DISCLAIMER: Stargate belongs to its respective creators. Just mucking about and making free with the characters.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Things are a bit intense at first, but they get better. Trust me. My life's credo is, "Give Me a Happy Ending…" What started as part of the "iTunes" song meme (randomize, play, write for ten drabbles for ten songs) ran away, ate my life, and spat out this. I doubt anyone will mind. ;) If you're curious, the title comes from the Mudvayne song of the same name.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Written for Epic Proportions 2009.

Pulling the String
By sHaYcH


Caught within a chaos of blood, fire, the screams of the fighting and the cries of the dying, Janet Fraiser felt her world narrow into second-by-second heartbeats of time's passage. Somewhere too close, too far away, she felt the eardrum rattling report of a P-90 and glanced to the side. Daniel Jackson shouted, but she couldn't make out what he said. Leaning over the body of a wounded airman, she focused on getting him prepped for transport.

More gunfire sounded, the close-but-far reports pinging like bees off the fringes of her senses. Daniel said something again, but his query was lost in the fury of the battle.

Leaning closer to the archeologist, Janet heard only the millisecond-long warning shriek of inrushing air before she was struck by a supernova of pain flaring along her torso. The world inverted. Toppling sideways onto the ground, she was confused by the color of the grass. It was blue. Grass was supposed to be green.

Then Daniel was hovering over her, his eyes wide with terror. Not too far away lay the young airman whose life she had been trying to save. She tried to point at him, to mouth the words for treatment, but they dried up and turned to ashes in her throat.

A curious chill crept slowly up her legs and spread into the lava filling her gut until she was nothing but a still pool of ice. Slowly, the furor of battle receded, leaving only the voices.

"Medic!" Daniel's voice, shrill and harsh made her flinch.

I'm right here, Danny. You don't have to shout. Just give me a second to catch my breath…

Then came Sam's pain-lanced, "No, please. Don't you die on me, Janet!"

Oh Sam. If a body could be said to feel glacial, then Janet was certain hers would qualify. The cold was so intense, so pervasive that she was certain that the warmth she felt striking her face and neck was just a mirage. She took a short, stuttering breath and groaned when she heard the air whistling out of her chest cavity. Oh, Sam, I'm so sorry.

"I can't stop the bleeding," came Carter's agonized voice.

The doctor in Janet wanted to say, Don't bother. The pain is fading too fast. She knew it was more than a flesh wound. Tiny bursts of fire shot up through her chest as Sam shifted position to put more pressure on the injury, causing Janet to groan.

"Sorry," muttered the astrophysicist even as she pushed harder. Janet tried to smile reassuringly, but the muscles in her face were like gelatin, incapable of shaping the expression.

She attempted to speak, but her words were garbled by blood bubbling over her lips. As she exhaled, more blood drooled onto her cheeks.

Funny how time seemed to stretch and flex as her last breaths crisped the air of an alien world. Vision narrowed to ever graying fields as her life drained into the ground. With the darkness came a shocking sense of relief. Not even the rapidly fading sorrow she felt at abandoning her daughter Cassandra could overcome the gratitude she felt for the surcease of light.

It's over. What it was would be debatable. Life, the pain, the constant struggle with every petty evil born from the galaxy's core, even surrogate motherhood, all vied for first place as a good thing to be done.

With the last wisps of her sight, Janet fastened her gaze on the one "it" she regretted losing.

The scenery around Samantha Carter's tear streaked face was shifting, and the major's mouth was moving, but the words spilling out were senseless to Janet.

With a Herculean effort, Janet fought to mouth the words that she'd never had the courage to speak, but her tongue was a limp, useless rag. "L-lo… you…"

Well fuck.

Then it was nothing. No thought, no sense, no heaven and certainly no hell awaited Janet Fraiser's spirit when her heart finally stopped beating.

Grief swept through Cheyenne Mountain like a zephyr on the heels of a greyhound. Everyone from the lowest maintenance tech to the base commander had come to know Doctor Janet Fraiser. Her death hit them all in the weakest part of their collective armor.

Soldiers learned to accept that in battle, some of them might get hurt, or even die. In those moments, it is to the medic they turn for aid and comfort. For many of those assigned to the Mountain, Janet Fraiser had been their solace and savior, and her death left them incapable of rational thought.

Sitting on a goldmine of footage, the reporter sent from on high to collect and complete a documentary showing the project in the most glorious of terms finally understood the cost of the Stargate program.

Yet what could he do? Janet Fraiser's story deserved to be known, to be cherished and honored for its uncompromising sacrifice.

Emmett Bregman was a bastard whoreson with more than a little bit of an ego problem, but even he recognized the fact that if he tried to talk to any one of these people, he'd get his head handed back to him without so much as a warning shot.

It gave the reporter a hive, and as such, he began to wonder if he shouldn't just take his footage and get the hell out of the mountain before it ate him alive.

Doctor Janet Fraiser strode with calm purpose through the halls of Cheyenne Mountain, the flap of her customary lab coat against her calves a perennial counterpoint to the scuff of charts against her midriff. Around her neck, the negligible weight of her stethoscope shushed in harmony with her steps.

Passing people here and there, Janet was surprised at the silence. Usually the mountain was filled with sound. The rolling thrum of the air recyclers, the running chatter of personnel, the regular as clockwork clangor of alarms, and the deep, bowel grinding reverberations of the gate generally made for a chaotic workspace.

Today, however, all that was gone, replaced by an eerie peace that seemed to follow wherever she went. Mentally running down the mission reports, Janet shrugged and put the oddness off to the number of SG teams that were off world. Without the boisterous soldiers and scientists filling every nook and cranny, maybe she could actually get some paperwork done.

Be nice to have a day without an emergency. Maybe I can actually get home early and have dinner with Cassie. Heck, if Sam gets back early, I'll invite her along. Cassie'd love to see her.

She came around a corner and nearly ran right into General Hammond.

"Oh, I'm sorry General, I didn't see you there," she said, then frowned when she saw the mask of grief that marred his usually placid features.

He didn't respond, just continued on his way, his stride slow but purposeful.

Brow furrowing, Janet stared after him, concern and confusion washing over her. Then, she shrugged as the emotion faded.

Oh well. Maybe he's gotten some bad news. I'll check in with him later. If he needs an ear to bend, he knows mine's flexible.

She continued walking, ending up at her office. The lamp on her desk was off, but there was enough ambient light from the hall that she didn't bother with it. Setting the files aside, she sat in front of the computer and reached for the mouse.

The first time her hand went through the desk, she blinked, rubbed her eyes, giggled nervously, and then reached again. Instead of meeting the solid plastic of the cranky old mouse, her hand met air and kept going.

"What the hell?"

Again, Janet tried to touch the mouse and failed. Panicked, she tried the desk, the wall, even the chair and found that her hand passed through each and every one of them. She reached out to slam her hand on the emergency alarm, but that too had become insubstantial.

As overwhelming fear cascaded over her, Janet started to head for the gate room, only to stop when the sensation faded. Feeling slightly nauseous, the doctor shook her head and slumped back into the chair.

Something was clearly not right, and yet Janet could only dredge up a sense of mild curiosity about the situation.

"Don't worry about it, Doc. You've just been hit with a kind of cosmic Novocain. Numbs you down so you don't freak," came a voice that she recognized only from base video files.

"Major Kowalski?" she said, the start of surprise she felt at the dead man's presence passing quickly.

"In the flesh, as it were," he replied, a charming smile creasing his handsome features. "You must be the newbie everyone's been yammering about. Welcome to the After Mountain."

"The what?" Janet frowned as irritating flashes of memory threaded before her eyes, filling her head with jumbled visions of chaos and pain.

"The After Mountain. It's kind of like a holding cell for former SGC staff." Grimacing, Kowalski threw up his hands and gestured around, indicating the entirety of what appeared to be the innards of Cheyenne Mountain. "For whatever reason, someone, somewhere, decided that we don't get to die like normal people. Oh no, we're special." Though he laughed, there was little mirth to the expression. "So anyway, I just thought I'd pop by and fill you in on the situation. See if you had any questions, that sort of thing." He frowned and tilted his head as if listening to something. "Oh, right, right, I should mention that I really can't answer much. It's not allowed. After all, wouldn't want to subject you to any undue influence." Cheerful exasperation threaded his words.

Nodding slowly, Janet eyed the man who looked, acted, and talked like the Major Kowalski she expected, based on his reports, but there was no way she could just accept what he said at face value. She'd been in the project far too long and seen far too many Goa'uld tricks not to be more than a little cautious.

Still, best play along for now. Maybe I can get some intel and pass it along to Sa-someone who can use it.

"Uh huh, okay. I'm dead?"

"As a doornail. Zap! Right in the kisser. Sorry Doc, but your innards got deep fried by a staff blast." Kowalski shrugged. "Them's the breaks. At least you didn't have to have a snake pulled outta your brain."

"Is that why I can't touch anything?"


"But I can sit down?" The strange lassitude that kept strong emotion at bay also seemed to overcome any resistance to the major's assertions. Even as a tiny voice screamed at her to deny it, every other part of her wanted to accept his words on their merit. She was dead, and living in some kind of Limbo built just for Stargate Command.

"Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't." The major shrugged noncommittally. "Hell, some folks can't even walk without falling through the floor."

"So, I can sit sometimes, but not touch anything, because I'm dead?"

Kowalski clapped his hands in parody of applause. "Got it in one. I knew Hammond wouldn't pick a moron."

Narrowing her eyes, Janet said, "Gee, thanks."

He laughed at her expression. "You look like you've just taken a bite of barbequed lizard and discovered that much to your surprise, it tastes nothing at all like chicken."

"Actually, I think it tastes like bullshit, but since I don't have any empirical knowledge, I can't be sure," she retorted. "So why don't you just tell me the truth so I can get back to normal. I've got too much to do to be stuck wherever this place is playing a role in some alien's crazy mind game."

Kowalski sighed, and then shook his head. "You really don't believe it, do you, Doc? You are dead. Right now, they're picking out your uniform and buying the flowers for your grave. This isn't a joke, this isn't a trick, and there's no one here but us ghosts."

Every word smashed into Janet with the force of a thunderclap. Stunned, yet at the same time, oddly lucid, she whispered, "Why? Who decided that we don't get the same fate as everyone else?"

Shrugging, Kowalski said, "I dunno. Maybe God. Maybe the Ancients. No one knows. Usually, people don't stick around long enough to find out. Me personally? I think its damn government."

Janet frowned. "What do you mean by that?"

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Even though you're dead, you still have a job to do. They give you a choice. Most of us only get one or two options, but you, Doc, you've got some serious credit with the powers that be."

As they looked on, the screen blinked to life, displaying an ornately gothic A, a curving, sinuous B, and a cheery, balloon-like C. Beside each letter was a bubble so similar to the fill-in blips on standardized tests that Janet snorted and said, "I'm dead, and there's a pop quiz?"

Kowalski chuckled. "Damn Doc, wish I'd had the chance to know you. Bet you're a real firecracker."

"Bang." Janet's deadpan tone only made the major laugh harder.

"Oh, man I really want to stick around and see what happens next, but I'm done. I made my choice and now I've got to live with it." He settled his hand on her shoulder, the touch strangely electric. "Think about it. I can't tell you anything more, but each one of those letters is an opportunity. Don't waste it."

Before she could ask any of the questions that sprang to mind at his words, he vanished.

Grief was a wearying thing. Wrung dry, so exhausted that she could barely stand, Sam Carter stood before the door to Janet's house unable to dig up the energy to knock. Inside, waited a moment that she would have suffered anything to avoid, and yet she would allow no other the burden. Telling someone that they'd just lost their second mother to the Goa'uld was not a task given away to a stony faced lieutenant.

Suddenly, the door opened, and Cassie's face went from confused joy to knowing agony in the space of two breaths.

"Oh no," she whispered. "Not again."

The passage of time in the "After Mountain" as Major Kowalski had named it was unmarred by anything as prosaic as the ticking of a clock. Without something to reckon the minutes, Janet had no way of knowing how long she sat staring at the blinking letters on the monitor.

And if I'm dead, time hardly matters now, does it? The myriad of sensations she expected to undergo at that statement passed as only a mild frisson of unease. Even the anger that followed was muted.

"Damn it, how could this happen? It's not fair." She thought of her daughter, twice orphaned by the machinations of the Goa'uld. Janet's eyes itched as though tears pressed at the lids, but nothing emerged. No wetness dappled her cheeks, no sharpness pricked her throat. All emotion was effectively throttled by the dampening sensation that Kowalski had called cosmic Novocain.

Borrowing one of Cassie's favorite phrases, Janet muttered, "This sucks." She stood and poked her head into the hall and shouted, "Do you hear me? This sucks big, ugly, hairy, slimy warthog butts!" Giving the wall a swift kick, she watched in numb fascination as her foot passed right through the concrete.

"This would be funny if it wasn't happening to me," she muttered. "A choice he says. Right. It would be a hell of a lot easier to pick an answer if I knew what the question was first!"

There was no response.

"Great. Why make it easy, right? After all, if I'm somebody's entertainment for the day, it wouldn't do for the show to end too quickly. Okay," Janet said as she rolled up her sleeves. "Then we'll do it the hard way. I'm not making any choices until I get some information."

Deliberately, she turned away from the blinking image on the monitor and exited the office. With no destination planned, she headed into the halls in search of something interesting.

What she discovered was that the base was an empty, hollow place without interaction with the people that filled it on a day to day basis. Outside of General Hammond's office, Janet paused, leery of entering unannounced but having no way to communicate with the oblivious secretary. Taking a deep breath, she reached for the door and stumbled through, shivering at the utter lack of sensation.

"I just don't get that," she muttered. "I can sit on a chair, but opening doors and using the mouse is a no go. Too freaking weird. I wish I could ask Sam why that was." Thoughts of the hyper intelligent Major Carter sent of rush of warmth through Janet and for a brief moment, she relished the intense sensation.

It passed all too quickly and she opened her eyes, expecting to see the cherubic face of General Hammond. Instead, she was met with an empty room. Devoid of even the sense of his presence, Janet quickly spun on her heel and ran back into the hall.

"And why don't I just fall right through the mountain, anyway? I mean, if I'm dead and a ghost, then I should just slowly drift away from the planet, right? Damn it, Sam, you'd know this wouldn't you?"

As if her words could conjure, Samantha Carter appeared from around a corner, walking slowly, her arm draped over the shoulder of a blank faced Cassandra Fraiser. Sam was speaking softly, her face a mask of grief and pain as she guided the daughter she and Janet had raised toward the medical bays.

Grief, hot and sweet, rushed through Janet. Moisture wetted her eyes and needles pricked her throat at the sight. Clutching one hand to her chest, she reached for Cassie as she passed, feeling nothing but empty space as her fingers slipped through the solid form of her daughter's arm.

Frustrated beyond endurance, Janet stood transfixed, caught by the competing forces of her emotions as they battled a steady onslaught of the numbness that threatened to steal everything but her consciousness.

"I don't want this," she railed, shaking her fist at the empty air. "This is not my choice!"

Then pick something else. It is your duty, Doctor Fraiser.

The answer seemed to fill her, the words not exactly spoken, but experienced as every sense denied to her since she had begun this incredible journey.

"I don't understand," she wailed, covering her face with her hands. When she let them drop, she was alone, and all signs of Sam and Cassie were long gone.

Resigned, she made her way back to the office. The halls were even quieter now, eerily absent of even the subtle shift of air pushed around by the recyclers. In the office, the monitor remained on, the oddly cheerful selection of letters still beckoning, drawing her to them.

Janet paused outside the door, uncertainty gnawing at her thoughts. What if I make the wrong choice? What then?

The memory of Cassie's blank stare and Sam's bleak mask of grief tore at her, pushing and pulling until not even the numbness could abate it. Rebelling at the torment of emotion, Janet turned away from the office.

"How can I be dead? This has to be a dream. Or maybe I forgot to take my antihistamines and got a face full of some alien allergen." The possibility seemed reasonable. After all, it wouldn't be the first time she'd found herself faced with a simple answer for what became a complicated situation.

It was certainly a lot more reasonable than being a ghost teetering on the edge of her own private Hell. She wanted to believe that it made a whole lot more sense than the idea that some Higher Power had decided that her soul was worth so much trouble.

"I'm just not that special," she whispered. Janet was well aware that as a doctor, she filled the unique needs of the Stargate program, but she was not the only person who could do the job. There were literally dozens of others as qualified, or more so, than she.

The only other thing different about her was the fact that she was a surrogate mother to an alien child, and Janet was certain that the only thing unique about that was that she adored her daughter. This could only mean one thing: everything that had happened after her death must have been a mistake. She was not supposed to be here, and anything she chose would only end up being bad, horrible, or terrible.

Glumly, Janet stood in the doorway, unable to cross the threshold, her thoughts a whirl of indecision. Back and forth they went, analytically ticking off possibilities, almost as though she were performing triage on them.

Major Kowalski didn't seem too unhappy with his choice. In fact, he'd been downright cheerful. A little rough around the edges, but what else should I expect from a man who's had a Goa'uld ripped from his skull?

On the other hand, there was the whole "alien allergy theory".

But why would an allergy, alien or otherwise, insinuate that I had a guardian angel?

Hugging herself, Janet said, "If anyone's listening, I could really use a little guidance. I need something to go on – anything – a hint, a clue, heck, even a kick in the head would do."

"Hey Doc." The voice of Colonel Jack O'Neill was startlingly loud, and Janet nearly jumped out of her skin. Turning, she spotted the colonel sitting in a wheelchair that was parked in the hall and partially obscured by shadow. The grizzled soldier seemed to be staring right at her, and for a brief, hopeful moment, Janet prayed he could see her. His next words dashed that hope. "You've been a pain in my ass since you stomped in here, using every inch of your pygmy self to bully, cajole, and prod us until we danced to your tune. Through it all, I was probably the least grateful, asinine butthead you'd ever met, but I hope you know that I was always grateful. You patched my butt up after some pretty nasty things and you did it with grace, competence, and compassion. So I guess what I'm sayin' is that I'm gonna miss you, needles and all."

He pushed into the doorway and peered inside her office. Snorting at the jumbled mass of charts, files, and half-empty coffee cups, he said, "I always knew you were good people, Doc."

They were so close they should have been sharing the same air, but O'Neill seemed totally unaware of her presence.

"O'Neill. They are looking for you." The calm baritone of Teal'c, the Jaffa warrior who'd been both friend and patient to Janet, suddenly filled the tiny room.

Janet spun to see the Jaffa warrior dressed in his full battle regalia. Turning back to the colonel, she was astounded to realize that he was kitted out in a dress uniform.

Pulling the hat he'd tucked under his arm out and settling it on his head, Jack said, "I'm coming. Just needed a moment." He rolled out to the hall, paused and said, "I just wish it didn't have to be this way."

"Doctor Fraiser made her choice, O'Neill. I suspect she would not regret the outcome."

"Yeah, well tell it to her kid. Or to Carter. Hell, you could go mute telling it to everyone on this damned base and we'd all still hate it like it was poison."

They're talking about me. Oh God. I really am dead. The realization was followed by an acceptance that oozed through her, banishing all doubts. They're going to my funeral.

She was almost giddy. Lightheaded, she staggered to the chair, crumpled into and stared at the computer. The letters danced mockingly, flickering hypnotically until she started to mumble softly.

"A… A is for answers, of which I have none. A is for annoyed, which is what I'll be if I'm not really dead and this is all the insane machinations of an A-is-for-alien plot." As she spoke, the letter faded into the background until it was barely visible.

Rubbing her eyes, Janet drawled, "Okay, no more A. Guess that's one less choice." She sighed. "I really suck at pop quizzes. I do much better with open book tests."

Twisting her head, Janet grunted in satisfaction as several vertebra snapped into place. "Dead or not, at least I can still crack my neck." She shifted position and said, "We come to B. B is for bullied, which is what I feel. B is for bullshit, batshit, and bollocks which are all ways of saying that this situation sucks!"

B vanished with sudden pop of sound.

"C…" Janet's eyes closed as she softly sang, "C is for Carter, who's really kind of cute and if I'd had any C-is-for-courage, I'd have told her that ages ago." Suddenly overwhelmed with the need to see Sam's face, to hear her voice, to reach out and push errant bangs out of her laughing eyes, Janet said, "C is for a choice, the only one to make."

On the monitor, the letter grew until it filled the screen, and then exploded with a rushing whisper of bells. The phrase, "Document Accepted" blinked once before the world vanished in a brilliant crimson flash.

"Someone find Anise, stat!" yelled Major Samantha Carter as she raced alongside the gurney carrying the dying body of Janet Fraiser. The crowd of emergency personnel nearly bowled over the reporter and his crew.

"Out of the way!"

"Major Carter, what happened? Who's hurt? And who is Anise?" Bregman shoved the microphone he was carrying into Sam's face.

"Get that out of my face before I shove it up your-"

"Sam!" Daniel's warning shout gave Sam enough time to move out of the rapidly approaching Anise's way. He glanced at the reporter. "It's Doctor Fraiser." The doors to the infirmary closed on the confused and shocked face of Emmett Bregman.

On base conducting yet another round of experiments, the Tok'ra scientist's presence was a stroke of fortune that caused Sam to repent every bad word she'd ever said about the willowy alien. Right now, Anise was the only chance Janet had, and Carter would do everything in her power to see that it wasn't wasted.

Anise had the Goa'uld healing device already out of its case and dangling loosely from her fingers. Glancing down at the badly damaged body of the human doctor, the Tok'ra scientist cringed and shuddered delicately.

"She has lost a lot of blood, Major. Are you sure you wish me to attempt this?" said the Tok'ra as she slipped the intricate bands of metal over her slender wrist.

Sam's gaze was glacial. "Do it. Janet's far too important to this program." And to me.

Understanding the sentiment behind the astrophysicist's words, Anise nodded once and then held her hand over the wounded woman's body. The device began to glow, emitting a pulsing sound as the she guided the technological wonder in healing ravaged flesh.

"Please work," Sam whispered as she caught up Janet's lifeless hand. "It's her turn for a miracle."

The slow river of blood ceased to flow as vessels sealed. Burnt and torn flesh pinked and then mended, closing over the gaping hole in Janet's torso. Ragged, wet breaths eased into the steady susurration of normal respiration.

As soon as Anise stepped away from Doctor Fraiser's prone form, a nurse attached a variety of sensor leads and Doctor Warner leaned over the gurney, flashed a light in Janet's eyes, and then began to hunt for any further injuries. The steady beep of a cardiac monitor filled the room with the music of a firm, strong pulse.

Janet's eyes fluttered. Her lips moved, shaping words that couldn't quite find a voice. Coughing, she groaned softly, opened her eyes and looked up to see Sam's tear streaked face.

Bemused, Janet hoarsely whispered, "C is for Carter, who is crying. Why are you crying, Sam?"

The sob burbled up and spilled fresh tears down Carter's cheeks. A ragged cheer echoed through the infirmary as the news of Janet's miracle spread through the base.

"What's going on? Did I miss a party?" Janet tried to struggle upright, but was halted by Sam's hand pressing into her shoulder.

Sam's laughter was strained, but her smile was genuine. "No, you haven't," she said, as she encouraged Janet to lie back.

"Oh good," Janet mumbled as she settled on the gurney. "I hate to miss a party." Just as she had gotten comfortable, something occurred to her. "Cassie!" she exclaimed and bolted upright.

Newly mended muscles, bones, and tendons protested the action quite vociferously and Janet groaned loudly.

"Ow. Oh my God, did anyone see the size of the train that clipped me? I feel like I've been the puck in a really vicious game of hockey."

"Just hang on a moment Janet, and we'll get you something for the pain," said Doctor Warner softly. He glanced over at Anise, who shrugged.

"She most likely needs rest and sustenance. The healing device can only replace so much. I may have repaired the worst of the damage, but the body still recalls the pain of injury." The Tok'ra scientist gave them a slight bow and said, "If you've no further need of me, I shall attend the others." Without waiting for a response, the statuesque woman exited the room.

"Injury?" Janet tried to sit up again. "What happened to me?" She glanced down, noticing for the first time that her BDUs were charred and covered with blood.

Warner turned away to accept a syringe from the nurse.

Hesitantly, Sam said, "What do you remember?"

Janet frowned, opened her mouth to reply, and then shook her head. "Not much beyond grabbing my kit and running through the gate, to be honest."

The soft pop of a needle pulling free of the IV caused her to look over at the other doctor.

"There, this should help," Warner murmured soothingly as he set the syringe onto a nearby tray.

"You get an 'A plus' for bedside manner, Stephen. Now, what'd you just give me?" She tried to reach for the tray, but it was pulled away by the nurse.

"Ah-ah, Janet. Sleep now; questions later. You've got quite a bit of healing to do before you can play doctor," said Warner as he waved off the staff.

Sam nodded in agreement. "You've had a long day, Janet. Why don't you try to get some rest? You can always pick my brains later."

"But –" C is for Carter, who is really kind of cute. The stray thought pinged in the back of her mind, stealing the desire to argue. Instead, she reached for Sam's hand, twining their fingers together.

Surprised, Sam squeezed Janet's hand and watched as staff went about making the injured doctor comfortable.

Calmly, Janet allowed the nurses to shift her from the gurney into a bed and then cut away the remains of her clothes. A soft cotton gown was slipped over her arms and loosely tied behind her head then a cup of ice chips was deposited on the tray beside the bed.

One of the nurses took her vitals while another used a damp cloth to remove the worst of the dirt and blood matting her hair. Once they were done, the medical staff excused themselves leaving only Colonel O'Neill, Daniel Jackson, Teal'c and Sam in the room.

Watching them as they gazed at her with an array of emotions on their faces, Janet couldn't help but think that she had forgotten something very important.

Something to do with choices. And not being able to touch my mouse. Utterly confused by the thought and the attendant blur of memories that made no sense, Janet tried to put a cheerful smile on her face.

"So," she said, glancing at each one of the members of SG-1. "Is one of you going to let me in on the big secret? I mean, what happened? You all look like someone died." Shivering slightly, she said, "Did someone die?"

Daniel looked at Jack, who exchanged an uneasy glance with Sam, who shrugged, and started to speak, only to be interrupted by Teal'c's calm voice.

"We are grateful you are well, Major. Your presence would have been sorely missed."

Nodding, Daniel shoved his hands into his pockets and said, "Yeah, what he said." The archeologist's eyes were filled with a kind of haunted sorrow, as if he were privy to a horrible secret. To himself, he muttered, "This is a much better choice." Bending down to give Janet a gentle hug, he said, "I'm glad you're okay, Janet. You should get some sleep though."

She hugged him back, still confused. Understanding that she'd been hurt in some manner, she couldn't help but be disturbed by the level of concern she felt coming from her friends. However, trying to pin down the words to ask the questions bouncing around in her head was getting rapidly more difficult; thanks to whatever drug Warner had pushed into her IV.

Of course, if he hadn't, I'd probably be sobbing in pain right about now, judging by how much it hurt just moving from the gurney to the bed, Janet grudgingly admitted.

Daniel released her and then he and Teal'c headed for the door, followed shortly by Colonel O'Neill, who paused at the threshold, turned and said, "Get well soon, Doc, but not too soon. I'm looking forward to a break from your harpoons."

Chuckling wearily, Janet said, "Just for that, sir, I'll have to bring out the bazookas next time."

Jack blanched, and started to react, but then sighed and said, "You can use a nuclear warhead if you must, Doc. Just rest up and recover."

"I should go, too," Sam whispered as she started to pull her hand from Janet's grasp.

Stopping her with a panicked squeeze, Janet said, "No. Please, tell me what happened." Exhaustion broke her grip though, and she yawned sleepily. "Damn, musta given me Dilaudid."

"Ooo, the good stuff," said Sam as she rejoined their hands. "You should sleep, Janet. You need rest."

"You keep saying that. Why? Tell me, Sam. I need to know." Janet's eyes were glassy, but the determination in them was strong.

Caught, Sam looked at her feet and then at the wall. In a low, emotionless monotone, she muttered, "You got caught by a staff blast. You almost died. Anise healed you."

I almost died. Again, she shivered as the words struck echoes in her mind. Memories, half formed, so unreal as to be suspect, swirled and jigged, making her head ache at the untenable impossibilities they displayed. She looked up at Sam, who was trying bravely to maintain her composure, even as her eyes glistened with new moisture.

"I really should go," Sam whispered.

C is for courage. In the years since joining the Stargate program, Janet had learned a lot about taking risks. Every day had been a lesson in the strength of character in the men and women of the SGC as each faced the unknown awaiting at the other end of a wormhole. How could she ignore their example any longer?

"Sam –"

At the odd tone of Janet's voice, Sam looked up at the doctor and was taken aback at the clearly visible emotion on her face. If someone had asked Sam what her most secret of secret wishes were, she'd have laughed and said she didn't have any, but the expression now plain on Janet's face birthed one so far fetched, so insane, that Sam had no choice but to acknowledge its truth.

Suddenly very afraid of what Janet might say, Sam swallowed heavily and awaited her doom.

"Will you stay with me?" They were not the words that hovered just at the tip of Janet's tongue, but by the look of disappointed relief that flashed in Sam's eyes, they were what the astrophysicist needed to hear at that moment. Later, Janet decided. I'll tell her later.

Tenderly, Sam brushed strands of Janet's ruddy hair from her face and said, "Of course."

At the touch, a hundred thousand words suddenly filled Janet's heart. Helplessly, she pulled at Sam, trying to bring her closer, and needing to feel the other woman's embrace.

Resisting the pull, Sam broke away from Janet to grab a nearby chair. Settling in it, the astrophysicist ignored the stricken look on her friend's face, and calmly took up Janet's hand again. "Please rest now, Janet. I'll be here when you wake."

Heart in her throat, Janet nodded, but fought off sleep long enough to whisper, "We have to talk."

Sam closed her eyes, brought their joined hands to her lips, and kissed Janet's knuckles. "I know. But not right now, okay?"

"Lat'r?" murmured the doctor as sleep stole over her.



Sam smiled at the slurred query. Leaning forward, she pressed a soft kiss to the corner of Janet's mouth and whispered, "I promise."

The clatter of a bedpan as it hit the floor brought Janet awake. Almost before her eyes were open, she was shouting, "Matthews, we need a mop up in here!" Her call brought the nurse and Sam running.

Groggy, she watched as the nurse scolded the two orderlies who'd been playing panball, a "sport" that was all the rage with the non-coms and that served in the infirmary. After the two men had sheepishly apologized to Janet, they slunk off, heads bent in perfect mimicry of children who'd just been sent to their bedrooms without supper.

"Please forgive them, Doctor Fraiser," said the nurse as she quickly assessed her nominal boss' condition. "I'm sure they meant no disrespect." With prim efficiency she slipped a blood pressure cuff onto Janet's arm, clicked the device on and then inserted a thermometer into the doctor's ear, making a small sound of satisfaction at the reading displayed on the instrument.

Feeling more than a little surly, Janet growled, "Well, Parks, am I going to die?"

Nurse Parks chuckled. "Not today, Doctor. Are you hungry? Any pain? I have an order for just about every drug we've got waiting for you to request it."

"Actually, I could really use a trip to the lavatory," said Janet as her head started to itch furiously. She sat up, pleasantly surprised when she felt only a small twinge of pain knife down her side. "After that, I think I could eat. I want to see my daughter, too." Glancing down at the less than presentable state of her nightwear, she added, "And some scrubs. I am not walking around the infirmary with my ass hanging out in the breeze." She glared at Sam as if that last were all her fault.

Maintaining her composure under the doctor's accusatory gaze took all of Sam's concentration. Even then, a small smile escaped, followed by a hastily swallowed giggle.

"Oh yuck it up, Major. You know you're just loving the fact that I'm the one stuck wearing this damnable excuse for a gown!" Sleep had done wonders for Janet and she was definitely feeling far more like her old, indomitable self. The odd, twisted memories of the prior day's events had settled into a haze of battle, pain, and good drugs. So she'd almost died. Well, that just made her a part of an ever growing community of soldiers that served at this particular base.

She wasn't the first; she was far from the last. It was time to move on, get her body healed, her head shrunk, and grab hold of the miracle of life with both hands.

Mmph, and both lips, too, if Sam's willing. God knows I'm done pretending I don't want what I feel.

Raising one ruddy eyebrow, she glanced from the nurse to Sam. "Well? Scrubs, food, shower – not necessarily in that order, ladies. That's what I want. Can I have it, pretty please with a cherry on top?" She batted her eyes prettily, eliciting a laugh from the nurse and another giggle from Sam.

Nurse Parks glanced over at Major Carter, shrugged and said, "Let me go get Doctor Warner. I'm sure he'll have some things he'll want to look at before he allows you to be ambulatory."

Janet smiled grimly. "Fine, but while you do that, Sam, please, for the love of all that's decent, would you please go into my office and grab my spare scrubs from the bottom right desk drawer?"

"Of course. I'll be right back." Turning on her heel, she practically ran from the room, nearly colliding with Doctor Warner.

"Ah, I see you've already got them hopping about, Janet. Good morning. How are you feeling today?"

"I'm feeling dirty, grungy, sticky, icky, and filthy. I want a shower. Then, I'd like to go home and be with my daughter. I suspect no one's told her what happened and I'd rather she heard it from me."

Finding the scrubs was easy, but actually being in Janet's office, with it empty of her vibrant presence, made Sam feel as if she were encroaching upon holy territory. Being surrounded by the other woman's things, the notes and case files and general detritus of her everyday life was so normal that Sam could almost forget that for a few minutes, Janet had been dead.

Sam had seen far too many people die not to recognize those terse moments when a heart stops and the last breaths whisper into the wind. This time, she'd felt it. Under the pressure of her hands, she'd lived the moment when Janet's heart had shuddered once, and then ceased its restless beating.

It had only been a moment, for directly after, Anise had been there with the Goa'uld healing device, but that was enough. Never again would Sam be able to look at Janet without knowing how it felt to lose her friend's heartbeat. She felt sick with the knowledge. Nausea tore her stomach to shreds, and quickly, she grabbed the nearby trash can and heaved into it. Tears spackled her cheeks as her guts continued to shift and roil.

It was just too much to process. Absently, she wiped her mouth, grabbed the scrubs, and hurried back to Janet's room. Spotting Doctor Warner in a hushed conversation with her friend, Sam tossed the scrubs onto a nearby chair and made a hasty exit.

"I'd like to keep you one more day, Janet," Doctor Warner said. At her stormy look of refusal, he held up a hand and said, "Hear me out. You've suffered a catastrophic injury that on any other day of the week would have taken your life. I want to be certain that the device got everything. I'd rather not send you home with a time bomb in your chest."

"Stephen, I'm well aware of the risks of internal bleeding. I'm fine. A little stiff, a lot sore, and probably crankier than a skinny bear, but otherwise, I feel great. I need to go home to my daughter. Of all the family members that watch their loved ones leave every morning to come here to work, she alone would know what it means that I wasn't there to tuck her in last night. She's got to be terrified – for me, for Sam, for Colonel O'Neil – for all the people she's accepted as her new family. Let me be the one to tell her that it's all right."

Warner frowned unhappily. He absolutely hated it when his patients were medical professionals. They were utterly terrible at following care instructions. I could pull rank and have Hammond order her to stay, but that would only make her more difficult to work with, and I like my position here. Stephen Warner might have been aced out of his position as Chief Medical Officer by the spitfire glaring at him from the bed near his thigh, but he was definitely not stupid.

Pursing his lips, he said, "All right, Janet, I'll send you home. But-" He shook his finger at her in warning. "You will rest. You will not overexert yourself and at the slightest sign that something is wrong, you will return to base immediately."

Rich laughter filled the room. "Gee Doc, he sounds just like you." Jack O'Neill stood in the doorway, peering in curiously. Giving Janet a little wave, he said, "Carter asked me to tell you that she's feeling a little wiped. Also said to make sure you got home all right." He held up a tray of covered dishes. "Even sent some food."

On his way home after being released from the infirmary, O'Neill had nearly tripped over his second in command as she had stumbled around a corner, her face a ghastly shade of white and her eyes blackened with circles so dark it looked like she'd gone two rounds with Teal'c and had forgotten to duck.

Hell, she looked worse than I feel, and three of my ribs are still cracked!

Rescuing a tray wobbling precariously in her hands, he'd ordered her to bed, reassuring the exhausted major that he'd get Janet safely home and tucked up with Cassandra. God knew it wasn't the best of plans – after all, what Cassie would really need upon learning of her adopted mother's peril would be both women she looked to as parents, but he was hoping that he'd do in a pinch.

He loved the precocious little squirt. Maybe he could get her to let Janet rest for an hour or two and go with him to the park. It wouldn't be like it was when she had first come through the gate, but surely Cass would have time to spend with her Uncle Jack.

Unable to ignore a tiny surge of disappointment, Janet nonetheless accepted the colonel's generous offer. "Thank you, sir. If you'll just give me a bit to shower and change?"

He set the tray on the bedside table and nodded. "Sure. I'll go grab Danny and Teal'c. I'm sure they'd love to see that you're up and about."

As soon as the room was clear of everyone except the patiently waiting nurse, Janet threw off her covers and slowly slid her legs around until she could lever herself to the ground. Pain that had been bearable while she was prone suddenly flared into angry life, causing her to groan softly.

"Damn," she whispered. "It looks so much easier in the movies."

Nurse Parks chuckled and moved closer, offering her hands to Janet. "Lean on me, Doctor Fraiser. I'll help you stand."

Janet looked up at the taller woman, aware of how odd it must be for her subordinate to be caring for her commanding officer. "It's just Janet for now, Miranda. I think we'll both be more comfortable that way."

Smiling, the nurse said, "Thank you, Janet. Now, take it easy here. We'll take slow, even steps and before you know it, you'll be in the shower, okay?"

With a great deal of patience, Janet shuffled her way into the bathroom and then allowed the nurse to settle her into the tiny cubicle. Though uncomfortable, the heavy duty plastic chair that was her current perch was the only reason Janet would be able to survive the process, but this late in the effort, she was not about to quit.

Once she was certain that her patient was not about to topple over, Nurse Parks stepped out of the lavatory and said, "I'll wait out here, Janet. Just holler if you need me."

Intending to be quick, Janet found it impossible not to luxuriate under the steady stream of hot water and sudsy soap, even if it did smell medicinal instead of fruity, like Cassie's favorite brand, or vaguely floral, like the last bottle of cheap stuff she'd tossed into her duffle bag.

I'd kill for a capful of Sam's conditioner right about now… The blonde major preferred a spicy, herbal scented concoction that she swore was mixed up by wizards and blessed by unicorns due to its effectiveness at restoring hair to near perfection, no matter what the universe threw at it. Having caught a glimpse in the mirror of a nightmare mess of hair that stuck out in all directions, with matted whorls of blood adding a piquant effluvia to the sweat and dirt caking much of her head, Janet desperately wanted a little touch of that magic.

Once she was clean, getting out of the stall proved to be an embarrassment of near epic proportions. At first, Janet tried to stand and step out onto the non-skid matt by herself, but overspray made that an impossibility. Wobbly legs that should not belong to a young, healthy Air Force major made Janet unsure and out of balance.

Rising slowly, she put one foot onto the matt, and had only a fraction of a second's warning before it shot toward the door. Frantically grabbing for something to steady herself, Janet called out, "Parks!"

The door burst open and she found herself not in the presence of Nurse Miranda Parks, but the rapidly blushing General George Hammond, who was attempting to look anywhere but at the very naked doctor.

"Doctor Fraiser!" he said, his tone choked, yet concerned. "Are you all right, Major?"

Janet had to give him credit. When faced with her nakedness, not only did Hammond prove to be the very epitome of a gentleman, he didn't forget the important stuff.

Guess that's why they put him in charge of this zoo.

Janet chuckled softly. "I'm fine, General. I just need a little help getting out of here. Apparently, there's a bit of a leak." Frowning a little, she said, "Where'd Nurse Parks go? She said she'd wait for me."

Hammond kept his gaze pinned somewhere about three feet above the doctor. "There's been a medical emergency in maintenance –"

Groaning, Janet said, "Not Siler again?"

Even the general was unable to hide a flash of mirth. "I'm afraid so, Doctor Fraiser. Anyway, I was on my way to debrief you when Lieutenant Parks passed me in the hall. Then I heard you call out and-"

"You naturally assumed I was in mortal danger. Thank you, sir, for your concern. If you could just hand me a robe, I'll make myself decent and then perhaps we can deal with the issue of the wet floor." Clinging to the wall, Janet used every bit of professionalism she'd learned to keep her voice steady and assured.

Grateful for the opportunity to exit the situation with grace, General Hammond slowly backed out of the lavatory, turned away, and grabbed for the robe hanging on a nearby hook.

Shoving it in the direction of the doorway, Hammond said, "Here you go, Doctor."

Gingerly, Janet reached for the robe, and for a heart stopping moment, again felt the frightening shift in her balance. Swaying back, she glanced around the bathroom, spied the toilet and with one heave-to, launched herself from the shower stall to the commode.

The slap of her bare flesh against porcelain and wood was particularly loud and she winced as her posterior began to sting.

"Doctor?" Hammond's query was liberally edged with concern and trepidation.

"I'm okay, General. Just a little tactical maneuvering is all. You can hand in the robe now."

White terrycloth was thrust through the door.

Janet grabbed it, wrapped it around her now very chilled body and then said, "All right, I think I can step out now. The floor's not so wet here."

"All right, Doctor." Shaking his head slowly, Hammond turned and kept his gaze firmly fixed on the door to Janet's room. The last thing he wanted was for someone else to wander in – explaining his own presence would be difficult enough and if any rumors were to get around the base, well, he wouldn't like to think what kind of hay Senator Kinsey would make of them.

Shuffling feet announced Janet's presence. Slowly, General Hammond turned around, relieved to find the doctor covered enough for decency's sake.

"Well Doctor," he said, a gruff smile lighting up his cherubic features. "I'm happy to say that you're looking a lot better today. I won't take up too much of your time, so why don't you have a seat and I'll give you the skinny and you can read the longer parts in the comfort of your own home?"

Perching on the edge of a chair, Janet began toweling her hair dry and said, "General Hammond, you've just made me and offer I won't refuse."

Sam's dreams were tormented. Constructed of broken memories, blood, and Janet's momentary death, the astrophysicist wandered a landscape of fractured Hell. For three hours, Carter endured the horrid sensation of a dying heartbeat fluttering against the tips of her fingers, the soft whish-whish of muscle branding a tattoo of desolation into her brain.

By the fourth hour, the astrophysicist could take no more. Sitting up in the darkened room, she rammed the heels of her hands into her eyes, as if attempting to grind out the visions that refused to end.

"What's wrong with me?" she muttered, staggering out of the bed and into the bathroom. Splashing water on her face, she gazed at the hollow-eyed wraith in the mirror and frowned. "Janet's fine. Airman Wells is fine. Jack's fine; pissed that he owes Anise a favor, but fine all the same. "

The Tok'ra had exhausted herself using Goa'uld healing device. Was it guilt or guile that drove her? Sam shrugged, realizing she didn't care. As many times as SG-1 had danced to the alien scientist's tune, it was about time they were granted a little reciprocal assistance. Happily, of those who had been on the receiving end of Anise's actions, only three marines would finish out their commissions behind a desk. The rest would be fit to return to duty.

Resting her head against the cool surface of the mirror, Sam fought to ignore the questions playing merry havoc with her thoughts. A disturbing sense a terrible fate had been avoided gnawed at her stomach, filling her with a frightful dread she had no way of naming. Gratitude fought with the gut wrenching grief that had torn through her when Janet's heart had stopped.

For at least thirty seconds, Sam's world had been lacking something so necessary and vital that she had come to treat it as commonplace, like oxygen. No one ever thinks about the air they breathe, until they can't.

Most humans could go for seven minutes without oxygen. Upon waking the day after the events of P3X-666, Major Samantha Carter discovered that thirty seconds was too long to live without Janet Fraiser, and that knowledge was scaring her witless.

Janet paused outside Cassie's door. The boy band of the week blared something about everlasting love while the teenager sang along, her voice cheerfully off key. Unaware of her mother's scrutiny, Cassandra sat cross legged on her bed, hunched over a laptop, furiously typing away at some arcane application.

The transplanted girl had grown into a beautiful and sometimes precocious teen with a penchant for obscure computer code, sarcastic wit, and boy bands. The last made Janet's brain hurt, but the others kept her hopeful that the musical indiscretions would eventually fade into a finely honed appreciation for classic rock.

Taking a breath to steady herself, Janet crossed into the room and softly called her daughter's name.

Something about the tone must have warned the teenager, for she looked up, and then leapt to her feet. "Mom!" Reaching for her adoptive mother, she wrapped her arms around Janet and clung tight. "What happened?"

One thing about raising a child who had been born on another planet, grown up in an agrarian society, and then watched as everyone she had ever known had sickened and died due to the machinations of a being pretending to be a god – sugar coating anything was impossible.

"I'm okay," Janet said firmly, drawing Cassie to sit beside her on the bed.

The teen rolled her eyes. "I can see that, Mom. But you look exhausted. Is Sam all right?" Here, Cassandra's brave front cracked. If there was anything that could shake her confidence and transform her into a big eyed, terrified child, it was hearing that Sam had been hurt. Idolize was perhaps too confined a word to use to describe Cassandra's feelings for the astrophysicist who was at times mother, sister, and savior.

As a parent, Janet had always tried to shield her child from the worst of all things, but in this, there was nothing that could ease the truth. Smiling wryly, Janet said, "Sam's fine, honey. Actually, this time, I was the one to fall prey to the downside of gate travel."

The empty, hollow whimper that shook Cassie's body broke Janet's heart. All pretenses at courage shattered, and the teenager crumpled to the floor, shaking uncontrollably.

Following her down, Janet sought Cassie's face, cupped her hands over the teen's face and said, "Cassie – Cass honey, I'm okay. I promise. I promise," she repeated over and over until Cassandra's shudders eased, and true tears streaked her cheeks.

"You can't leave me, Mom. You can't let them take you, too," Cassie whispered brokenly.

Janet's stomach twisted into a thousand knots. She wanted to make so many promises; oaths against the unknown future that she could never keep. Instead, she drew Cassandra into her arms and held on tightly, offering the only promise she felt safe in giving – her love.

Later, when the frightened child had been supplanted by the more rational teenager, Cassandra had nothing but angry words for her mother. Janet bore them all with fragile patience. She was tired. Worn and weary from the unorthodox healing, sleep called like a neglected lover, but she felt compelled to let Cassie vent.

From his place crashed out on Janet's couch, Jack listened to his "niece" tear into her mother, accusing her of every kind of carelessness, stupidity, and even, willful heroics until he'd had enough.

"All right Cass, can it. You and I are going to get some ice cream and let your mother get some sleep. Now."

When Jack O'Neill used that tone, even Janet snapped to smart order, her right hand twitching as she suppressed the urge to salute.

Armored with all the arrogance of youth, Cassandra snorted and said, "What if I don't want to?"

Janet's eyebrow rose. Cassie was dancing perilously close to insolence, which was not tolerated in the Fraiser household. "Cass," she said warningly, then gave her daughter a look that Cassandra knew far too well.

"I'm not twelve anymore, Mom," retorted the teen. "You can't ground me and take away all my video games."

"True," Janet said, crossing her arms. "But I can, and will, delight your current boyfriend with all kinds of interesting stories. How much do you think-" Janet wracked her brain trying to recall the boy's name. "Ryan would enjoy an in depth discussion of the stomach contents of a gunshot victim?"

Cassie's shock was palpable. "You wouldn't!" Janet's "educational" discussions were legendary among her daughter's friends. The doctor had long ago discovered that the fastest way to empty her home of unwanted teens was to take the titillation out of the subjects they enjoyed the most – sex and violence. Since talking about sex with minors was a one way route to litigation hell, Janet chose to edify the youths with the bits you typically did not see on television.

When her mother's only response was to smile in the most infuriatingly evil fashion, Cassie blew out a huff of exasperation and then turned to O'Neill. "Fine, let's go, Uncle Jack. I guess I could eat a bowl of double chocolate fudge brownie and strawberry dream surprise."

Janet shuddered at the amount of sugar that would soon be racing through her daughter's veins. However she couldn't bring herself to complain – a few hours' quiet would be wonderful. Besides, it's not like Cassie isn't old enough to know her own limits. If she starts bouncing off the walls, I can shoo her over to Ryan's for a few hours.

Grabbing her coat and purse, Cassie paused at the door, then turned, raced back to her mother and enveloped her in a bone-jarring hug. The embrace only lasted a few moments before the teen let go and hurried out the door.

"Kids. You can't help but love 'em, even if sometimes you want to whack 'em on the head with a rolled up newspaper." Jack O'Neill's gems of wisdom generally made Janet's teeth ache, but in this case, she almost agreed.

"Try not to let her eat too much ice cream, Jack. She still gets a little hyper from it, and I'd rather not pay your dry cleaning bills, again." Being raised on an alien world where the local equivalent of cane sugar was about a third as potent as Earth normal had given Cassie little tolerance for sweets.

Jack grimaced. "I remember, Doc. I'll share the bowl with her if I have to." He stuffed his hands into his pockets and shrugged. "I just figured you might like some peace and quiet, and she's probably going to need someone to talk to."

"Yeah. Normally, I'd ask Sam to take her." A part of Janet was irritated that the woman who had been responsible for bringing Cassie into their lives was absent when the teenager needed her the most.

"But Carter's as worn down as you are, so Cass gets me instead. It's all good, Janet. I'll bring her back by dinner, so enjoy your nap." He smiled, gave a little wave and left.

Alone for the first time since her shower, Janet finally felt free to examine some of the questions she had so studiously ignored. As she changed out of the scrubs and into a far more comfortable t-shirt and shorts, the doctor turned on her computer and started downloading her mail. Interested only in the file attached to General Hammond's short missive, Janet patiently waited for it to print, glancing over each page as it emerged from the printer.

So what's up with Sam pulling a vanishing act? I could have sworn she understood what I wanted to tell her. Of course, what Janet had to say was probably forbidden by at least twenty five different military codes, but at this point, she really didn't care.

The general had not held back on the details, but Janet found that she wasn't quite ready to know everything about the circumstances that led to her being healed by a Goa'uld device. As many times as she had stood by and accepted the kinds of danger that SG-1 faced on a regular basis, confronting the very real evidence of her own mortality had reminded Janet that following the rules wasn't something the members of the SGC did with any real success.

According to the report she had briefly perused, she'd been granted a second chance at life, and there was no way Janet Fraiser was going to ignore that. I love you, Sam Carter, and I aim to make sure you know that, no matter what the consequences. She grinned a little over the thought of gift horses and not making the mistake of examining their mouths too closely.

Perversely, a small part of her decided to burst her happy bubble by pointing out that there were other kinds of metaphorical horses, and they were far more sinister. Triggered by a chill of fear, the stiffening hairs at the nape of her neck sent her heart to racing.

Janet had almost died – had been dead for twenty-two point six seconds, if Warner's estimate were to be believed – and now, the doctor began to wonder about the true cost of her salvation.

Lying in her bed, staring at the off white popcorn ceiling, Janet's rest was a long time in coming.

Wind in her face, grit in her teeth, and the burning hum of too much horsepower eating up the endless ribbon of road took Sam only so far away from the crowd of fears that awaited her back in Colorado Springs. Riding was like flying without the plane, the clouds, and the constant burble of air traffic control in her ear. The rush was the same. Unlimited speed combined with freedom of motion and unlocked Sam's spirit, allowing it to soar.

Beckoned by a scenic turn out, Sam coasted to a stop, the vista spreading before her postcard ready and serene, but the snow capped peaks did nothing to soothe the jangling in her nerves. The horizon was speckled with lowering clouds, dark lines slashing against dying blue, calling night and the storm that would soon cover the area in rain. There was an electricity in the air that danced over Sam's exposed flesh, teasing and taunting like playground bound children.

Come play with us, they sang. Come dance in the clouds.

Sam had always felt she had two left feet. Ignoring the burn of adrenalin pushing her to ride full throttle into the oncoming twilight, the astrophysicist turned the bike back to the Mountain.

Running from her fears had never been the right answer, and Sam hated to fail. P3X-666 had unlocked a host of tests the astrophysicist had never imagined she'd take, and now, it was time to dig up the number two pencil and start filling in the bubbles.

However important, good intensions were always the first things to die in the face of upheaval. On a routine jump, SG-9 brought back an ancient device they thought had something to do with creating a cloaking field but actually ended up being the Goa'uld version of a roach motel, complete with not quite dead roaches. Before Stargate Command could commandeer all the cans of Raid within thirty miles, the bugs had infested every nook and cranny, causing tremendous amounts of damage.

By the end of the third day, Sam thought she'd go mad from the incessant scuttling of the finger sized insects. The only bright spot in the whole mess was the fact that Janet was at home, out of path of the iridescent green shelled bugs that could eat through metal and concrete with impunity.

They don't much like rubber though, Sam thought as she eyed a pile of very dead bugs clustered in a mound atop a pair of dirt-caked rain boots. It was a phenomenon that the hapless soldiers were just beginning to notice. Charged with the task of finding an effective containment method, Carter had separated from her team to work with the science geeks. Culling a few likely subjects from the carcasses, Sam hurried to the lab and handed the specimens over to the entomologist on staff. Soon, she was eyeballs deep in glass slides and bug guts.

Three levels below the gate room, O'Neill and Teal'c were knee deep in bug carapaces, fetid slime, and the innards of what was left of two marines. It was not a pleasant experience for either man, though both had seen and caused worse.

"Hey Sam, you getting anywhere with Operation: Squash 'Em Dead yet?" Jack was heartily sick of the whole situation. His knees hurt, his back felt like a herd of elephants had done the rumba on it, and he was in dire need of a cold beer. I wouldn't say no to a shower and a bit of rack time, either.

"No, sir. Sorry, sir. We're working on it, sir," came Sam's terse reply.

Aw hell. When his second in command got formal on him, it usually meant that she was too distracted to remember that they were actually friends. That didn't bode well for good news in the "finding a way to get rid of the bugs" department. He switched clips on his P-90, installing another canister of rubber bullets. It was kind of a cosmic joke that the best ammunition they had against the bugs was the one the base had in shortest supply. Out There, in the Great Big Universe, where the bad guys used weapons that looked like refugees from the latest Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, rubber bullets were almost as effective as sticks and stones. Rocks at least were sharp.

Unfortunately, not even the sharpest stones would penetrate a carapace capable of deflecting bullets. Their one weakness was rubber, and that was only after they had ingested it. Jack frowned. He was much happier facing a threat head on – this run-and-shoot in the direction of the sounds of chewing banged on his every last nerve.

Jack sighed and fired a burst of rounds down the hall. He was rewarded with the slow scuff-and-scuttle of the bugs as they emerged from their crevices to investigate the disturbance.

Following Jack's lead, Teal'c fired his own controlled burst, his expression almost serene as the rubber pellets ricocheted off the walls.

Once they were certain that the insects were gorging on the free meal, O'Neill turned and said, "C'mon Teal'c. Let's go find Daniel."

Teal'c raised one eyebrow and said, "I was not aware that he was lost."

Jack rolled his eyes and grunted, "Oh, just c'mon, will ya?"

Shouldering his P-90, the Jaffa gamely followed the colonel down the hall. The sound of their boots crunching and squelching through carapaces and slime was becoming distressingly familiar.

The archeologist had barricaded himself in his lab and was digging through all his records on the Goa'uld. Though the device SG-9 had found was covered in a glyph-like script, it was apparently an entirely new language. He'd been burning the midnight oil, achieving only partial success at a translation.

Reaching up to rub the bridge of his nose, he nearly put out his eyes when the door to his office suddenly rattled under several thunderous blows.

"Daniel? Yo, Danny Boy, open up and let us in, will ya?" O'Neill's tone held a tinge of what the archeologist had come to recognizes as fear.

Two bursts of gunfire were followed by another series of blows on the doorframe.

"Daniel Jackson, it is imperative that you allow us entrance." Teal'c's tone was as calm as ever, but Daniel was already moving toward the door, haphazardly pushing aside filing cabinets and rubber bottomed shoes in his haste to come to his friends' aid.

Reaching the door, Daniel yanked it open, causing Teal'c and O'Neill to tumble into the room. They each fired one more burst of rounds and then scrambled to their feet.

"Close it!" shouted Jack even as he started chucking stray shoes down the hall.

Daniel had time for one glance at the insect-filled hall before he shoved the door shut and bent to push the barricades back in place. As he pushed the last shoe into place, O'Neill flopped into a chair and said, "SG-9 so owes me a new pair of boots."

Glancing down, Daniel felt a bubble of laughter ripple in his chest at the sight of Jack's muck encrusted feet. The soles of his shoes were almost completely destroyed, leaving the colonel's argyle-sock covered toes exposed.

"Why Jack, I never would have pegged you for a sock snob."

O'Neill grunted softly and said, "I stump through the mud and muck of alien worlds for a living. If my feet hurt, I might screw up and shoot something friendly. Now, about the intergalactic bug zapper over there – any luck getting it to work?"

It was in the odd moments – the minutes between tests, the aftermath of an attack, or even the few seconds it took to go from the lab to the lavatory where Sam found her thoughts drifting to Janet. The shapes and shadows of her feelings for the doctor had long held themselves in the realm of friendship, but Carter had always known it was possible to feel more.

Love is a four letter word that means I get too damned distracted. It was a mantra that had been set on infinite repeat after the Jonas Incident. Subsequent trial and error had left the astrophysicist with the determination to steer clear of Cupid's arrow.

It was just too much work. She couldn't save the galaxy and do candlelight dinners for two. One would always suffer for the other, and Major Samantha Carter would never allow her life to interfere with her work.

Sometimes, it really sucks to be me. Sam stared at the reflection of her face in the mirror, noting the fine lines that had creased the corners of her eyes and curved the contour of her lips. Age is the prize you get for surviving the trials of life. Someone had said that once. Maybe it was her father. Right now, however, she didn't feel like she'd won anything more than a sore back, burning eyes, and an ever mounting need to spend time with two people she considered to be closer than family.

The slight, sharp twist in her gut as she thought of Janet made Sam frown. Watching her best friend nearly die had unlocked certain undeniable truths about her feelings, and the astrophysicist was delicately perched on the horns of a quandary. Love and duty ricocheted like the bullets raining through the base halls. Honor demanded she ignore the thrust of her emotions – any fulfillment of a relationship with Janet was surely overshadowed by the needs of her country. How could Sam even consider depriving the government of her services?

Because I couldn't love Janet and remain in the SGC; not and abide by the military code of conduct. For an organization always living on the cutting edge of technology, the armed forces retained some very draconian attitudes toward what was moral and proper.

But it's so very tempting to just walk away and let someone else be the hero. That Janet would welcome her advances, that she too would give up her promising career in favor of a life beside Sam never seemed in doubt to the astrophysicist. All of Janet's feelings had been written clear as day in her exhaustion-shadowed eyes.

Sam had long been capable of recognizing true emotion over that of a hormone addled flyboy with delusions of gallantry. It helped that she and Janet had spent more hours together, lived through some of the most trying times two people could experience, and yet had managed to retain a common language, a wordless communication that transcended the need for speech.

On the battlefield of P3X-666, Janet's lips had shaped a phrase that was already haunting her eyes, and Sam's heart had nearly broken when those words of love had been followed by a crimson flood of blood.

Janet's life was a miracle. Janet's love was a gift. It really sucked that Sam had a habit of ignoring miracles and letting gifts molder unopened in the closet.

The nearby report of gunfire drew Sam out of her thoughts. Hastily splashing cool water over her face, she muttered, "Moral ambiguities aside, Carter, you really do need to get your ass in gear and figure out how to squash those bugs once and for all!"

Afterward, maybe I can also discover a way to be in love with my best friend and serve my country at the same time.

Doctor MacKenzie's face was a study of serenity. He gazed at Janet with the air of a man who had all the time in the world, and indeed, he did, for as long as the SGC was on lockdown, she could not return to work. Of course, he might find it within his power to cause her further delays – after all, it was his duty to see to the mental health of Stargate personnel. That his current patient was equally responsible for their physical heath didn't defray his natural inclination to pick apart the carefully constructed walls she had built between her psyche and the very frightening reality of facing mortality.

Major Janet Fraiser had learned a lesson that Doctor Janet Fraiser was forever trying to get her patients to remember – death comes for everyone. Though she claimed to have "gotten over it" MacKenzie knew otherwise.

No one gets over a near death experience. It becomes a part of their lives, and each day they moved further away from the experience without first accepting the event as over, would put them closer to a path of recklessness that had cost the service more lives than they could afford to replace.

In Doctor MacKenzie's mind, Janet was one of those that the SGC could ill afford to lose, much less attempt to replace.

Shifting in his seat, he set aside his notepad and said, "Janet, you look well. Tell me about your week."

Janet's expression clearly showed how little she wanted to be there. Her nostrils flared once and she looked everywhere but at her colleague's face. "Phillip, you know how my week's been."

"Yes, I read the report. However, you must understand that it is my job to assess you before you can return to duty."

Snorting, Janet said, "Not that I could." The call from General Hammond had been brief and only vaguely informative. "We've got a situation, Doctor. Nothing to concern yourself over, but you should consider your recovery leave extended indefinitely." That had been on her answering machine this morning, and no one would take a return call at the base.

Even Sam's cell was going straight to voicemail. A little of her worry must have leaked out, because the psychologist scratched a few notes onto his pad.

MacKenzie nodded. He too had heard that the SGC was closed to outside communication; he even had some inkling as to why, but he could not share that with Janet. Her natural desire to help might cause her to act in a way contrary with her recovery.

Instead, he said, "I'm sure it's not the first time that something's happened to prevent off base personnel from returning to work. The nature of the SGC's mission allows for such things." Observing Janet's face as she processed his words told him much about her thoughts. He almost grinned at the not quite hidden flash of annoyance that passed over her eyes. She knew he was feeding her the party line. Fine; he'd cut through the shrink bullshit and beard the lioness in her den. "You need to talk to me about P3X-666. I know you've seen the report; it must have had some impact." He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help it. There was a real pleasure in asking, "How do you feel, Janet? And don't say 'fine', because we both know that's a lie."

He had to ask me that, didn't he? My head is full of nothing but my feelings; all of them proscribed by the air force's antiquarian rules on conduct and who can be found in who's bedroom. Not to mention the crazy dreams about Major Kowalski asking me to pick a letter from A to C. The fact that she'd never met the man while he was alive bothered her less than the fact that the dream seemed oddly real. In a very weird way, she believed that the dream held a kernel of truth, and that shook her in ways she couldn't begin to identify.

Several minutes of clock-tick filled silence turned the comfortable room into a pressure cooker of thought. Realizing that she was standing with one foot ankle deep in a potential minefield, Janet gave MacKenzie a calmly considering glance. She put aside all thoughts of odd dreams and how they related to her death and took a breath. Guess I'd better whip out the old bullshit brush.

"Well, Phillip, if you want the honest truth, then I'd have to say I feel normal. Did reading about my near death give me the heebie-jeebies? Hell yes. I'd have to be inhuman to have not felt something, but did the event radically change my life? No. I'm still a doctor in the air force serving at one of the most secret bases in the states. The things I see every day show me that miracles are nothing more than advancements in technology we have yet to experience on a wide scale. If you're asking if I'll be able to do my job knowing that I could die at any minute, then I should ask you if that's any different than taking a drive in the country? Just because we don't have Goa'ulds, Replicators, or other alien enemies crowding our back roads doesn't mean an enraged cow wouldn't choose that moment to step in front of my car." She smiled wryly. "I'd still be just as dead, albeit in a much messier way."

The psychologist had to give his patient points for a well considered reply. This did not stop him from looking for another angle from which to unseat her. Some might call it merciless; he preferred to think of it as thorough. There would be no crack ups on his watch if he could prevent it.

"Ah, but if you had suffered death by mad-cowing, your family would at least have known of your fate. Do you imagine that they would understand the standard lies the government uses to hide where and when Stargate personnel perish?"

Janet surprised him by laughing.

"Ah, Phillip. You didn't do your homework. My father is dead; my mother is probably on a cruise somewhere in the Caribbean and couldn't really care less about what happened to me. As for Cassie, well, I imagine she would be able to figure it out." If someone didn't tell her first. The relief she felt was palpable. If she could just keep him away from the subject of Major Carter…

MacKenzie watched as Doctor Fraiser's body language slipped into a more relaxed state. Interesting. I can see that she's hiding something, but is it something that's dangerous to the Stargate program, or is it personal to Janet herself? He made some notations. If this were a private practice, he would seek to discover all of her secrets, but the military only required that their soldiers be fit for duty, and at the moment, Doctor MacKenzie could not say with certainty that Janet was anything other than what she seemed – perfectly able to serve in her capacity as the SGC's Chief Medical Officer.

"All right, Janet. I can see that you've no need of my services." He stood and so did she. "However, if you do find yourself in need, please, don't allow pride to stand in the way of help."

Janet smiled and said, "Thank you, Phillip. I can assure you that if there's anything I need from you, you'll be the first to know."

Cassandra Fraiser was highly annoyed. Not with her computer, which, though her program failed to produce the results she had calculated, still continued to churn out interesting data based on the naquadah half lives she had input. No, she was irked because it had been five days since her mother had come home with the news that death had knocked on their door, and had only been averted through the timely intervention of snakehead tech.

Oh, Cassie knew her mother probably wouldn't be thrilled that her daughter used the same derogatory term favored by Colonel O'Neill, but what would really bother the outwardly calm, but in reality champing at the bit to return to work doctor, was the fact that Cassandra was well aware of her mother's emotional epiphany.

If her dreams get anymore vivid, I'm going to have to invest in earplugs.

At first, Cassie had supposed that her mother had been plagued by nightmares of the event that had nearly taken her life, but a few minutes of listening to Janet's softly moaned, "Sam" had been more than enough to strip the veil from the teen's eyes.

That her mother was most probably in love with Sam Carter was cause for celebration, and Cassie was ready to pop the champagne and go spend the weekend at Uncle Jack's just so her "parents" could finally become in open fact what they had always been to her. However, the forces of fate had decreed that the necessary elements to this plan – namely Sam and Jack – would be caught up in yet another incident at the Mountain.

Cassie was heartily sick of the Stargate program constantly interrupting the flow of her life. In an instant message, she said as much to Ryan, couched in terms that wouldn't reveal the true nature of the gate or her mothers' jobs.

"I wish that Sam would hurry up and get some leave time. Mom's driving me nuts over here."

Ryan of course, had the typical male response.

"You know, I think it's hot that your parents are totally gay."

"Oh please," Cassie muttered in exasperated amusement and then typed, "They aren't. Not yet, anyway. I told you that. But I know they love each other and it's more than just, you know, sisterly."

The messenger window was empty for a moment, and then, "But I thought you said they're both your mothers. I don't get it."

Cassandra smiled, easily able to picture the endearing expression of befuddlement that was probably crossing her boyfriend's face. "You don't even know the half of it, Ry. But that's okay. I love you anyway."

On the computer, she typed out the words that had become so much a part of the lie that shaped her life, she almost believed them. "Oh, mom adopted me, but she's always been close to Sam. I guess I always thought of her as another mother. It was kind of like making a bit of luck – my first mom died, so fate decided to give me two more to love."

Of course, talking about her birth mother brought up a host of emotions, both for her and for Ryan, who had lost his own mother to cancer.

"You're so lucky. Dad tried, but no one ever made him smile like mom," he typed. "So what're you going to do? It's not like you can just put an announcement in the paper or something. Doesn't the air force have rules against gays?"

Frowning, Cassie responded, "Yes, but that shouldn't stop them from being happy." She checked the data window, made a few notations on a nearby notepad and murmured, "Besides, it's not like the Stargate program would let them go. I bet if they didn't make a fuss about it, everyone would pretend nothing had changed." She looked at the IM window, and smiled at Ryan's last sentence.

"I dunno, Cass - sometimes, people need to be reminded that it's okay to be happy."

"And that is why I love you, Ryan Armstrong. Now, if I could just find a way to talk to Sam…"

The solution to the intergalactic roach infestation proved to be as simple as any other cobbled together by the members of SG-1. Though Daniel was not able to fully translate the runic script, he was able to figure out the sequencing code to the containment device. Sam's lack of success in the lab was soon overshadowed by a victory with the technology.

Once the bugs were all trapped within the containment device, SG-1 packed it up and sent it through the gate to a barren planet where it would likely molder for the rest of eternity.

Three hours of debriefing, one more codicil added to mission protocols, a change of clothes later, and Sam was on her way home. She was so tired she didn't see Janet until the shorter woman was almost underfoot.

"Jeez Sam, you look like crap." The doctor could have smacked herself with a clipboard. I've been waiting a week to talk to her and that's what I come up with? Christ, Fraiser you're smooth.

Smiling sheepishly, Carter rubbed her temple and shrugged. "It's been one of those weeks, Doctor." Sam regretted her words almost as soon as they came out, especially as she watched her friend's cheerful smile shift into something far more professional.

"Well, don't let me stop you from getting some rest, Major," said Janet as she stepped aside to allow Sam to pass.

Don't be a jerk. Sam shook her head. "No, it's okay, Janet. It's uh, good to see you back." Hello Sam, this is your foot calling – yeah, could you pull me out of your mouth soon? I kinda need to be on the ground to walk.

The distance of a few days hadn't erased the tangible emotions each had felt upon Janet's reentry into the world of the living. If either were to be queried, both would grudgingly admit that their feelings were stronger, sharper, and wholly disconcerting.

"No, I'm the one who should be sorry, Sam. You've had what looks like a heck of a time." Janet smiled shyly, reached up and brushed iridescent flecks of bug carapace from the astrophysicist's hair and said, "I look forward to reading the report."

Though the touch was light, Sam felt it burn all the way down to the soles of her feet. Caught by the power of the moment, she decided that growing roots just so that Janet could keep stroking her hair like that might not be such a bad thing.

"Doctor Fraiser! You look much better. Care to join me for breakfast?" Lieutenant Miranda Parks' voice broke the tableau. "I hear they're serving something besides powdered eggs and lukewarm bacon."

Stepping away from Sam as though she'd been burned, Janet gave the nurse a little wave and called, "Sure. It's been at least a week since I abused my stomach with mess hall food."

Sam used the opportunity to escape to her car. There was something utterly dangerous about talking to Janet right now. With everything she wanted to say dancing a tango on her tongue, the astrophysicist didn't trust herself not to trip over herself and land on her face. Settling into the seat, she almost jumped when her phone vibrated. A moment's anxiety passed through her – Oh not again. Please, can't the galaxy go one day without dumping some imminent disaster on my doorstep?

Unclipping it from her belt, she snorted in relieved irritation to find a text from Janet.

Popcorn and a movie later? Cassie misses you. So do I.

The goofy smile on Sam's face stayed there for the entire ride home.

Firmly convinced of the truth behind the phenomenon of human autopilot, Sam was only mildly surprised to find herself pulling into the driveway of her bungalow. The trip from the base was a blur of streets, stoplights, and blessedly little traffic.

Weariness burned right down to her bones. Barely able to summon the energy to open the door, Sam stumbled across the lawn and up the walkway.

"You look terrible, Sam."

Sam's keys hit the ground as she spun to face the speaker.

"Cassie! What is it with you Fraiser women sneaking up on me today?"

"Sam, in your condition, an elephant could sneak up on you. When did you last sleep?"

"Three days ago, I think." She bent to retrieve her keys and then finished unlocking the door. "Was there something you needed?" A thought hit her, and the color drained from her face.

"It's not Janet, is it?" I don't think they'd send Cassie for me if there was trouble at the base, but after this last week, you never know.

"Mom's fine, Sam. She called to tell me that there were bug parts all over her infirmary." Cassie chuckled. "Let's just say that SG-9 better be very careful around her during their post mission physicals for a while."

Sam grinned as she opened door. A subtle odor of stale house escaped and the smile quickly turned into a grimace. "I'm glad I don't have any pets," she muttered. To Cassie, she said, "So what're you doing here, kiddo? I mean, it's great to see you, but I'm not exactly good company right now."

"I know, but we really need to talk." Cassandra's tone was deeply serious.

Sometimes being smart was more of hindrance than a help. Sam's exhausted brain put two and two together and came up with thirty six thousand and three. "Oh God, you're not pregnant are you?"

"What? No! Whatever gave you that idea?" Cassie's expression clearly conveyed the notion that she was considering checking Sam for drug possession. "Are you sure you didn't inhale anything weird this week?"

Sam made a face and went into the house. "You're the one who dropped by just to have a 'talk' with me."

Following her, Cassandra laughed and said, "Yeah, but it's not about me, it's about mom."

The astrophysicist paused in the act of hanging her jacket up and turned to look at her adopted daughter. "I thought you said she was fine?"

"She is – or, she will be."

Sam glared at her, but decided that pushing the teen to explain faster would probably only become an exercise in frustration. "Would you like some tea? If I see another cup of coffee today, I might scream."

Cassie nodded. "Sounds good."

In the kitchen, Sam puttered about making tea while Cassie considered how best to approach what she wanted to say. Finally, she decided that there was really only one way to do it.

"You know, it really sucks that it took her almost dying for mom to realize that she's crazy in love with you."

The sullen thunk of pottery hitting the linoleum was followed by Sam's soft curse. Hands shaking, she knelt to pick up the pieces and only succeeded in slicing herself on the finger with a sharp chunk.

"Sam, go sit down before you really hurt yourself. I'll get it." Cassie shooed her away and went to retrieve the broom.

Bemused, Sam stumbled into the living room and flopped onto the couch. The cut on her hand was small; only leaking a few drops of blood before closing. I'll have to remember to clean that before I crash. Janet would skin me alive if I let it infect.

Lost in contemplation of her hand, she hardly noticed when Cassie reappeared carrying a fresh mug of tea. The warm, sweet scent of apples and cinnamon pulled her from her thoughts.

"Thanks," she said, accepting the cup and taking a sip.

Cassie sat in the chair across from her and calmly drank from her own mug. The house grew stiflingly quiet. Only the ticking of the refrigerator condenser kicking on provided some relief from the heavy silence.

Finishing the last drops of tea, Cassandra set the mug aside and leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees and her chin on her knuckles.

"You probably want to tell me that I'm imaging things, or that you're not that kind of person, or any of a dozen other proper things that proper people think they should say to kids. The only thing is, I'm not a kid anymore." Cassie sat up, and for a moment, Sam had a glimpse of the elderly woman who had helped SG-1 return to the correct timeline. Eyes burning with the strength of her conviction, Cassie said, "And I'm right. Mom loves you, Sam." She took a deep breath, let it out and said, "Which means I only have one thing to say: if you love her too, be with her. Don't let the small things in life get in the way of being happy. Forget about the Stargate, the air force, all of that. Just be happy. Otherwise, what else are you fighting for?"

Sam's jaw clenched as she fought down several responses. She would not, could not, lie to the child she'd helped raise. Softly, she said, "It's not that simple, Cass." Hesitatingly, she bit her lip and added, "There are so many complications to consider."

"Thank you for not telling me I'm crazy," Cassie said and then reached out to grasp one of Sam's hands. "Look, Sam, you always taught me that the best way to solve a problem was to deal with it one piece at a time. So whatever it is that's so complicated, deal with it one piece at a time."

A wry grin twitched at the corners of Sam's mouth. "This isn't a complex algebra equation, Cassie. The air force doesn't kick you out for forgetting to carry the one."

The fact that Sam hadn't denied reciprocating Janet's feelings made Cassie want to do a little dance around the room. No matter what transpired, there was hope that the family she had envisioned having since coming to live with Janet might actually come to be.

"Sam, if they kick you out, they'd be shooting off their noses to spite their faces. Besides, what're you planning on doing, having your wicked way with mom in the gate room?"

"Cassie!" Sam didn't know whether to be embarrassed or outraged.

The teenager's eyes sparkled merrily. "Oh come on, you didn't really think I was one of those idiots who think their parents don't have sex, did you?"

Sam's upraised hand was a curious echo of a similar gesture of which Janet was fond. Cassie continued to grin.

"I really don't want to even begin to have this conversation," Sam said, even as her cheeks flamed a brilliant scarlet. "You are still far too young to even be thinking about that, much less talking to me about it!"

Cassie stood, pulling Sam up with her. Pulling her other adopted mother into a tight embrace, she said, "Just do what makes you happy, Sam."

"I thought I mentioned something about things not being so simple?"

Sighing, Cassie let go and said, "That's the problem, Sam. It can be simple, if you let it. I don't want to argue, though. You're tired, and mom would kill me if I kept you up too long. I've only got one more thing to say, and this time, you really aren't going to like it."

Sam smiled weakly and wished, for one nanosecond, that the teenager would revert back into a shy, awestruck twelve year old. "I don't know how much more of your wisdom I can take, Cass."

Shaking her head, Cassandra said, "It's not wisdom, Sam." Her eyes grew moist and she swallowed convulsively. "The other day, when m-mom was hurt, it should have been you."

The words hit Sam like zat blasts. "Oh Cass, I'd have given anything to have taken her place." Sam reached for Cassie, but the teen shook her head.

"No! I mean, no, I don't wish that it had been you to get hurt. I wish – it should have been you who told me! You should have called me, Sam! At the very least, you should have come home with mom. Not Uncle Jack, who could barely stand up, who had to keep me from falling to pieces while mom tried her very best to act like everything was fine. It wasn't, Sam. She cried. All night, she called out for you – kept saying stuff that I won't repeat, because you need to hear it from her. You've got to promise me, Sam, that if anything, anything like this ever happens again, that you will call me. I don't care about your precious national security. You owe it to me. You owe it to her."

Cassie was crying now, and Sam felt tears burning her cheeks as she pulled the unresisting form of her adopted daughter into her arms.

Shame and grief tormented Sam's thoughts as she held onto Cassie. She's right. I failed them both.

"I'm so sorry, Cass."

"Promise me, Sam," Cassie whispered as she clung to the astrophysicist. "I won't be the last one to know."

It was something Major Samantha Carter never wanted to face. Taking a deep breath, she said, "I promise, Cassie. If anything ever happens to your mom, I'll make sure that you hear it from me first."

Cassie watched Sam's face intently, then, as if deciding that she could believe the words, nodded. "I think you should shower now, Sam." Wiping her eyes with her sleeve, she sniffed pointedly and said, "You stink."

Still a little thrown by the extreme emotions of the afternoon, Sam snorted. "If you had seen what I've been knee deep in for the last week, you'd be amazed that I'm not more fragrant!"

"Oh no," Cassie said, backing away and holding up her hands as if to ward off any odors that might manifest. "I don't want to know. It's bad enough when mom forgets to change her scrubs after an autopsy."

Sam's eyes began to glitter in merriment. "What's the matter, Cass? Are you not interested in discussing the finer points of extra terrestrial insect physiology? I can assure you that I have more than enough empirical evidence." She lifted a booted foot which was liberally speckled with iridescent green flecks and smears of a ghoulishly white substance. "In fact, I suspect you might discover some yourself, if you look closely."

Unsure whether Sam was joking, Cassie decided to choose the better part of valor and said, "Thanks, but I'll stick with my nice, neat, clean programs."

Chuckling, Sam said, "If you're sure."



"There's a reason that I will never join the ROTC or any other military branch that might lead me into the Stargate Program. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever to go gallivanting around the galaxy getting who knows what ground into my shoes." She walked over to the door, set her hand on the handle and said, "I intend to spend the rest of my life comfortably ensconced in front of a computer, writing code!"

Sam might have had a sharp rejoinder, but she was actually pretty darn glad to hear it.

"You do that, kiddo. Maybe one day, the SGC will be using your programs to boot the stargate."

Pulling a goofy face, Cassie said, "I hope not. I'd hate to think of what would happen if part of a dialing code got caught in a recursive subdirectory like what happened to my last project."

Sam was intrigued, but too tired to offer more than a weary comment. "Keep working at it. The problem's probably buried in the code somewhere."

"Now I know you're exhausted when you don't want to talk geek with me. Go to bed, Sam." Cassie flashed a sudden, wicked grin. "Do let me know, however, if you need me to go camping with Uncle Jack for the weekend."

Blushing scarlet, Sam picked up a nearby couch pillow and raised it threateningly. "Get out of here before I'm forced to smack you with this!"

Cassie's answering laughter was brightly joyful and did much to disperse the solemn mood of their conversation.

A shower went a long way toward restoring Sam's energy. The meal she forced herself to eat, however, sapped what strength she had gained and it was all she could do to drag herself to bed.

In the morning, she put in a call to General Hammond, and was not surprised when he gladly granted her request.

"Sure! Go on and take a few days off, Major. You've earned it. In fact, I think I'll go ahead and see that the rest of SG-1 follows suit. Might as well have you all taking it easy. Of course, I'll call if we have any further troubles with the bugs, but as of now, consider yourself on leave."

Sam quietly thanked him and ended the call. Lying in the cool darkness of her bedroom, she let her thoughts drift until sleep smothered them in a fuzzy, stress-free cocoon.

Janet was appalled. The infirmary, indeed, the entirety of the SGC was a shambles. It was going to take months to repair the damage caused by what the more polite of the soldiers called the "g-d bugs". Cleanup and repair crews moved about the halls, cluttering up every inch of space until the doctor felt as though she couldn't sneeze without knocking over a broom.

To make matters worse, SG-1 – Sam included – was on leave, which left Janet with no one to commiserate with over the mess.

If I didn't know any better, I'd think that she's avoiding me. Movie night had come and gone, and Sam had begged off, claiming exhaustion and Cassie had seemed to think that was the truth, but Janet wasn't sure. What is up with Sam? Usually, I can't get rid of her, but now it seems that I can't find her with both hands and a map!

The remainder of the day dragged on, filled with paperwork, reports, and enough minor injuries that Janet was never truly bored, but neither was she thrust into the adrenalin frenzy of an emergency. By the time she exited the base, the sun was lowering over the mountains and her stomach was reminding her that lunch had been a hastily grabbed sandwich somewhere between Sergeant Siler's broken fingers and Lieutenant Mallory's stitches.

Traffic was a bitch, slowing to a crawl that turned into a drunken stagger around three separate fender benders. No one appeared hurt, so she continued on, fighting down a rising urge to scream obscenities at the clueless rubberneckers clogging up the streets.

This is all Sam's fault. It's really not nice to allow a woman's emotions to fester, and right then, Janet made up her mind to go and give the astrophysicist a hefty chunk of her mind. As soon as there was an opening, she changed lanes and took the turn that led to Sam's bungalow.

After all the time it had taken to get there, Janet was more than ready to jump out, go pound on the door, and then tell Sam off in the most stringent possible terms. There was only one teensy little problem. Sam wasn't home.

Oh, I do not believe this. Sitting in the car, staring at the empty driveway, the darkened house, and the general air of "nobody's home" that emanated from the house, Janet Fraiser began to seriously consider voluntary homicide.

Words, which were always so important to a doctor, especially in an emergency when subtle nuances had to be conveyed as quickly as possible, shattered the frosty air of Janet's car.

"Well fuck."

Cassie Fraiser felt like she was going to vibrate out of her skin. Patience was not the province of teens, and Cassandra was one for whom anticipation was a particularly unwanted state. She didn't like surprises much, either, but in this case, she'd granted pardon to the one who had put her in the current predicament.

Inhaling softly, she was not surprised when her stomach rumbled its appreciation for the scents emanating from the kitchen. I didn't know Sam could cook.

The astrophysicist had shown up about an hour before with a bag of groceries and a grin that would have made a system lord quail. It wasn't evil, nor malicious, but rather, anticipatory, and that made Cassie very nervous.

Then Sam had calmly explained why she was there, and Cassandra grew even more nervous, but it was a good kind of agitated.

"Calm down, Cass, or you'll blow it," whispered Ryan. Before today, he had not spent much time in the company of Major Carter, but what he had seen, he liked. Surprised and more than a little bit honored to be included in the plan, he wanted to be certain it all went off perfectly. Generally, this kind of thing was not what he'd consider "fun" or "cool", but it meant a lot to Cassie, and that was all that mattered.

"I just want this to work," murmured Cassandra.

Covering one of her hands with his, Ryan gave it a soft squeeze and said, "Didn't you once tell me that Sam was the smartest person on the planet?"

Slowly, Cassie nodded. "Uh huh. She's a bona fide genius."

He grinned, and replied, "Well, then how could it not work?" Her answering grin made his stomach do a little flip. "Now relax. Your mom just pulled into the driveway."

Cassie's smile faltered, but then she swallowed, and focused her attention on the laptop between them. "All right, if we try this string, maybe we can do something about that missing F function."

It was full dark by the time Janet pulled into the driveway. In contrast to Sam's quiet home, the lights were on, there was a faint throb of music vibrating the windows, and she could see Ryan Armstrong's beat up old Toyota parked on the street. Through the partially open curtains, she was pleased to spot the young man on the couch with Cassie, both of them bent over a laptop and discussing whatever it was they were looking at.

It's nice to know that I can trust them. Over the last few years, Janet had met all kinds of parents, from those who micromanaged every aspect of their children's lives to those who couldn't care less, and from each, she had taken a bit of their philosophy, creating a cohesive whole that allowed Cassandra some freedom, while maintaining a set of boundaries. It was rewarding to know that her efforts had paid off so visibly.

The drive home had given Janet's anger time to dissipate, leaving her more tired than anything. She was looking forward to going inside, calling for pizza, and spending the evening curled up on a chair, watching some inane television show while Cassie and Ryan argued about obscure bits of programming language.

Walking into the house was a shock in sensory contrasts. From the kitchen wafted the enticing scent of cooking food, from the living room the sound of very loud classic rock, and standing in the dining room, casually setting the table, was Samantha Carter, wearing something that Janet was absolutely certain would be responsible for the cause of her death.

It wasn't that the clothes were sexy or slinky, quite the contrary – a simple black t-shirt and a pair of jeans were tame by most standards. What made Janet's heart skip, her stomach burn, and her eyes tear was the utter rightness of the situation.

From now until her hopefully far into the future death, Janet Fraiser knew that she would always want to come home to this moment.

"Hey mom, how was work?" Cassie went and gave Janet a hug, relieved her of her jacket, and then directed the still somewhat flabbergasted older woman to a chair.

"It was fine," Janet replied absently, attempting to swim up through the fog in her head.

"Hello, Mrs. Fraiser," said Ryan shyly.

"Hi." Janet's command of language was actually diminishing the longer she looked at Sam, who continued to act as though the doctor weren't staring a hole into her back.

It took Janet several minutes to realize that Sam was only laying out two places. She glanced at Cassie, who was attempting to surreptitiously poke Ryan. The action caused some of the haze to lift. Eyeing the young man, Janet cocked her head and raised one eyebrow.

"Is there something you wanted?" Janet put on her sternest "mom" tone, trying not to chuckle when Ryan flushed and looked anywhere but at her.

"Uh, um, could I, uh, I mean, if you wouldn't mind, do you think I could take Cassie out to dinner? To celebrate?" He smiled sheepishly. "We fixed our widget."

Janet very carefully did not ask for an explanation. She wasn't sure she truthfully wanted to know the answer. Instead, she turned her attention on Cassandra, who was doing her level best to become one with the carpet. At the edge of her peripheral vision, Janet could see Sam head into the kitchen. Shortly, she heard the sound of the oven opening, which was followed by the soft clatter of dishes. A fresh wave of garlic and something else entirely too mouthwatering wafted into the house.

Narrowing her eyes, Janet continued to gaze at her daughter. A little voice was encouraging her to do it, but the overprotective mother side kept shouting ugly words like "date rape" and "GHB" at her.

Shoving those thoughts aside, Janet put her faith in the bond she and Cassie had and said, "Sure. Just be home by eleven. Even though there's no school tomorrow, there's no sense in ruining your schedule."

Ryan smiled while Cassie practically leaped up and did a dance of joy. Grinning from ear to ear, the teenager said, "Thanks, mom! We'll be back on time, I promise!" Quickly, they put up their things, grabbed coats, and left before Janet could change her mind.

Once they were gone, Janet made her way into the kitchen. Standing in the doorway, watching Sam carefully plate their meals, the doctor was suddenly struck by the realization that she'd fallen for a very neatly laid trap.

All of her anger came rushing back, filling her with a dangerous need to act. Acidly, she said, "What if I had said no?"

Looking up from putting the final touches on their meals, Sam assessed Janet's mood with the same ease as she would judge an onrushing horde of Jaffa. Setting aside the razor sharp knife she'd used to slice the roast, she wiped her hands on a towel, walked over and casually invaded Janet's personal space. Before the doctor could react, Sam whispered, "Then I guess we would have had an audience."

The kiss was almost expected, definitely wanted, and exactly what both had been craving.

Janet's lips were firm under Sam's only for as long as it took a breath to pass between them and then, she melted. Pouring herself into the embrace, she groaned softly when Sam's arms came up to pull her close.

Sam was lost. Planning this night had only gotten so far, and the moment she had thrown caution to the wind and acted on a whim, she was flying blind. With no instrumentation to guide the way to a safe landing, she relied on instinct. Cradling Janet close, she gave herself to the kisses, using actions to speak where words could not begin to explain her feelings.

It was many long minutes before Janet had to pull away, had to breathe air not tainted by the fragility of their emotions. Pressing her fingers to her lips, feeling her eyes flood with tears, the doctor stared at Sam, who looked adorably mussed and confused.

"Oh Sam. Samantha," she whispered. Wanting so much to steal everything Sam would give; Janet still feared stepping any further from the path that they had so far tread.

"Janet, it's okay." Sam reached for Janet, clasping one of her hands and using it to draw the smaller woman into a loose embrace. "I think we both want the same thing." She laid her cheek against the top of Janet's head, feeling the soft crinkle of hair tickle her nose. Sighing, Sam whispered, "We can do this, if you want. I love you enough to try." She bit her lip and added, "I really want this, Janet."

Shaking as though every nerve were on fire, Janet murmured, "Don't make promises you won't keep, Sam."

"Have I ever?"

Janet closed her eyes. In a rush, the memories of the last week washed over her, reminding her of what she'd nearly lost. If there ever was a moment to live up to her vow, then now had to be the time.

Looking up at Sam, Janet smiled sweetly and said, "Not when it counted." Gently, as though she'd never done it before, she reached up and cupped her hand to the side of Sam's face. Tiny fringes of blonde hairs dusted her knuckles and she combed her fingers through it, loving the softness. "So, what's for dinner, Flygirl?"

Sam ducked her head, kissed Janet slowly, then said, "Pot roast."

Not yet willing to leave the circle of Sam's arms, Janet sighed happily and said, "Yum."

Later, they would talk about careers and rules and how best to deal with the reality of being gay in the air force. At the moment, over a bottle of smoky red wine, they enjoyed the freedom to speak openly of their emotions.

Drawing her finger around the mouth of the wine glass, Janet gazed across the couch at Sam, who sat with her head thrown back and her eyes closed. A wild, wicked urge took hold. Carefully setting the glass aside, Janet slowly shifted until she was kneeling over the astrophysicist.

In the spare light from the one softly glowing lamp, a strip of pale flesh was visible where Sam's t-shirt had lifted.

Fascinated, Janet let the backs of her fingers drift against the warm skin, startling Sam to alertness.

"Do you know how many times I've thought about doing this?" Whisper soft, Janet's query hummed in Sam's ears.

Mouth arid, Sam replied, "Probably not."

Furthering her exploration, Janet skinned her hand up under Sam's shirt until she reached the edge of a rather practical cotton bra. Grinning, she said, "Weren't you planning on getting lucky tonight, Samantha Carter?"

Sam's cheeks turned an incandescent shade of crimson. Janet's fingers began doing things that made speaking difficult, rational thought unwise, and answering the question impossible.

Chuckling softly, Janet leaned forward and claimed Sam's lips in a kiss that was filled with teasing promise. "Come on," she whispered. "Let's go somewhere less public."

Sam's brain finally caught up and she said, "Janet, I don't thing we should rush this."

Standing, Janet reached a hand out and replied, "There's no rush, Sam. I just would prefer not to be caught necking by my daughter's boyfriend."

A car door closed.

Sam jumped off the couch and raced to Janet's bedroom, followed by the doctor's wildly amused laughter.

Needless to say, the next morning Cassandra was thrilled to find her mother, looking adorably mussed, sharing a pot of coffee with an equally disheveled Sam. The robe that the astrophysicist wore was two sizes too small, and a pair of sweat pants that didn't quite reach the midpoint of her calves displayed the fact that she had not slept in her clothes.

Looking from one adopted mother to the other, Cassie grinned and said, "So when's the bonding festival?"

Perhaps expecting some kind of comment, Sam had wisely set her cup down when she spotted Cassandra entering the kitchen. Janet was not so lucky. Coffee and ceramic shards littered the sink.

Rolling her eyes, Cassie said, "Oh mother, you can't have been that shocked! I'm sixteen, not sixty. Besides, I've wanted you and Sam to be my parents since forever."

If she had been entertaining any doubts as to how to bring up the subject of her and Sam's relationship with Cassie, they were now nothing more than dust modes, leaving Janet perched at the start of a strange road that had an unknown destination. Cocooned within the safety of Sam's arms for the better portion of the night, Janet had been able to visualize the moment when she would carefully explain to Cassandra about how people's feelings changed, and that sometimes, it was okay for a woman to love another woman.

She had completely forgotten the fact that Cassie had not been born in the United States, or even on Earth, for that matter.

Apparently, homosexuality wasn't that big of a deal on P8X-987.

It was Sam who stepped up to her role as a parent. "You know, Cass, just because you're okay with Janet and I, it doesn't mean that we're ready for you to act like it's nothing special." Sam's tone was gently chiding. "What's happening between us is going to change our lives; we can only pray that it's for the better." Now that she had Cassie's attention, Sam said, "I – we – are glad that you approve, but what we need is for you to understand how fragile things are right now. Please, don't make light of our choices."

Janet didn't know whether to laugh or offer her stricken daughter a hug.

"Bu-" Cassie's jaw worked, and finally, she let out an exasperated sigh and stomped over to the refrigerator and removed the orange juice, the milk, and a container of yogurt. Setting them on the table, she sighed again and said, "I really am happy for you both. I'm sorry if I said something wrong."

Janet gave into the urge to comfort. Wrapping her arms around Cassie, she said, "Its okay honey, we know you didn't mean any harm."

Standing, Sam enveloped both of them in a hug. "Yeah, when we get excited, it's easy to speak without thinking." She dropped a kiss on the top of Cassie's head. "You meant well, Cass, and we understand."

They stood like that for a long moment and then Cassie said, "Okay, I'm about to drown in the mush that's filling this room. Can I get my breakfast and go work on my program now?"

Laughing, they let her go, watching as the teenager collected her breakfast and strolled into the living room. As soon as she was out of sight, Janet stepped into Sam's arms.

"I'm never going to get sick of this," Sam said as she wallowed in the sensation of cuddling Janet.

Janet's answering chuckle was a deep throated purr as she responded, "Good, because I'm working on a serious addiction to you, Sam Carter."

It wasn't easy, that first week, to avoid the temptation to find someplace on the base where they could steal a secret moment. A touch here, a glance there, and Sam catching Daniel gazing rather speculatively at them made Janet terrified that they'd be discovered.

Sam was terrified that they wouldn't be discovered.

"You want to be caught?" Janet said incredulously late one Friday as they lay together in Sam's bed. The doctor wasn't staying. Though she might wish to surrender to the obvious passion between them, Janet was uncomfortable leaving Cassie alone overnight. It didn't stop her from pressing her body closer to Sam's and relishing the chills the contact gave her.

Pausing as she was about to explore the contour of Janet's throat with her mouth, Sam leaned back and shrugged sheepishly. "Well, at least then I wouldn't be so damn jumpy around you! I thought I was going to lose it when you had to do my post mission physical on Wednesday."

Janet pulled away and glared at the astrophysicist. "What? Sam, you'd better not be implying that I'd be anything less than professional with you!"

"It's not you that I'm worried about," Sam retorted, deadpan.

Janet pushed herself up on one arm and stared down at the other woman. "You're the one who wanted to take it easy," she said, exasperation coloring her tone.

"I did – I do." Sam threw up her hands helplessly. "I'm crazy about you, Janet. My body knows what it wants; it's my head that's putting up roadblocks." She frowned suddenly. "I hope you're not having second thoughts about this?"

Laying her hand on Sam's chest so she could feel the subtle thudding of her heart, Janet said, "No, never. I know exactly what I want from you, Sam." She leaned in and brushed her mouth over Sam's, nipping hungrily at her bottom lip. As the pulse beneath her hand increased, Janet slowed the kiss until they were trading intense, breath taking caresses. Finally, she pulled away and stood. "I've got to go. It's getting late and Cassie will be worried."

Ejected from the haze of pleasure that had settled over her shoulders like a living cloak, Sam groaned in protest. "I wish you'd stay," she said. "I don't sleep half as well as when I'm with you." Brightening, she said, "Hey, why don't you get Cassie and bring her back here? I can make pancakes in the morning."

Janet was charmed by the puckish pout on Sam's face, but she had years of dealing with a teenager who could out-pout a supermodel. "I wish I could, Sam, but Jack's coming by tomorrow to take Cassie fishing."

"Oh yeah." Sam vaguely recalled discussing the idea with the colonel while they were slogging through the middle of a sweltering jungle on P4Z-948.

"I'm so glad your memory's working," said Janet with a wry grin. "Now, if you'd put that prodigious brain power of yours to use, you'd remember that Cassandra has Monday off, and that SG-1 is on leave thanks to Daniel getting bit by that snake. Barring a request from one of our allies, you're free until next Thursday."

Rolling onto her side and then pushing up to lean on one arm, Sam watched as Janet calmly went about gathering her jacket and shoes. "And once I've engaged my, what did you call it? – prodigious – brain power, are you expecting me to recall that this is your weekend off?"

Janet perched on the edge of the bed and pulled on her tennis shoes. "Got it in one, Major."

When needed, Sam was extremely flexible and fast. Moving from prone to kneeling behind Janet, the astrophysicist cupped her hands over Janet's breasts and whispered, "Got plans for tomorrow, Doc?"

Melting into the touch, Janet turned to kiss Sam and whispered, "Only ones that involve you, Flygirl."

One kiss turned into a dozen. Sam's hands wandered, sliding down to Janet's waistband, but before she could do more than trail a teasing path of caresses over warm skin, Janet pulled free and stood.

Shaking a finger at the astrophysicist, Janet said, "You are dangerous, Samantha Carter." Sam's wickedly wanton smile put a definite hitch in Janet's breathing. Putting on the jacket, Janet said, "Come over tomorrow, Sam. We'll watch movies, eat popcorn, and talk about your mad desire to get caught necking in the gate room."

"I don't want to make out with you in the gate room!"

Janet raised an eyebrow inquiringly.

"Maybe my lab, but definitely not the gate room," Sam said as she got up to walk Janet to the door.

Snorting, Janet said, "My office would be far more comfortable. At least I have a cot that isn't covered in half finished experiments and strange technology."

"No, it's just hip deep in file boxes and dirty coffee cups," Sam retorted.

"Which are much easier to clean up, when they get knocked onto the floor." Janet waggled her eyebrows teasingly.

Pausing at the door, Sam said, "I really don't want us to get caught, you know. I love you, but I love working on the program, too."

Funny how three seemingly insignificant words could turn a person's insides into gelatin. Sunshine, puppy dogs, and rainbows – what am I, twelve? Janet fought down the urge to gush like a moonstruck teenager and instead, smiled warmly and said, "I love you too, Sam. We'll figure things out. I have faith in our ability to deal with whatever life, the universe, and the United States military throws at us."

Sam laughed. "Just remember that when we're up to our eyeballs in the real world equivalent of technologically advanced Tribbles."

"As long as they don't bite, I think I can handle it." Janet grinned, kissed Sam once more and then left before her hormones overran her good sense.

The Fraiser household looked like it was overflowing with people and camping gear. Colonel O'Neill had turned a one day fishing trip into a weekend adventure up at his cabin.

"Ah come on, Doc. The kid'll love it," the older man had said when he'd called that morning. "We'll roast hotdogs and marshmallows and sing kumbaya around the campfire. Heck, you could come along, if you want."

"Jack, there's a reason I'm not an active member of an SG team. I do not like sleeping on the ground."

"You don't know what you're missing," Jack rumbled. "Look, I'm bringing Teal'c and Daniel. She'll be safe as houses with them."

She had, reluctantly, agreed to let Cassie go. It wasn't that Janet was so overly protective of her adopted daughter that she wouldn't let her enjoy a weekend away; it was just that usually, Sam went along on these wilderness forays of Colonel O'Neill's.

"Hey Carter, you sure you don't want to tag along?" Jack stood in the living room, his thumbs hooked into his belt loops, watching as Teal'c gravely went over the list of items Cassie needed to pack.

Sam smiled. "Not this time, sir. I think I'm just going to putter around the house for a few days. Maybe work on the bike or one of the cars."

"Yeah? Well that's a great idea. Just try not to invent a new whizbang gizmo thingy while you're at it. This is supposed to be your time off, Carter." His words had all the inflection of an order, but the smile that creased his careworn face was fondly teasing.

From his perch on a nearby chair, Daniel looked up from a field journal and said, "How come Sam gets to stay home, but I have to limp out to the back of nowhere and sleep on the ground? Aren't I supposed to be the one in recovery?"

"First, you got bit on the arm, not the foot, so there won't be any limping." Jack ticked off the reasons on his fingers. "Second, it's not the back of nowhere; it's the property up by my cabin. I'd hardly consider that sixty thousand miles southwest of Abydos."

Daniel's face began to take on a stubborn cast.

"Oh come on, Uncle Daniel. It'll be fun. You can tell me more stuff about ancient earth culture."

Doctor Daniel Jackson was by no means a coward. More than once, Sam had seen him charge right into a ship full of Replicators with little more than a handgun and bravado on his side, yet somehow, all of his courage seemed to fly right out the window when faced with the girlish enthusiasm of Cassandra Fraiser.

Clearing his throat, Daniel said, "Yeah, well, just remember to bring lots of Kleenex. I'm allergic to the outdoors."

Cassie beamed at him, bounced over and kissed him on the cheek and then said, "Thanks, Uncle Daniel. And don't worry; mom gave me some of her extra strength super duper, fights all forms of pollen, antihistamine." She grimaced. "Apparently, I have allergies, too."

Once all the gear had been stowed in the back of Jack's truck, Cassie dutifully doled out hugs to her mother and Sam. As she put her arms around the tall blonde, she whispered, "I hope you appreciate this. I hate fishing, and archeology bores me to tears."

Sam tried very hard not to choke as she embraced the teenager.

From the truck, Jack waved and said, "See ya in a few days, Doc. You too, Carter. Go do something fun, both of ya."

Watching them pull away, Sam murmured, "You know, I believe your daughter thinks I'm here for a booty call."

With the truck and its occupants still in sight, Janet kept a bright grin plastered on her face even as she said, "Oh my god, I'm gonna kill her."

Inside the vehicle, Cassie waved until the truck rounded the corner. Once it was gone, Janet turned to look at Sam, whose face was turning a deep crimson.

"You are here for a booty call," whispered the doctor incredulously, even as Sam turned a darker scarlet.

Kicking the ground with one toe, the astrophysicist reached up to scratch at the back of her head and then said, "Well, yeah, maybe. I mean, if things go that way-" Breaking off as Janet grabbed her arm, Sam was startled at the amount of strength displayed by the diminutive woman who was almost dragging her into the house.

Once behind closed doors, Sam had a flash of wild, unbridled sex in uncomfortable places all around Janet's house, and almost cheered. Until she realized that bumping and grinding against hard surfaces left marks. Bruises in odd places that might be a little bit difficult to explain to the guys while on a backwater planet in the middle of the galaxy.

Much to her considerable relief – and momentary disappointment - Janet did not throw her against the door and rip her clothes off. Unceremoniously dumped on the couch, Sam was left to stare at the empty living room for the time it took the doctor to putter around with something in the kitchen.

It was only when the scent of slightly burnt popcorn filled the air that Sam realized what was up, and she nervously called out, "Hey Janet, are you mad at me?"

Appearing in the doorway bearing a large bowl of popcorn, a large bottle of soda, and a box of what looked like cupcakes, Janet replied, "Nope." She set her burdens down and then retrieved a remote. After making certain that the curtains were drawn, the door was locked, and the phone was set to be picked up by the answering machine, she turned on the television.

With the volume on mute, Janet plunked onto the couch next to Sam and said, "Since we're both rather new at this whole lesbian thing, I thought maybe we ought to do a little research." Handing the remote to Sam, she nestled the bowl of popcorn between them, poured glasses of soda and opened the box of cupcakes. "Press play, Sam. It's time for class."

Both found themselves lost in the world of "Desert Hearts", amused by the antics of "Better than Chocolate", and charmed by "Two Girls In Love". It was "Bound" that made them both lean forward with keen interest, and then draw back and fan themselves.

Janet's selections ran the gamut of the "who's who" of lesbian films, including a few that Sam knew must have come from the bluer section of the rental shop. Those were mostly amusing, and plainly meant for a man's pleasure. At one point, Sam cocked her head sideways to gaze curiously at the screen, and then said, "That does not look fun at all."

Narrowing her eyes, Janet nodded in agreement. "Plus, she's going to have the mother of all rug burns in the morning." She stopped the video. "I think we've done enough research. The question now is – are we ready to practice a few theories?"

Sam affected a surprised mien. "Why, Janet Fraiser, are you speaking geek to me?"

Grinning, Janet undid the top two buttons of her blouse and replied, "I'll speak whatever language you want to hear, Sam Carter."

The remote went one way, Janet's shirt went another, and in less than ten minutes, there were clothes littering the living room. Five minutes after that, they were staggering into Janet's room, exchanging fevered kisses while trying to avoid bouncing off the walls.

Hitting the bed caused an upheaval of arms and legs, one bit lip and a misplaced elbow that would, in the morning, leave a mark. All of it was ignored. When Sam whispered, "Want you, so much," and followed up her hurried words by carving a path of kisses from Janet's throat to her thigh, there was nothing but the sweetness of the moment burning brightly in their minds.

"You amaze me," Janet whispered as she explored the delicate softness of Sam's skin. Scars, muscle, and tendon blended to form a map of the woman whose very being made Janet want to say and do things no sane woman should. She drank deeply of Sam's mouth, dipping down to lave kisses over her throat, her shoulders, her breasts and belly until her lover could only draw shuddering, need haunted breaths.

Entwined, they explored the stars in each other's eyes. When the moon pricked silvery shafts of light through half-closed curtains, it outlined the figures of Sam and Janet wound so tightly about each other that only molecules moved between them.

Snug and comfortable, Janet dragged her foot down Sam's leg and smiled. "Love you," she murmured, as sleep wound its spell over her.

Teasing her fingers through the hair at the nape of Janet's neck, Sam whispered, "I love you too, Janet. Sleep well."

The camping trip had been something of a success, as Cassie learned to appreciate the irony of fishing in an empty pond. Daniel's lessons weren't nearly as boring as she had once thought, and Teal'c had a surprisingly strong sense of humor.

When she came home, she knew right away that things had gone well for her parents. They were affectionate in ways that spoke volumes to someone who was looking, and Cassie was studying them so hard, textbooks would be jealous.

Satisfied that things were cemented properly, she began her campaign to get Sam to move into the Fraiser household.

It was doomed to fail, since Sam could no more announce the relationship between herself and Janet than she could realign the stars so that the entire fleet of Goa'uld motherships suddenly ended up in the corona of a sun. However, Cassie liked to dream that she could come home from school and have dinner with her parents like everyone else she knew.

She tried subtlety – "Hey mom, is there enough room in the garage for another car?" This only led to Janet assuming Cassie wanted to learn to drive, and this earned her a long, boring lecture on vehicular safety, the accident rates of teenage drivers, and the cost of car insurance versus that of a monthly bus pass.

Several more, similar attempts ended just as disastrously, and Sam was no closer to having a permanent place in the household. Though she did spend most of her off duty time there, the astrophysicist continued to maintain the fiction that she enjoyed going home.

One afternoon, while Sam was away off world, Cassie wandered into the kitchen where her mother was making dinner and said, "Are you worried about the economy mom? The home living teacher Mrs. Langstrom said that if we're not careful, we could be facing a serious recession."

"Well, I don't know, Cass. Usually, I'm so wrapped up in the Stargate program that I don't pay attention to the economy. If you're worried about us, don't, because the government pays me very well for what I do."

Cassie frowned. This was not the direction she wanted to head. Leaning against the counter, she casually handed over the various stew ingredients Janet was slicing into a pot. "I'm not really worried about us, but Sam – what about her? She's got the house, the cars, and the bike. You said yourself that insurance is expensive."

Janet's "mommy-dar" was prickling. Something was churning the wheels in her daughter's head, and concern over insurance costs had very little to do with the gears.

Scraping the last of the cut up vegetables into the pot, Janet turned on the stove and then started washing dishes. Casually, she said, "I suspect Sam's fine, Cass. Why, did she say something to you?"

"No," Cassie drawled, pushing away from the counter to grab a nearby dishtowel. Unconsciously, she dried and put away the dishes.

Now Janet knew something was up, because Cassandra never did chores without first being reminded half a dozen times about them. In that respect, the teenager was exactly the same as kids everywhere. Turning, Janet took a quick look at the teen's face to assess her mood. Writ large in her eyes was a faraway look of concentration that told the doctor that her daughter's thoughts were everywhere but on the cutting board she was assiduously drying.

"You want to talk about it?"

"Huh?" Startled, Cassie dropped the dish. The clatter of plastic was loud in the otherwise quiet room. Grimacing, the teen picked it up and handed it to her mother to be rinsed.

Gravely, Janet washed the cutting board and gave it back to Cassandra. "You've got something on your mind, Cass. Out with it."

Shrugging, Cassie stowed the dish in a cupboard and with feigned nonchalance said, "I don't know. It's just with you and Sam…" Her smile was innocently endearing even as moisture made her eyes glisten. "I thought maybe we could live together. Like a real family."

Janet's hand went to her mouth as tears burned her throat. "Oh honey," she said softly, reaching for her daughter.

Cassie went willingly, clinging tightly. "It sucks," she mumbled.

Understanding, Janet said, "I know, Cass. I want Sam here too. All the time."

"So why can't she stay? Larry Fielding's dads live together and they were both in the army."

Janet led her daughter to the kitchen table. Sitting, she took Cassie's hands in hers and gripped them gently. "Neither Charlie nor Michael are active duty servicemen, Cass. As far as the army is concerned, they're not soldiers anymore."

"Then why did Mrs. Jankowski get recalled to active duty last year? I thought she retired."

Not wanting to explain the convoluted system of military math to her daughter, Janet simply said, "She was discharged, but not retired. There must have been a need for someone of her particular rating."

"So what happens if the army needs people like the Fieldings?"

"In their case, nothing. Both Charlie and Michael fulfilled their contracts. They're retired."

"Oh." Cassie sighed. Her gaze grew thoughtful. "So, when are you and Sam retiring?"

Surprised, Janet replied, "I don't know, Cass. I never really thought about it. The Stargate program isn't exactly your average posting. Plus, Sam's pretty integral to SG-1. I doubt Colonel O'Neill would want to go gallivanting around the galaxy without her."

Cassie smiled wistfully. "So where are they now?"

"I can't really talk about it, but I will say this – she'll be home soon. Maybe we can take a trip somewhere, just the three of us."


Janet so hated to crush the hopeful look on Cassie's face. "Maybe. We'll see," she said. "But if we can't go there, we'll try for something else, okay?"

Sighing, Cassie said, "Okay."

They never made it to Disneyland, but the burgeoning family unit did enjoy a weekend exploring some of Colorado's more scenic areas. Whatever happened for the rest of her life, Cassandra held those memories as some of the brightest.

When Cassie's wish was mentioned to Sam, the astrophysicist got a far away look in her eyes and she smiled sadly. "It's a nice dream," she said, and after that, the subject was dropped.

In the lonely hours when Sam was off planet, Janet often found herself outside, staring up at the heavens, wondering what her lover was doing. The heady pleasure of being able to think of Sam as her lover never grew old and never failed to spark a shiver of pure joy.

There was upheaval within the structure of the Stargate program, and when it all died down, not much had changed. SG-1 still found itself racing around the galaxy, making new friends while trying to hold together shaky alliances. Threats were numerous, enemies were everywhere, but in all of it, Samantha Carter discovered that her heart was at peace. Home was not a bungalow in central Colorado Springs, it was the feeling she had whenever she was with Janet and Cassie. The more time she spent with them, the more she knew life had finally given her a true gift.

Janet herself was, as she put it late one night, "deliriously happy". Yet, there was always that small voice in the back of her mind that said, "It's too good; too perfect. Nothing this sweet lasts forever."

With Sam's warm embrace surrounding her, it was very hard for Janet to pay any attention to that little voice.

Two months, six days, and fourteen hours from the exact moment of Janet Fraiser's brush with death, the doctor found herself confronted once again with her own mortality. Called in as medical support on an evacuation gone horribly wrong, Janet was pinned down in the doorway of a collapsed hovel, surrounded by Jaffa and trapped under a heavy wooden roof beam.

Three SG units were trading fire with the Jaffa, a mix of soldiers that served at least five different system lords. They weren't even here for the Tau'ri interlopers – their interest had been in a series of naquadah mines.

The planet was highly volcanic, and the SGC had offered to help the few remaining human settlements move to a less volatile homeland. It had all gone swimmingly until dozens of alkesh scout ships appeared in the skies overhead. Lieutenant Murphy barely had time to dial the SGC and yelp for reinforcements.

Now they were all stuck on the planet, unable to dial home because the Goa'uld mothership in orbit had taken over the stargate and was holding it open to allow Jaffa to pour through unhindered.

An explosion fifteen meters to the left made Janet flinch and duck behind the remains of the door. Mortars were going off everywhere. Zat fire, staff blasts, and machine gun reports chattered around her like mad magpies.

Through the chaos, Janet had one, singularly terrifying thought, I'm going to die here. It'd been about five minutes since she'd had any radio contact with SG-6, and that last had only been to inform her that SG-1 had made it through the gate.

At least Sam's safe. Cassie will have someone to look after her. A strange, yet oddly familiar sense of calm threaded itself through Janet. Not even the bone grinding agony of her leg could pierce the shroud of numbness that was settling over her shoulders.

Janet glanced down, once again startled by the sight of the wood and debris that covered her left leg. Part of it was roofing material, but the largest piece was a massive timber that had pinned her in place. The bones were broken; shattered most likely. Before she had lost sensation in her toes, Janet had been certain she could feel the warm flood of blood in her boot.

A sudden chill rattled her teeth. Shock. Shit. Fumbling through her pack, Janet hunted for a special silver-toned packet. After what seemed like forever, she found it. Tearing it open, she quickly wrapped it around her shoulders. Cold. So cold. As unconsciousness stole over her, something surfaced from the murk of her dulled thoughts. Did I make the right choice?

Three klicks south of the town center, Samantha Carter was having a quiet, hurried argument with the steely eyed marine commander of SG-3.

"You should have gone through the gate with Colonel O'Neill, Major," hissed Major Lawrence.

"I'm the best chance you have of regaining control of the gate, Major, and you know it. Now, any word on Doctor Fraiser's status?"

"Not since Murphy radioed her location as somewhere within the village proper." He frowned. "But that area's overrun with Jaffa. The doctor would surely have known to bug out."

Sam frowned and grabbed her radio. Keying it to the emergency band, she clicked the button and softly called, "Carter to Fraiser, over?"

Static. A whistling crackle that was loud enough to make the men wince.

She tried again. "I say, this is Major Samantha Carter calling Doctor Janet Fraiser, please report Janet. Are you safe?" Letting go, Sam silently prayed for a response.

"Sam?" Janet's voice was slurred. "Thought you wen' through th' gate already."

Having seen plenty of action, Sam recognized the tone that indicated severe injury. Oh god no. Not again. "Janet? Janet, I need you to tell me where you are so I can come get you."

Janet had just enough presence of mind to respond to the concern in Sam's voice. "No. You can't. Dangerous. Too many. Go home. Take care of Cassie."

"Janet? Don't you give up on me! You tell me where you are right now, or so help me, I'll tear this planet apart!"

Major Lawrence exchanged a look with his lieutenant. They'd all heard how dedicated Samantha Carter was to her friends, seeing it in action was almost frighteningly beautiful. It made him proud to serve with such a soldier.

Now he understood why half the base was in love with her. Hell, watching her coax the info out of the clearly reluctant, shock-addled doctor with such single-minded intensity made him wish that he was the one on the receiving end of so much effort.

Grimly, Sam pocketed her radio. "She's trapped in the headman's hut. Let's go."

The fight to get to Janet's side was brutal. Two marines were wounded by zat fire and had to be supported by three others, leaving the group severely handicapped. Once there, they found the doctor unconscious, skin pale and cool to the touch, but her pulse was a steady, if slow beat.

Sam knelt and gave Janet's shoulder a shake. Over the reports of the marine's cover fire, she yelled, "Doctor Fraiser, can you hear me? Come on, Janet, wake up!"

Janet's eyes twitched, and she coughed. "Sam? God, my leg, I can't feel my leg," she croaked hoarsely.

Glancing at the pile of debris, Sam called, "Lawrence, I need an extra set of hands."

One of the lieutenants peeled away from the group.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Help me with this."

As quickly as they could, they pulled away the bits of timber and roofing material until they spotted Janet's leg.

"Shit," Sam whispered.

"Uh, ma'am, how are we gonna move that?" drawled the soldier as he gazed uncertainly at the two foot thick beam preventing the doctor's escape.

"Very carefully." Glancing around, Sam looked for something to use as a lever. Two meters away, she spotted what looked like a pitchfork stuck in a pile of hay. "Grab that," she said, indicating the tool.

It was a tricky maneuver, and Lawrence had to give up another man to help, but in the end, they were able to lift the beam enough to free Janet. When she saw the blood soaked fabric of the doctor's pant leg, Sam couldn't restrain a soft gasp of dismay.

"Splint it," whispered Janet brokenly. She was clearly in shock, moving in and out of consciousness, but still retained enough presence of mind to direct Sam in a hurried triage.

There was no time for vitals. The marines were running out of bullets. An IV would only get in the way, so they had to rely on a hurried injection of penicillin and morphine. Then, with Janet slung between Carter and Lawrence, the team began to make their painstaking way back to the gate. Every meter was hard won, and no one escaped injury.

Three Jaffa guarded the stargate. With a brutal efficiency that would have sickened Janet had she been more aware of her surroundings, the marines took out the guards and then raced to the platform.

Sam dove for the DHD, ripped open a panel and began pulling crystals. The event horizon winked out, and immediately, the astrophysicist began replacing the DHD's guts.

Major Lawrence stood over the device, ready to dial. As soon as Sam yelled, "Now!" he punched the sigils that would direct the stargate to connect to Earth.

As soon as the wormhole stabilized, Sam put in the iris codes on the GDO and then grabbed hold of Janet. Zat fire and staff blasts announced the arrival of a fresh group of Jaffa. Running at double time, the combined remnants of the SG teams tumbled through the gate, yelling for the medic. As soon as the last man was clear, the iris slammed home, followed shortly by several sickening thuds.

Paying no attention to that, Sam carried Janet's body the five or six steps across the platform to settle her onto a waiting gurney. A nurse started to turn her toward a stretcher, but Sam waved her off in irritation. Her attention was focused on the gurney and its occupant. The situation was eerily familiar, and a cold sense of fear was dipping icicle fingers into her gut.

At the door to the OR, Doctor Warner stopped her.

"You need to let us work now, Major Carter. We'll call you when we have news."

Numb, Sam watched as Janet was led away. When she turned around, the rest of SG-1 was waiting. Looking past them, she said, "I need to make a phone call."

Terror was an emotion with which Cassandra Fraiser was intimately familiar. Her dreams were filled with every shape and shade of nightmare that a person who has watched their entire world die could experience, and then some. Some days, she was absolutely convinced that her worst days had been nothing more than shadows of her best nightmares. Today, this day, she discovered that nothing could compare to the crystalline reality that faced her.

Sam's voice had been tight with fear, which sparked a kind of hollow, aching pain deep inside of the teen. When Lieutenant Miranda Parks had pulled up to collect her, Cassie had quietly gotten into the vehicle. For the entire journey to the base, she was silent. Lieutenant Parks tried to fill the somber mood with banal chatter, but the words fell dreadfully flat.

"How're you enjoying school?"


Parks rebounded with, "Make any friends?"


Frowning slightly, Miranda said, "Its okay, you know. To cry."

Face utterly devoid of emotion, Cassandra turned to the lieutenant and said, "Why should I? She's not dead."

The teen's tone was so brittle, that Miranda actually glanced over to see if ice had rimed Cassie's lips. For the duration of the ride, the lieutenant spoke no further. At the front entrance to the base, she was grateful to turn the teen over to Teal'c, who, with a grave nod, thanked the nurse solemnly.

Putting his hand on Cassie's shoulder, he said, "Come, Cassandra Fraiser. Major Carter is waiting for you."

It was when Daniel stepped onto the elevator that the first cracks began to appear in the teen's emotionless façade. She looked at the archeologist and said, "You're hurt." There was a tremble in her voice.

Glancing down at the sling holding his arm in place, Daniel shrugged and said, "It's nothing. I pulled a muscle. See?" Slowly, he extracted his arm to demonstrate its integrity.

"You should not do that, Daniel Jackson. It will only serve to exacerbate the injury." Teal'c's tone was mildly reproving.

Flushing, Daniel said, "I know, but –" Leaving the rest unsaid, he glanced at Cassie.

"I'm right here," murmured the teen.

Teal'c nodded. "Indeed. It is a disservice to Doctor Fraiser to treat her daughter as a child, Daniel Jackson. You must accord her more respect." He turned to look at Cassie. "I too was injured, though I have recovered sufficiently to attend to this task."

"What happened?" Cassie looked at the massive Jaffa, attempting to discern what had been damaged on his near perfect physique.

"I received a grazing wound from a zatnikitel." Indicating his ribs, he added, "Here, and here. It will heal in a matter of days."

"Wish we could all be so lucky," murmured Daniel.

"You are not Jaffa."

Daniel sighed, "I know, Teal'c. I was just saying that it's too bad we don't have a little more knowledge of how you can heal so quickly."

The elevator doors opened, revealing Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter. Both were still garbed in the dirty, blood stained BDUs they'd worn for the jump. O'Neill was unhurt, but Sam had a bandage on her face.

Cassie took one look at her, let out a soft, almost inaudible moan, and leaped into her arms.

Studying his second in command, Jack waited to see how Carter would handle the kid. He needn't have worried. Sam carefully led Cassie to a side room, sat her down and quietly explained what had happened, and what was being done.

Nodding in satisfaction, O'Neill turned to the remaining members of SG-1 and said, "I'm gonna go get cleaned up and grab a bite to eat. Doc Warner says it's gonna be hours before they know anything." He glanced in where Sam and Cassie had curled up on a couch, Carter holding the teen against her, her chin resting on the top of the girl's head.

"We'll keep an eye on them," Daniel said softly. "Go get some rest, Jack. Your back has to be killing you." The archeologist had been the only one of their team to see the colonel's mad, rolling dive to avoid a staff blast.

Grunting, O'Neill said, "I got a couple of painkillers off a nurse. I'm fine. Be back in twenty."

Teal'c watched him go and then said, "We will remain here, Daniel Jackson, and guard against those who would intrude."

With a sigh, Daniel found a comfortable spot on the wall to lean on and said, "I was afraid you'd say that."

"Tell me," Cassie sobbed.

Haltingly, hating every word, Sam related what had happened on the planet.

"It was a routine extraction. Get in, get the people out and off to a new planet. Simple as baking apple pie. Only, it didn't go that way. The Goa'uld arrived about six hours into the mission. We – SG-1 – were with the Tok'ra when we got the call. The situation was fubar from the minute we stepped through the gate." The chaotic memories flooded behind Sam's closed eyes as she spoke.

"We started evaccing everyone to the base. That was when the mothership arrived. Most everyone had gotten through – there were a few stragglers, and the members of SG's six and three, remaining. The gate was about to shut down, and no one could account for Janet." She licked her lips and murmured, "I told Jack and the others to go ahead. I was going to stay behind and get everyone else back."

Softly, Cassie said, "You stayed for mom."

Sam nodded. "I did. I'm sorry."

Wanly, through her tears, Cassie smiled. "You did the right thing. You brought her back."

Shaken by the words, Sam had to remind herself that Cassandra wasn't an average human teenager. "I should have gone with the team," she said. "If something had happened…" She shook her head. "I would never want to abandon you, Cass."

The teen frowned. "I would have hated you if you'd left mom there to die."

Sam's stomach clenched painfully at the words. Licking her lips, she said, "I found the marines and contacted Janet. She was trapped under the roof beam of a large hut."

Cassie gasped. Even though she knew her mother had been injured badly, hearing the particulars was still a shock.

Dully, Sam continued. "We got her out, but her leg, oh god, Cass, her leg."

"B-bad?" Barely holding on, she looked around for something, and seized Sam's hand.

"We didn't know at first, but yeah. It was bad. The beam had crushed it." She chuckled then, a dry, mirthless sound. "Janet roused enough to talk us through triage. She probably saved her own leg."

Cassie's answering laugh was more of a sob.

"Anyway, we got to the gate, regained control and got the hell out of there. Warner met us in the gate room. He's with your mom now, in surgery."

Shifting so that she was leaning against Sam, Cassie said, "She's going to be okay, right? I know she's alive, but she's going to be fine, right?"

Sam wrapped her arms around her adopted daughter. "I don't know, Cass. I hope so. I really hope so."

Janet swam through an ochre mist of pain and numbness. Random images flashed by, smiling faces, screaming soldiers, Daniel ascending – it all mashed together to create a ribbon of time and life that passed along a stream of consciousness. At the very edge of hear hearing, she could sense voices, sounds that sometimes manifested as recognizable words.

"Scalpul." How many times had she said that word? A million? Ten million?

"Slowly now, don't want to forget a piece." Now there was a strange statement. A piece of what?

She drifted again. Just before it all faded into a gray nothingness, she heard someone whisper, "You made the right choice. Cherish it."

What was that all about? She tried to pin down the thoughts, but they were elusive.

"She's coming around. Increase the anesthesia."

Her confusion lasted barely a heartbeat before there was only fog.

Nine hours later, a weary, blood stained Doctor Warner made his way to where Sam and Cassie waited. He nodded at the three men stationed outside the door and went in to deliver his report to Janet's next of kin. Carter and the girl had fallen into fitful sleep, and he hated to wake them, but his news was – cautiously – good.

Clearing his throat, he waited until the major and the teen stood and rubbed their eyes.

Cassie strained toward him, looking past his shoulders as if she could see through walls. Sam kept her gaze firmly pinned on his, and for a moment, Warner had the odd notion that he was dealing with someone who was more than just Janet's friend. Brushing the thought aside as unprofessional, he said, "We had to reconstruct much of the left tibia and fibula. It'll be a long road, but I think she'll make a mostly full recovery."

"Can we see her?" Once she'd heard him say "recovery", the only thing Cassandra wanted more than air was to see her mother.

Sam's query was more focused. "'Mostly full'?"

Again, Warner felt the sense that there was something below the surface, and again, he pushed the idea aside. "There are pins that will never be able to be removed, and she'll probably require a cane. But she'll walk again, and practice medicine." He frowned. "I don't think she'll be able to go off world much, though."

From behind him came the booming voice of the base commander. "Well then, we'll just have to find someone who can," said General Hammond. "I've just finished the report, Doctor. Fine work in there. Fine work. Go get some rest." The big man's hearty drawl sounded as weary as Sam felt.

Grateful, Warner nodded. "Thank you, sir. I'll have a complete report on your desk tomorrow."

"Good man," said the general. He looked at Sam and Cassie. "You can go see her, but only for a bit. They tell me she's resting quietly, which means I don't see why you can't look in and pay your respects. But don't dawdle. Major, I still need that incident report. Cassandra can use your quarters when you've seen to Doctor Fraiser."

"Yes, sir." Sam saluted and then led Cassie to the recovery room.

Their stay was lamentably brief, but there wasn't much to see. Buried up to her neck in blankets, with only the injured leg exposed and bound in a half cast and bandages, Janet was still unconscious. The steady blip-blip-blip of the heart monitor was music to their ears. Each gazed at the diminutive woman with their hearts in their eyes, and only left when a nearby nurse cleared her throat.

"I'll call you if anything changes," the lieutenant said softly. "It'll be several hours before she's awake."

Sam sighed. "I have a report to write. C'mon Cass, you can raid Teal'c's movie collection."

"I want to walk out of here." Janet looked at the people surrounding her and dared them to naysay her. "I've been cooped up in this bed for weeks. My physical therapist says I need practice, so I will walk my lazy ass out of this hospital."

She was still getting used to the crutches, though everyone assured her that eventually, she would only need a cane. Janet was determined that she wouldn't even require that much. She would walk, albeit with a limp, unaided.

Doctor Warner rolled his eyes, but nodded for the orderly to take away the chair. Out of Janet's sight, Sam motioned for the young man to follow at a slight distance.

"Sam," Janet said warningly.

"Just humor me, Janet. I'm sure between us Cassie and I could carry you, but I'm positive that General Landry would not be pleased to lose me to a bad back only six weeks into his tenure at the SGC."

Still not used to hearing someone else's name associated with the command of the program, Janet frowned, but then acquiesced with a nod. "All right, but I won't need it."

"Thank you."

The trip was shorter than it might have been. A week after her injury, Janet had been moved from the Mountain to the hospital above ground. Convalescing there, she had missed the upheaval that had shifted power in the command structure of the Stargate program. Sam had filled her in during her visits, but it was not the same as being there.

It would be several more weeks before she could return to active duty, but she had tentative permission to begin taking on light duties, and Janet intended to spend the first few days digging out her inbox.

First, though, she was going home and thoroughly ravishing Sam. Stolen kisses when no one was looking were not nearly enough, and parts of the doctor were almost completely convinced she'd forgotten them.

In the end, she proved good to her word and did not require the wheelchair. However, the short journey from the ward to the parking lot exhausted her.

"Have you met General Landry yet?" Sam said as she pulled onto the freeway. She glanced over at her lover, not surprised to see Janet's eyes half closed.

"Mm? Yeah, he came by to introduce himself yesterday. He seems like a good man. What do you think?" Rearranging herself so she could look at Sam, Janet fought off sleep and tried to listen as the other woman spoke.

Sam chuckled. "It was a little rocky at first. A lot of boundary pushing went on between him and Jack, but I think it's settled down now."

"Sam said they got a new doctor," Cassie said. Her tone was somewhere between sullen and hopeful. When she'd first heard about Doctor Lam, she'd been afraid that they were replacing her mother, but then she'd thought about it and realized that maybe it meant her mom wouldn't have to go into danger so much.

Janet nodded. "I heard. Carolyn Lam's an excellent doctor. She'll make a great addition to the program." They'd butt heads, Janet knew it. They were both alpha females, used to having everything just so, but in the interest of the program, her sanity, and keeping her family whole, Janet knew she wouldn't complain. Much. Oh, I'll probably bitch about her at least once a week, but in the end it won't matter, because I'll get to come home to Cassie every day.

She glanced back at her daughter. Cassie had cut her hair. The once long locks were now pixie short. There was also a hint of makeup highlighting the teen's eyes and cheeks. Feeling only a little adrift, Janet said, "I like it." They'd discussed the haircut a few times over the weeks of Janet's convalescence, but she'd hoped Cassie would wait.

Unconsciously, Cassie touched her hair. "I wanted to do it before I changed my mind."

"I took pictures, and saved a lock for you," Sam murmured. "You can look at them when we get to your house."

Janet's gaze moved to Sam's profile. The beloved features were relaxed, though there was a slightly haunted gleam in the one blue eye that the doctor could see.

"It's not my house, Sam. It's our home. I want you to stay as often as you can. I know you can't move in, but we are a family."

Sam's knuckles whitened as she gripped the wheel. It was the closest thing she'd ever get to a proposal. It would have to do.

Fuck it.

"I'll move in tomorrow. The air force can kiss my ass."

Cassie's shriek of delighted laughter echoed in the car for almost half a mile.

The End

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