Coming Apart at the Seams -- Part 1 by Pink Rabbit Productions

Title: Coming Apart at the Seams
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions -- pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Date:
10/28/00
Rating: PG-13
Website: www.altfic.com
Pairing: Sam/Janet � Established relationship
Series: Yes � Sequel to Whispered Promises.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Showtime, MGM, Gekko, and Double Secret and I am thieving scum who is merely joyriding about with them. This contains a romantic relationship between two women. If you find it offensive, don't read.
Author's Notes: As God is my witness, I don't know why I wrote this story, how to classify it, or whether anyone will actually like it, as it may well be utter overly-angsty dreck (hmm, possible subtitle: A Study in the McGuffin). I suppose it's sort of a bit of a character and relationship study, but not always the ones you might expect.  Btw, if you're reading this one for lots of sex...erm...boy, are you gonna be disappointed, same for booms and bangs. Oh, and btw, this is undoubtedly the last time Samuels will be making an appearance in a story of mine (hold the applause until you finish the story, 'kay?).

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |

_________________________________

Part Four

Sam Carter couldn't take her eyes off the image on her computer monitor, her entire focus absorbed by the too slender figure caught by the camera, the only truly familiar feature the dark eyes that stared out of hollow sockets. She was standing in the middle of a clearing, speaking to a figure clad in a heavy yellow decontamination suit while more yellow-suited figures moved about in the background; one pair carrying what looked like a body.

"Jesus," Daniel Jackson muttered near her shoulder. "If you didn't already know, you'd never recognize her."

Sam barely restrained the urge to reach out and touch the image of her lover. "I would," she said almost inaudibly.

"Indeed," Teal'c said very softly as he watched over Sam's other shoulder. "Her eyes are the same."

More images were still downloading through a secured T1 line, from a US Army archive; reams of photographs documenting the mission into the small village, but they'd already seen more than enough to confirm the horror of what the medical team had been up against--and more than enough to leave Sam Carter badly shaken. There was video as well, but Carter didn't think she could stand to look at that.

"Well, I think we know why she went and got drunk," Daniel exhaled, sounding almost as agitated as Sam felt. "Caught by surprise...reminded of ... that...." He shook his head with a disturbed shudder. The pictures of the bodies that had flashed by would stay with him for a long time.

"I don't think anyone could argue she did what had to be done for medical reasons, not politics," Sam said, struggling to keep her voice steady. "They couldn't stand by and do nothing while that was happening."

Daniel didn't immediately respond, and when he did, his tone was cautious. "You okay, Sam?"

"I'm fine," she exhaled heavily, her voice thicker than normal, but controlled, as she concentrated on the problem at hand. "We need to download the rest of this and get it catalogued, then print whatever's needed...and also check with General Hammond and see if he's gotten the report on her background check from the NSA yet." She had to keep moving, because if she stopped and thought about it too much, she was going to go nuts. She was still working her way through what they needed to do when the phone rang.

Daniel was closest and answered quickly, then held it out to her. "It's for you, Sam."

"Carter here," she clipped, and then a relieved cast came over her expression. "General Harris...thank you for returning my call. We've got something of a situation at the Cheyenne Mountain Facility that I think you may be able to help with...."

* * * * * *

The first notion of awareness came with the throbbing, pulsating reality of a really nasty hangover, complete with pounding headache, aching muscles, and a nasty taste in the mouth that was vaguely reminiscent of the pond scum at the bottom of a very foul swamp. Janet Fraiser groaned softly and rolled onto her side, squinting against what seemed like several million candlepower worth of illumination, though in reality it was no more than a shaded, forty watt bulb. Reminder to self: she thought as she concentrated on not throwing up all over O'Neill's floor� this is why you gave up the hard stuff.

"I bet you'd pay big money not to be you right now," a dry voice cut into her silent musings.

Janet's eyes lifted even as a familiar figure leaned down into her field of view. "Well, at least you're still speaking to me," she groaned, sounding every bit as nauseous as she felt.

Sam nodded, resting her folded arms on the edge of the bed as she crouched down to put them at eye level. Knowing the bedroom door was tightly shut and Jack was asleep on the livingroom couch, she allowed herself to reach out and toy with a few strands of silky hair. "Of course I'm still speaking to you," she chastised gently. "In fact I even brought you a fresh uniform."

Janet winced, remembering the condition of the one she'd arrived in; last seen in a wet, wadded mess on the floor of Jack O'Neill's bathroom. "Ah," she murmured hesitantly, uncertain whether that statement portended for good or ill.

Sam continued tenderly petting silky bangs, studying her lover with an attention to detail that she generally reserved for alien technology and texts on quantum physics. "It was the only excuse I could come up with," she explained after a beat. "And things at the base were to where I could leave Daniel and Teal'c to finish the work."

Janet let her eyes slide closed again, simply absorbing the gentle comfort, vastly relieved that it was being offered. Sam couldn't be too angry if she was being so tender. "So, how much trouble am I in?" she asked, though it was impossible to tell whether she meant professionally or personally.

Sam opted to answer the more personal aspects of the question first. "With me ... none ... there are some things we need to talk about -- when you're ready -- but I'm not angry at you."

"And the SGC?" Janet questioned, moaning, "God, General Hammond must want me dead," before Sam had a chance to answer.

"He doesn't want you dead," Sam reassured her quickly. "He's worried about you. We all are."

"Yeah, I guess watching the CMO flake out would be a little disturbing," Janet exhaled, wondering if she'd ever get over the embarrassment of the total loss of control. Welcome to Humiliation Central. You are here.

"It wasn't just the officer they were worried about...it was you...the person," Sam lectured very gently. "Which is why Daniel and I spent several hours tracing Samuels' charges." She took a deep breath, resisting the urge to demand why Janet had never told her the story. "We got the complete files from USAMRIID." Sam couldn't keep the note of horror out of her voice as she remembered the pictures. She'd seen other things just as bad during her career, but somehow, knowing Janet had been in the middle of it all had made it that much worse.

"Oh God," the doctor's voice was low and sick sounding. She'd known Sam would eventually learn about the contents of the complete report, and even knowing it, she flinched. She'd never wanted Sam to see that. "How bad...how bad is the situation?" she whispered, her voice almost impossibly tight.

"Not as bad as you think," Sam soothed, putting her own feelings aside to comfort her lover. She caught a delicate hand in one of her own, struck by the beauty and grace of tapered fingers, momentarily lost in the memory of the first time she'd seen them pressed against the inside of a glass prison less than an inch from her own. Even in those brief moments, separated by so much, she'd felt something for this woman that had been a part of her every since. She couldn't help but wonder if there was a part of her that had always recognized her. "Colonel O'Neill was right, Samuels didn't have your background check, so he didn't realize this had already been gone over numerous times...that the government concluded you did the right thing and long ago discarded the charges from the Zairean government. We've got that information, plus the files on the incident...and General Harris is flying in."

Janet's eyes snapped open, her expression startled. "General Harris?" she questioned.

Sam nodded. "Yeah, when I finally got hold of her and explained the situation, she agreed it would be best if she was present since she was the ranking officer in Zaire. I got the feeling she was not happy to have this come up again."

Janet nodded. "I'll bet...since it could call her judgment into question." Her stomach did another barrel roll then, reminding her that it still hadn't forgiven her for her indulgences the day before, and Janet groaned softly, closing her eyes tightly. "Promise me you'll shoot me if I try to ever drink scotch again," she begged as she struggled against the latest wave of nausea and headache.

Sam continued gently petting dark bangs. "Sorry, no can do. Shooting you is not an option," she said softly, "but I will promise to be there whenever you need me." She squeezed the hand in hers gently and ducked her head to place a soft kiss across finely made knuckles. "I don't want you to ever feel you have to face your demons alone again." It was as close to chastising her lover as she would allow herself to get and Janet winced ever so slightly, understanding the message between the lines. Though it had never been her intention, there was no question that she'd hurt Sam.

A long moment of uncomfortable silence followed before Janet spoke quietly, her voice hoarse with emotion. "I wasn't trying to block you out," she whispered as velvet dark eyes slid open again to fasten on Sam's worried face. "I'd just gone so long without letting myself think about it...it wasn't that I was hiding it from you so much as I was hiding it from myself..." she trailed off to take a deep calming breath. "And then suddenly it was there in front of me..." She visibly struggled for words. "I think for a little while I was just a wounded animal ... I had to get away...."

"I understand." Sam pressed another soft kiss over delicate knuckles. "But if you do it again, I'm gonna kick your butt."

A hint of a smile curved generous lips. "I'm counting on it." They stayed like that for a long time, both drawing much needed comfort from the closeness.

"How long have you been here?" Janet questioned at last as she noted the first beginnings of amber morning light through O'Neill's bedroom window.

Sam glanced at her watch where it resided on her inner wrist, noting the time with a raised brow. "About three hours. I left the base after I was sure the situation was under control...got here and talked to Jack for a little while--"

Janet frowned, remembering that colonel had helped her into bed after her post heart-to-heart-talk shower, then taken up a seat in a chair, overriding any arguments from her by pointing out that she was still too drunk to be left alone safely. "Where is he?"

"He asked me to look after you and went and crashed on the couch. I got the feeling he was pretty wrung out." Whereas she had been wired and bouncing off the walls, the fight or flight instinct fully triggered by her efforts to protect her lover. She'd been more than happy to send Jack off to bed and take his place standing guard over Janet.

"I owe him one...several dozen actually," Janet sighed.

"The colonel's got some rough edges," Sam murmured, "But he's a decent guy when you get used to him. I know he was pretty worried about you. And when I got here, he was standing watch...making sure you were okay." As much alcohol as Fraiser had had, it had been the only safe option, but Sam knew plenty of people who wouldn't have bothered. Noting the steadily increasing light outside, she glanced at her watch again. "Look, I hate to do this because I know you still feel like hell, but it's almost morning and we need to get back to the base. Samuels is due in roughly an hour after Harris, and I want all my ducks in a row before he shows his face." She offered a wolfish smile that indicated that Samuels was the lead duck, she was the hunter, and hunting season was starting soon.

"I don't suppose you could do this one without me?" Janet groaned, the notion of moving making her stomach do several barrel rolls in fast succession.

Sam gave the small hand still ensconced in her larger one a gentle tug, drawing her lover into a sitting position. "Sorry...no...see that wasn't so bad," she added as she eyed Janet's drawn expression.

"Speak for yourself," Fraiser exhaled, breathing deeply to control any number of post binge symptoms, though she allowed Sam to pull her to feet and didn't protest too loudly when her lover helped her change out of O'Neill's too-large sweats and into a fresh uniform. When she was dressed, she leaned her forehead against Sam's shoulder, taking a moment to gather herself for the coming battle.

Carter wrapped her arms around her lover, knowing she needed comfort at that point and not more pressure. "It'll be all right," she whispered, massaging her back lightly as she kept a sheltering hold on the smaller woman. "I won't let him hurt you...none of us will."

Janet couldn't remember ever feeling so protected in her entire life and she sank gratefully into the warmth of Sam's hold, hiding her face in the curve of her neck. "I'm not afraid of Samuels," she whispered, her voice muffled against warm skin. She swallowed hard, struggling to nerve herself up for what lay ahead. "I just...I never wanted to go back there again."

Sam pressed a soft kiss to Janet's temple. "You won't be alone this time," she promised. "I'll be there with you the whole time." Like I should have been the first time, she added mentally. Later, she would explain the perverse irony of their first meeting, but for the moment, her lover had enough to deal with. She didn't need anything else on her plate. She ducked her head and started to snatch a quick kiss.

Janet leaned back before Sam's lips could make contact and held up a hand. "I really wouldn't recommend it," the smaller woman drawled, a touch of humor sneaking into her voice. "I suspect my breath could kill a goat at fifty paces."

"I'll risk it," Sam whispered before sharing a fast kiss. She raised an eyebrow as she straightened. "But you might want to grab a breath mint before we get there."

"I warned you," Janet chuckled, grateful for the tension relief.

"That you did," Sam laughed softly. Still holding Janet, she tucked a finger under her chin, stroking the curve of her jaw tenderly with the pad of her thumb as she continued more seriously. "You can do this ... I swear."

Janet sighed softly and nodded. "Maybe it's time," she whispered after a long beat. "And how can I go wrong with you guarding my back?" She almost felt like she could get through it all right with Sam there to offer support.

"Your back, your front, your side...whatever you need."

Janet rested a hand lightly on Sam's chest. "Promise?"

Sam curved long fingers to her lover's hand, holding on tightly. "I promise."

* * * * * *

A dancing fire burned brightly in the freestanding grill that sat next to an aging picnic table in Janet Fraiser's backyard, the flames licking up toward the velvet black night sky. The doctor sat crosslegged on top of the table, silently watching the flames, a heavy stack of printouts resting in her lap, a glass of something dark next to her knee.

"You ready for this?" Sam asked gently as she stepped off the porch and onto the cool grass.

Janet looked up from the printouts and nodded slowly, blinking away a few stray tears. "As ready as I'll ever be," she sighed sadly and looked back down at the papers in her lap. She felt a small measure of the tension leave her muscles a moment later as Sam took a seat behind her on the table, enfolding her in a protective hold and resting her chin on her shoulder.

"I'm here," her lover said without pushing.

Janet twined her hand with the one draped loosely around her waist, holding on tightly. "I know...that's the only way I got through the day...having you there," she whispered, her voice rough with emotion. She leaned back into Sam's hold. "Knowing you...you're there for me�"

"I love you," Sam corrected tenderly when Janet stumbled over the words.

Janet turned her head to peer back at the woman holding her. "Do you?" she questioned uncertainly. "Even when I'm an idiot?"

Sam smiled and reached up to ruffle dark auburn hair affectionately. "Even then," she confirmed.

"Thank you." Janet pressed a little deeper into that warm hold. "For everything...if you and Daniel hadn't gotten all of that evidence together, I don't know what I would have done today." She'd certainly been in no condition the night before to look after her own defense.

"Well, if General Harris hadn't put in an appearance, I'm not sure Samuels wouldn't have gone ahead and tried something," Sam muttered disgustedly.

"She did put the fear of God into him, didn't she?" Janet chuckled despite herself as she remembered the expression on the colonel's face as he realized just how close he was to running afoul of not one but two, two star generals--one of them posted to the Pentagon--all for a case against her that all but evaporated once all of the evidence was on the table. It definitely hadn't been the colonel's best moment. She suspected he was still busy guzzling his way through at least a gallon of Maalox to cope. As far as she was concerned, it couldn't happen to nicer guy.

Sam shared the malicious laughter. "Yep...though I think she had a few ulterior motives in coming out so quickly."

Janet laughed again, sounding less stressed this time. "God, did you see the look on General Hammond's face when she told him he could pay her back by taking her out to dinner tonight?"

"Personally, my favorite moment was when she told him to wear civvies and pick an expensive restaurant...that the Air Force owed her for stealing the best damn doctor she'd ever recruited...though personally, I'm not sure how much that had to do with it."

"Actually, it kind of makes sense if you think about it," Janet mused out loud, content for the moment to avoid the papers in her lap. "I mean who else would a general date but another general...and he's single...over twenty-one...all those good things...." Even as she said it, her brain resisted thinking of her superior that way. After all, General Hammond was...well...General Hammond. She shuddered at the notion.

"I wonder if they'll salute each other at the end of the date?" Sam questioned thoughtfully, which triggered a round of giggles in both women.

"Oh, God," Janet groaned when she could breathe again, "If either of them heard us, they'd kill us both and hand the corpses over to Samuels for a few last posthumous degradations."

Sam pressed a tender kiss to the curve of Janet's neck, nuzzling warm skin. "Well, I for one, was slightly relieved," she admitted, still breathless from laughter. "I was a little worried when she dropped everything to fly out and deal with the situation."

Janet frowned, once again twisting to peer back at her lover. "Worried about what?"

"She just seemed kind of protective of you...and...well...I just thought maybe you two...I mean, she did talk you into joining the military--" Her mild suspicions sounded lame even as she gave voice to them.

"Because she thought I was a good doctor," Janet pointed out, her tone arch, though a smile still played about her lips before she continued more seriously, reassuring her lover, "There was never anything between us but friendship ... she helped me through a rough time..." she trailed off, her eyes returning to the papers in her lap...which she had momentarily managed to put out of her thoughts. "And she was kind enough to kick me in the ass when I needed it," she whispered, flashing on that lost and confused time. She picked up the heavy stack of paper, fanning it and barely seeing the images that danced by.

"You don't have to do this if you're not ready," Sam whispered near her ear.

"I need to," Janet whispered as she lifted the top sheet--a tersely worded page from her last background check. Hammond hadn't strictly followed security protocol in allowing her to remove the papers from the base, but he'd relented when she'd told him she just wanted to personally burn them. Since there were computer copies of all of the information and she planned on destroying the papers, he'd handed them over and wished her well. She reached for the glass near her knee and took a long sip.

"Um, Janet." Sam sounded uneasy.

"Relax," Janet reassured her, holding the glass up for Sam to sniff or even taste if she wanted, "it's diet coke." She groaned softly as her lover began massaging the back of her neck with firm strokes. "I think I've drunk my alcohol allotment for the next few years."

Sam sighed softly, relieved. "I was just worried," she admitted.

"S'okay," Janet murmured. Her eyes lifted. No longer a home for dancing flames, the charcoal had burned down to brightly glowing coals.

The embers quickly flamed to life as she tossed the first sheet onto the coals. More papers followed, each flaming and burning brightly as she silently tossed security reports and politicians statements in to burn. It wasn't until she reached the first of the pictures that she paused, staring at the printout in the uneven light. "Shelly Riordan," she whispered, her voice a tight rasp as Sam peered over her shoulder at the image. "She was the only senior staff member to go who survived ... never drank ... she used to drive when we'd all pile in the truck and drive down this little dirtwater bar on the Kinshasa Highway ... we'd trade shots and stack the empty glasses...first person to knock down the tower had to pay for drinks--"

Which explained the game O'Neill had described her playing in Halloran's. "Doesn't sound like a very good game for one...not if you plan on getting that tower very high."

Janet winced. "Colonel O'Neill told you about that," she sighed, sliding back into embarrassment mode.

"He mentioned something about it." Sam smoothed her hand along Janet's shoulder, massaging gently.

"I'm holding you to that loving me even when I'm an idiot thing," the doctor said defensively.

Sam kissed her shoulder lightly. "Don't worry ... but no more drinking games, okay?"

Janet rubbed her still throbbing head. "Definitely not something I want to add to my datebook," she assured Sam. "I may be an idiot some days, but I do learn from experience."

"I knew there was a reason I love you."

"Yeah," Janet breathed, her eyes dropping back to the sheet of paper held loosely in her fingers. Without further comment, she tossed it onto the coals, watching it flare briefly to life. She took a deep breath, then let it out slowly to calm jangled nerves as she reached for the next picture. "Andy Phillips ... she was a nurse ... maybe a year younger than I was ... the last time I heard, she'd left medicine and was teaching kindergarten in Montana." She flicked the paper onto the fire, then lifted the next printout, peering at it. She swallowed hard, noting the gruesome details she would just as soon have forgotten.

"Janet?" Sam's voice was a gentle lifeline, drawing her back when she felt she was in danger of sinking into the horror of the past.

Janet took another deep breath, letting it out on a shuddery exhalation before continuing, "We had no choice but to remove the bodies from the area and disinfect them as best we could...." She explained quietly, her voice thick, but coherent.

She fed the printout into the fire moments later, finally letting it go. Another explanation followed as she showed Sam the next picture before handing it over to the flames. The next hours followed the same pattern, with Janet quietly explaining each shot before tossing it onto the coals. More than once there were tears, and Sam often cried along with her lover, hurting for what she'd suffered, wishing she could take away the pain.

For Janet, the rising flames became a cathartic relief, letting her take out the hurt on her soul one last time, look at it, and then let go of it, symbolically releasing the past back to the heavens.

Her throat aching from the aftermath of tears and smoke, Janet tossed the final page onto the fire, then pressed back into the arms holding her so tightly, curling into Sam's sheltering embrace. She closed her eyes tightly, accepting the comfort her lover offered gratefully, while Sam just stroked her hair, the rhythmic caresses soothing frayed emotions.

Long minutes passed as they simply held each other. Finally, Sam shifted ever so slightly, pressing a soft kiss to her lover's temple as she retrieved a folded sheet of paper from her coat pocket. "There's one more," she said softly, her tone bringing Janet's head up and around. She flicked the sheet sharply to unfold it before holding it out so that Janet could see.

The flames from the papers she'd tossed onto the coals had died down, and a frown creased Janet's brow as she squinted, trying to make out the image in the thin light. "I don't understand, what is it?" Taking the sheet of paper from Sam, she lifted it closer, peering at it curiously. She could just see a figure in the foreground leaning over something or someone, but not much more.

Sam fished around in her pocket, retrieving the tiny penlight she kept clipped to her keys, then flashed the light onto the paper in her lover's hand, revealing the picture to both of their eyes.

There were sharp fold marks in the paper, but they missed both people clearly shown in the picture. The shot must have been taken by the driver from the truck and showed a lean figure in a flight suit crouched something reminiscent of Snow White's coffin, one hand braced against the clear plexiglass, while the figure inside arched upward, a slender hand braced just under the other figure's.

Janet leaned closer to the fluttering printout, staring at the blond figure kneeling over the chamber with a look of disbelief. "My god," she exhaled heavily.

"I was there," Sam confirmed before she could ask. "They pulled me off duty in the Mid-East to serve as the temporary crew chief on the C-130 that flew you out ... they got me because they wanted someone who was also qualified to work with the experimental equipment they were field-testing."

Janet still hadn't spoken, instead simply staring at the image from the past, but Sam could feel gentle quakes sliding through her muscles.

Sam worked her fingers into silky hair, petting gently. "I didn't know until last night that it was you ... I would have told you earlier, but I was afraid that you already had so much to deal with today ... I didn't want to risk making it any harder for you ... I wanted you to know because that moment changed who I was." Janet twisted in the circle of Sam's arms to peer up at her, a frown creasing her brow. "When I saw you in there like that ... I ... I was never the same." She reached up to stroke her lover's lips with her thumb, blinking away her own tears, and swallowing hard against the tightness in her throat.

Janet lifted a hand to massage her temple, struggling to gather her thoughts and memories into some kind of coherent pattern. "I'd almost forgotten ... everything but ... but someone comforting me..." she whispered at last as she tapped the picture lightly. "Something happened to the chamber...knocked me awake...." She closed her eyes, struggling with the dim, drug-hazed memories. She'd been so out of it from exhaustion, stress, and the sedative that it was all a blur.

"One of the men carrying it into the plane lost hold of his corner and it fell and slid down the ramp...you were thrown around inside...panicking--"

Janet nodded, then her eyes slid open and she stared up at Sam. "There was a woman there ... talking to me ... I couldn't hear her, but I could see ... see her eyes...." She fell silent, searching her lover's face as the truth truly sank in, becoming real and not just words. "My God, it was you."

Sam nodded, her eyes sliding away from the woman in her arms as she quietly admitted in halting half-sentences, "I didn't want to be there ... resented the hell out of the assignment." She caught one of Janet's hands in her own, lacing their fingers together and holding on tightly. "I thought I belonged in an F-16 ... that flying a medical mission was a waste of my time. I was more than a little arrogant back then ... convinced the world revolved around my skills as a hotshot fighter pilot ... angry that I might have been denied my little piece of the glory of war...." Sam shook her head, the darkly sarcastic words momentarily trailing off.

"You've never been like that, Sam," Janet whispered, unable to resolve the woman she knew with the one her lover was describing. "You're one of the least arrogant people I know ... despite the fact that you've got more than a little cause to be a little ... overconfident anyways."

Sam sighed softly. "Thank you." She pressed a small kiss to Janet's hand, then continued, "but I was an arrogant little pain in the ass...." She nodded toward the photo. "And then when I least expected it, I was suddenly face to face with the deepest, most intense brown yes I'd ever seen ... I didn't even know where I was for a moment." She lifted a hand, tenderly sifting through silky dark hair. "You were so scared and it was because I'd screwed up ... and suddenly I couldn't envision anything more important than helping you." She nuzzled Janet's hair tenderly. "In an instant, I realized there was more to the job than flying fast and dogfighting ... that it was about taking care of people." She stroked the curve of her lover's jaw tenderly as she struggled to explain what had happened to her in those few minutes. "I'd stared into the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen...and I think I lost a little piece of my soul."

"I'm surprised I didn't scare the hell out of you," Janet exhaled unsteadily, still struggling to process Sam's confession. "I'd gained a couple of pounds back by the time they let me out of quarantine and I still looked like I'd spent my summer vacation on the Bataan Death March."

Still stroking the curve of Janet's jaw, Sam pressed a soft kiss to her temple. "You were beautiful ... I always wanted to know what happened to you, but I was terrified to ask ... General -- then Colonel -- Harris read me the riot act for screwing up and when I asked if you were dying, she said 'Probably.'" Sam's voice had become little more than a low rasp as she struggled to force the words past the tightness in her throat. "That one word ... it stuck with me for a long time ... I didn't see things the same way after that." She leaned close to her lover until their foreheads were just touching, pale strands of hair mixing with darker ones. "Don't you see ... you changed my life before I even knew who you were."

Janet couldn't speak for a long moment, overwhelmed by it all. "I'm sorry I never told you what happened ... I wish I had ... and I wish I'd known ... God, I remember your eyes ... they were the only thing keeping me sane in that glass prison. I've always been a little claustrophobic ... afraid of being trapped without any air ... and then there was a hand almost touching mine ... blue eyes letting me know it was going to be all right. I was scared and confused and you were there for me." She leaned into Sam's hold, turning closer into her body. "Somehow it feels like you've always been there for me."

Sam held her tightly, nuzzling her cheek "That's all I want ... to be there for you."

Janet closed her eyes, sinking into the safety and warmth of her lover's arms. "You are ... I've never loved or trusted anyone the way I do you."

"I hope you know you can always trust me...that I'd do anything for you."

"I know," Janet whispered, her voice thick with emotion. She pressed a small kiss to the tip of Sam's chin. "Now more than ever." She toyed with the silky hair at Sam's temple. "And I hope you know," she whispered, tenderly stroking the line of her lover's brow, "that I can only pray that I can offer you the kind of support you've given me."

"You can," Sam assured her. "You do...every time I come back from a mission and I know you're there waiting for me."

Overhead, a bright flash fell across the dark sky, momentarily catching both women's attention.

"Falling star," Janet whispered after the last of the bright glow had died away.

"It was a big one," Sam agreed.

"When I was little, my dad used to say that falling stars were messages from heaven...God's way of giving us a little thumbs up."

Sam grinned, liking the idea. "Never heard of that one."

"I guess it means we got something right."

"Then there's just one more thing to do," Sam said softly, reaching for the hand that still held the printout. "That past is a part of us, but it's who we are now and the fact that we're together that matters." She guided Janet's hand toward the still smoldering grill.

Janet nodded as they tossed the picture onto the fire together. As it wisped away to nothing but smoke and ash, she turned back to Sam, drawing her head down for a slow kiss. "I love you," she whispered as their lips parted. "You're my home and my heart."

"There's only you for me," Sam breathed, and kissed her lover again.

They stayed twined together, holding each other and drawing strength from their closeness, so involved in each other that they never saw the bright flare of another falling star as it traced across the heavens.

END

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