DISCLAIMER: The story, and characters and anything and everything else concerning SG: SG1 belong to MGM, Gekko, Secret Productions etc, they are so not mine and no money is being made from this and no copyright infringement is intended. X Files belongs to Chris Carter and a whole bunch of other people and again, I make nothing, intend nothing. Hell, I just showed them a good time.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: this is an original fic and unlike the first two of the series is not based on either a Stargate or X Files episode.
SPOILER: Stargate: Set some time before the end of Season 6 as Daniel is still glowy. Paradise Lost didn't quite happen as Maybourne is still around. Many references to Desperate Measures. X Files: "William" didn't happen as Scully was in a relationship with Reyes by then and had given up on trying to track down Mulder.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Though Lovers Be Lost
By Celievamp

1 Exorcising Demons

Sam had been thinking about moving out of her house for a couple of months. Her lease was up at the end of the year and since the whole Orlin / NID Retrieval Squad incident and her kidnapping a couple of months previously when the local police and the Air Force had gone over the property with a sledgehammer and a fine tooth comb, her landlord's attitude to 'that nice Miss Carter' had cooled somewhat. So Sam was sitting on Janet's couch looking over prospectuses from Colorado's finest leasing agencies. Or, put alternatively, Janet thought, the brochures were spread across the coffee table and Sam was laid back against the cushions staring at the ceiling. She smiled at her lover. There was no way Sam would ever suggest it so Janet knew she would have to broach the subject first.

"Here's a thought," she said softly. "Why don't you just move in here with Cassie and me? There's plenty of space. I mean it's not as if you spend enough time at your house to justify the expense of it. You're either over here or at the Mountain."

Sam smiled. "Don't think I haven't thought about it, Janet. It's just that…" she sighed. "I know it might sound stupid and… ungrateful. I just don't want to… impose on you. It's very different me staying over the odd night to moving in permanently."

"Cassie would love it if you did," Janet lowered herself down, straddling Sam's thighs. She took hold of the collar of Sam's shirt and pulled the woman towards her, kissing her. "I would love it."

"Marry me." The words were out of Sam's mouth before she thought about it. There was a pause. Janet's face was frozen in an expression of shock that would have been comical if there wasn't so much riding on it. Sam knew it gave her the opportunity to soften what she had said, make a joke of it, lessen the implications but she found that she did not want to. "Marry me, Jan," she repeated, letting her hands run softly up and down the ribcage of the smaller woman, knowing that it usually drove her wild. She paused as she saw the tears begin to form in Janet's eyes. Sam was suddenly terrified that she had taken things too far. "Jan, I didn't mean to upset you, I didn't think, I…" Janet had been married before she joined the SGC. It had not been a happy experience for her. Sam did not know what to think as Janet crumbled against her, holding her tightly, the collar and shoulder of Sam's shirt rapidly getting damp with the force of Janet's tears. What demons had she released? She let her hands soothe Janet's back and shoulders in small circles of comfort as Janet had done for her too many times to remember when this world and others got too much for her.

After about ten minutes the sobs turned to hiccupping breaths and then Sam was able to make out words. "So…sorry to bale … out on you… like that… scare you… ac… actually happy. So… so happy…" Janet lifted her head up, but turned her face away. "God, I must look a wreck." Sam gently turned Janet's chin so that her beloved was facing her again. Yes, she did look like a wreck, but a beautiful wreck. Sam reached over to the side table and hooked a box of Kleenex and passed them to Janet without comment, then helped her to get into a more comfortable position, half lying across her lap rather than straddling her, Janet's head pillowed on her breast.

"Are we okay?" she said at last, still desperately unsure about the outcome of her impromptu proposal.

"Better than okay," Janet replied, her voice still husky with tears. "Sam, I love you so much that sometimes it hurts. I didn't think I could be happier when you agreed to come and be part of our household but…" she hooked one hand behind Sam's neck and drew Sam's head down towards hers, kissing her fiercely on the lips. Sam could taste the salt of her tears.

"So I take it the answer is yes," Sam said drily.

"The answer is most definitely yes," Janet kissed her again, her tongue duelling with Sam's for dominance as she deepened the kiss, her hands suddenly busy underneath Sam's shirt. Sam ran the fingers of one hand through Janet's long dark hair, red highlights glinting like fire. She moaned into Jan's mouth, her other hand undoing the fly on Janet's jeans, slipping inside the lacy pants through soft damp curls. "Yes," Janet moaned into her mouth again, trying to get Sam's shirt open. Several buttons popped, giving up the unequal struggle. Sam had gone without a bra today and her breasts were soon freely available to Janet's attention. Removing her mouth from Sam's she fastened it instead on one of Sam's plump nipples, suckling, running her teeth along the edge of the nipple. Sam gasped, throwing her head back, her hand stilled momentarily in its explorations between Janet's legs. She felt her own cleft flood with warmth.

With her foot she pushed the coffee table out of the way and then cradled Janet in her arms and laid her on the carpet, crouched above her. She pulled Janet's jeans and soaked knickers down, the smaller woman kicking them off her feet and finished removing her own shirt and slid her sweatpants down over her thighs, wriggling out of them. Janet smiled as she saw that Sam had forgone knickers as well as bra that afternoon and that her inner thighs were already glistening. "Looks like someone started without me," she smiled.

"Minx," Sam straddled her, touching her centre to Janet's abdomen so that she could feel for herself just how ready Sam was. "You are wearing too much." Janet was too caught up in admiring the beautiful nude in front of her to do anything about it for the moment then Sam pulled her into a sitting position and told her to lift up her arms. Janet obeyed the orders of her (technically) superior officer as Sam lifted off her T shirt and then removed the lacy bra. As she did every time she saw her nude form Sam paused for a moment to admire Janet's body. "You are so beautiful," she whispered, smoothing her hands down Janet's skin, from her collarbones down over the rise of her breasts, cupping them for a moment in her strong, sensitive hands, over the delicate ribcage and the flat deceptively muscled plane of her abdomen. Janet's hands were on her shoulders, she nuzzled between Sam's breasts, gently nipping the skin then laving it with her kisses. "So soft," she whispered. "So perfect."

"I love you, Sam. I love only you. I wish…"

"What do you wish, lover?" Sam asked softly, laying Janet back down on the rug, covering her breasts with soft kisses.

"I wish we were connected somehow, so even when we were physically apart we would know where the other was and if they were safe."

"Telepathy?" Sam tried to suppress a shudder. That came too close to what she had briefly had with Jolinar.

Janet picked up on her change of mood instantly. "Sam, I'm sorry I…"

Sam shook her head, put a gentle finger to Janet's lips. "You have nothing to be sorry about. My own demons just surfaced for a moment." She gasped as Janet took her finger into her mouth, suckling it. "Ah, Jan, you can always chase them away." Carefully, she eased her finger from Janet's mouth and trailed it down Janet's throat, between her breasts and down her abdomen, leaving a damp trail, then hooked her finger in the curls at the apex of her thighs, finding her clit with the ease of much practice. Her other fingers slid down her slit, feeling how ready her lover was.

"Turn around," Janet growled. "I want you, flygirl. I want you, now!"

"Yes, ma'am." Smiling at Janet's favourite nickname for her Sam nimbly turned herself around so that her head was pointing towards Janet's feet and her crotch was above Janet's face in a classic 69 position. Sam felt Janet's fingernails graze the soft flesh of her inner thighs, her teeth nip lightly at her labia and groaned, ready to come there and then. She forced herself to bank it down. The pad of her thumb circled Janet's clit as she began to move her fingers inside the smaller woman, plunging deeper with each stroke, curving her fingers slightly so as to stimulate as much tissue as possible. She could see the muscles quivering in Janet's thighs and knew that she was close. Her own orgasm was even closer, Janet's fingers and tongue performing miracles. She ducked her head and blew gently across Janet's hyperstimulated flesh, and was rewarded with a muffled scream the vibration of which against her own sex was enough to trigger her own orgasm. Sam just managed to keep her arms braced so that she did not squash her smaller partner, her whole body shuddering with the force of the experience. Her heart was pounding, her skin sheened with sweat. Turning herself again, she collapsed next to Janet, who still looked slightly glassy eyed.

"Wow," Janet whispered.

"Wow," Sam agreed. She glanced up at the clock and groaned, hanging her head. "Lover, we'd better make ourselves decent. Our daughter is due home some time in the next twenty minutes and the news that I'm moving in and going to make an honest woman of you at last will blow her mind sufficiently without her finding us both in the altogether in the middle of the living room." Rising to her feet in one easy movement, she took Janet's proffered hand and pulled her up as well. They gathered together their discarded clothes, made a token effort at straightening up the room and then chased each other upstairs.

They showered together – which was a mistake – and were still drying each other off amidst many gentle kisses when the slammed door downstairs indicated that their adopted daughter was home.

"Mom! Sam – you in?" Cassie shouted.

"We're up here shortstuff – we'll be down in a minute. Why don't you dial us some dinner?" Sam opened the door a crack and shouted down stairs.

"Not Pizza!" Janet shouted.

"Okay!" Cassie headed into the kitchen.

They told her over the Indian takeaway she had ordered. Cassie stared at them in stunned silence for a moment or two then abandoned her fork and flung herself on the two women. "Oh gosh, that's so cool! Can I be bridesmaid?"

As she was the one who made the proposal, Sam got the rings. Janet went with her to choose the design. They both agreed on plain gold bands etched with a design that looked like jasmine flowers and leaves. On the inside of the bands they had their initials etched and the date when they had first admitted to their love for each other. They set a wedding date – the third anniversary of that day. Jack, Jonas and Teal'c had promised to attend along with their friends and those of their families who knew of their relationship. A friend of a friend was a woman priest willing to perform the ceremony for them. Somehow everything got organized – Janet found the perfect dresses for her and Cassie. Janet's was ivory silk, simply cut, breathtaking. Cassie's was similar in style but in rose pink.

Sam debated about wearing a dress or a suit. She discussed her problem with O'Neill over coffee in her lab and confessed to a secret desire to wear a tux for the occasion. Jack nodded, pulled a piece of paper towards him and scribbled down a name and phone number. "Give this guy a call, Sam. He's an excellent tailor. He can do whatever you want."

Two weeks to go. Sam was in the final stages of moving permanently to Janet's house. She had given up the lease on her house with no regrets. Realistically, it had only ever been a glorified hotel room to her. For the last year she was either off world, on base or at Janet's. She had checked the upstairs rooms, made sure that everything that was going was boxed up. Jack and Teal'c had promised to help her with the last of her stuff at the weekend. Two days ago she had had the final fitting for her suit and Josh had promised to deliver it by the middle of the week. She had picked up the rings that morning, the box nestled in the pocket of her leather jacket, currently slung on the banister rail. Going downstairs again, she went into the kitchen to see if there was anything she could snack on before she went back to the base. She noticed that the back door was open and frowned. She was sure that she had shut it when she came back in from the yard. Something caught in her peripheral vision and she turned as something bright flashed. She heard the 'phut' of a silencer and felt a sudden sharp pain in her abdomen. She looked down as her legs began to give way. The red feather of a dart was lodged in her shirt, penetrating her skin. She could feel the drug discharging into her system. Her cellphone was on the table. She reached for it as she collapsed, falling to the kitchen floor. Dimly, she felt her body spasm. She heard two sets of footsteps and managed to open her eyes to see two masked men looking down on her. Then everything greyed out.

2. An AWOL Scientist

O'Neill fidgeted nervously. Carter was never late, especially not for a mission briefing with General Hammond. Jonas waited, reading through the briefing notes again. Teal'c studied the far wall, motionless as ever. Hammond glanced at his watch.

"I'll go and see if I can track her down, sir," Jack said, glad of the excuse to move. "You know what she's like when she's working in her lab." This was patently untrue. Whatever else she forgot – like eating and sleeping - Sam never forgot a briefing.

"Very well, Colonel."

O'Neill went into the anteroom and picked up the phone. He dialled Sam's lab but there was no reply. Same with her quarters. He checked with the gate: she had not signed in. After a moment's thought he dialled the infirmary and asked to speak to Dr Fraiser.

"Hi, Doc. We seem to have an AWOL scientist. Sam's late for a briefing with Hammond. When did you last see her?"

"This morning. She was going into town to do a few chores then calling in at her house to make sure that everything was set for the move before she came in. She has her cell phone with her," Janet said, a note of worry in her voice. Like O'Neill she knew that Sam was rarely if ever late for anything, particularly for something like a briefings. "I'll give her a ring now. Hang on."

O'Neill waited. A few minutes later, Janet came back on. There was now more than a hint of worry in her voice. "Jack – she's not answering. Not her cellphone, nor the phone at her place, nor at mine."

The back of O'Neill's neck started to tingle. This was not a good sign. Just over a year before Sam had been abducted by someone trying to utilise Goa'uld biology to make pharmaceuticals. Maybourne and O'Neill had tracked her down four days later just before the scientists shut down their experiment by giving Sam what would have been a fatal overdose. He had the same feeling now. "Okay. I'll go and tell the General. Meet me up top in half an hour and we'll start backtracking. Don't worry too much. Sam can look after herself."

Janet put the phone down. Her hands were shaking. O'Neill was wrong. He only saw soldier Sam and scientist Sam. She was one of the few privileged to know the deeply hidden Samantha, so full of self-doubt, of fear about herself and her capabilities, of how close she came sometimes to losing it all, her innocence her love of life, her love for Janet and for Cassie. She knew that O'Neill was worried which meant that he had one of his 'feelings'. She also remembered all too clearly the days when Sam had been abducted by Adrian Conrad, the worry, the sleepless nights during and after the ordeal when all of Sam's nightmares came back with a vengeance.

Janet knew that she could not stand to lose her, not now. Quickly, she arranged cover for the rest of her shift and grabbed her things. She tried Sam's cellphone twice more and left messages at home and at Sam's to get in contact urgently.

O'Neill was waiting in the car park, as were Jonas and Teal'c. "Teal'c, you ride with the Doc. Jonas, you're with me. You two hit the town, Jonas and I will try Carter's house. Keep in touch, okay."

Janet nodded. She got into her car and waited as Teal'c folded his huge frame into the passenger seat. "I know that Sam was going to the jewelers on Front Street," Janet said, "and the book shop in the Mall to pick up something for Cassie. She was also going to pay the balance on our hon… holiday." She had almost said honeymoon. Teal'c knew of their relationship – had known about the attraction between them from the beginning. He had told both women more than once that he did not understand the attitude of their government towards such relationships. Anyone with an eye and a clear mind could see how good they were for each other and how much better and stronger they would be if they could be open and free in their feelings. Even so, Janet knew she had to keep up her guard. One slip of the tongue and if the wrong people heard it, it could be the end of both of their careers. And dearly as they loved each other, Janet did not think that their relationship could survive that kind of trauma.

Teal'c kept his own counsel as they drove into town. They stopped first at the travel agents, ascertained quickly that Carter had been there, and then Janet went to the jewellers whilst Teal'c checked out the bookshop. Both places remembered Sam being there that morning and had noticed nothing out of the ordinary.

Janet drove them to her house. The only messages on the answerphone were the ones she had left, there was no sign that Sam had been back there. They were just about to leave when Janet's cellphone rang.

"Doc, it's O'Neill. It looks like Carter went to her house, but there's no sign of her there now. We need to talk. We'll meet you and Teal'c back at the SGC."

"Okay," Janet said. She put her cellphone back in her pocket.

"Would you like me to drive, Doctor Fraiser," Teal'c asked gently. He saw how badly her hands were shaking. She nodded faintly. He took the keys from her and helped her into the car. It took him some time to adjust the driver's seat from its usual position so that he could get in. Dr Fraiser seemed lost in her own world.

"Major Carter is a most resourceful person," he said at last. "And her love for you will make her all the more determined. She will come back to us."

"But at what cost?" Janet said softly. "Look at the things that have happened to her over the last five years. She's been host to an alien organism and an artificial intelligence both times against her will, she's been tortured, brainwashed, threatened with death, infected with alien organisms and viruses, met her alterego from another dimension in which she was married to Jack O'Neill of all people, been caught up in more life or death situations than I can remember, she's saved the world, hell maybe even the universe a couple of times… humans aren't built to deal with that kind of stress, not even the most resourceful. I am so scared for her, Teal'c. You see the soldier, the scientist, that beautiful, brilliant mind of hers. I see the person, the frailty when all her walls are down." And if I lose her, what will become of me?

3. Gone

Sam was aware of time in snatches. Snatches snatched. She had been snatched again. Kidnapped. Teal'c had never got that word. She wasn't a child and she wasn't asleep. But she wasn't awake either. Hazy. Definitely hazy. But not in a comfortable way. She remembered before. Restrained, cold. The scientist with hot greedy eyes watching her, telling her that she was unique, a wonder, a great advance in medical science. But only if they killed her, took her apart to find out what made her tick.

This was the same place but different. Whereas St Christina's had been dank and dark, this was warm and light. Bright light surrounded her and she could not see beyond it. Her eyes – she couldn't tell if her eyes were open or closed. All she could see was light. There was nothing holding her down but she could not move. A machine was breathing for her. She could feel and taste the tube in her throat but she had not got the strength to fight it. Time drifted away from her again. Now she could feel the pressure of fingertips on her bare forearm – someone was touching her, their hands encased in latex gloves. The sensation moved to her abdomen, someone pressing gently on her stomach. A pinprick, and then a second. She heard what might have been voices but their words smeared and echoed into nonsense.

She felt another pinprick in her arm. A sensation of pressure. The light changed, as if a shadow had passed in front of it for a moment. Everything seemed a little further away. She could not move. She could not wave goodbye.

4. Black Ops

"There was no sign of a struggle, but the yard door was open. Her jacket was slung over the bottom banister rail and her phone was on the kitchen table. This was on the kitchen floor." O'Neill handed her a baggie containing what looked like a tranquilizer dart. "You'll want to get it analysed but I'm guessing a strong trank probably with a paralytic agent. They took her down with minimum force, minimum exposure." He did not say it but Janet could see the words in his expression, the darkness in his eyes. That is how he would have done it.

"Who?" Janet asked.

"NID, Black Ops, possibly working with the same outfit that snatched her a year or so ago. Doc – we found this in her jacket pocket." He produced a small jewelry box and handed it to her. "Keep them safe. We will get her back."

"Any other leads?" Hammond asked.

"Jonas is still out canvassing the neighbourhood, but it's unlikely he'll find anything. It's a commuter belt. Everyone is at work or at school at that time of day."

"Colonel, you and I need to have a conversation. Teal'c, I need you to send a message to the Tokra, to get Jacob Carter back here as soon as possible. Then I want you to escort Dr Fraiser to pick up Cassie from school and bring them both to the SGC. You are not to let them out of your sight." Hammond glanced at Dr Fraiser, his gaze softened. The fact that she had not protested gave him a clear insight into her mental state. She had opened the jewellery box and was cradling the twin rings it contained in the palm of her hand.

Officially he knew nothing about the ceremony that was due to take place in three weeks time. Unofficially he was looking forward to it immensely. Her expression was calm, professional as ever, but tears were rolling down her cheeks. "Dr Fraiser… Janet," she looked up at him. "We will get Sam back. I'm putting all our resources into it, calling in every marker I have. But we need to keep you and Cassie safe as well. I want Teal'c to stay with you at all times and I would like you both to stay on the base, if possible for your own security. I know how much she means to you, Doctor. And you know what a strong and resourceful woman she is. I can see the depth of love between you and I know Sam will be doing everything in her power to get back to you."

Janet nodded. If anything happened to Cassie as well, she would die. The fact that Hammond had talked openly about the relationship between herself and a fellow female officer did not escape her. Once Sam was back, everything would be different. They had the General's blessing.

"Go with Teal'c now, Doctor and get your daughter. The Colonel, Jonas and I will find Major Carter."

5. Purgatory

Pain. Pain in her head, her abdomen. Air forcing its way into her lungs. Bright lights close enough to warm her skin. Sam struggled to open her eyes. She was lying in what appeared to be a glass coffin. Some sort of isolation unit. There were tubes in her mouth, up her nose. She could not move her head and had no sensation in her body at all other than the pain. Through her distorted reflection in the glass above her she could see that it was there, but there were more tubes in her arms, her chest and her abdomen, a catheter tube snaking out of her groin and what looked like monitor tracers pasted to her skin over her upper chest and abdomen. There were livid post-operative scars under her left breast and on the left side of her abdomen and hip. She wasn't wearing anything. Modesty even dignity wasn't an issue for these people. Something moved outside the glass, a face partially obscured by a mask looking down on her. She got the distinct impression that none of this was for her own good.

She had no idea how long she had been unconscious, what had been done to her whilst she slept. Nothing good by the evidence she had to hand. She still had no idea who had taken her, other than that they were human. Allegedly.

"We're ready to begin phase 3," she heard a voice say.

"Okay. Log time. Begin."

The fluid in one of the tubes entering her body grew darker as if its composition had changed. Sam felt the fire begin to build in her veins until the pain became too much to bear. The world tilted. She fell into darkness.

The scientist studied the latest test results. "Interesting… a very different response to the first subject." He glanced up at the autopsy photograph of Dr Richard Fleming taped to the whiteboard at the side of his labstation.

"She was only implanted for a matter of days before the symbiote was killed," his assistant said. "Perhaps the time factor… the degradation of the neuro-chemicals. The effects of the second implantation at Steveston should not be overlooked, nor…"

"Whatever. I must admit that I had hoped for more." He watched as the young woman was replaced in the holding cell. "It is a pity that we were never allowed full experimentation on Adrian Conrad. We could have learnt so much from a fully integrated specimen." One of his junior technician bungled resiting one of the IV lines and he noted the pain reaction in his specimen. "Idiot!" He stabbed at the intercom button. "Get it right you fool. Unless you want to take your turn as a labrat."

6. The Body

Sam had been missing for two weeks. Dr Fraiser and Cassie had returned home, but with either Jonas or Teal'c staying with them at all times. Then on the fifteenth day Janet was called to General Hammond's office. O'Neill was already there.

"Doctor Fraiser, I've just had Denver PD on the phone. They've a body in their morgue of a young Caucasian woman. They think it might be Major Carter… Sam."

"I'm going to see if I can identify the body," O'Neill said. "We just thought you ought to know."

"Thank you," Janet whispered. She had to sit down, there was the sound of rushing water in her head, carrying her away. Someone was holding a glass to her lips, one hand resting on the back of her neck. Someone else was holding her hand, talking to her. "What?"

"Janet, are you going to be okay?" Hammond asked.

"I'm okay. Just a little dizzy. Jack, I need to come with you."

"No, dammit. If it is her… you shouldn't have to do this, Doc."

"I need to come with you," Janet repeated. She did not meet his gaze knowing what she would see there.

"Dr Fraiser, if you're sure that's what you want to do," Hammond gazed at her as she closed her eyes and nodded. He looked at O'Neill, who shrugged, knowing he had lost this one.

"Okay. Okay."

The medical examiner met them in the waiting area. "Dr Fraiser, Colonel O'Neill, can I just say that I'm sorry to have to meet you in such circumstances. I'm Doctor Carey."

"Could you tell us how… in what circumstances she was found?" Janet asked.

O'Neill glanced at her. That was the most she'd said since they left Colorado Springs. They had both been lost in thought for most of the journey, going through their memories of Sam Carter. This whole situation was totally sick. And surreal. And had he mentioned sick?

"She was found buried in Memorial Park in a shallow grave," Carey said. "Her throat was slashed and she'd been assaulted. From the ligature marks on her wrists and ankles she'd been held for a while before he killed her."

Any remaining colour had drained from Janet's face. "I see," she whispered.

"Okay. If you're ready, I'll take you through to the observation booth."

Jack took hold of Janet's hand. "I say again, Doc. You don't have to do this."

"I need to, Jack. I need to know if this is Sam." But she did not leave hold of his hand. Jack just nodded to Carey.

They followed him into the observation booth overlooking an area of the morgue. A shrouded body lay on an examination table directly below their position. Carey spoke briefly into the telephone. A morgue assistant stepped forward and drew the sheet down from the face to just above her breasts.

It was not Sam. The dead woman was like enough to her for the description to have fit but it was not Sam. Someone else would mourn this young woman. Janet touched the glass.

"It's not her," she whispered. She felt her knees begin to buckle and clung to Jack's arm. "It's not Sam."

"No," Jack said softly, supporting her slight weight with ease. "It's not Sam. Let's go home, Doc."

Janet slept all the way back to Colorado Springs. O'Neill phoned ahead to tell them the news: the search was still on.

7. Fever Dreams

Sam was dreaming, she hoped. She was in a padded cell, crouched against the wall. The pain in her head was raw. They had completed another phase of tests that morning, pumped her full of something that made her normally 20:20 vision like a funfair house of mirrors and sickened her to her stomach. They would be back for her soon.

She had given up looking for a way to physically escape. Now all she wanted to do was die. They had broken her that far.

"So this is what I sacrificed my existence for," someone said. Sam turned painfully to see a tall, slender woman with fair braids down to her waist and a rather severe expression. "You are pitiful, Tauri."

Sam shut her eyes. "No. You're not real. You're a hallucination, a drug induced hallucination." She knew they were monitoring her.

"I am Jolinar of Melkshur and you are Samantha Carter of Earth, last and least of my hosts," the woman sneered. "At least put up a show of fighting against them. You did not used to be such a craven."

"Yeah, and you're being a big help," Sam snarled. She forced herself to her feet, her back against the wall. She felt as weak and wobbly as a baby but she would not show it, not to her captors, not to this creature, real or hallucination. "After all, this is all your fault."

Jolinar laughed. "My fault?"

"I did not volunteer as a host. You took me, forced me you bitch! You showed no more compassion to me than a Goa'uld!"

"Do not call me that! I gave my life for you, Tauri!"

"And destroyed mine. I'm not Sam Carter any more. I'm some sort of freak with the memories of a dead alien in my brain and a heavy metal in my blood stream. And everyone wants a piece of me from the Goa'uld System Lords to my own friggin' government!" Her anger burned through her, leaving her sere, breathless. Her knees went from under her and she slid to the floor, chills wracking her slender body.

The watchers turned away from the screen. "We won't get any more from her this session." Caball said dismissively.

"No, wait," one of his researcher's leaned forward. "Look, she's reacting to something."

"Is it Jolinar again?" Caball asked, unable to disguise his eagerness. Maybe this time they would get something useful.

"I'm not sure," his assistant turned up the gain on the mike. "She's just about out of it. Not Jolinar, but the name she's saying does begin with a J – Janet?"

Caball did not need to consult his notes for that one. "Dr Janet Fraiser. CMO at Cheyenne Mountain. More importantly for us, lesbian lover of our lovely Major. I have it on good authority that we put a kink in their wedding plans when we kidnapped her. God knows how they were going to get that past the regulations." He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"Can we use her to break Carter?" Montgomery asked.

Caball smiled. "It's a possibility. It's definitely a weak link for her. As is their so-called daughter. Yes, I don't see why not. We could threaten to harm them, make her think that they would be in danger if she did not co-operate." He watched as the slight figure stopped moving. "Take her back to the cell for now. Let her rest for a couple of hours. We'll review the data from her conversation with Jolinar, adjust the rig again."

8. Dealing with the Devil

The message on the bulletin board had been short. "Hutch. We need to talk about a damsel in distress. Starsky."

Twelve hours later the reply had appeared. "Starsky. Your turn to buy lunch. Burger and all the trimmings but hold the mayo. Hutch."

The diner was busy but they found a booth at the back easy enough.

"What you got for me Harry?"

"One or two interesting snippets of information. I heard you had a scare, down in Denver."

"A Jane Doe that fitted Carter's description. Wasn't her."

"No, she's not in Denver."

"Where, then?"

"Somewhere in Utah, according to my information." Maybourne handed Jack a phial of what looked like blood. 'If this is hers, anyway.'

'How did you get it?'

"A contact. He knows the kind of thing that interests me. This was passed on to him by someone doing some labwork on a project. The blood allegedly is and isn't human. The project is in Utah. If this is Sam Carter's that's where she is. There were other tissue samples from the same subject. And there was this." He handed Jack a DVD disk. "You may not have much time.'

Both men looked up as a third man joined them. O'Neill with relief, Maybourne with annoyance. O'Neill had neglected to mention that he had invited Agent Barrett along. He quickly brought the NID man up to date.

Agent Barratt, NID, was not a happy man. He had heard of Major Carter's disappearance within hours of its occurrence and had mounted his own investigation. The attempted assassination of Senator Kinsey and the plot to frame Colonel Jack O'Neill had given him a welcome opportunity to work with Major Carter again. It had also exposed most if not all of the rogue elements within NID. It was his fear that the remaining rogue element was behind this disappearance. The evidence so far uncovered by Maybourne and given to Colonel O'Neill was also disturbing.

"I am convinced that no one currently within NID or the Groom Lake Facility has anything to do with Major Carter's disappearance."

"I feel a however coming on…" O'Neill said.

"This is a list of former employees on the scientific staff of NID and Groom Lake who would have a scientific interest in Major Carter's unique factors," Barrett said. "You will see their current status, employment and location. Apart from these four names. These I have been unable to trace."

"Well, that gives us somewhere to start," O'Neill said, passing the list over to Maybourne. "Harry – anyone whose rep stands out from your time in the big chair?"

Maybourne ran his eyes down the list. "You lost track of Caball?"

"Apparently. He left to join the CDC but never arrived. Fell off the face of the earth about six months ago."

"Caball?" O'Neill raised an eyebrow. He did not like Maybourne's tone of voice. The man sounded worried. Anything bad enough to get Maybourne sounding worried had to be pretty damned bad.

"Dr Eustace Caball. Let's just say that his nickname amongst his colleagues was Dr Mengele. He had a deep interest in improving human genetics and not many scruples."

"Sounds like a prime candidate," O'Neill looked grim. "Okay. So we need to find this guy PDQ. Harry – just how many places did you sell information about Carter?"

Maybourne had the grace to look discomforted. "Three or four different sci-tech firms here and in Europe. They're cutting edge for a reason, Jack. All of them have direct or indirect backing from one or more governments and would have the facilities and the manpower to pull something like this off. Caball would have been welcomed with open arms by any of them."

"Gee, that makes me feel so much better. So if one of these places does have Carter – are we looking at another Xenotron scenario?"

"Probably something with a lot more firepower this time," Maybourne said. O'Neill nodded.

"Anything you can do for us officially?" he asked Agent Barrett.

"Major Carter's disappearance is a matter of official record," Barrett said. "As such the NID is empowered to investigate. The resources of our department are at your disposal in an official capacity. Unofficially, myself, and Agents Cross and Singer are at your complete disposal until such time as Major Carter is found."

"They're the two agents Carter pulled out of the shit in Steveston last year aren't they? When your operation there got seriously compromised." O'Neill asked.

Barrett nodded. "They owe her their careers not to mention their lives. I'll put them on to tracing this Caball character for starters. And the others, just in case Caball isn't our man."

O'Neill smiled. "Sweet."

The blood was Sam's. There was no doubt in Janet's mind. O'Neill and Hammond reviewed the material on the DVD. It was late when Janet was called up to Hammond's office.

"The disc Maybourne gave me is a copy of surveillance footage by the time index taken five days ago," O'Neill told her. "There's some medical data as well which you will probably want to review. And then there's this…"

He activated the remote. The screen at the end of the desk came to life. The picture quality was a little fuzzy and the colour was off-kilter but the figure strapped to the bed was unmistakably Sam Carter. She was on a respirator, her eyes closed, her head bracketed by some kind of monitor, a light pulsing greenly at her temple. An IV dripped into her left arm. There was a dressing on her right arm, and the edge of another dressing could be seen on her upper chest under the sheet that covered her body. Someone was moving around just outside shot and then they came within the camera's range. As he turned they got a clear shot of his face. O'Neill froze the image.

"He's been positively identified as Dr Eustace Caball. He worked at Groom Lake until the beginning of the year and then left to take up a job at the CDC. Only he never arrived. He had recently had several research proposals turned down for… ethical concerns. One of them directly concerned experimenting on hosts and former hosts."

The footage changed. They were looking at what appeared to be a padded cell. Sam Carter was crouched on the floor. The monitor bonded to her skull was still in place. Janet could see that it enclosed the base of her skull and came up around her occipital bones. A light pulsed green at her temples. Sam's eyes were open, her hair stringy with sweat. She was visibly shaking either with fever or some kind of drug reaction. She appeared to be shouting at someone they could not see. She forced herself to her feet, her back against the wall.

"They haven't broken her," O'Neill said softly. "God, she looks like crap."

"The blood sample contained byproducts of a dozen different compounds," Janet said. "They have got her on some pretty heavy medication – stimulants, mood enhancers, other stuff that was pretty exotic, obviously tailor made for this." Her heart was breaking. She reached out to touch the beloved face on the screen, at the last moment tracing instead the implant they could see. "This worries me. It looks almost like an attempt to duplicate the Tokra memory recall device. If this actually extends into the brain structure they could have done some severe damage."

"How bad?"

Janet shrugged. "It's not my specialty, but in head trauma cases where the parietal lobes have been damaged the patient suffers memory loss, personality dysfunction, severe autistic traits, aural and visual hallucinations, an inability to learn or retain new experiences… nothing you would want to wish on anyone."

"They'll pay," O'Neill vowed. "I don't care how far this goes. They'll pay, doc."

Of that Janet had no doubt. But she realised as she continued to watch Sam's struggle to retain her sanity that she would also pay anything, say anything, do anything to have her beloved safely home.

9. In the cage

Sam drifted in and out of consciousness. They had recently performed another surgical procedure this time on her spine and the base of her skull. They had examined the area where Jolinar and the Goa'uld she had briefly acquired at Steveston had melded with her body at the top of her spinal column. They had removed more tissue samples and cerebrospinal fluid. They were whittling her away little by little. If she got out of this alive she was going to be wearing a hat for a while until her hair grew back in. And she had a lot more scars to add to her collection. If she got out of this alive… They had done something to the implant in her brain. She was hooked up to more machines now. They were never going to let her go. No one was coming to her rescue. She was back in the glass tube again, like an adult incubator.

Her dreams were bittersweet, her mind fogged. She relived some of her missions with SG1, the good times and the bad. She was crouched in the bunker, her arms wrapped around Cassie, feeling the young girl shiver with cold and fear, knowing that something bad was going to happen but not understanding what it was.

"We're very brave."

Hathor's touch on her skin as she threatened to implant her with the larval Goa'uld.

"I'm not afraid."

Apophis staring down at her, the blood of Sokar inflaming her senses.

"No! You're not real! I won't tell you anything!"

Trapped in the darkness of her own mind, the Entity controlling her.

"I am here! I am here!"

"We have been given clearance to try her with the substance."

"It could kill her. She's potentially very valuable to us…"

"This takes priority. A sample will arrive this afternoon. Make sure your containment is set to at least level four and that the subject is appropriately prepared."

Caball gazed unhappily at the grey haired man. "I really must protest."

The man ignored him, took a cigarette from a case and put it to his lips. "Noted, Dr Caball. Now get on with it."

Sam struggled to open her eyes. She was back in the incubator again. There seemed to be even more restraints and monitor tags than usual. They must be trying something new. Above her there was a nozzle as if they were going to release something into the container. She could see figures moving about outside. They were all wearing containment suits.

One moved closer, stared down at her. She gazed up at him unflinchingly. He smiled and she could not repress a shudder. His expression had all the compassion of a death's head.

A heavily shielded cylinder was attached to the outside of the unit. This was it then.

Without warning, a thick viscous black liquid began to drip from the nozzle onto her abdomen and chest. It rested for a moment and then began to collect together moving across her bare skin seeking for an entry point. In the reflective surface of the top of the unit Sam could see what was happening. It seeped into her pores, under her fingernails, traveling up her arms. Some traveled up her neck onto her face and made its way to her nostril. She gagged, screamed as it burned its way into her sinuses. Her body arched against the restraints, her eyes wide and then she slumped. Black oil washed across the intense blue of her eyes as the alien substance claimed her. Her heartrate began to fall as the oil affected her metabolic systems.

And then something unexpected happened. Sam's body began to shudder, black oily tears streaming from her eyes, more liquid coming from her nostrils and her ears. Her body was rejecting the oil.

"Incredible!" Caball breathed. "She must have a natural immunity."

"It's more than that," the grey haired man said sourly, indicating the pool of liquid that had formed beside the woman's body. It now had a greenish cast to it and was solidifying into a resinous lump. "She's destroyed it, neutralised it somehow. This could change everything."

Sam's readings slowly returned to normal but she did not regain consciousness for several hours. The grey haired man had ordered all records of the test destroyed. As far as he was concerned, it had never happened.

10. Exchanging vows

On the day she was supposed to be married to Sam, Janet arranged for Cassie to stay with O'Neill and spent the day alone in one of their favourite places in the National Park. She looked out over the valley and tried to concentrate on all her memories of Sam, of her beautiful blue eyes, her smile, the sound of her laughter, the softness of her skin, the way she looked when she was sleeping or excited about something or in the throes of passion. She tried to project her thoughts to wherever Sam was to let her know that she was loved, needed, that Janet would never give up looking for her.

"Sam, my beloved, wherever you are, know that I will always love you and we will never stop searching for you. Never." The rings they were to exchange were clasped in her palm. Janet brought them to her lips, kissed them and then threaded them on the chain that held her dogtags. She placed the chain back around her throat, the dogtags and rings nestling between her breasts, over her heart. Janet stood up, took a deep breath and shouted her lover's name until the mountain's rang with it. Once the echoes had died away, Janet came down from the mountain and got on with her life. Sam would expect nothing less from her.

She had cancelled her leave even though Hammond had begged her to take the time. He was worried by the terrible strain the young doctor was putting herself through. She was still the epitome of professionalism but the spark had gone from her and unless someone put the food in her hand or led her to her quarters on base she did not seem to have eaten or slept since Sam had been abducted.

Cassie remained convinced that Sam would be found and would return to them, but until that happened it was up to her to take care of her mother. Janet and Sam had been there for her every time that she needed them. And now she would do the same for them.

She was the one who made sure that Janet ate regularly and that the house was kept clean and tidy and Janet had no reason to worry about anything else.

Sam opened her eyes. She had no idea how long it had been since she was kidnapped. It was beginning to seem that she had always been here. The absence of pain, of sensation, terrified her. Machines monitored her, breathed for her, exchanged fluids with her, medicated her, fed her. She could not remember the last time she had heard a human voice. She was losing it. More and more she existed in memory, trying to avoid the nightmares, seeking comfort.

<<Janet, I need you! Help me, please. Help me!>> And in her dream, Janet came towards her, smiling.

"It's all right, Sam. We're going to find you. Be strong. Hold on. We're coming to find you. We're coming."

Janet opened her eyes and rolled over, hiding her face in Sam's pillow, drinking in the fading scent of her lover. The dream had been so vivid, Sam's plea so heart rending. The medical technology she had glimpsed around her lover was state of the art, but it was human. And in the centre of it all, hooked up to so many sensors and tubes, was her Sam, alive, aware and terrified. Janet meant what she had said in the dream. They were going to find her. With every new bit of information Barrett and Maybourne uncovered they were getting closer to finding Sam's abductors.

And she had General Hammond's permission to bring some old friends into the game.

11. Old Friends

Two days ago Hammond had come to see Janet in her office. "I think it's time I called in a few of my markers," he said. "One in particular that goes back nearly thirty years. But if I remember correctly from one of your mission reports, we have a friend of a friend in common. At the FBI."

"I don't understand…"

Hammond smiled, indicated her couch. "May I?" Janet nodded. He sat down. "As I was saying, thirty years ago I was serving my second tour in Vietnam. One day we pulled a stranded team out of the jungle. Half of them were dead, a couple near death. They'd been to hell and back. One of the less badly injured was a Lieutenant Walter Skinner."

"Assistant Director Skinner?" Janet asked.

"He's now an Assistant Director of the FBI, yes," Hammond said. "A couple of his agents are already known to us and have all the necessary clearances to work with us."

"Dana and Monica." Janet smiled. After the events at Steveston the previous year where Agent Monica Reyes had briefly been host to a Goa'uld and Dana had witnessed Sam being forcibly taken as host by a clone of the same Goa'uld, showing them the actual Stargate and explaining the project had seemed the least they could do. On Sam and Janet's recommendation, Hammond was considering bringing the two agents into the SGC as civilian contractors should they get any more disillusioned about their careers at the FBI.

"I think it's time you gave Miss Scully a call. I've already spoken to Walter Skinner. There'll be no problem in assigning her and her current partner Monica Reyes to Sam's case for as long as it takes."

Janet signed herself out for the day and went home. After a moment's deliberation she picked up the phone and dialed Dana Scully's home number. "Dana, hi, it's Janet Fraiser here. I need to speak with you about an urgent matter."

It was eighteen hours later and Dana Scully and Monica Reyes were sitting in Janet's living room, side by side on the couch. Janet sat in the armchair, Cassie on the floor by her feet.

"… and that was a month ago. What information we have leads us to think that she has been taken by some of the same people who were involved in her first abduction that was orchestrated by an industrialist called Adrian Conrad. He found out about Sam's unique metabolism. Unlike you, Monica, Sam has both naquada and the Goa'uld protein marker in her blood. You just have the protein marker. From the information Adrian Conrad was given, he believed that if he could replicate the changes Sam had gone through it could lead to various medical breakthroughs – he was himself suffering from a terminal illness at the time. His company - Xenetron – had managed to acquire a symbiote. They were going to put it into Conrad and give it time to heal him – and then try to extract it without killing him. But events moved more quickly than they anticipated. Conrad was dying and they had to implant the symbiote ahead of schedule – before they had figured out the safe extraction method. They were about to kill Sam to dissect her when Colonel O'Neill's team found her. The symbiote took control of Conrad and he escaped - with the help of rogue elements within NID we later discovered."

"My God," Dana breathed. "Those bastards did it again. Why doesn't it surprise me?" Monica laid a gentle hand over Dana's. Dana turned to her partner, smiled. "I'm okay, Monica. Janet, I'm sorry. Please continue."

"You know some of the rest of the story. You were both there," Janet said.

"Steveston," Monica said. She swallowed painfully. Dana reached out to hold her hand. For a few horrific hours Monica Reyes had also been a Goa'uld. Janet nodded.

"I've just had a very bad thought," Dana said, turning wide eyed to her partner. Monica was not used to seeing her partner so rattled.

"What is it?" she asked, reaching out to touch her arm in a comforting gesture.

"Cigarette Smoking Man… Spender - he's one of these Goa'uld, I know he is. He's escaped lethal situations at least three times to our knowledge. He has to be a Goa'uld. It explains so much." Dana stood up and began to pace the room, warming to her theme. "Maybe he knows what happened to Sam – I wouldn't put it past him or the Consortium to have something to do with this."

"Is there anyway we can find out for certain?" Cassie asked.

Dana shrugged. "These guys are the shadows within the shadows. The only time Mulder was ever able to get close to anything they were doing was when they allowed it, using him – using us as part of their plans. Sometimes we were lucky and we saw a little more than we were supposed to before they shut us out but most of the time we were never sure whether that was part of the hook or not. It certainly never got us anywhere." Her tone was bitter. As if sensing her unhappiness there was a snuffling cry from the other side of the room where William Scully had been put down for a nap.

Monica grinned, pointed to her watch. "Your son is a creature of habit, Dana. On the hour, every hour." She got up and went across to the travel cot set up in the corner. "Hey little guy. You want to join in do you?" She lifted out the baby boy and carried him across to Dana. "Here he is."

Dana gladly took him and fussed over him for a few minutes watched indulgently by the other three women. As ever, the mere fact of William's presence calmed her, allowed her to regain some of her objectivity.

"The Lone Gunmen," she said suddenly.

"I thought they'd disbanded," Monica said. "All their equipment got seized for non-payment of taxes."

"Frohike's still active. He keeps in touch. He can bring the other guys in I'm sure," Dana said.

"Who or what is a Frohike?" Janet asked.

Dana and Monica exchanged grins. "Wait and see. And he's just going to love you, Janet."

Frohike grinned at Janet. Janet backed off. It was a truly alarming sight. He was the epitome of the grubby little man from his beat up trainers to his fingerless gloves and the heavily smudged glasses with one arm mended with stickytape. But it was obvious from only a few minutes conversation that he had a mind like a steel trap and an abiding love for Dana Scully that meant he would do anything for her.

Dana smiled at her discomfort. "It's okay, Jan. He's had all of his shots, I promise."

"Scully, I'm hurt," Frohike whined unconvincingly. "And you know I only have eyes for you, although your friend here is something special."

"Okay. What did you and the guys dig up for us?"

"Some strange activity regarding drugs labs in Utah," Frohike was suddenly all business. "Two hundred and seventeen illegal drugs labs across the US were located. Two hundred and fourteen were shut down."

"What happened to the other three?" Monica asked.

"ATF were ordered to back off in no uncertain terms by someone very high up. No Department mentioned. All of them were in Utah, all of them importing in a very interesting mix of chemicals, equipment and personnel. Not the kind of thing you usually need to create recreational pharmaceuticals. One of whom…" he produced a photograph. "The guy you were interested in. Dr Caball. A lot of the other people involved used to work for Xenetron and one or two are ex-Immunitec. It's another part of the same project. It's like your dead scientist said last year. The original project was never shut down. They just moved it around."

"Do you know which one Caball is working in?" Janet asked. One of the labs was on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, another in a place called Green River, the last near Cedar City. It was a lot of ground to cover.

Frohike shook his head. "Sorry, ladies. They're really tight. We tried to get into their data systems but they have some heavy duty ICE going and the guy whose system we were borrowing got seriously cold feet. But your friend is somewhere in Utah. I stake my reputation on it."

12. Unorthodox Methods

Dana woke alone, the space in the bed beside her cool. It was still early but Monica had obviously been up for some time. The events of the past few days had unsettled both women.

She heard a noise from the living room and could not help the smile that broke across her features. Monica Reyes talked to herself. It was a habit that Dana had taken a little time to get used to but it had endeared Monica to her more than anything.

She found her partner sitting in the lotus position on the floor surrounded by maps. Her eyes were closed and from one hand dangled a crystal pendant. In her lap was a photograph of Sam Carter from the open file that was on the table.

"Monica, what are you doing?"

"Dowsing… seeing if I can get a feel for where Major Carter might be being held."

"Dowsing…" Despite her best efforts Dana could hear the skepticism that coloured her voice.

"Yeah, I've had some success with it before," Monica blushed. "Never done it looking for a person though."

"How does it work?" Dana asked.

"You start off with the biggest area map and work to the smaller depending on the signal you get," Monica said. "I just got a hit in the Utah area which to my mind confirms the information Colonel O'Neill got from Maybourne, and what we got from Frohike so I'm starting on smaller area maps now."

"Will it disturb you if I watch?" Dana asked, fascinated by the process.

"No, in fact your own connection with Sam and Janet might make this easier," Monica smiled, her eyes gleaming with excitement. She had half expected her partner to go all scientific on her about the impossibility of all of this but the years with Mulder had mellowed her.

"Okay, what do you want me to do?" Dana slid off the chair onto the floor beside her lover. She felt herself blush as Monica leant over to give her a kiss.

"You never cease to amaze me, you know. Well we know that you and Sam are… attuned some how. She's had a sense before when you were in danger. Let's see if it works both ways. Just hold my hand and focus your thoughts on Sam," Monica instructed.

Dana nodded and did a few deep breathing exercises as if she was about to start a yoga session. Her small hand slipped into Monica's larger one and she smiled as Monica briefly squeezed her fingers encouragingly. "Here goes," Monica said softly.

She let the crystal pendant dangle loosely from her fingers as she moved her arm slowly over the map. The crystal swung gently from the end of its chain and then as Monica's hand traveled over Salt Lake City and down the state over Cedar City. As the crystal travelled over Emery County, the swing suddenly changed, the crystal transcribing tight circles in the air.

Monica gave a half smile as she heard Dana's sharp intake of breath. She moved her hand away and the crystal began to swing gently again, moved slowly back over Emery County and the crystal began to circle. "Okay, that's a hit," she said softly.

She continued to pass her hand over the rest of the map but the crystal did not react again. "We need a map for Emery County," she said.

Dana headed towards the bookcase. "I'm pretty certain I picked one up when I was in Utah last year." As she spoke one hand strayed to the back of her neck to the long thin scar that went from her hairline to the top of the third vertebrae, the legacy of John Doggett's unorthodox but lifesaving surgery as he tried to prevent the alien creature from bonding with her brainstem.

She opened up the map and laid it out on the carpet. "Emery County, Utah. In all its godforsaken glory. There's a lot of desert there, a lot of places to hide."

Monica nodded. "Here's hoping we can flush them out." She settled herself again, breathing deeply.

"I can probably download and print off something more detailed of the Internet if we need it," Dana stared unhappily at the hundreds of miles of territory the map covered, chewing absently at her bottom lip.

"Let's see how we get on with this, first," Monica said. Dana's fingers closed around hers again, her presence reassuring and empowering the taller woman. Monica concentrated on centering herself again and then began to move her hand across the map, the crystal pendant dangling between her fingers.

The pendant remained steady until she got to an area about five miles south of Green River. Then it began to spin again. Monica repeated the exercise three times and got the same result every time. Before she had a chance to say anything Dana was on the phone booking them both on the next available flight to Salt Lake City.

This show of faith took Monica's breath away. As soon as Dana was off the phone Monica took her in her arms and held her tightly. "I meant what I said earlier," she whispered, her face buried in the mass of bright hair. "I feel blessed by every day we spend together."

"You saved my sanity," Dana said, gazing up into the dark eyes of her lover. "You made me believe in myself again. And William adores you."

"Talking of whom," Monica said. "I don't think we can take him with us this time."

"Mom was going to have him this weekend anyway," Dana said. "She won't mind a day or so extra." She picked up the phone again and was soon in an animated conversation with her mother.

Maggie Scully's easy acceptance of her daughter's change of lifestyle had brought tears to Dana's eyes. She knew that her mother, a practicing Catholic, might have had a hard time coping with the fact that her daughter was in a relationship with another woman but Maggie Scully had taken it all in her stride and welcomed Monica into the Scully clan with open arms. Her brother Bill had also been supportive, though Dana strongly suspected that that might have had more to do with the fact that Fox Mulder was now most definitely out of his baby sister's life. The two men had never resolved their differences.

They dropped off William at his grandmother's on the way to the airport. The flight landed at Salt Lake City at just before midnight. They had already ascertained that the easiest way to get to Green River was to hire a car. The bored looking man at the rental counter informed them that it was at least an hour's drive to Green River and that the route was impossible to miss. The road went nowhere else. "The biggest risk is that you'll drive straight through the town and miss it completely."

It was almost two a.m. when they reached Green River. And yes, it did seem to be one of those myriad small towns where the Main Street stoplight had the best social life. And this seemed literally a one-horse, or rather one-street town. From what they could tell in the darkness Green River consisted mainly of one long main street, one thrift store, one car repair shop and gas station, a couple of motels, a diner and a bar. And at the end of the line the sheriff's office. This was a place you stayed at on your way from one place to another. A double negative: a nowhere in the middle of nowhere.

Before they left Dana had checked in with Janet, told her that they were following up a lead in Utah.

"I don't want to get your hopes up, but it confirms information we got from Maybourne and Frohike."

"Just be careful, promise me," Janet said, her voice a little unsteady. "Don't take any unnecessary risks."

"Don't worry, Janet. We'll call for back up before we get into anything. Now try and get some rest, okay. You sound exhausted."

"Well, life goes on, you know. I just pulled a double shift on duty. I'll get some sleep, I promise."

Neither Monica nor Dana slept well for the rest of the night and Dana wasn't surprised that when she woke up at a little after six she was alone. Monica was sitting on the floor with various maps around her, performing another dowsing.

"Her position has changed," she said softly. "I think they've moved her. Perhaps they got wind that we were getting close."

"Perhaps. Where have they moved her?" Dana tried to keep any doubts she had out of her voice.

"Not far. Somewhere out of town. I got a hit on Interstate 70, heading out into the San Rafael. About fifteen miles out I think. This isn't an exact science, Dana. I can't give you a GPS reference." Monica paused, breathed deeply and managed a tremulous smile. "Sorry. I'm a little tense this morning."

"It's okay. You're doing fine, don't worry. That's pretty remote country," Dana said. "I want to make sure that we're stocked up before we head out there. And your crack about GPS has given me an idea. I want to call Doggett and Agent Barrett, get some back up ready if we need it. And I need to pay a visit to the sheriff's office."

13. Shutting Down

Janet was her tether to reality but with each day the link grew more fragile, fraying. The images came hard and fast. Her mother on the last day she saw her alive, a sulky teenager flouncing out on the way to school barely giving her the time of day. Her father's face as he tried to explain to her that her mother was dead, was never coming home. How she felt on her first solo flight, the adrenaline terror of pulling 6gs over Northern Iraq trying to shake the missile on her tail. Her first sight of the active Stargate. Bowel churning fear as the Jaffa warriors lined them up for the Goa'uld to select their children. Hathor, her hands on Daniel's body, his face blank. The Colonel shaking with pain, his hands scrabbling at the pouch implanted in his belly. Apophis staring down at her as the staff blast hit her in the abdomen. Stalking and attacking first O'Neill and then Janet when she was one of the Touched. Facing death so many times. The Ashrak, the Entity, Hathor, Apophis, Nirrti. The fires of Netu and the ice of the Antarctic. Starving in the naquada mines whilst Daniel was under Shayla's glamour and again in the power plant when none of them remembered who they were. Cassie's trusting face, the face of Fifth as he realised her betrayal. Joe Faxon staring down at her as she fell through the wormhole. Unending pain as Osiris tortured her for information.

Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. The images come thick and fast now, blurring into one another, sounds distorting. Janet make it stop. They're hurting me. They're hurting me. Janet!

She could not move, the drug induced paralysis terrifying her. She had no control over anything in this scenario, not even her breathing. She wanted desperately for it to end but the pain was the only way she knew that she was still alive.

And whilst she was alive she could fight.

"We have to terminate this part of the experiment," the Consortium representative said.

"Why? What's happened?" Caball wasn't about to let his best chance of a true breakthrough slip from his grasp without a fight.

"Certain elements have got too close. The experimentation on Major Carter is only one part of a very much larger programme. That cannot be endangered. And to be honest we haven't got the results from her that we had hoped."

"So we're what… just letting her go? Leaving her somewhere where her people will find her?"

"Leaving her body somewhere, yes. You will OD her first. She won't survive in the desert for more than a couple of hours in her current condition. See to it. I want this place cleared and sterilized by this time tomorrow."

Sam forced her eyes open. She was no longer in the glass tube. She was cold, chills like she had only experienced before when Hathor had cryogenically frozen her wracked her frail body. She was coming down off something that was clear. She did not remember what they had done. She did not want to remember. Now was the important time. She was restrained on a gurney, dressed in a t shirt and a pair of pants. She was pretty certain that they were the same she had been wearing the day she was taken. A gold foil blanket was laid over her bare legs. Two men were working on the bank of instruments near by, dismantling equipment.

"Please, no more!" she whispered. The air rasped painfully in her raw throat. "Don't hurt me any more."

One of the men came and looked down on her. She recognized him. He had been there every time she was awake. He had ordered this done this to her.

"Resilient, isn't she?" the other man said. An unlit cigarette was in his hand. He was a Goa'uld. She could sense it very clearly, her skin crawling.

"They're ready for her now." She couldn't see the speaker but suddenly they were moving again. The gurney was pushed into a corridor and then into a lift. She managed to turn her head to look at the panel. They were on the fifth floor, going down.

"When do we give her the shot?"

"When we get her to the site. She's still pretty doped up. This'll be enough to tip her over." He turned to look at her, the hypo in his hand.

"It'd be easier if she was under now."

"I suppose." He reached out to touch her hair, laughing as she instinctively flinched away from him. "You're not going to be any trouble, are you Samantha?" She glared at him. "Not long now, Major. Don't give us any trouble and we'll make things soft and sweet for you, no hard edges, no more pain, I promise."

Sam struggled to speak. Her mouth and throat felt as though they were lined with ashes. "Go to hell," she rasped.

He smiled. "Temper temper, Major." He pulled the cap off the syringe and without any preamble stuck it into her arm. "Let's give you a little sweetener shall we?" He pulled out the syringe and capped it again. Sam could see that he had injected about a third of its contents into her. "Don't worry. There' s more than enough left to do a proper job."

He continued to stare down at her. "My daughter's name is Samantha you know. She is only a year or two younger than you. She is also… special. You see, Major. I don't call on anyone to make sacrifices that I haven't already made for myself. We are all part of a bigger picture."

The lift came to a stop. Sam's tears blinded her as the numbness invaded her body, stealing what remained of her strength. She felt him touch her hair again. "Soft and sweet, just like I promised, Samantha. Soft and sweet."

His words echoed with her, spiraling down with her as her vision tunneled into darkness. Sam had no expectations that she would ever see the light again.

14. Coming Home

The nearer they got to their destination the more Monica's sense of urgency and dread grew. She was glad that Dana had insisted on driving. She would probably have put them in a ditch by now.

"Dana, I have a bad feeling about this," she admitted at last. "Like we're not going to be in time."

"We just have to hope that we will be," Dana said, reaching out to rub her hand along her lover's jean clad thigh in a comforting gesture. "Keep positive for Sam's sake. Check the map again, would you? We're coming up on an intersection. Is this where we turn off?"

Monica scanned the map. "Yes, we need to make a left here and carry on. The guide says it's little more than a dirt track."


"Until we find her," Monica said. "We're close, Dana, we're very close. I know we are. I feel it so strongly. But like I said, I think we're running out of time."

As they took the intersection and continued along the dirt road it was obvious that it had seen very little traffic in recent days. Despite her anxiety Monica could feel herself falling into a light doze. Curiously, despite the gravity of their situation, she felt no desire to fight it. She let herself drift.

Her eyes flew open. "Dana, stop!"

Dana slammed the brakes on, drawing the car to an abrupt stop and sending up a cloud of dust from the loose road surface. "What?"

"She's here, close by. She's still with us, thank God, but she's very weak." Monica scrabbled to undo her seatbelt but her hands were shaking too much. Then they were being forced into stillness, clutched in her lap by Dana.

"Monica, calm down, slow down, please. You're not making any sense. There's nothing here. Just take a minute, will you? We're in the desert, in the middle of nowhere. There are no buildings, no one else has been up her for at least a day. How can you know this?"

"I know, Dana. Trust me on this, please. I know. She's very close by."

Dana sat back, moved to undo her own seatbelt. "Okay. Let's take a look around."

They were indeed in the middle of nowhere. Before she left the car, Dana took a reading from the GPS unit and CB rig she had borrowed from the Sheriff back in Green River and checked that the radio was working. She got the sheriff's office to patch her through to Agent Barrett and let them know where they were and that they had stopped to investigate something. She picked up the digital camera from where she had stashed it and walked towards Monica.

Monica was crouched by the side of the road, examining some tyre tracks and footprints. "Someone stopped here recently," she said. "Within the last twenty four hours. These footprints are still quite sharp and deep. Whoever it was was carrying something heavy. These are the same footprints again, coming back to the car. The impressions are much lighter." She stood up and scanned the surrounding area. Dana took photos of the tyre tracks and foot prints. She had to agree with Monica's analysis. The surrounding area was pretty barren apart from a few stunted scrub trees and what looked like a pile of blue plastic sheeting that had been dumped at the bottom of the slope. Sand was already beginning to drift over it.

A cold shiver roiled down Dana's spine. Monica was right. Sam was here and she was in trouble. She set off down the steep ditch that lined the road towards the plastic sheeting, Monica only a step or two behind her.

They could both see something pale under the sheeting, the outline of what looked like an arm, a shoulder. Dana was forensics trained, she wanted to take things slowly and preserve as much evidence as she could. She motioned Monica to stay back for a moment and took several pictures of the sheeting and the remains of some footprints. Loose sand had filled in some of the impressions but enough definition remained that they could probably be matched to those at the road side. Carefully slipping her hand under the sheeting she touched hot, dry pliable flesh, slipped her hand up until she found a pulse in the throat, rapid and thready, but still a pulse.

"She's alive," she announced. "The nearest hospital that has an ICU facility is back at Castle Dale though I think we'd be better off heading straight for Salt Lake City. Monica, go back to the car, radio in that we need immediate Medivac from here to Salt Lake City. Whoever did this left her for dead. Give Barrett the GPS co-ordinates and tell him to get a forensics team down here as quickly as he can. And tell him to contact Dr Fraiser. We will need her expertise. She knows Sam's physiology better than anyone. And bring down my medical kit and the blanket from the back seat. I want to do an assessment of her condition before we move her to the car."

Pale and wide eyed, Monica nodded once then headed back up the slope towards the car. Dana carefully pulled the plastic sheeting away from Sam's body, revealing that she was naked apart from a pair of knickers and a dark t-shirt that had ridden up, exposing her abdomen. Dana took several more pictures of the body in situ. She winced as she saw the still livid post-operative scarring that marred the Major's pale skin in several places, some with incompletely dissolved sutures still visible. There were also bruises on Sam's face and her arms were covered in needle tracks and bruises, a long scar up her left forearm that looked very much like a defensive injury, also recent. Her skin was far too hot and dry feeling papery under Dana's fingers. The plastic sheeting had protected her from burning but it had accelerated her dehydration. She was emaciated, her eyes sunken and dark circled, her lips swollen and dry, her belly concave hip bones and ribs sharply visible under the pale skin.

Monica arrived beside her. "They'll meet us at the hospital. Barrett is sending Singer and Cross with the Medivac team to escort us in. They should be with us in an hour. How is she?"

"Dangerously dehydrated, running a temperature of…" Dana took a reading. "104. We have to get her out of the heat or she's going to stroke out on us." Sam's pupils were huge, she was obviously pretty heavily drugged, but they were equal and sluggishly reactive. Monica helped her pull away the rest of the plastic sheeting swallowing back the expletive at the injuries she could see and wrapped the blanket around her before carefully gathering the unconscious woman in her arms. She carried Sam back to the car as Dana folded up the plastic sheeting, hoping that they might be able to get some forensic evidence from it that would point to the bastards that had done this to her friend.

Dana stowed the plastic sheeting in the trunk. Monica had lain Sam along the back seat, covering her with another blanket. The air conditioning made the inside of the car substantially cooler than the outside temperature. Dana scrambled in and opened up her bag again, looking for the IV rig and bag of fluids.

"Help me find a clean vein," she told Monica. "We have to start her on fluids as quickly as we can or we're going to lose her." As she examined Sam's body she kept getting flashbacks to her own experiences as an unwilling participant in illicit tests. She willed her hands to stop shaking. She had to keep it together.

She found a vein at last that had not collapsed and quickly set up the shunt and hooked up the IV bag, elevating the bag on the hook inside the car door more usually used for hanging suit jackets. She settled herself on the back seat, Sam's head resting in her lap, her fingers closed around Sam's wrist, monitoring her pulse. She could feel the heat of Sam's skin through two blankets and her clothes. She did not dare give her anything other than fluids until they figured out what drugs were already in her system. She took a clean dressing from her pack, soaked it in water from one of the bottles they had stowed in the back and carefully moistened Sam's lips, opening her mouth a little and squeezing a little of the moisture on her tongue. Monica was monitoring radio traffic. She also had her gun out, on the passenger seat beside her. Dana nodded at her foresight. They had conducted their conversations with the Medivac team over an open channel. Although no names had been mentioned it would not take their enemies long to put two and two together and realise that Sam Carter was still alive.

15. Reunion

Forty three days after Sam's disappearance Janet Fraiser received a call from Agent Barrett at the Memorial Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah. Somehow, Dana and Monica had found Sam. She was alive but in a critical condition en route to the hospital. Janet and O'Neill were on a military helicopter heading for Utah less than half an hour later. By then Scully and Reyes were already at the hospital, keeping Sam under a 24 hour guard along with the NID agents and a couple of commandeered state troopers.

By the time they got to Salt Lake City, Dana had more information for Janet on Sam's medical condition. Sam was in a barbiturate coma, suffering from acute bloodloss, dehydration, exposure and pneumonia. There was clear evidence of prolonged physical abuse including long term physical restraint. She had also been subjected to at least fifteen separate surgical procedures and there were numerous other cuts and bruises on her body.

"We found her dumped at the side of the road under a pile of plastic sheeting about twelve miles off the Interstate, wearing only a t shirt and pants," Dana said. "We reckon she'd been there at least a day. That she survived that on its own is a miracle."

Janet Fraiser had forced all her feelings right down as she followed Dana into the room but still she felt her knees buckle slightly as she saw the still figure in the bed. Sam looked as close to death as she'd ever seen anyone, her face emaciated and her thin arms heavily bruised, their inner surfaces scarred with needle tracks. Her hair looked to have been partially shaved with reddened scars over her occipital bones and temples and down the back of her neck to the third vertebrae. Always slightly built for her height, she was now skin and bone, IV bags of fluids up in a central line implanted in her upper chest as the veins in her arms and the backs of her hands were too badly degraded. She was on a ventilator, her life signs in the red zone. But she was alive.

"Six weeks. They had her for six weeks. We've no idea what…" Janet said softly. "Can I see her charts?"

The doctor assigned to Sam's care handed the paperwork over. "She's been subjected to several surgical procedures, but seems to have received adequate post operative care. However her blood chemistry contains residue of substances we couldn't even begin to identify. By the level of muscle degradation she's been restrained or immobilised in some way for a long time. She's lucky to be alive."

Janet's practiced eye ranged over the paperwork. She saw the naquada and protein markers she expected to see but there were lots of other things as well. Barbiturate levels that would have killed anyone else that would mean on top of everything else Sam would probably have to go through a sustained period of withdrawal. Byproducts of drugs she did not recognize and whose effects she could only guess at. Sam's immune system was just about gone, her white and red cell counts were at the bottom of the scale, she was in hypervolemic shock because of the bloodloss and already fighting pneumonia and what could evolve into meningitis. "Colonel, just to put it into perspective for you – there are international conventions forbidding you to do to animals what they look to have done to Sam. And then they OD'd her and left her for dead."

"Can she be moved?" O'Neill asked, taking Janet to one side.

"How much danger do you think she is in?" Janet asked, though she already had a pretty good idea.

"They left her for dead. They probably know by now that they screwed up. I think they might come back and finish the job," O'Neill said.

"You want to take her back to the SGC?"

"For starters. I was thinking through the Gate. You and Cassie as well. Maybe our two FBI friends. These guys are going to be out for blood. Then we can see who pops up out of the woodwork and sort out these bastards once and for all. Teal'c and Jonas would be with you, probably SG2 as well, if I can sweet-talk Hammond."

Sam was critical but stable. "We'll need Medivac to get her back to the Mountain," Janet said slowly. "And then we'll see how she is for a couple of days. I'm not sure if she'd survive a Gate trip in her current condition. You're sure she's in that much danger, Jack?"

O'Neill nodded. "Oh yeah."

A car was traveling along Interstate 15 heading towards Salt Lake City and its occupant's next assignment. Even though the air conditioning was turned up full the car's interior was thick with cigarette smoke. A cellphone rang and a long nicotine stained finger punched the button.


"The situation at Green River has been resolved?"

"Dr Caball's contract has been terminated and the site has been sterilized."

"No traces remain."

"Not that I am aware of."

"A Medivac was ordered a little while ago from the outskirts of Green River to Salt Lake City. The occupant was in critical condition but still alive."

"That is unfortunate. I was assured that it had been taken care of." He remembered the soft blonde hair, the pain in the blue eyes, the promises he had made.

"I trust you can tie up this loose end for us."

"Don't worry. It will be."

16. Haven

Sam survived the Medivac to Cheyenne Mountain. Her condition remained critical but stable. The wormhole activation came through unexpectedly: Master Brata'c. He had Rya'c with him.

"I have a message for you, General Hammond, from Shifu. He says that Carter will be safe at Qeb. There she may heal."

"Qeb?" O'Neill had not considered Qeb. He had been thinking more along the line of the Nox. They liked Carter and their healing capabilities were phenomenal. But the care of Mother Nature herself…"Oma's personal invite, huh."

"All is prepared." Brata'c smiled. "And Rya'c and I are at your service."

Sixteen hours after Sam was transferred back to the SGC Infirmary, Dr Fraiser was finally in a position to make a report to Hammond and O'Neill.

"Major Carter remains in a coma. She has a high level of barbiturates in her system. I think that when whoever was holding her dumped her body, they tried to OD her." Janet forced herself to unclench her fists, trying hard to keep the boneshaking fatigue out of her voice. She had had perhaps six hours sleep in the last four days. "She had low grade pneumonia which is responding to antibiotics. At one stage we were worried that she was developing meningitis, but the danger of that seems to have abated. She is off the vent and breathing on her own at the moment. We are keeping her sedated to bring her off the barbiturates in a controlled manner."

"What was done to her?" Hammond asked. He had known Jacob Carter's little girl since she was born; loved her almost as much as he did his own girls.

"Sam… Major Carter has been subjected to several invasive surgical procedures. Most of her major organs have been biopsied. Tissue appears to have been removed from several areas of her brain and something was implanted in her brain stem and then later removed. Her tonsils, appendix and her left ovary appear to have been… harvested." Janet felt her stomach lurch and prayed to any gods listening that she could just get through this. "She has three possibly four pints of blood either deliberately removed or lost during the surgeries. Enough to put her into hypervolemic shock. Samples of bone marrow, epithiliel cells and cerebrospinal fluid were also taken. Her immune system has been severely compromised – hence our worry about the meningitis."

"Sons a bitches!" O'Neill exploded. "When I get my hands on whoever…" He stood up abruptly, his chair almost overbalancing. He stalked over to the water cooler and poured himself a glass of water, drinking it down in one gulp. Visibly calming himself he filled another glass and placed it on the table beside Janet, briefly resting one comforting hand on her shoulder before retaking his seat. "Sorry, Doc. Is she in any danger?"

"Physically, no – as long as we can continue to keep her clear of any infection. Her injuries are relatively minor and are responding well to treatment. We don't know for certain about any residual brain damage yet from the surgical procedure or the overdose. I'm also a little concerned about her lack of independent movement. We're going to have to watch her carefully for infection – her immune system has just about been wiped out. I'm particularly worried about recurrence of the pneumonia and meningitis if the swelling to her brain tissue doesn't reduce. Psychologically, when she wakes, we're going to have to be careful with her. Very careful. Some of the drugs in Major Carter's system look like reprogramming serums. I think that they tried to suppress her conscious personality and directly access Jolinar. That seems to be what they were doing in that footage we recovered. They could have done irreparable damage to her. And that's without coping with any PTSD. Sir, we may never get our Sam back."

"They never intended that we should get her back, did they Doc?" O'Neill said. His eyes were very dark and cold, Janet noticed. He was getting himself ready, going into black ops mode.

"The level of barbiturates in her system would have been fatal in anyone other than Major Carter," Janet said. "One more thing we can thank Jolinar for. I believe that they left her for dead, Colonel."

Hammond watched his Chief Medical Officer carefully, only too aware of the strain she was under. He knew the depth of the relationship between the doctor and the major. He could also tell that the Stargate and this young woman were the twin stars around which Samantha Carter's life revolved.

"Dr Fraiser. As soon as you feel that Major Carter is stable, I am sending you, Cassie and Major Carter through the Gate to Qeb. Thanks to the good offices of Master Brata'c and Shifu, everything has been arranged. Teal'c and Master Brata'c will accompany you there. You will stay there until our investigations here are completed."

Janet swallowed hard. "You think they will come after her again?"

"Like you said, Doctor, they left her for dead. They will not be pleased to find out she had survived. The Colonel has expressed concerns that they may use you and Cassie as levers to get to her. I agree with his concerns. We will not allow that to happen. I am increasingly concerned that the SGC – that anywhere on this planet – may not be secure enough. I believe that Qeb is the most secure place we can send you."

17. Sweet Revenge

O'Neill made contact with Maybourne by their usual method. They met in a bar off Interstate 17.

"I want to hurt these guys very very badly." Briefly he told the man what they had done to Carter and copied him the information he had received from agent Barrett and Janet's FBI friends.

"They were tight on this one, real tight, up to top level. And they are pretty pissed she's still alive. You need to watch her closely. Get her offworld if you can. The SGC is not as secure as you think."

"We've got it covered," O'Neill said. "Okay, so where do we start? I want to recover any samples, test results, data recordings anything they took from Carter. They can't be allowed to use that information, not just because of the consequences but because of the way they took it."

Maybourne grinned. "A crash and burn exercise. God, I love those. Well then, Jack, you and I need to take a road trip to Utah. I assume you're acting outside your usual chain of command here?"

"As far as anyone else knows whilst SG1 is on extended stand-down I'm off fishing in Minnesota and I forgot to take my cellphone with me. Not that reception is worth a crap up there anyway."

Maybourne nodded then grinned wolfishly. "Just like the old days, eh Jack? I presume you can get us supplies?"

O'Neill shrugged. "I have a lot of C4, some fuel canisters. Hammond and Jonas will be keeping us in the loop along with a couple of NID guys who owe Carter big time. Teal'c stays with Carter and the Doc. I mean I want this to be subtle. But I also want the message to come through loud and clear that we know that they know, that they did this and no one harms one of my people and gets away with it." Both men heard the unspoken: especially if it's Carter.

Hammond had insisted that two SFs be stationed outside Sam's room and that no one apart from members of SG1 or Dr Fraiser and her nursing team be allowed in there without authorisation. So when Janet went in to check on Sam and found a nurse she did not recognise about to inject something into Sam's IV she reacted instinctively. "Step away!" she shouted. Alerted, one of the guards stepped into the room and levelled his pistol at the nurse.

"Is there a problem, Dr Fraiser?"

"This person is not authorised to be here. She is not part of my staff."

"She had authorisation countersigned by yourself and General Hammond," the SF said. "I'm sorry Ma'am."

"Take her to a holding cell and inform the General and Colonel O'Neill if he's on base," Janet said. "They will want to question her."

Sam was ill, helpless. Janet had to protect her. Analysis of the contents of the syringe had shown it to be chloral hydrate. In her weakened condition, Sam would have succumbed within seconds.

The woman admitted nothing. Her identity was false. Military police came to take her into custody but they disappeared in transit.

Hammond acted quickly. Twelve hours after the latest attempt on her life, Sam was ready for transport again.

18. Qeb

In sharp contrast to the advanced medivac unit in which Sam had been brought back to Cheyenne Mountain from Utah, her trip through the Gate to Qeb was accomplished wrapped in a set of concealing robes and a blanket and held securely in Teal'c's broad arms. A FRED loaded with supplies preceded them up the ramp and Dr Fraiser and Cassie brought up the rear. They went to the Land of Light first and dialed Qeb from there.

Master Brata'c and Rya'c met them at the other side, together with a horse and covered cart. A second cart and driver stood ready to take their supplies. Janet climbed into the first cart. The cart was well sprung, the interior padded and lined with thick sheepskin. Janet noted that the 'bed' could be lifted out and carried as a litter or a travois. Teal'c lifted Sam up and Janet helped him lay her on the bed. Rya'c handed up her pack and Cassie's. The rest of their supplies were quickly loaded into the second cart and they were ready to go.

Peering out from under the canopy, Janet could see Master Brata'c leading the horse ahead of them with Rya'c and Cassie walking beside him, and Teal'c behind them, alert for every sound and movement. Sam was sleeping peacefully, her temperature was only a degree or so above normal and her breath sounds were good. She looked almost well. If only she would wake up.

For the moment Janet could relax. They were still a couple of hours journey from the temple complex. There was nothing more she could do until they got there. Janet got herself as comfortable as she could in the confined space and laid her head down on the padded fleece on which Sam lay, one hand resting gently on Sam's abdomen so that she would detect any change in her condition. Janet closed her eyes.

Someone was stroking her hair, familiar sensations as calloused yet soft, strong yet gentle fingers ran through her hair. Janet opened her eyes. Sam's eyes were still closed but Janet could tell from her posture and the continued movement of fingers through her hair that she was awake and aware.

"Sam?" she whispered. "Sam, open your eyes, please."

"Don't want to. Don't want to find that you're another damned hallucination and that I'm still in that cell."

"You're not in the cell, you're free," Janet said softly, reaching up to stroke Sam's cheek.

"Would a hallucination do this?" She kissed Sam on the lips.

"You'd be surprised," Sam whispered darkly.

"Believe it, I'm real. We got to you in time and brought you back to the SGC for treatment. Then we brought you through the Gate to Qeb to keep you safe until the Colonel and Maybourne can shut them down for good. Cassie is here with us and Teal'c, Rya'c and Master Brata'c are here to guard us. And Shifu of course, though we haven't seen him yet. We're on our way to the Temple now."

To Janet's surprise, what sounded awfully like a giggle was Sam's reply. Shadowed blue eyes opened. "Now I know this is for real," she whispered. "Even out of my skull I'd never imagine anything that far-fetched."

Janet could not stop the tears. "Oh, God, I've missed you so much." She held on to Sam, momentarily forgetting her lover's injuries until she heard a gasp of pain and managed to loosen her hold a little. She ran her fingers across Sam's brow and down her cheek, kissed her eyelids and then her mouth. Sam rallied enough to deepen the kiss for a moment, then fell back, exhausted.

"How long?" Sam asked.

"Six weeks until we found you. That was eight… no, nine days ago," Janet said softly, stroking Sam's cheek.

"Six weeks." Sam's focus went; Janet could tell she was processing the information. "It seemed… forever." Her gaze sharpened again. "Oh God, Jan, I missed our wedding!"

Janet pulled her dogtags clear of her t shirt and showed Sam the rings threaded onto the chain. "We found them in your coat pocket the day you disappeared. I have worn them ever since. Don't worry about it Sam, I have been married to you in my heart since the day I told you that I loved you. I can wait a little longer until you are well enough to put the ring on my finger." She kissed Sam again and brushed her fingers across her cheek, wiping away Sam's tears. "Sam… how much do you remember of what happened to you?"

"Bits and pieces… I was unconscious or really medicated most of the time. They did tests… lots of tests… and asked me questions. They kept calling me Jolinar. I think they wanted to access her memories. I was hallucinating a lot of the time. She came to me in my cell. I even saw you a couple of times. That's why I thought this was another illusion… I was so afraid, Jan, so afraid." She felt Sam begin to shudder, her grasp tightening on Janet's hand. "I thought… I thought I would never see you again… never tell you… never…" Sam's breathing was becoming laboured. Janet reached behind her for the medical kit.

"You're beginning to hyperventilate, Sam. You need to calm yourself. Focus on the sound of my voice, love. Focus on my voice, forget everything else." She placed an oxygen mask over Sam's mouth and nose and then injected a mild sedative into her IV, all the while keeping up the comforting rhythm of her voice. "Breathe deeply and slowly, Sam, deeply and slowly. That's right.' She took Sam's hand and held it to her own chest so that the woman could sense her breathing pattern and try to match it. She sensed Teal'c behind her, peering under the canopy and turned to him, putting her finger to her lips, hoping he would get the message not to interrupt. The lines of tension in Sam's face slowly relaxed as she got her breathing under control again, the panic attack passing.

"Go back to sleep now, baby. When you wake again we'll be at the Temple complex. I won't leave you, I promise."

Sam's eyelashes fluttered, then closed. Janet continued to monitor her pulse and respiration for a few more minutes, gratified to see them both approaching something like normal. She removed the oxygen mask from Sam's face, and leaning over, kissed her gently on the brow, then sat back, suddenly exhausted.

"Major Carter has regained consciousness," Teal'c said. She was getting used to the subtleties of his expression. The slight upward curve of his lips meant that he was overjoyed with this news.

"Yes, and she's coherent and seems to have all her faculties, which given what was done to her is more than we could have hoped for." Unable to hold it in any longer she gave way to her own silent tears.

Teal'c laid a gentle hand on her arm for a moment then tactfully dropped back to resume his position on their six.

19. Turning the Corner

They had been on Qeb for four days. Sam's condition continued to improve, but she remained very weak. Though she was not paralysed as Janet had initially feared, her muscle coordination remained poor and she could walk for only a few steps before she was limp with exhaustion. Janet had begun a regimen of physical therapy with her but they were having to take it very slowly. Sam could not sleep for more than an hour or two at a stretch without waking in the grip of terrifying nightmares that usually brought on full blown panic attacks. Janet kept her lightly sedated and on IV fluids and nutritional supplements, as Sam would not or could not stomach solid foods in any quantity. Her temperature remained high though her lungs were clear. When she was awake, she was rational and no permanent damage seemed to have been done to her faculties or memory. Janet slept beside her so that she could be alert to her requirements. During the day whilst Janet rested, Teal'c, Cassie and Rya'c cared for their friend. Shifu also watched over her, now in the form of a teenaged boy a year or so younger than Cassie. But if Sam had a panic attack, it was only Janet who could calm her.

Teal'c made a prearranged radio contact with Brata'c at the Alpha site every two days. Teal'c passed on the message from Hammond that the authorities were puzzled by a rash of arson attacks at various government and private company facilities over the past few days. No fatalities had been reported but evidence so far pointed to a newly militant animal rights group as all the facilities were involved in pharmaceuticals research although all had maintained that they used only ethical methods.

Janet readied herself for bed, did a final check on Sam's IV and vitals. Her temperature had fallen slightly again, fine blond hair was starting to grow back over the scars at her temples. The bruising on her arms was just about gone. She slipped into bed beside Sam and careful of the IV, took the unconscious woman into her arms. She felt Sam's heartbeat slow and steady as she stroked her fingers up and down her arm. She kissed Sam's brow. "Only sweet dreams, my love."

"My love," Sam whispered in her sleep.

Smiling, Janet closed her eyes and quickly fell asleep.

Janet woke as she felt someone clutch her. It was Sam who had curled into her in her sleep, holding her so hard that it was physically painful. As Janet tried to extricate herself Sam's eyes flew open and she choked back a scream, started to cough harshly, wheezing for breath. Janet reached for the equipment beside the bed and held the mask of the nebuliser over Sam's mouth and nose.

"Slow and deep," she advised. "You know the routine by now."

She did indeed. They both did. Since her release from the Infirmary and the trip through the Stargate to Qeb, Sam had not managed more than two hours sleep at a stretch before the nightmares pitched her into a state of terror that usually brought on an anxiety attack.

Janet stroked her arm, murmuring reassurances until Sam began to relax a little and she fell into a light sleep again. Janet was wide awake. She had managed four hours sleep, not enough but better than she had managed for several days.

She checked Sam over. Her temperature was elevated again, but her chest was clear. As she checked the IV and changed the bag, she noticed that Sam's eyes were open and her lover was watching her intently.

"How am I doing?" she asked.

"Better every day," Janet said. "Do you think you could manage to eat something?"

Sam shook her head, pulling a face. "I know you want me to, but I really don't think I could keep anything down," she whispered.

"Maybe later then," Janet said diplomatically. "Jonas is coming by today. He said he'd bring icecream." The thought of someone making housecalls over millions of lightyears just to drop off a couple of quarts of icecream was too ridiculous to be true. But that seemed to be their life now.

"Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia?" Sam asked in a hopeful tone. Janet could not and did not suppress her smile. It was the first time Sam had sounded interested in eating anything since she had regained consciousness.

"We'll see." Leaning forward, she kissed Sam and brushed a lock of blond hair back from her brow. "Now, I want you to try and get some more sleep, okay. And then Cassie and I will help you get dressed and you can get some fresh air. We're stepping up your physical therapy today, remember?"

Sam frowned, turned with some difficulty onto her side and murmured something uncomplimentary into her pillow. Janet grinned and aimed a light swat at her lover's behind. "Now I know you're getting better. You're getting to be a brat again."

Jonas brought a lot more than Ben & Jerry's with him. Both Monica and Dana were so hyped up by their first trip through the wormhole that they had barely stopped talking for the whole trip to the Temple. Jonas watched them, grinning, remembering how he had been his first few weeks on Earth when everything was a new experience to be treasured. He radioed ahead to let Teal'c know to expect visitors.

Janet went to wake Sam and get her ready. She still needed a little help in getting dressed as her physical co-ordination and sense of balance were still off. But she could now stand unaided and did manage to walk with Janet to the doorway to greet their visitors.

Dana and Monica both hugged and kissed Sam, who clung to them, whispering her tearful thanks. Janet had told her of the part the two women had played in her rescue.

"What have we missed?" she asked at last.

"Well, the Colonel and Maybourne are keeping themselves busy rooting out the labs," Dana said. "The FBI has tried to mount an investigation but was told the matter was being handled by another agency. We heard it had been handed over to Homeland Security as there was a possible terrorist aspect but a contact in that Department told us that they have nothing to do with it," Dana said. "Frohike is monitoring the situation." She glanced over at Janet and grinned. "He sends his love by the way. You made quite an impression on him."

This was news to Sam. "Frohike?" she mouthed at Janet only to be silently told "Later".

"The lab where we think you were held…" Monica began, then paused. "I'm sorry, Sam, are you ready to hear about this?"

Sam nodded, reaching out to take hold of Janet's hand. "I need to know what's happening, Monica. I need to know whether or not it will ever be safe for us to come home."

Monica nodded. "Okay. The lab where we think you were being held was one of the first to be burnt out – and it wasn't part of our campaign. They found a body in the ruins. He was identified by his dental records as Dr Eustace Caball. We know he was the doctor in charge of your project." She drew out a slim folder and showed Sam a picture. "This was Caball."

Sam shuddered, jerking back from the picture as if it was alive. "He was there. It was him. He…" She closed her eyes, her lips whitening.

"Sam, there's one more picture we need you to take a look at and then we're done," Dana said softly. Monica took a second photo out of the file. One of the few they had of Spender – the Cigarette Smoking Man.

Sam glanced at it. "He was there. He watched… he gave the orders. He told me about his daughter as he was preparing to kill me. She was also called Samantha. He said…" she shut her eyes to recall his words. "'I don't call on anyone to make sacrifices that I haven't already made for myself. We are all part of a bigger picture.'"

"Samantha… Mulder's sister. He gave her up for experimentation when she was just a kid," Dana said softly. "We're still not sure what happened to her."

"I don't want to talk about it any more, if you don't mind," Sam said in a small voice. Janet's hand was on her shoulder, tracing small circles of comfort.

"It's okay. You confirmed a lot of what we thought, Sam. You did well," Monica said, reaching over and softly kissing Sam's cheek.

"Really well," Dana smiled, her hand on Sam's knee. They all stayed like that for a few moments, letting Sam know that she was not alone, that she need never be alone again with this strange hybrid family that had been created around her. Suddenly uncomfortable with the attention Sam looked up to see Cassie and Rya'c standing watching. Cassie gave her a reassuring smile.

"Hey, icecream," Jonas said, coming out with several dishes. He thought that he had timed it right. Sam didn't look like she could take much more. "And a special order for Sam." He knelt down in front of her, flourishing a dish that contained not only a healthy scoop of the promised Ben & Jerry's but also the unmistakable cool blue of Jello. "With the General's compliments. There's more in the icebox for later."

Sam grinned in delight, her expression mirrored on the faces of her friend's. Janet blinked back tears. It was the first real honest-to-god full throttle smile she had seen on Sam's face since she had first regained consciousness. It seemed that a corner had been turned.

20. The Upward Path

Despite their disparate lives, Rya'c and Cassie had become firm friends. Janet was glad that Cassie had someone of approximately her own age to talk to, someone to take her mind off Sam. Sam was intent on matchmaking. She had always had a soft spot for Rya'c and the impetuous teenager had matured into a fine young man. Teal'c was watchful, but kept his own counsel for now. He thought Cassie was becoming a fine young woman and the trials of the last few months had matured her beyond her years. It pleased him greatly that his son was free to choose. If they had still been in the service of Apophis, Rya'c would have been paired according to the Goa'uld's bidding with the sole purpose of breeding more Jaffa. As Teal'c had been paired with Dreyau'c.

Teal'c and Brata'c kept watch over the compound during the day. Cassie and Rya'c watched with them for a while to give Janet and Sam some time alone. It frightened Cassie to see Sam so fragile. Janet had explained what had happened to Sam and Cassie was as determined as any of them that no one would hurt Sam ever again. She had asked Teal'c to teach her how to fight so that if anything happened she could help to protect her mother and Sam. Teal'c promised to consider it and went and sought Janet's views on the matter. With some misgivings, Janet agreed. Cassie needed to feel that she was contributing and this was as good a way as any. She had already learnt karate and done some kick-boxing so she was not a complete beginner. Janet trusted Teal'c and Brata'c not to let Cassie get hurt. And Cassie showed skill and determination. She would make a fine warrior when the time came.

Janet let herself into her house. She could hear the television in the den. Cassie would not be home from college for a couple of hours yet so she guessed this was where Sam was. Maire was in the kitchen, cooking. The monitor was on.

"Hi, Dr Fraiser." she said

"Hi Maire. How's she been today?"

"A little quiet to be honest, Dr Fraiser. Her temperature's up a degree or so but her chest is clear and her output is good. Everything else is fine. Only two small fits."

Janet frowned. That could be a worry. It might mean that a grand mal convulsion was on the way. 'I'll go and say hi to her and then go and get changed.'

All the time they were talking the still figure in the chair on the monitor screen had not moved.

Janet went into the den. Sam's chair was at the far end next to the window so that she could see the garden. She did not react to Janet's arrival. Janet walked into her line of sight and smiled down at her partner. 'Hello Sam, did you miss me today?'

She looked little different. Her face was thinner: a gaunt beauty to her slightly slack features. However much they coaxed her to eat she continued to lose weight. The hands that had always been busy with something lay curled and still in her lap, the slender fingers so fragile that it hurt Janet to look at them. The blue eyes were the same, but lacked focus, expression, the vital spark that had been Sam Carter. Then suddenly just for a moment it was if Sam was looking back at her, the slackness disappearing momentarily from her features as she smiled her old breathtaking smile, and then the spark was gone again. But for a moment Sam had seen her, known her, Janet was sure. It was for moments like this that Janet knew she had made the right decision in keeping Sam at home rather than admitting her for long term care to a Veterans Hospital.

She laid her hand against Sam's cheek and then her brow, ruffling the neatly trimmed hair that framed her face. They had let it grow out a little to hide the scars. She was a little warm but then she had been sitting in the sun.

It was never conclusively proven whether it was the brain surgery, the barbiturate OD or the meningitis that had left Major Samantha Carter in this state. Alive, but helpless, no speech, largely incapable of independent movement. She normally had nine or ten convulsions a day, ranging from tremors to full blown grand mal that had hospitalised her twice so far when she had stopped breathing. Sam had also suffered pneumonia twice and the last time not even Janet had thought she would pull through. But Sam Carter was one hell of a fighter.

Sam had turned her head to look out of the window again. They weren't sure how good her sight was, but probably not more than an ability to distinguish light from dark.

Janet lived in the knowledge that Sam could live for years or she could die next week. No one knew. The Tokra healing devices had proven ineffective and their attempts to get a sarcophagus had failed. Janet was not sure what it could have done for the brain damage anyway.

She needed to shower and change and then it would be time to give Sam her tea. Then Maire would go home and Sylvie, the night nurse would arrive. One or more of the guys would come over to spend some time with their friend. Cassie would be back from University for the weekend to help her to get Sam ready for bed. She bent down and kissed Sam's pale thin cheek. 'I'll be back in a minute, Sammie' she promised.


She gasped, sat up, her whole body shaking with reaction. Movement in the corner of the room alerted her.

'Mom, are you okay?'

'Bad dream,' she whispered. She did not dare look at the figure beside her in case the nightmare had been true. 'Very bad dream. I'll be all right in a minute.' Sam's hand closed over hers.

"I'm here, Janet, I'm right here,' she said softly. 'I'm right here and I'm fine. I'm going to be fine.'

'I know.' Her tears were scalding her cheeks but the dream had been so terrifyingly real. She let herself be enfolded in Sam's embrace, then felt her daughters small hand on her back, her lips on her cheek.

'It's going to be okay, Mom.'

She felt Sam reach out to take Cassie's hand. "We're all going to be okay."

21. Absolution

Sam's sleep had been getting steadily more restless. Janet tried to soothe her but with a growing sense of dread realised that Sam was having a nightmare, probably another flashback to her recent experiences. Although Sam's conscious memory of what had been done to her was mercifully largely blanked, every night for the past four nights she had been subjected to more and more violent nightmares as her subconscious mind relived the events.

"No, I won't do it!" she gasped, sat up and began to struggle. "I won't!" She was fighting against Janet now, punching and kicking. A hard blow caught Janet in the ribs and she managed to jerk her head back to avoid a crack across the jaw.

"I'll get Teal'c," she heard Cassie say from the corner of the room. Minutes later the big man was beside her. He sat behind Sam, put his hands on her arms and held her securely, pulling her back to his chest, containing her panicked struggles.

"Sam, it's us, you're safe, you're safe," Janet was sitting on Sam's legs so that she couldn't kick out again. She put her hands to either side of Sam's face holding her head still. "Sam!"

Sam's eyes flew open, she gasped for air. "Oh god!" she gasped. "I don't…" She gagged and Janet hastily moved out of the way and grabbed an emesis bowl, holding it for Sam as retching violently she brought up her last meal. Cassie brought over a glass of water and Janet held it so that Sam could take a few careful sips. Teal'c continued to hold her but his grip had subtly altered, now radiating security and reassurance rather than containment to the still disorientated woman.

Janet checked Sam's vitals with disquiet, feeling the tremors of fear and panic still running through her lover's body. "Think you can talk about it now?" she asked.

Sam shuddered but gave the smallest of nods before glancing across at Cassie. Janet realised that whatever Sam was about to disclose was bad enough that she did not want Cassie to hear.

Cassie got the message. "I'm going to get a breath of fresh air for a minute or two." She leant over to kiss her foster mother's cheek. "I understand, Sam, but whatever happened, I would not think any less of you. If you bottle it up inside like this, they will have won. Let it out, Sam, please. I love you. We all love you. This is killing you and mom."

Sam's panicked eyes flew over Janet's face. "I'm okay," Janet reassured her. "But Cassie is right. You need to talk about the nightmares. They're getting worse every night. It's beginning to hinder your recovery."

Teal'c helped settle Sam back against the pillows again. "I will leave also," he said.

"No, stay!" Sam begged holding on to his arm. "You need to know this as well. You need to keep the others safe. Please, Teal'c."

"Safe – from who?" Janet asked.

"From me," Sam said. She reached out her hand and Janet took it, holding on to it, her thumb gently tracing over the delicate tendons. "Whilst they had me, they did all kinds of tests, physical and mental. They somehow had got hold of a ribbon device. They put it on me, forced me to activate it. I think I killed someone, Janet."

She gasped as the memory assailed her again. She was in the cell, fighting against them as they forced the ribbon device onto her hand. The pain in her head and the back of her neck was fierce, sickening her to the pit of her stomach, sapping her strength. Three of them were holding her down as Caball uncapped the syringe and injected something into the central line implanted in her upper chest. She shuddered, spasming as they left hold of her and retreated out of the cell. A few minutes later a man was pushed in and the door locked again.

"Hello sweetie," he rasped. "So you're the toy they promised me."

Sam gazed muzzily up at him. She saw the glazed look in his eyes, the grin on his face and the wickedly serrated blade in his hand. If she was lucky, he was just here to try and kill her…

"They locked me in with this guy. He was high as a kite on something, probably angeldust, he had a knife. He told me what he was going to do to me…" she swallowed painfully, "and then to you and Cass. He told me our address, the layout of the house…

"… and don't think your security system is going to stop me," he hunkered down, staring at her, the pupils of his eyes so large that there was only the faintest rim of hazel around them, like the corona around twin eclipsed suns. "And I've seen pictures of your woman. Pretty little thing. I could break her in half just like that." Sam shuddered as he snapped his fingers. Her back was to the wall, she had nowhere else to go. The hand device was heavy on her arm. The urge to kill him to end it was growing inside her, impelled by the drugs she had been injected with. "And the girl. Sweet. I like 'em young and fresh you know. Juicy, a little peach." He giggled, shifted the knife blade in his hand, stood and moved a step closer. "So what you going to do, girl? Have you got it in you to kill me? Cos if you don't I'm going to kill you and your Janet and little Cassie. So what's it to be?"

Suddenly he was on her, one hand around her throat the knife poised above her. She raised a hand against him and the blade sliced down her forearm, fire and ice running through her. "Just a taste," he said. "I thought you were military, trained. You're nothing." He pushed her down again this time the knife was poised above her abdomen. He was going to gut her, watch her bleed out.

She raised her other arm, the crystal glowing yellow-white brighter even than when she had taken out Seth. And he was gone. Not just pulverized as Seth had been but incinerated, fine white ash dancing in the air, the knife blade twisted and melted lying a few inches away from her body. And she was untouched. They knocked her out with a sleep gas before they took the ribbon device off her. She did not see it again.

"I killed him. I killed him. And I felt no remorse. I would do it again, I would do it to anyone who threatened you or Cassie. I would… I would…" She was crying so hard that she could no longer see. Her friends surrounded her, Janet held her crying almost as hard as she was, Teal'c's silent strength at her back, his arms shielding her from all harm.

A movement in the corner of the room alerted her. For a moment she thought it was Cassie but then saw that it was Shifu.

"You think that because you have no remorse that you would be a danger to your friends," he said softly. "You acted out of honour. You had no other recourse other than to die yourself and there would have been no goodness in that. The world needs you, Samantha Carter. As one from your future said to you, "Your journey has only just begun."

"Your tale is told, the shadow of it passes from you," the boy said, reaching out to touch one of the tears on Sam's cheeks. "Grieve no more for what was but take strength from it. You are a Champion of the Light, Samantha Carter, a true soul and what was done to you does not change that. Let it pass."

And in the love of her friends, her companions and with Shifu's gentle touch, she found that she could.

21. Completeness

Sam gazed up at the wooden beams as Janet completed her examination. "How am I doing?" she asked.

"You're healing nicely. Right, let's get you on your front, so I can examine your spine," Janet helped her inch over onto her belly, her weakened muscles still unable to complete the task unaided. The scar at the base of Sam's skull extending down to the third vertebrae was still reddened and tender to the touch. She felt Sam wince as she pressed gently down on either side of it. Thankfully Sam had regained almost full mobility, the rest would come once her muscles had strengthened. Six weeks of enforced immobility took a lot of recovery time and effort.

"You're very tense," Janet said softly. "How bad is the pain today?"

"I can handle it," Sam said softly. "I prefer being uncomfortable to being dosed up."

"Would a massage help to relax you?"

"I know what would really relax me," Sam growled, turning her head to look at Janet through half lidded eyes.

"We'll see," Janet smiled. "In a few more days." Grabbing the bottle of massage oil from the floor beside her bag she swiftly straddled Sam's body where she lay on the mattress. "Are you comfy?"

"No," Sam said, "but I'll put up with anything if it means that you are touching me." Janet squeezed some oil onto her hands and warmed it over her palms for a moment before smoothing it over Sam's shoulders. She began to massage deeper pressing down on each muscle and tendon, working them loose. Sam signed and Jan felt her breathing deepen as the young woman responded to her ministrations, gradually relaxing.

Bending, she pressed her lips to Sam's shoulderblade, kissed along the fine length of bone, the fine grained skin soft and smooth. "I love you so much, Sam."

"Love you… always…" Sam's voice was slurred with sleep. "Never stop… never…"

Unable to resist, Janet kissed her way down her lover's spine as she shuffled backwards to work on Sam's legs. Exercise had improved her muscle tone and flexibility. Growing physical confidence had worked wonders on her co-ordination and balance. Whilst she wasn't quite up to running marathon's yet, she could now manage to walk unaided for most of the time and had even ventured out alone into the gardens around the Temple. They worked hard at giving her some space to herself whilst still keeping an eye on her. Sam had always been a private person. One sign that she was truly getting better was her growing insistence on alone time – that and the now daily request for her lap-top so that she could keep up with her researches.

Her appetite was also improving at last – all of her appetites, Janet grinned to herself. Sam wanted to be touched for more than just sheer comfort and reassurance now. Living in close quarters with everyone else made it difficult but Sam's needs were simple for now. As for Janet's needs… she smoothed her hands up one long slender thigh, reaching to cup a perfectly rounded cheek, her hand slipping round to the junction of hip and thigh where there was still too much evidence of bone for Janet's liking. Her lover had always been slender but now she was just on the wrong side of emaciated. As if prompted by her touch, Sam rolled onto her front again, one arm over her face. Her skin was slightly flushed. The scars on her torso were beginning to fade.

Janet rubbed some more oil onto her hands and brought them down over Sam's shoulders and collarbones, down her sternum. She lowered her head again and solemnly kissed each coral tipped breast, feeling Sam's breath hitch as she did so. Sam's hand was stroking her hair now. "Missed this," she heard a broken whisper. "Missed you." The arm over Sam's face moved, revealing her steady gaze. Janet had half expected tears but there were none. Keeping her gaze fixed on Sam's she moved until their faces were just inches apart. They kissed, almost chastely at first and then with growing passion. And then she was rolled and it was Sam who was looking down on her, their legs intertwined. They kissed again and then Sam rested her forehead against Janet's. Janet's hand smoothed over her skin, in passing noting how fast Sam's pulse had got, how badly the muscles in Sam's arms were trembling from the simple effort of supporting her upper body weight. She was about to say something about the dangers of doing too much too soon when she saw the look of silent acceptance in Sam's gaze. So instead she took the initiative, rolled them again and reaching for a discarded coverlet to pull over them, snuggled down in her usual sleeping position when Sam and she were together, secure against Sam's side, her head pillowed in the crook of Sam's shoulder, her arm across Sam's abdomen, Sam's arm around her back and shoulder, their legs intertwined.

"I missed this," Janet said softly. "Just lying with you. Nothing more complicated than this."

"Just this," Sam echoed, her hand resting on Janet's where it lay on her abdomen.

They slept peacefully for hours, the sweetest sleep that either woman had enjoyed for longer than they cared to remember.

22. The Visitor

They had been on Qeb for almost a month. It felt like forever. Reports from Earth said that several key figures in a high level conspiracy had been taken into custody, several more had resigned, including several from the upper echelons of NID and the FBI. But Spender was still at large and Dana's theory that he was Goa'uld remained unproven. The Colonel's 'fishing trip' was over. He was back at the SGC. And Maybourne was traveling abroad.

It was almost time to go home.

Janet had left Sam asleep in the shade with Cassie nearby reading a book. As always there was an array of vegetarian foodstuffs, cheeses, fruit, bread, juices and springwater arrayed on the table in the room off their sleeping area. Janet never saw anyone replenish it – it just seemed to happen. She put together a tray of food for Sam, a little bit of everything to try to tempt her still fragile appetite. Then she heard Sam scream.

The tray clattered to the floor as she ran out into the courtyard. Sam was almost foetal, her hands over her eyes. Cassie had her arms around her but was staring up at the shimmering form of Daniel Jackson.

"Not real, not real," Sam gabbled over and over, beginning to hyperventilate again. The figure of Daniel looked genuinely alarmed. Janet reached Sam's side, tried to calm her.

"Sam, it's okay. You're not hallucinating. Cassie and I see him too."

"As do I, Major Carter," Teal'c's measured tones startled all of them.

Then the glowing figure spoke. "Sam I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you." Sam stared up at him, her cheeks wet with tears, her eyes wide, impossibly blue. She was shaking so hard that Cassie and Janet could barely hold onto her. "Oh my love you've been hurt so badly. I know how hard you tried to save me," his gaze took in Janet as well, "both of you and how much it hurt you when you could not."

"You were always my big sister, Sam, looking out for me even when I was being a complete pain in the ass. And you Janet, you saved my life, my sanity more times than I can count. And Cassie and Teal'c - you were all my family. The best family anyone could ask for."

"I came to tell you that this time of rest is almost over. You must leave soon to begin your Journey again. There are still great deeds to be done, great wonders to be discovered." He extended one hand towards Sam. "This much I can do for you, Sam. No more nightmares." A golden light moved from his hand towards Sam's pale face, suffusing her skin briefly with its radiance before vanishing inside her. She sighed and collapsed bonelessly against Janet. Cassie cried out but Janet had kept her fingers over Sam's pulse throughout the encounter and was quickly able to reassure her daughter that Sam was okay.

"She will sleep peacefully now," Daniel said. "The nightmares will not return. And now I must go. But I will return again, when I can. And know that I watch over you, always."

"Go in peace, my friend," Teal'c said softly.

"Daniel – what's it like?" Cassie asked.

Daniel smiled. "Wonderful. Strange. Beautiful." He faded from sight. They were all frozen for a moment, lost in their own thoughts. Then Teal'c moved forward to help Janet with Sam. He lifted the young woman into his arms and carried her through to the woman's sleeping quarters laying her carefully on the bed.

Janet gave her sleeping lover a quick check, satisfying herself that her heartrate was normal and there was no sign of fever. Sam seemed to be fine. She shifted on the pillow, a smile of pure innocence playing about her lips. Janet felt a lump in her throat and blinked back tears. It had been so long since she had seen that smile. She had had to be strong for Sam and for Cassie in all the weeks Sam had been missing and in the weeks since her retrieval. She did not know how long she could continue.

Then Cassie was holding her. "It's okay, Mom. It's okay to cry." Unable to hold it in any longer, Janet buried her head in Cassie's shoulder and let go.

Daniel was right. It was time to move on.

It was their last day on Qeb. Teal'c and Master Brata'c were busy loading everything they had accumulated onto the carts to be taken back to the Gate. Judging by the screams of laughter, Cassie and Rya'c were initiating Shifu into the mysteries of Tag.

Sam was finishing up her exercises, muttering under her breath because Janet wouldn't let her slack on her last day. She went to stand and cried out, clutching her side. Janet was galvanized into action, completely bamboozled when Sam suddenly grinned, grabbed for her and pinned her down on the mattress.

"Gotcha!" she laughed, her eyes dark with need. "Wantcha!"

"Sam, no! The others…"

"Will be happy for us," Sam rubbed her cheek against Janet's, kissed her eyelids, her mouth, quick butterfly kisses down her throat and across her upper chest. "I want you to be happy. I want to taste you, to feel you. I want to please you, Janet."

"I am happy. You are alive, and well and with me.," Janet said. She reachedand drew Sam's head towards hers again. "Okay, but take it slowly… and the moment you feel breathless…"

"Passionkiller," Sam grumbled.

The End

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