DISCLAIMER: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of MGM, Showtime, Gekko etc. and JAG belongs to CBS. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: The idea for this story comes from Morgan32, from way back in 2005, I think. She emailed me with a picture and a story idea to go along with it and asked if I could come up with the actual story. I said I'd give it a shot and it took this long for inspiration to strike. *g*
WARNING: There's a bit of violence aimed towards a favorite character of ours. It all works out in the end, trust me, but there are some heavy moments.
SPOILERS: In the Line of Duty, The Enemy Within, Singularity, Forever in a Day, Rite of Passage, Metamorphosis, Heroes, Threads, Prototype, Stronghold, The Scourge, Insiders.
CHALLENGE: Submitted as part of the Epic Proportions challenge.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Sam never marveled how universes could shift, how different realities could be formed by the smallest of decisions. How the simple decision to take the keys from Janet at the end of one night had led to that moment on the porch, her hands on Janet's hips, their every movement blurred by alcohol. She remembered that first kiss in the dark had led to more, how she had brushed Janet's hair out of her face so tenderly.
She never thought of alternate possibilities. She never thought of another outcome of the night where Daniel took a drunken Janet home and left her safely at the door. In that reality, Sam had never stood on a porch in the dark with Janet. They had never kissed. And four years later, Janet died in an ambush on a godforsaken planet.
Even if Sam had known of the differences, she never would have been able to track what changes the kiss had caused. She would never figure out how or why a drunken caress and the resulting relationship would change the trajectory of a Jaffa's staff weapon.
Perhaps it was better that she never knew.
That night, their favorite bar featured live music. A local band was playing a decent cover version of "Radar Love" and Vala was bouncing in her seat. The girls and guys had split up about an hour ago; Cam and Daniel were playing darts, Teal'c was watching (he'd been forbidden from playing several years ago when he had proven he was able to hit the bulls-eye even from the other side of the bar). Sam, Janet and Vala had retreated to the upper area of the bar with a pitcher of beer and some nachos.
After they'd drained the pitcher, Sam volunteered to go get a refill. She was weaving through the crowd when a shout went up from the dart board. She turned and watched as Cameron pumped his fist in the air and did a little dance. Assuming he'd just beaten Daniel, she continued toward her table.
She paused to let someone cross in front of her and spotted Janet through the crowd. Vala was focused on the spectacle at the dart board and, for the moment, no one was paying attention to Janet. She wasn't the kind of woman who got hit on at bars. She was just barely on the wrong side of forty, mother of a teenage daughter and didn't drink very much. She looked like an elementary school teacher out for a night on the town.
But still, something about her made people pay more attention to her than they might otherwise. She had been offered drinks and two or three men had asked her to dance and tried to strike up conversations with her. Janet always demurred and tried to focus their attention on Vala. Vala, naturally, drank up the attention like a sponge.
Right now, thinking she wasn't being watched, Janet was stirring her ice cubes with a straw. Her right hand cupped the side of her neck, her fingers massaging gently in a way that told Sam she was nursing a headache. Over the past year, Janet had started to lighten her hair until it was almost blonde. Janet rarely kept a hairstyle for more than a year, but Sam hoped this one stuck around for a while.
She finally broke her hypnosis and walked the rest of the way to the table. Vala was perched in her seat, legs folded under her, rocking to the music. Sam sat between Janet and Vala and touched Janet's side. "You okay?"
Janet nodded and closed her eyes. Sam leaned in and lightly kissed Janet's temple. "We'll go soon, okay?" she promised.
Janet moved her hand to Sam's thigh and squeezed gently. "Thank you."
Sam poured them each a beer and said, "Vala, I think we're going to call it a night soon."
Vala pouted. "But the Rabid Monkeys just started!"
"I know, but it's a little late for us old fogies," Janet said.
Vala sighed. "Fine. I'll have one of the boys drive me back to the base."
"Don't let this beer go to waste," Sam said. She stood and helped Janet to her feet.
Janet said, "Make sure the boy who drives you home has honorable intentions, Ms. Mal Doran."
"I promise nothing," Vala said, and toasted Janet with her glass.
Janet chuckled and pulled on her coat. Sam waved her arm over her head and caught Daniel's attention. She made walking moves with two fingers and nodded towards the door. Daniel waved and nudged Cam.
Cam looked at Daniel, looked at Sam and then called out, "Bye, Sam!"
Sam waved and put her hand in the small of Janet's back. They walked to the door with a generous amount of space between them, totally casual, just friends on their way out to the car. Once they stepped outside, out of the rock music din and crush of bodies, they seemed to gravitate towards each other. Sam put an arm around Janet's waist and drew her close. "You sure you're okay?" Sam asked.
"Just the loud music and all those people," Janet assured her. "It used to not bother me..."
"You also used to be able to drink one of those pitchers all by yourself."
Janet rolled her eyes. "Why do I tell you stories? Why?"
Sam smiled and moved her hand down to Janet's ass. "Because I find it hot that you were a wild child in college."
"Not in public," Janet chided. She squirmed away from Sam's caress and smiled. Sam returned the smile, but felt a little rejected. She hated not being able to hold her lover in public. Still, it wasn't very long ago that Janet had shunned any touching at all, so Sam was thrilled to just have her hand on Janet's hip and said nothing of the avoided caress.
It was different in a bar, surrounded by strangers who weren't paying them much attention. Vala knew about Sam and Janet's relationship, so she didn't care about witnessing the occasional touch or hug. But if they were in a quiet restaurant, if there was the slightest chance that anyone would see or infer that they were together, Janet turned cold. Sam hated it, but she would hate the alternative even more. Being caught, being transferred at best... she wouldn't be able to handle it.
They stopped by Sam's car, between halos of security lamps, and faced each other. Sam could see Janet's face illuminated by the bar's neon sign, could see the sparkle in her eyes and the flash of her teeth when she smiled. The majority of their romantic moments had taken place in the dark.
She brushed her thumb over Janet's bottom lip and folded her body in a way that had become familiar over the years. Her knees bent slightly and her spine curved. She lowered her head and, at the same time, used a hand at the small of Janet's back to pull her close. Janet's body arched like a bow and their lips met halfway.
"Sam," Janet whispered.
Sam brushed Janet's hair and stepped back. Janet looked up at her and said, "My place tonight?"
"Yeah," Sam said.
At a red light, Janet lifted her head from the window and reached down to play with the radio dials. "Vala asked if she'd made you mad."
"Vala's fine," Sam said. She watched the traffic flowing in front of their car. "Where the hell are all these people going this late?"
Janet checked her watch. "Football game at the high school."
Sam rubbed her temple and leaned back against the headrest.
"I think you'd like Vala if you spent any time with her."
"She tried to steal the Prometheus," Sam said. "And we just invited her in."
"There were mitigating circumstances."
"Oh, right, she threatened Daniel's life... of course we should offer her a spot on SG-1." She sighed. "Sorry. I'm a little territorial."
Sam smiled and squeezed Janet's thigh. "She flirts with you," Sam said suddenly.
"At dinner, at parties... she flirts with you. I hate it."
"Doesn't mean she'll get anywhere."
"I know. But it's... she knows you and I are a couple, even if no one else does. She knows and she flirts anyway. And I can't stand up to her because no one else knows. I get sick of it."
Janet moved Sam's hand from her thigh and slipped it between her legs. Sam looked over and Janet tightened her thighs around Sam's captured hand. "Next time, I'll tell her to stop myself. Okay?"
"Can you drive like this?"
Sam glanced at the red light. "N-no. Probably not."
"Okay," Janet said. She opened her legs and Sam reluctantly removed her hand. "Remember where we left off," she said.
Janet changed into a sheer white nightgown, her hair loose and tickling her shoulders. Sam was nude beneath her, hands roaming Janet's stomach through the silky material. Janet straddled Sam's hips and slowly rocked against her, her breathing becoming heavy after a few minutes of work. She bent down and kissed Sam, her hand moving between their bodies and touching herself under her gown. Janet whimpered and Sam cupped the back of her head, holding her in place as she came.
Janet moved her lips across Sam's cheek and eventually rolled to one side. "Sam," she whispered.
Sam rolled onto her side and Janet spooned against her back. She wrapped her arms around Sam, kissed the path of her spine and brushed her nose against the short hair at the base of Sam's neck. Janet's hands, doctor's hands, fine-boned and almost entities unto themselves, moved between Sam's thighs.
Sam moaned and pressed herself against Janet's hand. Janet used three fingers, twisting and alternating between pressure and penetration. Sam rolled her head back and Janet moved her lips to where Sam's neck met her shoulder. She nibbled the flesh up to Sam's earlobe and whispered, "You know I'm in love with you."
"Yes," Sam moaned.
"Not a day goes by that I don't almost say it," Janet said. "In a briefing... in the infirmary... it almost slips out before I realize it's the wrong place. It's always on the tip of my tongue, Sam. You're always on the tip of my tongue."
Sam moaned and pressed harder against Janet's hand. "Say it," Sam said.
"I love you, I love you," Janet said.
Sam cried out and put her hand over Janet's. She arched her back and Janet held her tight through her climax. When Sam came back down to the mattress, Janet was kissing the sweaty expanse of her shoulders. Sam rolled over and faced Janet, hands cupping her breasts through her nightgown. "I love you, too," Sam said.
Janet brushed the hair out of her own face and moved closer to Sam. "Will you stay for breakfast?" The question was almost a plea.
"Cassie?" Sam asked.
"It would at least be civil with you there. The girl is driving me crazy."
"It can't be that bad."
"If I told her the sky was blue, she would stomp her feet and tell me that it was actually white, with blue tinges and, God, don't I know anything?" She sighed and shook her head.
Sam chuckled and kissed Janet. "I'll stay for breakfast."
"Thank you," Janet whispered. She kissed Sam's mouth and rolled over, pulling Sam's arm around her. "Hold me."
Sam spooned against Janet's back and held her tight. She closed her eyes, smelling Janet's lavender body wash, and quickly fell asleep.
Sam jerked awake a few hours later, alone in bed, and cold. She pulled the blanket up to her chest and looked around the bedroom with one eye still closed. "Janet?" she murmured. She had the feeling something had woken her, some sound like a phone ringing or a knock on the door. Maybe Janet was just in the bathroom. "Janet, honey, I'm cold," she said. "Come back to bed."
She put her head down and pulled the blanket tighter to her chest. She was asleep again within thirty seconds.
The next morning, Sam woke to find the bed next to her was still empty. She checked the bathroom for Janet and, finding the shower empty, decided she was downstairs working on breakfast. Sam showered and brushed her teeth, dressed, and left the bedroom just as Cassandra was coming out of hers. "Hey, kid."
"Hey," Cassie muttered. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and yawned as she passed Sam.
Sam grabbed the girl's arm and gently pulled her to the side. "Hey. Cut your mom some slack, all right? I know it's hard to believe, but she and I were teenagers once, too. We know what you're going through. So stop treating us like we're from another planet. Okay?"
"You are from another planet," Cassie said.
"Yeah, but you're growing up on it. We know more about it than you do, probably. Your mom loves you."
"And I love you."
Sam smiled and kissed Cassandra's forehead. "Get in there. I'll take you to school."
"In the Volvo?" Cassandra asked, her outlook suddenly brightening.
"Yes, in the Volvo," Sam sighed. "But only if you're nice at breakfast."
Cassandra hurried into the bathroom and shut the door. Sam headed downstairs and said, "I talked to her. She's going to cut you a little slack today, I think." She walked into the kitchen and found she'd been speaking to an empty room. "Janet?"
She walked across the room to the back window. She pushed aside the curtain and craned her neck to look at the driveway. She could just see the front edge of Janet's car, right where it had been parked since yesterday afternoon. She had a sudden flash of a tree-lined jogging trail, Janet chugging along in sweatpants and a USAF t-shirt. It would explain why the shower hadn't been used; Janet liked to wait until after her run to shower.
She went to the cupboard and found some Pop Tarts. Janet would have a fit, but Sam despised cooking. Even eggs and bacon. Since Janet hadn't even bothered to start the coffee, it was going to be a Kellogg's-brand breakfast.
Sam didn't start to worry until she drove back by the house. Janet's car was still in the driveway, the front door was still locked and the newspaper was still lying in the walkway. When Sam went back through the house, she realized other small things were out of the ordinary. Janet's sweats were in the hamper, her running shoes tucked at the back of the closet where they always were.
And there were the things she hadn't done. No note? Leaving before she had even started breakfast? If there was any way to avoid Sam and Cassandra having a junk food breakfast, Janet would do it. Even with all the evidence that something was terribly wrong, Sam didn't really panic until she noticed the necklace.
It was lying next to the bathroom sink, the gold chain coiled around the ring it held. Sam picked it up with trembling hands, let the chain slip between her fingers, and held it up to the light. Their wedding ring. The ring Sam had given Janet almost three years ago to prove how she felt. The ring Janet never left without, not for jogging, not for anything. She loved to toy with it, twist the chain between her fingers, slip her fingertip into the ring and see how it would look to wear it for real...
Since Sam had presented it to her, Janet only took it off when she slept. It came off right before she got into bed and went on before she left the bedroom. So if it was still here, then Janet had never made it from the bed to the sink.
Sam took a breath and opened the front door. She smiled nervously and took in their faces; concern, fear, confusion. "Hey. Uh... c-come on in."
Cameron led the way into the house, followed by Teal'c and Daniel. "You didn't bring Vala?"
"I figured it was best," Daniel said. He crossed his arms over his chest and said, "You said you think Janet is missing?"
"Right. I... dropped her off here last night. We talked in the driveway for awhile and then I watched her go inside. I saw the light come on and I left. This morning, I came by again. Janet wasn't here, so I had breakfast with Cassandra, took her to school and came back to wait for Janet. She hasn't shown up." She walked to the front closet and opened it. "Her jacket is still here. Her car is here. It's like she just vanished into thin air."
"Sam..." Daniel said. He coughed into his hand and glanced at Teal'c.
"What really happened?" Cam asked gently.
Sam frowned. "What... do you mean?"
Daniel shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Sam, we, uh... we're pretty sure you didn't just leave last night. I mean... we've known each other for ten years now."
Cameron said, "Hell, I've only known her for two and I'm pretty damn sure it didn't happen that way. Sam. We know."
To Sam, it felt like the temperature in the house had dipped about fifty degrees. She looked at the ground and cleared her throat. "Well. In that case... I know Janet made it inside safe. I know she made it to bed. And I know she didn't get out of bed in the morning."
Daniel nodded. "Okay. We can take a look around, but I don't know what you expect us to find. If we mention it to General Landry, maybe..."
"No," Sam said. "Not yet. I have to be sure."
"Sure of what?"
"I think Janet was taken by an Asgard transporter. It's the only way they could have gotten her out of the house, right? Now, unless Thor brought her up to the ship for some reason - and Cam, I need you to check to see if he is in orbit if you can - there's only one Goa'uld with that kind of capability."
"Anubis," Daniel said. "Sam, I'm sorry, but... Anubis is long gone."
"Then another Goa'uld found and appropriated his technology. I haven't seen any kind of teleporting technology from the Ori... have you, Daniel?"
"I haven't seen any evidence of transportation devices, no... The Prior at Ver Ager seemed to be restricted to ring platforms."
"Do you believe Ba'al to be involved?" Teal'c asked.
Sam shook her head. "I don't think so. I mean, Ba'al has never even met Janet. Why would he go to all this trouble to kidnap her?"
"Assuming," Cam said, "she's been kidnapped."
Sam sighed. "Look at the facts, Cameron. Just... ignore everything else and look at the facts. Her car is here, her jewelry, her wallet, her jacket... she did not just get up and walk out without mentioning it. Something happened last night and we need to find out what as soon as possible."
Daniel glanced at Cameron, who shrugged and said, "All right. We'll help."
Sam closed her eyes. "Thank you, guys."
Janet woke to a throbbing migraine and a cold bed. She gathered the blankets in her hands and pulled them up to her neck. She rolled onto her back and immediately sensed something was incredibly wrong. Her eyes opened, but she remained perfectly still until she had figured out just what the problem was.
The ceiling above her was black with golden accents. Her heart skipped and she sat up immediately. She'd never been in one personally, but Sam had described Goa'uld holding cells well enough that Janet recognized it for what it was. "Oh, no," she muttered. "Haven't you heard? You're out, the Ori are in. Your agent should have told you..."
She was still wearing her nightgown, her legs exposed and cold, so she wrapped the blanket around herself like a shawl. She held it closed against her chest and stood up. The floor was freezing and a quiet humming filled her ears. The hum of a ship's engine, she realized. I'm on a ship.
"Hello?" she called. "Hello!"
Something Sam had never mentioned was the smell of a Goa'uld ship. It wasn't necessarily unpleasant, just... not what she'd expected upon waking up. She wanted Sam. Wanted Sam's smell, wanted Sam's warmth. Not this cold, dark hellish place. She leaned against the door next to the force field generator and watched the doorway at the opposite end of the corridor. "I'm going to keep talking to you. Ignore me if you want. I'll just..."
The door slid open and Janet straightened.
"I don't know who you think you grabbed, but you have the wrong person."
"On the contrary."
Janet froze. "You?! You're dead."
Nirrti wore a flowing black gown, open from throat to navel to reveal her cleavage. Her hands were wrapped in black-lace gloves and a delicate veil covered her face. But there was no mistaking that voice; not for Janet. Nirrti's dark crimson lips curled into a self-satisfied smile. "On the contrary. On both counts. I am quite alive... and I am quite certain I have captured the correct person."
Janet knew her face had gone pale. "Take me back to Earth right now."
"In good time. For now... tell me. How is our lovely daughter, Cassandra?"
Daniel shut his cell phone as he returned from the living room. "That was the electric company. Apparently, they've gotten several reports of power outages in this area. Nine houses on this block reported losing power last night at 4:06 AM."
Daniel nodded. "Apparently, the nine houses form an almost perfect ring around this house."
"It stands to reason," Sam said, "that a transporter of some kind was involved. Maybe a prototype rather than a finished model. That would explain the power outage. Whatever the abductor was must have sapped the power necessary to beam Janet back up to their ship."
"So, we can rule out Thor and his pals," Cam said.
"Also Anubis," Teal'c said. "His technology was quite advanced."
Sam sighed. "So that leaves Ba'al. I still don't know why he would target Janet. Of all people, why would he take her?"
"Perhaps he is merely waiting to make his motives known," Teal'c said.
"You think he's holding her hostage?"
Cam said, "As collateral for future collaboration, maybe. The important thing is that we have enough information now to prove this is an SGC-related issue. The power outage points to an extraterrestrial influence in Janet's disappearance. We can tell Landry everything we know without..." he glanced at Sam, "without compromising anyone."
"I appreciate that, guys, really."
Cam slapped his hands together and said, "All right, Scooby gang. Let's pack up the Mystery Machine and head to the mountain."
"She is not your daughter."
"Her existence is due to my intervention. I am far more of a mother to her than you are."
Janet barely restrained herself from leaping against the force shield. "Did you grab her, too? Is my daughter on this ship?!"
"No. It has been too long since I was forced to repair her damage. Even a sample of her blood would no longer be of use to me."
"Why did you take me?"
Nirrti moved closer to the force shield and smiled. "Because I know what lengths your people will go to in order to save you. I saw what happened when I threatened a child... I can only imagine the response to taking you."
Janet tried to look unaffected. She tightened her fist in the sheet and straightened her back. "You're willing to die? Because that's what will happen. You can't have Jaffa; they're all free. You don't have loyal minions. When the SGC finds out where you've stashed me, they're going to come in full-force. I don't know how you survived last time, but that? That you won't survive."
Nirrti laughed. "Still the powerful woman who held me at gunpoint so long ago. I'm glad to see you have not changed. It will be far more gratifying this way." She turned on her heel and walked back down the corridor.
Alone again, Janet walked back to the bed and dropped down. She buried her face in her hands and finally let herself begin to panic. She was at the mercy of a woman she'd once held at gunpoint. The Goa'uld didn't take kindly to that kind of humiliation. She could only pray that Nirrti had taken her alone. That way, Cassandra was definitely safe... and Sam was working on a way to rescue her.
Landry listened as the team explained Janet's disappearance, including Sam's first version of the morning's events. By the time they got to the power outage, he looked ready to agree to whatever they were planning. Unfortunately, they didn't have much of a plan laid out. "We know a good number of Ba'al's strongholds," Sam said. "His clones gave us a pretty decent list of them before... well, before they turned on us." She swallowed hard and glanced at Cam before continuing. "What I suggest, sir, is that we begin the search with those worlds and work our way out."
"There's only one problem with that plan, Colonel," Landry said. "Ba'al has no reason whatsoever to even know Janet Fraiser exists, correct? Odds are, if he could grab someone off Earth, he would go after Teal'c or Dr. Jackson or yourself."
"Especially..." Daniel said. He caught himself before he went any farther.
Landry raised his eyebrows and held his hands out. "Doctor Jackson?"
Daniel cleared his throat. "Well, sir, I was just going to point out that, ah... Sam, Cameron, Teal'c and I have all been equipped with tracking devices. It wouldn't have been difficult for Ba'al to find the frequency and grab one of us. To get Janet, she would have to have been... marked somehow."
Sam's eyes widened. She hadn't thought of that. Maybe Ba'al had targeted her. Could something have been planted for her? Something that ended up with Janet? She racked her brain trying to think of anything she'd brought through the Stargate recently. Everything was thoroughly examined, X-rayed, irradiated or simply disposed of. She couldn't think of anything that could have slipped through the cracks and ended up in Janet's home.
"Janet hasn't been through the Gate since the incident on the Gamma site," Sam said. She didn't want to tell them that she still had nightmares about those bugs crawling on her. "Ba'al wouldn't have planted anything on her then just to grab her now. How could he have? He doesn't even know where the Gamma site is. Was."
"Are we sure it even was Ba'al?" Landry said. "I can't wrap my mind around him taking one of my people, any of my people, when he's had ample opportunity to take any of you. Colonel Carter, he could've had one of his clones grab you when they transported away from the base. Teal'c, he's actually held you for a while."
Teal'c tensed at the reminder.
Vala leaned on her fist and glanced at Cam and Daniel. "Feel kind of left out, boys?"
"My point is," Landry said, "I don't believe he would go to this trouble for someone who isn't on SG-1. How could Dr. Fraiser possibly help him? How could he even know of her?"
"We don't know what information Ba'al has become privy to since taking over the Trust," Sam said. "He may have learned of her medical expertise there. Her work on Khalek, the advanced human from Anubis' lab... he could be trying to continue Nirrti's research on a hok'taur."
Daniel looked up. "Nirrti."
Sam frowned. "Nirrti has been dead for four years, Daniel. Colonel O'Neill saw Wodan snap her neck."
"We saw a lot of Goa'ulds die over the years. How many of them came back?"
Sam sighed and shook her head.
"Well, it makes a lot more sense than Ba'al, doesn't it? Nirrti has probably held a grudge against Janet since the incident in the holding cell."
Vala held her hand up. "What incident...?"
Daniel explained. "Nirrti was attempting to create an advanced human as a host. Cassandra began showing symptoms of an experiment Nirrti had been running. Nirrti ended up on the base, we imprisoned her and Janet held her at gunpoint until she swore to cure Cassie."
"That wasn't in the mission report," Cam said.
"No," Sam said, giving him a pointed look. "It wasn't."
"Presumed-dead Goa'uld with a debt to settle," Landry said. "Sounds a bit more reasonable than Ba'al suddenly going after our good doctor without a motive. Do you have any idea where Nirrti might be hiding out, Colonel?"
"Only Hanka or Alebran's world," Sam said.
"Nirrti also held court on a small trading planet in the Balereus system," Teal'c said. "It is likely she would return there for any necessary supplies."
Landry smiled. "Ah, three worlds to check out instead of twenty-plus. I'm liking this angle more and more." He stood and said, "You have a go. Take SG-3 with you and check out Nirrti's worlds first. If you don't find anything to suggest she's still alive, I'll allow you to turn you attention back to Ba'al. In the meantime, keep me informed. We're minus one Chief Medical Officer and I just know Siler is somewhere on the base messing with faulty wiring."
Sam and Cameron stood as Landry left the briefing room. Sam turned to Daniel as soon as the General was gone. "I can't believe I didn't think of Nirrti."
"Someone you care about disappeared without a trace last night," Cam said. "You're under a bit of stress; you had a momentary lapse. Don't worry about it."
Sam nodded and followed them from the briefing room. A momentary lapse in the brainstorming stage was fine. But if rescuing Janet came down to milliseconds, if Janet's life depended on making a snap decision... what then?
Janet stood when Nirrti returned, standing at the force shield when Nirrti arrived. "Step back," Nirrti said.
"What are you going to do to me?"
"Step back," Nirrti said again, her eyes unwavering.
Janet stepped back from the shield. She kept her eyes locked on Nirrti as the shield came down. Nirrti walked casually into the cell and clasped her hands behind her back. "When I am shackled to a chair, you are all teeth and threats. How about when the tables have been turned?"
"You're looking for an excuse to kill me."
"Not yet," Nirrti smiled. "I simply wish to see if the woman who held a gun on me five long years ago still exists."
Janet had trained in hand-to-hand combat, of course. But that was in fatigues, not her favorite silk nightie that still smelled of Sam. She was barefoot, sleep-deprived and hungry. She remembered the bitch's voice when she said "You have waited too long." She remembered the smug look of superiority when O'Neill led her from the room to let her leave. Let her leave!
Janet didn't telegraph her assault; she launched herself without hesitation or feinting. Nirrti was actually taken by surprise and brought both arms in to protect her chest. Janet bent at the waist and slammed her shoulder against Nirrti's arms with all her weight. Nirrti stumbled, but didn't fall. If I can get past her, activate these doors...
Nirrti closed a fist in Janet's hair and threw her back towards the far wall. Janet stumbled and fell. Nirrti dropped to one knee and swung her arm like a hammer. Her nails scratched across Janet's left cheek, drawing three narrow lines of blood in their wake. Janet howled and Nirrti stood.
"You are still the same woman," Nirrti said, out of breath, her dress sagging to reveal one bare breast. Janet looked away from the exposure; the knowledge that Nirrti's host had been a beautiful woman was not lost on her. Nirrti had stolen that anonymous woman's life as well. "We will continue this later," Nirrti promised. She stepped out of the cell and reactivated the shield.
Janet pulled herself to her feet and watched Nirrti walk away.
Please, Sam, Janet pleaded. Please... hurry.
Sam still wasn't used to sharing the locker room with Vala. On the bright side, now it was two against three when it came to deciding who got the showers first. Sam geared up and tried to ignore Vala, tried to focus on her own thoughts, but she could feel Vala's eyes on her. Finally, she turned and said, "What?"
Vala, her vest dangling from her fingertips, said, "I'm sure she's all right. From what I've seen, Janet can take care of herself. She's scrappy."
Sam nearly snapped at Vala, but decided to take the comment in the spirit in which it was intended. "Thank you, Vala."
"No problem." Vala patted Sam on the shoulder as she headed out of the locker room. Sam fastened her vest and looked at the photograph pasted at the back of her locker. It was an innocent picture, on the surface, of SG-1 at General O'Neill's cabin. O'Neill and Daniel were at the top of the picture, with Teal'c, Vala and Cameron kneeling in front of them. Sam and Janet were crouched in between the two rows. Sam had her arm around Janet's shoulders and Janet was laughing hard at the fact General O'Neill was tickling the back of her legs with a fishing lure.
Jack had known Sam and Janet were lovers since the za'tarc incident. Sam had revealed the truth to him rather than let him further embarrass himself. He had taken it extremely well and, on the trip to the cabin, had casually offered the best room to Sam and Janet. Sam touched the edge of the picture and closed her eyes. Stay strong, she told herself. You can cry when Janet is safe and she can hold you.
She brushed her hand under her nose and made sure her eyes weren't red before she slammed the locker door and joined Vala in the corridor. They walked to the elevators together and rode to Level 28. As they approached the Gate Room, Sergeant Harriman came down the stairs from the Control Room. "Ah. Colonel, I was just on my way to find you. There's a phone call for you."
Sam frowned. "I have a call now?"
"Sorry. He says it's urgent."
"Five minutes," Sam said to the team. She followed Walter up the stairs and took a seat next to his station. She found the telephone and said, "This is Lieutenant Colonel Carter."
"My, how formal everything has gotten since I went away."
Sam's eyes widened. "General O'Neill."
"Hank called and told me what's going on. Fraiser's missing, you're checking out Nerdy... I just wanted to drop you a line. Let you know we got your back here at home."
"Thank you, Sir," Sam said. "I appreciate that."
"I gave her a hard time, but there's no other miniature Machiavelli I'd rather have running SGC Medical. You bring her back safe."
"I'll do my best, Sir."
"Don't tell her what I just said. She'd... hurt me."
Sam laughed. "No promises, Sir. Thank you for the call."
"Make a Wizard of Oz reference when you get to the other side. Let the universe know Jack O'Neill is still out there."
"Will do." She looked through the glass and saw her team standing by. "I have to go, Sir. My team is waiting."
"Yes. Your team. I'm proud of you, Carter."
"Thank... thank you, Sir."
"I have to go. They're thrusting paperwork at me again..."
"Talk to you soon, Sir."
She hung up and glanced at Walter. "Couldn't have warned me?"
"He told me not to," Walter said. "He can be... persuasive."
Sam laughed. "How do you think I ended up spending my last vacation fishing?" She stood and walked from the control room. As she entered the Gate Room, she said, "General O'Neill gives us his blessing."
"Well, hell, can't imagine anything going wrong now. Dial us up, Walter!"
"Where are we checking first?" Daniel asked.
"P4C-367," Cameron said. "It's Nirrti's last known whereabouts... might as well see if the locals spotted her walking around after her supposed death."
"Good idea," Sam said. She turned to watch the Stargate dial so they wouldn't see the concern in her eyes. They were trying to track down Nirrti based on intel from four years ago. And if searching for Nirrti turned up nothing on Janet's location? What then?
The Stargate activated and Sam led the way up the ramp. One way or another, she wasn't going to give up easily.
Janet was prepared when Nirrti returned. The force shield went down and Janet thrust both hands forward. The blanket she'd been wrapped in flew forward like a giant golden moth and draped over Nirrti like a little kid playing ghost. Janet rushed forward and slammed into Nirrti. She knocked the Goa'uld back against the wall and spun like the world's smallest linebacker going for the touchdown.
She stopped at the control panel and stared at the two rows of yellow buttons. Sam, please, please! she pleaded. She remembered Sam giving her a crash course on Goa'uld controls, but had barely paid attention. She prayed some of it had rubbed off, some sort of osmosis had kept the information in her mind...
Liquid fire ignited at the base of her skull and Janet's entire body tensed. The world turned golden, the walls seeming to melt as she looked at them, and she fell to her knees. When the pain abated, she sobbed and clutched her temples with both hands.
"That was most unwise," Nirrti hissed.
The pain stick jabbed her spine again and Janet screamed in agony. "Soon we will be at our destination. And I promise you... once I have done what is necessary, you will be free to return to your home." She lifted Janet by the hair and said, "Granting, of course, they are willing to take you back once I am through with you."
Janet whimpered as she was lifted off the ground and thrust forward. "Walk to the door. There is much we must accomplish before we reach my planet."
Nirrti's palace on Balereus was surrounded on all sides by a massive marketplace. Vala recognized it right off and suggested they let her do the talking. She led them through the dusty streets and found the shop she was looking for just as the sun began to set. They stepped into the open-air shop and Vala pounded her palm against the wooden counter. "Mikel! Mikel, come out right now!"
A dirty man in a dirtier tunic pushed aside the curtain that separated the front and back of the storefront. "Vala Mal Doran?" he said. He looked at her outfit, then at the group of similarly-dressed people standing in the doorway. "Ah, hell, don't tell me you gone union on us, Vala."
"Hardly," Vala said. "These are my escorts. It's a rough galaxy out there, you know."
He didn't look convinced. "What brings you to my side of the universe?"
"I'm looking for the tenant of that castle up there. Nirrti, I think her name is...?"
"What do you want with her?"
Sam said, "Just information. Has she been here recently?"
"Maybe. Things being as they are, I really can't remember one day to the next."
Vala spoke up before Sam could go further. "How much?"
Mikel stroked his double-chin. "I seem to remember a naquadah mine you had the location of. If you were willing to part with that information..."
"That mine has been dry for years," Vala scoffed. "Be real, Mikel."
"Well, it's a starting point at least. What about the..."
He didn't finish his thought. Sam crossed the distance from the door to the counter, reached across and closed her hand around his throat. She dragged the heavyset man forward and pressed her knife against his cheek. Cameron and Daniel both shouted her name, but Sam ignored them. "We don't have time for games. Has Nirrti been to this planet recently? Yes... or no?"
"No! No, okay, Nirrti hasn't been here for years!"
Sam released the man and let Cameron pull her back. Vala said, "Thank you for your hospitality, Mikel, we simply must do this again, it's been a pleasure, see you!"
They rushed out of the store and away from any prying eyes that might have seen Sam's attack.
Cameron pushed her into a nearby alley and said, "What the hell was that?!"
"That guy was jerking us around. Janet doesn't have that kind of time."
Cam said, "Look, I know we're the same rank, but if you pull another stunt like that, I will send you back through the Gate to Earth faster than you can spit. Acting like that won't help Janet. It could have shut him up for good. It could have made him lie to us. We have no way of knowing now, Sam!"
She pushed his hand away and straightened her jacket. She took a deep breath, sheathed her knife and pushed her hair out of her face. "You're right," she said softly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Vala. I shouldn't have butted in."
"No," Vala said. "It's one of the most unique interrogation techniques I've ever seen. And I'm certain Mikel was telling the truth."
"Why?" Cam said.
"I once shot him in the leg when he lied to me. As far as he knows, anyone I'm traveling with is just as eager to cause bodily harm. Trust me, he was telling the truth."
"Well, good," Cam said. He sighed and grabbed his radio. "SG-3, this is Mitchell. We're coming back to the Gate; this place was a bust."
Sam led the way out of the alley, followed by the rest of her team. Cameron glanced at the temple on the hill and, under his breath, said, "One down, two to go..."
They left SG-3 at the Stargate and headed towards the village. Last time the team had been to this world, they had bypassed Alebran's village and gone straight to Nirrti's temple in the hills. This time, however, it was already apparent that they wouldn't need to search the temple. Three of the outer walls were collapsed. A pile of rubble led from the ruins down the trail to the village. "It appears the locals did not take kindly to Nirrti's evolutionary intervention," Teal'c said.
"You could say that again," Cameron said.
Teal'c, as a testament to his growth since coming to Earth, did not repeat what he had just said.
Sam pushed her cap up and squinted at the sun. "Well... I suppose this would be the yellow-brick road. What say we follow it, see what the Wizard grants us?" When she looked back down, she saw the rest of the team was staring at her. She smiled and shrugged. "Trying to... lighten the mood. Plus I made a promise to General O'Neill."
"Ah," Daniel said.
"Well, then. Like the tin man said," Cameron said. He gestured at the road and said, "Follow the, follow the, follow the."
"I believe that was a Munchkin," Teal'c corrected.
"Whoever it was," Sam said, "Janet's not getting any closer. Let's move out."
Janet weakly lifted her head from the table. "Please. Stop."
"When I awoke from my... death... I said much the same thing," Nirrti said. The room was dark, save for the lights shining down on Janet's face. The Goa'uld was a silhouette moving at the edges of Janet's vision, a specter borne out of nightmares. "My creations revived me merely for the sport of killing me again. Making me pay for the injustices I had rained upon them. Now, I find myself in their position. You were so powerful when I was imprisoned by your people. Now you are at my mercy.
"I must say," she purred, leaning over Janet's face and in her line of vision, "now that I see how enjoyable vengeance can be... I cannot say I blame them their enthusiasm..."
Janet closed her eyes and strained at the leather straps that held her down."SG-1... will find me... No matter where you take me."
"I have no doubt of that," Nirrti said. "In fact, they've already arrived at the planet we are en route to. I'm slightly surprised at their speed... but it only serves to accelerate my plans." She pressed something cold to Janet's side.
Janet screamed as the object pierced her flesh.
The road was lined by small shacks on either side of the dirt street. The team split up and began knocking on doors. They were well into the village when they finally got an answer. A muscular red-haired man with a thick beard rounded the corner of the house and warily eyed the strangers on his porch. "Can I help you folks?"
"Hi," Sam said. "I'm Lieutenant Colonel Samantha Carter..."
"Of SG-1," the man said. He smiled and said, "Yes, I remember now. You were called Major then." He extended a hand and said, "I am Eggar."
Sam blinked. "Wow. You've... changed a bit."
He laughed and said, "Yes. I used my knowledge of Nirrti's DNA machine to reverse the damage she had done." He looked at the team and said, "I... recognize only one of your friends..."
"Right," Sam said. She looked at the team and realized just how much had changed since their last visit to this world. Daniel had been ascended and they hadn't even met Cam or Vala yet. "This is Colonel Cameron Mitchell, Dr. Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran."
"Greetings to you all," Eggar said. "What brings you back to our world?"
Sam glanced at Cameron and said, "We were wondering... if you'd disposed of Nirrti's body following her death."
Eggar tensed slightly. "What... would make you ask that?"
"We have reason to believe she may still be alive. If her symbiote managed to survive or..."
"It... was not her symbiote," Eggar admitted. He brought his hand to his mouth and closed his eyes. "Not long after you left, several of us decided to get revenge for the torture Nirrti subjected us to. We used her gene re-sequencer to revive her."
"You brought her back to life?"
"In a sense. Her energy waned, her body required massive amounts of energy even to stand for long periods of time. We were fortunate if she was conscious for twenty minutes every day. But we took advantage of what time we were given. It was fine... until she revealed she had been playing us for fools. She broke free of her restraints and killed the guards we had posted. By the time the alarm was raised, she had escaped to a hidden cargo ship."
"Damn it," Sam hissed. "How long ago was this?"
"Nearly four months after your team left."
"Nirrti's been hiding out for the past three years," Sam said. "She must have waited out the fall of the System Lords."
"There is one bright side," Teal'c said. "I do not believe Nirrti would have been successful in recruiting an army of Jaffa.
"So she's a lone wolf," Cam said. "Shouldn't be too hard to take her down, get Fraiser back."
"She's still weak," Eggar said. "We simply underestimated her. I advise you not to make the same mistake."
"Don't worry," Sam said. "When we find her, we'll be on alert."
Eggar frowned. "When you find her? Then you... you were not aware she is returning?"
Sam felt a chill. "What?"
"A few days ago, we received word to expect her return. Her messenger said that she held no quarrel with us... that if we left her alone, she would in turn leave us alone. As you can see, very few of us took her at her word." He gestured at the empty land around his home. "They have left until such time as they believe it is safe to return."
"Did Nirrti say why she was returning?" Sam asked.
"She required the gene re-sequencer. Apparently she has a new subject she wants to test it on."
Cameron looked at Sam and saw her face go pale. "Thanks a lot, Eggar. You've been a great help."
"I hope you are able to rescue your friend," he said as they walked away from his house.
Cam glanced over his shoulder to make sure Eggar wasn't following them before he spoke. "So. We take him at his word?"
Daniel said, "He was one of Nirrti's guards the first time you came here."
"Yes, but he's also the one who snapped her neck," Sam said. "I think we can trust what he says is the truth. The truth as he knows it, anyway." She looked at the ruined temple and said, "If Nirrti wanted the gene re-sequencer, why send the messenger to say she was coming to get it?"
"Smell a trap?"
"Yeah," Sam said.
"Those are the best kind," Cam said. "That kind, you have a chance of turning the tables. Come on. Let's plant a little surprise for Nirrti."
Sam crouched between a lattice-work wall and an overgrown shrub. The gene re-sequencer platform stood in the center of the room, it and the control panel the only part of the temple that hadn't been vandalized. It made sense, she figured, since the people doing the vandalism were likely relying on the machine to make them normal. She had felt queasy since first setting foot in the room; she still remembered how close she had come to dying thanks to Nirrti's machinations.
Daniel was the lookout, stationed at the rock outcropping next to the path. Teal'c was on the roof, Cameron and Vala stationed at the east and west corners of the temple. They had all the entrances covered; if Nirrti transported directly to the throne room, Sam would see her. If she tried to enter on foot, Cam or Vala would stop her. If she came through the Stargate, SG-3 would stop her. If she landed the shuttle, if she flew down to the village... she was not getting past them.
After nearly an hour with no action, Sam was about to radio SG-3 to check on their situation when Daniel's voice hissed through her speaker. "Teal'c. We have a cargo ship en route to the temple from the, ah... north-northwest."
"I see it, Daniel Jackson."
"Don't make a move yet," Sam said. "Let her think everything is as she left it." Hopefully, she would walk right into their hands. If Teal'c was right, it was simply a matter of flanking her, taking her down and searching her ship. She raised the TER and focused it on the door Nirrti would have to use to enter the room.
A few seconds later, she heard the rush of wind that signaled the arrival of the ship. "The cargo ship has landed not far from my position," Teal'c said in a hushed voice. After a moment, he said, "Has the ring platform activated?"
"No," Sam reported. "What's wrong?"
"There does not appear to be any activity coming from the ship..."
"Decoy, maybe?" Cameron said. "Maybe Nirrti is sitting pretty in orbit and just sent this down to see if anyone blew it outta the sky."
"I do not believe so," Teal'c said. "While Nirrti most likely does have an al'kesh in orbit, the cargo ship's landing was far too smooth to have been automatic."
"Don't give away your position just yet," Sam said reluctantly. "She may be waiting to see if the locals kept up their end of the bargain and stayed away. Only make a move if you think she's preparing to leave again."
She kept her eye on the ring platform and casually swept the TER across the room. The wait was unbearable. What the hell was Nirrti doing up there? Had she scanned the temple for life signs? If so, their cover was already blown. So why hadn't Nirrti just turned around and left again? What the hell was being accomplished sitting there?
She sighed and took her radio again, "Teal'c, approach the vessel."
"Very well," Teal'c said. She leaned against the wall and waited for his update. She assumed he was moving across the ceiling now, running at a low crouch, his weapon at the ready. She could almost see his eyes flicking from the hatch to the window, making sure his approach wasn't observed. He would be able to get in easily enough, if Nirrti hadn't secured the hatch.
"I am inside the ship," Teal'c whispered, confirming her mental play-out. "The command center is empty... I am checking the cargo area." She wished he could keep the link open, but knew he was using his free hand to train a weapon on the doorway. She hated being cut out like this, hated relying on radio transmissions to learn what was happening.
"Colonel Tran, contact the SGC immediately. We require medical assistance."
Sam's entire body went cold. "Teal'c...?"
"Colonel Carter. Come to the roof immediately."
Sam was already on her feet, blood rushing through her ears. As she raced up the stairs to the roof, her mind flashed upon images of Janet bloody, beaten, dead or mutilated. She exploded through the access door and squinted as the dying sun slapped her in the face. She ignored the blindness and ran straight forward until she could see where she was going. The cargo ship lay dead ahead and eventually faded into clarity.
Teal'c was standing at the door, waiting for her. God, if Janet was so bad, why wasn't he with her?! She slammed into his shoulder, trying to move him out of her way, but his hands caught her shoulders and forced her back out of the ship. "Goddamn it, Teal'c, let me in there!"
"Colonel Carter," Teal'c said sharply. "You must be focused when you enter that room. You must be aware of every stimulus."
Sam frowned. "What are you talking about?" she hissed. "Let me by!"
Teal'c released her and Sam rushed into the ship. The cargo bay door stood open and she stopped there to take in the scene.
Janet lay on a medical bed in the center of the transport rings. Her wrists and ankles were strapped down with leather straps. She was still wearing the nightie she'd had on the last time Sam saw her and - "Stop it," Janet giggled. Sam buried her face against Janet's stomach and licked her flesh through the silky material - Sam pushed aside the memories it brought to the surface.
Janet's left cheek was scratched and dried blood trailed down towards her throat. There were bruises on her arms and legs and the side of her nightie was torn to reveal her upper hip. A circle of flesh appeared to have been burnt away and blood darkened the bed next to the wound.
Nirrti lay to one side of the table, curled in the fetal position. Her eyes were wide and unseeing, her hands curled in loose fists. Her gown surrounded her body like a pool of spilt ink, the veil over her face unmoving. She wasn't breathing, she hadn't twitched... she was definitely dead. But was Janet...?
Sam moved to run to the bed, but stopped just short of arm's length. She suddenly understood Teal'c's warning; something was definitely wrong. It took her a moment to remember what the feeling was, why it caused such dread in her. It had been so long since she had sensed a Goa'uld, or rather since she'd noticed sensing it, that the feeling was like spiders crawling on the back of her neck.
She stumbled back, nearly tripping over her feet, and ran out of the cargo area. Teal'c caught her and held her in place. "Oh, God," Sam whispered. "God. God, no, Teal'c, tell me she's not..."
"Then you sensed what I feared," Teal'c said quietly. His eyes were shining with unshed tears and he looked over Sam's head into the room. "I examined Nirrti before you arrived. She is no longer carrying a symbiote. If the host body was too damaged from the torture she suffered at the hands of Eggar's people..."
"No," Sam said.
"The symbiote would take the nearest possible host."
"No!" Sam said again. She pushed away from Teal'c and ran back into the room. She restrained herself from climbing onto the bed and pulling Janet into her arms, instead standing next to her and cupping both hands around her throat. Her thumbs pressed against Janet's windpipe as her fingertips palpated the soft flesh at the back of her neck. She lifted Janet's head and brushed her hair out of the way. "No scar on the back of the neck..."
She lovingly placed Janet's head back on the pillow and parted her lips. She squinted, wishing for a penlight, and said, "I don't... see any abrasions at the back of the throat. I didn't feel a symbiote on her spinal cord... Teal'c..."
"The symbiote may have been damaged beyond surviving. If Nirrti blended with her in time, she could have transferred her consciousness to Janet Fraiser's mind. We have seen it done before, in Major Kawalsky. We cannot be certain until we have returned to the SGC."
Sam and Teal'c both looked down at Janet. Her eyelids flickered and she looked up at the people standing over her. "Stop," she said again. "No more."
"Janet?" Sam whispered.
Janet's eyes opened wide and she tried to bring up her hand. The strap kept her from touching Sam's face. "Sam?!"
Sam reached down and clasped Janet's hand. "It's me, baby. I'm here."
"Nirrti. Sam, Nirrti is..."
"Dead," Sam said. "Don't worry, Janet. We'll get you out of here."
Janet frowned and looked at Teal'c. "Something's wrong. She did... something to me."
"What?" Sam whispered. She started undoing the straps on Janet's wrist to keep from looking her in the eye.
"I... don't remember. I was in... in so much pain." She squeezed her eyes shut and whimpered.
Sam fought the urge to cry with her. As she freed Janet's right arm, Cameron and Daniel joined them in the cargo ship. "Is she all right?" Daniel asked.
"We have to get her back to the SGC as soon as possible," Sam said.
"Water," Janet said.
Sam unfastened the canteen from her belt and flicked the top with her thumbnail. She put her arm behind Janet to help her sit up and put the mouth of the canteen to Janet's lips. As Janet drank, Vala said, "It's good to see you still alive."
Janet smiled weakly and said, "Thank you, Vala." She tipped her head back to take a sip, swallowed and grimaced. She nodded that Sam could take the canteen away and groaned. "I feel..."
"What?" Sam said. "Where do you hurt?"
"My chest," Janet said. "My left side... both legs. God... is Nirrti really dead?"
"Yeah, Janet," Sam said. She helped Janet off the bed and noticed how low-cut the nightie actually was. She glanced at Daniel and said, "You packed the..."
"Oh, right," Daniel said. He pulled off his pack and dropped it to the ground. He knelt and withdrew a folded uniform. He handed it to Janet and said, "Hopefully it's the right size."
Janet took the clothes and hugged them to her chest. Sam nodded at the door and said, "Guys, could you...? Teal'c, fill them in."
Teal'c nodded and cast a wary look in Janet's direction before he stepped out of the room.
Janet pulled the uniform pants on and tucked her nightie into it. "There's something you're not telling me," she said. "That look Teal'c just gave me..."
Sam smiled. "You don't miss much, do you?"
"Sam," Janet said. There was a tremor in her voice and her eyes were wide with barely-contained fear. "Tell me. Did she... do anything to me?"
"When Teal'c and I first found you," Sam said, struggling to keep her voice steady, "we both sensed naquadah when we approached you."
Janet's face fell and her arms froze in the process of pulling on the jacket. "Oh, my God..."
"I didn't see any entry points and there doesn't seem to be any evidence that you've been blended..."
"There doesn't necessarily have to be any blatant signs," Janet said. "We know that from Jolinar." She pushed her hair out of her face and then suddenly thrust her arms towards Sam. "You have to restrain me."
"What? No, Janet, I..."
"Do it!" Janet hissed. She pressed her wrists together and said, "I don't know what the hell Nirrti did to me, but I know my mind is foggy. I know she hurt me. Until you get me back to the SGC and you're sure she didn't take over my mind, you keep me restrained!"
Sam closed her eyes and knew that Cam, if not Teal'c, would demand the same thing. She pulled the zip ties from her vest and slipped the circles over Janet's hands. She pulled them tight enough to hold, but not enough to cut into her flesh. "There," she said, a little more cold than she'd intended. "Happy?"
"Yes," Janet said. "Could you zip up my jacket, please?"
Sam stepped closer and pulled the zipper up. She rested her hands on Janet's shoulders and looked into her eyes. "I will never believe you're a danger to me," she said softly.
"Nine years ago, the Tok'ra that had taken you hostage grabbed Cassandra by the throat and threatened her. Since then, I've been able to see past looks. You should be, too, Sam. I may not be who I appear. You have to accept that and act accordingly."
"Why would you be telling me this if you were a Goa'uld?"
"Maybe the Goa'uld is recuperating. Maybe it doesn't have the strength to control me yet. Just remember that at some point... I may cease being Dr. Janet Fraiser and become..." Her eyes cut towards Nirrti's still form.
Sam closed her eyes. "Fine. I'll do what I have to when and if it's necessary."
"I'd rather die than live as a host. I want you to know that, too."
"A bullet in my head is better than a snake."
"Stop!" Sam snapped. She moved her hands to Janet's face and cupped her cheeks. "I thought I had lost you forever. Can I please just... enjoy holding you again? Just for a minute or two?"
Janet stepped forward and put her head against Sam's breast. "Yes, Sam. I'm so grateful it was you who... I prayed for you to find me."
Sam closed her eyes and kissed the top of Janet's head.
"We should get out there before the guys start to wonder..."
"They know," Sam said. She stepped back and brushed at her cheeks. "They've apparently known for a while."
Janet laughed. "I should've known." She let Sam guide her to the door, leaning heavily on her lover's side as they walked to the door. They joined the rest of the team outside the cargo ship. The sun had reached the far hills and was casting red and gold sheets across the countryside.
Cameron nodded at the sunset. "We're not going to make it to the Gate by nightfall. I could call SG-3, have them contact the SGC and let them know we got Fraiser and we're spending the night here..."
"No," Janet said suddenly. Everyone looked at her and she shrugged. "I want to get this over and done with as soon as possible. If we stay here tonight, you'll have to stand watch. I... I'm sorry. I just want to end this as soon as possible."
"Well," Cameron said. "In that case, unless there are any objections to a night hike...?" No one voiced a complaint. Cam grabbed his radio. "Mitchell to Tran. Contact the SGC, let them know we have Fraiser. She's... alive and well, but there are complications. We're heading back to the Gate now; expect us in an hour to ninety minutes from now."
"Acknowledged, Cam. Complications or no, I'm glad Fraiser is safe."
Janet smiled and sagged slightly against Sam's side. "Can you walk?" Sam asked.
Janet nodded. "I'm just a little woozy."
Sam caught Teal'c's look but ignored its implication. She put her arm around Janet's waist and held her as they walked towards the stairwell door.
SG-1 entered the forest as the sun finally disappeared behind the hills. The nocturnal creatures stepped from their dens, saw the strangers, and immediately darted back into the safety of their homes. Cameron and Daniel led the way with their flashlights held aloft, lighting the way where the moon couldn't reach. Bringing up the rear, Teal'c added his own flashlight to the mix while keeping his eyes peeled for dangerous animals.
Vala and Sam walked between the men and on either side of Janet, offering the doctor support when she needed it and making sure she didn't stumble over anything in her path. Twice, Janet nearly fell and had to rely on Sam and Vala's help to stand again. Cam glanced back. "We could make a stretcher if..."
"No," Janet said. She shook her head and waved a hand at him. "I can walk. I just... I'm just a little wobbly."
"Janet?" Sam whispered.
"My chest hurts," Janet admitted quietly.
"Should we stop?"
Janet shook her head again. "I'll be fine. Just get me to the Stargate. Please, Sam..."
Sam caught Cameron's eye and nodded quickly. He nodded back and said, "All right. Let's keep moving. Long way to go before the sun shines."
Janet tightened her hand on Sam's arm, steeled herself and started walking again. Before they had gotten ten yards, Janet collapsed.
"Doc, we're making you a stretcher."
Sam rolled Janet over and said, "No. This isn't just weakness or exhaustion. Janet? Janet!" Teal'c thrust a pack at her and she recognized it as the medical kit they had packed 'just in case.' She tore it from his hands and put the stethoscope pieces in her ears.
"It could be a matter of life and death," Janet said.
"When you told me to meet you in the infirmary after hours, and then you told me to take off my shirt, I had a totally different night in mind." She hissed. "Oh, God, that's cold. Do you keep these things in the freezer?"
"Only the ones I use on you," Janet said. "Now pay attention. I'm going to teach you how to use all of this equipment if it kills me."
"If I'm a good patient, will I get a lollipop?"
"I might could find something for you to suck on," Janet smiled. Her eyes widened and she said, "Oh, my, that certainly kicked up your heart rate..."
Sam's hands shook as she pressed the cold stethoscope disc to Janet's chest. "She's got an irregular heartbeat," she breathed. A feeling of déjà vu began tickling the back of her mind and she looked at the medical kit. "Do we have defib paddles?"
"Yes..." Daniel said. "What's going on...?"
Sam took the defibrillation paddles - a small machine that Janet had laughed about seeing on Amazon.com - and turned it to 60 joules. She hesitated with the paddles over Janet's chest. If she shocked Janet, the process would begin. But if she didn't... She threw out caution and decided Janet's life was more important at the moment. She said, "Stay clear." The team backed up and Sam shocked Janet. She jerked nearly as hard as Janet, horrified at how pale her lover was. "Come on, Janet. Please, wake up..."
Sam rechecked Janet's heart rate and closed her eyes. She heard a quiet, mechanical whir coming from her lover's chest. But her heart was beating a normal rhythm once more. She was out of the woods... for the time being. She pulled the stethoscope free and brushed a hand down her face. "We can't take her to the Stargate," Sam said.
"Why not?" Cam said. "What the hell just happened?"
"I think Janet has a device inside of her. Nirrti put one in Cassandra nine years ago. It nearly destroyed the SGC before we realized what it was meant to do."
"How do we get it out?" Vala asked.
"We don't," Sam said. "Any attempt to remove it will stop her heart. All we can do is get her far away from the Stargate and wait for it to break down, be reabsorbed into her system."
"It'll just break down automatically?" Cam said.
"It's not a perfect weapon," Sam said. "It's like a time bomb. It's activated either by Stargate travel or an electric shock, we're really not sure. But once it's active, it compromises the body's potassium production to build a bomb. The bomb is on Janet's heart, it'll try to kill her if we attempt to remove it. But if nothing happens, if it doesn't have the proximity of the Stargate to kick it into high gear, it'll just shut down and die."
"Just like that," Cam said. "Seems kind of easy."
"Could Nirrti have not perfected the device in the years since she used it on Cassandra?" Teal'c asked.
"We better hope she didn't," Sam said. "Because I have no idea how to save Janet if she did."
When Janet came to, she was alone with Sam in a room of Nirrti's temple. She was propped against the wall, her hands still bound in front of her. The moonlight shone a blue square of light on the ground between her and Sam, who was sitting against an ornate pillar. "Sam," Janet said weakly. "Why are we back at the temple? What... what happened?"
"You don't remember?" Sam said.
"No," Janet said. She was a little thrown by the coldness in Sam's voice. "What happened?"
"Why were you so anxious to get to the Stargate?"
Janet frowned. "I want this nightmare to be over with. I want to go home. Sam, what's gotten into you? You're scaring me."
"There's a device attached to your heart. It's the same as the one Nirrti put in Cassandra nine years ago."
"I brought you back here hoping it was far enough from the Stargate for the device to shut down and be reintegrated into your system. Vala and Teal'c are standing watch outside... Cam and Daniel went on to the Stargate to get a medical team."
"And you took first watch?"
Softly, Janet asked, "Do you think I'm Nirrti?"
Sam looked into Janet's eyes. Her voice broke when she said, "I honestly don't know anymore. Why were you so intent on getting to the Stargate?"
"I told you," Janet said. "Wouldn't you want to get home as soon as possible? Wouldn't you want to just have this over with?"
Sam closed her eyes and leaned her head against the pillar. "I don't know," she whispered. "I don't think you're a danger. I think you're a victim. But... I don't know. We've been burned before, Janet."
"I don't know how to prove to you that I'm me. Everything I remember, the Goa'uld would know, too. Every memory we share, every intimate moment... if there was a Goa'uld in me, it would share it. And that makes me sick to my stomach." She drew her knees up to her chest and slipped her bound arms around them. She rested her head on her knees and closed her eyes.
"It's not always bad."
Janet lifted her head and blinked at Sam.
Sam was staring out the window, the moonlight washing over her face like a veil. "Sharing your mind with a Goa'uld. Or... I guess a Tok'ra, in my case. Maybe it's different." She rubbed her face and looked at Janet again. "Do you remember how depressed I was after Jolinar died?"
"It wasn't just because I had almost..." She swallowed. "That was part of it. Being that close to your own mortality is hard to take. Knowing someone gave their life for yours is even harder. But... I was also mourning her because I'd known her more intimately than anyone else in my life. I'd shared everything with her. Unintentionally, at the time, but... she had touched parts of my mind that were mine alone. I didn't feel violated or like those secrets had been stolen from me. I felt joy that someone knew me that completely.
"When she died, I thought that I would never love like that again. I figured I couldn't. No human relationship could break down the barriers so completely. Until I met you. Until I held you in the dark and told you those things I'd kept to myself." She laughed and said, "Ironically, I think we owe Jolinar for me making the move on you."
"I made the move on you," Janet said.
Sam smiled. It was an old argument between them; neither one of them knew who had initiated their first kiss, so they both took credit.
"She opened my mind to other kinds of love. She showed me that love couldn't be put in a box. That's when I started to accept how I had felt about you for so long."
"I wish I could have thanked her," Janet said softly. "But my situation would be a bit different. I meant what I said earlier, Sam. If there's a Goa'uld in my head and you can't get it out... or if she takes over and tries to escape... you put a bullet in my head. Promise me, Sam."
Sam closed her eyes. She didn't have to say the words out loud; Janet knew that Sam would do whatever she could if that happened. And that meant she would kill Janet if it came down to it. "You should get some rest," she finally said.
"Will you hold me?" Janet asked quietly.
"I can't," Sam whispered.
Janet closed her eyes and nodded. She turned her head, resting her cheek against her knees. Sam watched her for a long time and, when her breathing grew steady, whispered, "I love you, Janet."
The memories came to her in dreams. Being strapped down to the table, the tube in her side feeding naquadah to her heart... Nirrti standing over her body. Somehow, Janet had not noticed how pale the Goa'uld actually was. She was visibly weak; how else could a drugged human have stood up against her? Nirrti should have tossed her aside like a rag doll.
Janet remembered the last moments just after the ship touched down. Nirrti, limping from the front of the ship and leaning against the table to keep from falling over. The Goa'uld's ornately-tattooed hand hovering over Janet's face, the cold fire that burned through her mind from Nirrti's hand device. The effort of torture had finally drained Nirrti and she collapsed next to the bed. Janet, her mind aflame, had passed out as well.
When Janet woke, she turned and saw Sam had moved. She was now by the window, staring out at the full moon.
Janet didn't speak. She pulled her knees tighter to her chest and hugged them. The memories should have calmed her; Nirrti's symbiote had never made an appearance. There had been no blending, no symbiote leaping from one mouth to the other. But all the dream had done was cause sheer dread.
The entire dream had been from the Goa'uld's point-of-view. Janet had seen through Nirrti's eyes. She had been in Nirrti's body.
Was it just a dream? Or could it mean that Nirrti was now in her body?
The thing that truly frightened Janet was... there was absolutely no way to tell.
Sam wasn't aware of when her suspicions had joined Teal'c's. On the way back to the temple, she had simply looked at Janet and felt a fear that she was no longer the woman Sam loved. The woman she had slept with, the woman she'd made love with and was raising a daughter with... it was some indefinable something about her face that made Sam cringe with fear.
Even now, she was barely comfortable turning her back on Janet. The one person in the world Sam would have trusted with anything. The only person she trusted with her life. When she was sixteen, she had an emergency appendectomy. She'd been terrified, had been distrustful of the doctor, had demanded the nurses tell her whether he'd been sued or if he was trustworthy.
A few years back, she'd been injured off-world. A knife wound had damaged her internal organs and surgery was required. Janet had taken charge, held Sam's hand until the anesthesia took effect and was there when Sam woke up. Janet was the only doctor Sam felt safe with, the only doctor Sam trusted.
To be afraid of her... it was almost too much for Sam to handle.
She rested her head against the window frame and prayed for the rest of SG-1 to return soon.
Sam returned to the pillar and crouched, rubbing the back of her neck with one hand.
"Someone should have relieved you by now," Janet said softly.
"Vala," Sam said. "She's next."
"Isn't she overdue?"
"You don't trust anyone else to watch me."
"I..." Sam started. She waved her hands and shook her head.
"If I have to be killed, you want to be the one to make the decision."
Sam laughed mirthlessly and pushed her hair out of her face. "Yeah. I guess. Real nice, huh?"
"You're worried that, if someone else pulls the trigger, you'll second-guess them. You'll always wonder if there wasn't an alternative."
"Are you sure you're not a psychiatrist?"
Janet smiled. "No. I just know you. I can read you."
Sam held the cup of cocoa against her chest, the book folded open in her lap. Janet lay with her head against Sam's shoulder, reading the newspaper. Sam sipped the cocoa and moaned happily. Still warm, the marshmallows still swirling on the surface of the drink. The only thing missing was...
"Wouldn't that be better with some cookies?"
Sam smiled and slipped her hand under Janet's pajama top. "You read my mind."
"Yeah," Sam said. "You always could do that, couldn't you?"
"Well, you're so easy to read," Janet said. Her lips curled up in a sly smile. "It's either sex or quantum physics... Depending on where we are, it's usually one or the other."
Sam chuckled. She looked at the window and said, "Cam and the others should be back soon with a medical team."
"Sam... I know you can't trust me right now, but... I really need to feel you next to me."
Sam looked at Janet's wrists, then at the bruises that marred Janet's pale flesh. She stood and walked across the room to Janet's side. She sat down next to Janet and drew the brunette into her arms. Janet nestled her face in the warmth of Sam's jacket, put her bound hands against Sam's stomach and exhaled a shaky breath. "I won't ask you to do anything stupid like untie my hands. I just... I really needed to touch you right now."
Sam put her hand in Janet's hair and scratched her scalp. Janet purred and nestled closer. "Was it awful?"
Janet nodded. "The worst part was the fear... never knowing when she was coming, where she was taking me..."
"Well... you're safe now."
"No. I'm not. Even if it turns out I don't have Nirrti's consciousness in my mind, I still can't go through the Stargate. I'm far from okay."
Sam tightened her arms around Janet's shoulders. "You're safe," she repeated. "I didn't leave Cassandra, I won't leave you. You have my word on that. Do you hear me, Janet?"
"Yes," Janet said. She brushed her lips across Sam's throat and whispered, "Thank you."
Sam put her hand on the back of Janet's neck and tilted her head down. Her lips found Janet's and they kissed. Sam carried it farther, parting her lips and probing at Janet's mouth with the tip of her tongue. Janet sighed into Sam's mouth and shifted on the floor. She moved onto her knees and, when Sam leaned back, moved onto her lap. Sam put her hands in the small of Janet's back while Janet lifted both hands and looped her arms around Sam's neck.
"What," Sam breathed, "what are we doing...?"
Janet moved her hips against Sam's. "I want to make love to you."
"Here?" Sam frowned. "Now?"
Janet leaned back so she could look into Sam's eyes. "I lied. The worst part wasn't the unknown... it was thinking I was dead. Thinking that I would never see you again. Thinking I'd never feel your arms around me again." A tear rolled down Janet's cheek and she said, "Sam. I've always loved you. I dreamt of you long before you made the first move on me."
"To be with you. To be yours... it's all I wanted. All I've ever wanted." She kissed Sam and tightened her thighs. "Can you get my jacket off without untying my hands...?"
Sam pulled down the zipper of Janet's coat and pushed it off her shoulders. She bowed her head and kissed along Janet's collarbone. Janet sighed and murmured, "Close enough... I need your hands, Sam."
Sam slid her hands down the silky material of Janet's slip. She tugged open the button of Janet's trousers and exhaled as her hand slid between Janet's legs. Janet exclaimed, bit her lip and put her head on Sam's shoulder. "Touch me," she breathed.
"You can touch me," Janet said, her voice wavering, her hair down and catching in her eyelashes, her shirt falling away to reveal her bra.
Sam had yet to see Janet naked. She fell to her knees and undid the button of Janet's blue jeans. Janet's breath caught in her throat and she leaned back, spreading her legs as Sam pulled down her zipper with trembling hands...
"Don't stop," Janet said. Sam realized that, in her reverie, she had stopped exploring. She curled two fingers and brushed the knuckles against Janet's sensitive flesh. Janet purred low in her throat and thrust her hips towards Sam. "Oh, yes... you know me, baby, you know me..."
On her knees before Janet, both of them naked together for the first time, Sam watched as Janet parted the folds of her pussy. She masturbated slowly, using two fingers inside and using the thumb of her other hand on her clit, she showed Sam how to make her feel good.
"You like that?" Sam whispered. She bent down and kissed Janet's neck.
"I always love your hands," Janet said. "I love your hands on me, Samantha..."
Sam shivered and ran her tongue along Janet's neck. Unlike the perfume, the scent of the bath she usually smelled on Janet's flesh when they made love, Janet smelled of dirt, sweat, the result of her ordeal with Nirrti and the collapse in the woods. There was something primal about it, something utterly animal. Sam opened her lips and lightly bit Janet's neck.
"Oh, Sam," Janet purred, laughing a little as she squirmed against Sam's hand. "Going to get a bit rough tonight...?" Her fingers curled at the nape of Sam's neck and she pulled, making Sam grunt. Janet lifted her hips and dropped down hard on Sam's fingers. "Yeah. Fuck me, Sam..."
Sam opened her eyes at the coarse language and found herself locked in a fierce kiss. Janet's tongue was suddenly in her mouth, her hips rocking wildly against Sam's hand. "Make me come," Janet growled against Sam's lips.
"No!" Sam hissed. "Janet! This isn't like you!"
"Maybe it is," Janet groaned. She kissed Sam's chin and pressed her sweaty forehead against Sam's. "You ever think of that? You treat me like a doll, Sam. You can be rough with me. Just a little. Just..." She twisted her hips. "Just enough to make me know you're fierce. Can you be fierce with me, Sam?"
"If it was... any other day, Janet," Sam whispered. "Any other situation..."
Janet released her grip and leaned back. She brushed her fingertips down Sam's cheek and whispered, "Okay. Okay." She leaned in and brushed her tongue over Sam's lips. Sam shivered and twisted her fingers inside of Janet. Janet sucked in a breath and shivered. "Oh, Sam... I'm so close..."
Sam kissed Janet's lips and thrust her hand forward. Janet moaned and reached between their bodies. She gripped Sam's wrist, held it in place and cried out her orgasm. Sam clapped her hand over Janet's mouth, but it was too late. Apparently, some other sound had drawn Vala's attention and she rushed into the throne room. It took her a moment to realize Sam wasn't under attack, that Janet was half-naked and thrusting her hips in an unmistakable motion.
Sam locked eyes with Vala, lips parting to explain what was happening. Vala merely smiled, held her hands up in a 'mea culpa' and retreated back into the shadows.
"What?" Janet panted. She kissed Sam's cheek and said, "Baby, what? You stopped..."
"Sorry," Sam whispered. She moved her hand so that she could touch Janet's clit with her thumb. She brushed the sensitive bud and curled her fingers. Janet's breath hitched and her body tensed. She threw her head back and tightened her thighs.
"Oh, yes, Sam, yes, yes..."
Janet's body tensed, her shoulders hunched and she trembled once, twice before she melted against Sam. Sam withdrew her hand from Janet's trousers and embraced her, cradling Janet to her body and closing her eyes. Janet nuzzled Sam's neck, a move that sent tremors of delight through Sam's entire body. "You can't untie me," she whispered, her teeth nipping at Sam's earlobe, "but do you want me to just use my mouth on you?"
"Not here," Sam said. She cast a wary glance at the door and kissed Janet's cheek. "But later. Yes."
"And Sam..." Janet sat back so Sam could see her eyes. "I meant what I said. When you bit me, I thought... you were opening the door. I'm sorry if I frightened you."
"You've wanted... that... for a long time?"
Janet nodded, her eyes downcast and a blush rising in her cheeks. "I know how strong you can be. I-it turns me on sometimes, when you're in the infirmary with dirt on your face and on your BDUs. You look like something out of a war movie. And your bright blue eyes shining through all that grime? Oh, Sam, baby, it's all I can do not to take you right then and there. So... so, y-yes. When this is over? And you feel safe with me again?" She made a low, growling noise in her throat. "I want you to take me."
Sam blushed and nodded. "Okay."
Janet sighed and kissed Sam's lips. "What about you?" Janet asked. "Anything you want to request? Maybe I wear my uniform to bed some night...?"
Sam swallowed and looked towards the door again. "I've always wondered... w-what it would be like..."
Something suddenly clattered in the corridor. Janet quickly rose from Sam's lap and, with Sam's help, got her clothes together just as Vala poked her head around the corner.
"Oh, hello," Vala said. "Sorry about that. Lot of... rubble lying around... The Stargate just activated. Thought you'd like to know to expect a call from..."
"Sam. It's Mitchell."
Vala grinned, self-satisfied.
"Go ahead," Sam said into the mic. She nodded to Vala to silently thank her for the head's up. "Did Landry okay the medical team?"
"We're on our way to the temple as we speak. I don't suppose you know how long nights are on this planet?"
"Sorry," Sam said. "Last time I was here, the dungeon didn't exactly have many windows."
"Right. Well, we're on our way. How's the Doc?"
Sam looked at Janet. "She seems to be herself. I think all Nirrti did was add the bomb."
"Well, let's keep our fingers crossed. Mitchell out."
Sam released her radio and glanced at Vala. Vala smiled and said, "Well... I'll leave you two ladies to..."
"No, you don't have to leave," Janet said. Sam and Vala both looked at her. Janet shrugged. "Sam, you were just saying how dull it was with two people. Why not add a third?"
Sam's face went pale. How could Janet possibly have known what Sam was about to suggest? She opened her mouth and was saved from a potentially disastrous misstep when Janet pulled a deck of cards from a pocket of Sam's vest. "For Go Fish."
"Oh!" Vala said.
"Right!" Sam said. She nodded and pointed at the deck of cards. "Right. Go Fish."
Janet looked between the two women and said, "What did you think I was going to suggest?"
"Nothing," Sam and Vala said together.
When Cam arrived with the medical team, he found Sam, Vala and Janet sitting cross-legged on the floor with the deck of cards fanned out between them. Janet's hands were still bound and she was forced to awkwardly hold her cards with both hands. Cam said, "Well, I think I got the short end of the stick on this mission. What're we playing, ladies? A little strip poker?"
"You wish," Vala said.
"What did Landry say?" Sam asked.
"Filled him in on the situation. He's not willing to sit around and wait for the bomb, or whatever it is, to be reabsorbed into the Doc's system. The Odyssey is en route. It'll beam us up, take us home, she can recuperate in the comfort of her own home."
Janet breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good to hear."
"But for right now, he wanted the medical team to give you a good once-over. Make sure you're all right. No offense, Sam."
"None taken," Sam said. "I'm glad to have a second opinion on something like this."
The nurse Cam had brought hurried across the room. Janet stood and let herself be guided to one side. She sat on the edge of a ravaged wall and the nurse unzipped her jacket. "Can I remove these restraints?" the nurse asked.
"Yes," Sam said. "Just keep an eye on her."
"Don't you think I'm trustworthy, Sam?" Janet asked. She turned her head so Sam could see the slight smile on her face.
"Not for a minute," Sam said. As the nurse cut the ties holding Janet's hands, Sam stood and walked over to Cameron. "Did Landry say anything else?" she asked in a low voice.
Cam glanced at Janet and said, "Only to be sure we kept a good eye on her. He thinks she should make the trip back to Earth in the brig. You agree?"
Sam shook her head. "No. If the nurse clears her... I haven't seen anything tonight that would imply she's been compromised. And why would Nirrti go to the trouble of transferring to a host she'd just turned into a time bomb?"
"Suicide bomber," Cam said. "Eggar said she was never the same after they gave her the Lazarus treatment. Maybe she knew her days were numbered, decided to take out the Tau'ri with her."
"I don't see it," Sam said. "If the nurse gives her a clean bill of health, we treat her as a friend. We'll keep our eyes on her, naturally, but... I don't think we have anything to worry about."
"All due respect, Sam, but you're a little blinded when it comes to this particular friend..."
"I know that," Sam said. "Which is why I spent so long on the other side of the fence. I've seen my fair share of Goa'ulds. I'm not an expert, but I have seen the warning signs in others. Hell, I've watched myself as a Goa'uld. I don't think she's biding her time. If she gives me any reason at all to doubt that stance, I'll be the first one to turn my weapon on her."
Cameron nodded. "That's what I wanted to hear." He patted Sam on the shoulder and walked around her to where Vala was seated. "Deal me in. And no funny stuff. Roll up your sleeves."
Sam smiled and glanced at Janet. The nurse was kneeling in front of her, checking her pulse, and Janet was looking over her shoulder at Sam. They shared a smile before Janet turned away and Sam joined Cameron and Vala for a new game of Go Fish.
Teal'c and Daniel had joined them in the throne room and had been dealt into the Go Fish game against their will. By the time the Odyssey arrived, Vala had been on an eight-game winning streak. Her victory dance was interrupted with Cameron's radio crackling to life. "Colonel Mitchell, this is Colonel Emerson."
Cam grabbed the radio and said, "Thank God. Good to hear your voice, Paul."
"Has the situation worsened?"
"Hell, yes," Cam snapped. "But nothing to do with Fraiser. Never, and I repeat never, play high stakes poker with Vala Mal Doran."
"I'll try to keep that in mind. We took a quick scan of the system, but there's no sign of the ship Nirrti used to transport Dr. Fraiser. Looks like we're going to be left with some unanswered questions."
"As long as Fraiser's home safe and sound, I can live with a little mystery."
"Ready for transport?"
Cam looked to Janet. "Doc?"
Janet nodded. She stood, leaning slightly against Sam, and they moved closer to the rest of the group. Cam waited until they were in position and said, "All right. Beam us up, Paulie."
Sam put her arm around Janet's waist as the temple walls seemed to flash white. When the glare faded, ancient stone had transformed into smooth, polished steel. Colonel Emerson was waiting for them and smiled when they arrived. "Always nice to provide taxi service across the universe."
"You don't see Caldwell complaining, do you?" Cameron said. He shook Emerson's hand and said, "Thanks for the lift. We should probably let Fraiser head on down to the infirmary." Janet started to protest and Cam said, "If just to lie down for a while."
"Probably a good idea, Janet," Sam said. "You're looking a little peaked."
Janet reluctantly agreed and Sam led her down the corridor to the elevators. The rest of the team followed Emerson to the bridge. Once they were alone, Sam kissed Janet's temple and said, "Are you okay?"
"I thought I was," Janet said. "But now that I'm being ordered to lie down, I feel unbelievably exhausted."
Sam tightened her hand on Janet's hip. "I wish I could crawl under the blankets with you."
"Mm," Janet smiled. "In good time. Hopefully this stupid bomb will dissolve soon."
"It seemed to break down faster the farther we got from the Stargate. Can't get much farther than hyperspace."
Janet laughed. "You have a point. I'll have the nurse keep an eye on it and keep you apprised of what's happening."
"Okay." Before the elevator doors could open, Sam bent down and kissed Janet's lips. "I love you," she whispered.
"I love you, too," Janet said. "Will you be my walking stick on the way home, too?"
"Whenever you need me," Sam promised. She brushed her thumb over Janet's bottom lip and stepped away from her as the elevator doors parted. "I'll come by and see you before we arrive at Earth."
"Okay. Bye, Sam."
Sam smiled until the doors closed. Once Janet couldn't see her, she closed her eyes and sagged against the wall. Ordered to bed rest was better than sitting in the brig, but Sam knew the orderlies and nurses in the infirmary had been alerted to Janet's condition. She would be treated little better than a prisoner, eyed suspiciously and not trusted. It was all for the best. Better safe than sorry, the old saying went. Still, it made Sam feel like an utter traitor.
Halfway home, Janet looked up from her chart to see Sam's face at the door. "You're lurking," Janet said. She held up the file and said, "Can you believe they brought paperwork for me?"
"Did you request it?" Sam asked as she gave in and finally entered the infirmary.
Janet shrugged. "This isn't about me."
Sam smiled and sat on the edge of Janet's bed. "We're about five hours from Earth. I was going crazy up on the bridge with nothing to do."
"It's only fun if the world is in danger," Janet smiled.
"Maybe not the world," Sam sighed. "Just a few random lives in the balance. That's all I ask for."
"Next Valentine's Day, I'll see if I can arrange a bank robbery instead of the typical candy and flowers."
"And people say I'm hard to shop for."
Janet laughed. She rearranged the files on her lap and said, "Sam?"
"Thank you for being there for me. Back on the planet."
Sam smiled. "Consider it payback for all the times you've stuck up for me."
Janet took Sam's hand and said, "I mean it. I really saw the lengths you would go to for me. It's one thing to believe someone would go to the ends of the universe for you. It's another to see them actually doing it."
Sam shrugged and brushed Janet's knuckles. "You know I'd die for you."
"I do," Janet said. "I'm just... not... used to that. After all this time, I'm still not used to having someone in my life who loves me that much."
"Our marriage lasted three years. The love was gone after one. I just thought love was supposed to fade." She squeezed Sam's hand and said, "I'm still waiting for you to get used to me."
Sam smiled. "You'll be waiting a long time, wild woman. Right when I think things are settled down, you go and get abducted in the middle of the night."
"I'll try to make that a one-time thing, thank you. Next time I want to spice things up, I'll just come home in edible underwear."
Sam's eyes widened. "You... y-you would know where to buy some...?"
"Colonel Carter," a woman's voice said. "I didn't know you were in here."
"Just checking on the patient," Sam said. She squeezed Janet's hand one last time and released it. She turned to smile at Carolyn Lam, the chief medical officer on-board the Odyssey. "Are you taking good care of your boss?"
Carolyn smiled. "As well as I can, when she's not refusing treatment."
"The old cliché," Sam mused.
"You got that right," Carolyn said. "Maybe you talked some sense into her."
"Unlikely," Janet said. She crossed her arms over her chest. "I'm fine and I have to finish this paperwork. I can't do that with antibiotics making me fuzzy-brained."
Carolyn held her hands up in surrender. "I give up. I'll leave a note with your nurses that, if you request treatment later, they'll to give you what you want."
"Thank you, Carolyn," Janet said.
"Mm-hmm," Carolyn said. She scribbled a note on her pad, tore off the page and left it on Janet's chart. To Sam, she said, "Don't keep my patient up too late, all right?"
"Yes, Doctor," Sam said.
When Carolyn had left, Sam slipped off the edge of the bed. Janet said, "Sure you can't stay?"
"You need to sleep."
"I'll sleep. I just want you nearby. At least until I fall asleep."
Sam smiled and pulled a chair closer to Janet's bed. She sat down, took Janet's hand and said, "I'll keep you company."
Janet smiled and settled down on the mattress.
There was no telling what time it was when Janet woke. She'd been away from Earth too long, her sleep cycle completely obliterated. It felt like it should be morning, but the Odyssey corridors were all brightly lit. She looked to her left and smiled; Sam was curled in the chair, asleep, her hand loosely curled around Janet's. Janet gently lifted Sam's hand and turned it to look at her watch. Three in the morning. So she wasn't too far off.
She let Sam's hand fall back to her lap and closed her eyes again. She would most likely, when they landed, be called upon to debrief Landry about what had happened to her on Nirrti's ship. There would be countless recitations of the same story, tests and more tests to make sure the bomb had truly been reabsorbed... she dreaded it.
For right now, when no demands were being made on her, it seemed like the best idea to just lay back and get some sleep.
An airman woke Sam and Janet when the ship was approaching Earth. Against Carolyn's advice, Janet got out of bed and dressed. She wanted to walk into the briefing room on her own two feet, not in some wheelchair. She did, however, allow Sam to hold her hand and leaned heavily on Sam's side as she limped out of the infirmary. Cam, Daniel, Vala and Teal'c were all gathered at the transport rings and smiled when they saw Janet coming.
"Well," Cam said. "Looks like the doctor who complains no one stays in bed..."
"Quiet, Mitchell," Janet snapped, "or I'll strap you down next time you're in my infirmary."
He held up his hands and backed off.
"It is good to see you well, Janet Fraiser," Teal'c said.
Janet squeezed his hand and said, "Well. Why don't we get this beam-out on the road, huh?"
Cam reached up to his radio. "Colonel, you heard the lady. Get us out of here."
Janet closed her eyes, as she always did during beam-outs, and squeezed her arm around Sam's waist.
SG-1 sat in on Janet's debriefing with General Landry. At one point, as Janet recounted the torture Nirrti had subjected her to, Sam got up and walked from the room. When she returned, Cameron had taken over the briefing. She sat next to Janet, bowed her apology to Landry and subtly moved her hand to Janet's thigh. Janet squeezed Sam's hand, keeping her face stoic and her eyes downcast.
When Cameron had finished detailing their half of the mission, Landry said, "What I would like to know is how Nirrti pulled this off. Unless Dr. Fraiser has a tracking device I don't know about..."
"We're not sure how Nirrti managed to lock onto Janet," Sam said. "We didn't get a chance to look over her ship to see how her beaming technology may have been upgraded. There's a chance she merely found Janet through the naquadah remnants in Cassandra's bloodstream."
"At the moment, I think we're safe, but Nirrti's ship is still out there somewhere. If at all possible, I want to be sure we can avoid a repeat of this little incident."
"I'll do my best, Sir," Sam said.
"Doctor, you'll be taking at least two weeks medical leave. I want Dr. Lam to check you out before you return to active duty."
"Yes, General," Janet said.
"In the meantime, if there's nothing else..."
Sam, Janet and Cameron rose with him and waited until he had gone into his office before they relaxed. "Need a ride home, Janet?" Daniel asked.
"Sam...?" Janet said.
"I'll take her," Sam said. She put her hand on Janet's back and said, "Do you have some regular clothes in your locker...?"
"I need to talk to General Landry about getting some free time so I can help you recuperate. Why don't you go get dressed and meet me at my car?"
"Okay. Hurry, though. I'm exhausted... I just want to sleep in my own bed."
Sam nodded and watched Cam and Vala lead Janet from the briefing room. She knocked on Landry's office door and, on his command, stepped inside. "General? A moment?"
"Colonel," Landry said. "I assume you're going to ask for time to help Dr. Fraiser recuperate?"
Sam blinked. "Um... well, yes, Sir..."
"It's done. SG-1 was on light duty anyway. I'm sure Colonel Mitchell and the others can make due without you for a few days."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
He took a seat and looked up at her. "Was there anything else, Colonel?"
"As a matter of fact, Sir... there is something I need."
Sam parked and helped Janet to the house and led her on the couch. She gently lowered Janet to the cushions, helped her take off her shoes and brushed the hair out of her face. "You need anything else right now?"
"No. Where're you going?"
"Pick up Cassie at school. I want to tell her you're kind of roughed up, but fine. Don't want her to be scared when she comes in."
"Did you ever talk to her?"
Sam nodded. "The day you disappeared. I asked her to give you a break and she agreed she was being kind of a royal pain. I think this ordeal will make her rethink some of her recent behavior."
"Hope so," Janet said. "At least some good will come of all this, then."
Sam kissed Janet's lips and said, "Okay. I'm going to go. You're sure you don't need anything... water, a blanket..."
"I'm fine. I'll see you when you get home."
"Okay," Sam said. She squeezed Janet's shoulder and went back out to the car.
Janet rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. The couch wasn't the most comfortable piece of furniture in the house, but right now it was heaven. Surrounded by the scents of her home, by the familiar ticking of the kitchen clock and the way her home felt... she fell asleep within minutes of Sam's car pulling out of the driveway.
After a tearful reunion with Cassandra - wherein the girl recanted every single bad thing she'd said and done and had promised to be better in the future - Sam led Janet upstairs for a bubble bath. Janet let Sam undress her and lower her into the tub, they kissed and then Sam retreated to her office.
Janet soaked for a good hour, letting the soreness seep from her. When she felt like a prune and the water had gone too cold for comfort, Janet eased herself from the tub and dried off with one of her guest towels. It felt heavenly to her. Everything on Nirrti's ship had been hard, even the bed. She buried her face in the terrycloth and wrapped a robe around herself without bothering to dress.
She stopped at the sink and picked up Sam's wedding ring. She touched the diamond and then looped the necklace over her head. The ring rested against her chest, cold and comforting. She hadn't realized how much she missed its presence until it was back. She covered it with her hand to warm the gold a bit and left the bedroom.
She walked to Sam's upstairs office, her bare feet sinking sinfully into the carpet, and peeked around the doorframe. Sam was seated on the couch, her back to the door, making notations in a notebook. It was a compromise they had come up with shortly after they started living together. Sam could do the mathematics and equations necessary for her projects at home as well as she could do them at the base. Sam had rebelled at first, but now she actually felt she worked better at home.
Janet stood behind Sam and lightly brushed her fingers across the top of Sam's head. Sam leaned back and pressed her head against Janet's stomach. "All soaked out?"
"Mm-hmm," Janet whispered. She let her fingers slide down the side of Sam's face, to her cheek and her neck. "Do you want a massage?"
"Shouldn't I ask you that?"
"Come on. Is Cassandra still downstairs?"
"Well, we can be quiet." She took the notebook from Sam's hands and placed it on the desk. She curled her fingers around Sam's hand and pulled her from the couch. She led Sam across the hall to their bedroom and made sure to shut and lock the door behind her. Sam walked to the bed, already undoing the buttons of her shirt. When she turned, Janet had shed the robe.
"What?" Janet said at Sam's wide-eyed look.
"You're so beautiful." She sat on the edge of the bed with her shirt undone, hanging open to reveal the white lace of her bra. "Come here."
Janet walked to Sam and stood before her. She toyed with the short hair at the base of Sam's neck as Sam kissed her belly. Sam examined Janet's skin from centimeters away, her breath a balm against skin that had been cut and bruised. Sam kissed a broken line of bruises that ran along the underside of Janet's rib cage and brushed the back of her fingertips over the bandage the covered the hole in Janet's side.
She moved her hands around Janet's hips and caressed the cheeks of Janet's ass. She pulled Janet closer and pressed her lips to Janet's belly in an open-mouthed kiss. The tip of her tongue made a small cross sign over Janet's navel. Janet made quiet sounds of approval throughout her examination and then exhaled sharply as Sam moved her head lower. Sam's hands slipped between Janet's thighs and gently eased them apart.
Janet rolled her head back as Sam kissed her patch of pubic hair, her right hand cupping Janet's mound. Her other hand went up and cupped Janet's left breast. The nipple was hard and Sam rolled the pad of her fingers over it. Janet's breath hitched, the muscles of her stomach trembling as Sam pushed a finger inside of her.
Sam bowed her head and gently probed forward. She moved the heel of her hand and the tip of her tongue found Janet's clit. Janet exhaled softly and her body tensed. Sam used her tongue and fingers until Janet came, her legs trembling. At the familiar, near-silent sounds of Janet's climax, Sam moved her hand to the small of Janet's back and drew her close.
Janet bent her knees and settled on Sam's lap as she was pulled onto the bed. Sam lay back and let Janet fall on top of her. Their lips met and Janet idly swirled her tongue inside of Sam's mouth. Her fingers went to the opening of Sam's shirt and cupped her breast. Sam arched her back into the touch. Janet pinched Sam's nipples through her bra and moved her hand down to the waistband of Sam's jeans.
The button of Sam's jeans snapped open easily and Janet worked her hand into the tight denim. Sam moaned into Janet's mouth and spread her legs wide. They kissed as Janet's fingers worked between Sam's thighs. Sam lifted her hips to meet Janet's hand, panting quietly. She whispered Janet's name during her orgasm, kissed down her neck and then pulled her close. Janet collapsed on top of Sam and spread her legs so she could straddle Sam's prone body.
They continued kissing, both breathing hard from their lovemaking, until Sam glanced at the clock. "We should go downstairs before Cassandra orders pizza for dinner."
"Mm, pizza. Easy, relatively no clean-up... pizza sounds good."
"Yeah," Sam said. "Still. She orders pineapple."
"Oh, God, right," Janet said. She rolled to one side to free Sam. Sam sat up and buttoned her jeans before she slid off the bed.
She looked down at Janet and smiled. "I'm..." She chuckled and shook her head. "Anything I say right now would feel trite. So... oh, hell. I'm glad you're home." She leaned down and kissed Janet one more time. "I'll be downstairs."
"Okay. I love you, Sam."
"I love you, too," Sam said.
They did indeed have pizza that night. Cassandra grumbled when Sam refused to ask for pineapple, but didn't make a big deal about it afterward. Janet, grateful for the peace, promised Cassandra they could get half-pineapple, half-sausage next time. They ate and drank soda while huddled around the coffee table in the living room. Janet normally would have balked and insisted they sit at the dining room table with plates and glasses, rather than bottles of soda and paper towel plates, but she was feeling generous.
Cassandra went to bed at ten, taking a moment to bend down and hug Janet's neck. "I love you, Mom," she said. "I'm glad you're okay."
Janet stared at Sam with wide eyes. "Thank you, baby."
"Good night," Cassie said. "Night, Sam."
"Night, girl," Sam said.
"Wow," Janet said around a mouthful of pizza. "How about, next time she gets a little difficult, we fake a kidnapping? Same thing as this, only I spend the week at a spa getting my nails done."
"It would be highly preferable," Sam agreed.
Janet sipped her soda and said, "When do you want to be heading to bed?"
"Depends. Are we going to sleep when we get there?"
Janet shrugged. "Eventually."
Sam and Janet made love after Cassandra's lights-out. They kept quiet, made sure not to hit the bed against the wall and made giggling admonitions to one another to be quiet. When they were sated, Janet curled against Sam's sweaty body, kissed her between her breasts and whispered, "Thank you for coming to get me."
"I'd go all the way to hell and back," Sam assured her. She brushed the hair from Janet's forehead and said, "Will you be able to sleep?"
Janet put her arms around Sam's waist and pressed her face to Sam's chest. "In my own bed, with you next to me? The only problem will be getting me up in the morning."
Sam kissed Janet's forehead and settled in. Two minutes later, her breathing steadied and her embrace loosened ever so slightly. Janet lifted her head and watched Sam sleep, her features just barely visible in the moonlight. She ran her thumb across Sam's bottom lip and smiled when Sam blew at it sleepily. She cupped her hand to Sam's cheek, lightly kissed her lips and then slid from her embrace.
She put on her panties and a t-shirt before going to the master bathroom. She didn't bother turning on the light as she used the bathroom and looked at her hazy reflection in the mirror. She recalled the kid's game, standing in a dark bathroom and saying 'bloody Mary' three times. Supposedly, it made the murderess' apparition appear before you when it was really your eyes acclimating to the darkness.
She cupped the back of her neck and tiptoed barefoot past the foot of the bed. She left the bedroom, silently treaded downstairs and headed to the kitchen. She had made the nocturnal journey so many times, she knew it by heart. She side-stepped the edge of the coffee table, stepped around the base of the lamp and avoided toppling the trash can as she headed for her midnight snack.
Well... my second midnight snack, she thought with a sly grin. She giggled to herself as she opened the fridge. The light burned her eyes and she blinked for a moment before she dug out the chocolate cake.
Humming quietly, she carried the plate to the kitchen island and found a large enough knife. She cut off a narrow slice, laid it on a plate and pulled a stool close.
She looked out the back window as she ate. This was her home. She paid the bill for the air conditioning that had just clicked on, she had picked out the curtains hanging around that window and she had designed the kitchen she sat in. She hadn't realized how much that meant until Nirrti tried to take it from her. Her home, Cassandra, Sam... she might as well have lost her legs if she'd lost them.
The cake was demolished in short order. The only time she allowed herself to eat like a Marine was at night when no one could call her on it. She'd run an extra block in the morning, have an apple instead of a brownie at lunch to make up for it. She returned the uneaten part of the cake to the fridge, picked up the butcher knife and went back upstairs.
She lightly turned the doorknob to Cassandra's bedroom and peeked in. Her desk lamp was still on, casting a bright yellow aura around the sleeping teenager's head. Janet sighed and stepped into the bedroom. "Cassandra," she said, louder than she had intended. There was an edge to her voice that frightened her a bit.
The girl jerked and sat up. "Huh?"
"You fell asleep doing your homework again."
"Oh," Cassie said. She rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock. When she looked at Janet, her eyes traveled down to Janet's hand. "What are you doing with that?"
Janet looked down. She hadn't put the butcher knife in the sink. She lifted it and watched the light from the lamp dance off of it. "That doesn't matter," she said. Her voice, so recently harsh, had gone devoid of all emotion. "Stand up."
"Are you mad? I-I meant to go to bed, I just..."
"Stand up," Janet demanded.
Cassandra slowly pushed the chair away from the desk. Janet moved closer. "What right did they have?" she asked in a low whisper. "To take you from me? To bring you here and raise you like their own? Did they have any more right than I did?"
There were tears in Cassie's eyes now. "Mom, what are you..."
"Do not call her mother!" Janet hissed. "They make me the villainess for taking you as my own. How is what they did any different?!"
"They who?" Cassie asked. Her voice was trembling, her wide eyes darting back and forth in the hopes this would all just turn out to be a bad dream.
"The Tau'ri," Janet said. She hissed the name like a curse and slashed the knife in the air in front of her. "They took you from me, as I took you from your mother. How are we different?"
"Janet a-and Sam love me... they love me. You were trying to hurt me, Nirrti."
"I was trying to make you more than you are!" Janet said. She showed no shock at being called by the other name and Cassandra realized how deep the scars of Janet's abduction had run. "Don't you see that, even now? I was trying to show you your full potential!"
"You only cared about yourself."
"I chose you because you were the most special. I loved you, Cassandra, enough to make you my host forever. But now... all of my work has been reversed. You can no longer achieve what I had long hoped." She ran the blade of the knife over her thigh and said, "I am not long for this life. I'm already fading, was fading when I planted the seed deep inside of your 'mother's' subconscious. I will survive just long enough to tie up all of my loose ends."
"Please," Cassie whispered. "No..."
Janet lunged with the knife. Cassandra screamed Sam's name and leapt backwards. Before Janet even had a hope of reaching her, however, blue arcs of lightning exploded over her body. She twitched violently and her body twisted. She collapsed to the floor and revealed Sam standing in the bedroom door.
"Sam!" Cassie shouted.
Sam motioned Cassie forward, keeping the zat trained on Janet's back. Sam hugged the girl, kissed her temple and said, "Go downstairs and call Colonel Mitchell. Tell him I had to use Plan Z."
Cassandra was gone in an instant, her feet pounding down the stairs.
Sam wiped the back of her hand over her cheek, hoping Cassie hadn't seen the tears in the poor light of the bedroom. She put the zat down on Cassie's bookshelf and knelt down to secure Janet's wrists behind her back.
The official version was devised in Janet's entry hall. As far as General Landry would know, Sam had given the zat she requisitioned to Cassandra before leaving that night. Cassie had been the one to use it when Nirrti came after her. By the time Landry showed up with a team from the SGC, Sam was dressed in street clothes and Janet's bed had been made to eliminate signs of her presence there.
Landry had taken individual statements while the orderlies loaded Janet into a small ambulance. Sam shivered, a dark part at the back of her mind assured they would never see her again. But Carolyn Lam was there, monitoring Janet's vitals, and would make sure she arrived safely at the SGC infirmary.
"Janet told me Nirrti used a hand device on her," Sam said to the General. "I should have realized something like this could happen."
"How does a hand device equal 'downloaded subconscious'?" Landry asked.
Daniel said, "Amaunet used a hand device on me just before her death. Sha're spoke to me through it, she showed me... months that felt exactly like real life. I didn't realize it was a dream until, of course, I woke and discovered only seconds had passed. Maybe Nirrti's hand device acted as a bridge from her mind to Janet's. Maybe that's why she was dead when we found her. She had transferred her mind into Janet's."
"And then just waited for an opportunity to kill Cassandra," Landry said. "It was the one loose string she'd left behind from her experiments."
"But why would she destroy it all?" Cam said.
"To ensure no other could benefit from her work," Teal'c said.
Sam scoffed. "Sounds like a Goa'uld... if I can't have it, no one else can benefit from the work I did toward it."
"Colonel Carter," Landry said, "I assume you'll stay here with Cassandra tonight?"
"Yes, sir," she said, grateful for not having to ask permission to do that very thing.
"We'll make sure Fraiser is all right," Cam promised. "Vala's already waiting for her at the SGC. She won't be alone."
"Thanks, guys," Sam said.
She stood on the porch and watched as the various government vehicles pulled away from the curb. With the situation settled, Sam suddenly realized how many neighbors had gathered in their robes and pajamas. One thing about the Air Force, they didn't really do nocturnal suburban operations well. She ignored their stares and went back into the house.
Cassandra was curled on the couch, hugging her knees. Sam sat next to her and pulled the girl into a hug. "You all right?"
Cassandra shook her head.
"You know it wasn't your Mom, right?"
"I know now," Cassie said in a tight, strained voice. "But... n-not at first..."
Sam kissed the top of Cassandra's head and pulled her closer. "It'll be okay, honey. Nirrti said it herself... it wasn't permanent. Your Mom will be just fine."
Cassie wrapped her arms around Sam's waist and buried her face against Sam's shoulder. Sam closed her eyes and held the girl until she fell asleep.
The last vestiges of Nirrti's consciousness faded on the way to the SGC. With the last bits of strength, she formed a series of memories in Janet's mind.
When Janet woke the next morning, she wept inconsolably. Cameron finally learned that Nirrti's last gift had been a play-by-play of cutting Cassandra's throat. Janet was sure that she had killed her own daughter.
Cam watched Carolyn inject Janet with a sedative and dug his fingernails into the palm of his hands. His only wish was that Nirrti were still around so he could wring her damned neck.
Janet slowly came to, tears still trickling down her cheeks. "Janet?" Carolyn said gently.
"I don't want painkillers," Janet said in a tight voice.
"Janet, you have to listen to me. What Nirrti showed you wasn't real. She made it up."
"No. It's too..."
"Sam," Carolyn said.
Sam stepped into the infirmary. She was holding Cassandra's hand, squeezing it tight. Janet's eyes widened and she said, "Cass... my baby..."
"Mom," Cassandra said. "Is it... i-is it..."
"It's her," Sam said. She released Cassandra's hand just before she would have been dragged across the infirmary. Cassandra and Janet embraced in an explosion of tears and joyous laughter.
"It's what I have to do."
Janet chewed on her bottom lip. "Are you mad?"
"Yes," Sam said. She scribbled on her notepad and then looked at Janet. They were seated next to each other in bed, Sam's knees bent to give her a worktable. Janet was twisting the cuff of her pajama top in her hands. She looked at Janet with tears in her eyes. "But it's what you have to do. I won't stop you."
Janet broke down then and pulled Sam to her.
Janet received the two months compassionate leave she requested. Cassandra was given an excused absence for the rest of the semester, due to her advanced placement and her mother's 'sudden illness.' They packed up what they needed from the house and Teal'c carried their bags into the RV. Janet stood on the front porch and hugged Cameron. "You'll take good care of the place?"
"Water the plants, pick up the mail..."
"Talk to the plants. They like current events."
"Well," he said. "I may put on The Daily Show when I'm over..."
Janet smiled. She kissed his cheek and said, "You're a good man, Cameron. You're a good addition to the team."
"It won't be the same without you here."
"It's just two months."
"Still. Don't linger if you don't have to."
She smiled and stepped off the porch. Vala was leaning against the garage door, pouting. "Do not pull the gloomy stuff on me, Mal Doran," Janet snapped.
"Well, who am I supposed to hang out with?" Vala pouted. "Compared to you, the rest of this base is a total bore. Except Daniel..."
Janet laughed and hugged her newest friend. She kissed Vala's cheek and whispered in her ear, "If you get anywhere with that boy, I want details."
"I'll email you pictures."
Janet winced. "Ahh... pictures might not be necessary. But I appreciate the thought."
She met Daniel and Teal'c at the door of the RV. She hugged them both and Teal'c surprised her by lifting her off the ground. Janet yelped and kicked her feet until he set her down. "Ten years, guys. Long time."
"It feels like no more than a heartbeat," Teal'c said.
"Aw," Janet smiled. She squeezed his arm and then kissed Daniel on the cheek. "Be careful, you guys. Take care of Sam."
"Yeah," Daniel said. He looked around as if maybe he had missed her. "Where is Sam?"
Janet smiled. "We said goodbye last night. She was afraid she couldn't do it without crying and, well... she thought Landry might make an appearance."
"Her farewell was probably best received in privacy," Teal'c said with a smile and a twitch of his eyebrow.
"Whoa, whoa... You watch your mouth, big boy," Janet said. "Ladies don't kiss and tell."
She looked over her shoulder at Cam and Vala, then looked down the street. "Well. We have a long way to go."
"Safe journey, Janet Fraiser," Teal'c said.
"Take care," Cameron said. "See you in a couple of months."
Janet waved good-bye and climbed into the RV. Cassandra was already in the passenger seat, knees drawn up to her chest. Janet took a seat behind the wheel and fastened her seat belt. "Well, kid. You ready?"
"Yeah," Cassandra said. "Where are we going first?"
Janet checked the map. "East."
Cassie smiled. "Sounds good."
They pulled out of the driveway and beeped their horn to say one final goodbye to their friends.
At the opposite end of the block, an Indian motorcycle sat idling. The rider, straddling her bike, waited until the RV pulled out of sight before she lifted her feet from the pavement. She lifted the visor of her helmet, wiped at her eyes, and rode off to the West.
Five Weeks Later,
Janet had grown to love the little roadside diners where they stopped for lunch and dinner. This particular establishment, in a town in Missouri, was called Lulu's. The far wall of the restaurant was dominated by a karaoke stage. Fortunately, a sign said that karaoke was only performed on Friday nights. Otherwise, Cassandra might have dragged her on-stage for a duet of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" or something equally mortifying.
In their past month on the road, they had grown together as Janet never thought possible. Cassandra was confiding in her, they were laughing together... they had occasional tiffs, but the arguments couldn't end with Cassandra storming out and slamming the bedroom door. Therefore, things got resolved.
Cassandra danced with boys at the few bars they went to - Janet was still in denial about Cassie being old enough to actually be in the bar - and Janet fended off countless paramours. She was wearing Sam's wedding ring on her finger rather than around her neck and she couldn't get over how right it felt. She didn't twirl it as she had her ex-husband's ring. Sam's felt like an extension of her finger. Perfectly in place. There were times, late at night, when she watched the moon flicker off of it and cried, lonely for her lover and wife.
At first, she and Sam talked every night. Then Sam went off-world on a mission, and they had fallen out of the habit by the time she returned. In the past four days, Janet had spoken to Sam only through voicemail.
In their second week on the road, Janet had gotten her hair cut. She had at first been shocked at the short bob, but it eventually grew on her - no pun intended - and she was waiting for Sam to see it in person. At the moment, Cassandra was reaching across the table to toy with the bangs. "It's too blonde. You look like Sam."
"The highlights will fade by the time we get back to Colorado."
"Oh, so as long as I'm the only one who has to suffer..."
Janet smiled. She raked her fingernails through it and glanced at her reflection in the window. "You really think it's too blonde?"
"You look like Sam's twin."
"Well, that's hardly a bad thing," Janet said. A motorcycle engine revved nearby and she felt an ache in her heart. Usually, that sound meant Sam had gotten home. Usually, it was followed by a kiss and Sam's hands on the small of her back. She sighed and rested her chin in her hand.
"You miss her, huh?"
"I do," Janet said.
"Well, just because you're off for two months doesn't mean we have to stay gone the whole time..."
"I promised you two months, that's what you're getting. Besides, we haven't even made it to Mount Rushmore!"
Cassie rolled her eyes. "Big heads on a mountain. Big whoop."
"Be careful," Janet said. "I may give you a history lesson if you're not careful."
The bell over the restaurant door twinkled. Janet heard the waitress say, "The biker bar is about a mile down the road."
Cassandra chuckled. "Total biker chick at the door."
Janet turned and her smile faded as the biker pulled off her helmet. She wore torn jeans, knee-high black boots and a heavy black leather jacket. It wasn't an outfit Janet had ever seen, but even from behind she recognized that shaggy blonde haircut. "Sam?" she gasped.
Sam turned from the waitress and her eyes widened. "Janet."
Janet nearly toppled over a table as she launched herself from the booth. She met Sam halfway across the restaurant and began peppering her face with kisses.
The waitress said, "Uh, ladies, that bar is about five miles down the road..."
Janet laughed and cupped Sam's face in her hands. "You're really here..."
"I am. We should..." She gestured at the booth and walked Janet back to it. It was then Janet noticed Sam's limp.
"It's fine," Sam said. She deposited Janet in the booth and eased herself down. "I was on a mission, took a wrong step and wrenched my knee. Dr. Lam put me on medical leave."
"You 'slipped,' huh?" Janet said.
"It wasn't on purpose," Sam assured her, reading her mind. "But I think my mind was elsewhere." She squeezed Janet's hand and her smile wavered slightly. She looked down and saw the ring on the third finger of Janet's left hand. She steadied herself by looking at Cassandra, but Janet saw the tears in her eyes. "So, hey... did you let your mom cut her hair like this?"
Cassandra held her hands up. "Hey, don't blame at me."
"It's beautiful, hon," Sam said. She kissed Janet's temple and said, "I headed to Gray Summit after I got your voicemail. After that, I just kept driving east and hoping you'd stayed on Route 66."
Janet said, "You're lucky you caught up with us. We were about to leave the road and head to Mount Rushmore."
"I haven't seen that place since I was a kid," Sam said. She looked at Cassandra. "Cass... do you mind if I horn in on your vacation?"
Cassandra smiled. "Are you kidding? It'll be great!"
Sam squeezed Janet's hand again, feeling the pressure of the ring against her palm, and said, "Great. It'll be like a... honeymoon."
Janet smiled and put her head on Sam's shoulder. Sam ran her fingers through Janet's newly-shorn hair, kissed her forehead and listened to Cassandra babble about what all they had already seen on their trip. Sam listened with half an ear, nodding and laughing at the right places, but all she really cared about was a head on her shoulder and the little diamond her hand was wrapped around.
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