't quite pull it off. "No," he said almost instantly, "actually, she's the CMO ... about your age."

Tension rippled through the woman in front of him, a confusing burst of hope flaring in her eyes before they slid shut, blocking him out. She shook her head slowly, her mouth moving ever so slightly, though he couldn't decipher the words. "Her name ... her first name, I mean," she whispered, no longer even trying to pretend a degree of nonchalance. "What is it?"

"Janet," he answered, confused by the way Sam's fingers curled on the countertop, well trimmed nails lightly scraping the surface, "Janet Fraiser."

"She's alive?" she exhaled heavily, then looked at him, her eyes an open window to something he didn't even begin to understand.

He nodded, his expression uncertain. "Yeah, like I said, she's the SGC CMO ... Chief Medical--" he started to explain, thinking maybe a civilian wouldn't immediately know the term, or that the title might be different on this version of earth.

"I know what it means," she interrupted, then swallowed hard, sensing his curiosity and visibly uncertain whether or not to satisfy it. "She died," she said suddenly, rocking very gently in her seat, her expression momentarily distant. "She was the first person we lost to the Goa'uld."

Daniel froze, startled by the punch to the gut that news brought, worse even than his realization that he was probably dead in this world. Fraiser wasn't someone he considered a friend precisely, but she was part of the landscape of his life. There'd been some tension on his part after she'd managed to save an airman taken by a Goa'uld, then made it clear that what she'd done wouldn't apply to others taken by the parasitic aliens. That had been hard to hear since he'd had a brief fantasy that maybe there was a way to save his wife Sha're, but he'd come to peace with it. The doctor was a member of the extended support team that kept them all going and Sam's friend. It was hard to be certain which gave her more standing, but both entitled her to a degree of his respect. "I-I'm sorry," he exhaled, all of it suddenly seeming more real somehow now that someone he knew was among the victims.

Her head canted to one side, and she swallowed hard. "She's a medical doctor in your reality," she said very softly, her tone a complex tangle of emotions, not all of them as sad as he would have expected. The tiniest hint of a smile touched her mouth. "I can't imagine that." She noted his questioning look and quietly explained, "She was a an engineer and physicist ... really brilliant one too, but she tended to get queasy at the site of blood...." Sam paused for a moment, gathering herself back together before continuing in a more objective way, "She was the mission specialist on the first team that went out." His expression remained questioning -- that wasn't a title he was used to -- and she added, "She was in charge of dealing with the gate and all related technology." Her look became distant, a wealth of pain in her eyes. "That's why the Jaffa fired on her first when they attacked the team."

"I'm sorry," he said again, not knowing what else to say or do, but feeling the need to offer his sympathies in the face of her obvious sorrow.

She looked at the computer monitor again, checking the progress of the timer and gaining some emotional space. "She's okay though ... I mean, she's safe in your reality?"

"As safe as any of us," he murmured, thinking of the death that might be moving toward his earth. "But ... yeah, she's pretty safe. She doesn't go through the gate much. It's generally not necessary." He left out the various threats that had come through in their direction. It seemed to be important to this Sam that Fraiser was safe -- not surprising, he supposed, God knew, the two women were pretty close in his universe -- and it was the least bit of comfort he could give her. "But she's okay ... and you two, well, you're really good friends there." He wasn't sure why he offered the last part. Maybe he just hoped it would be some solace.

Blue eyes touched on him briefly, then slid away. "Friends?" Sam said very softly, her voice lifting in question.

"Yeah," Daniel continued, sensing the other woman's hunger for information even though she didn't say anything else. "They're even all but raising a kid together," he added, thinking it was the most positive thing he could offer. "A little girl Sam helped bring back from a world the Goa'uld had decimated. She's had a rough time, and they've virtually been living together to look after her."

"All but living together...." A smile touched the blonde's lips and she dashed away a tear. "A child," she breathed after a beat, visibly shaken. "Creating a family...."

Daniel blinked, faintly nonplused by the comment. "Well, I suppose." He hadn't really thought about it that way, but now that he did, it seemed like as good a description as any. "Yeah."

"I have to..." Sam began only to trail off, eyes momentarily sliding closed as her shoulders deflated with a heavy sigh. Suddenly her jaw firmed, and she turned toward him, staring at him with a strange kind of desperation. When she leaned close, her voice little more than a whisper, it caught him by surprise, the words coming in such a rush, he didn't really have time to process them. "Promise me," she demanded before he could even begin to put it all together in his head.

"I--" he started to ask a question, but they both heard Katherine's footsteps returning.

"Promise me," Sam repeated the demand, her voice too low for the other woman to hear from the doorway, her voice thick with desperation. She leaned back into her own space just as Katherine stepped fully into the control room,

He nodded jerkily, barely making sense of her request. "I promise," he croaked and saw a hint of relief and heartfelt gratitude in her eyes, then she twisted in her seat, focusing on the older scientist.

"Did you get everything done?"

Katherine Langford nodded. "All done," she assured Sam, looking at the timer as she retook her seat at the computer. Only a few more minutes -- if they had them -- and they would have their final bid at escaping the besieged base.

Daniel took a deep breath, trying hard not to think about encroaching Jaffa warriors, possibly impending doom ... or softly whispered words. None of them were the least bit comforting. Then Katherine spoke up, her words driving all thoughts of Sam's request from his brain.

"Four minutes," the older woman spoke, her tone remarkably flat. She didn't bother to look at the others. "You two better get into the gateroom."

Sam turned a wide-eyed look on the other scientist, momentarily looking more like his Sam than Daniel had thought possible. "Katherine--"

The older woman didn't give her a chance to disagree. "No arguments, Doctor," she said, her tone utterly practical. "They need you at the beta site." In any universe, Sam was the finest scientist on the payroll. She would be crucial to any rebuilding efforts.

"What about you?" Daniel asked Katherine, afraid she meant to stay behind.

She flicked a glance his way. "As soon as I start the dial-in process, I'll join you." She nodded toward the stairs down to the gateroom. "Go!"

Sam and Daniel both moved to leave, but the archaeologist turned back, his eyes going to the woman at the computer. "If this mirror really is a doorway between our dimensions, I might be able to send help from my reality or have you come through to my earth," he told her, offering what little hope he could. He knew the people he worked with. If they could help, they would. He started to turn back, but Katherine's voice caught him.

"Wait a sec. If that device you brought is a remote control to the mirror, you may need it."

He froze. With everything else going on he'd completely forgotten the device. There was every reason to believe it might well be needed ... and without it, going home might not be a possibility.

Sam spoke up almost instantly, her tone hard with determination. "Go ahead. I'll get it." She hurried out before Daniel could call her back and offer to go himself. Then he reminded himself that she was the logical one to go. This station wasn't quite identical to the one he knew, and it was no time for getting lost.

A few more words to Katherine and he was running, praying Sam would hurry with every step. He reached the gateroom only moments before Katherine gave him a two minute warning. Daniel glanced at the gate, then back up at the white-haired figure visible in the control room window. He could hear the distant explosions as the soldiers tried to hold back the attacking army of Jaffa. Where the hell was Sam?

An explosion far closer than the rest rattled the rafters, drawing his eyes up to the debriefing room where the device to control the mirror had been located. He swallowed hard, feeling ill, all too certain that Sam's return had just become a moot point.

"Time's up,"

Katherine said over the loudspeaker, not giving him time to mourn.

The gate started to spin, the huge chevrons bearing Goa'uld glyphs locking into place as each part of the address was entered. It was still spinning when Jaffa started to swarm into the control room. The blast door slid into place, blocking his view of the older woman's last moments. He swallowed hard, locking away the pain he had no time for.

The gate continued to spin, locking another chevron into place even as several successive blasts tore through the gate room doors.

Daniel wasn't quite prepared for the surge of emotion that washed over him as Teal'c stepped through the hole he'd blown in the door. Wearing his Jaffa armor, he looked bigger than the archaeologist remembered, but it was the hate in his eyes that was truly terrifying. Daniel swallowed hard, instinctively backing up a half step.

The measured tones of computer came online, calmly announcing the coming end over the loudspeakers. "Autodestruct in one minute."

A beat passed while both men stared upward as though the message didn't quite make sense, then Teal'c kept coming, his face implacably determined.

Daniel knew he was dead if Teal'c had his way.

Uncaring of such human vagaries of emotion, the computer continued its flat countdown. "Autodestruct in thirty seconds."

The Jaffa started to bring his staff weapon to bear, swinging it around, the business end pointed at his human quarry.

Daniel was beginning to think it was all over when the last chevron suddenly locked into place and the event horizon exploded outward from the gate in a bubbling torrent of energy that surged into the room, then settled back into the flat, watery surface of the stargate. Hearing Teal'c's staff weapon buzz as it powered up, Daniel spun, breaking into a run and diving for the gate. He was almost through when the staff weapon roared as ut was fire. Almost instantly, agony shoot through his right shoulder.

Then the icy depths of the stargate washed over Daniel Jackson for the briefest second before spitting him out on the other side. He tumbled across cold tile, finally skidding to a halt, barely pausing to catch his breath before staggering to his feet. Pain throbbing through his arm and shoulder, the intensity of it leaving him dizzy, he stumbled to find the mirror. When he finally spotted the device, he found himself praying silently. It had to work. Everything that had happened, all of the death and destruction had to be for something. He touched it, but there was nothing, no tingle or sense of any change, until he had to wonder if anything had changed. Not having been able to get to the device, was he now trapped in this universe? Still dazedly wondering, he felt his buckle and the world came up and thudded into his entire body. He'd almost lost hope when he felt Jack's hand on his shoulder and heard his friend's voices. Groaning softly, Daniel rolled onto his back, a heavy sigh of relief escaping his lips when he saw their familiar faces and the recognition in their eyes. He'd made it. Scared and shaking, his entire right side flaming with agony now, he knew he had to tell them. "They're coming," he groaned, forcing the words out. He saw their frowns and confusion, and in his own daze needed to make them understand. "They're coming," he said again, struggling to find a way to explain before the darkness hovering at the edges of his consciousness washed up over him. It was a struggle his battered body couldn't win. Before he could say any more, he sank into a black whirlpool and knew nothing more.

* * * * * *

Two days later, his right arm and shoulder still heavily bandaged, Daniel lay half asleep in the infirmary, physically exhausted and mentally worn to nothing. Despite Fraiser's insistence that he remain in the infirmary until she was satisfied that the staff wound was healing properly -- the high intensity burns could easily develop life threatening complications if not treated carefully -- he'd been in meetings almost the entire time since regaining consciousness. His need to make his colleagues understand the possible lurking danger -- in the form of a Goa'uld armada that might just be on its way to destroy earth -- outweighed any physical discomforts.

He'd said everything there was to say at least a dozen times, fighting to make it sink in when he could see the desire to run away from the idea in their eyes. Oddly enough, Teal'c had done him a perverse favor in shooting him. Without the obvious damage from a Goa'uld staff weapon, he wasn't sure his colleagues would have been willing to believe he hadn't simply had a very vivid hallucination. At least they'd finally believed his story and were working on some kind of plan ... though exactly how one planned for dealing with ships that fired blasts the equivalent of a 200 megaton nuclear bomb was a little unclear to him.

He closed his eyes, struggling to relax and not think about what he'd seen ... or who he'd seen ... and especially about the fact that they were all almost certainly dead. Unbidden, Sam's whispered words came back to haunt him, reminding him that he still hadn't followed through on his promise. He hadn't thought much about them before -- hadn't had a chance, and perhaps hadn't wanted one. As if to taunt him with the responsibility the woman had handed him, he heard the faint sound of footfalls in the room, their timbre so soft and light he might have missed them had he not been so desperately running from his own thoughts.

Daniel opened his eyes, unsurprised to find Fraiser silently checking the monitors still running a steady barrage of information about his physical condition. She'd been there most of the time since his arrival, first supervising the immediate, emergency treatment, then tracking his health during the panicky staff meetings he'd demanded even when he could barely see straight for the agony. He glanced at the large clock on the wall, squinting to make out the placement of the hands without his glasses. "You're here late," he said at last, his voice a dry rasp after so many hours of talking.

She glanced back, clearly surprised to see him awake, then frowned. "I hope I didn't wake you," she said a little worriedly.

He shook his head. "Couldn't sleep," Daniel croaked, wincing at the sandpaper sensation in his throat. He started to reach for the glass on the bedside table, only to remember too late that doing so tended to put weight on the most sensitive point of his injury. Moaning softly, he sank back down.

"Easy," the doctor said quickly, one hand landing lightly on his chest as she reached for the glass. "Let me do that for you." She held the straw in place while he took several long swallows, grateful to wet his mouth and salve the sudden burst of thirst. "Better?" she murmured when he indicated he'd finished.

Nodding, he sank back into the stiff, hospital mattress.

Her head canted to side, what he'd come to recognize as her bedside-manner-face in place as she smiled gently. "Anything else I can do for you?"

Daniel shook his head, thinking that there was nothing the miracle of modern medicine had to offer him at that point. She was turning away when he remembered Sam -- not the woman from his universe, but the other one -- her words, and the promise she'd wrung out of him. He'd managed to avoid thinking about it since returning, but as he watched the doctor move to leave, it all came rushing back. "Wait," he said before he could think better of it.

Fraiser pivoted back, "Yes?" she said softly, her voice full of professional concern.

Moistening his lips, he waved her closer. "Anybody else here?" He wasn't sure what he was going to say, but if he said anything, he was damn sure he didn't want an audience.

Brows drawing together in a frown, she shook her head. "I'm afraid it's just me tonight. We don't have anybody else in the infirmary, so I told the nurses to go ahead and get some sleep. I can get backup if there's a problem though," she assured him, clearly worried that there was some complication with his injury.

Daniel shook his head. "No ... I just...." He trailed off, wondering at his own sanity for considering passing on the message. It was a can of worms he wasn't sure he should even consider opening. On the other hand, he couldn't help but wonder how he'd feel if their situations were reversed. "I need to talk to you," he said after a beat, "without an audience." He wondered how that sounded when her frown deepened another notch and she looked vaguely uneasy, as though she was calculating the best escape route. And, considering the nature of the Stargate project, that probably wasn't such a bad idea either.

Her drawled, "ok-ay," was stretched out in its uncertainty.

"You know what happened to me ... what I saw," he said after a beat, then added, "who I saw?"

She nodded, a haunted look lurking in her eyes. "I was here for most of the debriefing sessions ... and I've read the reports."

Daniel swallowed hard, oddly grateful to hear that he didn't have to go over it all again. The last thing he wanted was relive the gory details one more time. A muscle pulsed in his jaw as he swallowed again, surprised to find his throat already dry once again. "You know Sam was there then," he said when he spoke again, "as a civilian?"

She nodded again, clearly not understanding where this was going.

"And she was engaged to Colonel ... um, I mean, General O'Neill?" He wondered if he imagined the tiny flicker of pain he saw in her eyes before it was hidden behind a mask of professional detachment.

Another wordless nod.

Which left him with little else to say before he said something ... or kept his mouth shut. She seemed to sense his inner conflict because she simply waited, seemingly content to let him say -- or not say -- what he needed in his own time. It was, he realized, at least partially an illusion for his benefit as he noted the way her knuckles had whitened where she was gripping the bedrail. "There were one or two things I didn't tell them," he said at last. Much as he would have preferred to stay out of this, he'd given his word. And he owed that other Sam so much; maybe his entire world. He couldn't betray the confidence she'd entrusted him with ... no matter how much he might have preferred to.

The hand on the bedrail loosened fractionally. "Would you like me to get someone down here to take notes so you can update the report?" she asked, clearly thinking he was upset because he'd left something out.

He shook his head. "It wasn't a mistake," he admitted, then glanced around, making sure they were alone one more time. Noting her nervousness, he held up his good hand in a gesture meant to reassure. "It doesn't have anything to do with the Goa'uld ... not really. It's nothing that matters tactically."

Again, she was silent, her utter stillness somehow doing more to prompt him into continuing than harsh demands would have.

"Sam ... the other Sam ... she ... uh ... she made me promise to tell you something ... to give you a message."

Russet brows drew together and a muscle pulsed along the curve of her jaw, but she still didn't say anything, even though he almost wished she would. Maybe if she said something it would talk him out of keeping his word and possibly making someone else's life far more complicated or far more uncomfortable.

"I didn't tell them," he began hesitantly, not wanting to continue because none of this was simple or easy, and most of it was knowledge he would have preferred not to have, "that you were the first victim of the Goa'uld." He flicked a look her way, taking in the way she'd paled faintly, sensing there was more to the story, but also understandably disturbed by the news of her alternate's death. They'd all had reactions like that, even Jack, though he'd released a wicked round of jokes to deal with it, until Daniel wanted to hit him and make him understand and appreciate just how goddamned courageous that other Jack had been in surrendering himself in hopes of buying just a few more minutes. "You weren't a doctor ... but an engineer ... a mission specialist ... in charge of working the gate ... handling technology, I guess ... with the first team through the gate." His mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he found the words to continue. "You died on the first mission..." He trailed off again, running short on words, a rather dark irony considering his linguistic skills.

He looked down at his good hand, pulling at the scratchy, military issue blanket thrown over him and wishing someone else had gotten all of this dumped in their lap. For a moment, he almost envied his alternate in staying out of interstellar politics and transdimensional emotions. The long dead and buried were so much easier to deal with. "She wanted you to know that it was only because you were gone that she and Jack...." He trailed off, not daring to risk a look at the woman next to his bed -- uncertain whether she would instantly understand or need him to explain. He wasn't sure which option was worse. He took a deep breath before forcing himself to continue. "That she needed someone ... that if it weren't for that...."

"I don't..." she croaked, then the record needle skipped and she repeated, "I don't...." She shook her head, unable to finish.

He looked up at her, seeing the shock -- and also an instinctive, if uncomfortable, understanding -- in her expression as she struggled to put together the meaning behind the oblique words. He made it easier for her ... or maybe harder. "You were lovers," he said almost gently, surprised to find the tension in his chest letting up now that it was out. It was the right thing to do, he realized suddenly, thinking about what he would have given to say certain to things to Sha're ... any Sha're. "And she didn't want you to think that she'd somehow chosen Jack over you."

It wasn't just the doctor's knuckles that were white on the bedrail now, it was her whole hand. She shook her head unsteadily. "We ... we're not...." Her voice was coming in ragged syllables that made it sound like she'd just been punched in the solar plexus.

"I know," he assured her quickly, though in all honesty, he suddenly wasn't so certain. The two women had been growing closer, and there was an intensity there that made it all too easy to believe may there was something happening on that front.

"Why are you...." Fraiser didn't finish, still too shaken to know what to say.

"She made me promise to tell you," he told her, the words coming more smoothly now in contrast to her shocked stammers.

"Does anyone else know?" she managed to gasp at last, fear winning out over the other emotions he'd glimpsed in her eyes.

Daniel shook his head, sensitive to the very real danger to her career -- to both women's careers. "No ... no one ... not even Sam."

Brown eyes slid closed, shielding turbulent emotions from prying eyes. "Please," she breathed at last. "Don't ... I mean, you can't.... Please don't tell anyone," she managed to get a complete sentence out at last.

"I won't," he assured her, wanting her to understand that he had no intention of using what he'd been told to cause any kind of problem. "I wouldn't--"

"Not even Sam," she begged until he almost reached out and covered her hand with his own, despite the sometimes strained relations between them ... at least on his end.

"Not even Sam," he said quickly. Some of the awful tension in her hands drained away, though they were still whiter than normal where she gripped the bedrail. "I almost didn't even tell you," he admitted while her eyes were still closed. He struggled to explain, remembering the woman who'd given him the message and what he owed her. She'd given up everything in the effort to help him carry what he knew home. It was all he could do to pay her back. "But she made me promise," he shook his head a little helplessly, "and I just ... I couldn't break my word to her."

Fraiser nodded, consciously straightening her shoulders as she regained some measure of control and opened her eyes. He wasn't sure whether or not to be surprised that she had some semblance of the professional mask back in place. "No," she said, her voice so soft he almost couldn't hear her, "that would be wrong."

"Are you okay?" he asked after a beat.

Her eyes slid closed again and she repeated the gesture of consciously straightening her shoulders, as if by repetition it would somehow make everything simple and easy again. "I'll be fine," she answered without looking up. She took a deep breath, letting it out on a controlled count, then straightened herself and released her grip on the rail. She stepped back a pace, her calm, collected doctor's face back in place as she refocused on him. "I appreciate your keeping this private," she said after another beat, her voice so nonchalant she might have been discussing the weather -- except discussions of the weather seldom had such a calculated undertone to them.

"If there's anything I can do..." Daniel felt the need to offer.

She shook her head, giving him no further clues as to what was going on in her mind. A part of him wanted to ask and another part wanted to forget he had any idea what was going on. Her shuttered expression didn't invite any questions though, leaving him in an uncomfortable no-man's land between the two extremes. Her eyes slid away from his, touching on various points around the room before swinging back to meet his gaze. "Look, Doctor Jackson," she said at last, her tone softening enough to allow some emotion back in, "I appreciate your kindness ... it's just a little ... jarring," she exhaled the last word after a tiny beat. "But thank you." Her mouth opened, then snapped shut again and he had a sense she was debating something. Finally she continued, her eyes sad, her voice serious. "Thank you," she said again, "and I don't just mean for ... your discretion ... but for everything." Her eyes slid closed for a second, hurt glittering there before she could hide it away. "And for honoring your promise to her."

She was in deep, he realized in a rush -- very deep. What he'd done had made things more difficult and less comfortable for her, and yet she was thanking him for keeping a promise to a woman she'd never technically even met ... who just happened to be Sam Carter's alternate. There was nothing to say to that, so he simply nodded, acknowledging the words and his own helplessness to know what to say or do.

"Well," she said after a moment, forcing a pretense of normalcy back into the situation, "you really should try and get some sleep."

He nodded weakly, relaxing into the mattress. "Yeah." She turned away and started to leave when he suddenly realized there was something else he needed to say. "Doctor, wait."

She did a slow pivot back, looking less than thrilled by the prospect of whatever he had to say. All things considered, he couldn't really blame her.

"It's nothing to do with ... with what happened on the other side of the mirror," he assured her haltingly, sensing that she wasn't up to dealing with any more revelations on that front.

Her look turned questioning. "Then what?"

He looked down at the blanket again, plucking absent-mindedly at the rough surface. "When you saved Wilkerson ... dug that Goa'uld out of his back ... I dunno ... I guess I hoped it meant you might be able to save Sha're." He glanced up, swallowing hard, his own agony visible for a moment before he pushed it back down. "When you said you couldn't ... that the circumstances didn't apply to other cases ... I was angry. I guess I kind of blamed you...."

He was caught by surprise when her only response was a quietly spoken, "I know."

Daniel's mouth hung open in a double-take pose that would have been comical under different circumstances. "But, I never said anything." he managed to say at last.

"You didn't hide it very well." She offered a wry smile and her shoulders dipped in a hint of a shrug. "You had a something of a tendency to tear my head off for no real reason there for awhile."

A dull blush crawled across his cheekbones. "I'm sorry. I just wanted you to know that I don't blame you any more ... and that ... that I'm sorry." He shrugged. "I wasn't being very rational ... none of it was your fault."

"Thank you," she exhaled and stuffed her hands in the pockets of her labcoat. "But don't worry about it. Funny thing about love," she sighed, her tone ironic, "it's seldom very rational."

He couldn't help but wonder if she was referring to him or herself.

She didn't give him time to contemplate the question, just offered a professional, "Now, I really do think you should get some sleep. Things are likely to get pretty crazy around here in the near future ... and you need to give your body a chance to heal while you have the time."

She turned to leave again, but his voice caught her at the door. "Are you being very rational?" he asked, noting the way her back went ramrod straight. She didn't look back, but he heard the tiny breath that escaped her lips.

"Good question," she said without turning. "Wish I had a good answer." And then she was gone, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

 

EPILOGUE

Quiet houses are the bane of busy minds

, Janet decided as she entered the dark confines of Sam Carter's livingroom. It would have been nice to turn on the TV to distract her from her own thoughts, but with Cassie asleep a few feet away, it wasn't an option. Just like any number of other things that might allow her to focus on something other than the thoughts moving through her own brain weren't options.

Setting her briefcase aside, she checked on Cass, tugging the blankets back over the child where she'd kicked them off, a wry smile touching her lips when she noted Simon's soft snoring where he slept in the girl's arms.

That done, she bypassed her own temporary bed in favor of stepping onto the back porch where a cool wind played with her hair and danced over her cheeks. Sighing softly, the doctor sank down on one of the plastic chairs haphazardly scattered around on the grass, stretching her legs out to rest her crossed ankles on the seat of another chair. Overhead, the stars were forced to compete with a bright moon, and she couldn't help but remember Sam's latest lecture only a few nights before. For perhaps the first time in her life, she found herself actually remembering a few of the constellations. "Not a good sign," she sighed, thinking of all the others who'd tried that trick and failed miserably. Only Sam had managed the feat ... and she had a bad feeling that owed as much to her brain's need to memorize and categorize every note of the other woman's voice as to her own ability to actually learn something she'd studiously resisted getting in the past. "Ah God, what am I gonna do?" she exhaled and ran a hand over her hair, ruffling her bangs and tugging the back loose from the pins that secured it into some semblance of military neatness.

She couldn't stop thinking about Daniel Jackson's news ... if that was what to call it. She'd managed to stay busy almost round the clock for two days in hopes of avoiding dealing with it, but finally, Daniel had been thoroughly and completely out of any trace of danger, her paperwork done at least a month in advance, every soldier on the list for physicals nagged into submission, the equipment lockers organized within an inch of their existence, and at least three real estate agents seriously considering getting out of the business after her barrages of questions.

Even with nothing left to keep her busy, she would have managed to find an excuse to stay had General Hammond not ordered her to go home and get some rest. He'd found her going through the last several months' worth of research data and reorganizing things in an effort to build a database on what they knew about the physiology of the Goa'uld. Not that it wasn't a good idea, he fully admitted, but it could wait. She'd considered arguing, but one look from her superior had put that idea to rest and made it clear that he was well aware of her bout of overwork. Hammond generally gave his people their head, but was more than capable of stepping in where necessary. Clearly, he'd considered it necessary.

Which was why she was sitting in a plastic chair, staring at the stars and trying very hard not to think about what Daniel had told her, even though her mind insisted on thinking of nothing but.

She and Sam as lovers in that other universe; their relationship so intense that Sam had felt the need to send a message to let her know her engagement to Jack O'Neill wouldn't have happened if she weren't dead there. With her world dying around her, the woman had still felt strongly enough that she'd needed to get that message out.

Which pretty much blew her theory that Sam was so hopelessly straight that being with a woman -- being with her -- would never even remotely occur to her. Or at least it made it clear that it wasn't true for the Sam in that other universe.

Which meant what exactly?

Was it possible for one Sam to be gay while the other was utterly straight?

Janet massaged her aching temple, trying to rub away the headache that had been throbbing there since her little discussion with Daniel Jackson. Possibly, she had to admit. Or it could mean that the other woman's sexuality was somewhere in the middle and tipped one way in one universe and another way in another universe.

Or it could mean that her theory that for Sam to be even remotely capable of being attracted to a woman while still acting the way she had meant she really did have the denial engine to beat all denial engines. Or maybe she was interested and in as much of a quandary about what to do about it as Janet was, while unable to resist the urge to be closer on a daily basis.

She closed her eyes, considering her theories carefully and concluding that none of them did anything to relieve her worries. Any way she looked at it, she had a problem on her hands, one which Sam was most likely blissfully unaware of -- for whatever reason -- which was both good and bad, she supposed.

Daniel had admitted he nearly hadn't told her and suddenly a part of her almost wished he hadn't. She didn't want this weight on her shoulders. She'd already added a child ... and a dog ... to her none-too-small list of responsibilities, and now she was stuck dealing with house hunting, buying enough clothes to see her through until she could get her own stuff back -- assuming the HazMat guys were right and she could -- as well as a dozen other mundane things that left her with no more than a few minutes of spare time per day.

She really didn't need this too, despite the growing warmth in the pit of her belly every time she thought about what that other Sam had done, what they must have meant to each other for her to still care that much. Strange to think that someone she'd never met could make her feel so cherished.

Besides, that other Sam deserved to have her last request honored. From what she knew, she'd been every bit as amazing a person as her Sam.

And when the hell had she started thinking of any version of Samantha Carter as "hers?"

"God," she groaned again and reached up to pinch the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. "Couldn't you make it easy on yourself just once in this life?" she chided herself. "Yeah, I know, why start now?" she sighed in answer, then shook her head, wondering how bad a sign it was for her sanity that she was not only asking herself questions, she'd begun answering them. Tipping her head back in the chair to stare at the stars once again, feeling closer to Sam in their presence, even though feeling closer to Sam was the last thing she should be aiming for. "You're finally losing it, Fraiser," she sighed tiredly.

She was still sitting there, just staring and trying desperately not to think when the voice her brain insisted on cataloguing down to the smallest note floated around her. "I was beginning to think you were going to spend another night on base."

Janet twisted, peering up at Sam as she drew close. She was wearing the sweats and tank top that were her preferred sleeping attire, but she'd thrown on a jacket and slippers in deference to the late spring chill hanging in the air. "No," the doctor sighed without admitting that had actually been her plan until the general threw her out, "things just ran a little late." Her brows creased into a worried frown. "I hope I didn't wake you coming in."

"Nah." Sam shook her head and slung one of the lightweight plastic chairs over and sank into it. "I was reading when I heard your car ... and just wanted to touch base ... make sure everything's okay."

Hearing the concern in her friend's voice, Janet quickly shook her head. She knew she'd been worried about Daniel Jackson -- as had all of them -- and, of course, there were so many other things that could go wrong at the SGC. "Everything's fine," she assured her. "But Hawkins covered my shift this afternoon so I could look at a couple of places ... and I took his late shift. Gave me a chance to catch up on some paperwork while things were quiet."

Sam nodded in understanding. "You sure that's all it is?" she asked with a noticeable measure of apprehension.

Janet looked blank, momentarily paralyzed as she found herself trying to decide what Sam was asking her. Had Daniel broken his word and told her, and if he had, what the hell was Janet going to do about it? "Wh-what do you mean?" she asked after a beat.

"It's just seems like you've been working late a lot lately." The addenda, 'Since you moved in,' went unsaid, but they were both well aware of it.

Janet shrugged a little helplessly. She couldn't exactly answer that one honestly, so she settled for the next best in the form of the various rationales she'd come up with for staying scarce since moving in with Sam. "I just got behind on a lot of stuff when Cass was having so many problems ... and then when Daniel got hurt ... well, staff wounds can be dangerous." She stuffed her hands in her pockets, pulling her jacket a little tighter around herself. "Things have just been a little nuts, you know." She snapped her mouth shut, resisting the urge to babble with Sam watching her so closely.

"I know that feeling," Sam commiserated as she watched Janet carefully. "I was just a little worried," she admitted cautiously, "that ... I dunno ... you were feeling uncomfortable here, or something." She leaned forward, elbows braced on her knees, fingers loosely interlaced. "You've just seemed a little..." she paused, hunting for the right word for a second before deciding on, "distant, I guess, the last few days."

Since Daniel's little bit of news, Janet realized instantly. "No," she denied the obvious, "I guess I've just been a little distracted ... like everyone else, probably." She shrugged. "It seems like there's a lot to worry about lately."

A soft sigh escaped Carter's lips as she considered everything they'd learned. "Yeah." She'd had her own problems with everything they'd learned. Not so much her alternate's death, oddly enough, as everything else; all of the deaths she'd been unable to prevent (not her, of course -- that other Sam -- but at the same time, she still felt responsible somehow), the friends lost, the ties that had existed but which she had no sense of -- engaged and Jack O'Neill being two words she wouldn't have bet would ever been used in the same sentence with her name -- everything. She peered at Janet, wondering if she'd been among those who'd been sent through the beta gate with the hope of starting a new colony somewhere. Her fingers tightened where they were laced together, and she found herself praying she had. "It's all pretty strange," she whispered at last.

"You okay with it?" Janet asked, even as a part of her warned not to go there.

Sam shrugged, not looking up from her twined hands, her mind still on the reality that a different Janet Fraiser might well be among the dead, while praying she was among the living. "I guess. I'm not sure how real it feels," she admitted. "I just keep thinking about it all." Her lips quirked in a faint, embarrassed grin, "Not the least of the things the notion of Colonel O'Neill," she couldn't imagine even calling him Jack, much less ... well ... all of the things that went with being engaged, "and I being engaged." The embarrassed smile turned almost sickly, the whole idea feeling so intrinsically wrong that there was nothing funny about it.

The tiny leap of pleasure she felt at Sam's thoroughly disbelieving tone was not a good sign, Janet realized, and the tiny rush of temptation she had to tell her friend the truth was a particularly bad one. "That must feel strange," she murmured after a beat, her tone as bland as she could make it.

"I'm not sure strange even begins to cover it," Sam muttered, fighting the headache that came every time she tried to contemplate the idea too seriously. It wasn't that she didn't like the colonel, or couldn't understand why some women would find him attractive, but ... well ... no. She just couldn't go there. She sighed softly, opting for an abrupt change of subject to deal with the oddly disturbing news. "So, you said you went househunting today," she said by way of question.

"Yeah," Janet confirmed, a band of dread tightening around her chest as she reminded herself that she had to move out ... and soon. Mooning after Sam like some high school kid wasn't doing any good for her sanity, and doing more than mooning ... well, if that were to happen, it wouldn't do much good for her career. "Actually, I was looking at a place for the second time." She looked down at her hands when she saw Sam start to frown, not letting herself contemplate just how appealing it was that Sam maybe didn't want her to go, and struggling not to give into the temptation to just keep delaying any efforts to move out. "It's down on Durango ... three bedroom ... nice backyard...." She still didn't know what was going to happen with Cass -- she was going to have to sit down with the child and discuss some things very seriously, very soon -- but she had to plan for the possibility ... while seeing to her comfort in the present tense. "And according to the agent who showed it to me, I can move in quickly, but with an option to buy if I'm interested."

"Oh," Sam exhaled, feeling like she'd been punched. Fraiser sounded pretty interested in the place. She'd thought it would take longer. "You're ... uh ... thinking of buying?" she murmured to cover her reaction to the news that the other woman might well be leaving soon.

Janet shrugged, still concentrating on her hands, playing fingertag to distract herself from how little she wanted to think about moving out of Sam's home. Physically, it wasn't the most comfortable situation imaginable -- not much room, a shared bathroom, no closet space to speak of, and a pullout bed in the livingroom making for less than ideal conditions -- but she'd felt more at home in the other woman's space than she would have thought possible. More at home than she'd felt anywhere in a long time, if she was honest. She'd fully expected to feel vaguely like a trespasser, but Sam had made her completely welcome, and there'd been no sense that the other woman resented her presence.

And despite the late nights -- or maybe because of them -- she'd felt more comfortable entering the house when she'd stumbled in after a long shift. Just the knowledge that Sam was there somehow making her feel safer and more accepted.

She suddenly realized that, lost in her own thoughts, she hadn't answered the question and made a half-hearted attempt to laugh at her own distraction. "Sorry ... getting a little punchy, I think," she muttered and ran a hand over her hair. "Kinda got lost in my own thoughts for a moment." She paused just long enough to take a breath, then answered Sam's question, "But, yeah, I'm thinking about buying. Since Keith paid me back, I've got the money for a down payment ... and just having it sitting in the bank seems kind of silly. Might as well be building some equity instead of just paying it out in rent." She offered another small shrug. "I haven't decided anything, but it's nice to know it's a possibility."

Sam nodded, struggling to sound positive despite any desire to knock the idea in hopes that the doctor would stay around longer. She liked having someone else in the house ... and not just Cassie either. "That makes sense," she agreed, trying to force some positive energy into her tone.

Janet's head canted to one side as she picked up on Sam's less than enthusiastic response, her heart suddenly pounding in her chest, the temptation to simply ignore the need to move out almost overwhelming. They were both silent for a long moment, lost in their respective thoughts until Janet finally reached up, ruffling her hair before sliding her hand down to massage the back of her neck. She was far too tired to deal with any of it for the moment, she decided with forced practicality. "I should probably be getting to bed." Tomorrow was going to be another long day, and if she sat out here with Sam much longer, she was going to be entirely too tempted to say far too much. Better to simply rid herself of danger by removing herself from the situation.

"Oh ... yeah," the blonde exhaled, visibly surprised by the way her friend suddenly pushed to her feet. "I guess it is pretty late."

Janet pointedly smothered a yawn she could have easily contained with far less effort. "Yeah ... and I'm dead on my feet." She took a step toward the back door only to pull up short as she passed by Sam's chair and the blonde reached out to catch her hand in a loose grip, the faintly callused pad of her thumb brushing over the rise of Janet's knuckles. "Sam?" she croaked on a questioning note, her pulse suddenly accelerating.

Sam continued gently rubbing Janet's hand where it was wrapped in her own, barely conscious of what she was doing as she looked up at the other woman, nearly as surprised by her gesture as Janet obviously was. She had no idea what she intended, or even wanted, to say, just opened her mouth as the words insisted on tumbling out. "I hope you know how grateful I am for your friendship ... and how really nice it's been having you here ... you and Cass, I mean...." She trailed off and was momentarily silent, suddenly self-conscious about the burst of words. Her eyes fell away, and she completely missed the longing that colored Janet's expression. "Well, I-I just wanted you to know," she muttered at last.

Staring down at Sam, it struck Janet how easy it would be to just reach out and touch. And having touched, would it be easy to keep touching, she wondered. Sleep rumpled hair fell across Sam's brow, obscuring downcast eyes, but not the appealing vulnerability of her expression. The doctor tightened her free hand into a fist, fighting the urge to follow through and find out how her friend would react if she stroked silky hair and then a velvety cheek. Would Sam pull back, look confused, or would she lean into the caress, perhaps look up, blue eyes smokey with hunger? If Janet leaned down and tasted those soft lips -- gently parted now as Sam ran her tongue nervously over them -- would her friend react with disbelief or anger, or would the softness of her mouth part further, invite deeper caresses? Would her hands cling and her body arch closer?

Janet suddenly yanked her hand back, nearly stumbling as she hastily backed up a pace, the sudden influx of dangerous fantasies leaving her edgy and uncertain. A hurt, confused look twisted Sam's expression and Janet abruptly slapped her opposite hand, miming pain, not wanting the other woman to think she'd done something wrong, and in no hurry to answer any questions about her sudden retreat. "Sorry," she apologized quickly, rubbing where she'd just hit herself. "I think something stung me," she lied, then glanced around herself. "Guess it must've been the first mosquito of spring."

Carter's worried look drained away, though the confusion remained as she looked around herself. "That's odd. It's still kinda cold for them."

Janet shrugged. "Guess I just got lucky and found a type A personality." She stuffed her hands in her jacket pockets, not inviting any further intimacies. "Well, I should probably get a shower and get to bed," she said quickly, desperate to get out of there before she did something really, really dumb. She hadn't really looked at Sam since pulling back so suddenly, and she finally risked a glance at the other woman, chest contracting at the confusion she saw in her expression. "I'm really tired," she added.

Sam nodded slowly. "You have been working pretty hard lately."

Janet nodded, purposely keeping her voice bland as she agreed. "Yeah. You coming in?"

Carter shook her head, her expression thoughtful. "In a little while," she said softly.

Janet nodded and said her goodnights, then turned away, hands fisting inside her pockets as she resisted the urge to glance back and see the expression on Sam's face as she watched her go. Was it relief, regret, longing, or was she already looking at the stars, any earthbound concerns already forgotten. It was too dangerous, she told herself with every step, to ask that question, much less answer it.

Which was why it was no comfort that, in the end, she couldn't resist the urge to look back.

And it was downright disturbing to find blue eyes waiting for her. "You sure you wouldn't like another astronomy lesson?" Sam offered a hesitant, but hopeful smile.

Even knowing she should run like hell for all their sakes, Janet was lost. "I guess I could spare a few minutes," she said softly as pushed the door closed again, locking any and all knowledge away. If she couldn't resist one temptation, she damn sure had to resist the other. A moment later, she was curled back into her recently vacated chair, silently watching as the other woman pointed out objects in the night sky, her voice soft and inviting as she lectured on her favorite pastime.

Anything else could wait until tomorrow....

THE END

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