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"Okay, seven o'clock, I'll be there. What should I bring?"

"Just yourself. I have everything here."

"Not even dessert?"

"Nope, Cassie's covering that. These days she's obsessed with baking. I figure that'll last another month, till she discovers something else more exciting."

"Baking. Huh," Sam said. "Great. Tell her no whipped cream though."

"Don't worry, more for me." Sam could hear the smile in Janet's voice. She'd scraped the whipped cream off her desserts more than once.

"Thanks, Janet. It will be so nice to get out of here, I feel like I'm in jail."

"I know, Sam. How's the processor coming?"

"It's good. I should be done in a week or so. Finally."

Janet sighed in sympathy. "Are you doing okay? Usually I can't drag you out of the lab when you're working on something new."

Sam opened her mouth, but hesitated over the words. "It's nothing."

"Sam."

Sam couldn't resist Janet's gentle tones; she could hear the concern in her voice, and it touched her deeply. "Well," she started, "I, I think I might be lonely."

"Oh, honey," Janet cooed.

"I know it sounds stupid."

"No Sam, it doesn't. You've been holed up for two weeks. I haven't seen you, Cassie hasn't seen you, and the guys are about to kill each other. They need a shot of estrogen to counteract the testosterone floating around. They miss you." Janet paused. "We all do."

Sam smiled sadly. "It feels silly. I used to do this all the time. I feel like I spent my entire university career by myself and it never bothered me before."

"Everyone changes, Sam." For a moment they seemed to listen to each other's breathing, and the sensation intoxicated Sam, however briefly. "I'm glad you'll be done soon."

"Me too." Reluctantly, she added, "I should probably get back to it. But I'm excited about coming over tomorrow. You're sure you don't need anything?"

"No, Sam. Just your word that you'll be here."

"I promise. I'll talk to you soon?"

"Sure. Don't stay up too late, okay?"

"I won't. Good night. Kiss Cassie for me."

"I will. G'nite."

"Bye," she said, unable to keep the longing from her voice before she hung up.

She had to face facts; she wasn't cut out for this isolation thing anymore. Work was still her life, but she missed everyone. Janet and Cassie especially. The lab seemed quiet and desolate as she worked silently, every sound from her tools echoing in the empty room.

***

Sam grabbed the phone and called over to the infirmary to double check the plans for the evening. "Dr. Fraiser, please," she said when a male voice she didn't recognize answered.

"Hold on a sec," the man said. She heard a muffled, "Jan, it's for you." She frowned.

"Dr. Fraiser," Janet said quickly.

"Hi, it's me."

"Hey, how are you? We still set for tonight?"

Sam exhaled a breath she hadn't realized she was holding. "Yeah, I was just checking."

"Oh yes, Cassie's been throwing flour all over the kitchen for two days, you'd better be here!"

Sam laughed, already feeling the tension inside her chest starting to loosen. "I will. Seven o'clock."

"I hope you don't mind, but there will be another guest as well."

"Oh." She was surprised at the stab of disappointment in her gut, not knowing where it came from. "That's okay. Who is it?"

"He's an old friend from USAMRIID. We were short on nurses since Staran took maternity leave, so I brought him in a little while ago. He's fantastic, Sam, I'm sure you'll love him."

Instantly Sam wondered why she hadn't heard of this guy before. And what had inspired Janet to have him brought into the SGC. "Um, great. I'll look forward to meeting him."

"See you in a few then, okay?"

"Yeah. Bye."

She hung up. Minutes passed as she stared into the reactor she'd been fiddling with for the past two days. It was only when her computer's email dinged that she shook out of the haze.

***

Ringing the doorbell, Sam took a deep breath and ran fingers through her hair. She should have spent more time on it, she thought; it probably looked like a rat's nest.

Quickly the door swung open, and Cassie leapt out at her. "Sam!" she exclaimed, wrapping her in a huge hug. Sam returned the embrace gratefully.

"Hey, kiddo," she said softly. "I missed you."

"I missed you too. I don't like it when you're gone so long," the girl said, wrapping an arm around Sam's waist.

"I'm sorry, Cass. I've been working--"

"Yeah, Mom told me that you haven't left the base for two weeks. I don't think that's good for you. Plus I didn't have anyone to help me with multiplying fractions."

Sam ruffled her hair. "I'm sorry. But your mom could help, couldn't she?"

Cassie leaned against her side. "It's not the same."

Squeezing hard, Sam whispered, "I won't be away so long next time. I'm almost done with the project. Think you'll be dividing fractions soon?"

"Ick, I hope not."

"Aw, come on, it's fun!"

"No it's not," Cassie argued, but Sam could see the smile on her face.

"Yes it is," she insisted, picking the girl up and tickling her sides.

"No!" Cassie squealed as Sam hefted the growing girl and turned her upside down, tickling as she went.

"What's all the ruckus," boomed a voice from the kitchen. It wasn't someone she recognized, and Sam froze with Cassie half over her shoulder when a huge, muscular man strode through the kitchen door.

"Uh, hi," Sam offered, flipping Cassie back down on her feet.

The girl grabbed the arm of the big man and pulled him forward. "This is Michael. He works with Mom now. They knew each other before." Sam assumed she meant before me.

Sam stuck her hand out, astounded by the man's physique, though it was mostly masked by his simple polo shirt and chinos. "I'm Samantha Carter, nice to meet you."

Michael's grip was surprisingly gentle, but firm. Not the grip of a man trying to prove his strength or power. That should have comforted Sam, but she still bristled when she examined his good looks and startlingly blue eyes. "It's wonderful to meet you, Major. Janet's told me a lot about you."

Janet, she thought. He calls her Janet. Well, it's not like he'd call her anything else. They're friends, right? "None of it's true," she joked awkwardly.

Michael tilted his head slightly. "No, I think it's all true, and all good of course. Let me get you a drink. Beer? Wine?"

He's playing the host, thought Sam. A flash of anger shot through her so strongly she felt sure it was visible on her face, but she quickly fought it back. "Beer's fine. Thanks," she forced herself to add.

Cassie frowned. "Sam?" she asked.

"Hey, where's Banjo? I haven't seen him for a while," Sam said, hoping neither would notice her slip.

"Um, he's in my room. Mom didn't want him to get under everyone's feet."

"Let's go then." She slid an arm around Cassie and said, "We'll be right back."

"Sure," replied Michael, his friendly smile throwing Sam off kilter.

The pair went to Cassie's room, and Sam wrestled with Banjo for a few minutes while catching up with the young girl's news. The eighth grade dance was coming up, and Cassie was hoping Peter Chancelor would ask her to go with him. "I'm sure he'll ask," Sam assured her. "And if he doesn't, you'll go with your friends and still have a great time. That's what I always did."

"You didn't go to dances with boys?"

"Sometimes." She recalled the eighth grade dance she'd missed, mourning her mother's death. The pain had dulled, but she recalled that complete sense of isolation perfectly, even more than twenty years later. Time seemed to slow as she relived it. "I wasn't really much of a dancer."

Cassie seemed to sense Sam's sorrow and crept into her lap, resting her head on a shoulder. Sam held the girl tightly, shaken by the sudden grief sweeping over her. "Mom said you've been sad. Can I help?"

Blinking back tears she couldn't explain, she rubbed her chin on Cassie's hair and soaked up as much of her presence as she could. "This helps," she whispered, brushing away a drop that slid down her cheek.

At that inopportune moment, Janet breezed into the room with a bright smile that disappeared immediately. "Hey, what's going on?" She dropped to her knees and crawled up to the tightly clinging pair. She reached out to Sam's face, wiping a tear that followed the first. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Sam replied, quickly turning her head away, making an attempt to reign in the depression that threatened to overtake her. "I'm okay." She cursed the thickness that garbled her words.

Janet slid an arm around Sam's back and pulled her in, wrapping the other around Cassie. "That's why you're crying? Because you're okay?"

Sam breathed in Janet's fragrance; it reminded her of fields and tall grasses and sunshine. She exhaled slowly, scrunching her eyes hard to hold everything in. "I don't know what's wrong, honest. I think I'm just tired." She had no other explanation, not even for herself.

"Well tonight's all about relaxing and being with friends. Michael was worried when you two just disappeared. He said you looked a little funny."

Sam stiffened and pulled away from Janet's embrace. "I'm fine, really," she said, and sniffled. The mood was broken. "And how would he know if I looked funny? He's never even seen me before."

Sam herself was shocked at the animosity in her own voice. Janet's mouth fell open; she was clearly flabbergasted as well. "Michael's nice, Sam. You should talk to him," Cassie said, missing the sudden tension between the two women.

"I don't know why I said that," Sam admitted, feeling terrible, not to mention confused at her own reaction. "I'm sorry."

Janet shook her head once and replied, "This isn't like you Sam. I'm worried." She replaced her hand on Sam's shoulder and rubbed. Sam actually winced when her fingers made contact with knots that hadn't moved in weeks. "My god, do you have marbles in here?" She continued to knead, and Sam dropped her head back and sighed. "Looks like you need a little therapeutic massage, Major. How about I treat you after dinner?"

Under her lids, Sam's eyes had rolled back in pleasure. "Sounds good," she mumbled, then caught herself before she became too wrapped up in the touch. "But I guess we should be getting back to your friend. I feel badly leaving him all alone."

"Oh, it's okay, he's made himself at home since he got here last week."

Sam was taken aback. "He's staying here?"

"Yeah, he hadn't found a place to live till today. We scored him a one bedroom close by, but I'll admit, it's been wonderful to have the company, huh, Cassie?"

Cass grinned. "Yeah, he makes breakfast and everything. The best pancakes ever. In shapes and smiley faces with chocolate chips!"

Sam swallowed. "He cooks?" she squeaked.

"Yep. He made the chicken tonight. It's so nice to have an extra pair of hands to help out. Speaking of chicken, I'm starved. Let's go." Janet held out a hand to assist her to her feet, and Sam immediately felt guilty for not being around more, sure that Janet's comments about extra hands and company were directed at her.

She swiped under her eyes for any lingering wetness and straightened her shirt. "Okay."

***

"Don't you like the chicken, Sam?" Cassie asked innocently.

"No, it's great. Everything is wonderful. I'm just not that hungry." It was strange, since on the way to Janet's her stomach had growled almost loud enough to be heard over the roar of her Indian. The beer Michael had given her an hour before sat untouched. She wasn't in the mood for much of anything at the moment.

"You won't get dessert unless you finish your broccoli," the girl stated strongly. "I made you a chocolate cake with mousse in the middle."

"Wow, that sounds great." To prove her enthusiasm, she speared a veggie and ate it, fighting the wave of nausea that struck. Quickly she swallowed, hoping her stomach would settle down.

Michael had been kind, attentive, and charming, and Janet visibly adored him. They'd bantered all evening, telling stories of late night craziness in Maryland, travels through Europe, visits home with their respective families. Sam had laughed in all the right places, but couldn't help but feel left out. She never offered any of her own stories, but sat and listened quietly. She hadn't had any kind of direct conversation with Janet at all, and missed their easy give and take from past evenings.

Michael's presence threw their typical balance off, she reasoned. It was good for Janet to have someone around who so obviously cared about her. Right?

"So we crawled under the railing with the wine and drank from the bottle while the priests strolled by and the polizia flashed their M-16s. They couldn't have cared less!" Janet laughed uproariously, and Michael reached a hand out under the table and touched her knee. Or thigh, Sam couldn't see which. But he was touching her. Like he'd been doing it all his life. Sam chewed the inside of her lip, unable to keep her eyes from Michael's arm. "We were so sick the next morning we missed our train back to Florence and had to wait in the stazione for two hours, drinking water and nibbling baguettes. It was ridiculous. Cassandra, avoid red wine at all costs!"

Cassie laughed too. "Mom, you got drunk!" she giggled.

"Well sweetie, I didn't do it too often, but that night was special." She flashed a grin at Michael, her eyes speaking a language Sam had no translation for. They shared something she could never touch, never have.

Sam gazed at the three of them, and realized that if Michael stayed, and from the sound of it he wasn't leaving town anytime soon, she'd be pushed out of the circle. There wasn't room for a fourth at this table. Her heart pounded so loudly it drowned out everything else: the soft music from the stereo, the dog growling over a knotted sock, the conversation continuing at the table. She looked up at Janet, and knew that everything had changed.

"I'll get the cake! Sam, you stay here, I made it just for you. Do you want some milk to go with it?"

Cassie's hopeful smile broke her heart. "Yeah," she managed to say, then cleared her throat. "I'll be right back." In the bathroom, she leaned over the toilet and wretched, but nothing came up. Tears stung the backs of her eyes, and valiantly she fought them. She had no idea where all of this was coming from; she only knew that she felt more alone in this house tonight than could ever remember feeling anywhere.

Quickly she rinsed her face and patted it dry, hoping the redness in her eyes would fade quickly.

When she came back to the table, the lights had been dimmed, and a huge cake sat in the middle of the table. It was beautiful, and Cassie stood next to Sam's chair as she sat. "Wanna cut it yourself?" She held out a knife, and Sam tried to smile as she sliced pieces for everyone.

"It looks delicious honey, thank you so much for making this for me." It did look delectable. If she were feeling better she'd probably devour half of it. When everyone had a piece, including Cassie, who hadn't left her side, she took a bite and was astonished at the rich taste that met her tongue. "It's delicious, Cass. You did a wonderful job." Sam slid an arm around the girl's waist and hugged, proud of the girl.

"You really like it?"

"I love it. I have never had a better cake."

Cassie hopped a little in her embrace. "I'm so glad! Mom helped with the batter, I screwed up the first two tries. But I put the mousse in, and flipped the cake layer on, and we both iced it!"

Michael groaned in delight. "This is the best cake ever, Cassie. You did great. And don't try to credit your mom, I know she can't even bake microwave brownies."

Janet smacked his brawny arm indignantly. "That was ten years ago, Mikey, I've improved my cooking skills since then."

"And your taste in friends, I'm happy to say."

Sam frowned, wondering what he meant. Janet grimaced. "My ex-husband is who he's talking about. He and Michael didn't really get along."

"Oh?" Sam said.

"Oh yeah," Michael responded. "He hated my guts. We weren't really simpatico. And while I knew the split upset Janet, I was glad to see him go. Relieved, really. She deserved better." He looked meaningfully at Sam.

And Sam was suddenly sure he was silently telling her, Me. I'm the guy she deserves. She shoveled a huge forkful of cake into her mouth, praying she wouldn't gag.

Luckily, she ate her entire piece of cake without incident. Cassie practically stood over her shoulder, making sure Sam enjoyed every bite. When everyone was done, Sam stood to help, but was assured by Michael, "No, sit, you're the guest, just relax." He couldn't have said anything that hurt her more. A quick grin from Janet followed, and the two whisked the empty plates away to the kitchen. They made another trip, and were then joined by Cassie who carried the leftovers of her cake away. Sam sat alone at the table and listened to the noise coming from the other room. She couldn't make out exact conversation, but heard the three distinct voices blending into an unmistakable cadence. It sounded like a family. Squealing and laughing met her ears, and at that moment, she knew it was time to go. It would hurt Cassie, and maybe Janet too, but she had to get out before she fell apart entirely.

Quickly she scrawled a note, her vision blurred by tears: "Thanks for everything, it was great. Had to get back to base. Talk to you soon. -S."

She dashed out the door.

***

"Sam, wake up," a voice whispered softly in her ear, while a hand nudged her shoulder. She lifted her head and blinked bleary eyes.

"What? What's wrong?" Sam ran a hand over her face, uncertain of her surroundings. After a moment, she realized she was in the lab, and had been asleep at the desk, head resting on her arm. Her eyes felt like they'd been sandpapered.

"Why did you run off like that?"

Janet settled into a desk chair next to hers, too close for Sam to feel entirely comfortable. "Um," she said. She hadn't yet thought of an explanation, mainly because she didn't expect to see Janet so soon. "I, I don't know."

"Sam, please talk to me. I'm worried. You seemed so upset earlier in the evening, and then you hardly said a word all through dinner." Janet looked anxious, her brown eyes wide with concern.

"What time is it?" Sam asked, disoriented.

"Midnight. I went to your house first, then checked that place on the mountain where you like to go to watch the sunset. I didn't really think you'd come back here so you could sleep on your desk."

"Janet, you didn't have to drive all the way out here, I'm fine. You," she stumbled, "you shouldn't have left your guest."

"Michael?" She sounded surprised. "Michael can handle a few hours on his own. God knows I see enough of him at work and at home." Janet thought for a moment. "Was there something about him that you didn't like? Did he say anything that bothered you?" Her brow furrowed, and Sam guessed she was scanning the evening's conversation over in her head.

"No, he was great." That's the problem that shouldn't be a problem, thought Sam. She should be happy. "I like him," she ground out.

"So you just left me and Cassie without saying goodbye because you had to come back to the base." Janet's tone was flat.

"Yeah," she said weakly. "I had an idea and I wanted to work on it before I forgot." That's it, she thought. She'll believe that.

"An idea."

"Yeah."

"What was the idea?" Janet wouldn't budge.

"Huh?"

"What... was... the... idea?" She pronounced each word clearly, as if reading to a small child.

"Oh, it's too complicated. It has to do with the processor and the naquada reactor."

"My not understanding has never stopped you before."

Sam stood up and ran a hand through her hair, exasperated. "Well, I'm too tired to explain it to you."

"Then let me drive you home so you can get some proper rest for a change."

"No thanks. I need to stay here."

"Samantha Carter, what the hell is wrong with you?" she yelled. Janet was furious, more pissed off than Sam could remember seeing her. She'd never had that anger directed at her before, and it made her shrink back.

"Nothing, I'm just tired." And miserable. And she hated Michael for no reason at all.

Janet reared back. "So that's all I get. 'I'm tired', over and over. I don't even know why I bothered, you'll never tell me. Always so wrapped up in your work, you've built your own shields to protect yourself from everyone and everything outside your lab. Sam," she moved closer, "yesterday, you really opened up. And tonight, with Cassie..." she trailed off. "Now you're pulling away. Why?"

Sam's face crumpled for a split second, knowing Janet spoke the truth. Janet reached out to sift her fingers through mussed bangs, but Sam flinched away.

Janet pulled her hand back, looking as if she'd just been slapped. She bit her lower lip, and Sam was shocked to see tears gather in those dear brown eyes. "Okay. I'm going. I'll just," she picked up her purse, "see you later."

Sam stood frozen to the spot. The door to the lab remained open, and she listened intently to the sound of Janet's clunky heels as they got farther and farther away.

***

Finally, at one in the afternoon, Sam was so weak she knew she'd have to leave and get something to eat. She'd worked like a fiend since Janet had walked out, on an hour of sleep and little dinner. As the night progressed she'd shaved off two days of work time, though she had no reason to rush anymore.

She was sure she'd destroyed the deepest, most important friendship she'd ever had. Sam had imagined Janet rushing home, straight into Michael's open arms. The thought made her stomach clench. No more, she thought. Just stop thinking. So she'd blocked out any more visions of them and focused entirely on her work.

Now, more than twelve hours later, she was dizzy with hunger. Slowly she made her way to the mess hall, hoping to avoid direct conversation. She got a few nods and greetings, but fortunately no one stopped her for idle chatter. After getting a turkey sandwich and an apple, she weaved through the tables in the hall to her corner. Only when she was a few feet away did she look up and spot Michael and Janet at her regular table. Their heads were close together, and Michael was intently listening to whatever Janet was telling him. And he was holding her hand.

She almost stumbled when she saw them. Backtracking, she was about to turn away when Michael looked up, directly into her eyes. Sam couldn't move as he stared at her, into her. How long she stood there, she didn't know. Finally, he tilted his head, mouth opening slightly, and the movement broke the spell over Sam. She wheeled around and tore down the pathway, tossing her tray in the corner and shoving the apple in her pocket.

She was practically running by the time she got back to her office, kicking the door shut loudly. "God damn!" she shouted. Then she kicked the wall with her boot, once, twice, a third time. She flopped into her chair and tore open her sandwich, devouring it swiftly in anger. As she chewed, she wondered how things had progressed to this level so fast, when nothing had really gone wrong. She hadn't fought with Janet or even started a disagreement over anything. Sam simply did not understand how she'd managed to fuck things up so completely. But more confusing than the how was the why. What was it about Michael that rubbed her the wrong way?

She closed her eyes at the thought, exhaustion creeping in. The last half of her sandwich sat on her desk as Sam rested her chin in hand, drained of energy. Eating hadn't helped her state of mind a bit. Eventually, the door to the lab opened, and Sam glanced up. Michael.

"Knock knock," he said amiably. He looked cautious, and Sam wanted to throw a chair at him.

She sat up. "Yes?" she asked, trying to be civil.

"Major, I think we need to talk."

Sighing, she slumped again. She was so tired. Nodding, she gestured to the chair she'd just considered tossing in his direction.

"Dr. Fraiser and I are good friends," he began. Sam chewed on the inside of her lip again, not noticing she'd already worn the spot raw. "I'd been looking for a new position, and when Janet found out, she put in a request for me to be transferred here. You must know I went through months of background checks before getting clearance, and Janet was the one who filled me in on the SGC. I couldn't believe my luck; to be here, working on something so extraordinary, with my CMO being one of my oldest friends." He rolled his chair closer. "Friends, Major Carter. That's all we are to each other, and all we'll ever be."

Sam frowned. "Why are you telling me this?"

Michael's eyes softened. "My partner was killed 18 months ago in a training accident. Obviously I wouldn't be talking about this in normal circumstances, but Janet's important to me, and that makes you important to me. She trusts you, so I do too."

"I don't understand," Sam choked.

"Don't ask, don't tell, you know. He was the love of my life."

Sam's eyes flew open. She blinked rapidly, processing exactly what Michael just said. "He." Michael nodded.

The tension left Sam's body that instant. She welcomed the intense relief of knowing that Michael wasn't a threat. A threat, she pondered, to what?

"Janet knew I was floundering, and she sought me out. I need her right now. I won't deny that. But I promise, you have no reason whatsoever to be jealous."

Sam coughed. "Jealous?" He nodded. "I'm not jealous." She pushed back her chair and stood, running a hand through her hair. "I'm not jealous." Looking down at him, she insisted, "We're not together. It's not like that."

Michael dropped his chin, looking up at her through long eyelashes. "You're not jealous," he stated, sounding unconvinced.

"No. No way, of course not. I mean, no." At that moment she realized her whole body was blushing; her chest felt hot, and her hands tingled with awareness.

"That's a shame," Michael sighed.

"What?" Sam snapped.

He leaned back in his chair. "Oh, nothing. I just thought... never mind. It's not important."

"What?" she demanded again, breathlessly stepping closer. Her ears were practically burning.

Michael narrowed his eyes and peered at her. "You have no idea what's happening, do you."

Sam swallowed, unconsciously shaking her head.

"Sam, don't walk away from her. It'll kill her," he pleaded, and Sam lost her breath.

"I couldn't," she whispered.

"Come over tonight. I'll take Cassie out. You and Jan need to talk." Sam opened her mouth to respond, but no sound came out. He reached out and took her hand, and Sam nearly fell apart. "We'll be gone by seven. Come then, okay?"

Silently she nodded, and squeezed his hand.

***

Sam approached the doorstep with trepidation, palms sweating. She wiped a hand on her pants, while the other held a bouquet of flowers. But now that she was here, she didn't know if the gift was appropriate.

All day her mind had spun out of control. She had been jealous of Michael. Violently. It was like an unexpected bucket of ice water over her head. She'd been jealous over Janet, her best friend, who just happened to be a woman. She hadn't gotten much further than comprehending the fact that she'd actually been upset because Michael had invaded her territory. It was a surprise, to say the least.

Breathing deeply, she knocked on the door. 7:02, her watch read. She looked at the flowers briefly, then hastily shoved the bouquet behind a wicker chair on the porch. It was too romantic, she thought; like what you'd bring to a woman on a date.

The door inched open, and Janet's face appeared in the sliver of space. "Hi," she said.

"I'm sorry." The words fell out of Sam's mouth. "Please forgive me."

A half smile tipped Janet's mouth crookedly. She backed up and opened the door. "Come in." As Sam entered the foyer, she wiped her palms on her pants again, hoping Janet wouldn't notice. The doctor gestured to the sofa, saying, "Sit. Do you want something to drink?"

Though her first instinct was to say no, Sam recognized that her mouth was dry as sand. "Water would be great?"

"'Kay," she said, and disappeared into the kitchen. Seconds later she returned with two glasses, and handed one to Sam as she sat next to her on the couch.

Sam drank rapidly, the blessed water cooling her arid throat. Before she could stop herself, she'd downed the entire glass. She gasped for air when she was done, and Janet gaped. She burst out laughing, effectively breaking the tension in an instant. Sam laughed with her, quietly adding, "I guess I was thirsty."

After a demure sip from her glass, Janet replied, "I guess so."

"Janet, I am so sorry, about everything. How I acted around Michael, you, Cassie... And last night, I was an idiot. I lost it for a while. I, I think it was spending all that time working. I forgot how to be around people." That was the excuse she'd cooked up that afternoon. She wasn't about to mention her conversation with Michael when she hardly understood it herself.

Janet's face fell. "That's what you wanted to tell me?"

Sam nodded. "Yeah. I haven't slept much, and I was an ass. I'll apologize to Michael and Cassie for running off, that was inexcusable. Can you forgive me?"

With a sigh, Janet looked away. "Yeah," she breathed, voice wavering.

It wasn't the response she'd been hoping for. "Janet? Are you okay?" The woman nodded, but she was clearly having trouble keeping it together. "I thought that's why you were so upset. Because of how I acted."

"Yeah, Sam, that's it." Janet looked at her hands. "I guess I was hoping... that there was something else, y-you wanted to tell me."

Sam's stomach dropped. "Oh?" she squeaked.

A small grin graced Janet's face. She looked up at Sam, her eyes expressing a profound sadness. "Yeah," she murmured.

Sam was transfixed by Janet's gaze; her breath deepened, her mind cleared, until all she could see was this woman she thought she knew so well. Her eyes, her cheeks, her mouth-- it all made Sam's head swim. Unconsciously she leaned forward, an inch at a time, till her gaze was drawn like a magnet to full, parted lips. Puffs of air met Sam's mouth, and to her astonishment, her own eyes drifted shut and she leaned in those last few inches.

We're kissing, Sam thought, and she's not pulling away. Our mouths are touching. Sam was paralyzed with fear while heat suffused her whole body. Her lips didn't move against Janet's, and seconds passed before she noticed that Janet wasn't moving either.

Clumsily she pulled back, blushing furiously. "I'm sorry," she stuttered, mortified that she'd just made a pass at her best friend.

Before she knew it, Janet was up on her knees and leaning down to her. "Hush," she said as she took Sam's face between her palms. Then her lips claimed Sam's again, and it was an entirely different experience. This was a kiss unlike any she'd ever known, soft and full of longing. Their lips blended and fused, Sam panting through her nose as it went on for long moments. Heat burst low in her belly, and her arms wrapped around Janet's tiny waist frantically. Sam gasped at the sensation of curved hips under her touch, and Janet took advantage of the opportunity to slide her tongue into Sam's mouth.

Sam's insides melted like warmed honey, and she drew Janet back with her as they fell against the couch. She felt devoured, possessed, owned by this small woman above her, and tears slipped from her eyes into her hair.

They pressed against one another in tandem, moving together silently. When she felt a hand on her breast, Sam pulled her mouth away at last, moaning without restraint.

At that moment, she opened her eyes for the first time since Janet had kissed her. There she was, hovering above, lips rich and swollen from kissing, cheeks rosy, breath heaving. "Oh my," Sam breathed.

Janet raised her eyebrows. "Is that a good oh my?"

Sam couldn't believe she had to ask. "Yeah," she replied. She reached out long fingers to caress Janet's cheek, and more tears slid from her eyes as Janet pressed her face into her palm.

When Janet saw the tears, she leaned down again and hugged Sam tight. "Hold me," she whispered, and Sam did. "Tighter." She wrapped her arms further around her, and slid a leg up and enclosed Janet's between hers.

"I was jealous," Sam uttered at last. "And I didn't even know it."

Janet's head popped up. "You have no reason to be. None."

Sam grinned sheepishly. "I know. Michael came to visit me today. We had a little talk."

"He told you?" Janet was surprised.

"Um-hmm. He was the one who made me see what I was doing. Well, sort of. I don't think I realized much of anything till... till you kissed me."

"And what are you thinking now?" Janet's fingers brushed through Sam's bangs as she had done the night before, only this time, Sam didn't flinch. She turned into the touch.

"That I've been a blind fool who didn't know her ass from her elbow."

Janet's body shook above her. "Aside from that."

"That I didn't like feeling jealous. I didn't like thinking that I had to share you with someone else. When I thought about you and Michael, together," Sam remembered the images floating through her mind last night, "I just... I just wanted to tear his face off!"

Janet hooted in her arms. "Oh, sweetie, you don't have to worry about that. Ever. I'm all yours." Janet paled slightly, her grin slipping. "Or at least, I want to be."

"You do?" Sam asked, awestruck.

Janet nodded.

"Stay right there." She slid out from under Janet, who vocally protested. Running to the door, she called out, "Close your eyes!"

Hunting behind the wicker chair, Sam pulled out the bouquet of flowers. Her smile glowed-- she'd bought these flowers for Janet. A woman who wanted her. And one she wanted in return, so much. It was an odd sensation, this sudden awareness of passion for someone she'd known so long. Her world had tilted on its axis, but it felt right, better than anything she could remember for a long time.

"Eyes closed?" she called, headed back to the couch.

"Yep," Janet replied, a huge grin on her face.

"Keep 'em that way," she said, and arranged their bodies back to their earlier position, with Janet lying atop her. "Okay, go ahead."

Janet opened her eyes, and Sam held the flowers up to her. "I brought these for you."

"Oh my gosh!" Janet exclaimed, pushing up on her knees and effectively straddling Sam. "They're beautiful!" She inhaled the fragrance of each flower individually before looking down at Sam. "Where the heck did they come from?"

"Um, well, I brought them to say I'm sorry, but I freaked out a little. So I left them outside."

"You brought me flowers," Janet sighed. "Sam, you are too sweet." She leaned down and kissed her softly.

Sam responded, gently exploring the depths of her mouth with infinite care. "There's a lot we should talk about," Sam said.

"Later," Janet responded.

Sam agreed as the flowers fell to the floor.

***

Groaning, Sam dropped her head forward to allow Janet's probing fingers more access to her shoulders. "God, that feels good," she moaned.

"You're strung like piano wire up here, Sam. You work too much. Have you been going to the gym?"

"Yeah, oh right there, uh, Teal'c has been training me and I think I pushed a little too hard. For the past two weeks, gym time's been my only real break, so I'd really go for it. Ow," she grunted.

"Sorry," Janet said.

"No, keep pushing, I need it."

"I'll move down a little then come back, okay?"

"'Kay." She exhaled through the fading pain, irritated that she'd let her back get so screwed up. But Janet had a knack for massage, among other things. She'd provided back rubs after a few missions, but Sam could admit that none had affected her more than the current one. Her lips still tingled from their kisses, and her whole body was warm and content. She expected to feel some sort of awkwardness, but there was none.

As they'd lay twined on the couch together, Janet had spoken of her bisexuality, though she hadn't been with a woman since well before her marriage. Too much trouble to worry about don't ask, don't tell, she'd reasoned. But that had changed when she joined the SGC, and met a certain Captain who'd caught her eye.

Sam was amazed to find out that Janet had been attracted to her from the first day they'd met, burying those feelings to make it easier for their friendship to blossom. Janet hadn't exactly spent the past three years pining away for Sam, but she knew if an opportunity presented itself, she'd grab it with both hands.

"I like this," Janet breathed as she worked her fingers hard into the muscles lining Sam's spine. Quiet surrounded them, along with a sense of intimacy that Sam hadn't known she'd been missing. It was like she finally fit somewhere; had a place where she belonged.

Leaning back into the vee of Janet's knees, Sam rubbed her cheek against soft, worn denim. "Me too." She wrapped an arm under and around Janet's leg and hugged it to her. Her thoughts drifted to how it felt to be part of a family, and a thought occurred to her, one she'd been debating mentioning to Janet. Quietly, she said, "Tomorrow's the anniversary of my mom's death."

Stopping the massage, Janet leaned down and wrapped her arms around Sam from behind. She kissed Sam's temple and whispered, "I'm sorry, sweetie." A tear slid from Sam's eye as she sunk into the full embrace. "Has it been on your mind lately?"

"Not exactly," Sam replied. "It gets hard this time of year though. You'd think twenty one years would make it easier."

"No, I wouldn't. I bet it never gets easier."

"I was only Cassie's age," she whimpered. "God, I wish she was here. You'd love her, Janet. And she'd love you."

"I know I would. Come up here," she said, and Sam crawled up to the couch into Janet's embrace. Silently Janet stroked her hair and breathed in time with her. "I'll be with you, Sam, you won't be alone."

Sam pressed her face against Janet's throat and cried. Minutes passed, and she snuggled closer as her tears ebbed. She took some deep breaths, surprised when she realized some of the heaviness had lifted from her chest. Glancing up, she said, "I feel a little better."

Janet's fingers tickled the back of her neck. "Good. That's all I want. All I've ever wanted."

Leaning up, Sam kissed Janet's lips with great care and tenderness. "You're amazing, you know."

"I'm glad you finally noticed," she said dryly, and Sam blushed. But she didn't have time to rebut that statement since the front door opened.

Michael and Cassie were deep in conversation about whatever film they saw, and Sam quietly sat up and moved slightly away from Janet's lap. "Hey, campers," she called out, and Cassie grinned hugely.

"Sam!" she yelled, and rushed over to embrace her. "What are you doing here? And where did you go last night?"

"I'm sorry, Cass. I didn't feel too well yesterday. I apologize for running out on you."

"Were you still sad, like you were before dinner?"

Sam stroked her hair gently, impressed by the young girl's intuition. "Yeah, but that's not a very good excuse, huh?"

Cassie seemed to accept Sam's apology instantly. "When you don't feel good, you should tell us, and we'll try and make you better. Mom does that for me when I'm sick. She rubs my back and sings to me."

Tears still stung her eyes from her crying jag with Janet, but she kept them back. "Moms are good for that, aren't they." Cassie nodded. "I feel better now. Your mom rubbed my back and it helped."

"Didn't she sing? She has a pretty voice."

Janet squirmed and grinned shyly. Looking into her eyes, Sam replied, "She didn't sing to me this time, but next time I'll see if I can convince her to." Michael appeared next to the couch, looking satisfied that his little disappearing act had done the trick. "Did you two have fun?" Sam asked.

"We had a ball, didn't we, Casserole?"

Cassie giggled. "Yeah. We ate pizza, and after the movie I beat Michael at this old game called Ms. Pac-Man. It was kind of simple, but I liked it."

Janet laughed. "Ms. Pac-Man, how antiquated," she quipped. "You ready for bed then, Cass? It's past your bedtime."

"Aw, Mom, I want to stay up with Sam."

Sam hugged the girl's waist and said, "Another night." She eyed Janet carefully when she added, "Maybe tomorrow?" A wide grin across Janet's full lips was her response, and she added, "Tonight I have to go back to the base, so I can get to work on my project."

"Sam," Janet growled.

"I promise, just an hour tonight. I want to get an early start in the morning. The earlier I get working, the earlier I can come over. How's that for a compromise?"

Frowning, Janet relented. "I suppose. I'll come by the lab tomorrow to check up on you."

"Sounds good," Sam said.

"Let me get this munchkin off to bed. Don't you leave," she commanded, pointing at Sam's chest.

"Yes, sir, Captain Doctor Fraiser, sir." She squeezed Cassie one last time and kissed her cheek. "Good night, kiddo. Sweet dreams."

"Night, Sam, see you tomorrow." The pair headed upstairs, and Michael sat in the overstuffed chair across from the couch.

"So, you look better than you did last time I saw you," Michael smirked pleasantly.

Unable to hide her grin completely, Sam replied, "I'm good."

"Uh huh. Did you and Janet do a lot of talking?"

Thinking back to their evening, which consisted of a little chatter interspersed with a lot of kissing, she blushed. "Yes," she said shortly.

"So I'm going to have to drag it out of Janet. Damn. You soldiers are all so close-mouthed."

Sam was suddenly aware of the debt of gratitude she owed this man, who'd trusted her without reason. "Thanks, Michael. You stuck your neck out for me, and I won't forget it."

"From the way Janet talked about you, you seemed pretty trustworthy." He sat back in his chair and looked at Sam that way he had earlier that day, as if he was looking inside her. "I'd say from your expression you had a very pleasant evening." Her mouth twitched, and she couldn't stop the big smile that betrayed her cool exterior. "Oh yeah," he grinned, "it was verrry pleasant."

"Stop it," she said shyly, looking at the floor, knowing she was flushing red.

"Oh, you are going to be so much fun to toy with, I know it."

"Are you torturing her?" Janet's voice sounded behind them. "Be sweet, please. She's a very tough soldier, she'd zat you as soon as look at you." Janet flopped on the couch, wrapping an arm around Sam and laying her head on a shoulder.

Sam looked down and met the eyes of the woman embracing her as Michael said, "From the expression on her face I'd say she's about as tough as a marshmallow. I don't think I have anything to worry about."

Distracted by the wide pupils in Janet's dark eyes, Sam didn't even try to respond to Michael's comment. She heard it, but it didn't compute.

"I think that's my cue," the man said. "Night ladies. Have fun." He leaned down and kissed the crown of Janet's head, then after a moment's hesitation, kissed Sam's. Sam looked up at him in surprise. "Well, you're family, right?"

Sam nodded in wonder.

"See you tomorrow," he said as he headed for the stairs, and Janet echoed his words.

Sam snuggled in with Janet, pushing her nose behind an ear. "I could stay here all night," she sighed.

"You could," Janet offered. "Stay."

Sliding her arms around a slim waist, Sam shook her head. "If I don't leave now, I won't want to go at all. I have a few things to finish before I can come back. But tomorrow's Friday..." she said.

"Can you take the weekend off?" Janet didn't even try to hide the hope she felt, and Sam took a deep breath at the reaction it inspired.

"Yes," she decided at that moment. She'd get an earful from O'Neill and Daniel (and possibly Hammond), but she was no longer willing to deny herself a personal life because of work. Plus, she reasoned, she only had another few days before the project was complete.

"Pack a bag and stay for the weekend," Janet murmured.

"Okay," Sam said without questioning the idea, and a tendril of heat snaked through her body at the thought of being with Janet all night.

"You'd better go then, if you're going."

Janet leaned in and they kissed deeply for a few moments. Threading her fingers through Janet's hair, Sam explored Janet's mouth thoroughly, hoping it would sustain her until the next night. When she pulled back, she swallowed thickly. Pressing her thumb to Janet's bottom lip, she was tempted to forget about work and stay, forever. Sam was leaning towards sticking around when, to her surprise, Janet stood up and pulled her toward the door.

"Come on, out. You'll regret staying if you do, and I'll regret that you'll regret it. So scoot, and be careful, and I'll come visit tomorrow. Maybe we could have lunch?"

Sam shook her head to loosen the cobwebs that had settled. Janet was like a drug, and she was getting addicted, fast. "That would be great. But do me a favor," Sam said.

"What?"

"Bring Michael. If we don't have a chaperone there's no telling what I might try."

Janet's eyes fluttered, and she smiled. Or leered, Sam wasn't sure. "Good idea."

"Bye then," Sam said, dipping her head down for one last taste. Two minutes later, Sam had Janet pressed up against the front door, and considering how she was going to survive the ride back to the base. When she felt a small hand dig under her waistband to caress the skin of her belly, she yanked her head away from Janet's. "Okay, uncle," she groaned.

Sliding down Sam's longer body, the small woman chuckled. "Sleep well," Janet said.

"I won't," Sam panted.

Swatting Sam's rear, Janet replied, "Me neither." She unlocked and opened the door for Sam, who slowly made her way down the steps. She turned and grinned at the sight of Janet leaning against the door frame. Janet continued to stand there as Sam pulled her helmet on and swung a leg over the bike. Easing away from the curb slowly, she raised a hand and waved, and received a wave in return. As she drove back to the base, she wondered how she was supposed to keep the grin off her face.

***

Sam bent her head again over the equation, running her fingers through her hair. The answer was just out of her reach, yet it was so close she could feel it, like electricity in the air. She'd been working incessantly since her arrival back on base, stopping only for five hours sleep at two in the morning. "Come on, it's right there! Why can't you see it?" she said to herself.

Frustrated, she leaned back in her chair and shut her eyes. Inhaling slowly, she tried to clear her mind and relax. When she opened her eyes, her gaze fastened on the desk calendar. Mom, she thought, I miss you.

Her mind slowly drifted in a haze of thoughts and memories; of the woman herself, and the days and nights spent mourning her. The slowly healing rift with her father lessened the pain somewhat, but the old wounds still surfaced when they were together. Slowly Sam laid her head down on the desk, using her arms as a cushion.

A few minutes later, two hands squeezed her shoulders firmly. "This is getting to be a habit," a soft voice said, and Sam wasn't surprised that Janet had arrived just when she needed her. Sam sat up, not discouraging the soft touches along her shoulders and neck, soothing her soul as well as her body. Somehow, the kindness aggravated the ache in her heart, but she kept the tears away with careful breaths.

"I don't know why I bother, you just continue to treat yourself badly no matter how hard I try."

"Hey, I slept last night!"

"Not a full eight hours, though, I bet."

"Um, not quite."

"You'll sleep this weekend, though. I'll tie you to the bed if I have to," Janet suggested. Sam stiffened, arousal flooding her veins. She felt the gentle massage stop, and concern laced Janet's tone. "Hey, I'm just teasing."

Sam turned under her hands to face the woman she'd dreamt of all night, and she couldn't hide her desire. "Are you?" she said, shocked by the low timbre of her voice.

Janet's mouth dropped open. Sam felt like a shark intent on examining her prey as she watched the rosy color creep up Janet's throat. Stepping away, the brunette squeaked, "Uh, maybe we should get lunch?"

Sam sighed, remembering where she was. "Not on base, I know. Sorry." She scrubbed her face with her hands, whining, "You started it."

Janet only nodded, and placed a delicate hand on her throat, almost as if to push the blush back under her skin.

"Lunch it is. Let me save this again before we head out." Sam shut her computer down and rubbed her hands together. "Ready." The expression on Janet's face was unexpected; she looked as if she'd swallowed a bug. "What?"

"Where's your brush?"

"Huh?"

"Your hair is going in about seventeen directions. I don't know if I want to be seen with a hedgehog in public."

"Oops." Sam hunted a comb down and examined her hair in the side of a metallic cabinet. "Oh, shit."

"Bed head, I believe, is an appropriate term," Janet offered.

Sam poured some liquid from her water bottle over the brush and ran it through her hair. It worked well enough, taming the wild strands into some semblance of order. "Better?"

"Much."

Sam fell in step with Janet, deliberately shortening her stride to match her companion's. She wondered for the hundredth time how Janet could possibly move so smoothly on those ridiculous heels. Granted, they made for a nice view, which most of the time she deliberately avoided noticing. But with things as they were now, Sam took a quick glance down and watched the shimmy of Janet's hips beneath her skirt. A skirt which was cut pleasantly just above a very shapely knee, Sam decided.

"Samantha," Janet said.

"Yeah?" She was sure Janet hadn't noticed; it was barely a peek.

Janet's eyebrow lifted. "See something you like?"

Sam chuckled awkwardly, embarrassed. "Um, I'm not sure what you mean."

They got in the elevator, and Sam leaned against the wall. Janet continued, "You know, I don't mind."

Embarrassed at being caught ogling, Sam owned up. "You don't?"

Janet looked up at her playfully. "No. I promise. You can look as much as you like. As long as you don't mind me checking out your nice ass."

"You think I have a nice ass?" Sam said. A split second the doors opened, revealing two male soldiers standing in front of them waiting to enter.

Sam's eyes popped open as Janet left the lift, nodding at the men. "Airmen. Major Carter, are you coming?"

"Oh, yeah. Sorry." She caught up to Janet, a hot flush spreading through her at the idea of the men having overheard her. "Shit," she whispered.

"Don't worry, Major. They didn't hear you. And yes, for the record, it's a very nice one. Along with a nice everything else."

Flustered, Sam ran a hand through her damp hair. Their eyes met briefly before they parted to get their respective lunches, and Sam was relieved for the brightness and bustle of the crowded commissary. They'd already broken a ground rule set the night before; nothing suggestive at work. No contact any more intimate than before (so the occasional touch and shoulder rub were both in bounds,) but no discussion of their developing relationship. Oh well, Sam thought, it's only the first day-- they just needed practice.

The pair met up with Michael, and fortunately his presence broke the sexual tension that seemed to have formed between the two during the short walk to lunch. He told more stories of Janet during their younger days, and this time, Sam paid close attention. The raucous trio attracted a few stares, and was soon joined by Daniel and O'Neill.

"Michael, don't you dare tell that story in this company," the doctor warned.

"Come on, Janet, I bet they'd love to hear of your exploits in Soho. London's Soho, that is."

Janet dropped her head in her hand. "That's what I get for hiring someone who knew me ten years ago. Remember, Mikey, I'm your boss. You've been sworn to secrecy, if you'll recall."

"Yeah, yeah. You're no fun anymore."

Sam could see the comment on the tip of Jack's tongue, but luckily he held back. O'Neill didn't think Janet had much of a wild streak at all; too military, too buttoned up, too controlled. Sam never did much to change his mind. She'd always considered the doc as her friend, and enjoyed being one of the few that Janet felt confident enough to let her hair down with. Now Sam was even less likely to let Jack in on exactly how much of a rule-breaker Janet was.

"I'm plenty fun. I just... don't do, uh, that stuff anymore."

Grinning, Michael responded, "You mean dancing on tables?"

"Michael!" Janet's voice was sharp.

"Table dancing?" O'Neill bellowed.

"No!" Janet shouted.

Daniel blew the joke up even further. "Dr. Fraiser was a stripper?"

"No, standing up on a table is not the same thing as giving a table dance," Janet clarified.

"So there was a table involved," Jack leered.

"Oh god," Janet cried, "This is not the kind of conversation we should be having in the commissary."

"How about McDermott's then? At seven?" Jack asked. "It's Friday night, and I could use a beer and a good story about our own Doctor Fraiser. God knows she's got enough dirt on me."

Michael turned to Janet, eyebrows raised in question. "Not tonight," Janet said. At Jack's groan, she added, "Maybe tomorrow night, but tonight I have some... things that need to be taken care of." Sam hid her smile. She was definitely looking forward to being taken care of.

"That sounds suspiciously like a date." O'Neill looked at Michael pointedly. "Anyone I know?" So there was talk about Janet and her new doctor friend; Sam could see the questioning look in Jack's eye. He wasn't exactly subtle.

"No and no," Janet replied.

"Aw, come on, Doc, you know you want to tell me. Who's the lucky soldier? I bet it's someone in this room."

Janet nearly choked on her water. Sam bit her lip to keep from laughing.

To shut him up, Janet finally said, "Colonel, the moment I have a date with a guy in this room, or better yet, from this entire base, I promise you'll be the first to know." Sam's stomach was starting to hurt from keeping her laughter inside.

"You mean you have a life outside work?" Jack asked, genuinely flummoxed.

"Yes," she said simply.

"Huh." O'Neill looked off into the distance. "Must be nice."

"It is. On that note, I'll excuse myself. I have some broken bones to check up on. Michael, I'll see you back at the lab. Boys, it was a pleasure. Sort of."

Sam practically leapt up from her seat. "I'll come with you. I have to get back anyway."

"For crying out loud, Carter, we were supposed to get the scoop on Fraiser's lucky stiff from you," O'Neill huffed.

Daniel finally opened his mouth. "Come on, Sam, stick around for a bit and tell us about what's going on. We've hardly seen you this month."

"Sorry, Daniel. I'm nearly through. The new MALPs will probably be ready by early next week."

"And are they teeny tiny?" Jack asked.

"Yes sir. About the size of a house fly."

"Cool," he responded.

"See you guys. Bye Mike," she said.

"Mike?" she heard O'Neill ask. "That sounded awfully familiar. I didn't realize you two were such buddies."

Typical, Sam thought as she walked away, following Janet to the trash bin. O'Neill was always imagining relationships where there were none, and missed the ones that played out right in front of his nose.

As they headed for the lift, Janet asked, "I wonder which one of us Jack thinks is hooking up with Michael?"

Laughing, Sam replied, "Probably both."

They walked on in silence, Sam enjoying being near Janet for a few more minutes. They rode in the elevator leaning against opposite walls, just looking at each other. When they reached level 19, Janet asked, "Should I walk you back?"

"Nah, better not." Sam was sure if Janet followed her to the lab, it would be harder to let her leave.

Sighing, Janet said, "Okay. What time can you come over?"

"I need to stop at home, pack up a few things," Sam replied, blushing as she thought of exactly what she might pack to go to Janet's home for the weekend. "So maybe 7:30?"

"Great. But if it's earlier, I won't mind. I mean, you can come over whenever you want. The earlier the better."

Sam grinned at Janet's eagerness; she was relieved not to be the only one chomping at the bit to spend time together. "Maybe earlier then. I'll hurry."

Nodding, Janet stepped back into the lift and raised a hand. "See you."

"Later," Sam told the closing doors.

***

As she climbed down the stairs, Sam hefted the bag a little higher on her shoulder. She knew she'd over packed, but she had more than just clothes to bring with her. After grabbing a bottle of water, she sat on the couch with the phone in her hand. She stared at it for a few minutes, then glanced up at a photo on one of the bookshelves. It was a framed image of her whole family together; one of the last ones taken before her mother died. That day her father had been home and they'd all attended a Memorial Day picnic. Sam's blonde hair glowed white in the bright sun as she clung to her mother's side. Her brother held on opposite her, grinning goofily into the camera. Behind them all was her father, looking proud and possessive of his clan.

After a deep breath, Sam dialed the phone. Two rings later, a childish voice picked up. "Hello?"

"Hi Ben, it's your Aunt Sam," she said softly.

"Aunt Sam," he shouted, "Clairie, it's Aunt Sam!" She heard a girlish shriek in the distance, then a loud voice yelled out a "HI AUNT SAM!" right next to the receiver.

"Hi Clairie," Sam laughed. "How are my two favorite monsters?"

"We're good. Mom and Dad are out at dinner, so Corinne is here babysitting. We ate dessert before supper!" After a moment, Ben seemed to realize he was talking to an adult. "Don't tell Dad, okay?"

"I won't say a word. What else have you been up to?"

Sam settled back into the couch as the children traded the phone back and forth, regaling her with stories of their young lives. Sam regretted the fact that she so rarely got to see them, but since she'd finally visited a year ago, conversations with the kids, as well as Mark and his wife Anna, became regular occurrences. She'd planned on calling Mark today, not to discuss anything specific, but just to touch base. The kids were as good, if not better for Sam's mood. Somehow their giggles managed to dissolve the sense of melancholy that had settled over her in the latter part of the day.

Nearly an hour passed before she was able to hang up. "Tell your dad I was thinking of him, okay? Say it just like that."

"Okay, Aunt Sam," Clairie promised solemnly. "Will you call us again soon?"

"I promise. I love you guys, okay?"

"Love you too," they both called into the phone. "Bye Aunt Sam. Bye."

"Bye." She clicked off, smiling. That wasn't as difficult as she thought it would be. Quickly she gathered her things and set off for the car. It was just after 6, so she'd be there by 6:30. As she stood in the doorway, she was almost overcome by anticipation and nervousness. Surprised by the butterflies low in her belly, she recalled the sensation of Janet's parting kiss last night. Heat flushed her skin, and shaking it off with a grin, she headed outside.

***

Struggling with groceries and an overnight bag, Sam knocked on Janet's door with her elbow. The door swung open to reveal a grinning Cassandra. "Hi, Sam. Mom said you were coming."

"Thanks. I think I'll put these bags in the kitchen, I don't want the ice cream to melt."

"Mom's in there. I'll take your bag upstairs, okay?"

"Hey, it's kind of heavy. I can take it."

"No, you take the groceries in. I can do this." The girl hoisted the bag over her shoulder and ambled up the stairs, slowly but surely.

With a shrug, Sam carried the rest of her things into the kitchen. Janet stood at the stove, stirring a pot that was apparently filled with delicious herbs; the room smelled divine. Sam took a deep breath in and felt the tension leave her body as Janet looked over at her and smiled. "Hey there. You're early."

"You said it was okay?"

"Oh yeah, it's okay." Janet turned the heat down on the burner and moved to Sam. "It's great." She enveloped Sam in her arms, pressing her nose into the side of her neck. Sam dropped her bags on the floor and embraced Janet tightly, amazed at how the warm welcome made her feel. They stood like that for a minute or so, as the heat of the kitchen sunk into Sam's bones. "How are you?" Janet murmured.

"Better. It's been a long day." Sam felt the odd sensation of wanting to thank Janet for taking her in this way; she was so grateful not to be alone it was ridiculous. "Thank you for having me over."

Janet pulled back and looked into Sam's eyes, searching for meaning behind the words. "You know you're welcome here anytime. All the time." Janet trailed a hand through Sam's bangs, then pulled her head down for a gentle kiss. "Okay?" she added.

Sam smiled. "Yeah." She kept one arm around Janet as she turned toward the stove. "What are you cooking over here? Smells unbelievably good."

"It's a little pasta sauce. A little tomato, a little garlic, a little vodka--"

"Vodka?"

"Yep. Oh, if you haven't had vodka sauce, you haven't lived, my dear. You're going to love it."

"Sounds great. When do we eat?"

"After you make the salad. Stuff's in the fridge."

"So I don't get to park my keister and gather dust while you feed me?"

"Not tonight, sweetheart. Get to it," Janet commanded playfully, with a swat to Sam's rear.

"Yes, ma'am, doctor, ma'am."

***

Still full from dinner, Sam wiggled her butt on the couch, trying to get more comfortable. "I ate too much," she groaned.

"I knew you'd like it," Janet teased.

"Are you ready to have some more of my cake?" Cassie asked, hopping on the couch next to Sam.

"Ohh, not now, honey. Maybe later. Like, in a couple of days, once I can move again."

"Mom, can I have some?"

Janet leaned back in her chair, hands on her belly. "I don't know where you'll put it, but go ahead. A small one, though, I don't want you bouncing off the walls at two in the morning."

"Great!" Cassie skidded off into the kitchen.

"Ah, to have a young girl's metabolism again. I ate like that when I was her age too," Sam sighed.

"Please. You've got the metabolism of a hummingbird. It's just your stomach that's shrunk. I can fix that though, if you keep coming over for dinner. And lunch. And breakfast," she added with a sly grin.

"That might be nice," Sam replied slowly.

"Might be?"

"Would be," she corrected.

A moment later Cassie's return broke the tension that simmered just below the surface. Dinner had been quite the experience for Sam, as she learned exactly what it was like to be the focus of all of Janet's romantic attention. Her gaze was possessive and warm, making Sam squirm in her seat more than once. She thought she'd seen all of Janet's expressions, but the one of hooded desire she'd been smacked with as they cleared the table had thrown her off balance. She'd been quick to turn her gaze to Cassie, who was oblivious as she put the dishes in the dishwasher. Janet had just rolled her eyes and grinned.

Cassie said, "I'm saving a piece for Michael, because he really liked it too."

"That's sweet of you honey, I'm sure he'll be grateful."

Sam added, "It was really nice of him to stay on-base tonight. He didn't have to."

"He wanted to. Thought we could use some alone time. All of us," Janet said.

Sam looked down at her hands, a small smile on her face. "I brought something to show you," she said quietly.

"What?" Cassie perked up.

"I'll be right back. It's in my bag upstairs." Sam took the steps two at a time, the butterflies back in her belly. When she reached the guest room she frowned, wondering exactly where Cassie had left her bag. Of course, she also noticed that the guest room looked quite occupied, with Michael's things tossed in various locations around the room. As she went down the hall to yell to Cassie, she spotted her bag lying on a bed. In Janet's room. Sam blinked, unsure if there was a message in the gesture or not.

Quickly she pulled her treasure out of the bag and soon settled on the couch between the girls. "My bag was in your mom's room," Sam said slowly.

"Yeah, Michael has the guest room, and my bed doesn't have room, so that's where I thought you should stay." Sam was slightly suspicious of Cassandra's innocently straight face. "Mom said it was okay."

'Ohh,' Sam thought.

Janet sat up a little straighter, clearly worried over Sam's hesitation. "Would you rather the couch? I can make it up for you if you'd rather stay down here," she said, eyes fastened on Sam's.

Sam felt cornered. "Um, no, it's fine." She nodded her head, convincing herself that it really was fine, that she didn't mind sleeping in Janet's bed and having Cassie know about it. She ignored the hitch in her breathing.

"Cassie, will you get us some water?" Janet said.

"Aww, man!" Cassie complained as she heaved herself off the couch dramatically. "I never get a break."

Sam chuckled nervously, and Janet moved closer. "Sam, you can sleep wherever you like. And if you're in my bed, nothing has to happen. We can just sleep, and be together. Anything you decide will be fine with me. As long as you stay," she added, covering Sam's hand with her own.

"Okay," Sam breathed, feeling better instantly just hearing the reassurance from Janet. "I think," she began, "I think upstairs would be okay."

Janet beamed. "All right. That's fine then."

Cassie burst through the doors with two half-full, sloppily dripping glasses of water. "Did I miss anything?"

Sam laughed as the girl handed her a glass. "None of your beeswax, young lady," Janet said in her best Mom voice, which was very similar to her Doctor voice. "Have a seat and let's see what Sam brought to show us."

Cassie sulked. "I miss all the good stuff."

Ignoring the attitude, Sam picked up the oversized book and placed it across her knees. Immediately Cassie was hanging over Sam's shoulder, asking, "Is that a photo album?"

"Yep, from when I was little."

"Ooh, I want to see you when you were a baby, are there pictures of that in here?"

"Of course. No naked butt pictures though."

Sam glanced over at Janet while Cassie giggled; her luminous brown eyes were thoughtful and sympathetic.

"This is when I was just born, only a hour old. And that's my mom."

***

Sam kissed Cassandra's forehead softly and whispered, "G'night, Cass."

"Night, Sam. Thanks for showing us your pictures."

"Welcome. Thanks for looking at 'em. They weren't very exciting, were they."

"No, they were! I liked seeing your family. Your mom looked nice."

"She was nice." Sam struggled to get her words out. "I still miss her." She looked carefully at the girl, noting the sadness that had crept into her expression. "You miss your family too, I bet."

Cassie nodded, a sheen of tears visible in the faint glow of the room. "Sometimes. I love Janet, you know. She's my mom now. But I wish they were here too," she whispered as Sam wrapped her in a tight embrace. "I wish I could have all of you."

"I know, babe," she told her softly. They held one another for a minute, and Sam said, "You know, it's okay to talk about them. I didn't talk about my mom for a long time, and it made things hard for me."

Cassie sniffled and wiped tears away with her hand. "That's what Janet says, too. I think she wants me to tell her more about them, but it hurts."

"Yeah, it does," she said raggedly. "But I want you to know that we'll both listen if you'd like to talk, okay? Anytime." She grabbed a tissue from the box on the nightstand for Cassie, and took one for herself. They blew their noses in unison, and Cassie giggled through her tears as they did it again.

"Okay, Sam." Solemnly, she continued, "And you can tell me about your mom when you feel like it too. I won't mind."

Sam's eyes overflowed in rivers, a sob leaving her throat. "Thanks, Cass," she managed in a strangled voice. She hugged Cassie again, trying not to be disappointed in herself for breaking down. Stroking long brown hair, she settled on the bed and decided to stay for a few minutes, unwilling to leave the girl alone with her troubled thoughts. "Sleep now, 'kay?"

Nodding, Cassie asked, "Stay for a little while?"

"Sure, munchkin. No problem."

Twenty minutes later, Sam emerged, red-eyed but relaxed. Listening to Cassie's breathing as it slowed and steadied had done much to calm her. She leaned against Janet's door as a dark gaze met her own.

"You two all right?" Janet asked.

"I think so. It's been a tough night." Instead of denying herself what she really wanted, Sam moved to the bed and crawled up Janet's legs. Gingerly she placed her head in Janet's lap. Small hands crept through her hair soothingly, and Sam stroked the tops of smooth thighs, soaking in the sensations of such close contact.

Sam didn't know how long she rested in Janet's lap, but eventually, she turned her head up to find a familiar half-smile directed at her. She sighed softly, her lips tipping in response, and sat up. "I should get ready for bed. I'm fried."

Janet nodded and tilted her chin to point across the room. "Your bag's on the chair."

Quickly Sam changed and went through her evening routine, only pausing once to peer into the mirror at her bloodshot eyes. She inhaled and slowly pushed out a huge breath, relieved the day was finally over. Tomorrow, she thought, tomorrow is going to be a good day. She could feel it.

The air was cool in Janet's bedroom as Sam slid under the covers. Moments later Janet slid her own legs beneath the sheet and shut the light off, cloaking the room in darkness.

"Janet?" Sam asked.

"Um-hmm?"

"Will you come closer?"

The sheets rustled briefly, and Sam felt heated skin and feather soft hair come to rest under her chin. "How's that?"

"Good."

***

Sam woke with a jolt, momentarily disoriented by her surroundings. The dream had been vague and disjointed; she couldn't even say exactly what it was that woke her. Wrapped comfortably in the sheet and duvet, she remembered she was in Janet's house, in her bed. She grinned, turning to the right to glance at her bedmate.

Even in the faint light, it was clear Sam had pulled all the covers to her own side of the bed. "Oh shit." Janet was never going to want to sleep with her again, she thought. Hogging the covers was a capital offense, as far as she was concerned. Quickly she unraveled herself and started to spread a blanket over Janet.

"Sam?" a sleepy voice mumbled, and Sam cursed silently for waking her.

"I stole the covers, I'm sorry."

"No, sweetie," Janet said, her voice grainy and low. "I don't need them." Sam saw the shadow of a hand reach out for hers, pulling it over. "Here, feel."

Her fingers touched an arm. "Geez, you're hot!"

A giggle was her reply. "Why thank you, darling. I'm glad you think so."

Ignoring the innuendo, she asked, "Are you always like this?" Janet's skin was churning out heat; clearly she was the absolute opposite of Sam when it came to sleeping habits. Without questioning it, Sam's allowed her hand to move across Janet's body. It came to rest on an exposed stretch of abdomen; the little t-shirt must have ridden up during the night. Sam felt the flex and pull of muscle beneath her touch, and her breath caught in her throat.

"Yeah," Janet replied, her voice still low. "I know theoretically the body loses heat in sleep, but most of the time when I wake up, the covers are on the floor."

Sam's attention was focused on the nerves in her fingertips as they gently moved along Janet's belly. "More for me, then," she murmured. The skin was softer than she'd imagined, and she followed the gentle slopes with infinite care.

She felt Janet's back arch as she whispered, "God," under her breath. Sam spread her hand wide, spanning well over half of Janet's ribcage. The smallness of the woman struck her; Janet's height was an inescapable fact, but feeling the narrow waist and torso was still a surprise. Janet gasped again in the dark, rolling over and finding Sam's mouth blindly. Her tongue moved in a rhythm that Sam met with a moan from deep in her chest.

Sam could feel her control slipping; she'd slid a hand beneath Janet's shorts and found more soft skin to explore. Breaths came faster as Sam felt sweat begin to form on her brow and between her breasts. With effort, Sam mumbled, "Maybe we should stop."

Running a hand down Sam's side, Janet asked, "Do you want to stop?"

Sam did her best to logically think about the consequences of making love to this woman, her best friend, who'd found a way deep into her heart. "I... I... no," she finally declared, the fingers creeping up her spine making it difficult to form words. "But Cassie's just across the hall, and I, um, I guess that makes me a little uncomfortable."

In a split second Janet had left the bed and moved across the room. She disappeared for a few moments, then returned with a sly smile. "She's asleep." Janet turned the bolt on her bedroom door slowly enough for Sam to hear the snick of the lock as it fastened. "We'll just have to be very, very quiet," she said as she pulled off her shirt.

Sam's mouth dropped open at the vision before her, and reached out when Janet was close enough to touch. Pulling her forward by the hips, Sam wasted no time in exploring the full breasts, trying hard to make as little noise as possible. She listened intently to the seductive, breathy sounds coming from Janet's throat that spurred her efforts on.

Gradually, Sam slid her hands back down Janet's shorts and raked her blunt fingernails up bare hips, reveling in the feel of the writhing body in her grasp. Unfortunately, Janet had a hard time suppressing a moan when Sam's hand moved around to slip between her legs. "Oh god," she exhaled, hips jerking against long, probing fingers.

Sam had her eyes closed, cataloguing the sensation of Janet's warm, wet flesh under her touch. She felt no hesitation or fear; only the desire to please Janet. Her lover's knees began to dip, then she heard Janet whisper in her ear, "I can't stand up anymore." Quickly Sam maneuvered them on to the bed properly and returned to her task. She started a rhythm, sliding fingers deep inside, and soon their bodies moved in tandem. With a little help Janet managed to peel off Sam's shirt, and the shock of feeling well-rounded breasts against hers caused Sam to yelp in surprise at the pleasure of it. Nerves crackled from her head to her toes as a raw sensuality she'd buried for too many years reawakened with a vengeance.

Sam couldn't get enough of Janet's heated skin, her lips traveling the valleys and crests as her hand continued to work between damp thighs. Soon Janet's mouth went slack while Sam watched, and she slowed her pace instinctively to draw out the pleasure. Undulating hips moved against her hand, and Sam's breath caught as she felt the tremors begin around her fingers for the first time. Janet's arms were thrown above her head as she panted furiously, then she arched nearly her whole body. The orgasm shocked Sam with its silent intensity and power, and her own arousal nearly peaked without any help at all.

Aftershocks kept Janet in motion as she pulled in great gulps of air, a small sound reminiscent of a purr leaving her throat with each breath. Sam licked her lips and tasted sweat; her body was emitting the same kind of heat Janet's did when they first woke up, less than half an hour before.

A minute passed, and Janet's hands came to draw Sam's face in for a searing kiss, tongue prodding and nipping with intent. Removing her hand from its resting place, Sam slicked it up Janet's hip and welcomed the combined scents of their bodies. Eventually she held herself above Janet while the small woman beneath explored her. She became lost in the feel of Janet's tapered hands touching her everywhere, mouth licking across vast planes of fiery skin. It was torture to stay quiet as Janet flipped their positions, her deft fingers quickly entering and pressing demandingly. Sam bit her pillow when Janet's mouth fastened to her breast, and seconds later her body surged and exploded with sensation. Wave upon wave swept through her, Janet moving with her all the while.

When it ended, she opened her mouth wide and groaned softly, working her tense jaw loose. "Ahh," she said, "I think the top of my head just came off."

Janet giggled above her, lowering herself to spread her limbs along Sam's. "I take it that's not a bad thing?"

Wrapping arms around Janet's shoulders, she replied, "Nope." Her whole body felt limp and warm; it was the most relaxed she could remember being in eons. Contentment coursed through her, and she rubbed Janet's damp back as the other woman melted into her. "God, Janet," she whispered.

Head popping up, Janet dropped her chin on a hand resting across Sam's chest. "Um-hmm?"

Shaking her head, she replied, "I don't even know... all the things you're supposed to say after making love, they just seem... silly. After this, I mean."

Janet trailed a finger down Sam's cheek, the sensation sending a chill through her body. "I know, sweetheart." A tiny half-smile tipped Janet's lips, and Sam realized Janet didn't smile nearly enough on the base. She wanted to change that. "I just want to know one thing."

"Sure," Sam replied.

"How do you feel?"

Sam wondered if she'd heard a note of insecurity in Janet's voice or not-- it had been so fleeting she couldn't be sure. Slowly she slid her hand into dark tresses and pulled Janet's lips to hers. She kissed her softly, their mouths meeting and blending gently in the growing light of dawn. "I feel like I could stay here forever."

***

Waking to blinding light flooding the curtains, Sam blinked thoughtfully. She could feel the body pressed intimately to her back, soft lips breathing warm air on her neck. A hand rested possessively on the curve of her belly, and Sam wondered at how right it felt to see olive skin against her pale flesh.

The hand twitched, and there was a great sigh behind her, fluttering Sam's hair. Smiling, Sam snuggled into the embrace, pleased when a smooth thigh wrapped around her waist. "Morning," Janet whispered.

Turning her head to look over her shoulder, Sam replied, "Morning." They looked into each other's eyes for a long moment, drinking in the quiet.

Someone banged on the door, shattering their repose. "Mom! Are you and Sam ever coming downstairs?"

Sam shot up and grabbed the sheet tangled at the bottom of the bed. "Shit!" she whispered.

"Hey, relax," Janet soothed. Raising her voice, she called out, "Cassandra Fraiser, I'm going to pretend you didn't just wake me out of a sound sleep on a Saturday morning. Now go downstairs and we'll be down when we're good and ready, all right?"

"Yeah," came the dejected response.

"She knows better than that," Janet reasoned, pulling the sheet from Sam's grasp and pushing her down on the bed. "I sleep in Saturdays, at least till 9. It's a deal we've made. I get up on Sundays and we make a big breakfast, but Saturday morning I have to myself." She glanced at the display on the clock radio. "And since it's only... 8:46, we have exactly 14 minutes to ourselves."

Sam cleared her throat, her heartbeat picking up speed at the look in chocolate brown eyes. "Oh?" she croaked. After all the years she'd deliberately avoided looking too closely at Janet's body, she found herself unable to turn away from its beauty in the morning sunlight. She gave her hands permission to travel up from wide hips to the small waist, counting ribs as they rose even higher. "What did you want to do for the next 14 minutes?"

Throwing her head back when Sam's hands reached a particularly sensitive area, she breathed, "Don't care, as long as we're quiet." She looked back down at Sam, desire flooding her eyes. "Hurry," Janet said, and they didn't speak after that.

An hour later, freshly showered and wide awake, they made their appearance. Cassie lounged on the couch, eating Froot Loops and watching cartoons. "Hey munchkin," Sam said, flopping down on the other end of the sofa.

"Hi Sam." She shoveled a spoonful of cereal into her mouth and didn't take her eyes off the television screen.

"Hey," Sam nudged, "you okay?" She worried that Cassie was feeling neglected after Janet's reprimand earlier.

Cassie kept her eyes on her spoon. "I, I'm sorry I woke you and mom up."

"Cass," Sam said seriously, leaning forward. "It's okay. No harm done. We uh, we just went back to sleep for a while, since we were up late. Talking," she added, trying her best not to blush.

"I know. And mom always sleeps in on Saturdays a little. I just, I just wanted to see you."

Sam took the nearly empty bowl of cereal and placed it on the coffee table. "C'mere," she said to Cassandra, and the girl crawled into her arms. "It's okay, sweetheart. This morning I wanted some alone time with your mom, is that all right with you?"

"Yeah. I don't mind."

"Can I tell you something?" Cassie nodded. "I think I'm going to be here a lot more often from now on."

"Really?" Cassie asked. She glowed with excitement. Sam nodded. "That's awesome! I miss you when you don't come over much."

"I miss you too, Cass. I'm going to try to see that doesn't happen anymore, okay?"

"That's great, Sam. I won't mind if you stay here all the time."

Sam filed that little piece of information in the back of her mind. She didn't want to assume anything just because she and Janet had made love. But it felt permanent, and more right than anything she'd ever felt.

"Sam, do you want coffee?" came Janet's voice from the kitchen.

"Sure," she called. "I ought to help your mom with breakfast. You want anything else?"

"Only if you're making waffles."

Sam chuckled. "I'll let your mom know." Cassie trailed behind her into the kitchen, and Sam had a seat at the table while Janet poured vanilla scented java into a coffee mug. Sam took the mug carefully, turning it slowly as she read the logo: 'Doctors Do It With Patience'. She eyed Janet, who raised her eyebrow slyly at Sam's expression.

As Janet poured herself some coffee, Cassie sidled up next to her and wrapped slim arms around her waist. "Morning, Mom."

Janet rubbed a hand across Cassie's back and leaned down for a kiss. "Morning, baby. Did you have enough breakfast?"

"Depends."

Playing with the fine strands of hair at Cassie's hairline, she grinned. "On what?"

"On if you're making waffles."

"What, you mean Eggos?" The girl nodded. "You know how to make those if you want them, sweetie."

"But they always taste better when you do it."

Sam smiled. She agreed; breakfast was always better when someone else made it. "Okay, sit, I'll pop some in. Sam?"

"Might as well. I haven't had Eggos in, well, I can't remember when."

"These are cinnamon, they're really good!" Cassie declared, flopping down into the chair next to Sam. She picked at some grapes sitting in a bowl in the middle of the table, and Sam joined in. "What are we going to do today?"

"Don't know," Janet replied. "Do you have a lot of homework?"

"Nah, just some essay questions for history, and I have to read some more of Little Women."

"Wow, you know, I don't think I ever read that book," Sam said.

Cassie's eyes bulged. "What? Sam, you should read it. Mom and I read it together sometimes, maybe you can listen too."

"That sounds great," Sam said, and meant it.

"You should catch up, though. Beth just got the piano from Mr. Laurence, and you wouldn't know what was going on."

"Oh, I think I could follow along." She didn't add that she'd seen the movie. Janet set glasses of juice in front of the two of them. Sam caught her hand for a moment as it crossed over a shoulder, and smoothly Janet leaned down to press a kiss to Sam's ear. Cassie let out a giggle into her juice glass, and Sam blushed with a tiny smile.

"Something funny?" Janet asked nonchalantly.

"N-no," Cassie tittered.

Janet leaned down and kissed Cassie on the top of her head. "I kiss all the girls I love, is that okay with you?"

Sam was relieved she wasn't drinking at the moment the word "love" came up, but the air jammed in her lungs anyway. She struggled silently for breath, but was relatively sure that neither Cass nor Janet had noticed.

Cassie laughed again and said, "Yeah."

Love. They hadn't said it to each other, but it was there. Gathering her courage, Sam looked up at the place where Janet stood at the kitchen counter. To her surprise, the woman wasn't moving; in fact, she seemed frozen, her hands gripping the countertop as if to keep from collapsing. Then she turned, slowly, and fastened her eyes on Sam, who smiled.

Janet appeared to start breathing again, and grinned back. Quickly Sam stood from her chair and wrapped her arms around Janet, squeezing her briefly. Before Cassie could catch them again, she moved away and asked, "So where are these waffles?"

"The freezer, silly!" Cassie exclaimed, just before tossing three grapes in her mouth.

"Right," she breathed, trying to focus on something other than her awareness of the depth of her feelings for Janet. Sam threw two cinnamon waffles in the toaster oven as Janet poured the coffee, and three minutes later they were chomping away.

"Mom, are you sure you don't want waffles? These are really good."

"No thanks, I'll stick to fruit."

Sam cut a small piece, slathered it with syrup, and held it up. "Come on, Janet, just a little bite." Janet narrowed her eyes, and Sam held her fork a little closer. "A teeny piece," she taunted again.

"Okay," she replied, and opened her mouth. Sam fought the brief temptation to swoop in and capture those lips with her own, and fed Janet the morsel. She gradually removed the fork from Janet's mouth, licking her lips. Eyes locked, sensuality arced between them as Cassie cleaned her plate, oblivious to the subtle display of attraction going on. Slowly, Sam slid the empty fork in her mouth, and watched Janet's eyes glaze over in response.

"Sam, you eat slow," Cassie said as she scraped up the remnants of syrup with her fork.

Jolted back to reality, Sam made a slice in her waffle and shoved more than a quarter of it in her mouth. Surreptitiously she wiped a bead of sweat from her hairline and chewed furiously. "Nuh-uh," she grunted indelicately, mouth full, as Janet flopped back in her chair and held a hand to her flushed cheek. Cassie whooped in reply, and Sam did it again, glad to be distracted from the warm body at her left.

***

Michael returned shortly after breakfast, his knowing smirk irritating Sam only slightly. As a group they decided to make a trip to the mall, and see a movie afterwards. Jack called Sam's cellphone, reminding her of going out to dinner with the whole gang, and when Janet nodded yes, she agreed. Cassie had initially been included, but she begged and pleaded to be allowed to go to her friend Rachel's to play with a new litter of kittens only a few weeks old.

"Please please please please--"

"Okay. Ask her mother if you can stay late, till 10:30 or so. I don't know how long we'll be."

Cassie asked Rachel, and shortly thereafter the visit with the kittens turned into a sleepover, at which point Janet took the phone. After a quick chat with Rachel's mother, she was relieved to learn that Rachel was one of four children, and that adding one more to the mix didn't bother her a bit.

"Thanks, mom. You're the best," the girl declared.

"You're welcome sweetie. Just listen to Mrs. Brooks, okay? No staying up till 2:00 in the morning watching scary movies, got it?"

"Yes, mom," Cassie groaned.

"Good girl. Now go pack a bag so you'll be ready when we get back from the mall."

Cassie shot up the stairs, and Sam smiled at the family scene she'd witnessed.

"What are you grinning at?" Janet asked, settling on the other end of the couch.

"Just you," Sam replied.

"Listen, Sam, about this morning..."

"I love you too."

Janet's mouth dropped. "Pardon?"

"I wanted to tell you. I love you."

Janet had launched herself across the length of the couch and captured Sam in a tight embrace. Briefly their legs tangled as Sam turned them both on their sides, sliding her hand down Janet's flank. "Okay," Janet responded.

"Okay."

Now they walked along the mall corridors, and Sam watched as Cassie darted in and out of stores at high speed. She was a little ball of fire and light, and Sam wondered how the heck Janet kept up with her. But Janet didn't seem to be fazed at all-- she took everything in stride, maintaining the same air of serenity and control that she did at the base.

"You're a good mother, Janet," she whispered.

The smaller woman looked up, surprised. "What makes you say that?"

"It's everything about you, and your relationship with Cassie. I mean, you've had her less than two years, right?" Janet nodded. "I don't know, the two of you sort of seem like extensions of each other. You're so calm and relaxed, while she's so wild and full of enthusiasm. But somehow you balance each other out."

Janet smiled. "Thanks, Sam." After she slipped her hand under Sam's elbow, they walked arm in arm. "It's sweet of you to say. You know, at the beginning, I wondered so many things. What would my life have been like without her in it? Would I have tried to start a family? Would I have met a man somewhere and gotten married? Was I enough for her? Cassandra came from a society that raised their children as a community, and here I was, a single woman with no kids and no experience with children. How was I supposed to deal with a child on my own?"

Sam interrupted. "Yeah, but she had us too, me and Jack and everyone--"

"I know," Janet reassured her. "And I'm grateful for that, believe me. But on a Tuesday night when we were all alone in the house, sometimes I'd panic that I wasn't enough. The first six months I wondered if I should adopt her myself, or if I should tell Hammond to see if he could find another family to take her in."

Sam blanched. "You're kidding."

Shaking her head, Janet replied, "Nope. It was hard. Some days I felt overwhelmed. I'd get home after patching some soldier up, or dealing with an infectious disease brought back through the gate, and I'd have to give all this energy to someone who relied on me for everything. I was terrified that I wouldn't be able to do it."

"What happened?" Sam asked, amazed at Janet's honesty.

"Time passed. We got to know each other. The feeling of having her dependent on me faded, and it turned into me depending on her. I'd get home and it was so good to have her there that I came to rely on it. I learned how to be a mother, I guess. I always loved her, from the start. That was easy. But now, it's like she's a part of me. I can't imagine loving her more if I'd given birth to her myself."

Sam gazed down at Janet, her eyes blurry with tears. She just nodded, and kissed the dark hair at her temple softly. "Like I said, you're a good mother, Janet."

"Mom, look at this back-pack!" Cassie squealed, pulling Sam's attention away from the dark eyes that transfixed her. "It's awesome!"

"Very nice," Janet replied evenly. "But your back-pack works just fine for now."

"Aw, Mom! It's practical! It has a pencil case. It's efficient. I wouldn't lose my math homework if I carried this back-pack."

"Cute, but no cigar, young lady. Wrap it up, okay? We have to meet Michael in about ten minutes. He's getting us tickets for the movie."

"Darn," Cassie slumped. She went back to admiring the bag as Janet leaned over to whisper in Sam's ear.

"Her birthday is in three weeks. Keep it in mind."

Sam smirked. "You are such a softie, Janet Fraiser."

"Only when it comes to the girls I love."

***

"Bye, baby."

"Bye Mom. See you in the morning." Cass leaned up and kissed Sam on the cheek, hugged Michael, and saved Janet's kiss for last. "I love you."

"I love you too, sweetheart. Have fun."

"I will. Bye!" She waved as she exited the car and ran up the lawn to Rachel's door. Rachel's mom gave a wave as Cassie scrambled inside, no doubt intent on finding the kittens as soon as possible.

"Janet, my dear, that girl is a handful and a half," Michael sighed from the backseat. "She's a chip off the old block."

"Very funny, Mikey. I had nothing to do with it."

"Oh, bullshit. Shades of your youth, I tell you. Samantha, Janet's mother has told me stories about your girlfriend that you would seriously not believe."

Sam turned in her seat. "Try me."

"Oh no, I'm saving them for the restaurant. I figure if three other guys are there, I'm less likely to be killed or maimed."

"You can't move into your new place for five more days, darling," Janet drawled. "Be careful or your stuff will be in the street."

Michael immediately guffawed. "Yes, ma'am," he saluted. He stage-whispered to Sam, "I've seen it happen. It wasn't pretty."

"What?" Sam laughed, not believing it. Michael twisted an invisible key in his sealed lips and tossed it over his shoulder. 'Later,' he mouthed.

"I saw that, Lieutenant," Janet said, her eyes trained on the rearview mirror.

"She doesn't miss a trick. Dammit."

Sam settled back in her seat, content to watch Janet carefully navigate the early evening traffic. Even the simplest things about the woman seemed to hypnotize her now; the shape her fingers made on the steering wheel, the set of her mouth as she concentrated, the tendrils of hair that rested on her neck. She almost said, "You're beautiful," until she remembered Michael in the back seat. He wouldn't have minded, but Sam still felt sensitive about showing her affections in front of other people. He also might tease her about it; he'd been doing that occasionally throughout the afternoon. It didn't bother her exactly, but she just didn't want to risk it right then.

As they came to a stop at a red light, Janet looked over at her. She smiled slowly. "You look beautiful," she said.

Leave it to Janet to take the leap, she thought. Taking a deep breath, she took Janet's right hand and kissed her fingers. "I was thinking the same thing about you," she said quietly. Janet's index finger stroked her cheek, then her attention was focused back on the road when the light turned green.

Slowly Sam inched forward in her seat to take a peek at Michael over her headrest. Their eyes met, and he winked, his good nature showing through. She hoped the smile she gave him expressed her appreciation.

Dinner was raucous as expected, and the spirits flowed freely. Sam promised to drive home, and she laughed as Janet's hair slowly descended from its hairpins as the evening progressed. By the end of her second glass of wine, Janet's eyes were glassy and dilated, and Sam fidgeted in her seat. That look was a turn on, to say the least.

"So she threw his stuff out into the street and had the locks changed that afternoon." Michael was in his glory, delivering the exact story Janet had warned him not to mention. He laughed to himself. "The best part? It was raining, actually pouring, when the guy showed up. He nearly blew a gasket. Threatened to call the police, the fire department, the CIA--"

Janet broke in, adding, "Until Michael threatened to clean the sidewalk with his face. Sometimes a little muscle goes a long way."

"At least you didn't cut up all his clothes. That's something," Jack said. Janet smiled suspiciously. "You didn't, did you?"

"Well, I flushed a rather large stash of some very high quality herbal remedy down the toilet."

When everyone burst out laughing, Teal'c asked, "Herbal remedy? Was this man ill?"

The roar grew louder, and through her giggles, Janet responded, "Not exactly, Teal'c. Suffice it to say he was not happy when he didn't find it with the rest of his belongings."

"I do not understand," Teal'c continued. "Daniel Jackson, you will explain this to me at a more appropriate time."

"Sure, no problem Teal'c," Daniel managed as he calmed, a hand still resting on his stomach. "Oh, Janet, I wish I'd seen it myself."

"Oh, just come over later tonight, I'll be throwing Michael's stuff out on the sidewalk for telling that story."

The conversation shifted to other team members' revenge fantasies, and Sam listened with half an ear to everyone. She tried hard not to stare at Janet, but it was tough; she wore a soft wine-colored sweater with a vee that revealed considerably more cleavage than her typical uniform did. A lazy smile remained etched across her lips, and occasionally she'd glance over at Sam. Bedroom eyes, she thought. Sam never imagined she'd see anyone look at her that way, least of all Janet. But it was really happening, and it made her happy. Not to mention a bit overheated.

Sam pushed back her chair. "I'll be right back," she said, loosening her collar.

"I'll go with you. I think my hair has had it," Janet said coolly, brushing her hands down to straighten her skirt as she stood.

"Always in twos," Jack sighed. "A mystery that will never be solved."

"That's the truth," Michael replied, winking at Sam.

Janet followed close at Sam's heels to the rest room, and the warmth Sam was hoping would fade with distance only increased. She stopped at the mirror to brush a hand through her hair, trying not to glance behind her at the diminutive brunette shadowing her. "I'll just..." She motioned to the closest stall door.

"No, take this one," Janet breathed, pushing Sam to the larger stall in the back of the room.

"Hah, um, Janet?" Sam squeaked when Janet followed her in. When the door slammed shut, Janet quickly peeked under the stall for other occupants. Satisfied at her findings, she forced Sam against the back wall and pressed up against her.

"Alone at last," she whispered, pulling Sam's lips to hers hotly.

Unable to resist the combined tastes of wine and woman assaulting her, Sam gave in and opened her mouth to admit Janet's questing tongue. Hands slid under Sam's loose cotton shirt to caress her breasts, and she bit gently at Janet's lips in response. Pulling generous hips closer, she slowly hiked up Janet's skirt without regard to their surroundings. "I thought," she managed between kisses, "we weren't going to do this."

"We can get away with a few more minutes," Janet heaved.

"I suppose," Sam said, sliding her hands lower on smooth thighs. "Wait, I thought you were--ohhhhhhh," she groaned after looking down at exactly what her fingers were touching.

"Do you like them?" Janet growled.

"Oh god," was all Sam could articulate; she was staring at the combination of stocking, skin and garter belt that had been hidden under Janet's skirt.

"I wore them for you."

Time seemed to stop for Sam at the words, and any hesitation she'd had disappeared. "I have to..." she trailed off as she slid a hand into Janet's panties, biting her lip hard to keep from moaning at the wetness she found. "Just a little," she mumbled. Pushing fingers inside, she watched intently as Janet dipped in her embrace, tilting her head back. Quickly Sam reversed their positions, pushing Janet up against the wall. She fell to her knees, dropping her head to lick intently between sleek, muscled thighs. Janet squealed, and Sam pulled one leg over her shoulder for better access. Exploding with heat, Sam worked her mouth and fingers against Janet, convinced she could make it happen in just a few more seconds...

Abruptly Janet's hips jerked violently, and her mouth opened in a tortured sigh of release. Sam continued to caress between her thighs as Janet caught her breath, all the while enjoying the feel of the silky garter belt against her cheekbone.

"I owe you," Janet said as she found her feet again.

Sam leered as she stood. "Later." She licked her fingers.

As Janet straightened her skirt, she muttered, "Note to self: wear garters whenever possible."

After cleaning them both up with some toilet paper, she tilted her head at Janet. "Pull all the pins from your hair," she suggested.

"Why?"

"We can make it look like we were trying to fix it, then just gave up. In case anyone asks."

"Good idea," she said, pulling her hair down as Sam opened the door. "How long have we been in here?"

"Don't know," Sam replied. "Can't be longer than five or six minutes." She washed her hands as Janet rearranged her hair and reapplied her lipstick.

"How do I look?"

Sam grinned. "Like you just had extremely satisfying sex in a bathroom stall."

"Shut up. You started it."

"Bullshit! And you're the one wearing garters."

"How was I supposed to know you liked garters?"

"You are full of it. We'll finish this conversation later. Let's go."

Sam covertly watched Janet's hips sway as they weaved around tables back to their seats. She ignored the telltale heat and wetness between her own legs as she sat back down with a happy sigh.

Jack leaned back in his chair. "I thought one of you fell in, and we were going to have to send in a team to rescue you."

"Cute, Colonel," Janet quipped. "Like you said, some mysteries will never be solved."

"I believe Dr. Fraiser's hair required maintenance that appears to have been unsuccessful," Teal'c said solemnly.

"Thanks for bringing that up, Teal'c," Janet replied dryly.

Sam laughed with the crowd until Teal'c caught her with his gaze, an eyebrow slightly raised. His lips lifted in a sly grin, brief yet unmistakable. Could he know? Before Sam could panic, Teal'c's attention shifted to Michael, who'd launched into some story or another. She questioned the origins of her sudden flash of fear, then chalked it up to being overly sensitive about the newness of her relationship. Teal'c had no clue, she told herself, and neither did the rest of them.

As the conversation continued, Sam marveled at the ebb and flow of control between herself and Janet. In the bathroom, Janet clearly instigated the experience; Sam suspected the wine had something to do with that. But as quickly as she'd taken charge, Janet handed the reins over to Sam. The energy between them shifted like a river's current, constantly changing direction, but always pulling them both along with its strength and intensity.

Her reverie was broken by the sensation of a small, shoeless foot caressing her ankle, its heel coming to rest at the top of her own foot. Looking across the table, Janet deliberately kept her eyes trained on Daniel, who was gesturing wildly with his hands. Sam quietly shifted to cross her ankles, effectively trapping Janet's foot in a gentle embrace. She watched her lover's smile widen infinitesimally, though her gaze never wavered from Daniel.

Sitting back, Sam sipped her ice water. She couldn't wait for dessert.

***

Late morning sunlight dappled the couch cushions, and Sam flopped down heavily. Her belly was full from brunch, while her head buzzed lightly from the mimosas. A pleased smile spread across her face as her mind floated, and no worries creased her brow.

Suddenly there was a weight across her stomach. Her eyes stayed closed as a voice asked, "Is this seat taken?"

"It is now," she replied, running hands along Janet's back as she settled across Sam's body.

"Dishes are being washed as we speak by the housekeeper and his minion. Should be done in a couple of hours at the rate they're going." Janet snuggled her head under Sam's chin and let out a sigh of contentment.

"Let them take their time," Sam breathed. "How's your head?"

"A little hair of the dog solved the problem. Don't tell Warner, he'll think I'm setting a bad example."

"Are you kidding? Not after last night." Sam's face warmed as she thought of it, and the heat spread down her chest quickly.

Janet's low giggle tickled her throat. "It was good, wasn't it."

"You could say that." Settling a hand in Janet's hair, she grinned. "I'll never look at the bathroom in McDermott's the same way again."

Janet replied solemnly, "Me neither."

There was a squeal from the kitchen, followed by raucous laughter. "Well, I don't hear the sound of glass breaking. I guess that's a good sign."

Bursting through the kitchen door, Cassie called out, "Mom, Michael soaked me with the sink thingy!"

"We're sleeping, go away," Janet mumbled.

"Hey, get up! It's almost noon!" Sam was a little nervous having Cassie see her mother sprawled atop her, but since Janet didn't move, she didn't either. "Make room for me," Cass declared, then there was an additional weight pressing Sam into the couch.

Sam and Janet both grunted as the girl leapt on Janet's back to stretch out. "Oh God," Sam groaned, "I'm going to vomit."

"Just don't do it on me," Janet said pitilessly, keeping her face pressed to Sam's chest.

"Thanks for the sympathy," Sam replied dryly.

"What are we doing today?" Cassie chirped.

Her voice still muffled, Janet replied, "You're finishing your homework. And taking Banjo for a walk. And straightening your room."

"Wait a second, what I meant to say is, what are we doing today that's fun?"

"Ohh, I get it," Janet replied. She tilted her head to look at Sam. "What do you feel like doing?"

"Um, I don't know. Nothing, I guess. Or anything." Sam thought some more about it, her hands slowly caressing Janet's hips. "Being here is enough for me."

Janet took her hand. "You old softy."

"We could read some Little Women," Cassie offered.

"That sounds great, sweetheart. Why don't you go get it and we can take a crack at it?"

"Okay." Cass rolled from her perch and disappeared from view.

"You really are a softy," Janet repeated.

Sam blushed. "I just love you," she said, and wrapped her arms tightly around narrow shoulders.

Moments passed in silence, until Janet lifted her head. "You know, I had this idea..." she began.

"Okay, sounds serious."

"You don't have to agree to it, but I wanted to mention it." At Sam's nod to continue, Janet said, "I wanted to know if you might come home with me. To meet my parents." Janet blinked furiously, her nervousness apparent.

"Oh," Sam responded dumbly. She was thrown, and unsure of exactly what meeting the parents would entail.

"Cass gets out of school in a month, and she wanted to go up and see them again. We had a nice time last summer, and my mom has been bugging me incessantly to bring her up to see them."

"Um, what would you tell them about me?" Sam knew Janet's father was former career military, and she wondered what role she'd be playing if she agreed.

"The truth. They already know about me."

"You're kidding."

"Nope. I came out to them in college, after a really miserable break up with a girl who lived down the hall in the dorm. She dumped me for her old high school boyfriend, and she flaunted it all over the place. I was a basket case, my grades dropped, and my parents sat me down to find out what happened." Janet looked off blankly, remembering. "My dad had a hard time, but he came around. My mom already knew."

"She did?"

"Yeah. I don't know how, but she'd figured it out. She was extremely accepting, and probably helped my dad along."

Sam was hesitant, but the idea was growing on her. "I'd be nervous," Sam admitted.

Laughing, Janet responded, "So would I, sweetheart. But I want them to know you. And for you to know them."

"Can I think about it for a little while?" Sam asked, brushing a strand of hair behind Janet's ear.

"Of course, love. I just wanted you to know... how important you are to me, I guess. And how I want you to be part of my family."

Sam's breath caught at the honesty of the words. She closed her eyes and took a leap. "I'll do it."

"Oh honey, I don't want you to make a decision you're not ready for--"

"No," Sam said, as she heard Cassie skid back into the living room. "I'll do it. I want to go home with you."

Cassie flopped into the chair across from the couch. "I found my book. I thought I lost it, but it was under my laundry basket."

Struggling to clear her throat, Janet said, "You mean the one that's so full it's overflowing?"

"Um, yeah. I'll clean later, okay?"

"Sure," Janet replied, her eyes still locked with Sam's.

"Is everything okay?" Cassie asked.

"Yeah, it's fine. It's great." Sam grinned as Janet blinked back a faint sheen of tears. "Why don't you start reading, honey, and when you get tired we'll take over."

"All right." She shuffled through some pages, and Janet slid from atop Sam to spoon up next to her. They settled in and got comfortable, and Michael finally emerged from the kitchen.

"Okay ladies, I'm headed out for the afternoon, " he called. "Don't get into any trouble."

"Where are you going?" Janet asked.

"I've got some furniture to buy, so I'm scouting. Of course I won't make any huge decisions till I consult with you, Janet darling."

"Very wise, my friend, very wise," she answered. "Have fun."

"Bye, Michael," Sam called, echoing Cassie.

Sam slid her knees up against Janet's legs and adjusted her head on the couch pillows. "You comfy?" she asked.

"Yep," Janet replied, snuggling in. "Ready when you are, Cassandra."

"Okay. Here we go. If you want me to explain something to you, Sam, just let me know."

Cassie was so serious in her endeavor Sam had to smile. "Thanks, kiddo. Just jump in."

With a small anticipatory grin, Cassie began. " 'That boy is a perfect cyclops, isn't he?' said Amy one day, as Laurie clattered by on horseback, with a flourish of his whip as he passed."

Sam lay there holding Janet, letting the calm of the afternoon wash over her in a great wave. Cassandra's voice lulled her even when she stumbled over words, and with Janet in her arms, Sam suddenly felt assured, more than she'd ever been, that she'd found her place in the world.