DISCLAIMER: Much as I wish otherwise, I own nothing, nada, zilch. That honor goes to the creative and tolerant people at Gekko, Double Secret, MGM, Showtime, SciFi Channel, etc. I've made no money off this work of fiction; hell, I can't even get anyone to bribe me into writing <g>.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Why did I write this when I haven't seen Heroes I & II, Meridian, or most of seasons five through eight? I don't know. The idea just wouldn't go away, so I finally got it down on paper. And then it sat around until I was in the right frame of mind for polishing it. Because I haven't seen the episodes in question, my story-related research probably missed some important details related to canon … and for that, I apologize. At any rate, comments are welcome … even if just to read me the riot act for the things I got wrong <g>.
SPOILERS: assume everything through season seven is fair game … though through no fault of my own, I think I've got vague spoilers for parts of season nine … <sigh>.
WARNING: This story deals with canon character death, so read carefully if that's an issue for you. However, I say that with the caveat that it's not sad or depressing or even overly angsty. Honestly. Trust me. I loathe character death stories, and I wrote this one <g>.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEASON: seven, set just after Heroes I & II.

A Dawn in Every Darkness
By ocean gazer


Janet Fraiser sat up slowly, blinking rapidly to try and clear the cobwebs from her brain. She rubbed her fogged eyes until her vision returned to normal, then looked around warily. Wariness was not, she supposed, the normal reaction a person had upon waking up after death. But given all that she'd seen and heard in her years at the SGC, she was uncomfortably aware of the existence of the sarcophagus and of the mind games played by the Goa'uld.

For long moments as she twisted around and scanned the horizon, her mind perceived only green and blue – infinite, flat blotches of color. Then, the cloud of death that had permeated her body, her consciousness, began to dissipate as though a fresh breeze had blown through it. She realized the green was grass – soft and thick like rolled cotton – and the blue was sky – cloudless, open, unending sky.

Two things were clear. She wasn't inside a sarcophagus. And whatever she'd pictured the afterlife to be, this definitely wasn't it.

While it was impossible to rule out the possibility that she was not really dead and was a prisoner caught in some kind of illusion, it didn't seem all that likely to her. The Goa'uld were not known for being this imaginative and would likely have searched her mind for a familiar setting, as would any of Earth's other enemies that she could think of. This place certainly didn't qualify.

Bolstered by that thought, she let her guard down a tiny bit, turning from a perusal of her surroundings to a perusal of her body. She knew without a doubt that she'd suffered a fatal blast from a staff weapon. Time had – cruelly – slowed down: she'd seen the flash of energy, felt herself jerk back as the blast slammed into her body, felt the excruciating pain burning though every nerve ending, and then welcomed the blessed numbness that drove away the pain, even as the scared part of her mind knew it meant she was dying. As she looked at herself here and now, pulling up on the front of her shirt, she saw no evidence of the injury. Her flesh was smooth and whole. Her clothes were still in one piece and completely un-singed. Even the blood stains from her battlefield patient had disappeared.

The reminder of that awful battle brought a frown to her face. A fierce wave of sorrow crested over her at the thought of the fallen soldier. It was sorrow both for his suffering and for the fact that she didn't know the outcome. She didn't even know if any others had fallen, had been injured. Had her comrades, her friends made it home safely? Or had others died beside her on that planet? Had Sam been injured? Was she making herself sick with grief?

A deep pang of longing for her lover, her home, her friends, made her chest ache and her eyes well with tears. Balling her fists, blunted fingernails digging into her palms, she willed herself not to cry. Yes, she was in shock. Yes, the thought of all she'd lost with her death hurt deeply. And, yes, crying was cathartic and all that. But she was alone here, wherever here was. She didn't have the luxury of grief. Not here; not now. Not until she knew what was going on. Not until she felt secure … safe.

She stuffed her feelings away as best she could and focused her eyes on the waves of green, forcing her mind back into the immediate moment. Not everyone could have managed to shove such intense thoughts and feelings aside, but she pulled it off. Barely, but she managed. As a doctor, she'd – by necessity – learned the art of detachment and the ability to keep herself removed from her own reactions. And as an intensely practical woman, her innate personality was to not dwell too long on things she could do nothing about. Her current situation definitely qualified.

Once her breathing and equilibrium had returned to normal, she glanced around her surroundings again. She sat there, debating whether to stay where she was or to get up and start walking around. Much as she practically itched to do something, she opted to sit and think for the time being. She decided it might be safer for her to try and figure out where she was before she started wandering aimlessly around.

Okay. So, to begin with, she was fairly sure she was dead. Her conservative Christian upbringing had taught her that her soul should be in either Heaven or Hell. Her atheistic adulthood had told her that there shouldn't be any such thing as an afterlife. Her surreal working life at the SGC had only made it clear that some of what seemed impossible really wasn't – which had done nothing to guide her thinking about death and the afterlife, or lack thereof.

From the stories she'd heard from the SGC personnel, this setting was nothing like what the Nox, the Asgard, or the Goa'uld used when they brought a person back from the dead. Daniel couldn't remember much of anything about his time with the Ascended. But his teammates had described the Ascended as being "glowy" – or at least Colonel O'Neill had used that term – and this place didn't look like some esoteric higher plane of existence populated by the enlightened. So she ruled out the possibility of the impossible.

Since she had her consciousness intact and was clearly in the middle of someplace – rather than the vast, unknowing nothingness that she'd long imagined, she figured her atheism was wrong as well. At least about the afterlife part of things, anyway. That conclusion sent her back to her religious roots, with either Heaven or Hell as the remaining options for her current location.

That did nothing to help her decide where she'd ended up.

Granted, it didn't look a whole hell of a lot like the fire and brimstone pictures that had given her nightmares as a child, where damned souls suffered for all eternity. Then again, neither did it look quite like the mythical Zion, the comfortable, celestial resting place of the righteous. There were no demons … no angels … no cursed darkness … no blessed light. There was just mile upon mile upon mile of green grass and blue sky. It looked like springtime in the middle of the frickin' prairie heartland … and she appeared to be completely alone.

Maybe Heaven, like monasteries and convents, was a place of Divine solitude and serenity.

Then again, maybe Hell, like prisons and torture chambers, was a place of solitary confinement.

Finding that line of reasoning to be neither reassuring nor helpful, she swept her gaze around again, still seeing nothing but green and blue in all directions. So much for the value of thinking and observing. She still wasn't any closer to figuring out just where she was. Sighing softly and pushing to her feet, she put the conundrum aside for the moment. Since she couldn't figure it out, there was nothing to be gained by staying in one spot. She'd just have to start walking and see where she ended up. Maybe it wasn't all-important to know where she was; maybe the only thing that really mattered was the reality that she was.

No sooner had she completed the complicatedly simple thought than she saw a flash of light, blinked her eyes, and found herself in the middle of a cobblestone floor, sitting cross-legged. Three white-robed women sat across from her, also cross-legged. Swallowing hard to try and cover her surprised gasp, she looked hastily around the dim room. The walls were plain grey stone, with inset sconces to hold thick candles. Near the ceiling, there were tiny window holes carved out of the stone, clearly intended to provide only light, not a view. A narrow opening in one wall seemed to lead into a proverbial long, dark hallway, and there were no other doors or passageways of any kind that she could see. A stone altar nestled against one wall, with three wide steps leading up to it. A thick book sat open on the altar, thicker than any Bible or Qu'ran or Torah she'd ever seen, framed on either side by pillar candles and earthenware pots of wild flowers.

The room was intensely beautiful and elegant in its simplicity, and Janet shivered slightly at the sense of sacredness that filled the atmosphere. She'd never in her life felt anything so intensely spiritual. While it was a surprisingly comfortable and welcome sensation, it still unnerved her, making her feel completely unworthy.

Exhaling heavily, she pulled her eyes back to the white-clad figures sitting across from her. Falling back on her usual defense mechanisms, she muttered, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore."

She hadn't really meant to use her "out loud" voice, and she watched the trio carefully, expecting some kind of reaction to the admittedly odd phrase. A little disappointingly, there was none. The three women simply sat silent and still, their eyes fixed unblinkingly on her. There was not even the rise and fall of a chest to indicate breathing, to show any signs of life. Of course, were they really alive in the traditional sense? For that matter, was she?

That train of thought threatened to give her a headache, and she squeezed her eyes shut against it, as though the gesture would somehow help. During the course of her education to become a doctor, she'd learned the physical processes that separated life from death. Had she wanted the more ethereal and esoteric definition, she'd have gone for a doctor's in philosophy, not medicine.

Eyes still closed, she shoved all those thoughts aside, clearing her mind as she'd been doing with every uncomfortable or headache-inducing thought she'd had since waking up wherever she was. Focusing again only on the immediate moment, she opened her eyes and fixed her gaze once more on the three motionless women.

When she noticed that two of them had closed their eyes in apparent mimicry of her, she felt an insane desire to giggle – the same desire she'd had as a child when the grim seriousness of the church service made the tiniest things seem amusing. From the practice she'd had as a child, she managed to suppress the urge, though she felt unaccountably better for finding a note of irreverence in this reverent place. And she felt a flash of gratitude that the one woman still watching her seemed to notice her amusement, but appeared unfazed by it. That was a welcome change from childhood, when she got lecture after lecture for not taking church as seriously as she should. At least here, humor apparently wasn't frowned on.

She got a grip on herself, turning her head to the side and studying the altar with its white and purple candles, their flames burning slowly and steadily. She supposed it shouldn't seem all that odd for the afterlife to be surreal, but it did. For some reason, whether due to upbringing or personality, she'd expected whatever happened after death to be fairly straightforward … either nothingness or punishment or paradise. This so wasn't any of those things. If she hadn't known better, she'd think she was in some particularly bad episode of the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits. "Now, for your consideration, a woman who isn't sure if she's really dead …"

The urge to giggle struck her again, but she sobered up very quickly when she realized she was the subject of intense scrutiny. While two of the women still had their eyes closed, the remaining one had her gaze glued to Janet's face. For all the world, it reminded her of a teacher trying to decide what to do with a problematic child. And it was intensely uncomfortable – the sensation of being weighed and measured against some as-yet-unknown standard. Her palms felt suddenly sweaty and she rubbed them surreptitiously against her thighs, the familiar feel of the fabric doing nothing to calm her unease. She looked away, unable to meet the inscrutable stare – the eyes that glinted like cold, hard sapphires. Instead, she ducked her head and focused on the way her legs were crossed, the way her feet were hooked neatly under the rest of her, and fought the urge to squirm.

When she heard the voice, unexpected as it was, she nearly jumped out of her skin. "My apologies for causing you such discomfort. My purpose in staring was to understand you and your reactions as best I can, to make this conversation as simple and helpful as possible."

The woman's voice was deep, in the low ranges of a tenor, but oddly melodic. It certainly wasn't what Janet had expected. Slowly, she raised her head and focused again on the face across from her. It was a plain, homely face, with signs of neither age nor beauty; but as she really studied it, she realized it was a kind face. And the eyes no longer looked like impersonal pieces of stone. The deep, rich color remained, but was softened by compassion and understanding.

For a moment, just a moment, she could have sworn she was looking into Sam's eyes.

Sudden tears blurred her vision and she once again fisted her hands against the pain of loss. Resolutely, she told herself not to cry. She'd been pushing aside all her personal feelings, making herself be a good little doctor – a good little soldier – and focus on her surroundings and what she needed to do, rather than on how she felt. She'd done a terrific job of it – probably a little too terrific, truthfully. But here in this sanctuary, with this woman with eyes of sapphire, it was all too close, too overwhelming.

The small part of her mind that was still processing things logically and that used humor as a defense mechanism briefly mused that dying really shouldn't be harder on the dead than on the living. At least not mentally and emotionally. Physically, it was probably unavoidable.

She felt a feather touch on her arm, breaking her out of her reverie, and looked down in surprise. One of the women, eyes still closed, had reached out and her fingers were lightly caressing Janet's forearm. The surrealism of someone "blind" being able to see her emotional reaction made her wonder whether she should be laughing or crying. Getting a grip on herself again and comforted beyond measure by the simple touch, she did neither. Whatever this place was, whoever these women were, she felt safe. She was still confused, discomfited, and distressed, yes. But she was no longer afraid of what she didn't know.

The hand moved away from her arm and she could still feel lingering warmth there from the touch. It was a warmth as subtle and transforming as the flickering candlelight surrounding her. As the sense of safety permeated her being, she felt her muscles relaxing. She hadn't even been aware of how stiff and tense she was. It was a welcome change, and as she relaxed further, she noticed that the two women with closed eyes suddenly smiled. In the blink of an eye, she found that they had disappeared, apparently into thin air. Idly, she wondered why there was a passageway branching out from this room if the people here didn't need to travel in physical form.

"There are times when we prefer to move in a physical manner and times when we prefer to move incorporeally."

The voice didn't quite make her jump, but she did start a bit at hearing it. Mainly because there was no sound echoing in the air … the words had been spoken directly into her mind. There was no mistaking the melodic tenor of the woman across from her. The sensation of having words in her head like that was unnerving and she wondered how on earth Sam had managed to cope with having Jolinar in her mind as a constant presence.

This time when the woman spoke, she did so aloud. "Again, I apologize. I know that all of this is strange to you, and yet I keep finding ways to add to the strangeness."

Janet regained her composure and managed a quick smile. "It hasn't exactly been a normal day for me. You'd think by now I'd be used to strange things."

Her companion didn't smile, exactly. Instead, the woman offered the kind of subtle nod favored by Teal'c, and quirked up the corner of her mouth. "Perhaps. But as my role is to ease you into this transition, I should be a bit more attuned to what makes you comfortable." Janet watched as the woman closed her eyes and tilted her head to the side, as though listening to some inner voice. The moment was brief, however, and the woman reopened her eyes and continued speaking. "My name, such as it is, is Kima. I know that you are Janet Fraiser, of the Tau'ri. This incarnation of your body has indeed died, but you as yourself are not dead."

"Where am I?" The question was abrupt and unoriginal and she realized it the moment it left her mouth. Still, it seemed one of the more pertinent things she needed to know.

"Where do you think you are?"

Janet sat and stared at Kima in bewilderment. Great. Just what she'd always wanted … her very own Oracle of Delphi offering riddles in lieu of answers. She'd never had much patience for these kinds of verbal games. Much as she hated to admit it, she was a lot like Jack O'Neill, and she could see why he got so fed up when his astrophysicist and archeologist went off into abstract and enigmatic conversational tangents.

Acutely aware of the sacred atmosphere around her, she tried very hard to keep her annoyance contained. "If I knew where I was, I wouldn't be asking." Okay, so the attempt failed miserably – her words coming out a lot more sharply than she'd planned. But overall, she thought she'd taken her death remarkably well, and she was probably well overdue for some moments of irritability with the entire situation.

Again, the expression on the woman's face was not exactly a smile, but neither was it stern or foreboding. "The answers you seek are all around you, are within you. I need not tell you that which you already know. Does not the path to finding knowledge begin with knowing which questions remain unanswered?"

She blinked rapidly, feeling suddenly like she was facing a final exam for which she hadn't studied. Then again, it wasn't like there was anything she could have studied to prepare her for the vast unknown of what happened after death. The case studies she'd read of people's near-death experiences were no help at all. There was simply no scientific way to tell whether the tunnel of light most of them had seen was an actual manifestation of the other side or caused by chemical reactions in the brain. And Daniel, who was the only person she knew who had been dead long enough to see something of the other side, didn't recall more than the foggiest of details about his time as an ascended being.

Suddenly, the proverbial light bulb went on in her head. She had ascended, just as Daniel had, and she was on another plane of existence. She was dead, but not dead. Yet finding the answer just ended up raising more questions. They swirled around in her head like dandelion tufts on a blustery day. One question, though, stood out in the forefront and seemed like the most important. How had she ascended, when she wasn't nearly as enlightened as someone the likes of Daniel?

It wasn't until she heard an almost inaudible sigh that she realized she'd actually voiced the question aloud. She half expected a subtle rebuke, in the form of another enigmatic statement, and was completely surprised when she heard Kima's soft words. "That's why I'm here." There was a long pause then, and Janet wasn't entirely sure whether she was supposed to jump in to fill the silence. But even as the uncertainty played in her mind, she knew she should remain silent, waiting.

She heard a quiet chuckle, and saw that this time an actual smile had crossed the woman's face. "You see, it isn't that hard to find the answers when you learn to ask the right questions and when you are willing to listen." The smile faded quickly, however, and she knew that Kima's attention had gone back to the whole point of the two of them being in this place at this time.

"Under normal circumstances, we don't greet the newly ascended in this way. Those who have found their way here are generally able to find their way to where they need to be … they are as prepared for this portion of their existence in the universe as they possibly can be. Some individuals are helped to ascend when they aren't yet ready … and in those instances, the one providing assistance is the one who … orients them to their new surroundings. As Oma did for your friend Daniel."

With the mention of Daniel's name, another spark of recognition raced through Janet's brain. She'd never experienced anything like it before and it was a bit disconcerting to be able to answer the most immediate questions in her mind just by focusing her thoughts and her attention in precisely the right way. "And as Daniel expected to do for us … for me … Sam … Jack … Teal'c … Cassandra …" She closed her eyes briefly, listening to the elusive murmurs of thoughts and words flowing like wind around her. "Only he didn't follow the rules and ended up descending and going back to Earth before he could help any of the rest of us."

There was more there, but she couldn't quite grab hold of it. She felt a sense of fatigue washing through her, and fought to shove it aside. Then she felt a hand on her arm, felt as though strength was literally flowing from her companion to her through the light touch. And above all, she felt a sense of pity and concern, touching her mind directly.

The tenor voice floated silkily through the air. "I forget how difficult it is for those new among us. Learning to question and listen and such is not an easy thing, even for those who are ready for it. And you were not quite ready, not yet."

She supposed she should have been offended, but there was nothing malicious in Kima's tone. And she knew all too well that she hadn't been ready for this step; it was a pure and simple fact.

"You are correct, Janet, in that Daniel fully expected to be here to help his friends ascend. But once he realized that he was not prepared to follow the rules, that he was going to choose to go back to Earth, he planted the seeds of how to ascend in your mind … in the minds of those he called friends."

That was the elusive bit of knowledge that Janet hadn't been able grasp onto. But hearing it spoken aloud gave her the next piece of it. "And you're here to help me understand what has happened … and to make sure that I understand what all it entails." She closed her eyes again, concentrating. "You want to make sure I understand why we aren't supposed to interfere … even when those we care about are suffering."

She looked over to see Kima's eyes fixed seriously on her. There was still kindness in the gaze, but there was also steel. The same steel threaded its way through the woman's voice. "Yes. It's not that we always refuse to interfere, because we do get involved at times. We speak to people in their dreams, and stand beside them to whisper in their ears. We do not push them to act, that is not our way. But we sometimes offer ideas and are not always simple observers. We are in no way callous or cold-hearted, and the suffering of many worlds does affect us deeply. But we have a different understanding of forces at work in the universe … and there are threats far greater than what happens in this one small galaxy."

For a moment, Janet – still panged with the loss of her world, her friends, her family, and all she held dear – felt a ferocious blaze of anger. As though her thoughts had willed it, she could see an angry red glow in the air around her. She knew that her companion saw it as well, though the woman held her tongue and simply watched … waited.

She wanted to scream at the top of her lungs, to shout that her world and the people she loved were important, that they did matter. She wanted to protest that even the smallest person, place, or detail made a difference. She wanted to throw an honest to goodness temper tantrum and yell about all the things her small little world had done to make the galaxy and – by extension – the universe a safer place.

But as quickly as it had come, the anger fled. No one was disputing that the small things did matter – as the old saying went, God did notice and mourn the death of the smallest sparrow. Kima hadn't said that her world wasn't important … just that there were threats greater than the Goa'uld and the replicators. There was another brief touch of Kima's presence in her mind, and she was filled with a sense of such evil and horror that her blood seemed to run ice-cold in her veins. It was the briefest of moments and then the sensation was gone, but it left her thoroughly chilled and shaken.

"That is what we struggle to keep in check. There will always be evil in the universe … we could not understand the concept of good if there was nothing against which to measure it. But the long-standing balance between good and evil is threatened, and if the balance falls, then so do all of us. Daniel did know this …"

Janet interrupted, not needing to listen to the voices of the wind to know how the sentence ended. "But he couldn't abandon the fight he'd started on Earth or the friends he'd left behind." She paused, thinking that she might well end up like him … unable to let go of her planetary home enough to settle into where she was now. How could she be expected to stop caring what happened to Sam, to Cassandra, to the rest of the people she loved?

The tenor voice was laced with sympathy. "No one expects you to stop caring. We all have concern for the worlds from which we came and when possible, we offer what strength and hope we can to them. But we do have rules about how much help we can give, about how much we can interfere. We've seen too often that power corrupts, and we wish to remove that temptation from ourselves. Yes, we are enlightened, but we are not perfect. Perfectible over eons, perhaps, but never perfect; we are not Gods. Without rules and holding one another in check, we could easily go down the same darker path that others have followed …"

There was a slight pause and Janet wondered at the sadness that flitted across the homely face. She had a hunch it was related to the brief touch of evil she'd sensed earlier when Kima was talking of the balance of the universe. The curious part of her wanted to pursue the train of thought. But on a deeper, subconscious level, she knew it wasn't time for her to know about it just yet. That time would come soon enough.

She watched closely as the other woman pulled her thoughts back to the present. She saw the kindly look in blue eyes as Kima continued talking. "You will never stop caring about those you hold dear, and you will learn in which ways you can help them. It will be hard for you, especially at first, but you will adjust. Even though you weren't quite ready to come here, you have a distinct advantage over others similarly unprepared."

Though she wasn't aware of shooting the woman a questioning look, she must have, because her unspoken question was given an enigmatic answer. "Does the wheat not benefit when the chaff is swept away?"

It took her a minute, but she must have been getting used to the woman's odd non-answers because she knew exactly what was being referenced. She was a doctor and understood the concept of triage. Sometimes, to save one person's life, you had to bypass someone else who was already too far gone. Sometimes, to keep a person alive, you had to amputate limbs or perform other risky maneuvers. It was never an easy choice, but she'd made it more than once in her years of practice.

And it came to her in a single blazing moment of recognition that that's what they were asking her to do as an ascended being. To help when and where possible, while never losing sight of the fact that the balance and safety of the universe as a whole was what they were trying to maintain.

She had a funny feeling that it really wasn't going to be easy, but that she was up to the challenge. Of course, it helped knowing about Daniel's little gift to her and to his other friends. It was a lot easier to think of being dead (well, dead as far as her physical being) when she knew without a doubt that she would be reunited with Sam and Cassandra when they, too, made this transition. She would hate watching them suffer in the meantime, but the knowledge that it was only temporary would make it easier to bear.

Her thought processes sent her awareness out, searching, suddenly needing to see her adopted daughter, her lover. Without knowing the hows of what she was doing, she found herself on Earth, in the home that the three of them had shared. She stood outside the doorway to Cassandra's bedroom, vaguely surprised by the fact that she was able to feel the wood as solid matter one moment, but put her hand through it the next. Trying not to think about things, but to listen for the answers, she walked through the door – literally – and stood looking down at the teen.

She saw Cass lying on her bed, awake, headphones covering her ears and head bobbing along in time with the music. For a moment, she felt a sense of shock that her adopted daughter seemed to be taking her death so lightly. Then, her eyes fell on the bedside calendar, where the teen's habit of X-ing off each day made it clear to Janet that it had been precisely a month since her death. She idly wondered exactly how long she'd been sitting in that endless green field … or whether ascended time and human time moved in completely different increments and rhythms. At any rate, the passage of time made some sense of the scene, as some of the initial shock and grief would have eased a bit.

From the lines of fatigue and sorrow etched into the girl's face, it was clear that the mourning process was ongoing and would be for a while. But by concentrating, she could read some of Cassandra's surface thoughts, and was relieved by what she picked up on. At least the teen was talking to both Sam and Jack about her feelings, getting the support she needed from teachers and friends, and still looking forward in her life to things like college planning and a part-time job. She reached out with her newly awakened senses, and got the reassurance she needed that her adopted daughter would end up okay.

And that Sam would end up okay as well. With the thought, she suddenly found herself in the bedroom that she and her lover had shared. Sam was curled up on her side, fast asleep, with Janet's pillow clutched to her chest like a teddy bear. The woman's face was as lined with grief and exhaustion as Cassandra's.

During the whole ordeal of waking up dead and trying to find her bearings, she'd been able to hold herself in check and keep the tears at bay. But now, looking down at the familiar face of the woman she loved so dearly, Janet's emotional dam broke, shattering into thousands of tiny pieces. She sat down on the bed beside Sam, amazed that by needing it to be solid to her, it was, and just let herself cry. She placed a hand on the blonde's shoulder, cherishing the chance to once again touch her, and just sobbed and sobbed. God, she was going to miss her lover.

She had no idea how long she'd been there, since she only came back to herself when she realized she'd stopped crying. And in the back of her mind, she heard a low tenor whisper, "On the scale of time, is this not but a moment?" Despite the emotional maelstrom, one part of her wanted to chuckle, yet again, at the surrealism of it all. The other part of her knew the woman was right. She and Sam would be together again, and while the waiting would be hard, it would not last forever.

Leaning down, she pressed a soft kiss to her lover's cheek, and somehow found herself reaching into Sam's mind, into her dreams. Hadn't Kima said something about speaking to people in dreams? She began to whisper, softly, telling Sam that she loved her, that she wanted her to take care of herself, and to trust that things would be okay. She wanted to say more, far more, but something held her tongue. What she'd said would be enough. Sam would wake in the morning, remembering that she'd dreamed of her and, with any luck, finding hope in the memory.

And then, with no warning, she found herself back in the stone temple, tear-swollen eyes blinking to adjust once more to the soft light of the candles. She looked over to see Kima smiling at her, a real, genuine smile. "You will be a true asset to us, Janet. Trust in your instincts, listen to the voice of the wind, and never forget what matters most."

There was a flash of light and Janet was not exactly surprised to realize that her companion had disappeared, leaving her alone. It should have been eerie and a bit frightening, being alone in an old temple, knowing nothing of what lay outside or where exactly she was in the plane of ascension. But it wasn't. She had a sense that she'd learn things as she needed to know them. Her adopted daughter and her lover were both going to be okay. She knew that as certainly as she knew that two plus two was four – in her world at least. And while she was not alive, exactly, her consciousness still existed, she was only physically dead, and she was in a safe place.

It wasn't exactly what she would have wished for, had she been given a choice. Then again, given some of the other available options, it was a far better outcome than she could have dared hope for.

Bolstered by that thought, she pushed herself off the floor, dusting off her hands on her pants. She walked slowly over towards the altar, drawn there by some unknown compulsion, and climbed the steps. Glancing down at the open pages of the book, she saw that the words were changing to English right before her eyes. When she'd first looked down, the words had looked like alien gibberish, and she couldn't help but think how cool it was that she'd be able to read the script, even without Daniel around to translate. As she flipped through the pages, it fell open to a chapter titled, "Some Initial Thoughts on Ascension." Experimentally, she hefted the book, amazed that it seemed to weigh no more than a paperback despite its thickness and sturdy covers.

Chuckling to herself, she picked up the massive tome, sat down right in front of the altar with her back leaning against it, settled the book in her lap, and began to read.

The End

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