Whispered Promises -- Ch. 4-5 -- by Pink Rabbit Productions

Title: Whispered Promises
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions
Email: pinkrabbit@altfic.com (comments welcome)
Rating:  Soft R for sex and violence
Disclaimer: It all belongs to Showtime, MGM, & Gekko. I own nothing but the actual arrangement of words right here (though if any of the above mentioned entities want to steal anything herein, I invite them wholeheartedly to do so--in fact, I dare them--hell, I double-dog dare them). Oh, and it should be mentioned that this story contains a mutual admiration society between two women which is quite certainly not one of those "Beyond sex," sorts of things (or perhaps it's beyond "Beyond sex,"-- didya ever think of that? I'll bet not), so if the thought of much prurient type contact between female types offends ya, what the heck are you doing on this site? Get off, run away now. Also, if you are underage where you live, or this would get you or us jailed, you should take a hike. It's rough, I know, but that's just how it's gotta be.
Spoilers: None that I can think of offhand. Takes place shortly after Sam becomes a major (I suppose that could be considered a minor spoiler) during Season Two.

| Prologue-Ch. 2 | Ch. 3 | Ch. 4-5 | Ch. 6-7 | Ch. 8-9 | Ch. 10-Epilogue |

Chapter Four

"Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond called out as he saw SG-1's commander, "May I have a word with you?"

"Of course, sir," O'Neill said instantly and broke away from Teal'c and Daniel Jackson, who looked on curiously as the two men disappeared into the meeting room they regularly used.

"So, what's up," Jack questioned his superior when they were alone.

Hammond took a seat. A bear of a man, he still had days when he wasn't entirely certain how to deal with the often less than regulation activities of some of the personnel in the SGC, but they were under his command, and he'd learned through hard won lessons to trust them and value their skills. He would protect any of them any way he could. He tossed the folder in his hand on the table, grumbling a soft curse under his breath.

"Sounds like you're having the kind of day I usually have," Jack observed dryly. He noted the folder with a raised brow. "Which means either you've got a bunch of politicians crawling up your ass, or something's up." He hitched his hip against the edge of the table. "So which is it?"

Hammond sat back in his chair, folding his hands together across his chest as he eyed the younger man. "A little of both," he grumbled, then nodded toward the folder. "That's the latest report from the investigators looking into the Barnes case."

Jack's expression twisted with raw dislike. As far as the colonel was concerned the world was a better place for the man's death. He'd done his damnedest to sell out the project and kill two friends and colleagues. And he had succeeded in taking out two airmen. "Looks like there's not much good news in there."

"Damn little," Hammond allowed. "You know they recovered the last of the missing disks last week. They never got off the base--"

"That should be good news," Jack cut in and Hammond nodded.

"It should," the general agreed. "Unfortunately, it looks like the encryption codes on at least one of them may have been compromised while they were in Barnes' possession."

A muscle pulsed gently in O'Neill's jaw. "Damn...any idea whether any of the information got out?"

Hammond shook his head. "The CIA, FBI, and NSA all have intelligence agents sniffing around to see if there's any word on the black market. They think Barnes may have been using the information as samples to try and entice a serious buyer for the disks."

"Bastard," Jack hissed under his breath, and changed his mind about wanting Barnes dead. Now, he wished the son-of-a-bitch was still alive so he could kill him himself. "Do they know what was decrypted?"

"Not so far," Hammond muttered unhappily. "They're still analyzing the disks though." He sighed heavily and leaned forward, rapping his fingers lightly on the table.

"I get the feeling there's more going on here," Jack prompted after a beat.

Hammond shrugged. "Just Senator Kinsey's usual efforts to shut us down...he's accusing me of running a lax operation."

Jack snorted. "You're the one who wanted upgrade the security. It was Kinsey and his committee who put a stop to that. If they'd gone along with the new safeguards you wanted to implement, this would never have happened."

Hammond nodded. "That may be--the investigators still aren't certain how he got the disks out of secure storage and whether or not he may have had help--but Samuels is doing his damnedest to lay it right at my feet. Which is why I wanted to talk to you."

Jack frowned at his superior. "You know, sir, that I'll do anything I can to help."

Hammond nodded approvingly. "I know that, son." He paused, still tapping his fingers on the folder as he considered the situation. "Kinsey's making noises about having me removed as C.O. of the SGC--"

"That's ludicrous, sir!" Jack exploded. "You've--"

"Nonetheless," Hammond cut the younger man off in a hard voice. "He's trying. I don't think he can do it, but after this, he just might make the grade. If that happens, they'll probably put you in command...at least temporarily--"

"I'll tell them to go to hell--"

"You'll do nothing of the kind," Hammond cut him off again. "If that happens, you'll take the position. After me, you're best suited to this command. And, furthermore, if they put someone else in command, you will do your best to help that officer keep things running smoothly on this project."

A muscle pulsed in O'Neill's jaw. He didn't like that order; not at all. "Sir--" he growled softly.

"You know I'm right," Hammond snapped. "This project is more important than my career or anyone else's."

"Which is why you're needed here, sir," Jack insisted. "I'm a field commander." He gestured to the surrounding base. "Running this base...this project...that's not what I'm suited to."

Hammond allowed himself a small smile. "Look, Jack, I don't want you to think I'm just going to lie down and die. If Kinsey wants to take me out, he's going to meet with a hell of a fight. I just want to know the situation is covered if needed."

Jack looked away, his expression grim, but he finally nodded in agreement. "I'll do it...if it comes down to that," he conceded. "But in the meantime, kindly don't let it happen."

The general chuckled softly. "It's not what I'm aiming for."

Still grimacing, Jack pushed away from the table. "Do I have permission to discuss this with my team, sir?"

Hammond considered the request carefully. He knew how much O'Neill relied on his teammates, but there were other considerations as well. Still, he'd learned to trust their discretion. "Fine, but I don't want this getting around the base. It's to go no farther than SG-1."

"Understood, sir," O'Neill clipped.

Hammond nodded toward the door. "Dismissed then. I know you're chomping at the bit to get moving."

"Yes, sir. The team and I are having dinner at Fraiser's place...."

"How are Major Carter and Doctor Fraiser doing?"

"Carter sounded good when we spoke. She seems to be enjoying a chance to spend some time with Cass and she and the Doc have always gotten along well. Truthfully, I think the downtime is probably good for her. Carter's usual idea of taking it easy is burying herself in the labs for days on end."

Hammond nodded knowingly. "A very driven woman. Give her my best, will you?"

"Of course," O'Neill assured him. They spoke for a moment longer, then both men left for their respective duties.

* * * * * *

"...so that's when Hammond tells me that he thinks Kinsey's after his stars," Jack O'Neill informed the small group gathered in Janet Fraiser's kitchen. The colonel took another pull on his beer and leaned up against a counter as he watched the news sink in. They were passing the time waiting for a pizza delivery away from the livingroom, where Cassie was playing her favorite Sega game at full volume.

"Which explains why Samuels has been skulking around," Daniel muttered unhappily. His lip curled with dislike. "I really can't stand that guy."

"Indeed," Teal'c added thoughtfully. He seldom offered opinions on the politics of the humans he worked with, but he tended to watch everything swirling around him with studious attention to detail, apparently fascinated by their habits.

"Well, I just cannot believe they're trying to blame the general," Sam growled angrily, "when it was Kinsey's cuts in the budget that hampered any attempts at increased security on data storage."

"When did logic ever have anything to do with politics?" Janet added her two cents, then took a swallow from her glass. Unlike the members of SG-1, she was drinking wine, not beer. "Kinsey's a backstabbing bastard who'd sell his own mother for a vote or a campaign donation."

Jack grinned at the doctor, holding up his bottle in a toast. "Y'know, Doc, you really shouldn't bottle up your emotions like that."

"He's right," Sam teased, her eyes meeting Janet's in a moment of shared intimacy that subtly left the others out, despite the innocence of her comments. "You could get an ulcer that way."

The doctor snorted softly, but her gaze remained locked with the major's. "I'll take the risk." The gently wry note in her voice was for Sam alone, making the statement about far more than the political situation at SGC.

Sam tipped her bottle ever so slightly in silent acknowledgment, knowing the others would never see the tiny gesture. She was rewarded by a flash of heat in the other woman's eyes that drove her to take another long drag from her beer in an effort to cool down a notch. Not that she'd been anything but hot and bothered since that first night in Janet's bed. After the second night, when neither of them could follow through on their agreement to sleep apart, they had followed a similar pattern; days spent together working around the house, playing with Cassie, or simply enjoying each other's company, while the nights were spent twined together in one bed or the other, sharing kisses and caresses-- walking right up to the line, but never over� and then, when their bodies were humming with unspent energy, they would talk quietly, sharing anything and everything--experiences, thoughts, dreams, philosophies� exploring each other's thoughts and feelings with the same eagerness they showed when exploring each other's bodies. It was a learning experience like no other Sam had ever been through. And when all was said and done, she was more certain than ever that she wanted this woman in her life.

"Earth to Sam," Jack O'Neill's voice broke into the major's silent musings, yanking her back to the present.

Sam blinked several times as she struggled to clear her thoughts of romantic flotsam. "Sorry, sir," she apologized and kept her eyes firmly off Janet--instinct told her that the mischievous look no doubt gleaming in velvet brown eyes would not be good for her concentration. "I was just thinking."

"Obviously," Jack murmured dryly. Then at Sam's blank look, he repeated himself. "I was just asking how you're feeling. The doc' taking good care of you?"

Sam felt her face grow warm as she flushed with embarrassment at his unintentionally suggestive question. "Oh...much better, sir. Dr. Fraiser has been taking excellent care of me." In the back ground, she was vaguely aware of the fact that Janet suddenly choked on her wine, but steadfastly kept her eyes on her commanding officer. "My injuries, I mean."

Janet kept coughing, until Jack looked over at her. "You okay, Janet?"

She held up her hand to reassure them she wasn't dying. "Just went down the wrong way," she croaked when she could breathe again. "Sorry to interrupt you." Between coughs, she flashed Sam a dirty look under the cover of her bangs.

Jack waved her apology off. "Sheez, it's not like you did it on purpose." He watched her for a moment, noting the canvas sling still restraining her left arm and shoulder. "Speaking of injuries...how's that arm of yours doing? You due to get that thing off anytime soon?"

"I'm seeing the orthopedist tomorrow...hopefully, he'll let me get rid of it." She sighed heavily between a couple of last gagging coughs, a not so quiet note of resignation indicating that she was getting tired of the limitations placed on her by her injuries, though no one but Sam knew just how much of a crimp it had put in her life. As the others offered their best wishes, she shared another quick look with Sam, one that barely covered the raw physical hunger they'd both been feeling for the better part of a week.

Sam took another long drag from her beer and seriously considered just climbing into the bottle as she tried to remember whose brilliant idea this little evening had been. Oh yeah, Jack. Sorta argued for fragging senior officers if you looked at it a certain way. She took another long swallow of beer.

"You must really have been missing getting to drink that stuff," Jack teased, breaking in on Sam's thoughts. "At the rate you're sucking it down, Daniel's gonna have to take out a loan to keep you stocked."

Sam flashed him a dirty look. "This is my first and you know it," she said frostily.

Jack eyed the rapidly dropping level in the bottle. "But not your last by the look of it."

Sam seriously considered throwing the bottle at his head, but discarded the notion since as hard as his skull was, she doubted it would even make a dent. Any verbal ripostes she might have considered were cut short by the diminutive bundle of energy that rushed into the kitchen.

"Pizza's here!" Cassandra announced at the top of her lungs, eyeing the adults expectantly.

Jack grabbed Daniel by the shirtsleeve. "C'mon, Dr. Jackson, that's our cue to dig out our wallets."

"I'll grab the plates," Janet murmured, setting her glass aside as she turned toward the kitchen cabinets, only to pull up short as it occurred to her that grabbing a stack of plates one handed from a position several inches over her head was asking for trouble. She was still considering the problem when she realized that Sam was standing behind her and reaching past her for the cupboard.

"Here, let me help."

Janet instinctively spun to face her, only to freeze as she suddenly found herself pinned between Sam's body and the counter, intimately aware of the heat of her body. "I...uh...thank you," she managed to choke out after a beat, while Sam just stood there, tongue suddenly paralyzed against the roof of her mouth. Just that morning, they had stood in this very spot and shared several sweet kisses while waiting for breakfast to burn (though that was more the end result than the actual plan) and the memory lay between them like a still burning ember, ready to flare back to life at the slightest provocation.

And then the major remembered their audience. Teal'c still sat in one of the kitchen chairs, his pose almost prim for any man--especially one so large and imposingly male--one eyebrow neatly lifted as he watched the byplay between the two women.

Sam swallowed hard, her momentary awareness doused by an ice-water blast of self-consciousness. She suddenly found herself grinning helplessly, an automatic attempt at visually cueing, 'See, nothing going on here,' that only made the Jaffa's eyebrow rise another notch on his forehead. "I'll just get the plates," she muttered, grabbing for a stack in an effort to cover the brief slip.

Blushing brightly, Janet muttered, "Thank you."

"No problem. Happy to help."

"Perhaps I should lend assistance as well," Teal'c offered at last, rising gracefully from the chair, his expression unreadable.

Sam passed him the heavy stack of plates without meeting his gaze or even quite looking at him. "That'd be great. We'll grab silverware and stuff and be in in a sec'."

He nodded politely and exited.

"Very smooth," Janet mouthed and rolled her eyes while Teal'c was still leaving.

Sam barely resisted the urge to break into nervous giggles as she shrugged helplessly. "It just sort of happened," she admitted soundlessly. She could hear the others in the livingroom, but her attention was still focused on the woman pressed between her body and the counter. She couldn't seem to resist these impulses to play with fire.

And it felt so damn good.

Janet just sighed, smiling wryly at the other woman. She couldn't be too angry though; not when she was no better at resisting temptation than Sam. "Brat," she breathed.

Sam grinned wickedly, then glanced over her shoulder, making absolutely certain they really were alone, then ducked her head to snatch a quick kiss.

"We are gonna be sooo busted if you keep this up," Janet hissed when their lips parted.

"Which is why we should probably get the silverware and stuff and get out there," Sam reminded her as she flashed a teasing grin, somehow making it sound like the delay was all Janet's fault.

"You're unbelievable," the brunette complained affectionately as she watched Sam turn into a whirlwind to gather everything together.

The blond paused just long enough to wink and grin. "And that's why you like me."

"Don't be too sure of that," Janet disagreed, flashing a last provocative smile at her lover before following her out to face the others and an evening of trying to pretend they were nothing but good friends. As she pasted her game face on, Janet's last musing consideration was whether she should be drinking something harder than white wine. Her gaze trailed down Sam's narrow back, followed the curve of her hips, then down impossibly long legs. On second thought, alcohol would not help the situation since the last thing she needed at that point was even fewer inhibitions.

Nope, that would not be good. Fun. But not good.

And with that, she buried herself in the men's gossipy tales of events on the base, though more than once during the evening, her eyes met Sam's and for a moment the world receded.

Playing with Fire indeed.

* * * * * *

Samantha Carter paused as she started to reenter the livingroom, her hair still damp from the shower, taking the time to study the woman curled silently into the end of the couch. The guys had been gone a little over an hour, Cass was safely asleep in bed, Sam was clean and sweet smelling, and Janet� Sam let out a tiny, reflective sigh� Janet was looking  perfectly serious, her head down, a book open on her lap, though Sam sensed she wasn't really reading.

As if sensing the close perusal, the brunette looked up, smiling tenderly as she spotted Sam. "Feel better now?"

The blond ruffled her hair with one hand, combing the wet-dark strands back from her face. "Mmm...much..." she confirmed as she plopped down on the opposite end of the couch. She glanced at Janet's book, noted the cover which sported a title as long as her arm as well as a subtitle that was a chapter unto itself. "Looks like heavy reading."

The brunette shrugged. "No heavier than those science texts you usually bury your nose in."

Sam winced. "That bad, huh?"

Janet snapped the book shut and set it aside with a soft chuckle. "Well, I wouldn't recommend it as a Book of the Month Club Favorite," she allowed. "Though I wasn't really getting much reading done," she admitted as she leaned back against the arm of the couch, her expression thoughtful.

"You looked a little distant," Sam agreed and swung her legs up onto the couch, sitting cross-legged.

Janet shrugged, stretching to rest her feet, loosely crossed at the ankles, in Sam's lap. "Just thinking..." she mumbled, her voice trailing off into a satisfied sigh as Sam took the hint and started a leisurely foot massage.

Sam flashed a wicked smile. "About me I hope," she teased.

"Actually, for once, no."

Sam frowned, not liking the sound of that. "Then what?" she asked curiously, noting Janet's still distant look.

The doctor shook her head slowly as if she could clear away a haze of mental cobwebs. "I was just thinking about Barnes...the situation at the base." She snorted disgustedly, relaxing into the cushions as Sam continued the slow massage, strong fingers slowly working any kinks out of her toes. "I was in the records room doing research several times when Barnes was there...." Full lips compressed with remembered disdain. Even when not making a leering remark, the man had had a way of watching her that had made her skin crawl.

Sam's molars ground against each other with raw fury. "Just put the bastard behind you...the son of a bitch is better off dead." She closed her eyes momentarily, willing the memory of a pistol pressed against the underside of Janet's jaw out of her mind's eye.

Janet frowned slightly. "No, I don't...I don't mean that..." She massaged her temple, still trying to clarify her thoughts. "Like I said, I was in the Secured Data Section at the same time as Barnes on more than one occasion...I keep thinking there's something there... something I should know...but I can't quite remember ... something...." She made a frustrated sound in the back of her throat, then shook her head disgustedly. "I don't know ... maybe I'm imagining things."

Sam's hands stilled as she watched the other woman closely, her heart hammering in her chest as it struck her once again how close she'd come to losing this relationship before it even began. If Barnes were there, she'd have killed him again. "Don't try so hard to remember," she soothed. "Memory's funny. It never seems to work when you try to force it."

Janet muttered a disgusted curse under her breath, but didn't argue. "It's just frustrating," she sighed at last. "I just can't believe the general's job could be threatened by a pair of jackasses like Kinsey and Samuels."

"Yeah." Sam eyed Janet's downbent head. She leaned toward the other woman, reaching out to hook a finger under chin and bring her head up. "But right now, there's nothing either of us can do about it."

"Point," Janet allowed. She leaned back with a heavy sigh, rubbing the back of her neck as she continued, "In which case, I guess a change of subject is in order...." She offered a small, wry smile. "How about something a little more pleasant?"

"Pleasant is good. I like pleasant."

Janet laughed softly at her lover's tone of voice. "Good... since pleasant--or, more preferably, better than pleasant--is the order of the day. You know Cass' got that overnight field trip with her school in a couple of days?"

Sam grinned knowingly. "Yeah." And Janet was due to get the sling off tomorrow--at least with luck she was. Not that she didn't love Cassie, but she was looking forward to a little time when they didn't have to be careful not to be seen or heard by the girl, even if it was only overnight.

"Well, I called Jerry and his wife--you know their daughter's in her class?" As she spoke, Janet pushed upright, drawing closer to Sam, while the blond nodded in confirmation. "They can take Cass for a couple of extra days...let the girls have a sleepover...Cass is thrilled. She's due there tomorrow afternoon ... and is scheduled to spend four nights...."

Sam hooked a hand around Janet's waist, urging her nearer. "Really?" she drawled knowingly, her eyebrows lifting high on her forehead.

Janet grinned, swinging a leg over Sam's thighs to straddle her hips when the taller woman tugged gently, guiding her closer. Strong hands shaped to her waist supportively and she hooked her good arm around the back of Sam's neck, leaning down to whisper into her ear, "And the news gets better."

Sam tipped her head back to peer up at Janet inquisitively. The brunette's eyes were dancing with mirth, her mouth quirked into an elfin smile. Sam spread her hands, sliding them around until they were braced against her middle back, drawing her forward until they were pressed chest to chest. "And just how is that possible?"

"Because I also called Dr. Rosenberg and he's not using his cabin at South Lake for the next few days." She nibbled on Sam's ear lightly, then whispered, "He's dropping the key by tomorrow morning."

"The one he keeps bragging is up in the high pines with a lake nearby and no people around for miles?"

"That's the one." Janet shrugged mock-innocently. "I told him I needed a little time away from everything."

"Not everything, I hope," Sam murmured.

Delicate fingers combed through feathery blond hair. "Well, you might just be able to wrangle an invitation," she allowed, her expression serious, though her eyes still sparkled with good humor.

Sam arched up to drop a tiny kiss onto soft lips. "Please," she breathed.

Janet grinned, appearing to consider the request. "I don't know...."

Sam kissed her again, tightening her hold on the woman wrapped safely in her arms. "Pretty please," she whispered and added another tiny kiss to the tally.

"But there's only one bed at the cabin. Where would you sleep?" the doctor asked in her best innocent ing�nue voice.

"I'll find someplace," the blond husked, and shared another sweet blending of their mouths, lingering until they were both breathless. "Please."

"I guess I could use someone to chop wood," Janet allowed at last, barely able to maintain the act.

"A whole damn forestful if you want," Sam panted and drew Janet's head back down until their lips met in a kiss that tested their self-control to the limit.

Teasing, tasting, caressing; strong fingers gliding through silky hair and over velvety skin. They lost themselves in physical sensation until it came to an end in a sudden icy shower of reality.

"Janet, are there any cookies left?"

Janet's head periscoped up as she peered over the top of Sam's head, eyes going wide with shock when she recognized the pajama clad figure of her adopted daughter standing calmly in the entrance to the livingroom.

"Oh God," Sam exhaled against her throat. "Please, tell me that's not--"

"Cassandra," Janet exhaled as though she'd been gutpunched. She bounded to her feet and away from Sam. Or, more correctly, scrambled ungracefully; nearly succeeding in crashing into the coffee table in front of the couch as she stumbled to suddenly wobbly feet, saved from destruction primarily by a fast, steadying grab at her waistband by Sam. It wasn't her best moment. "This isn't...not...what...it's...I mean...you're supposed to be in bed," she managed a few coherent words at last.

Cassie shrugged, seemingly totally unaffected by the scene she'd walked in on. "I woke up hungry," she explained. "So, are there any cookies left?"

Still a beat behind, Sam popped to her feet as well, stammering out a stuttery, "I know this must be kind of confusing, but--"

"Not really," the girl broke in, plainly impatient with the lack of an answer on the whole snack food question.

Both adults were momentarily struck dumb.

Sam was the first to recover--if only marginally. "It's just that what you walked in on...well...it probably looked like something it wasn't...." She looked at Janet, silently pleading for help as she sensed she was just digging herself in deeper.

"What Sam's trying to say, honey," Janet began cautiously before falling back on the oldest of clich�s, "is that this isn't quite what it looks like...."

Cassie frowned. "Are you telling me you're not in love?" Finally distracted from her quest for cookies, she looked utterly stricken by the idea.

It was Janet's turn to flash Sam a look pleading for help. Whatever response she'd expected from the girl, this was nowhere on the list.

"Ummm," Sam exhaled the sum total of thought running through her brain.

Cassie gnawed on her lower lip, plainly confused and upset. "I know some people on Earth have a problem with it, but...but...I thought...I mean, this last week...." She shook her head sharply. "I just...it would be so perfect...." Her shoulders sagged, her expression heartbreaking. "I'm sorry," she whispered in a very small voice after a long beat.

"Oh God, Cass," Janet sighed, her momentary paralysis lifting in the face of the girl's pain. She crossed to Cassie, sliding an arm around narrow shoulders to hug her tightly, while Cass wrapped her arms tightly around the woman who had become her family on this new world. She drew in a shuddery breath, intending to say something appropriately comforting to try and make it all better. Unfortunately, no words came. At least not on her first try. Finally, she said helplessly, "You don't have anything to be sorry for."

"I just wanted us all to be a family," the girl said, her voice muffled where she had her face hidden against her foster mother's side.

Sam met Janet's tortured gaze as she hurried to the two of them. "We are a family, Cassie," she insisted as she crouched down, putting herself at the girl's level.

Cassie turned to look at Sam, still upset. "I mean a real family."

"We are a real family," Janet assured her, still hugging her tightly.

Sam met tear damp blue eyes with a serious look. "Cass..." she sighed at last, then looked up at Janet, seeing her own uncertainty mirrored in her dark brown gaze. They'd only vaguely discussed when and how to tell Cassie about the changes in their relationship, both afraid of making any plans or decisions too soon, just in case something went wrong. They'd also thought to protect her from the outside world's inherent prejudices. It had never occurred to either of them that this relationship might be something the girl was hoping for. Sam started to speak, only to snap her jaws shut again. There were no simple platitudes to cover the situation. She met Janet's gaze again, hoping she had some kind of answer. Nothing. Finally, she addressed the brunette. "She has a right to the truth." Given the choice, she wouldn't have told Cassie anything yet, but lying didn't seem like the right approach. And keeping it a secret was no longer an option without lying.

After a beat, Janet nodded silently.

Sam took a deep breath, trying to plan out what to say, though she had a feeling she was going to forget it all the moment she opened her mouth. "Cass," she began at last. "Janet and I do love each other...for a long time as friends...but...." How to explain what was happening to a twelve year old? It wasn't a simple problem, especially since they barely understood it themselves. "Well, lately...that's been changing...and right now, we don't even know quite what it all means."

"You mean you do love each other?" Cassie whispered hopefully.

"Yes...but it's not quite that simple," Sam said quickly, not wanting to build up the girl's hopes, just in case things didn't work out. "It's hard to explain...and...well...maybe even we don't quite understand it yet." She looked up at Janet, hoping for some help.

The doctor crouched down beside Sam to face her adopted daughter. "What Sam's trying to say, I think, is that we're still figuring out how we feel...and that's a little confusing for us too." She reached out, petting the girl's hair back from her face tenderly. "But no matter what happens, we both love you...so much...and we will always be there for you."

Cassie absorbed the sincerely spoken words quietly. "I know that," she assured the adults after a beat. Even with the things she'd seen in her life and the way she'd been cruelly used by the Goa'uld as a human bomb, she had absolute faith in the love these people had for her. "I just want you to be there for each other too."

The two adults shared a look as it struck them both how thoroughly the child's discovery had upped the ante in their relationship. Now that Cassie knew, and wanted it to happen, there wouldn't be any easy way to return to being just good friends. There was no going back anymore.

"We will be, Cass," she promised, answering the girl's question, though her look and tone directed the words toward the woman at her side. "I don't know exactly what the future holds...but we will be there for each other." Just as they had already been there for each other so many times; been through hell together and built the foundations of a friendship that would see them through anything. Without planning to, she held out her hand, a gentle smile touching her lips as Janet's fingers met hers.

"Yes," the brunette breathed, her tone making her words a solemn vow, "we will be."

The girl looked back and forth between the two adults, apparently considering their words before offering a satisfied smile. "That's good." And then, with the mental flexibility available only to the very young, she immediately asked her mother, "So, are there any cookies left?"

Janet's mouth hung open in the face of the total subject change, while Sam was no better off, unable to manage the mental gear shift required that quickly.

Cassie waited a beat, then apparently concluded no answers were forthcoming from the adult contingent. "I'll just go check for myself," she decided out loud and scampered off toward the kitchen, leaving the two flummoxed women in her wake.

"Okay," Sam said at last, "what just happened?"

The sounds of someone rooting through various drawers and cupboards echoed from the kitchen.

"Cassie!" Janet shouted, going from zero to sixty parent-mode as she snapped to her feet. "You are not allowed to have cookies this late at night!" she called out, then muttered under her breath. "God, if she gets a sugar rush like that, she'll be bouncing off the walls like a human molecule." She rushed after the girl, leaving Sam still paralyzed in her wake.

Finally, the blond straightened to her feet, running a hand through her still-damp hair. "This is why Oprah has never seemed very relevant to my life," she murmured dazedly. She was still standing there a moment later when the woman and child returned from the kitchen.

"But, Janet, I don't like carrots or celery." Cassie stuck out her tongue in a classic expression of the tried and true childhood sentiment regarding vegetables as snack items. "Blech."

"Nonetheless," Janet insisted as she escorted the girl back toward her bedroom. "Those are your choices. Otherwise, it's back to bed for you, young lady."

The girl's response was a disgusted, "Hrmmph, I just wanted a couple of cookies."

Janet's mouth lifted in a tiny smile. When Cassie had first moved in with her, knowing the girl's background, she'd handled her with kid-gloves, effectively spoiling her rotten in an effort to chase away the haunted look in her eyes, but with time, she'd begun implementing the normal rules one might expect in any household. Late night sweets--a perennial favorite with the child�had been among the first things she'd set her foot down about, and Cassie still tried to get around it whenever she thought maybe she could push her limits. Janet considered it a testament to her own self-control that the child only managed to get what she wanted about thirty percent of the time. "Say goodnight to Sam," she reminded the girl.

Cassie waved over her shoulder. "G'night, Sam."

"G'night, Cass." Then the two disappeared into Cassie's bedroom. Sam momentarily considered following them, then discarded the idea, thinking perhaps mother and child needed a few minutes alone. Instead, she dropped down on the couch, retrieving the medical text Janet had set down earlier and thumbing through it, though only one word in five had any vague meaning to her. It hardly mattered though, since she barely saw them, her brain racing ahead and conjuring any number of possibly disastrous scenarios while she waited for Janet to return.

"Considering a career in neurosurgery?" Janet asked dryly several minutes later.

Sam jerked free of her thoughts, whipping her head around to meet the doctor's velvety gaze, taking in the soft smile curving full lips with a sigh of relief. "Janet...." She nodded toward Cassie's bedroom door. "She asleep?"

Janet glanced over her shoulder. "I doubt it." She held a hand out to Sam. "Come with me."

Her heart suddenly pounding in her chest, Sam reached back, allowing herself to be led out onto the back porch. "Is everything okay?" she questioned.

Janet nodded as she pushed the door closed in their wake. "It's fine. I just think there's probably a little ear pressed firmly against her door at the moment." She was still turning back when Sam enveloped her in a warm hug. Janet sank into her hold, breathing in the scent of Sam's body as she leaned her head against her chest.

"You just took awhile...I was getting a little worried." Sam nuzzled silky brown hair tenderly, rubbing Janet's back to relax taut muscles.

Janet toyed with Sam's shirt front, then tipped her head up, her expression thoughtful. "She had some questions...concerns...not about you and I," she clarified instantly when she saw Sam's expression start to darken. "It turns out homosexuality was completely accepted where she's from...she's not used to how things are...here...it-it doesn't make a lot of sense to her."

"She's not the only one some days," Sam sighed, hating that part of things.

"Tell me about it...I had to explain to her why we can't tell the Colonel or anyone else at SG-1...God, I hate that. I'm trying to teach her to be honest, but then I have to tell her, 'But you can't tell anyone about your past or where you're from.' And now I have to add, 'And you can't tell anyone about Sam and I either.'" She slid her free hand along the breadth of Sam's shoulder. "It's just hard for her...."

"For you too, I think," Sam noted insightfully. She could feel the tension in Janet and see how worried she was.

Janet shrugged. "It's real now," she murmured softly and reached up to stroke the silky blond hair at Sam's temple. "It's not just yours or my emotions. It's Cassie's too. If we screw this up, she's the one who gets hurt."

Sam stroked Janet's cheek lightly. "Then I guess we can't afford to screw it up." Despite the seriousness of the situation, there was a note of humor in her voice. She was just so relieved that nothing had gone wrong while Janet was in Cassie's room that she just couldn't worry too much, not when this relationship had her feeling better than anything had in a long time.

Leaning into that soft caress, Janet sighed softly, needing the comfort after the emotional jolt of Cassie's discovery. "It just scares me. I know how fragile she is...and how much she wants this...and neither one of us has what you'd call an incredibly successful romantic history--"

"Janet," Sam interrupted firmly, sensing the other woman's demons were threatening to catch up with her. "Whatever happens, we'll take care of her." She combed her fingers into thick dark auburn hair, stroking gently. She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly to calm her still jangled nerves. "But more than that, I firmly believe we'll take care of each other." Her expression was serious, the look in her eyes a solemn pledge. "We've been friends. We've fought together...and for each other...nearly died together a time or two." She had to swallow hard against a sudden thickness in her throat, surprised by the depth of her own emotions. "Nothing undoes that."

Janet managed a watery smile, but her eyes were still worried. "I'd just hoped we'd be a little more...I guess... farther along before she found out."

Leaning close, Sam pressed a delicate kiss to Janet's forehead. "Have a little faith...it'll be okay."

A gentle smile curved Janet's mouth, her heart melting in response to the look in Sam's eyes. "I do," she whispered and reached up to caress Sam's cheek tenderly. She leaned into the heat of her body, taking comfort from her warmth and the sweet perfume of her soap and shampoo. "God...I've never felt this way about anyone before." Her eyes slid closed and she nuzzled deeper into the protection of Sam's arms.

"I know," Sam whispered near her ear. "It's the same for me...it's overwhelming." She laughed very softly. "A little scary...but I know I can trust you." She pressed the softest of kisses to her lover's temple. "And I know we'll make this work." She ducked her head, tasting soft lips with aching gentleness. "There's just no other option."

Charmed and reassured by her lover's sweetness, Janet smiled affectionately. "We're crazy. You know that, don't you?"

Sam laughed. "I'm just crazy for you." She nuzzled Janet's temple. "So, are we still on for that cabin in the mountains?" she questioned, afraid the other woman might want to back out now.

After a brief pause, Janet nodded. "If you're willing to ignore my little panic attack, we are."

"I'll risk it." Sam snatched another small kiss from Janet before continuing more seriously. "I know you and Cass are a package deal...and I wouldn't have it any other way. It only stands to reason that you'd be worried about her in all of this."

Janet rested her hand lightly on Sam's chest, feeling the steady, soothing beat of her heart. "Promise me we can do this," she pleaded, searching pale blue eyes for reassurance that she was making the right decision.

Lifting her lover's hand to press tiny kisses across her knuckles. "On my honor...we can."

Warmed by the quiet declaration, the brunette nodded after a long beat, her fears calmed for the moment. She knew Sam well enough to be certain she'd never do anything to hurt either of them. This was no time to let her own insecurities get the better of her. Consciously straightening her shoulders, she let go of her worries and began planning, "Then we should probably get some sleep...tomorrow's going to be a long day...we'll have to get Cass ready...and us ready...and I've got the appointment with the orthopedist...and it must be about a two hour drive to the cabin...we can drop Cass off on the way out of town."

"And then we'll have four days and nights all to ourselves," Sam husked, her eyes suddenly flaring with sensual fire, images of their bodies twined together in erotic abandon burning in her imagination. "Scared," she challenged.

Full lips twisted in a rueful smile. "A little...you?"

"Terrified," Sam admitted, but her eyes were dancing and her lips twisted in a grin. "But in a good way...."

* * * * * * *

Chapter Five

"So, how does it feel?" Sam questioned as she watched Janet carefully work and flex the muscles of her newly freed left arm and shoulder. Thankfully, her appointment with the doctor had gone well and she'd exited the examining room minus the heavy canvas sling that had become the bane of both of their existences. They'd left the office together--Sam had driven her to the appointment--both quiet, uncertain they could control the intense chemistry that seemed to flare to life whenever they looked at each other in such a public place.

Now, behind the front door of Fraiser's home, they were no longer restrained by societal rules and the energy sparked between them at will.

"A little stiff and weak, but not bad," the smaller woman answered, her attention still focused on her arm as she slowly went through a series of exercises meant to stretch out the kinks and increase blood flow to the area. The car was packed and they were waiting for Cassie to get home from school so they could drop her off and head out of town. "Dr. Hollister recommended being a little careful for a few days, but there doesn't seem to have been any serious tendon or ligament damage."

"Sooo," Sam drew the word out innocently as she stepped closer to Janet, watching the way she moved with special attention, "Just out of curiosity, how careful is careful?"

Janet raised an eyebrow and a wry smile touched her lips, but she didn't look up from her exercises. "Well, I don't think I'm supposed to swing from the chandeliers," she murmured, "but short of that, I'm cleared for most anything that doesn't make me scream in agony."

"So screaming for other reasons is okay?"

Janet looked up at the teasingly seductive note in Sam's voice, unable to restrain an answering smile. "Getting a little overconfident, aren't we?" she riposted neatly.

Sam drew another step closer, reaching out to stroke Janet's hip lightly, watching the goosebumps rise on her skin with a wicked smile. "No, just honest," she breathed, tugging an unresisting Janet closer as she continued, "Personally, after a week of foreplay, I may just start screaming during the drive to the cabin."

Leaning into Sam, Janet skated her hands up her chest, then languorously draped her arms around the back of the taller woman's neck, her left side only a little stiffer than normal. "At least I won't be the only one."

Sam slipped her other hand around Janet's waist, massaging her lower back lightly as she held her close. "May I take it from your tone, Doctor, that you're looking forward to the next few days?"

"Very possibly," Janet allowed, mock-innocently, then tugged Sam's head down.

Tiny, delicate kisses followed as they cautiously experimented with their newfound freedom to touch and explore without restrictions.

"Feel good to have two arms again?" Sam questioned between soft kisses.

The doctor grinned, idly sifting her fingers through the silky hair at the nape of Sam's neck. It felt so right to finally be able to hold on to her this way. "You have no idea," she drawled knowingly.

The major trailed her fingertips very lightly up the length of Janet's arms, just barely touching as she followed the graceful pathway of bone and muscle until she was stroking the backs of Janet's hands where they rested against the base of her neck. "Oh, I don't know," she murmured thoughtfully, "I have a bit of a stake in your good health."

They kissed again, surrendering to the drive to share themselves, emotion and sensation ruling their actions. It was too perfect to finally hold each other without having to constantly worry about causing pain or injury and to know that in just a few hours, they wouldn't have to pull back from the brink anymore.

Sam groaned through the needy mating of their lips, the thought running through her brain, To hell with the drive, I may just start screaming now.

"Hi Janet. Hi Sam." Cassie's matter-of-fact greeting knocked the two adults apart faster and more effectively than the hardest blow would have.

"Cass," Janet gasped, her voice cracking mid-word.

"You're home," Sam added the obvious on a weak note.

Cassie paused on her trip to her bedroom, brows lifting high on her forehead as she looked and forth between them. "Yeah, I usually come home after school." Her tone made it clear that she considered them mildly moronic for not remembering that.

"We were just...um...well...just...um..." Janet started to automatically explain away what her foster daughter had seen, but couldn't come up with anything even remotely plausible and wound up just stumbling over her own tongue.

"Janet," Cassie interrupted in a don't-even-bother-to-try' tone and shook her head.

Overwhelmed by some kind of strange Courtship of Eddie's Father flashback, Janet's shoulders sagged in surrender. She tried to remember if her life been normal once upon a time. Well, yes, there had been that brief period of 'Marital Bliss' which had been about as blissful as a hangnail and half as long lasting--the only good thing she could say for it was it had been over mercifully quickly. Then she'd joined the SGC and all hell had since broken loose. She couldn't even do the pretense of normalcy anymore. Clearly, average was not her destiny.

It suddenly occurred to her that Cass was staring at her expectantly. "I...uh...did you say something, honey?" she questioned after a beat.

"I just asked when we're leaving," the girl reiterated semi-patiently.

And now her daughter--who just happened to be an alien from another planet --thought she was weird. Oh, yeah, she could do normal--not! "As soon as you're ready," she responded at last, regaining her composure enough to run a hand through her hair, combing the disarrayed strands back into some kind of order.

After a long moment of studying her mother, Cassie turned intelligent blue eyes onto Sam, who was busy doing her best impression of wallpaper in an effort not to be noticed. "Do adults always get stupid when they fall in love?" she questioned seriously.

Sam considered the question for a moment, then shrugged. "Pretty much...yeah," she admitted in a burst of honesty.

The girl's eyebrows rose another notch, while Janet's already crimson flush deepened several more shades. "Y'know, that really explains a lot," Cassie pronounced sagely, then headed off toward her room, calling over her shoulder, "I'll be ready in just a few minutes."

"I think we were just insulted," the doctor murmured dazedly, then turned a faintly flummoxed gaze Sam's way. This was all going to take some getting used to. "Y'know," she exhaled after a moment, "you still have time to make a break for it. Go find someone who raises hamsters. These things never happen to people who have rodents rather than children."

"Too late," Sam sighed and slid an arm across her lover's shoulders, tugging her into a loose hug, "I'm already too stupid."

A soft laugh bubbled up from the doctor's chest and she arched toward Sam, accepting a brief, chaste kiss. "Thank God. I don't know what I'd do if you got smart and ran like hell." She snatched another quick kiss. "Probably chase you down and get us both into trouble."

"I wouldn't run very fast," Sam assured her, caught once again by impossibly deep brown eyes. She considered stealing yet another kiss but discarded the idea with Cassie in the house. It wasn't that girl couldn't handle it--clearly she could--better in fact than either of the two adults. It was just that she'd was afraid she'd just melt into a puddle of embarrassment if they got caught again. It was worse than when she was a teenager afraid of getting caught doing something she wasn't supposed to by her father. At least then, there'd been some added excitement in taking a risk. Now, there was just a sort of embarrassed mortification.

"Scary, isn't it?" Janet murmured, interrupting Sam's train of thought. She turned her head to stare after her daughter, her expression thoughtful. "The way she's so mature sometimes."

Sam followed the line of the smaller woman's gaze, and she couldn't help but remember the frightened, confused child they'd rescued and contrast it with the healthy, secure child she'd become. "She's an amazing kid...I don't think I could survive the things she's been through."

Janet turned inside Sam's loose hold, looping her arms around the taller woman's waist. "I worry about her sometimes...but she seems to be doing so well...."

"And I think she's really happy about us," Sam breathed, stroking Janet's hair tenderly, hoping to ease some of the stress obviously rippling through her.

"She is," the doctor murmured, sounding slightly poleaxed. She'd never imagined that Cassandra might be the biggest supporter of her developing a romance with Sam until their discussion the night before. "She wants this...desperately."

Sam's expression was serious as she stared down at Janet, her tone no longer teasing or light, but deadly serious. "She's not the only one," she whispered, the soft intimacy of her tone making the smaller woman's heart pound faster in her chest.

Anything else Sam might have said was cut off as Cassie bounded back into the livingroom, bright fuscia sunglasses hiding her eyes, a full backpack over one shoulder, and a video game clutched in one hand. "Laura doesn't have Cyber-Slam Gold yet," she announced to the two adults, "and I've hardly played it at all, so we're gonna have a marathon and try and keep the game going the whole four days."

"And then she magically turns back into a normal kid," Janet observed fondly, pulling back from Sam, though not before Cassie flashed them a satisfied grin. The woman met her adopted daughter's happy smile with a wry nod of acknowledgment. Well, at least there was one less thing she had to worry about. Cassie was definitely handling this new revelation well.

"Nope, not a normal kid," Cassie pronounced seriously, then a grin broke across her face, "Super Kid!"

"All right, 'Super Kid,'" Janet murmured, moving to Cassie and ruffling her hair affectionately. "Why don't you let Sam carry your stuff on out to the car." Which was Mom-code for, 'I need to speak to my daughter.'

"Ah...sure," Sam said, taking a moment to decipher the hidden message, prompted somewhat by the fact that Cassie instantly held out her stuff, while looking expectantly at her mother.

After Sam had disappeared out the front door, Janet turned to study her adopted daughter, her tone gentle when she spoke. "You remember what we talked about?"

Cass nodded hesitantly. "You mean how I can't tell anybody about you and Sam?"

Janet hated the hurt that suddenly appeared in the child's eyes. "Yes," she said, a touch of sadness threading its way through her voice. She knew the girl was excited and didn't really understand this particular rule about her newfound home on earth.

"I guess that includes Laura, huh?"

Janet nodded. "'Fraid so." She saw Cassie's face fall and experienced a wave of guilt. She hated this part--really truly, meaningfully hated it. It went against her nature at every level. "I'm sorry, honey...but...it's just the way things have to be."

Her daughter heaved a sigh and nodded her acceptance. "I guess it's like not talking about where I'm really from...I wish I could, but some people wouldn't understand."

"Yeah," Janet sighed.

"That really sucks."

"Yep." Janet slid an arm across her daughter's narrow shoulders, hugging her tightly, amazed once again at the bond that had formed between them in such a short time. She'd never imagined when she'd decided to go ahead and adopt the girl that they would become mother and child in every way except blood. If she was honest, she hadn't considered the ramifications much at all. Cassie had needed a home, one Sam felt she couldn't provide under the circumstances, she'd had the time, the security clearance, and a lifestyle in which adding a child was possible and could provide the stability and medical care needed. It had all just worked out that way. She'd expected to feel more like a babysitter or camp counselor, just filling in and seeing the girl through in the short term. She'd never expected to feel like a real parent. Now, she couldn't imagine feeling like anything else.

Janet hugged Cassie a little tighter, wondering if the child had any idea the changes she'd wrought in her life.

"Hey, can anybody get in on that action?" Sam questioned as she hesitantly poked her head back in the livingroom.

Janet and Cassie waved her over at the same time, including her in a three way hug that quickly turned in a giggle fest.

"All right, all right," Janet broke in at last, knowing that if she didn't play the adult, no one would. "Time to get moving." She pushed both Sam and Cassie toward the front door, running off a checklist as she hurried them along. "Back door locked?"

"Check."

"Windows all locked?"

"Check."

"You remember my cell phone number, right, Cass?"

"719-555-6600," the girl answered dutifully as she climbed into the backseat of the car.

"Will it actually work up there?" Sam questioned.

"Rosenberg swears it will," the doctor answered with a shrug. "And since there's no phone at the cabin, it's the only choice."

"No phone," Sam sighed happily. "God, that sounds nice."

"Sounds like a nightmare to me," Cassie disagreed. She was just hitting the age where three hour phone calls spent giggling with her friends were among her favorite hobbies. The notion of a relatively phone free existence was mildly horrifying in her opinion, though she smiled indulgently when both adults laughed.

A half an hour later, Cassie was off to play with her friend, and Sam and Janet were heading Northwest out of town, eager to enjoy their time alone, pleasantly convinced that all was right with the world.

* * * * * *

General George Hammond glared at the folder lying open in front of him. He was fast learning that whenever anything regarding the Barnes' case came across his desk, his day was about to get worse by a factor of five. He looked up at man leaned back in the chair on the other side of his desk, waiting none-too patiently, his expression purposely neutral, though Hammond could see a certain resemblance to a vulture waiting for something to die in his expression. Colonel Samuels was back in town after a brief trip to D.C. and back on the hunt for Senator Kinsey, who was doing everything in his power to use the current situation to take both Hammond and the SGC down. Which ramped the factor of five up to at least a factor of ten. Hammond reminded himself to stop by the infirmary and pick up a fresh bottle of antacid. He was almost out and he had a feeling he was going to need it.

Hammond's eyes slipped past Samuels to the younger man waiting behind his superior, a silver briefcase in hand, his expression bland. Captain Blanchard had so far been as quiet as his superior was loudmouthed, hanging in the background and offering no opinion on anything. Hammond supposed it was the only way to survive working with the arrogant SOB.

"Colonel Samuels," the general began carefully and rapped his knuckles against the report, drawing his eyes down to the heavily blacked out printout, "would you care to tell me exactly how this helps my situation?"

Samuels shrugged indolently, barely covering his triumph. "I'm afraid, sir, that my sources at the NSA have deemed certain materials too sensitive to be shared in any unsecured location," he explained mock-sympathetically. "Particularly after recent events in the SGC."

Hammond's eyes narrowed at the insult. "I see." He leaned forward, dark eyes pinning the younger man into his seat. Samuels leaned back, a flicker of fear showing momentarily on his face before he covered it as it occurred to him that he might have just bitten off more than he could chew. "Has it occurred to you that a security report that I can't read is of no use whatsoever?"

Samuels shrugged, making it clear to Hammond that was his intention. He wondered if the other man had seen to the deletions personally, or if he'd handed it off to Kinsey and let him have the pleasure of twisting the knife.

"My instructions were to inform you about the ongoing nature of the investigation," Samuels said defensively. "Not hold your hand." There, let Hammond stew on that.

Hammond leaned back in his chair, studying the younger man over the tops of his steepled fingers. "Son," he drawled, his tone one of distaste, "the day I need you to, 'Hold my hand,' I think I'll just cut the damn thing off."

Samuels' mouth pursed, but he didn't respond the way he would have liked. "I believe this meeting is finished," he said at last and rose to his feet, his face and voice tight with restrained dislike as he glared down at the general in an attempt to intimidate.

Hammond allowed himself a small smile. He'd had far better men than Samuels try to play games like that with him, and it had been a lot of years since he'd had even the vaguest urge to blink. "I was just about to suggest that very thing."

Samuels eyes blazed at the dismissal in the general's tone. "Perhaps, General," he began untactfully, "if you worried more about the overall security of the base more, this wouldn't be such a problem."

Hammond tamped down the urge to strangle the younger man, instead reaching for the phone. "Security, this is General Hammond, I need an escort for Colonel Samuels in my office. He'll be leaving the base now."

Samuels stiffened, his eyes angry behind an expressionless mask. "What do you think you're doing?"

Hammond offered the faintest of smiles. "We've been upgrading security measures. From here on out, no one who isn't a member of SGC's regular complement will be allowed free run of the base. You will have a security escort any time you're here."

Samuels' eyes narrowed and his answering smile was painfully forced. "I hardly think--"

"No, you were right. We need to tighten security on the base. No time like the present to start."

The two men continued glaring at each other. "This isn't over," Samuels hissed when Hammond didn't flinch under the impact of his gaze.

The older man nodded. "I never thought otherwise," he said agreeably enough, settling into his chair while they waited for security.

Twice Samuels appeared ready to just break protocol and leave, but Hammond's look warned him off. He wasn't stupid. He knew the senior officer would love a chance to write him up for breaking a security protocol, no matter how personally it might be aimed at insulting him.

"And don't forget to do a full security check of all of their things," Hammond murmured, his tone one of polite reminder, when the security officers showed up and led the men out, Samuels sputtering the whole way.

When they were gone, Hammond sat staring into space for a long time, turning the situation over in his mind. If his people had screwed up, he was more than ready to take responsibility for any slips in security--hell, he already had his resignation written--but they'd gone over the logs and basewide video tapes, interviewed personnel and reviewed their security protocols, and still hadn't found any holes in the system. He rapped his knuckles against the censored report lying open on his desk. And maybe they'd found something he hadn't, but without Samuels prodding him, instincts said probably not. The colonel would have been moving more aggressively if he really had anything he could use.

Which meant there had to be something they were all missing, because Barnes had definitely gotten the tapes out of a secured area, if not off the base proper.

He leaned forward, rereading what little hadn't been blacked out as he hunted for some kind of answer. It was going to be a long night.

* * * * * * *

Continue to Ch. 6-7

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