DISCLAIMER: Oh, we all know I don't own a thing. The tolerant and benevolent folks of Gekko, Double Secret, Showtime, Sci-Fi Channel, and nameless others have that honor and privilege. No money or bribes have been received for this work of fiction; I write simply to amuse my demented little brain <g>.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: After seeing the episode Grace, I started wondering what would happen if the events made Sam re-think her priorities. And lo and behold, I came up with this. This story assumes canon up through the episode Grace, then goes completely into AU territory afterwards. Hope you enjoy. As always, feedback is welcomed but never required.
SPECIAL NOTE: This is dedicated to kc (chaos) – partly for the inspiration, but mostly just for being her <smile>.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEASON/SPOILERS: Seven   'Grace'.

Never Too Late To Change
By ocean gazer


Sam sat on the balcony of the hotel room, her feet propped up on the railing, a bottle of Pale Ale in her hand. It was dark outside by this time of night; she and Janet had sat on the beach and watched the sun set a few hours ago. The February air was still warm in comparison to the weather they'd left behind in Colorado, so she felt comfortable in shorts and a sleeveless tee. She took a long swig of beer, then set the bottle on the floor beside her, condensation leaving a wet trail on her fingers. Leaning back in her chair, she closed her eyes briefly, listening to the lapping of waves as they rolled onto the sandy shore.

She still couldn't believe she was on vacation. With Janet. In Hawai'i.

The mere thought still had the power to make her smile.

She opened her eyes again, looking out over the water to see the distant twinkle of boat lights. While it was too dark to see the crystal blues and greens of the ocean, she could still see the white caps of the waves. She sighed deeply, breathing in the fresh salt air, feeling more relaxed than she had in months – if not years. Maybe even in decades.

The vacation had – originally – been her idea. After her experience being injured and trapped aboard the Prometheus, she came to a decision. It was high time she stopped burying herself in work and shutting herself off from all the other aspects of life. It was high time she started thinking about her personal wants and needs. True, her work fulfilled her and she found enjoyment in exploring science and technology. She always would and that work would always be a central part of her life.

But being aboard the ship, realizing she might not make it back this time, she discovered that her biggest regret was not that she hadn't worked more, but that she hadn't spent more time with friends and family. After all, she'd been working practically non-stop since she joined the Stargate program – downtime for injuries notwithstanding. Lying in the infirmary with the concussion – dehydrated and semi-malnourished – having both the time and an impetus to reflect on her life, she'd come to two realizations. One was that she seriously needed a break – a time away from the demands of her job so she could renew her body and her mind.

The other was that the person she wanted to take that break with was Janet.

Ever since her conversation with the figment-of-her-imagination-Jack-O'Neill, she'd become aware that he – or rather her subconscious – was right. She'd been holding on to the illusion of romantic feelings for him as a way to avoid her own deepest feelings, to avoid the possibility of finding real happiness with someone. Fixating on a man she couldn't have, and one she really didn't want, was safe. It kept her from having to take any risks with her heart.

The death of her mother had taught her that love comes with the possibility of loss, and she'd been hiding herself away from having to deal with that pain. The one thing she hadn't factored into the equation was that hiding herself away from it was a loss in its own right – one where there were no good memories to counteract the pain of loneliness.

She'd spent a couple nights lying awake in the infirmary, her brain replaying what had happened on the ship, trying to figure out what was really going on in her own mind. While she might be somewhat emotionally repressed – a phrase more than one ex-boyfriend had used to describe her – once she was shoved out of her cocoon of denial, she was quick to absorb whatever new information she was presented with. Once she'd finally seen it, she was able to analyze the patterns, learn from them, and draw herself a new mental and emotional map. There were definitely advantages to having a big brain.

Once she'd realized that the figment-O'Neill was right, she'd found ways to let go of the delusion she'd harbored for so many years that it was only the regulations that stood between her and a relationship. And once she'd let go of it, realizing that she didn't care for the colonel as anything more than a friend, her mind had kicked into overdrive. It pointed out to her in Technicolor, surround sound just who her feelings were for.


Which was why she'd been so deep in denial about them. The military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was not something to take lightly, especially for someone who prided herself on her military career.

Sam picked up her beer again and took another swig. The cold bottle felt good against the skin of her palm. She sighed again, feeling deeply satisfied. Janet had made reservations at a restaurant called Kimo's – and they'd had better seats than they could have dared hope for. They'd had an intimate table for two, overlooking the ocean, lit only by torchlight. They'd both had fish – mahi mahi for Sam, ahi for Janet – and both pieces had been tender and succulent. If she'd been the gourmet type, she would have proclaimed both the meal and the ambiance to be perfect. It had been a while since she'd splurged on a meal like that, since she usually just picked up something quick from the grocery story deli. She smiled to herself, realizing just how good it felt to have an actual, sit-down dinner. Especially one shared with Janet.

She still couldn't quite believe how things had turned out – how she'd ended up here with her best friend. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined it. While she'd been lying in the infirmary, after finally deciphering her own feelings, she'd started watching Janet, trying to figure out if she even had a chance with the doctor. Sam freely admitted to herself that she was terrible about observing things about her own life. But her analytical mind was fairly good at figuring out other people – once she actually pulled her head out of the clouds and focused her attention on them, that was.

She'd noticed the way Janet hovered over her, the way the other woman's voice lowered into a gentle cadence when she was near. She studied the way the woman always touched her hand, arm, or shoulder – the way she smiled and laughed more easily whenever she came into Sam's room. And then, her hyperactive mind, bored silly by being confined to bed without a computer to play with, started adding up all the little clues she'd seen in Janet's behavior over the past seven years.

The conclusion she'd drawn was that Janet did have feelings – romantic feelings – for her. While she'd been deep in denial, her friend had been subtly advertising her interest. Or, at least, that was what she thought.

The idea that her theory might be wrong had terrified her, in a way she wasn't used to. In the world of machines and technology, she didn't worry too much about whether her ideas were right. Machines did what they were told and when things went wrong, you either fixed the problem or took a different tack and started over. That sort of thing was a challenge to her, not really scary, even when perhaps it should be. But the mysteries of the human heart weren't so easy to understand, and when something broke there was no manual for how to fix it.

Sam closed her eyes again – listening to the lulling, soothing splash of waves. The air was still warm compared to what she was used to, but it had begun to cool off, just barely. A soft whisper of wind ruffled her hair and cooled the flesh of her bare arms. It felt nice, peaceful.

In her mind's eye, she could still see the sunset from earlier in the evening. The sky had been layered in pinks, purples, blues, and oranges – and as the sun dropped over the horizon, she had seen the briefest of green flashes. She'd never seen anything quite like it. She and Janet had been sitting on a blanket on the strip of beach behind their hotel, and she had glanced over to see the brown eyes lit with awe. The sight had been as mesmerizing as the multi-colored sky.

It was at that moment that she'd realized she was in love.

When she had first – tentatively – broached the idea of a vacation with Janet, they'd been sitting in the Fraiser living room. Sam had been released from the infirmary that afternoon and the two women had decided on an evening of Chinese food and movies. They'd finished up dinner and were about to start the first movie when her mouth had popped open without her planning it and had stammered out the question about taking a vacation together. As she thought about it now, she'd sounded like a babbling idiot – graceless and oh-so-clearly nervous. She'd been so sure that Janet would either laugh at her or think she'd lost her mind that she'd started apologizing for the idea before she'd even finished spitting it out. It was no little ironic that she – a 36-year-old certified genius – could be so uncertain and so clueless about emotions.

To her utter amazement, Janet had just sat there, a fond smile on her face. Once Sam had finished her verbal, stuttered essay, the other woman had leaned forward on the couch, touched her knee, and asked oh-so-softly whether Sam was asking as a potential girlfriend or just as a friend.

Even now, days and miles away from the scene, the memory had the power to make her weak in the knees.

The fact that Janet had read her signals correctly still amazed her. Even more amazing, in her mind, was the fact that she'd correctly read Janet's. Okay, so granted she'd had seven years worth of cues and clues that the doctor had given her. But since the emotional realm was not her forte, it still astounded her that she'd gotten the message right. And she would always be grateful that her friend had been paying close enough attention to her to realize when Sam's interest shifted from platonic to romantic. She wasn't entirely sure she deserved such luck, but after the hellish experience on Prometheus, she was determined not to undermine it.

She'd spent enough of her life believing in bad luck and operating in emotional self-destruct mode. She had no intention of doing it any longer.

Shyly, she'd told Janet that night that she wanted them to go on vacation as potential girlfriends. Thinking back on it, she was sure that she'd been blushing beet red as she'd said it. Though no virgin, Sam hadn't exactly slept around much. And she'd never, ever, been with a woman. She knew she cared for the other woman deeply, but was still getting her mind around the idea that she was bisexual. And then Janet had hugged her close and lightly… gently … tentatively placed a kiss on her lips.

Much to her own surprise, Sam had kissed her back. And liked it.

She opened her eyes again, smiling at the memory of the kiss. Taking a deep breath of the clean smelling air, she stared out at the dark Hawaiian night. It had been a good day so far, this first real day of their vacation. The previous day had been spent in transit – they'd basically landed on Maui, picked up their rental car, grabbed fast food for dinner, and collapsed in the nearest hotel – each woman in her own bed. Today, they'd gotten up early and driven to Lahaina, where Janet had made reservations at the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort.

Sam found it amusing that while she'd come up with the idea of going away somewhere, the other woman had picked a location and made the arrangements. Apparently Janet had been here before and had always wanted to come back. That was fine with her, since Lord knew this sort of planning was not her strong suit. Give her a military assignment on another planet and she was fine – no problems. Give her a whole week off without any sort of structure or goal and she didn't have a clue what to do with it.

Janet had laughed at her, good-naturedly, but had seemed comfortable enough taking over. Sam's contribution to the process was to pay for it.

She swung her feet down from their spot on the railing and stood up, moving her chair closer to the balcony edge. Sitting down, she then leaned forward, arms crossed and resting on the railing, chin nestled on her wrists. Inhaling deeply, she caught the tang of salt in the air. Looking back over the ocean, she watched the tiny caps of white twinkle in the night sky. The sensory perceptions brought back all the pleasant memories of the day.

She'd walked behind Janet as they navigated the narrow sidewalks of Front Street and window shopped, laughing as they passed a restaurant called Cheeseburger In Paradise. Of course, Sam had to buy the usual postcards and Janet found some dolphin themed jewelry for Cassandra. Then the other woman had pulled her into the Lassen International art gallery and they'd actually lingered for nearly 45 minutes, taking in the artwork of Christian Riese Lassen. While she wasn't usually an art person, she'd been entranced by the brilliant colors in the backlit paintings of sea scenes and dolphins.

Then Sam had needed a caffeine fix and dragged Janet back to the local Starbucks, where they sat at an outdoor table, trading quips and watching the other tourists. After that, she'd followed Janet back to the hotel, where they'd grabbed a blanket and headed out to the beach to watch the sunset, their hands brushing lightly as the sun dropped down and the light faded. And then had come the intimate dinner for two, followed by more meandering down Front Street, taking in the nightlife.

And on the way back to the hotel, they'd stopped in front of a gigantic Banyan tree, its limbs so old and spread out that there were stakes in the ground holding them up. The tree was filled with Mynah birds, making a cacophony of sound that was as intriguing as it was annoying. She'd laughed at the look on Janet's face as the other woman stared up into the tree, trying to figure out how many hundreds of birds were there.

It still surprised her to no end that she'd been so comfortable being out in public with the other woman. It wasn't like they'd done anything bold, like hold hands or share a kiss, but her level of comfort in being so close to Janet still managed to surprise her, conservative as she was. Granted, they had been good friends for years and had gone many places together, had spent a lot of time in each other's company. But that had been simply as friends – no assumptions or expectations attached. And had someone else questioned their relationship, Sam could have laughed it off without any sense that she was denying a truth or lying.

The past few months, from the time of their first kiss until now, they'd been feeling out the territory – trying on the label of dating, not really looking too far ahead at any relationship more serious than that. Because they were in the town where they both worked, and because they were both career military, they'd both been paranoid about being together in public. Glances and innocent touches that wouldn't have fazed them before tended to make them both paranoid – as though the change in their relationship would be evident to the casual passerby.

So it felt incredibly good to Sam to be here – to be in a place so far removed from their day-to-day life. A place where they were just Sam and Janet – two tourists – and no one paid any more attention to them than to anyone else. The feel of anonymity had helped her relax and feel at ease, and she noticed that Janet seemed to feel the same. If anything, it seemed to be bringing them closer together, letting them be a little more open with each other.

Sam was certain that the tension in their relationship – brought on by the jobs they did and the secrets they had to keep – was a major reason they hadn't yet made love. There had been kisses and friendly exploration, but for various reasons, they hadn't gone any farther than that. First there had been the physical side effects of her time on Prometheus, and then there had been the stress of trying to explore a relationship while keeping it secret. Cassandra knew about it, of course, but she was the only one, and neither woman was comfortable sharing a bed while the teen was home. The girl wasn't upset about their relationship, but no child wants to think of her parents in a sexual way. Combine the general paranoia with all those factors, and then throw in the reality that Sam spent half her time off world, and it was no real surprise that the relationship hadn't gone all the way.

She was hoping that would change while they were on vacation, while they finally had the time away from all the stresses of daily life.

Given her somewhat prudish tendencies, she was surprised by how much she wanted it.

Blinking as she stared out at the inky ocean, she sighed softly. It still caught her by surprise, this sense that her priorities had shifted so dramatically after her experience on Prometheus. Given that they'd had to wait a few months before they could both actually arrange overlapping vacation time, she'd been half-afraid that going back to fieldwork with SG-1 would make her lose her interest in exploring new paths in her personal life. Much to her surprise – a very pleasant surprise – the return to work had only made her more determined to balance out her life, to make things work with Janet.

It wasn't that she planned to quit her job at the SGC – she enjoyed her work too much to give it up. But she was strongly thinking about transferring to a less field-oriented unit. During the time she'd been preoccupied with O'Neill, the idea of a transfer had popped into her head – one where she could stay earth-side and do research, one where she and the colonel weren't on the same team. Any relationship between them still would have been outside the regulations, but would have been more easily overlooked. But the thought had flitted through her head only a couple of times, and both times she'd dismissed it easily. At the time she'd thought it was that if they were on the same team, they could at least be together. Now she recognized that her feelings for him had never been strong enough to warrant that kind of change in her life.

This time, with Janet to think about, the thought of transferring wasn't going away. Maybe it was because she'd finally found the person worth shifting her priorities for.

She started in surprise when she felt hands on her shoulders, then leaned back against Janet. Strong arms wrapped themselves around her body and she felt the other woman's chin against the top of her head. It felt comfortable and natural, and warmed Sam immensely. She let herself relax into the embrace, let the ocean smells and sounds wash over her, soothing her soul.

When she felt soft lips brush the top of her head, she smiled. Bringing her arms up, she found Janet's hands and laced them with her own. She caressed the other woman's fingers, then looked down at where their joined hands rested on her chest, seeing how they looked in the moonlight and the soft backlight from their room. There was just the slightest variation between their skin tones, and it fascinated Sam to watch the way their fingers played gently together.

In a flash, she realized she'd found what was missing in her life … someone to care for … someone to care for her.

She looked up, staring into the deep brown pools of Janet's eyes. They were shining and liquid and oh-so-beautiful. The mere sight made her heart melt.

"I love you, Janet."

Sam saw the flash of joy in the woman's eyes at her unexpected, heartfelt declaration. She felt her head tilted back so Janet could lean over and capture her lips in a slow, searching kiss. The rest of the world faded away with that kiss. She neither knew nor cared that they were out on a balcony, and she realized she was no longer anxious about what would happen next.

She loved Janet, Janet loved her, and somehow, someway, they'd make a relationship work. Come hell or high water, there was no way that their jobs or their worries would stand in the way of their happiness together. She knew that with a fierce, sudden clarity.

"Oh honey … I love you too." Janet's voice sounded smoky, husky, to Sam's ears. "Let me show you how much."

Heart pounding – from happiness, not fear – she let Janet take her by the hand, leading her inside, guiding her to the bed.

The End

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