Chapter 1: Part 1
The Journey Back to Her
Dr. Rodney McKay glared at the figures on his laptop as he took another bite of his Big Mac.
“Ah hah—gotcha you tricky, little bastard!” he gloated, as he found the erroneous formula that had been throwing off his model. “Jeannie is smart, I’ll give her that, but she’s no genius,” he muttered gleefully.
It was the last day of the 4-day international physics conference in his native Vancouver, which he’d been attending with his sister, Dr. Jean Miller, and his friend and colleague, Dr. Samantha Carter—who also had the distinction of being a full bird colonel in the US Air Force. While Sam was an astrophysicist in addition to being an officer, both Rodney and his sister were theoretical physicists and civilian consultants with the USAF on the most classified, way-out top secret program on Earth (and travelling to other planets—and even other galaxies—using an alien device that produced artificial wormholes constituted way-out in Rodney’s book).
They’d decided to skip the last couple of hours—nothing interesting happening there anyway that wasn’t light years behind his work on wormhole physics—and spend the afternoon at Jeannie’s house before he and Sam flew back to Colorado, and to Stargate Command. From there Rodney would then head out across the galactic divide to the Pegasus Galaxy, and to the Lost City of Atlantis, where he held the post of chief scientist.
However, he was categorically not going to spend the next forty-five minutes to an hour battling Vancouver traffic on an empty stomach, so they’d stopped off at a mall near the convention centre to have lunch before heading out to the ’burbs. At the moment, both Sam and Jeannie were stuck in lines on opposite sides of the food court—Sam opting for a sub and salad, while Jeannie looked to be still waiting to order at a sushi kiosk.
“Gotta love MacDonald’s,” he chuckled around a long pull of his Coke as he set about fixing Jeannie’s errant formula. “After all, they put the fast in fast food.”
“Damn it, Miro! You promised to be here!”
A vaguely familiar voice slashed across his happy mood, compelling him to look up in confusion. Across the mall’s food court, a petite—and obviously pregnant—woman smacked a scruffy-looking man repeatedly with her purse as if to punctuate each word, while he tried ineffectively to fend off her blows without retaliating.
“You said I could count on you!” she continued to rant. “I don’t know why I keep giving you second … third—hell, fourth chances!
“Oww! Woman, what the hell have you got in there?” the man protested.
Rodney stared at the woman in shock. “What is she doing here?” he muttered.
“I was only five minutes late, Gwen!” the man whined, scurrying after the small, retreating figure storming—okay, more like waddling—off in a fury towards the double doors that led to the parking lot.
Rodney stared at the spot where the fighting couple had been, burger and computer both completely forgotten. Suddenly the image of a US flag-draped coffin rose in his mind—and with it the memory of the miasma of grief and depression that had settled in the corridors of the SGC for weeks afterwards.
“Wait a minute—isn’t she dead?” he blurted out without realizing it.
“Isn’t who dead?” Samantha Carter asked, sitting down in the chair across from him. Rodney blinked as he turned his confused gaze to the beautiful, blonde Air Force colonel. When he didn’t respond, Carter’s expression became concerned. “Rodney, what is it?”
“Do you remember that doctor who died a couple of years ago?” he asked in a low voice.
Carter gave him a bemused half-smile. “You’re going to have to be a bit more specific than that.”
“You know, short one with the reddish-brown hair—the tyrannical medical chief O’Neill called a power-hungry Napoleon or something like that,” he insisted.
The blood drained from Samantha Carter’s face, but Rodney didn’t notice as he combed through his memory for the woman’s name.
“What was her name again?” he muttered to himself. “Farmer—no ... Foster ...”
“Fraiser,” said the glacially cold voice of Samantha Carter. It was a voice that immediately snapped Rodney McKay out of his ramblings to meet the ice-blue gaze that—paradoxically—burned with the white-hot fury of a sun.
“What about Janet Fraiser?”
Another memory—of Sam laughing in the SGC commissary with the petite brunette doctor—hit him with the force of a freight train, along with another bit of SGC gossip ... that Carter had taken time off to be with Fraiser’s daughter after the doctor’s death until the kid finally settled in at college.
Friends, he realised as he remembered Sam’s eulogy at Fraiser’s funeral—the list of names she had recited, of all the people the good doctor had saved since becoming CMO of the SGC. Carter and Fraiser had been good friends. Best friends.
Now, Rodney was not usually one to take into account people’s feelings, but Samantha Carter was one person he liked and admired and—most importantly—considered a respected peer and equal in the realm of science, even if he’d never admit it to another soul.
“Sorry Sam,” he said quietly. “I was so shocked—I’m sorry; I forgot you and Dr. Fraiser were friends.”
“What are you talking about, Rodney?” she asked from between clenched teeth. He could see her anger was building.
“There was a woman here just now—well across the food court over there,” he said pointing to the spot recently vacated by the couple. “Sam, she looked exactly like Dr. Fraiser.”
Pain flashed through Sam’s blue eyes and then they hardened to diamond chips again. “People have look-a-likes in this world,” she said quietly. “Dr. Fraiser died six years ago.”
Even someone normally as obtuse about other people’s feelings as Rodney was could read her message loud and clear; drop it! He nodded wordlessly and returned his gaze to the laptop screen.
“God, what a zoo,” Jeannie groaned a few minutes later as she sat down, her purse clattering noisily as she let it drop. It took a moment of wrestling with her plastic Bento box to get it open. “Mmm,” she moaned noisily around a piece of California roll. But as she selected a piece of salmon sushi, she noticed the unnatural silence between her brother and his colleague from the SGC. “What’s wrong you two?”
There was another short silence before Rodney replied. “Nothing, Jeannie. There was a couple causing a scene across the food court earlier and I thought I recognised the woman as someone we used to know back at the base in Colorado.”
Jeannie chuckled, startling Rodney. “Oh, you mean Gwen and Miro.”
“You know them?” Rodney said in shock.
His sister smacked him upside the head. “Of course I don’t know them.”
“Oww! What the hell was that for?” he complained.
Sam couldn’t help but chuckle at the siblings’ antics as Jeannie continued. “The fight started in the elevator over near the sushi place,” she explained. “They came down from the second floor—probably the doctor’s office. There’s a bunch of professional offices up in that area. Anyway, apparently Miro was late for Gwen’s appointment—probably only five minutes—but the idiot kept arguing with her! I mean, seriously, what kind of moron argues with a hormonally pissed off woman who’s seven or eight months pregnant.”
“Wait a minute—she was pregnant?” Sam asked in shock.
“Yeah,” the younger woman replied. “Didn’t Meredith tell you?” she asked, using Rodney’s hated first name.
Jeannie glared at him.
“What?” Rodney returned irritably. “She barely even let me suggest that Dr. Fraiser might still be alive before she got upset! And another thing,” he whispered angrily holding Sam’s gaze, “it wasn’t seeing her that first got my attention. I was just working on my laptop and I heard her voice, like I did so many times back at the S—I mean the-the base. And you may not believe me, but it was her voice, Sam.”
“Her voice?” Jeannie said curiously as the silence stretched out between her brother and his friend. “Well, I guess it was a rather distinctive voice,” she continued thoughtfully. “Sort of had a soft drawl to it, I suppose, and her accent got worse the madder she got at Miro—come to think of it, she did sound rather American at times, from one of the southern states … Texas maybe.”
Sam blanched and gripped Jeannie’s arm tightly. “Jeannie, are you sure?” she asked urgently.
“Yes. Was your friend from the south?” Rodney’s sister asked gently.
Sam nodded as she let Jeannie go in order to rifle through her briefcase. She pulled out a photograph of a smiling brunette with a pretty, honey-blonde teenaged girl and handed it to Jeannie.
“Yeah, that’s her—that’s Gwen,” Jeannie said. “Her hair is lighter—more of a blondish red—and styled differently—sort of flippy at the ends, but you can see where her darker roots are growing in. She must have stopped dying it when she found out she was pregnant. It’s recommended because some dyes can affect the baby. She also looks a bit older than your friend—early to mid-forties maybe.”
“Janet would have been forty-three now had she lived,” Sam whispered as Jeannie returned the photograph to her. “But it couldn’t be her—we recovered her body.”
“But maybe she managed to catch a bit of the … ah … Daniel Jackson syndrome,” Rodney said looking meaningfully at her as he whistled and twirled his forefinger pointing skywards. “In a way that left ah … some evidence behind—and then if she managed to tick her new friends off by breaking the rules—” His whistle ended on a descending note as he twirled his finger pointing down.
Chapter 2: Part 2
Sam stared at Rodney for a long moment, hardly daring to hope that he could possibly be correct. But Rodney was right; her friend and SG-1 team mate, Dr. Daniel Jackson, at the moment of death, had ascended to a higher plane of existence with the help of another ascended being. In fact, Daniel had technically managed the feat twice now, although the second time was very brief. But both times, he couldn’t sit idly by and abide by the Ascended policy of strict non-interference in the mortal plane where his friends still lived and died. Therefore, in punishment for his interference, the other ascended beings had de-ascended him back to mortal status—and the first time, they’d sent him back with no memories at all.
Knowing Janet, there was no way she’d stand for those rules either—the doctor in her would never stand for rules that kept her from helping the sick, the hurt, the dying ... the essential person she was would never stand for it, ascended or not.
Sam craned around in her chair to look at the spot Rodney had indicated he’s seen Janet; if anything, the mall was even more crowded now that it had been ten minutes ago. It was near the double doors that led to the parking lot.
“We’ll never find them now,” Sam said hoarsely as a knot of pain tightened in her throat. Perhaps if she’d believed Rodney earlier—
“We might be able to,” Jeannie said, covering Sam’s hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. “The doctor’s office—”
“If she’s a patient, they’re not going to tell us anything,” Rodney interrupted.
Jeannie huffed with annoyance. “Perhaps nothing official,” she retorted as she gathered up her leftovers and re-covering the Bento box, slipped it back into the white plastic bag. “But there are ways and it wouldn’t hurt to try.” She turned her attention back to Sam. “Lend me the picture of your friend, Sam, and follow my lead.”
Sam handed her the picture again, and dropped her salad container and re-wrapped sub into the take-out bag. Reluctantly, Rodney shut down his laptop and returned it to his case. Shoving the last of his burger into his mouth, he grabbed his Coke and fries and followed the two women to the elevator.
During the short ride to the second floor, Jeannie slipped on her glasses and ran her hand through her hair, leaving it messy and making her look frazzled. From her bag, she pulled out a small picture album, which Sam recognised held photographs of her daughter, Madison; she’d been showing them off earlier. Opening the album, she slipped Janet and Cassie’s picture into it.
“You and Meredith just hang back,” she instructed, before bustling her way into the waiting room. It was deserted except for one forlorn pregnant woman in a corner and a bored-looking, brown-skinned receptionist in her mid-twenties.
“Hi ... ah ... Anne—I don’t know if you can help me,” Jeannie said breathlessly to the receptionist as she peered at the girl’s name-tag. “But I’m hoping so—God why do men have to be so bloody obtuse!” she said riffling through her bag before pulling out the album and slipping the photograph from it. “I’m looking for a friend I lost contact with about five or six years ago—my idiot brother over there thought he saw her downstairs as she got off the elevator, but does he mention it?”
Sam gripped Rodney’s arm tightly as he made to protest and he subsided with an angry pout as Jeannie continued her rant. Sam had to admit, the younger woman could be quite an actress when she wanted to be.
“No, he waits ten damned minutes to say—‘Oh I think I saw Gwen on the other side of the food court—whatever happened to her?’ And by that time she was long-gone; all he could tell me was that she was pregnant and fighting with some guy, so I thought she might have come from here,” Jeannie said handing the picture to the young woman.
“Yeah, she was here,” the girl said handing the picture back.
“Oh, thank God,” Jeannie said with a big smile of relief. “You know how men are with women’s faces—anything above the shoulders and most times they’re completely hopeless.”
The receptionist grinned in agreement. “But I can’t tell you anything; she’s a patient,” she continued glancing nervously at the doctor’s closed office door.
“Oh, that’s alright, hon,” Jeannie replied. “I completely understand—it’s been a while and I don’t even know where she’s at in her life anymore. I mean if she’s pregnant, it’s certainly someplace different than when I knew her.”
“Or probably not,” the receptionist chuckled. “I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t exactly planned,” she said quietly.
Jeannie lowered her pitch to match. “And the guy my brother said she was beating up—the daddy?”
“Yeah—not exactly the responsible type.”
“She always did fall for the bad boys,” Jeannie laughed. “Look, would you mind if I just leave my name and cell number for you to give her the next time she comes in? I know it’s kind of an imposition—but that way it would be totally up to her if she wants to get in touch. You know—I’d just like to reconnect if I can. I only live about half an hour to forty-five minutes from here.”
The girl nodded, handing her a yellow Post-it Note pad and a pen. As Jeannie wrote her information, the receptionist whispered something Sam couldn’t hear. Jeannie nodded and handed the pad and pen back to her.
“Thanks, I really appreciate this,” she said. “I wrote both my married and my maiden names down—she knew me as Jeannie McKay.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll see that she gets it,” the girl replied with an understanding smile.
“Thanks again, Anne,” Jeannie said and carefully returned the photograph to her album before stowing it in her purse again. With a final wave, she turned and ushered Sam and Rodney ahead of her as they left the office.
As they walked back to the elevator, Rodney groused, “Great, all that—I had to stand there and take your insults just so you can get a promise from some airhead that she might give a stray piece of paper to the woman in a month’s time?”
Jeannie’s grin widened to a self-satisfied smirk. “No,” she said smugly. “You stood there and took my insults so that I could get her to meet us downstairs in fifteen minutes when she takes her break.”
“You did?” Sam said in shock.
Jeannie nodded. “That’s what she whispered to me while I was writing the note,” she said as they got into the elevator. “She wants us to wait for her in the stairwell just off the main doors.”
“Good job, Jeannie,” Sam said in admiration.
They didn’t have to wait more than ten minutes before the cocoa-brown face peered over the railing from the second floor. As she hurried down the stairs, the young receptionist said impudently, “Told the dragon lady I had to go pee, and I was taking my break a bit early.”
Jeannie snickered conspiratorially.
“Anyway, I don’t have much else to tell you,” Anne continued. “But the thing is, while Gwen may be a patient, Miro’s not.”
Jeannie’s laughter grew louder and even Sam had to laugh at the girl’s ingenuity.
“His name is Miro Da Silva and he’s in the Coast Guard—”
“That’s right, I thought I recognised the uniform,” Rodney said thoughtfully.
His sister glared at him. “And you’re just mentioning that now?” As he sputtered, she rolled her eyes expressively and turned her attention back to the young woman. “Sorry about that, Anne,” she said in exasperation.
Anne chuckled. “Is all cool,” she said. “At least you’ve only got one—I’ve got four brothers who can’t find their asses without a map and detailed instructions. Thank God I finally got my own apartment and only have to deal with them on Sundays when I go home for dinner.”
“I don’t have to stand here and take this!” Rodney squawked indignantly.
“Be quiet or go back to the food court,” Jeannie ordered imperiously. After a moment he subsided again into sullen silence.
“Anyway, like I was saying, Miro’s a captain in the Coast Guard,” Anne continued. “His ship’s the Cape Pacific and he’s stationed just up the coast at Port Hallett. It’s nothing but a one-stoplight town a couple hours drive from here.”
“Oh my God! Thank you so much!” Jeannie said enthusiastically as she hugged the young woman. “That’s fabulous! Now I can check the phone book for Port Hallett and the surrounding towns to see if she’s listed. If nothing else, maybe I can call this Miro or nip up there to talk to him.”
“No problem,” Anne said smiling. “Glad to help. Was she always an artist when you knew her?”
“An artist?” Jeannie said in confusion. “No—not that I remember—I mean she was always really artsy, was into crafts and things like flower arranging, but back then she worked at a hospital, some sort of medical tech.”
“So that’s how she could follow what the Doc was saying,” the girl said in surprise. “She’s not like a lot of patients who just stand there with a dazed look on their faces and never ask a question. She’s actually interested in everything about the baby, but I just figured she boned up on all the terminology. Anyway, now I really have to go before my bladder bursts, and then I have to get a coffee and get back before the dragon lady incinerates the patients.”
“Is the doctor really that bad?” Jeannie asked as they followed her from the stairwell into the foyer between the double doors and the rest of the mall.
“Nah,” Anne chuckled. “Doc’s actually pretty good—has privileges at a couple of hospitals and doesn’t baulk at taking low income or high-risk patients.”
“Yeah, Gwen is a bit old to be having a kid,” Jeannie said thoughtfully. “She must be pushing forty-five by now—a kid’s going to be a handful for her. I’ve got a six-year-old myself, so I know how it is—pop them out and they take over your life. Next thing you know, you’re a couple of decades older and left to wonder where the hell your life went.”
“That’s why I’m waiting to have kids—maybe not as late as forty-five, but I’m only twenty-six now. I figure I got at least another ten years before my biological time-bomb starts ticking!” She laughed again and waved to Jeannie. “I hope you and Gwen reconnect; but if you don’t before her next appointment, I’ll make sure she gets your message.”
“Thanks!” Jeannie said waving back as the girl disappeared into the throng of bodies.
Sam took control once the young woman is out of sight. “All right troops, let’s get out of here and back to the hotel,” she said heading towards the exit. “Jeannie, you did a fabulous job getting us that information! Now I have to call General O’Neill and let him know what’s going on. I hope you don’t mind—unless you’re anxious to get home—”
“And miss what happens next?” the younger woman said with a broad grin as she slipped the photograph from her album and handed it back to Sam. “Not on your life! I’ll call Caleb and let him know that I’ll be late or whatever. I want to know how this ends—I want to find her.”
Chapter 3: Part 3
Jeannie glanced from the road to Samantha Carter’s drawn, introspective face before returning her attention to her driving. They’d been on the road for almost two hours and should be getting into Port Hallett in the next half an hour. Sam had been extremely quiet, even withdrawn, for the entire journey—a far cry from her enthusiasm back in her hotel room when she’d informed General O’Neill, General Landry and Dr. Jackson about the situation via a video conference call over a secure satellite hook-up to her laptop.
O’Neill and Jackson had been shocked, to say the least, at the possibility that Janet Fraiser might still be alive—six years after they’d buried her body. General Landry had been more neutral, since Dr. Fraiser had died before he’d taken command of the SGC, but he’d still been supportive.
“Rodney thinks that it’s possible that if Janet somehow reached ascension on her own, it might account for her body being left behind,” Sam had said eagerly.
The flash of insight that flared in Daniel Jackson’s eyes was unmistakeable. “Actually, he may be on to something,” he’d replied quickly. “There are accounts in some of the early Ancient writings—and even an Ori manuscript we’ve managed to acquire—that tell of people seeing their loved ones as glowing beings of light long after they’d buried their bodies from an apparent death. The first Ancients who ascended certainly didn’t have someone to help them ascend as Oma Desala did for me. Now, we know that ascension has different levels and certain higher planes of existence are only reachable depending on your level of ascension. We also know that it’s an evolutionary process as much as it can be a spiritual enlightening. What’s not to say that someone might not be able to reach the lower levels of ascension by themselves—especially if they understand something about what was happening to them? Janet certainly knew what happened to me and she saw what happened when Nirrti caused Cassie’s hyper-evolution. Now, while she might not have had the power to convert her entire body to energy and reach a high level of ascension, she may have been able to transfer her consciousness and some of her essence to one of the lower levels of ascension.”
“So what you’re saying is that this woman really could be Janet,” O’Neill reiterated. Jeannie could see the scepticism still in his eyes.
“Sir, we’ve uncovered a bit more evidence that’s certainly suggestive,” Sam replied, nodding at Meredith who took up the narrative.
“While we were waiting for the secure line, I looked up the Coast Guard site and Captain Miro DaSilva certainly does work for them,” he said, “but there isn’t much about him online except for some rescues that made the papers. I also checked the town’s Bureau of Commerce site—there’s not much on it except tourism-related things, but one of the local restaurants is currently holding an art show, and the featured artist this month is a local woman who just goes by the name, Guinevere. Now, according to the receptionist in the doctor’s office, this Gwen is an artist. The restaurant has some thumbnails of Guinevere’s work on its site—I’m sending you the link now,” he said as he sent the email. “Scroll down to the second to the last image on the page and click on it, sir,” he directed in that officious tone he usually took with his underlings.
After studying the picture for a few long moments, O’Neill sat back in his chair and quirked an eyebrow. “Now why does that scene look vaguely familiar?” he asked.
“Perhaps because the building in the background looks like grand palace in the capital city of the Land of Light,” Daniel Jackson said. “The people are even depicted wearing traditional clothing.”
Jack looked sceptically at him. “From what I remember, Danny-boy, the traditional clothing in the Land of Light didn’t run to bare breasts and loincloths,” he said, pointing in disbelief to the frankly erotic painting. “Believe me, I’d have remembered that!”
“Actually Jack, the culture evolved from a transplant of ancient Minoan culture, which was centred on the island of Crete,” the archaeologist replied, slipping into lecture mode. “Now the clothing their leaders met us in on formal occasions would of course be more formal, while what they wore at festivals and celebrations would probably be more traditional, and women in dresses that bared their breasts was part of ancient Minoan fashion—there are enough frescoes and art from ancient palaces on Crete that depict them—while the men wore short kilts or loincloths for wrestling, foot races and other sports, as some of the men are depicted as participating in … if you can tear your eyes away from what the figures in the foreground are doing,” Daniel said sarcastically.
“Whoa, Daniel, that’s asking a lot,” Jack said still staring at the painting.
“It’s obviously some sort of festival—probably a cross between a sort of athletics competition and a rather … enthusiastic feast,” his friend said thoughtfully.
“Feast?” O’Neill queried acerbically.
“All right, so it’s an orgy!” Daniel retorted, surrendering to the inevitable.
“Can we get back on track here, guys?” Sam said with no small amount of exasperation at her friends’ familiar bickering.
“My question is when Fraiser would have seen all this when no one else knows about it?” Jack continued, finally tearing his gaze away from the painting.
“I wouldn’t say no one knows exactly, sir,” Sam replied with a smirk; Jack O’Neill’s gaze narrowed as he homed in on her. “Janet and her medical teams made regular visits to the Land of Light once or twice a year to check up on them—make sure they were still taking their medications and eating the right diet to keep their anti-histamine levels up so they wouldn’t be re-infected with the Touched virus. It was all in her reports, sir, if you’d ever bothered to read them,” she chastised, blue eyes filled with humour. “In fact, the Land of Light was where a lot of medical personnel got their first experience going through the Stargate—a practice that Janet initiated—because it was relatively peaceful and safe as long as the medics took their anti-histamines, and the people were gracious and, as you can see, quite … ah … fun-loving since they didn’t have to worry so much about half their population devolving into Neanderthals because of the virus. The painting is called “Rites of Spring”, and if I remember correctly, Janet’s been to the Land of Light during one of their spring festivals honouring their Mother Goddess of Fertility.”
“But Sam, while this is suggestive, it’s also general enough that it could simply be a knowledgeable artist’s imaginative rendering of an ancient Minoan scene,” Daniel said thoughtfully, putting a dampener on the optimistic mood. “For example, it could be a festival at the palace at Knossos—which the palace in the Land of Light resembled to a remarkable degree.”
“Then check out the one below it,” Sam said quietly. She waited for them to study the painting she’d directed them to.
“Cassie!” Daniel croaked staring at the frightened child’s face as she clung desperately to a crouching adult. In contrast to the stark detail of the terrified little girl, the adult hugging her was only seen from the back; short, blonde hair and bulky, grey clothing giving no clue as to whether it was female or male. The only thing in focus was Cassie, while the walls were indistinct, simply looming up and disappearing into shadow.
“It’s Cassie and you in the bunker, Sam,” O’Neill said hoarsely.
“Yes, sir; I think that’s what it’s meant to depict,” Sam replied. “And if Janet is suffering from amnesia, these paintings suggest that bits and pieces of her memories may be surfacing. That piece is called “Lost Little Girl # 5”, suggesting it may be the fifth in a series of paintings she’s done of Cassie.”
“It also means she probably has no context to put those memories in,” Daniel said. “We need to get to her as soon as possible, Jack.”
“It’s always been you and Cassandra, hasn’t it, Sam?” O’Neill said quietly, holding Sam’s gaze for a long moment; she looked away, clearly uncomfortable with the subtext passing between them. After another moment of silence, O’Neill called out to Landry, “General, think you can spare Carter for a few more days?”
Landry nodded. “Colonel Carter’s no problem—since her return from her year abroad, she’s had more than a few days leave coming to her, which other than this conference, she hasn’t put in for,” he replied as O’Neill shot Sam a glare. “But Dr. McKay needs to get back ASAP or risk missing his … ah … flight back to his post.”
“All right, McKay,” General O’Neill continued. “Get your butt back to Colorado immediately—your transport can be ready to leave the airport within the hour. Sam, do you need anything—extra personnel?”
“Not right now, sir,” Sam replied. “Jeannie’s agreed to go with me—the last thing we need to do is spook Janet with too many people all at once.”
“All right, Carter,” O’Neill said. “It’s your call. You have a go—now, go bring our girl home.”
“And if she doesn’t want to come, sir?” Sam asked softly, an uncharacteristically anxious tone in her voice. “Gwen seems to have built a life here—put down roots … having a baby. This may be home now.”
O’Neill looked at her sympathetically. “When push comes to shove, Sam,” he said, “All you can do is put your cards on the table and, short of revealing anything classified, lay it out for her. I can’t imagine a Janet Fraiser—memories or no memories—who wouldn’t want to know her family and friends … or a Janet Fraiser who wouldn’t want to know Cassandra.”
“What did General O’Neill mean when he said it’s always been you and Cassandra?” Jeannie asked quietly as another car passed, going in the opposite direction. Once they’d left the city, the road up to Port Hallett, and the other small coastal towns, was pretty much deserted.
Sam stiffened at the question, before relaxing visibly and sitting up straighter. “Sorry Jeannie,” she said after a moment. “I wasn’t paying attention—what was your question?”
Jeannie knew a lie when she heard it—on top of that, Samantha Carter wasn’t a very good liar; it was a curious failing for a person whose entire professional life was, by necessity, couched in little else but secrets and lies.
“I was just curious to know what General O’Neill meant when he said that it’s always been you and Cassandra,” Jeannie reiterated.
Sam frowned. “When did he say that?”
“When you were discussing the painting of you and Cassie in that bunker,” Jeannie replied, sensing the other woman was stalling for time, and finding it even more intriguing that she would need to. “I don’t mean to intrude, Sam; I just thought it was such an odd thing for him to say.”
Sam was silent for a few moments longer; when she spoke again, her voice was distant, haunted. “Cassandra was the sole survivor of a planet wiped out by a plague engineered by the Goa’uld Nirrti—all wiped out so that we would take the little girl with us through the Stargate and back to the SGC.”
“Because Cassandra was meant to be a Trojan Horse,” Sam replied hoarsely. “She was a living bomb designed by Nirrti, wrapped up in the package of one scared, little ten-year-old girl.”
“A bomb?” Jeannie croaked in disbelief, stomach clenching as she thought of her own little girl, Madison, safe at home with Caleb. They’d swung by her house so Jeannie could pack a bag, explain to her husband and kiss her daughter before heading to up Port Hallett with Sam.
Sam’s voice was distant, dispassionate as she continued. “Once we brought Cassie through the Stargate, the wormhole travel triggered a physiological cascade that caused her body to assemble a binary explosive device from elements present in her bloodstream, which then attached itself to her heart so we couldn’t take it out without killing her. Once assembled—” Sam’s voice broke suddenly and Jeannie glanced quickly at her through her own sheen of tears. One white, trembling hand rose from Sam’s lap to rub her throat as if to soothe away some pain there.
“Once assembled, the biological barrier keeping the two halves of the binary explosive apart began to break down,” she continued and Jeannie wept at the sheer cold-bloodedness of the plot to use an innocent child as a bomb. “Our first instinct was to take her back through the Stargate to her world, but once Teal’c realised that Nirrti was involved, we deduced that it was all a ploy to destroy Earth’s Stargate and the SGC. By this time, Cassie had fallen into a coma in the gate room and the bomb was still ticking down as the barrier degraded further. General Hammond then ordered us to take her to an abandoned missile complex nearby, which could contain the force of the explosion.
“Anyway, I took her down to the bunker, but in the elevator she woke up. And God help me—like a good soldier, I tried to follow orders and locked her in that bunker all alone. I even made it back to the elevator and started up to the surface, but I couldn’t. Somehow, in those few short days, without me even realising it, she’d bonded with me and I with her. I’d never really thought about having children, except in the abstract, but at that moment in the elevator, I knew that she’d become as important to me as any child I might have had. I couldn’t leave her to die alone. So I went back, locked us both in the bunker and held her as we waited for the end to come.”
“What happened?” Jeannie asked breathlessly. “You and Cassie obviously didn’t die.”
“No,” Sam replied quietly. “It turned out that once we got her far enough from the Stargate, the process began to reverse itself and the elements of the bomb were absorbed back into her system. I wanted to adopt her, but with the nature of my job and the team being gone at least three to four days out of most weeks, and not to mention the extended absences because of one crisis or another, I couldn’t get clearance. Janet’s job was a more regular nine to five for much of the time and she didn’t often leave the base to go out into the field or into dangerous situations. Besides, she had the necessary clearances and an understanding of Cassie’s unique physiology, so she adopted her instead. Janet and I were good friends, so it also meant that I could visit regularly, take Cassie out to the movies, and help her with her homework. Whenever I was in town, Saturday was our standing date to play chess, video games—whatever she wanted to do.”
“You still got to play an important part of her life,” Jeannie said sympathetically.
“Yes,” Sam said with a wistful smile. “I got to be Aunt Sam, but Janet was Cassie’s mother in every way except for pushing her out of her body.”
As Sam lapsed into silence again, Jeannie studied the road, pondering everything the other woman had told her. After a few minutes, it suddenly hit her that even with everything she’d related regarding Cassie and Janet, Sam still hadn’t answered her question about what General O’Neill had meant with his odd statement. But glancing at the blonde Air Force officer again, she knew that it was as close to an answer as she was ever going to get.
Chapter 4: Part 4
“I think we’re here,” Sam said, breaking the silence as they passed a gas station and clusters of small houses that looked desolate in the late evening drizzle. “Look over there—that’s the restaurant where the art is being shown. Why don’t we start there?” she said. “If we let them know that we’re interested in buying a couple of the paintings and would like to see more—we may be able to get ourselves an introduction to the artist sooner rather than later. If nothing else, we can get dinner and maybe a recommendation on where to stay.”
Jeannie nodded and pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot. From the outside, The Lodge—as it was so imaginatively named—looked like one of those faux-European mountain lodges. They hurried inside, eager to get out of the rain.
In the foyer, they were greeted by a large framed watercolour of a bright, happy baby lying on its tummy as it snuggled down in a soft cream-coloured blanket. With delicate brush strokes, the artist had captured all the chubby little folds in the child’s arms and legs, the cute little bare bum, and the beauty of the angelic face with brilliant blue eyes sparkling beneath a halo of white-blonde hair.
“Oh God!” Sam gasped out, moving closer to the painting.
Jeannie peered at it again, recognising the elegant signature Guinevere written along one of the folds at the edge of the blanket. According to the small, white card beneath, it was titled After a Bath, and was priced at seven hundred and fifty dollars.
“Sam?” she called softly.
“It’s me,” Sam whispered, smiling ruefully at Jeannie’s confusion. “It’s an old baby picture Cassie had dredged up from one of my albums when she was doing a genealogy project back in middle school. With her unique circumstances, Janet got permission from her teacher for her to use the backgrounds of her honorary aunts and uncles for the project. Anyway, Janet used to tease me mercilessly about that photograph.”
Jeannie chuckled. “At least we know we’re in the right place,” she whispered back.
“Hi!” a bright voice chirped from behind them. “Table for two?”
They turned to meet the gaze of the young hostess smiling at them expectantly. She couldn’t be more than sixteen, and Jeannie figured that she probably hadn’t been working there long; she wasn’t jaded or bored-looking yet. Her nametag read Gillian, with a curlicue for the tail of the “g” and little hearts drawn over each ‘i’. Jeannie wondered if she’d ever been that young.
“Yes,” Sam replied pleasantly. “A table for two—but before we go in, how would I go about purchasing this painting?”
“It’s a great one, isn’t it?” Gillian said happily, retrieving two menus before coming over to them. “It’s brand new. Gwen—that’s the artist—brought it over yesterday. It’s all cute and warm and fluffy, totally different from most of her stuff—a lot of that’s more edgy. But I suppose it’s only natural now that she’s pregnant. Anyway, if you want to buy it, I can mark it sold and Gramps can take care of the sale—my family owns the restaurant.”
“Yes, I’d like to buy it,” Sam said decisively. “Do you take cheques or only credit cards?”
“Credit card only, I’m afraid,” Gillian replied, her smile growing wider as she moved past them to write “SOLD” in bold letters across the back of the painting’s identification card before returning it to the card holder.
“Do you want to sit down and eat first, or maybe look at some of Gwen’s other paintings?” she asked eagerly as she led them into the main dining area.
“We’ll order and while we wait for our food, we can wander about looking at the art,” Sam replied. “Then if I see anything else, I can add it to my bill and pay for it all after dinner.”
“Sounds great,” the girl giggled leading them to a relatively quiet spot in the large dining room. It was rather busy, but the room was by no means full and the waiters didn’t look too rushed.
After the girl took their orders and brought them a couple glasses of white wine, Sam made a bee-line for the large painting of Cassie that had been featured on the restaurant’s website. It was even more impressive up close, with the shadows and high walls seeming to loom over the child and her protector. Without hesitation, Sam plucked the identification card from its holder, before moving on to the next painting.
“That painting is two thousand dollars, Sam,” Jeannie pointed out quietly as they studied the surreal landscape of the next painting. The trees grew together; their leaves a riot of unnatural colours and branches twisting around each other high up in the canopy, casting weird shadows on the overgrown path though the undergrowth. Jeannie wondered what planet it represented.
“I know,” Sam replied, before moving on to another piece. This one was a charcoal study of a male nude as seen from behind. It was a precise, almost clinical study of the large powerful muscles rippling beneath the skin, and though no facial features were visible—only the model’s bald head—Jeannie knew this person immediately, having met him once during a trip to the SGC.
“Is that who I think it is?” she whispered in shock.
“Yes,” Sam replied, plucking the card from its slot—two hundred dollars for Poetry in Motion. Jeannie took a large gulp of her wine.
As they continued to study the art on the walls, a thought suddenly occurred to Jeannie. “Do you realize that if the pieces have people in them, they’re almost always nude?”
Sam chuckled. “Finally noticed that did you?” she said, eyes twinkling merrily as she took the card of a painting of what looked to be a bunch of butterfly-winged, bare-bottom sprites playing in the woods—one impudent little figure looking remarkably like General Jack O’Neill. “But if you take a closer look, although the figures are nude, none of them are really sexual in tone or context. Most, like this one, are fun and rather whimsical, while others are either quite scientific or clinical in nature—like she’s studying the construction of the human body—or simply innocent ... like the baby picture.”
“That’s because Guinevere is a naturist,” said a deep baritone from behind them. They turned to meet the gaze of a portly, sixtyish man sporting a broad grin and twinkling brown eyes. “As she’s said on occasion, she has a fascination with the human body in all its contexts. She does do more sexual—or rather erotic work—but this is a family restaurant. I thought this collection showed the breadth of her work quite beautifully. If you’d like to view some of her more erotic pieces, there are a couple on our website that are not being shown here. Charles Peterman,” he said by way of introduction as he held out his hand to Sam. “I’m the owner of this restaurant. My granddaughter tells me that you’re interested in buying that exquisite watercolour in the foyer.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Peterman,” Sam replied as she shook his hand. “Sam Carter—and this is my friend Jeannie Miller. Yes, I’m very interested in purchasing the watercolour and these pieces as well,” she continued, holding out the handful of cards she’d been collecting.
His eyes opened wide in surprise and his smile fell away as he glanced at the cards, noticing that she wanted to buy some of the most expensive pieces. Jeannie could almost see the quick calculation in his head before he looked up with another wide smile. It wasn’t a smarmy or greedy smile—since he seemed like a genuinely pleasant man—but there was no doubt of the rather mercenary edge to it. And no wonder; including the baby picture, Sam had just handed him nearly five thousand dollars worth of sales before taxes without batting an eye. Depending on his commission, he stood to make quite a tidy sum this evening.
“Ms Carter,” he said, definitely impressed with her. “You certainly know what you like.”
“Yes,” Sam replied simply. “Actually, I was wondering if it was possible to meet the artist. I’m especially taken by the piece entitled Lost Little Girl # 5 and I’d be very interested in seeing the others in this series or anything else she might have to interest me—you said she had more erotic pieces.”
“It’s certainly possible,” he replied, ushering them back to their table where Gillian and a young waiter were laying out their meal. “I’ll call to check if Guinevere is at home and can see you. I know she went out of town yesterday, but she should be back by now. If not, then she should be back by midday tomorrow. How long will you be in town for?”
“Three or four days—maybe a week,” Sam replied as they resumed their seats. “I was in Vancouver on business, and visiting with Jeannie and her family. We decided to come up here to get away from city for a bit.”
“My family used to camp up around this area when I was a kid,” Jeannie said unfolding her napkin. “Sam wasn’t prepared for camping, but we wanted somewhere nice and quiet. In fact, perhaps you can recommend a place to stay in town? This was a rather impromptu trip and we haven’t made any reservations. I seem to remember a motel or two further on.”
Peterman chuckled heartily. “Actually, Gwen runs an inn of sorts in a secluded little cul-de-sac just a little ways out of town, if you don’t mind driving about ten or fifteen minutes further.”
“An inn of sorts?” Sam asked, a smile playing on her lips.
“Like I said before, Gwen’s a naturist,” he replied, eyes sparkling with suppressed humour. “From late spring through the summer until the Labour Day holiday, it’s a clothing optional, naturist compound. Then during the fall to early winter, it’s a regular inn—a sort of bed and breakfast—until about late December when she closes it up for the winter.”
“Clothing optional?” Jeannie squeaked, and both Sam and Peterman laughed.
“Don’t worry, Ms Miller,” he said. “It’s September now, so everyone around there should be safely clothed. The inn is called the Bare Necessities.”
“Well if she has a couple of rooms free, it sounds just about perfect, Mr. Peterman,” Sam said.
“Then I’ll go now and give Gwen a call, as well as do up an invoice for these pieces,” he continued. “Will you be taking them with you tonight?”
Sam nodded and handed him her VISA card. “If it’s possible to package them up and get them ready for transport, then yes,” she replied. “If not, we can pick them up tomorrow, but I’d really like to take the watercolour and the Lost Little Girl painting with me tonight if I can.”
“Very well—enjoy your meal, ladies,” he said and hurried away.
“Sam, are you sure about this—that’s a lot of money?” Jeannie whispered, very conscious of the fact that there were other occupied tables close by so she couldn’t say anything openly.
“Very sure,” Sam said firmly as she took a bite of her grilled Pacific salmon fillet. “Don’t worry about me, Jeannie; I can afford it. And considering the nature of my job, what else am I going to spend all that hazard pay on? Art is a good investment—and besides, I already own three motorcycles,” she said chuckling around a mouthful of food.
Chapter 5: Part 5
Diana’s shout startled Gwen out of her introspective consideration of her latest watercolour. She didn’t know where all these images were coming from, but since she’d accepted her pregnancy, it was as if it had opened the floodgates in her mind. Now she flitted from one thought to another, one image to the next, like some demented hummingbird unable to settle on just one flower. It was like her mind now needed to be in constant motion. Looking around her studio, she realised that besides the one she was currently working on, there were five other watercolours in various stages of completion.
Usually, when she worked in oils or acrylics, she had a mania about finishing each piece before moving onto the next—it was almost like she’d needed to get the vision out before another would come. She hadn’t made many forays into watercolours in the past, but the fumes from some of the oil paints and the various solvents she used made her nauseous now. She also remembered reading somewhere that they probably weren’t good for the foetus, so now she worked almost exclusively in watercolours or occasionally used acrylics.
“Gwen,” Diana repeated breathlessly as she bustled into the studio. Her curly grey hair had escaped its usually immaculate bun and frizzed around her face, giving her the distinct look of the Madwoman of Shallott.
“Hey Di, what’s up?” she asked absently as she methodically rinsed her brushes in clean water.
“Peterman just called,” her friend replied.
Gwen chuckled. “Sold another one, did he?”
Diana laughed also, but there was an almost hysterical quality to it. “Gwen, he sold five thousand dollars worth of paintings tonight to some American woman from Colorado!”
Gwen stared at her, open-mouthed with shock. “What?”
Her knees gave out and she sat down heavily onto the daybed nestled into the nook beneath the large bay window.
“It includes both the bare bottomed baby picture and the one of the lost girl,” Diana continued excitedly. “According to Peterman’s granddaughter, the woman took one look at the baby picture as she came in the door and bought it on the spot. Then they went inside the dining room, ordered dinner and while they were waiting for the food, went to look at the other paintings. He said that she and her friend just went around the walls, took the cards of all the ones she wanted and basically handed them to him with a credit card. In fact, she loved the baby and the lost girl so much, she specifically asked him to package them up so that she could take them with her tonight ... said she would pick the rest up tomorrow—and Gwen, she wants to meet you.”
“Meet me?” she echoed, her voice uncharacteristically squeaky.
“Yeah, she wants to meet the artist and see if you had any other pieces that might interest her—specifically asked if she could see the series that the lost girl came from.”
“Well, number one is hanging in the main lounge,” Gwen said thoughtfully, “but the rest of the series is in the storage room. Do you know when they’d like to come over?”
Diana grinned crookedly. “Actually, they should be on their way within the hour,” she replied, shocking Gwen yet again. “They’re just having dinner—they also mentioned that they hadn’t booked rooms anywhere as the trip was a sort of a spur of the moment thing. Since they asked for a recommendation, he steered them towards our little inn. Anyway, Peterman said that he’d fax the invoice over as soon as he got it printed up and her credit card cleared. We also need to get two rooms ready for a Sam Carter and Jeannie Miller,” she said consulting her hastily scribbled note.
“Well there’s no one here in the main lodge at the moment and only that bird-watching party in three of the cottages. But the first two rooms in the west wing are already made up—perhaps you can just open the windows to give them an airing,” Gwen said, levering herself up from the daybed, all business once more. “Meanwhile, I’ll go haul some of the paintings out of storage.”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Diana said firmly. “You need to rest—what’s on the walls is sufficient for tonight. You can call Miro—have him and one or two of his buddies come over tomorrow. And Mike will be here by noon if he catches the lull in morning traffic heading out of the city. They can cart those paintings out of storage for you so this Jeannie Miller can browse all she wants to her rich American heart’s content.”
Gwen could feel her mutinous hackles rise at Diana’s imperious proclamation and gathered her strength to argue, but one look at her friend and she knew that the older woman wouldn’t back down.
But that was part of the reason you asked her to come and stay once Miro proved to be unreliable, wasn’t it? a traitorous little voice whispered in the back of her mind. You knew she’d support you to the hilt, but she wouldn’t cave in to you ... would make sure that you got enough rest, and took care of yourself and the baby. And she and Mike are the closest thing to parents you’ll ever have.
Gwen closed her eyes and turned her mind from all those rushing, tumbling thoughts and emotions that threatened to engulf her. “All right, Ma,” she said with amused exasperation as she smiled at Diana again. “Let’s go air out those rooms for our guests.”
Less than forty-five minutes later, the headlamps of a car flashed through Gwen’s bedroom window. She sat on the edge of her bed in the darkened room, debating whether or not to go out to greet her guests. For the life of her, she could never remember ever being this tentative, this indecisive ... this bloody nervous. But lately, all her emotions seem to be so much closer to the surface.
Gone was breezy, free-spirited Gwen, who thought nothing of dancing naked under the full moon when the mood hit her, and in her place was a woman she barely recognised some days.
Taking a deep breath, she left her bedroom and ventured down the hall to the office just behind the check-in desk in the lobby. The front door to the office was ajar just enough for her to glimpse two blonde heads and hear their voices.
It came as a surprise that both were female; they’d been expecting a man and a woman.
Quiet laughter reached her ears and she realised she’d missed Diana’s murmured question. “I often get that,” the soft soprano said with definite amusement; there was a quality to this voice that was so oddly familiar, it seemed to itch beneath Gwen’s skin. “Sam is short for Samantha.”
Dr. S. Carter had been the name on the invoice, from Colorado Springs, Colorado. This was the woman who’d bought $5,169.75 (after taxes were added) worth of her paintings and was looking to buy more. Gwen and Diana had assumed that Jeannie Miller had bought the paintings and her boyfriend/significant other, Sam Carter, had paid for them on his VISA.
Gwen shifted her bulk, trying to get a better look at the woman without opening the door further, but all she got were flashes—the impression of a tall, slim figure, glimpses of long, wind-blown blonde hair, a lovely smiling face with intense blue eyes that seemed to take in everything … pierce the darkness to find Gwen standing there.
“Are you a medical doctor?” she heard Diana ask, pumping her oh so politely in that deceptive grandmotherly voice.
“No,” the woman replied. “It’s an academic title—I’m an astrophysicist actually, and Jeannie here is a theoretical physicist.”
“Well, nowadays, isn’t most physics theoretical?”
Sam Carter chuckled softly again. “I guess you can put it that way, Ma’am,” she replied.
“So what’s a couple of physicists doing in Port Hallett?” Diana asked bluntly. “We’re not exactly the centre of the universe—in physics or anything else.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised—in some other reality, this might just be the exact centre of the universe,” she quipped.
“I live in Vancouver,” the other woman, Jeannie Miller, said. “Sam is just visiting for a few days attending a physics conference. We decided to ditch the last day and go somewhere to decompress. My parents used to take our family camping around here when I was kid. Would it be possible for Sam to meet the artist, Guinevere, this evening?” she asked a tad impatiently.
“Gwen’s sleeping,” Diana said firmly. “And I’ll thank you not to disturb her before 9:30 in the morning—she needs her rest. If you want to look at some more of her work this evening, there are pieces hanging in the lounges and the common areas. Mr. Peterman said that you were specifically interested in seeing more of her Lost Girl series—the rest are in storage, but the first of the series is hanging in the main lounge. We’ve also arranged for a couple of guys to come out tomorrow and move some pieces from the storage room for you to view—they’ll be here at about ten o’clock ... maybe. Breakfast is from 7:30 to 9:00 am in the dining room; miss it and you’re on your own. Understand?”
“Yes Ma’am,” Samantha Carter replied smartly.
“Everything beyond that door is administrative or private quarters—staff only,” Diana continued forcefully, gesturing to the side door that led to the hall access separating the office, kitchens and Gwen’s private quarters from the rest of the lodge. Gwen was a little afraid she’d scare them away with that drill sergeant routine she had going. “No guests are allowed back there for any reason. Here are your keys—your rooms are the first two down that corridor. They share a bathroom between them, with each room having its own access—I hope you don’t mind sharing.”
“Not at all, Ma’am,” Carter said; there was a hint of suppressed laughter in her voice. “If you don’t mind my asking, Ma’am, were you by any chance in the Canadian Armed Forces?”
Gwen covered her mouth before her giggles could escape; Diana harrumphed noisily.
“No,” she said curtly. “Spent thirty-five years in Vancouver’s Department of Social Services though, and my husband was a cop for forty.”
“Ah,” the woman replied. “Well, we’ll just go and square our things away—then maybe take a look at the pieces in the lounge before bed.”
“That’s fine,” Diana said. “But it’s automatic lights out in the common areas at eleven—can’t afford to burn hydro like a big city hotel.”
“Understood, Ma’am; thank you.”
Their footsteps receded down the hall and after a few moments, Gwen heard a door close quietly.
“You’re supposed to be in bed,” Diana chastised in a low voice.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Gwen murmured back, feeling like a four-year-old caught getting a glass of water after being put to bed.
Diana slipped into the office, closing the door behind her and turning on the light; for a woman of her age and bulk, she certainly could slip in and out of places with remarkable ease. It wasn’t that she was fat per se—only about twenty pounds overweight, Gwen would guess—but she was five foot ten and solidly built.
Yeah, like a brick shit house, that little imp whispered in the back of her mind as Diana pulled her into a gentle hug. Gwen snuggled in as close as her belly would permit; she didn’t know how her friend did it, but Diana always knew when she was feeling vulnerable and in need of the reassurance only human contact could provide.
As Diana kissed her forehead and let her go, Gwen heard low, muffled voices, signalling their guests’ return to the lobby.
“Sounds like they’re off to view the paintings in the lounge,” Diana said, gazing down with those storm-grey eyes that could always read her like a proverbial open book. “Go back to bed now—if they’re this anxious to see more of your work, I’d say you’ve got them thoroughly hooked. They’ll still be here in the morning—Samantha Carter will still be here in the morning and eager to buy some more from just those hanging on the walls, unless I miss my guess.”
Gwen said nothing, but stood indecisively biting her lower lip.
“What is it, Gwen?” her friend asked worriedly. “What’s really bothering you?”
Sighing, Gwen leaned back against the desk and sat on the edge, kicking out her toes as she hoisted herself up. “That’s just it, Diana, I don’t know—except that everything is changed,” she said, hating the way she sounded like a whiny kid. “And I have a funny feeling everything is about to change again—big time.”
“Life is change, babe,” Diana replied gently, lifting Gwen’s chin to stare into her eyes. “And yeah, everything is changing for you, the least of which is your body—and in the next couple of months, your life will again change entirely when that little one makes his appearance. But you’re a survivor, kid … a fighter. From the first moment you came into our lives, you’ve always been a fighter. You’ll be fine, and your baby will be fine; trust me.”
“I do trust you,” Gwen replied. “More than anyone else in this world, I trust you, Diana.”
Her friend smiled brightly. “Good,” she said, gently tugging Gwen’s arms until she hopped off the desk. “Now off to bed with you.”
“God you’re bossy!”
“You’d better believe it,” Diana retorted and swatted Gwen’s bum through the short, thin nightgown she wore. “Now scat!”
Chapter 6: Part 6
The painting was like a knife to the gut. Sam couldn’t help the involuntary cry that escaped her as she stared at it. Her entire body went numb—except for her heart.
She wished it were the other way around. Inevitable memories came rushing back; a relentless flood smashing through the years of dams she’d constructed to protect her heart.
Jeannie’s voice came as if from a distance. “Sam, are you okay?”
The gentle hand on her arm was unbearable and Sam stumbled away from it. “Leave me alone,” she husked, bracing her hand against the wall as the tears came now, hot and furious.
“Sam—” Jeannie protested, but Sam cut her off harshly.
“Leave. Me. Alone.”
After a moment, she heard the other woman’s footsteps retreat and then fade away. Only then did Sam relax her iron control. Grabbing the armchair, she lowered her suddenly leaden body into it.
Then there was nothing she could do but let the memories come rushing back, flashing in the weird, staccato flicker of an old film before her mind’s eye.
Chocolate cake … white frosting … Janet … exasperation … an array of sixteen candles … flames …
Cassie collapsed on the porch … her boyfriend’s terrified face … Janet … burnt out porch light still smoking …
Cassie convulsing in a hospital bed … blood work … Janet … MRI … corrupted DNA unravelling … evolving … burning up …
Saturday chess … Janet … game pieces for capricious gods … a knight tumbling through the air … slay the fire-breathing dragon …
Yearning for the embrace of home … Janet … into the forest … a world on the cusp of hell …
Look beneath the cloak of lies and shadow … Janet … Cassandra … a promise foretold … pour more fuel onto the thermonuclear pyre of her mind …
First among worlds…
Last among the stars …
The Bringer of Death and Corruption …
I can’t help Cassandra … Janet … don’t do this …
Helplessness … my daughter is dying … put the gun down … Janet … she’s burning up …
My daughter is dying … put the gun down … Janet … she’s burning up …
Put the gun down … Janet … she’s burning up …
Janet … she’s burning up …
She’s burning up …
After Janet had forced the Goa’uld Nirrti to cure Cassandra’s mind fire, allowing the advanced telepathic and telekinetic abilities—which she’d engineered into Cassie’s people—to go dormant again, the doctor had been allowed to take her daughter home.
And although Janet returned to work after only three days off, Sam didn’t see mother and daughter again for almost a week.
She had been tempted to call, or simply drop by Janet’s office on some pretext, but despite their years of friendship, her camaraderie with Janet on the base, she’d hesitated, uncertain about her place in their lives and afraid to overstep her boundaries. Boundaries that had thinned and blurred over the years since the young girl had come into their lives, suddenly appeared in stark relief, solid and almost impenetrable and all Sam’s old fears came rushing back.
Janet is her mother. She’s everything Cassie needs. She’s more than proven that in the way she handled Nirrti. She’d held a gun to the Goa’uld’s head and made her cure her daughter.
The one time they needed you, you were completely useless. You couldn’t help Cassandra … protect her; you couldn’t even do anything to make the Goa’uld bitch talk.
You’re nothing but a friend … an acquaintance.
Don’t go insinuating your pathetic self into their lives.
Those thoughts had plagued Sam, playing over and over in her mind, evaporating her confidence. She might have been the one who connected with Cassie first when they’d initially brought her to Earth, but Janet had been the girl’s mother for nearly six years.
Sam realised then that she’d allowed herself to get caught up in the illusion that she was just as important in Cassie’s life as Janet was—and it had been a comforting illusion. A dangerous illusion. Without her realising it, Cassie and Janet had become her home to come back to every time she went through the Gate.
But what right did she have to it? Searching her breaking heart, she came to one inescapable conclusion. None. She had never been invited to claim that home for her own. She’d simply assumed—based on the strength of their friendship—that she’d been invited to share their lives.
And with that realisation came an awful, hollowed-out feeling of loss so profound that when Janet phoned to invite her to an impromptu birthday barbeque the following Saturday, Sam had almost said no. But this was for Cassie, a return to normalcy—or as normal as the life of an alien teenager living undercover on Earth ever got—and she couldn’t bear to spoil it with her doubts and fears.
And in that moment, she realised with sudden clarity why she felt so devastated. They were family, and moreover, she loved them—Cassie and Janet. She’d always loved them.
It was like a literal—and rather clichéd—thunderbolt had hit her; she was in love with Janet.
Sam walked around for the better part of two days alternately wondering why she hadn’t seen it before and worrying about what to do. But on Friday afternoon, when—armed with this new insight—she’d eagerly asked if she could help with the preparation for the next day’s barbeque, Janet had simply smiled and asked her to come by early in the morning, as she had a date that evening with Paul, a local pharmacist that she’d had to cancel on when Cassandra became ill.
Sam could only continue to smile and promise to be there bright and early the next morning. Then she’d returned to her lab and buried herself in her work as she tried to bury her heart once more. And when that didn’t work, she’d hidden herself away in her quarters, spent the night staring into the darkness and crying.
By morning, when she finally left the base and drove over to Janet’s house, she’d come to the conclusion that it was impossible to protect her heart again. There was no way to un-ring that bell, as her mother used to say. She was in love with Janet and would have to accept the fact that her friend didn’t feel the same way about her.
She sat in her car outside Janet’s house for long moments, gathering her courage to face her friend and quelling her rebellious heart. A knock on the passenger-side window startled her and she looked up into Janet’s concerned brown eyes.
“Sam, hon are you all right? You’ve been out here for fifteen minutes.”
Sam gave a small smile and got out of the car. “Sorry Janet,” she said gathering up her bag and keys. “I just realised the time and was debating if 0630 wasn’t a bit too early to wake you up. Then I started thinking about other things and the time just sort of got away from me.”
Janet laughed, chocolate brown eyes sparkling merrily. “No worries,” she said as they headed inside. “I’ve been up since 0500.” At Sam’s concerned look as they stepped inside, the humour died in her eyes and she continued with a helpless shrug, “I haven’t been sleeping well since I brought Cassie home—I keep waking up compulsively every couple of hours to check on her.”
Impulsively, Sam drew her into a hug. Janet tensed for a moment before relaxing into the unexpected contact. “That’s only natural,” Sam said quietly, hoping it sounded as reassuring as she meant it to. “You’ve been through a lot recently.”
Janet’s eyes were suspiciously moist as she stepped out of Sam’s embrace. “I feel like the mother of a newborn,” she confessed softly.
Sam had to fight the urge to hug her again. “In a way, you are,” she said instead. At Janet’s sceptical look, she continued, “Cassie’s entered a new stage in her life—everything is new and unknown. On top of that, you don’t know exactly what Nirrti has done, and you’re scared that it may not last. Like I said, it’s only natural.”
After a moment, Janet smiled gratefully and nodded her acceptance. “Thanks,” she said. “Anyway, I got an early start on the cleaning, so that’s done. How about helping me make the cake?”
“Sure,” Sam chirped. “But you know I’m all thumbs when it comes to cooking.”
“You can stir then,” Janet laughed and led her into the kitchen. “Come on, you can’t be that inept—like my mother always says, cooking is just food science and you’re good at science.”
Sam burst out laughing. “According to Jack, I’m good at blowing things up!” she said. “About the only things I know how to cook are scrambled eggs, quiche—if I can get a ready-made crust, French toast and chocolate chip cookies,” she said wistfully. “Mom and I never got to cakes or the rest of it, and afterwards, I didn’t want to—learned to order pizza.”
Janet was stricken; her face fell as she remembered that Sam’s mother died when she was little older than Cassie and that was why she had never learned to cook. “Oh Sam, I’m sorry—”
“It’s all right Jan,” Sam said quickly with a grin. “Just saying you’ll need to excuse the ineptitude.”
Janet nodded, allowing the subject to drop. She squeezed Sam’s shoulder gently and handed her an apron.
They worked in comfortable camaraderie through the morning, Sam doing all the small tasks that didn’t require any cooking skill. By the time Janet went to drag Cassie out of bed by her toes at about 1100, they’d managed to get almost everything prepared; the cake was out of the oven cooling and awaiting decoration, steaks were coated in fragrant dry rub, while chicken and ribs were left in the fridge to marinate. The fridge also held potato salad, pasta salad, guacamole dip and homemade salsa.
As Sam cut up vegetables for a green salad, she marvelled at the ease with which Janet multi-tasked. Now that the meats and other fixings were mostly out of the way, she moved easily between pancakes for Cassie’s breakfast, chocolate chip cookies she was dropping onto large cookie sheets and occasionally stirring custard for a berry trifle she was making.
Cassie wandered into the kitchen, dressed, but still half-asleep. “Sam!” she said in surprise and ran over to hug her. Sam quickly put down the knife and gathered the girl into a tight hug. “When did you get here?”
“A few hours ago,” Sam replied, kissing her on the cheek. “Happy birthday again, kiddo.”
“Thanks Sam,” the girl replied happily as she accepted a plate of pancakes from Janet.
“Are you still going to the mall with Kara and Josie?” Janet asked.
Cassie nodded as she proceeded to wolf down her breakfast. “Just for a couple of hours,” she replied around a mouthful. “We’re meeting some friends, but I promise we’ll be back by three.”
“See that you are,” Janet said. “Colonel O’Neill and the rest will start arriving around 1530 hours.”
“Is Dominic going to be there?” Sam teased and the girl blushed as the older women chuckled softly.
“No,” Cassie replied huffily. “Besides, he has to work. His uncle’s deli doesn’t close until four today. Then he’ll be coming to the barbeque—is that okay, Mom?”
Janet looked up from whisking the custard, surprised. “Of course it’s okay, sweetheart,” she replied just as the doorbell rang.
Cassie jumped up from the table, threw her plate and fork into the sink and buzzed by them dropping a kiss first on Janet’s cheek, then Sam’s with a quick “Bye Mom” to each woman, before fairly flying out of the kitchen yelling, “I’ll be back on time!”
Sam stood in the middle of the kitchen, stunned and trembling as the front door slammed shut. Janet moved around her, assembling the ingredients for her trifle. It took a few moments for her to register Sam’s immobility.
“Sam?” she asked in concern. “Oh Sam honey, why are you crying?” Helpless to reply, Sam could only cry harder. Janet drew her into her arms, guided her out to the living room couch and held her as she cried herself out.
When she finally came back to her senses, she found herself reclining half against Janet, her head cradled against her shoulder with an unparalleled view of a pair of very enticing breasts. Embarrassed about her breakdown—and not to mention the libidinous path her thoughts had suddenly taken—she looked away, and murmuring an apology, tried to move out of Janet’s embrace.
Her friend held her close with surprising strength until Sam met her chocolate brown gaze.
“What’s going on, Sam?” Janet asked. “You haven’t been yourself all week and you’ve been avoiding me. And despite what you said, despite how much you tried to cover it up, you were upset when you arrived here this morning.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“Please Sam, just talk to me.”
Sam nodded; she knew that she wasn’t going to get out of not talking and there was no way she could lie—not to Janet.
“Just now, when Cassie left,” Sam said taking a shuddering breath. “When she kissed us goodbye, I know she meant to say, “Bye Mom, bye Sam,” but—but what she actually said was, “Bye Mom … bye Mom …” Sam sniffled again and dried her eyes with trembling fingers. “She called me Mom and—and all I could think was I was so happy—”
“Of course you were,” Janet murmured stroking her hair. “But those weren’t happy tears, Sam—at least not in the end. So why would Cassie calling you Mom upset you—make you so unhappy?”
This time when she pulled away, Janet let her go. “Because I know that I don’t deserve it,” she replied. She heard Janet’s sharp intake of breath behind her, but was too much of a coward to face her. “I want so much to be more than just Sam to her. But I know I can never be and it hurts—it hurts so much inside, sometimes I can’t breathe.”
“You think that’s all this was?” Janet said in a low, hard voice. “That Cassandra made some sort of mistake—that this was nothing more than a random slip of the tongue? God, how bloody dense can you be, Sam?”
Sam turned involuntarily; shocked as if slapped when she saw Janet’s face. The other woman was standing above her looking down at her with absolute fury.
“She already loves you like a mother! And she’s been waiting for over five years for you to be one to her!” Janet yelled. “For you to move past the superficiality of Saturday chess games and ice cream sundaes and be a mother to her!” Sam felt her chest constrict with hope at Janet’s angry words. “You want to be a bigger part of her life—to be more than just Sam to her? Well, the only thing holding you back is you!”
Suddenly, it all came crashing down on Sam … all her assumptions and her fears, and all she could do was sob softly at the truth in Janet’s words.
“Why Sam?” Janet whispered gently now as she sat down next to Sam again. “Why is it that every time we get close, you pull back from us—both physically and emotionally? Always keeping that certain distance—sometimes for weeks or even months on end. Do you have any idea how much that hurts?”
“I’m sorry, Janet,” Sam said desperately. “I never meant to—I never meant to hurt her or you. I-I was afraid,” she confessed softly.
“Of what? What are you so afraid of?”
“I didn’t want to-to intrude in your lives,” she whispered. “I didn’t want to be an intruder.”
“What?” The word tore from Janet’s throat like an explosion. “Why in the world would you even think that, Sam?”
“For most of my life, I’ve always felt like an intruder,” Sam replied bitterly staring down at her hands. “Especially in my father and brother’s lives—”
“So I learned not to be,” Sam continued. “I learned to keep my distance … to not intrude where I didn’t belong. Then you and Cassie came along, and I wanted nothing so badly as I wanted to belong … here … with you. Both of you.”
“Oh Sam,” Janet husked, snaking her arms about Sam’s waist from behind and resting her head against her shoulder; Sam had never felt safer or more at home than she did at that moment. “You do—you do belong here with us; you always have. We’ve just been waiting for you to see that … to want to be with us enough to not want to pull away … to not leave when we get close. Both Cassie and I do want you here with us.”
Sam turned in her arms. Their faces were just millimetres apart. For long moments, they did nothing but stare at each other and breathe each other’s air.
“I love you,” Sam said, heart beating wildly.
There were tears now in Janet’s eyes. “I love you too,” she replied hoarsely. A soft cry escaped her as Sam’s lips descended lightly on hers.
Janet’s full lips were soft and sweet. She tasted of heaven; she tasted of home.
Chapter 7: Part 7
One of the bad things about pregnancy is the way my bladder’s shrunk, Gwen thought sleepily, belting her robe loosely as she left her bathroom and made her way to the main kitchen. Of course, there were some good things … like the cravings—especially the middle-of-the-night ice cream cravings.
She chuckled as she pulled together all the ingredients for her preferred three o’clock in the morning treat and dumped them in a large bowl. She had been spared some of the weirder things she’d heard that pregnant women craved, but her ice crap sundae would give most pregnancy-induced concoctions some competition.
Gwen savoured her treat with a soft moan as she headed for her favourite perch out on the back porch swing just off the main lounge. She’d briefly considered going back to her room, but she knew that it wouldn’t help—she’d just watch late-night infomercials and be tired and miserable in the morning. At least outside she could stargaze until she felt like sleeping again.
A soft sob startled her as she came down the short passageway between the dining room and the lounge. She froze, before stepping back into the shadows. As her eyes acclimated to the dim, moonlit room, she could make out a figure curled into the armchair in the corner sobbing in broken desolation.
Sam Carter’s loose blonde hair shone like a halo of white light around her pale, distraught face as she brought a tissue up to dry her eyes and blow her nose. The smiling face, glimpsed through the crack in the doorway only a few hours ago, was now contorted in complete misery.
“Are you all right?”
The words slipped out of Gwen’s mouth before she consciously made the decision to speak. The woman’s head snapped up, blue eyes wide and startled as she scanned the room. As she scrambled to her feet, Gwen stepped out of the shadows to reassure her.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to intrude,” she said gently. The woman stared at her in shock, seemingly at a loss for words as she stood there twisting her tissue. Her breath came in a series of juddering gasps as she tried visibly to bring herself under control. It made her look years younger and incredibly vulnerable.
“I’m Gwen Nemo.”
“Sam,” the other woman husked in a low whisper. “Samantha Carter.”
“I was just heading out to the porch,” she continued, needing to explain herself to this distraught woman.
“Forgive me, I didn’t mean to wake you,” the blonde said in a hoarse voice as she looked away and dabbed her eyes again.
Gwen chuckled. “Wake me?” she said. “I seriously doubt you could wake me even if you were in here singing karaoke at the top of your lungs. My rooms are way at the back.” Gwen sat down in the armchair across from her and after a moment of indecision, Sam Carter resumed her seat also. “Since I got pregnant, my bladder seems to have shrunk to the size of a thimble,” she said conversationally. “So every couple of hours—like bloody clockwork—I have to get up and haul ass to the bathroom, or else explode.”
The other woman laughed involuntarily. “I can see where that would be a problem,” she said still chuckling as she dabbed her eyes again.
Gwen grinned at her. “Well, at least it’s better than retaining every drop of liquid I drink and bloating all to hell,” she said. “My figure has already gone pear-shaped; I really don’t need to blow up to the size of a freaking moon as well.”
“Pear-shaped?” Sam asked—the confusion plain in her blue eyes. “I think you look beautiful; you carry your pregnancy very well.”
Gwen felt her cheeks suddenly flame at the simple, earnest compliment. She looked down at her bowl of ice cream and stirred it absently. “Um … thanks,” she said. “Anyway, since I was up, I decided to indulge my late night craving for a big bowl of ice crap sundae, as Diana calls it.”
“Ice crap sundae? Why does she call it that?”
“Because it’s ice cream with a whole lot of crap in it!” she laughed.
“Like what?” Sam asked smiling. Her eyes sparkled, crinkling at the corners with laugh lines, but although Gwen judged her to be within a year or two of her own age—early to mid forties—Samantha Carter’s face was otherwise smooth and relatively unlined.
Seeing the genuine interest on her face knocked Gwen for a bit of a loop though, but she shrugged and listed the ingredients. “Well, there’s chocolate chips, peanut butter, graham crackers, cashews, pretzels, granola and real whipped cream all mixed up in real vanilla ice cream—none of that frozen dessert shit! It’s my little bit of heaven in a dish!”
“Heaven or hell from the indigestion,” Sam said giggling merrily.
“Want to try some,” Gwen asked playfully, holding a spoonful out to her.
As Sam nodded and leaned forward in her seat, closing her mouth around the proffered spoon, a distant voice in Gwen’s head wondered why she was sitting here offering the melting ice cream concoction to this strange woman as if they were bosom friends.
And a more disturbing question ran through Gwen’s mind as she watched the woman’s lips leave the spoon. Why did Samantha Carter accept?
“Holy Hannah! That’s actually pretty good,” she said, eyes wide with surprise.
A disconcerting wave of … something … twisted in the back of Gwen’s mind, snaking down to constrict her throat, before moving into her gut and settling there—tying it all in knots. She set the bowl of ice cream down on the low coffee table.
As the sudden tension-filled silence seemed to vibrate in the air between them, Sam said hesitantly, “Gwen, are you all right? Is something the matter?”
“Who are you?” Gwen’s voice came harsh and angry for no reason she could fathom, yet she could feel the anger feeding on that overwhelming feeling of uncertainty Samantha Carter had evoked like a burning itch beneath her skin. “You come here and you buy up thousands of dollars worth of my paintings in one evening, whereas before I’d be lucky to make a couple hundred in three months of showing my work! So who the hell are you?”
An indefinable look flashed through the other woman’s blue eyes before they settled on Gwen again with undeniable affection.
“You know who I am,” she replied gently. “I’m Samantha Carter. But perhaps the better question to ask yourself is who are you, Gwen Nemo? Who are you that you would produce such a body of work—paintings that speak to me so strongly, I’ve thought nothing of spending thousands of dollars to purchase them? Who are you, Guinevere Nemo?” she repeated as she reached into the pocket of her sweat pants and drew out two white cards.
She held them out to Gwen, who looked at them as if they were live vipers, before flicking her gaze to the Lost Little Girl # 1 painting. The young girl, obviously a teenager in this scene, gazed at a chess piece—the black knight—as it tumbled in the air above her outstretched hand. Gwen could never decide if the girl was tossing the figurine in the air or poised to catch it. But for all of the apparent whimsy of the painting at first glance, the expression on the girl’s face was one of intense concentration and a great deal of pain. The small, white identification card she had painstakingly typed was gone from its plastic holder beneath the painting. After a moment, the woman pressed the two cards into Gwen’s unresisting fingers.
“I’ll head back to my room now,” Samantha Carter said quietly. She leaned in and gently wiped away Gwen’s tears with her thumbs; Gwen hadn’t even been aware she was crying. “I’m sorry I’ve upset you—why don’t you go back to bed? I promise we’ll speak again tomorrow and I’ll answer whatever questions you have for me then.”
As if on auto-pilot, Gwen obeyed without question, rising from her seat and retracing her steps back to her room.
It was only when she crawled into bed she realised that she’d left her bowl of ice cream on the coffee table, and that she still had the two cards clutched tightly in her hand. Opening her hand, she studied the titles of the paintings; Lost Little Girl # 1 and Egyptian God Head. Two very different pictures. Placing the cards on the nightstand, she turned off the bedside lamp, rolled onto her back and went to sleep.
Chapter 8: Part 8
“You might have gotten rid of Gwen with that answer, but you won’t get rid of me that easily.”
Diana’s harsh voice startled Sam, but she couldn’t say she was really surprised to hear it.
“No, I don’t suppose I will,” she replied tiredly, dabbing her eyes again as Diana slipped into the lounge through the glass doors that led from the lobby.
Sam studied the older woman as Diana sat in Gwen’s vacated seat. Her grey eyes were hard and cold, her mouth was set in a thin line, and around her face, even her curly grey hair—still mussed from sleep—gave the impression of crackling anger.
“Gwen asked who you were,” she said in a low, hard voice. “But perhaps a better question—the question she’s afraid to ask—would be: why did you come here, Samantha Carter?”
Sam nodded, again unsurprised at the old woman’s question. Gazing at Gwen’s fierce protector, there was nothing to do but speak the truth.
“I came here looking for answers,” she replied, drawing the photo from her pocket and handing it to Diana. “Answers for myself—the truth about what happened to the closest ... the closest friend I’ve ever had—and answers for a very special young woman, who was only seventeen when her mother died.”
Diana looked down at the photograph, knowing instinctively that this was why Samantha Carter had been sobbing so brokenly. She’d been awakened—as she was most nights—by Gwen’s nocturnal ramblings, and had quietly followed her friend, as was her habit.
A younger Gwen smiled impishly at the camera, one arm about the waist of beautiful, strawberry-blonde teenager in a forest-green prom dress, caught forever in a moment of utter happiness as she grinned down at her tiny mother.
It was the face of the young girl that had haunted Gwen from the first moment she’d awakened in that small room in Diana’s women’s shelter—a shaky sketch drawn on the back of an intake form that had been left on the nightstand beside the bed.
Jane Doe # 47 had been printed at the top of the form by Diana herself.
“Who is she?” Diana asked hoarsely.
“Her name is Janet,” Sam replied quietly. “Dr. Janet Fraiser—” Diana looked up sharply, surprised to hear that Gwen might have been a doctor. Sam smiled sadly and continued. “She was a specialist in exotic diseases, and like me, she was also an officer in the US Air Force, reaching the rank of Major before she died.”
“You’re in the US Air Force?” Diana’s temper immediately went into overdrive. “I thought you said that you were an astrophysicist,” she said angrily.
“I am,” the young woman replied. “I do have a degree in astrophysics—had intended to be an astronaut, once upon a time. But I’m also a full Colonel in the Air Force. I haven’t lied to you Diana; I came to Vancouver in my capacity as a doctor of astrophysics to attend an international conference in theoretical physics. My colleague, Dr. Rodney McKay—who also happens to be Jeannie’s brother—came with me. Yesterday was the last day of the conference, so we were headed to Jeannie’s house in the suburbs, but decided to stop off at a local mall for lunch, and that’s where Rodney and Jeannie witnessed a fight between a woman named Gwen and a man, Miro—apparently he’d been late for an appointment.”
“He always is,” Diana murmured. “What about you? Where were you?”
“In a food court line waiting for my order,” Sam replied with a shrug. “I didn’t believe Rodney at first, but Jeannie had also seen her—could identify her from the photograph. And it was her voice that had first attracted Rodney’s attention—”
“Her Texas twang,” Diana said smiling ruefully. “It only comes out when she’s very angry.”
Sam returned her smile. “Janet spent years losing her accent,” she said wistfully. “She felt that if people already had such a hard time taking her seriously as a doctor because of her small stature, it would be nearly impossible with her sounding like a perky Texas cheerleader as well.”
“So how did you get from a couple fighting in a mall to Port Hallett?” Diana couldn’t help the suspicion or belligerence she knew was evident in her voice.
“Well, Jeannie had seen them come down in the elevator, and since Gwen was pregnant, figured she’d come from the doctor’s office on the second floor,” Sam explained. “And although the receptionist did identify her in the picture, she wouldn’t give us any information, so Jeannie left her contact information to give to Gwen when she came in next—we sort of let the girl think that she was a friend of Jeannie’s who’d lost contact. Then Rodney remembered that Miro had been wearing a Canadian Coast Guard uniform—from there it wasn’t hard to trace him, especially with a name like Miro. A few minutes on the internet and we knew he was Miro Da Silva, a captain in the Coast Guard and that he was stationed in Port Hallett. It stood to reason that if Gwen was his wife or girlfriend, she would live in or around Port Hallett as well.”
Diana sat back in her chair, suddenly exhausted. “So what now?” she asked in quiet resignation. Whatever was happening … whoever Gwen turned out to be—and it looked like she was indeed this Janet Fraiser—Samantha Carter wouldn’t let it go.
“Now, we go to bed and tomorrow, I explain all this to her,” Sam replied. “Then it’s up to her. Based on everything, I’ve seen here and now that I’ve met her, I’m convinced that she is Janet Fraiser—in which case, if she wants, she can have her identity reactivated as both an American citizen and an Air Force officer. The Air Force will probably want definite proof before going through the paperwork necessary reactivate and—given her obvious memory loss—discharge her, so that would probably include fingerprints, genetic testing—”
“Genetic testing?” she said in disbelief.
Samantha Carter nodded. “Janet worked on a number of classified projects for both the Air Force and the CDC—the Centres for Disease Control, so her genetic profile is on file,” she replied.
“If they had her genetics on file, then how could they have declared her dead?” Diana demanded. “Don’t you need proof—or was it one of those seven year things?”
The young woman was quiet for a long moment. “No,” she said hoarsely. “But things happen on the battlefield … It’s ironic, but Janet was the first to really get the concept of triage into my head—save those you can. We were fighting a retreat from a base that had been in neutral territory when we set it up … evacuating our scientists, civilian villagers and the wounded. She went to help a downed airman; she was caught in m-machine gun fire and went down. Then our CO went down leaving me in charge—we … I-I made the decision—”
“To save those you could,” Diana finished for her, regretting the pain in those devastated blue eyes.
“When we went back for the b-bodies,” she whispered staring down again at her trembling hands. “Whoever buried them had done what they usually do in warm climates—quicklime in a mass grave … positive identification was imp-p-possible. Her dog tags were in the grave with our other soldiers’ bodies and one of the women matched many of her physical measurements ... it was impossible to be one hundred percent certain. I never imagined … I can’t imagine how she got here.”
“I see.” Diana scrubbed her face tiredly. She knew that there was a lot the other woman wasn’t telling her—probably couldn’t tell her ... like what the American military was really doing in whatever war torn country it was—but at the heart of her story was the truth.
Dr. Janet Fraiser … good God, Mike is going to freak!
“We found her—my husband Mike and I found her ... this tiny, little thing, unconscious on a remote beach one day when we were hiking up north. She’d either fallen or been pushed off the bluffs. Since she was covered in bruises and completely naked, I rather think it was the latter. Mike and I ran the St. Clare Women’s Shelter and Clinic for ten years; we knew the score when you find a woman like that—a couple of hours later and she would have been dead from exposure,” she said as Sam sobbed quietly.
“Then of course, she becomes a bloody statistic, doesn’t she—if she was ever found at all. Mike had his friends in the police department make the inquiries across this country and yours—discretely, just in case someone was still looking for her, they couldn’t trace her back. Since she had no memories, the police and social services allowed us to enter her into the system under St. Clare’s intake—Jane Doe # 47. Mike named her Guinevere—he always wanted a daughter with that name, but all I managed to give him were three boys,” she said laughing softly as she reached out and squeezed Sam’s hand tightly. “Anyway, our eldest son runs St. Clare’s now.”
They held hands silently for a few minutes before Diana continued, “And her lost little girl—her daughter?”
“Yes,” Sam replied. “Her name is Cassandra.”
“Gwen’s drawn her obsessively ever since she woke up,” she whispered hoarsely. “Even when it was just a sketch with a few shaky lines, it was always recognizably her. She has five years worth of sketchbooks devoted to her. Cassandra. It’s good to have a name to put to the face at long last.”
Chapter 9: Part 9
“Hi Gwen,” Miro said hopping out of the passenger side of the old beater of a truck. He wasn’t a tall man, only about five foot ten—but he was well-built and solid. If only physique was an indicator of character.
Don’t go there, Gwen, she chastised herself firmly. She’d thought she’d known what she was getting into with her no-strings-attached relationship with the sexy Coast Guard captain. She’d gotten a handsome, roguish man-child whose middle name was Irresponsible. And while the sex was always good, she knew that was all it was to Miro—sex.
Now she had to work at remaining friends with the man who had fathered her child, and at least he seemed to be trying.
He isn’t a bad man, she thought sadly, just not a man I can count on when it really matters.
“Hey Miro,” she replied quietly as she pulled her sweater around her bulk in the cool morning breeze blowing off the ocean. “Hey Carly,” she called smiling to the pretty blonde who owned the dilapidated truck. “Thanks for coming.”
“No problem,” Miro said smiling as he came up onto the porch. “Andrew will be along in half an hour and can only stay until about noon. Meanwhile, if you’ll point us in the direction of the storage room, Carly and I can get started.”
Gwen nodded and held up the key. “It’s the small storage hut out back—the one with the metal door,” she told him. “Many of the pieces are fairly large and pretty heavy, so be careful and bring them out one at a time.”
“Got ya,” he replied. “We’ll be careful. So, how are you feeling?”
“Good,” she replied and a short, awkward silence fell between them. “Good,” she repeated softly. “I’ll come with you and tag the ones I want you to bring out,” she said, fishing out a pen and a pad of Post-it notes from her sweater’s pocket as she led him back down the stairs and around to the back of the main building.
“Gillian says that the one woman really liked your stuff,” Carly said conversationally. “Met her when I got coffee this morning—she was real excited about the rich American lady.”
Gwen felt a sudden flutter of shyness. “Yeah,” she replied, and then added before she could stop herself. “She’s already interested in buying another two since she got here last night.”
“Wow!” Miro’s sudden shout made her jump and he stared at her in surprise. Something else slowly ghosted through his hazel eyes; a speculative, almost mercenary look. So she wasn’t surprised when he asked, “How much are we talking about here, Gwen?”
No, she wasn’t surprised, but it didn’t make the disappointment any less acute.
She shrugged and fitted the key to the lock. “A couple hundred,” she said opening the door. “Hopefully, she’ll like some of what’s in here.”
Miro stopped on the threshold of the storage room as he turned on the light and stared in disbelief at the sheer volume of neatly stacked canvases that filled the room.
“Jesus Christ, Gwen! What the hell?” he asked as she pushed past him.
“Wow!” Carly said; blue eyes wide with amazement. “Oh wow!”
Gwen ignored them and reached for her catalogue binders. “Don’t worry, I have them all organised and I know where everything is.”
Miro’s mind churned as he followed his friend and shipmate, Andrew, through the back door from the wrap-around porch into the inn’s lounge area. He’d known that Gwen was a painter, but this was really too much.
When did she find time to do all this?
Suddenly, it occurred to him that he really didn’t know the mother of his child very well and, moreover, he’d never taken the time or made an effort to get to know her beyond the fantastic sex. Added to the fact that his most immediate reaction to the news of her pregnancy was the feeling of being trapped—a feeling he’d taken no pains to hide from her—which had led him to act like a complete ass, he was surprised that she still wanted anything to do with him.
As he propped the large surreal painting—of a swirling, silver tornado set horizontally across a night sky full of stars—up against a chair, his eyes darted to the tall blonde woman who was moving gingerly, reverently from one painting to the next.
What startled him almost as much as Gwen’s prolific output was the absolute hunger in Samantha Carter’s eyes as she reached for the painting Andrew was carrying.
“Gwen said to tell you that it’s the last of the Lost Girl series,” Andrew said. “It’s number seven.”
“Thank you,” the woman replied, holding the picture out in front of her. There were tears in her voice as she said those two words. Her friend Jeannie Miller stood off to the side, staring at her with a strange look on her face.
In the Rockwell-like scene, the young girl—whom Miro had seen in a number of other paintings—was about fourteen or fifteen, standing on the dock of an old mountain chalet and smiling impishly over her shoulder as she held onto a slender fishing rod. Beside her stood a tall, golden-haired person—in a black t-shirt and khaki cargo pants—who could only be seen from the back, struggling to reel a large fish in. A grey-haired man, set a little off to the side, provided comic relief with his boggled expression and spilled beer as he vaulted from his lounge chair, gaping open-mouthed at the fish.
Samantha Carter threw her head back and laughed delightedly at the scene, rocking back on her heels and causing Miro to have a strange, discombobulated moment as she affected the same pose as the fisherman in the picture ... or was that fisher-woman? Miro’s eyes narrowed as he studied her; from the back, except for the longer blonde hair, she looked uncannily like the figure in the picture.
The moment was broken as Carly came in carrying two small—for Gwen, that is—framed charcoal nudes. In the first, the long, lean figure of a woman lay sprawled across a bed, long legs tangled in the rumpled sheets. In the second, the model sat with her hands braced behind her, head thrown back, breasts proudly jutting; one of the figure’s legs was drawn up, while the other dangled off the edge of her seat. Although the face was obscured, he knew that Gwen had caught the woman in a moment of ecstasy and it was one of the most frankly erotic, yet quietly intimate images Miro had ever seen.
If I’d known Gwen was so talented, he mused thoughtfully.
You would have what? his conscience demanded. Not been such an irresponsible, insensitive ass! Tried harder to mooch off her? Got her to pay your mountain of debts?
Samantha Carter’s voice slashed across his disturbing thoughts. “Carly, could you tell Gwen that’s enough for now?” she said quietly as she put down the painting and took the two nudes from her. “I’d like to speak to her now if she’s up to it.”
“Sure thing,” Carly replied with a smile as she turned and trotted back outside as Diana’s husband, Mike, came in carrying a painting showing a bunch of rather ugly Gandalf-like Druids standing in a circle, each of their gnarled wooden staffs connected by a glowing light.
“I’ve got to get going, Miro,” Andrew said apologetically. “I need to pick up Amy and the kids from the supermarket.”
He smiled at the younger man. “Thanks for coming, Andrew,” he said. “I really appreciate it.”
Andrew nodded and left quickly, calling his goodbyes to Carly and Gwen as he started up his minivan and headed out.
As Carly held the door open for Gwen to pass, Miro studied his ex-girlfriend. To anyone who didn’t know her well, Gwen walked in with the same confident poker face she usually showed the world; the one that told anyone looking to judge her—or her lifestyle—that she was her own woman ... proprieties and social hypocrisies be damned! But as he really looked at her for perhaps the first time in their relationship, he could see the slight tremble in her hands and the curious uncertainty in her dark chocolate-brown eyes.
Samantha Carter stepped eagerly forward to meet Gwen; the smile on her face made Miro catch his breath and he stared open-mouthed at the blonde woman. That Carter was a beautiful woman there could be no doubt, but the radiant smile she bestowed on Gwen, as she clasped both of the brunette’s hands in her own, was a kind of beauty Miro had no words for.
Something palpable passed between the two women as they stood holding hands for a long moment.
“Thank you,” Carter said hoarsely. A sheen of tears sparkled in her blue eyes.
Gwen seemed at a loss for a beat before nodding courteously, expertly hiding her puzzlement.
Carter let go of her hands and stepped back. “May we speak privately, Gwen?” she asked, flicking her gaze at Miro and Carly.
Gwen considered the woman in silence for another moment, and then turned to meet Miro’s gaze. Her dark eyes were hard … shrewd. “Miro, Carly, thanks—I can take it from here.”
Carly flashed an easy smile. “No problem, Gwen,” she said brightly.
Miro opened his mouth to speak, but Gwen cut him off before he could start. “It’s all right, Miro,” she said firmly. “I promise I’ll call you later.”
Looking at Carter and her friend, and then at Gwen with Diana and Mike standing behind her, he realised that he and Carly were intruders.
“Right,” he said, unable to help the clipped, angry tone. “Later.”
As he walked past, Gwen caught his hand; he stopped and looked down into her caramel-brown eyes. “We will speak later, Miro, I promise,” she assured him, gently squeezing his hand. He nodded, allowing the anger to flow out of him.
“So what do you think?” Carly asked, breaking the silence as they climbed into her truck and she started the engine.
“What do I think about what?”
“Miro!” she complained in exasperation.
“What?” he shot back irritably; Carly was a good friend and crewmate, but sometimes she could be a real nosey pain in the ass. “I think that Gwen’s her own woman and she’s gonna do what she wants to do and then maybe tell me when she’s made her decision. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.”
“And you’re okay with that?” Carly asked in concern.
“No,” he admitted, looking out the window as the truck pulled away from the inn and headed down the driveway to the main road. “But I’m the one who screwed up. I’m the one who proved he couldn’t be trusted. I knew that she was frantically trying to call me that night and all I could think about was that she was already acting like she owned me—that because of this kid, I was going to be tied to her beck and call for the rest of my life. So, like a selfish idiot—after swearing up and down that I’d be there for her—I ignored her calls, I turned off my phone, and I went and got myself good and drunk … and she nearly lost the baby. So whether or not I’m okay with it, I’m going to have to accept it—hope I don’t screw-up again and get my ass kicked out of her and the baby’s lives completely.”
Chapter 10: Part 10
Gwen sat down apprehensively as they gathered in the dining room to discuss Samantha Carter’s purchases. Diana had brought in the tea service and busied herself pouring tea and passing the cups around.
Gwen’s stomach felt like it was twisted in knots and she gripped her chair’s armrests; something inside her whispered ‘it’s time’. Time for what, she didn’t know, but instinctively she knew that everything would change for her within the next few minutes.
The blonde woman met her gaze again and gave her a singularly helpless smile. “I had everything worked out in my head—what I was going to say, but now it’s all gone,” she said softly. “So I’m just going to talk.”
At this, she glanced at Diana, who nodded before meeting Gwen’s puzzled gaze and handing her a cup of tea.
“What’s going on?” Gwen asked, anxiety clawing at her gut.
Carter took a deep breath. “Let’s start with your paintings,” she said. “I’ll need to make a call to arrange the financing for everything I want to purchase, but first up, I’ll be purchasing all the Lost Girl series, and a few others, right now on my personal credit line.”
Gwen stared at her, eyes widening in shock. “Why?” she croaked—that series was among the highest priced of her paintings, because for some reason they meant the most to her. “But that’s another five thousand dollars in addition to what you bought last night from Peterman!”
The other woman smiled; her eyes were gentle and understanding. “Actually, with the others I’ve added to that tally, it’s closer to eight thousand,” she replied. “And once I receive the okay that the financing is in place, then the total will be approximately twenty thousand.”
She tore a sheet of paper from a legal pad and slid it across the table to Gwen. Afraid to touch it and risk revealing her shaking hands, Gwen stared blankly at the neat columns of painting titles and prices, trying to take it all in before meeting the woman’s gaze again.
“As for why the Lost Girl series is so important to me,” Samantha Carter continued hoarsely, tears sparkling in her blue eyes. “It’s to be a gift for a very special young woman,” she said placing a photo on top of the list. “A gift to let her know that even when her mother remembers nothing else, she will always remember her, remember her love for her daughter.”
Gwen stared at the photograph, chest tightening in painful constriction as she looked into her own younger face—and the face of the young woman who’d haunted her dreams for so many years.
A low, pained moan escaped her throat before she had the chance to censor it. It was only then that she consciously realised tears were streaking down her face.
“I – I don’t un-under-st-stand,” she stuttered out in complete bewilderment, crying now as she stared at the picture. “Who—who is she? Who am I?”
“Her name is Cassandra,” the other woman replied gently. “Cassandra Fraiser—and you are Dr. Janet Fraiser, an MD and major in the United States Air Force.” She placed a number of other pictures down in front of Gwen.
In one photograph, she stood in the middle of a hospital ward, looking very official in a white lab coat, studying a clipboard in her hand and had a stethoscope draped around her neck. In a second picture, she and Samantha Carter stood very stiff in formal Air Force uniforms in what was obviously a posed picture, while in another, she knelt in the front row of a group of soldiers all wearing some sort of camouflage; her hand rested on a large gun. Kneeling on her left—also carrying a similar weapon—was again Samantha Carter, while to her right was a pleasant-faced man wearing glasses; despite his outfit, his abstracted gaze made him look the epitome of the absent-minded professor cliché.
“I’m a soldier?” she said incredulously as she met the woman’s gaze.
The blonde smiled and shook her head. “A soldier, yes, but a doctor first,” she replied. “You were the CMO of our base and the Air Force Academy Hospital in Colorado Springs; your specialty was in virology and exotic diseases.”
Gwen looked down at the pictures again. “You always wanted to become a doctor … you wanted to help people,” Carter continued. “The Air Force would pay for your training and you could meet the height requirements without standing on your tip-toes,” she teased gently with a soft chuckle.
Gwen’s head snapped up at the quiet intimacy in Carter’s voice, while Mike guffawed loudly at the quip.
“We’re friends?” she asked hoarsely.
“Yes,” Carter replied quietly now. She shrugged eloquently. “It’s better now, but when we started out years ago, there weren’t that many female officers on the base—at first we got together out of sheer self-preservation against testosterone poisoning. Over time, we became best friends. You forced me to get out of my lab every once in a while and to think about things beyond my next experiment, or trek to one of our off-base sites to take measurements; I taught you to defrag your computer, change the oil in your car and ride on the back of a motorcycle.”
Grasping for some semblance of normalcy among the extraordinary revelations, Gwen threw out another question.
“You work in a lab?”
She shook her head. “Yes, I’m an astrophysicist and computer scientist.”
“The Air Force paid your way through school also?”
Samantha Carter grinned. “Yes it did,” she replied. “But I was a USAF brat to begin with—my father was a general—so I grew up around planes and moving from base to base. I think my father expected my brother, Mark, to follow in his footsteps; instead, he got me. My childhood dreams of flying very fast planes eventually graduated to flying a space shuttle, and I was always a bit of a math-geek, so astrophysics was a natural fit for me. But by time the opportunity for astronaut training came around, I was already heavily invested in a long-term project exploring the theoretical side of things.”
“What about the rest of my family?” Gwen asked, her mind churning. She looked down at her swollen belly—her heart racing in a panic. “Am I married?”
“Relax,” Carter said gently. “You’re divorced—you married very young and he wasn’t terribly supportive of your career or your dreams. Your family was generally supportive of the divorce. Your mom’s still alive, but your dad died a few years ago and you have two younger brothers.”
“What about Cassandra? Does she live with my ex-husband now?”
“No—actually, as far as I know, they’ve never met,” the blonde replied smiling. “Cassie’s not his daughter. You adopted her after she was left orphaned twelve years ago.”
“Why the hell can’t I remember anything but her in a jumble of horrible nightmares?” Gwen croaked. “If we’re such good friends, why don’t I remember you?”
“I don’t know,” the other woman replied hoarsely; her smile was gone as abruptly as a light bulb turned off, leaving her face white … bloodless. “I don’t know,” she repeated. “All I know is that Cassandra was the most important thing in the world to you, Janet—”
“Don’t call me that!” Gwen snapped in a panic, anger and fear rising in her like a flood and finding its outlet in viciousness. It was all too overwhelming—too much to take in all at once, and she lent her anger her voice. “Don’t you dare call me by that goddamned name! What gives you the right to come here and turn my life upside-down? Who gave you the fucking right?”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered looking down at the table; the misery and pain in her voice nearly broke Gwen’s heart.
“You’re sorry?” she shrieked against the urge to feel sympathy for the blonde woman … the urge to fold her in her arms and comfort her.
“Gwen!” Diana gasped as Samantha Carter rose from the table.
“No, Gwen is right, Diana,” Carter said looking up; her eyes brimmed with unshed tears. “I’m sorry, Gwen. In my zeal to reunite you with Cassie, I didn’t think enough about how this would affect you. It was selfish—no, I was selfish,” she whispered hoarsely, looking down at her trembling hands. “I was the one to tell Cassandra that you’d died—” Gwen felt her heart constrict in unwilling sympathy as she gazed at that pale, beautiful face. “I wanted to be the one to bring you home to her. I’m sorry.” She pulled her VISA from her pants pocket and handed it to Diana. “I’ll go now and arrange the financing for the other paintings on my list.”
“You still want my paintings?” Gwen couldn’t help her surprise as she stared at the other woman in shock.
“Of course,” she replied holding Gwen’s gaze. “That was never in question. Those paintings mean a lot to me, and will mean a lot to Cassandra and to each of our friends they are intended for. Even if you never remember us, Gwen, it means a great deal to us to know that Janet Fraiser is still alive and to have even this small part of her.”
With that she turned and hurried from the room. Gwen sat down heavily and stared at the pictures arrayed before her. The tears came unbidden as she traced the contours of her daughter’s face.
“She lied, you know.” Gwen’s gaze snapped to the source of that voice; she had forgotten Jeannie Miller’s presence. The young woman pushed off from the wall and walked over to the table. “Sam Carter is a lot of things—a decorated soldier, a top-gun pilot, a brilliant scientist—and a selfish person is definitely not one of them. When she reported her suspicions that you were Janet Fraiser, but had lost your memories, your friends were understandably excited about bringing you home. Sam was the one to voice concerns that you had made a life here—that since you were pregnant, then perhaps you’d put down roots here and that maybe it was unfair to spring this on you.”
Jeannie Miller picked up the picture with Cassandra and studied it for a long moment before continuing, “Then General O’Neill said something I’ll never forget—he said that “memories or no memories, I can’t conceive of a Janet Fraiser who wouldn’t want to know Cassandra”. I’d say that all those Lost Girl pictures—and no doubt all the ones you haven’t shown to us—argue that he’s right. I know that I can’t conceive of a circumstance in which I wouldn’t want to know my own daughter, Madison.”
She placed the picture back down in front of Gwen. “From what I understand, Cassie is an extraordinary girl, but it’s been a long, hard road for her—first losing her birth family and then losing her second mother. At first, she tried to follow in Janet’s footsteps; went into pre-med because she thought that’s what her mother would have wanted. Sam was the one to convince her to follow her own passions. If you want to know a little more about the young woman Janet Fraiser raised, check out the videos on the website for the 2009 International Young People’s Vocal Competition in New York City this past summer.”
“Vocal Competition?” Gwen husked in bewilderment.
Jeannie Miller smiled. “Yes,” she said turning to leave the room. “She’s finalist number three.”
Chapter 11: Part 11
Gwen stepped out onto the porch, stomach tight with trepidation. Samantha Carter sat curled up in a chair, arms wrapped around her knees as she gazed out over the water in the deepening twilight. A palpable air of sadness surrounded the woman who sat still as a statue, seemingly oblivious to the world and to Gwen’s presence.
Diana had certainly given Gwen a piece of her mind regarding Gwen’s treatment of the blonde Air Force Colonel.
“All you’ve ever wanted to know since you woke up was who you were and who that young woman was!” her friend had blazed. “I remember when your greatest fear was that someone threw you away, and that no one gave a damn about you! And here this woman comes to tell you that yes, there are people out there who love you—that you have a daughter out there who loves you—and this is how you treat her?”
“So you’ve known who she was all along?” Gwen snarled, forcing back the guilt that threatened to overwhelm her now. Photos and paper flew as she shoved violently away from the table, overturning her chair as she rose.
“Of course not!” Diana retorted with equal fury. “But after she sent you off to bed last night, I confronted her with all those questions you were afraid to ask—all the questions you were afraid to ask this morning—and she told me the truth. They thought you were dead,” Diana said her voice unbearably gentle now as Gwen sobbed brokenly. Mike gathered Gwen up into his arms and sat holding her in his lap as she cried helplessly.
“They thought Janet Fraiser had died on a battlefield half a world away,” Diana continued. “They were evacuating civilians and scientists from one of their field posts that got caught in the middle of a battle when a war zone shifted. Dr. Janet Fraiser went to help an injured soldier and was shot. Before they could get anyone out to determine her status, Samantha’s commanding officer went down, leaving her in charge. In the chaos, she did the only thing she could, Gwen; she saved the living,” Diana said firmly, catching Gwen’s chin and forcing her gaze up; her grey eyes were bright with compassion and unshed tears. “When they could finally go back, they found only the atrocity of a mass grave treated with chemicals that made positive identification impossible. Janet Fraiser’s dog-tags were in the grave with the bodies of their soldiers and the villagers, in close proximity to the remains of a small woman of her approximate age and build.”
“Oh Gwen,” Mike gravelled voice was muffled by her hair. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to know that you left one of your own behind. And then to have to go tell your friend’s family—people as close to you as your own family—that your partner ... your team mate died because you could do nothing to stop it.”
Gwen twisted in his lap and threw her arms around him. Mike had had to live with the guilt of losing not one but two partners in the line of duty. After the second, he’d requested desk duty—spent his last years as a cop doing administrative work because he couldn’t face taking another bright young man or woman out there on the streets again.
“And then to find out that she left her best friend behind—alive and probably wounded—to face God only knows what horrors that probably left you without memories,” Diana said smoothing Gwen’s hair away from her tearstained face. “And to learn the circumstances under which you were found again—do you really think that Samantha Carter is doing this only for Cassandra ... that she’s only selfishly doing this for herself? She’s doing this for you, Gwen; she’s doing this for you and for Janet Fraiser. Because if she’s half the soldier ... half the person I think she is, then nothing will expiate that horrible guilt she feels about leaving you behind.”
Gwen nodded, suddenly exhausted beyond comprehension as she clung to Mike ... clung to the feeling of safety she found with his arms around her and Diana’s soothing hand gently stroking her hair and back.
“Will you come with me?” she asked softly when she’d at last found her voice again. “If I go, will you come with me?”
“Try and stop us,” Mike replied kissing her forehead. “You just try and stop us.”
After the nap Diana had insisted she take, Gwen had awakened in the mid-afternoon with the burning desire to see the videos Jeannie Miller had spoken about.
She’d watched the first, speechless in awe as the self-possessed young woman had taken to the stage and given voice to utter joy and beauty as she sang the competition piece. And all Gwen could do was watch, completely entranced with tears rolling down her face.
An opera singer, she’d thought numbly, my daughter is an opera singer!
And then she’d screamed excitedly for Diana and Mike to come, and watched the video again with them as Cassandra Fraiser placed first in the Audience Choice category and second in the overall competition. But it was the young woman’s performance in the Winners’ Gala that had simply taken Gwen’s breath away.
Cassandra had performed the Queen of the Night’s aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute to wild applause from the audience, while Gwen had simply sat and stared, before playing it over and over.
Gwen liked a lot of different music; and having no memory, she’d devoured everything hoping to jog old memories and build new ones. This aria, with its flute-like trills and vocal pyrotechnics, for some reason, had become one of her favourite pieces of classical music.
“It was your favourite aria from before,” Samantha Carter said as if reading Gwen’s mind and startling her out of her immobility. Gwen closed the door and sat down on the porch swing. “I heard you playing Cassie’s competition pieces—her voice is unmistakeable,” she explained, meeting Gwen’s gaze with a small smile.
“It’s wonderful,” Gwen replied hoarsely. “I just wish the videos were better.”
The other woman chuckled softly. “That can be arranged,” she said and grinned at Gwen’s confusion. “Cassie may have decided not to go career Air Force, but on the base, she’s still our girl. Everyone is enormously proud of her. General O’Neill spearheaded the operation—I think that this is the first time a state music competition has had its competitors recorded on state of the art, top secret military recording equipment.”
Gwen couldn’t help but join in Carter’s laughter as she imagined the military precision required to carry out said operation.
“When I get home, I’ll have Sergeant Harriman send you a DVD of the entire competition from start to finish.”
Gwen nodded, but before she could say anything, the other woman continued quietly, “I’ll have to tell Cassie, Gwen. There’s no way I can keep this a secret from her. I just can’t.” Holding Gwen’s gaze, she took a deep breath and said hesitantly, “She’ll want to see you—do you think you can find it in your heart to see her? Even just for a few minutes—”
“I’ll go with you,” Gwen blurted out. “That is if it’s still okay—”
“Oh yes! God yes,” Carter said eyes shining wetly. “Whenever ... whatever amount of contact you feel comfortable with. Cassie is actually in Colorado right now. One of the prizes she won at the competition was a study grant to the Aspen Music School—a chance to work with renowned vocal teachers and coaches. She just managed to fit in this last session. It ended this week and she plans to take the next week off to spend at home in Colorado Springs, before heading back to New York. She’s working towards her degree at the Manhattan School of Music.”
Gwen nodded again. After a moment she asked hesitantly, “Was she always so musical?”
Carter laughed again. “Not really,” she replied. “Although she could always carry a tune and she has come to appreciate a wide range of music—she was a typical girl ... fell madly in love with one execrable boy band and bubblegum pop-star after another.” Gwen giggled at this as Carter continued, “You threatened to throttle her once when you came home to find her and about half a dozen of her friends bopping around the living room like a bunch of bunnies on speed to one particularly egregious pop song.
“She really fell into opera by accident,” she said softly, wistfully. “She was doing pre-med at the University of Nevada—it was just after ...”
Carter’s voice trailed off uncertainly and she dropped her gaze to her hands. “It was just after my death,” Gwen prompted and the other woman nodded, swallowing noticeably.
“She was really struggling ...” She took a deep breath and continued. “Anyway, her roommate, for some unfathomable reason, turned out to be a drama major—a pretty, bubbly little thing. She dragged Cassie off to audition for a student production—the musical Hair of all things. They both got bit parts, but there was a rather well known voice coach from New York visiting a former student in the music department and she happened to hear Cassie audition with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz.”
“You’re kidding me!” Gwen said in disbelief.
“Nope, it was her favourite movie when she was a kid,” Carter said laughing. “She liked to torture you with it, playing it over and over.”
Gwen giggled again at the woman’s curious misinterpretation. “No, I meant that there just happened to be a famous voice coach at the audition? It sounds like one of those old Hollywood clichés!”
Samantha Carter blushed and then gave a shy, embarrassed grin. “Sorry, I can be very obtuse sometimes,” she said. “Yes, it was very much like an old Hollywood cliché. Cassie even commented on it herself. But Madame Petrovna is like that. She likes to teach young people, to mould their voices and start them on their careers in what she considers the right way, and she works very well with Cassandra. She never takes more that three students at a time—more often it’s only two, so that she has the time to spend on very intense and individual training. Right now, she’s only coaching Cassie and another girl—Cass is her junior student, while Marianne is the senior. Madame is also the reason Cassie hasn’t done any competitions until now, although she’s been training with her for four years, and Marianne hasn’t participated in more than a handful of competitions.
“She is also quite rich—a former Russian Diva who married two extremely wealthy husbands—so while Cassandra can afford to pay, both Marianne’s and her lessons are subsidized by a scholarship foundation Madame set up so that her students wouldn’t have to worry about money during their training and concentrate on their studies. She also has patrons of the arts, former students who’ve made it big, who donate to it—in fact, quite a few people from our base, including me, also contribute to it. Apparently, it makes all the difference because her students are much sought after—the young man who graduated just before she took on Cassie is now singing with the Paris Opera and made his debut to rave reviews at the Sydney Opera.”
“What about the rest of Janet’s—I guess they’re my family,” Gwen said quietly. “Do they support her? You said that my dad died?”
Carter nodded, face sober once more. “Yes, your dad died three years ago,” she replied. “He was a lot older than your mom—almost fifteen years. Your mom still lives on your family’s farm in a small town just outside of Abilene, Texas. Cassie goes to see her once or twice a year. Your youngest brother, Tom, is an honest to goodness, rodeo-riding cowboy,” she said grinning at Gwen’s flabbergasted expression. “And your other brother, James, is a veterinarian. After your dad died, he and his family moved back to the farm with to be with your mom.”
After a long moment of silence, Gwen asked, “Are you going to tell them about me as well?”
“I would like to,” the other woman replied. “I think that they have a right to know you’re still alive.”
Gwen was silent for another long moment; in her gut she knew that Samantha Carter was right, but everything was moving so fast, she felt even more vulnerable and adrift than she’d felt when she first woke up with no memories.
“Why don’t we see how it goes with meeting Cassandra first,” she suggested hoarsely. “This is all so ...”
“Overwhelming?” Carter’s voice was unbearably soft and understanding.
“Yes.” Gwen gazed out over the water as an old boat sailed past. “A while ago, I accepted that I’d never know anything about the woman I used to be beyond those disjointed images from my dreams and nightmares—that all I would ever be was just me, here and now. So I learned to live in the here and now; and my past was just that ... the past, a dead-end room—the door; locked and nailed shut. And now you tell me that I was a doctor, and that I have a daughter who is an opera singer, a mother who loves me, a cowboy for a brother, another who’s a vet, an idiot ex-husband ... a father who died thinking I was dead ...” She chewed her bottom lip, a bad habit she’d worked hard to break, but still came out in times of stress. “I just want to take it one step at a time.”
“Fair enough,” Samantha Carter said. “Fair enough.”
Chapter 12: Part 12
The quiet drone of the plane’s engines lulled Gwen into a doze, despite the butterflies that had taken up residence in her belly next to her baby. She shifted her bulk, trying to get comfortable. Just then, the baby moved and she gasped aloud—it felt like he was doing leaps and pirouettes on her bladder ... or maybe the butterflies were teaching him how to fly!
“Something wrong?” Miro asked with quiet concern from the window seat beside her.
She took a deep, steadying breath and ran her hand over her belly. “Hey, quiet down in there, fella,” she whispered to it before lifting her gaze to Miro’s. “He’s an active little bugger today.”
He smiled, a look of utter enchantment. His hand lifted and hovered over her—she saw the silent request in his eyes. Gwen guided his hand to her belly so that he could feel the flutters of his child’s movements.
“I think he’s doing water ballet,” she said laughing. “Or perhaps he’s learning to fly.”
“Well his mother is in the US Air Force,” Miro quipped. “Who knows, he might grow up to be a Top Gun pilot! Isn’t that so Little Guy?”
Gwen felt her heart flutter as he continued to whisper affectionate nonsense to her belly. This, she realised; this is what I’ve been looking for since I told him I was pregnant. She’d been looking for some sign that he would want this baby and love this baby for its own sake.
He was certainly full of surprises lately, the least of which was his request to accompany her to Colorado.
“Your name isn’t Gwen.”
Miro’s voice was flat, shocked as he gazed at her, seemingly unable to comprehend her words. They stood in the yard behind the little place he was staying at. He swiped a hand covered in fine sawdust across his sweaty face, leaving it streaky and oddly clownish.
“That’s right,” she replied, her sense of the ridiculous getting a kick out of his shock. “It’s Janet, apparently—Dr. Janet Fraiser.”
It still felt weird trying to think of herself as a “Janet”—even weirder than the doctor part.
“Apart from the disjointed dreams and nightmares I’ve spent all my time trying to paint, my memories begin from the moment I woke up in Diana & Mike’s shelter,” she continued. “Mike was the one who named me Guinevere.”
“Oh,” he said. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, he ventured, “So this Sam Carter woman knows you?”
“Yeah,” she replied. “Well, she knew Janet Fraiser. Me ... well, I don’t even know who I am anymore. But she tells me I have a daughter,” she said holding the photograph out to him.
“A daughter?” he croaked faintly.
“Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she isn’t yours,” Gwen quipped, chuckling at his obvious consternation.
“Ha, ha,” he retorted sarcastically as he studied the picture. “Pretty kid.”
“Yeah,” she replied taking the photograph back. “Apparently she’s studying to be an opera singer.”
His eyes widened again in shock. “Jesus,” he said.
“So you’re going down to meet her.”
Gwen nodded. “Sam says that she’ll be in Colorado Springs for the next week.”
“Want me to come with you?”
Gwen started in surprise; that was the last thing she’d expected him to ask. “That’s not necessary,” she replied. “Diana and Mike are going to be with me; Sam has arranged for a private plane to pick us up.”
“I didn’t ask if it was necessary, Gwen,” he said quietly as he wiped his hands on an old rag, “just if you’d like me to come along. I can’t spend more than a week, but I’ve got a couple of days coming to me—I just have to call Jim McGregor and let him know.”
She knew it was more complicated than that—what with his First Mate, Laura Nelson, making a play for his command and he having been on probation once already for a decision he made as captain of the Cape Pacific; a decision that ultimately saved lives, but landed him with a disciplinary black mark on his record.
But Gwen made the mistake of looking into his hazel eyes; the sincerity in them nearly took her breath away. It was almost enough to make her forgive and forget what a complete ass he could be sometimes.
“I’d like that,” she whispered, despite her common sense screaming that he was just going to screw up again, and this time it would be in front of strangers.
He nodded. “I’ll call him today.”
As another awkward silence settled between them, Gwen turned her gaze to the bulk underneath the tarp he’d hastily thrown over his latest project when she’d entered the yard.
“So what you got under there?” she asked, fingers twitching the edge of the tarp back. Before he could say anything, the covering slid off the object on his worktable to puddle at her feet.
Gwen stared in shock at the exquisite wooden cradle sanded to a satin-smooth finish.
“Meant to finish it a lot earlier than this,” he said nervously. “I was thinking of painting it white for you.”
“No!” she croaked around the lump in her throat and her gathering tears. “It’s perfect as it is—the natural grain of the wood is gorgeous. Maybe just a little oil?” she suggested, placing her hand on his as she gazed up into his eyes.
“Sure,” he replied softly.
Gwen giggled now, running her fingers through his thick, tawny hair as he tickled her belly.
She’d spent that afternoon with him just talking as he finished the cradle and lovingly oiled it down with a soft cloth. They’d never really done that before; just sat down and talked about everything and nothing, but she was glad they did. And although she was still wary of him and his motives, she recognised that it would be so easy to fall for him all over again.
Looking up, she saw Diana and Mike in the seats across the aisle from hers. They were dozing; Diana’s head resting on Mike’s shoulder, Mike’s cheek nestled against her unruly nimbus of grey, curly hair.
That’s what I want, Gwen thought gazing at them fondly. All I want is someone who’ll be there even if it’s only for me to lay my head on their shoulder. Maybe Miro can be that someone if I give him a chance.
Feeling eyes on her, she shifted her gaze to the other occupant of the plane’s cabin. Samantha Carter sat alone in the seat in front of Diana, a curiously blank look on her face. Something indefinable ghosted through the woman’s blue eyes, but it was gone so quickly that Gwen almost doubted that she saw anything.
Once they’d gotten everything settled for the transport of the paintings and Miro’s travel arrangements, she and the Air Force colonel hadn’t spoken much in the last couple of days. In fact, Sam had been quite distant, but Gwen had put it down to Jeannie Miller’s departure home to her husband and daughter. Now, she wasn’t so sure.
As the blonde woman looked back down at the computer on her lap, Gwen felt distinctly uncomfortable. She returned her attention to Miro, who—busy little beaver that he was—had insinuated his hand beneath her shirt, and was not-so-subtly trailing his fingers down past her bellybutton to the elastic waistband of her skirt.
“Behave,” she admonished, amused at his antics.
He leaned in and whispered in her ear as one finger teased along her waistband. “I don’t suppose you’re up to joining the Mile-High Club with me?”
She giggled again and swatted him playfully. “Behave,” she said more firmly and this time he sighed and removed his hand from beneath her clothing.
“Maybe later if you’re a good boy ...” She trailed off suggestively and was rewarded by an undeniable flare of desire in his eyes.
Chapter 13: Part 13
Daniel Jackson smiled at Jack O’Neill as the small plane taxied to a stop on the tarmac not to far from where their line of SUVs were parked. Though Jack might look blasé, there was a palpable air of anticipation about him as the door opened.
Sam was the first one out of the plane, hurrying down the steps almost before they finished unfolding. As she double-timed it over to them, Daniel was surprised to see her face was closed, almost cold. Instinctively he knew that this reunion had been anything but smooth, and had really taken its toll on her.
“Hi guys,” she said shortly, none of her characteristic warmth in evidence.
“Hey Sam,” Daniel said; Jack frowned but said nothing.
“Everything ready?” she asked.
“Walter and Siler are set to take the bulk of the paintings back to the base,” Jack replied, gesturing to the third SUV parked beside his. Siler tipped his head in silent acknowledgement of Sam’s scrutiny.
“All right,” she said. “Just remember what I told you—”
“Don’t call her Janet—we know,” Jack said flatly as two figures exited the plane.
It was the elderly couple who were like parents to Janet—Gwen; it was going to be a lot harder than he thought to keep that promise, Daniel realised as another couple appeared at the top of the plane’s stairs. The man, Miro Da Silva, started down first, and then turned to offer his hand to help the pregnant woman descend.
Daniel had never seen Janet Fraiser look more radiant than she did at that moment. All at once, his heart caught in his throat as his last image of her alive replayed in his mind with crystal clarity. That last horrible memory of her when the Jaffa staff blast caught her in the chest—her eyes wide with comprehension for one fleeting moment as she fell for what seemed like an eternity. By the time her body hit the ground, Daniel had known that no life remained behind those vacant eyes.
Daniel closed his eyes against memories of explosions ... burnt flesh ... machine gun fire ... and cries of “I need a medic! Fraiser’s hit! I need a medic! Sierra Gulf Niner; Dr. Fraiser’s been hit … position … aah! I need a medic!”
When he opened them again, the little group was moving across the tarmac as Siler and Harriman helped the baggage handlers with the luggage and the paintings.
Out the corner of his eye, he saw Sam stiffen even more as Miro placed a proprietary hand on Janet—Gwen’s back. She glanced at him and smiled before returning her attention to Gwen and her friends.
Daniel could see the brittleness in Sam’s smile as she introduced them to the group and his heart went out to her. Sam had never really spoken to him about her relationship with Janet; she was too private for that, and he was too keenly aware of the consequences for both women if the military ever officially caught wind of it. But he’d been aware for a long time—probably before either woman realised it—of the attraction between his beautiful, brainy teammate and the base’s lovely chief medical officer. Then after Cassie’s illness—no matter how they tried to hide it—it had been a privilege to watch both women literally blossom as their relationship deepened.
“Gwen Nemo, Miro Da Silva, Diana and Mike Sullivan, I’d like you to meet a couple of friends, General Jack O’Neill and Dr. Daniel Jackson,” Sam said quietly.
“How do you do?” the woman wearing Janet’s face said, shaking hands with each of them without a shred of recognition in her eyes.
“Fine,” Jack replied with an easy smile, “Just fine now. You?”
Gwen chuckled, eyes sparkling and for one moment, Daniel saw their old Janet standing there.
“I’m good, General O’Neill,” she said with an impish grin. “Well, except for the whole no memory thing, the baby using my bladder for a trampoline, the swollen feet and the need to pee something fierce—”
“Gwen!” the older woman said disapprovingly.
Jack laughed and Daniel couldn’t help joining him as the others laughed as well.
“Lady, memory or no memory, you’ve still got it,” Jack said chuckling. “Carter, why don’t you show the ladies to the rest room, and we’ll just help Siler and Walter load-up the vehicles.”
“Yes sir,” Sam replied and gestured for the two women to follow her.
As the women disappeared into the building, Jack focused a hard gaze on Miro Da Silva. The Canadian man folded his arms across his chest and returned Jack’s stare calmly.
“Jack?” Daniel said in concern after a few minutes.
Jack and the other man continued to stare at each other for another long moment, before Jack said, “Just so we understand each other, Captain Da Silva.”
“Completely, General O’Neill.”
“Good,” Jack said. “Good.”
“Oh brother,” Daniel muttered under his breath and Mike Sullivan chuckled softly.
Chapter 14: Part 14
Sam pulled into the driveway of the house she’d come to regard as her home even before she and Janet had decided to become a couple—although, technically, it was Cassie’s house now. Officially, Sam was just a visitor—a friend with a key who came to water the house plants, tend the garden, clean the eaves-troughs, repair the sticky garage door, winterize the house and make sure the furnace was maintained and ready for Cassie when she returned for Christmas and Spring breaks—the odd week or two in the summer.
And if sometimes, when her life in general became too much to bear, she crawled between the sheets of the master bed—her face buried in one of Janet’s shirts that smelled of her perfume—and cried herself to sleep, she rationalized it away by the fact that she rarely did so more than once every three or four months and she was always gone within a few hours.
Then there had been that year she’d spent as the leader of Atlantis, an ancient city floating in an ocean, on a planet in the Pegasus Galaxy. Most of the house plants and much of the garden died that year, although Daniel and Jack had promised to look after them.
Sam sighed as she turned the car engine off, got out and went around to the trunk. The faint strains of Pink’s Bad Influence floating on the late afternoon breeze told her that Cassie was at home. Daniel had checked on her plans earlier, and while the young woman had assured him that she’d planned to just stay home and veg out, Sam had been half-afraid that she would have changed her mind and gone out with friends.
As she removed the first four paintings from the car’s trunk, she remembered Janet’s—or rather Gwen’s surprisingly anxious face as she’d left her at the Academy Hospital where the general health and DNA tests would be run.
“What if she doesn’t want to see me?”
Looking down into those worried brown eyes, Sam had to fight the urge to wrap her arms around that small form and hold her as close as possible.
“Don’t worry,” Sam replied smiling gently at her. “Cassie will want to see you, I promise.”
“But I don’t remember her,” Gwen whispered, looking suddenly forlorn.
“It won’t matter,” Sam replied. “She’ll want to see you. And you do remember her, Gwen; as those paintings prove, somewhere deep in your heart, you do remember her.”
Gwen took a deep breath and nodded as Sam continued, “Everything here should take about an hour and a half to two hours. Meanwhile, I’ll head over to Cassie’s and explain it to her and after your tests, Jack and Daniel will drive you guys over there. Okay?”
“Okay,” Gwen replied hoarsely. Clearing her throat, she smiled and said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Sam said and nodded at Dr. Carolyn Lam, the civilian doctor who had succeeded Janet as CMO of the Stargate Program and also happened to be General Landry’s daughter. “Go with Carolyn now; she’ll take good care of you.”
She had watched Gwen depart with Carolyn accompanied by her friends. As soon as the double doors closed behind them, she had turned to Jack and Daniel. “Once Carolyn is done, give me a call before heading over to Cassie’s place,” she instructed.
“Do you think Cassie won’t want to see her?” Daniel said worriedly.
“No, I’m certain she’ll want to see her,” Sam replied confidently. “But I want to make sure that she’s really ready. If she needs a little more time, I may ask you to take them to the hotel and get them settled before Cass meets them.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Jack said. “How are you holding up, Carter?”
Sam had to fight the urge to tense up at the question; she knew what he was asking, even if he could never officially ask her. They all knew what he was asking.
“Fine, sir,” she replied more curtly that she’d meant to. “I’d better head out.”
“One thing, Sam,” Daniel said quietly. “We received Gwen’s file from the Saint Claire Women’s Shelter, and I did some comparison of the dates—the Sullivans found Gwen on July 11, 2004; that was two days after Fifth released you.”
“You think that she was punished for somehow helping me at that time?” Sam whispered hoarsely, thinking of the Replicator named Fifth and malevolent copy of her he’d created; a copy who had come close to wiping out all organic life in the galaxy. “You think that she helped me to withstand his torture—figure out that he was manipulating my mind.”
“It’s certainly suggestive,” Daniel replied.
“But wouldn’t you have known about her from the second time you ascended?” Sam insisted as she tried to comprehend the enormity of what Janet might have given up to save her.
“Not necessarily,” he said thoughtfully. “Since I was basically in and out, I didn’t pick up any new knowledge while I was there—at least nothing I consciously remember beyond the events that led to Anubis and Oma’s showdown.”
However, while Daniel’s speculation on circumstances under which Janet could have been de-ascended to the mortal plane—away from among the ranks of those enlightened beings that inhabited the higher planes of existence—was certainly fascinating, Sam found that at the moment she really didn’t care about any explanation one way or another.
Janet was back, and there were consequences that came with her return. And paramount among those consequences was Cassie.
Sam quickly deposited the first set of paintings on the sofa in the living room before hurrying out to the car to fetch the rest. As she closed the door and deposited the second set carefully next to the others, she heard the music shut off.
“Cassie, I’m home,” she called out and was rewarded with an excited high-pitched squeal of happiness.
“Sam!” her daughter shouted; a moment later, it sounded like a herd of elephants was stampeding through the hallway and down the stairs. The girl flew off the stairs and into Sam’s arms with the force of a small missile.
Sam gasped a laugh as the collision of their bodies nearly knocked the wind out of her. Reflexively, she gathered the girl into a tight hug. Burying her face in Cassie’s sweet-smelling hair, she couldn’t help the tears that welled up and threatened to overflow.
“Hey Sam ...” Cassie croaked. “Need to breathe, here—preferably sometime soon.”
“Sorry,” Sam husked as she let her go and swiped at her eyes. “I’ve missed you so much, kiddo.”
Cassie chuckled softly, gazing at her with obvious affection. “I’ve missed you too,” she said. “And I was very disappointed that you weren’t here when I arrived,” she admonished playfully, eyes sparkling with good humour. “What happened? You were supposed to be back on Saturday at the latest.”
Sam took a deep breath and held her gaze for a long, silent moment.
“Hey, what is it?” Cassie asked obviously starting to worry now.
“You’d better sit down, sweetheart,” Sam said quietly, leading her over to the loveseat.
“What’s going on, Sam? You’re starting to scare me. What’s all that?” she asked gesturing to the brown paper-wrapped paintings.
“It’s nothing bad, Cass,” Sam replied hoarsely as she sat down next to her daughter. “In fact, for the most part, it’s something wonderful—miraculous even, but it’s something that’s going to take some getting used to. Cassie, Janet’s alive.”
The girl stared at her in confusion at her blunt statement, which rapidly gave way to anger. “What?” she shouted rising and stumbling away from Sam. “Is this some kind of joke, Sam? Because I have to tell you; it’s not a very funny one!”
“No joke, Cass,” Sam husked, holding the trembling young woman’s tearful gaze. “We believe that Janet managed to ascend, but unlike Daniel, we don’t think she had help from another ascended being. Therefore, she couldn’t convert her entire body to energy, just her mind—the essence of who she was—and so her body was left behind. Then later, we think that like Daniel, she broke the rules and interfered with events on the mortal plane, so as punishment the Others banished her ... de-ascended her back to corporeal, mortal status. She was found in a remote, wooded area of British Columbia, naked and without any memories. Daniel’s research indicates that it was two days after Fifth released me. He believes that it was Janet who helped me to withstand Fifth’s tortures—helped protect my mind and helped me to figure out that the environment he had me in was an illusion.”
“Oh God,” Cassandra whispered, tears pouring down her pale, white face as she began trembling violently. Sam rose and immediately gathered her into her arms, helping her to sit down again. Pulling the colourful afghan from the back of the loveseat, Sam wrapped it around the sobbing young woman and held her as she cried herself out.
Chapter 15: Part 15
“Where is she?” Cassie asked at last, eyes still wet, but desperate now.
“Don’t worry, she’s here in Colorado Springs,” Sam assured her gently. “I left her at the Academy Hospital with Daniel and Jack—she needed to be checked out before the Air Force could return her file to active status, take steps to reactivate her ID and everything else that’s not classified. The couple who found her, Diana and Mike Sullivan, also came with her. They used to run a women’s shelter in Vancouver—Diana’s a retired social worker and her husband, a retired police detective. When they found Janet, they assumed the worst—that someone had hurt her and left her out there to die, so they were very discrete in making inquiries about her. They didn’t want to alert her abuser in case he was still around. It’s probably why she never made it onto our radar—that and the fact that Janet’s files were classified both by the Air Force and the Government, and then removed from active databases.
“Diana and Mike are good people ... good friends; they’ve become like parents to her,” Sam continued. “They named her Gwen Nemo—well Mike named her Guinevere, but she generally goes by just Gwen, except on her paintings. She signs those as Guinevere.”
“Paintings?” Cassie asked in surprise drying her eyes on the edge of the afghan.
Sam nodded and rose, moving over to the couch to unwrap the first painting. “They’re what eventually led us to her,” she explained. “Apparently, like Daniel, her memories aren’t completely gone, just suppressed. Since she has no context to put them in, she’s being doing pictures of things from her dreams—pictures of things associated with the Stargate program. Now, I’ve bought as many of those as I could and they’ll be held by the SGC. But I understand from Diana that she’s also done a lot of drawings and paintings of one face that’s haunted her dreams since she woke up in their shelter.”
Sam turned the painting to show her daughter; fresh tears flowed down Cassandra’s cheeks as she stared at her younger self, clinging tightly to Sam in the dim bunker.
“She remembers you, Cassandra,” Sam said hoarsely as one by one, she removed the other paintings from their wrappings. “According to Diana, she has books upon books of sketches devoted entirely to you. This series of paintings is called her Lost Little Girl series.”
The young woman fell to her knees as she reached out with one tentative finger to touch a picture of herself at about eleven or twelve years of age, soaring through the air standing on a swing, pig-tails flying out behind her as she laughed with unadulterated glee.
“She doesn’t remember any details, but she remembers you,” Sam continued quietly. Removing the wrapping from the last picture—of Cassie manipulating the chess piece—she propped it up before sitting down again. “She remembers her love for you and she wants to meet you.”
Tears streaming down her face, Cassandra threw herself into Sam’s lap, wrapping her arms around the older woman’s waist and cried as stormily as on the day Sam had come to tell her that Janet had died. The girl’s tears soaked through Sam’s thin cotton shirt; Sam stroked Cassie’s hair, whispering soothing words to her.
Once Cassie tears ceased again, she pulled away, and sat down on the couch next to Sam. The young woman laid her head on her second mother’s shoulder as she studied the paintings. Sam wrapped her arm about Cassie’s shoulder and pressed a kiss to her forehead.
“Do you think you’re up to meeting her today?” Sam asked gently.
A few more tears slipped unbidden down Cassie’s cheeks as she nodded. “Yes,” she husked, “Oh Gods, yes!”
“All right, I’ll call Jack and ask him to bring them over here directly once her medical exam is done,” Sam replied, pressing another kiss to her daughter’s temple.
“What about you?” the young woman asked. “Did she recognise you from her paintings of you?”
Sam looked away as an apprehensive look leapt into Cassandra’s eyes.
“There are no paintings of me, Cass,” Sam whispered brokenly. “At least none that are recognisably me—the ones that might be me are all like the portrait of us in the bunker; my back is to the viewer or my face is obscured.”
“Oh Sam,” Cassie said sorrowfully, wrapping her arms around Sam from behind. “It must have been so difficult to tell her when she didn’t remember you. How did she take it?” Sam stiffened involuntarily and comprehension dawning, Cassie immediately moved out of their embrace, turning Sam to face her. Looking into her mother’s tear-filled blue eyes, she asked hoarsely. “Why haven’t you told her, Sam?”
“It’s not that simple, Cass,” Sam choked out in absolute misery.
“What’s not simple?” Cassandra shouted. “That’s what you always say! Gods! I can’t believe that you’d let bloody Air Force rules get in the way of something so important!”
“It’s got nothing to do with the rules!” Sam cried, rising and stumbling away from the chair. She seemed to sway for a moment, before grabbing onto the fireplace mantle. “Do you really think I give a damn about the Air Force regulations and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ right now?”
“Then why haven’t you told her?” Cassie shouted angrily.
“Because she’s pregnant!” Sam shouted back, tears streaming down her face.
“What?” The disbelief was evident on Cassie’s face as she took an involuntary step backwards.
“She’s around seven or eight months pregnant, Cassie,” Sam whispered hoarsely, wrapping her arms around herself as if to keep from flying apart. “Miro, the father, is a captain in the Canadian Coast Guard. He took time off from his job to come down here with her.”
“So?” Cassie said, a familiar obstinate look flaring in her eyes.
“So he’s a good man, Cass,” Sam said quietly, wiping away her tears with trembling fingers. “And Gwen loves him and they’re having a baby.”
“Oh Gods,” Cassie whispered.
“I’m an absolute stranger to her, Cassandra,” she continued raggedly. “A stranger who showed up in her quiet little town ... turned her entire life upside down. She’s frightened, and through all this uncertainty, Miro, Diana and Mike are the people who’ve been there for her ... the ones she holds onto. They’re her family and I can’t take that away from her—I won’t take that love or that sense of stability away from her.”
“But what about you? Us? We’re her family too!”
Sam’s breath hitched in her throat at Cassie’s plaintive cry. She gathered her daughter into her arms again and rocked her gently. “Right now she only remembers you, Cassie,” she husked. “But maybe with time, as more of her memories surface, perhaps ... perhaps ...”
The lump in Sam’s throat threatened to cut off her air supply and she found that she couldn’t go on.
Perhaps one day I can be part of Janet’s family again ... or at least a friend.
Chapter 16: Part 16
Gwen listened with half an ear as Diana asked Daniel Jackson how an archaeologist had come to work for the United States Air Force. Mike had opted to ride with General O’Neill, while the rest of them had chosen to go with Jackson—Diana in the front seat, and Miro in the back with Gwen.
It really was very pretty country, Gwen decided, and the mountains in the background gave it a rather otherworldly look.
The sight of a woman jogging down the side of the road reminded her that Carolyn Lam had given her a clean bill of health and complimented her on her exercise routine and healthy diet. According to the young woman, the baby was healthy and right on track in its development. She’d told Gwen to continue doing what she was doing, and not let herself become over-stressed.
Now there’s an understatement, Gwen thought ruefully. I’m about to meet a daughter I don’t remember except in the context of an incoherent jumble of often nightmare images. Nothing remotely stressful about that! Nope. No stress there. No siree Bob!
“... my grant had run out and the Air Force had need of a translator for some rather obscure dialects of a number of languages,” Jackson was saying quietly. “A friend put in a good word for me with the general running the program at the time.”
“I don’t understand why a translator would be needed for a Deep Space Telemetry program,” Miro said. “I thought that Colonel Carter said that you guys worked out of NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain.
“We do,” Jackson replied easily. “But the scientists’ fieldwork takes them all over the place—some of the best places to take deep space measurements are in remote locations, and often in places where English is not spoken.”
“Like that telescope they have up in the Andes Mountains,” Diana said.
“Exactly,” Jackson said.
“How many languages do you speak?” Gwen asked curiously, surprised that neither Diana nor Miro had thought to ask that question.
“Uh ... that’s a bit difficult to answer,” he said as they turned into a well-developed subdivision with tall, mature trees lining the street.
Gwen was taken aback. “Why? How can you not know how many languages you speak?” she demanded.
“It’s a bit complicated,” he replied. “If you mean distinct, living languages, then I speak twenty,” he said as they all stared at him completely flabbergasted.
Twenty languages! What the hell? Who the hell speaks twenty languages?
“Then there are some so-called dialects that in my humble opinion should be considered distinct languages, but the jury’s still out in the academic community on a lot if it,” Jackson continued blithely, obviously getting on a favourite hobby-horse. “Then I also speak a few dead languages, although speak is probably not the correct term for it, so let’s just say that I know them academically—I mean, if I were to meet an ancient Egyptian today, he’d probably find my accent and pronunciation completely atrocious and incomprehensible.”
He chuckled softly as he pulled into the driveway of a modest, warm-looking house. She recognised it immediately; the colours of the shutters and the trim were a different, but it was the same house in one of her paintings of Cassandra.
Samantha Carter was just closing the trunk of her SUV when they pulled in. After a curious moment of hesitation, she smiled.
She really is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, Gwen thought not for the first time, and not for the first time, a little sliver of pain shot through her heart. She didn’t know why, but every time she saw the other woman, it hurt—just a little, but it hurt—and at times, it made Gwen want to simultaneously run to her and run as far away as she could get from her. It was all so confusing and more than a little frightening. Gwen took a deep breath and tried to steady her nerves; it was probably nothing more than jitters over meeting her daughter.
Miro jumped out as soon as Jackson stopped, and hurried around to open her door and help her out. The apprehension that had been tightening in her gut loosened a little at his smile.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered, placing his hand on her back to steady her as she stepped down. “Your daughter wants to see you.”
Gwen nodded gratefully and took a deep breath, squaring her shoulders before moving towards Carter. Diana fell into step beside her and Miro, taking Gwen’s hand and giving it a gentle squeeze.
“Cassie is inside,” Carter said gently. “She’s a bit anxious—I think that she’s afraid that you won’t like her, Gwen.”
“Why in the world would she think that?” Gwen asked in surprise.
Carter chuckled. “Well, the last time you saw her, she was seventeen and rather a brat,” she explained.
“All seventeen-year-olds are brats,” Gwen replied with a grin. “It’s the very definition of being a teenager, if you ask me. And anyway, one good thing about having no memory—I don’t remember any bratty behaviour.”
The other woman snorted indelicately as she laughed, bringing one hand up to hide her sniggers. “Come on,” she said as she got her laughter under control again. “Let’s get you guys inside.”
As she crossed the threshold and moved from the small foyer to the living room, Gwen’s first impression was how light and airy it seemed. Strangely—or perhaps not so strangely—it felt comfortably like home.
This was my home for many years, she realised for the first time. I raised my daughter here.
The young strawberry blonde rose from among the paintings she’d been studying and gazed at Gwen with a tremulous smile. Her hair was set aglow with russet highlights in the afternoon sunlight streaming through the windows.
“Hi,” Gwen said hoarsely.
“Mom?” the young woman husked. Then there was a blur of movement and Gwen found her arms, like her heart, suddenly filled. And for the first time since she woke up in the shelter, she felt like she truly belonged … that she was truly alive … and happy … and finally could be at peace with herself.
“Oh Mom, I’ve missed you so much.”
Chapter 17: Part 17
Diana watched Gwen as she chatted with General O’Neill. Gwen was seated on the couch, with Cassandra sitting on the floor, resting her head against her mother’s thigh. All evening, it was like the young woman couldn’t bear to be out of contact with her mother even for a moment.
Diana had openly cried at the emotional reunion between mother and daughter as they clung to each other and wept their hearts out. Even the men—stoic creatures that they were—had watched the scene with suspiciously moist eyes and much clearing of their throats.
Curiously, the only one who had not cried was Samantha Carter; she had simply smiled happily as she watched Gwen and Cassandra discover each other again. Only when the girl had marvelled at her mother’s pregnant belly did a strange shadow of sorrow ghost over the blonde woman’s face. A moment later it was gone, almost making Diana doubt that she’d seen it. Before she’d had a chance to examine the younger woman more closely, Carter had ducked out, murmuring that she was going to pick up the pizzas that she and Cassie had ordered earlier.
Now, Gwen absently played with Cassie’s hair—as she listened to O’Neill’s story about the dog he’d given Cassandra—combing through the silky strands as if she’d always done so.
Diana suspected that Janet Fraiser had always done so.
“In America, every kid’s entitled to a dog,” Cassie intoned, mimicking the General’s drawl, before bursting into giggles as he whipped his baseball cap at her. She caught it and put it on her head backwards as Gwen looked on, amusement playing on her lips.
“I remember the look on your face, Mom, when I showed up with him—sort of the ‘we all know who’s going to end up looking after the damned little mutt’ exasperated Mom-face. Then you sort of stormed off into the kitchen muttering threats about sticking Jack with the biggest needles you could find. And I remember how Sam cracked up so much, you started threatening her with big needles,” she said chuckling. “Which of course just made her laugh even harder, because let’s face it, getting needles from you has never scared Sam!”
The front door opened and Samantha Carter returned with a brunette woman who bounced through calling in an accented voice, “Anybody ordered pizza!”
“Vala!” Cassie squealed, rising from the floor and hurrying to envelope the other woman in a tight hug.
Gwen’s hand hovered in mid-air and she frowned in consternation at the abrupt movement of her daughter from her side. After a moment of indecision, she moved her hand to the arm of the sofa and levered herself up.
Sam chuckled and skirted around Cassie and her friend, taking the two large pizzas she carried into the kitchen. A dark-haired man followed her, carrying another two pizza boxes, while a tall, heavily muscled black-skinned man, wearing a black knitted hat, had a case of beer in one hand and a case of soft drinks in the other.
“T!” Cassie squealed again; she launched herself at the man, who handed over the beer to Daniel and caught the young woman deftly with one hand.
“Hello, Cassandra,” his deep voice rumbled in reply.
“Oh T, Mom’s come home,” she cried happily against his broad shoulder.
The big man smiled as he held her gently. “Indeed—so I was told upon my return to the base,” he said, his gaze immediately going to Gwen who was standing near the sofa, watching the newcomers anxiously. His eyes softened and there was a startling tenderness there that belied his powerful physique. Releasing Cassandra, he handed off the soft drinks to the woman, Vala, and before returning his attention to Gwen.
Stepping forward and giving her a courtly bow—which startled Gwen, judging by her wide eyes and her sudden gasp—he said with curious formality, “I am told that you are now called Guinevere Nemo?”
“Yes,” Gwen replied quietly.
“Then I am very pleased to make your acquaintance once again, Guinevere Nemo,” he said holding his hand out to her. Gwen’s hand was lost in his large palm as he took it gently and covered it with his other hand. “I am very glad, indeed. My name is Teal’c.”
“Tee-yuuk?” she said, sounding out the unfamiliar name slowly.
His smile widened ever so slightly. “Teal’c,” he corrected gently as he stressed the “l” sound. “It is my tribal name, or you may use my English name—Murray.”
“Teal’c,” Gwen repeated carefully and then chuckled. “You don’t look like a Murray.”
Lifting one elegant eyebrow, he said, “Indeed,” and for some reason, Gwen broke into gales of laughter, much to Diana, Mike and Miro’s consternation, while Samantha, Cassandra and their friends all broke into wide smiles and sniggers—as if it was some great inside joke.
Studying their happy faces, Diana decided that it probably was.
The dark haired woman held her hand out to Gwen as the laughter died down. “We didn’t know each other before,” she said, “but I’m glad to make your acquaintance now, Gwen. I’m Vala Mal Doran. Cameron and I,” she continued, gesturing to the dark haired man who had helped Carter bring in the pizzas, “are rather recent additions to the team.”
Gwen shook hands with her and then with the young man who introduced himself as, “Colonel Cameron Mitchell at your service, ma’am.”
“Well now that all the awkwardness of our introductions is over with,” Vala said, dark eyes sparkling mischievously as she regarded Gwen, “I must say, that’s a rather impressive belly you’ve got there, Gwen—is that fine specimen over there the Baby-Daddy as they say here—”
“Vala!” Daniel Jackson exploded with no small amount of exasperation as everyone shook with laughter again and Miro turned beet-red.
“What?” Vala grinned, clearly unrepentant as Jackson dropped his face into his palm, groaning. “I’m just saying that he is a rather delicious looking morsel—ah, don’t be like that Daniel.” She slunk over to him and wrapped her arms about his waist from behind. “No need for jealousy—you know I only have eyes for you.” She winked impishly at Gwen, who shook even harder with laughter. “Anyways, he’s taken and I don’t fancy getting my eyes scratched out.”
As everyone succumbed to hilarity once more, Carter disappeared into the kitchen again. This time, Diana followed her in. Pausing for a moment on the threshold, she watched as the younger woman reach unerringly for a stack of plates in the cupboard next to the refrigerator. Crossing to the opposite side of the kitchen, she opened the top drawer next to the dishwasher and pulled out the utensils.
In shock, Diana realised that it was arranged similar to the way Gwen had set up her kitchen at the inn—a setup that irritated Diana to no end because there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for it. She also remembered how upset Gwen had become when she’d tried to change it. It seemed that Cassandra had preserved the setup of her mother’s kitchen—and that Carter certainly knew her way around it.
“Oh hi, Diana,” Sam said noticing her at last as she pulled a package of paper napkins from the lower right-hand cupboard near the stove.
“I always wondered why Gwen set up the inn’s kitchen so crazily, especially when she’s usually so fastidious and organised about everything else,” Diana said.
Sam snorted a laugh. “I know—and woe and betide anyone who suggests that it might be more logical to put the plates and bowls in the cupboard over the dishwasher next to the glasses and cups. Or that the baking supplies and spices might belong in the cupboard next to the pantry—or heaven forbid ... in the pantry itself! ”
Diana joined her laughter. “Heaven forbid,” she repeated. “Can I help with anything?”
“Thanks,” the younger woman replied. “Why don’t you start by taking the plates and napkins out to the dining room and I’ll get the salad out of the fridge?”
“Sound’s good,” Diana replied, and they fell into a comradely little routine to get everything on the table. “You certainly seem to know your way around this kitchen,” she observed as Sam got two ice trays out of the freezer and dumped the contents into an ice bucket.
Sam chuckled again. “I probably know it better than the one at my house—I probably know Daniel’s and the General’s kitchens better than I know my own,” she replied and Diana regarded her with faint puzzlement. “I can’t cook, Diana,” she explained with a grin, waving at the pizza box in Diana’s hand. “This is what I do best—order out, bring the beer, set the table and make salads ... whatever needs doing whenever we have these get-togethers ... well, anything that doesn’t involve me getting anywhere near a stove. When it comes to actual cooking, I depend on the kindness of my friends, and after they’ve fed me, I usually man the clean-up squad.”
“I see,” Diana said in bemusement at Sam’s attitude towards her ineptitude in the kitchen. “But I’m sure you’re not that bad.”
Sam giggled as she removed a pitcher of orange juice from the fridge. “As Teal’c puts it—‘it is an equitable exchange’; I get fed and in exchange, they don’t get their houses burnt down!”
Chapter 18: Part 18
Gwen shifted for the millionth time trying to get comfortable in the unfamiliar bed. Beside her, Miro snored on, oblivious to her wakefulness and discomfort. She studied him in the dim streetlight that filtered through the curtains. She recognised that he was part of the reason for her discomfort; she wasn’t used to sharing a bed. With Miro, as with all her previous lovers—that she could remember—it had been strictly sex ... no strings attached. It was about that skin-to-skin contact ... that mutual release ... and it was about comfort, even if only for a few hours.
But the intimacy implied in sharing a bed in this context was far too close to the intimacy of sharing her life with this man.
Well you are carrying his baby, Gwen, her conscience reminded her, and as if of its own volition, her hand absently stroked her belly. You share a child. Perhaps it’s time to seriously consider sharing more than your body or your bed. You want him to be someone who will be there for you and your baby, well perhaps it’s time for you to be someone who will be there for him.
Gwen stifled a groan; this was getting her nowhere, and it was certainly not going to get her any sleep. Carefully, she eased herself out of bed and out of the room.
As she settled herself on the living room couch and turned the television on, quickly turning down the volume as not to disturb the sleeping household, she reflected that she probably should have sent Miro to the hotel with Sam when the blonde woman had offered to drive him.
It had been a wonderful evening, full of stories and laughter, and in many ways Gwen hadn’t want it to end. But it was past midnight and everyone had had a long day.
General O’Neill had left first, followed by Daniel Jackson—who’d all but dragged Vala out to his car—and then Cameron Mitchell, who’d offered Teal’c a ride back to the base. To her surprise, Cassie had suggested that Diana and Mike stay in the guest bedroom. But perhaps it shouldn’t have been such a surprise considering the girl had taken to them so easily and naturally that Gwen had almost expected her to start calling Diana especially, Grandma.
However, none of that easy acceptance had been extended to Miro. In fact, Cassandra had been quite cool towards him—not exactly rude or anything Gwen could so easily categorise—but all their interactions so far had lacked the characteristic warmth the young woman had shown everyone else.
Sam was the last to leave after tidying the kitchen with Diana and loading the dishwasher. But it was the young woman’s long—and rather clinging—embrace of the older blonde that stirred something deep within Gwen. Standing on the porch, she watched them hug on the driveway beside Sam’s car, feeling unaccountably bitter at the woman’s easy rapport with her daughter.
My daughter, that thing deep within her growled possessively. She is my daughter.
“Hey sweetheart,” Sam said in a low, gentle voice that carried in the cool night air. “You’ll see me tomorrow, I promise,” she said smoothing Cassie’s hair back from her forehead and kissing her. Cassie mumbled something Gwen couldn’t catch, which made Sam chuckle softly and gather her up more tightly.
“You’re very brave,” she heard Sam whisper as she kissed Cassie’s forehead again. “You’re very brave.”
Cassandra nodded and let Sam go at last. Turning her attention back to the porch, Sam called, “Can I give you a ride to the hotel, Miro?”
Before he could reply, Gwen had surprised herself by going up on her toes and planting an affectionate peck on a startled Miro’s lips, saying, “That’s all right, Colonel Carter, Miro will be staying here with me.”
Surprise flared in Sam’s eyes, followed by something else, but an instant later it was gone, covered by a smoothly professional smile. “Then I’ll say good night, Gwen, Miro,” she said climbing into the car and starting it. “Cass, call me if you need anything.”
As the SUV pulled out of the driveway, the headlamps illuminated Cassandra, and just for a split second, Gwen thought she saw raw fury on her daughter’s face.
But when Cassie’s voice came again, there was no hint of anger in it. “I guess we should all hit the sack,” she said tiredly. “I just know that tomorrow will be a long day—there’s so much I want to show you,” she continued as she climbed the stairs. “But first, I want to get my paintings hung.”
“I can help with that if you like,” Miro said as they went inside; Gwen welcomed the warmth after standing for so long in the cool mountain air.
Cassie froze for a beat, and then smiled at Miro for the first time. “Thanks, that would be nice,” she said, locking the door and toeing off her shoes. “Tomorrow morning I’ll show you where Sam keeps our tools.”
“Where Sam keeps our tools?” Gwen echoed; puzzled as to why Sam should be the one to organise the household tools.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment before then the girl shrugged and explained. “Well, neither you nor I are particularly handy around the house, Mom,” she said with a wry smile. “So while you may be a whiz in the kitchen and the garden, and I’m the Amazing Laundry Girl, Sam’s the one who keeps our shutters on, our car’s engine tuned and oil changed, and makes sure our furnace doesn’t blast off into outer space.”
“Why?” Gwen asked.
Cassie, who’d been absorbed in examining the painting of her staring at the floating chess piece, said distractedly after a few moments of silence, “Hmm … why what?”
“Why would she do these things?”
“Why wouldn’t she?” the girl asked in surprise. “She’s your best friend, Mom. She’s been your closest friend since like forever—before you even adopted me. Fixing things is just what Sam does—what she’s always done. What’s the matter?”
“I don’t know,” Gwen replied softly. “I guess it just makes me feel strange … uncomfortable … especially since I don’t remember her.”
“I guess I can see your point,” Cassandra said slowly; her expression was distinctly unhappy and Gwen felt like heel for lowering the young woman’s spirits over something that seemed so trivial now. “But look at it from my point of view—I haven’t the first clue about keeping this place together. Sam’s tried to teach me, but I’m all thumbs when it comes to anything mechanical. She’s like family, Mom, and she doesn’t just fix things around our house, she does it for all our friends. Like if she’s changing the oil in her car or tuning up her Harley, she won’t just do her own vehicle, she’ll do Daniel’s or the General’s cars or Sergeant Siler’s bike as well if they need it.”
“I see,” Gwen said, mulling over this new information about Carter.
“Sam has a motorcycle?” Miro asked incredulously as Diana and Mike descended the stairs, obviously having caught the end of Cassie’s explanation.
Cassandra grinned impishly. “Sam has two motorcycles,” she replied with a delighted laugh, “a Harley and a vintage Indian that she and Siler restored. You should see Mom on the back of Sam’s Harley!”
“What!” Gwen gasped involuntarily as Miro and Mike roared with laughter.
Samantha Carter’s gentle voice rose unbidden in her mind, “You forced me to get out of my lab every once in a while and to think about things beyond my next experiment, or trek to one of our off-base sites to take measurements; I taught you to defrag your computer, change the oil in your car and ride on the back of a motorcycle.”
Diana chuckled, eyes twinkling mischievously. “I always knew you’d turn out to be a Motorcycle Mama,” she teased mercilessly. “I bet she even has her own leather jacket.”
Cassandra nodded, giggling as she reached for the top of the bookshelf. “Yup!” she said, dusting off the large, leather-bound album she took down. “Her own leathers, helmet, boots—even her own custom sunglasses! I still have them in storage.”
She opened the album and quickly rifled through it before turning it to show them. Gwen sat down heavily on the couch, gaping at the large picture that dominated the left-hand page.
Gwen stared at herself sitting astride the large motorcycle having obviously just taken off her helmet. Her hair was longer and darker auburn … mussed from the helmet and the breeze that whipped it around her face, and she was dressed from head to toe in tight black leather.
Seated in front of her was a helmeted, leather-clad—and obviously feminine—figure. The black leather moulded to Samantha Carter like a second skin, casting all her curves into sharp silhouette; the cut of the jacket made no attempt to hide the fact that there was woman’s body under it, and the leather pants highlighted what Gwen could see of one sinfully long, lean leg that seemed to go on forever.
She looks good enough to eat!
The thought came unbidden to her mind and suddenly her mouth was dry, almost choking her before her brain kick-started saliva production again.
Whoa! Where the hell did that come from? Gwen wondered with a rising sense of panic as she continued to stare at the picture, sure she now looked like drooling idiot.
Cassie sat down next to her as the others crowded around, peering at the snapshots. Conscious of her friends’ proximity, Gwen tore her gaze away from Sam to study other pictures. She was in a lot of them, smiling and relaxed as she and Sam posed with different people—not surprisingly, a lot of them were men. A younger Cassandra, Daniel, Teal’c and General O’Neill were also in many of the pictures, along with many service men and women. There were also a lot of photos of Gwen with an extraordinary number of children, not only Cassandra.
“This was at a bike rally, you, Sam and Sergeant Siler organized with a bunch of biker friends as a fundraiser for our local Children’s Hospital,” her daughter said gently. “It quickly became an annual thing—you and Sam did the first two before …” Cassie trailed off, looking away as she cleared her throat; Gwen put her arm around her and gave a gentle squeeze. “Anyway, unless she’s away on assignment, Sam still does it every spring.”
“Wow,” Gwen croaked hoarsely.
“Jesus,” Miro breathed, studying one picture that had both she and Sam posed looking back over their shoulders, bodies turned just so to accentuate their leather-clad asses to their best effect. With the lascivious grins on their faces, the picture was pure cheesecake, if she ever did see one.
“You sold a lot of those,” she chuckled. “According to General Hammond, you guys were the best Air Force pin-up girls since Betty Grable.”
“What does it say on Gwen’s jacket?” Miro asked curiously.
Cassie giggled again, eyes sparkling. “The design is a medical caduceus framed by really large wings and below it says, ‘Doctor J’!”
This time all her friends joined Cassandra, hooting with laughter.
“What?” Gwen said in confusion.
“Doctor J?” Miro said still shaking with laughter. “Come on Gwen, you’re a little on the short side—not to mention a little on the female side—to be Doctor J!” When she still regarded him with patent confusion, he explained with exaggerated patience. “You know, Doctor J—Julius Irving, the famous basketball player?”
“Daniel came up with the name,” Cassie explained still chuckling softly. “Because whenever he ended up in your infirmary—which was far too often according to Jack—he’d look up at you from his bed, and you’d seem as tall and imposing as Doctor J. Anyway, he said that you made him feel safe and he just knew that everything would be okay no matter what.”
Gwen felt a sob catch in her throat as she thought of the kind, gentle man who’d just left, and wondered if he still thought of her the same way when he looked at her now.
Now that there wasn’t any Dr. Janet Fraiser.
Now that there wasn’t any Doctor J to stand at his bedside, larger than life.
“Sam came up with the design,” Cassie continued gently. “And Sergeant Siler did the transfer to your leather jacket.”
“And Sam’s jacket?” Miro asked curiously.
Cassie grinned and turned the page to show off another picture of Sam from the back. On it, a sleek, gun-metal grey jet seemed to climb through a clear blue sky, and below the design, in the same script as on Janet Fraiser’s jacket, was the word ‘Stratos’.
“It’s a picture of an F16 fighter—Sam was a pilot back in the Gulf War,” Cassie explained. “Her call sign is Stratos.”
Gwen wondered what it had been like to be friends with a woman whose mind and body seemed destined to break through the stratosphere and leave the bonds of Earth far behind.
Samantha Carter was an astrophysicist and “had intended to be an astronaut, once upon a time”, as she’d explained to them when she’d first revealed herself and her connection to Gwen. Now Gwen wondered why she hadn’t pursued her dream. What had she found that was sufficient to keep a woman like her Earthbound?
Her excuse that she’d become heavily invested in the “theoretical side of things” didn’t quite ring true for Gwen, as she lay now dozing on the couch.
No, she thought as sleep claimed her at last, there is a lot more going on with that frustratingly enigmatic woman than met the eye. There is a lot more to this situation than met the eye.
Chapter 19: Part 19
Sam sat curled into the corner of her foyer, the tile floor cold beneath her touch. Her tears had ceased to come a long time ago; so weak and drained, she simply sat staring into darkness.
She’d barely made it inside her lonely, little house before she’d collapsed, wailing at the sheer pain clawing at her chest. She was certain her neighbours must have heard her cries; her throat felt raw now—all torn up.
You should have known better, that niggling little voice inside her goaded. Janet Fraiser may have loved you, but Gwen Nemo is a completely different animal. Anyway, you’ve always suspected that you were an aberration for Janet—the exception when it came to her sexuality. Without memories of you, she reverted back to type, now didn’t she? Face it, Sam, her relationship with Miro isn’t about dating men to maintain a visible cover or some last ditch attempt at normalcy; it’s about love and marriage and babies.
Sam was helpless against the fears that taunted her and the onslaught of tears that started again. It was like being caught in a maelstrom of emotion; there was nothing she could do but ride it out.
“I can’t do this, Janet,” she sobbed, wrapping her arms more tightly around her knees and laying her head against them. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this—all those times I prayed that somehow you would come back to me ... it wasn’t supposed to be like this!”
Distantly, she heard her cell phone ring. After the second ring, she feared it might be Cassie and composed herself enough to take it down from the small table where she’d automatically deposited it on with her wallet and keys. Checking the call display as it rang again, she saw it was Daniel and decided to let it go to voicemail. She knew that he was only concerned and wanted to be there for her in his own “mother hen” way, but she couldn’t deal with him tonight.
She couldn’t deal with his sympathy tonight; it would feel too much like pity.
Forcing herself to stand up, she made her way into her bedroom, placing the cell on her bedside table before changing into a pair of pyjama pants and a light t-shirt. She went through her nightly ablutions automatically, avoiding, as much as she could, the reflection of that pale wraith in the mirror.
Sam sat on the edge of her bed feeling completely drained and hollow inside. Opening the top drawer of her bedside table, she pulled out a small, black jewellery box. Taking a moment to steel herself, she opened it. Inside was a small religious medallion bearing a cross on the front ... Janet’s medallion, which she’d worn with her dog tags.
Considering the nature of their work—walking almost blind through the Stargate into the great unknown of space—General Hammond had allowed his personnel the leeway to personalise the medallions on the back. And it was a tradition that all subsequent heads of the SGC had continued.
Most people chose a few lines from their favourite prayer, or passage from whatever religious book they followed, or even a song; Sam knew that Lieutenant Martha Robson had engraved a verse from the old Led Zepplin song, Stairway to Heaven, on hers.
Sam lay down, clutching the small piece of pressed metal to her heart, and lost herself in her tears and in the memory of day Janet had chosen the text she’d wanted etched on the back of her medallion.
Sam entered her house, juggling a large paper bag and a couple cups of coffee as she gently nudged the front door shut with her foot. She listened carefully as she toed off her shoes, but heard no noise coming from the bedroom.
Grinning, she hurried to the kitchen to unpack her purchases and empty the steaming contents of the Styrofoam containers onto a china plate, which she then placed on a tray. She found a small bud vase and deftly unwrapping the single red rose she’d bought, placed it in the vase with a little water. Grabbing some utensils, the second small paper bag, and the coffees, she manoeuvred herself out of the kitchen again and hurried to her bedroom.
Although she and Janet had been lovers for more than a month, this was the first time the other woman had slept over at Sam’s house. Since Sam was over at Janet’s house so often, it became the place where things naturally evolved from her sleeping in the guest room to her sleeping in Janet’s bed. That house truly became “home” and this house became the place she went to pick up her mail, do her laundry, get fresh clothing, and occasionally sleep.
Sam hadn’t expected to see Janet that Friday night, and so had been pleasantly surprised when she’d shown up, pizza in hand, a twinkle in her eye and a little extra sway in her hips. Cassandra had elected to stay over at a friend’s house for a marathon weekend study session as they had a big biology exam on Monday.
“Whatever shall we do?” Janet had quipped flirtatiously, and Sam had all but jumped her right then and there.
The pizza box had been unceremoniously dumped on the couch—where they would hungrily devour the contents hours later in a naked, late-night picnic washed down with a couple bottles of beer and a half-tub of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia—and Sam had wasted no time scooping a giggling Janet up and taking her to bed to show her exactly what they could do!
But the consequences of not spending much time at her own house meant that Sam literally had nothing in the fridge for breakfast the next morning.
Waking up with her lady-love in her arms, she’d lain there for a few long minutes—sporting what she knew to be the most goofy smile—and just watched Janet while she slept. Small, yet voluptuous … toned, but soft in all the right places … to Sam, she was absolute perfection.
However, her own hunger had made its presence known soon enough and she realised her predicament. Carefully extricating herself from her lover’s arms without waking her, Sam had quickly dressed, got in her car and driven to Stella’s, her favourite Mom & Pop all-day breakfast joint.
Now, as she opened her bedroom door, she expected to find Janet still burrowed beneath the covers, fast asleep. Instead, she was dressed in Sam’s over-sized bathrobe and sitting on the edge of the bed reading a very familiar book.
Sam’s breath caught in her throat and she felt her face flush bright crimson as she froze on the threshold. Janet met her gaze, brown eyes shocked wide, before a distinctly guilty look overcame them.
She looked down again at the small book in her trembling hands and snapped it closed.
“I’m sorry,” she said hoarsely; fear now replaced the shock and guilt. “I didn’t mean to pry—it was in the pocket of your robe … fell out when I picked the robe up off the chair—”
“It’s all right!” Sam blurted out; nothing was worth the terrible ache that came with Janet looking at her with such fear in her lovely eyes. Not even that book.
“It’s all right, Janet,” she repeated more gently finally able to move now. She crossed the room quickly and placed the breakfast tray on the night table, before sitting down next to her lover. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” she hastened to assure her. Feeling distinctly embarrassed now by what the other woman had probably read, she continued anxiously. “It’s nothing ... just that no one has ever read it before—I must have forgotten to put it away yesterday morning after writing in it.”
Janet nodded, looking quite relieved now. She smiled tentatively as she stroked the small book’s hard, black cover. “You’ve never shared it with anyone?” she asked softly, incredulously.
“No,” Sam croaked.
“Why not, sweetheart? They’re so beautiful!”
Sam shrugged, her fingers playing with the edge of her blanket as she looked away from Janet’s probing gaze. “Not really—they’re just scribbles.”
“Just scribbles?” Janet said sounding outraged. “Sam, this is poetry—beautiful poetry! I can’t believe you’ve never shown it to anyone.”
Sam glanced at her, startled by her passionate tone and was just as startled to find genuine awe shining in her lover’s eyes. It made her feel distinctly uncomfortable again and she felt a sudden need to get away from it. It took all her willpower not to bolt.
Taking a deep breath, she tried to explain, “It was only ever meant to be bits of random thoughts ... dreams ... I’ve never been much of a diarist—my lab notebooks detailing my experiments are about as close as I get, especially if I’m trying to get a theory or idea right. My mom—”
Sam stopped and cleared her throat before continuing; Janet took her hand and squeezed it gently.
“My mom gave me the first book for my sixteenth birthday, just a couple of weeks before she d-died. I guess even then she saw how single-minded I could be ... how much I tended to lose myself in math and science. She made me promise to try and write something about my feelings every morning that I could, even if it was just a single word. She said that it was something she wanted me to do for myself ... to express myself in a way that math or science could never adequately convey with all their precision. She was an artist … a musician—played cello, violin and piano … gave piano classes to kids on the bases where we lived … could never teach me anything,” she said with a hoarse laugh. “I know it’s silly, but after she died, it felt important to keep that promise. So every morning that I’m not off world or at work, I try to write something.”
“Of course it’s important,” Janet assured her, cupping her face and forcing Sam to meet her gaze. “And it’s not silly at all, Sam. I think it’s absolutely wonderful and it’s nothing that you should ever feel silly or ashamed about. It’s about seeing and feeling all the beauty and the wonder in the world around you. It’s about adding to that beauty, something you’ve created yourself. I’ve often wished that I could write, or paint, or make music ... something artistic like that. But although I’ve tried, my efforts left much to be desired. I think that’s why I love gardening so much or even simply decorating a room. It’s my way of bringing a little beauty into the world, even if it’s in a small way.”
Sam felt her anxiousness dissipate with Janet’s gentle words and reassurance, and she sagged into her lover’s embrace. Resting her forehead against Janet’s, she whispered, “Thank you.”
After a few moments of just holding each other, Sam gave Janet a passionate kiss before breaking their embrace. “Let’s have breakfast before everything gets cold—especially the coffee,” she suggested.
“I’m all for that!” Janet laughed.
As Sam settled the tray in the middle of the bed, Janet reached for a coffee and quipped as she sipped it, “You’re a bit over-dressed for breakfast in bed, lover.”
Sam laughed and quickly divested herself of the large sweater she’d thrown on against the early morning chill. Janet gave a low wolf-whistle.
“No bra, Sam?” she said, eyeing her lasciviously. Sam giggled and shimmied out of her jeans, putting in an extra little wriggle in the effort to make a show of it. “Naughty, naughty,” Janet growled. “No underwear either?”
Sam felt her face flame, but she managed a saucy grin, marvelling—not for the first time—at how easy it was to be naked, both inside and out, in front of Janet.
“Nope, couldn’t be bothered—I figured I’d just be getting out of them again.”
“Oh, you figured, huh,” Janet teased as Sam reached in and deftly untied the belt holding her robe closed.
“Yup,” Sam replied, bending to kiss one cocoa-tipped breast and then the other.
“Uh, uh,” Janet chuckled, gathering the robe closed again with one hand. “Breakfast first. I, for one, need my energy.”
Sam pouted, but crawled up onto the bed, stretching out on the other side of the breakfast tray. Janet sat back against the headboard, placing her coffee on the nightstand and Sam’s book on her lap.
Choosing half of a pumpernickel bagel from the assortment in the small paper bag, Sam loaded it up with scrambled egg and a couple strips of bacon as Janet did the same.
They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes before Janet said quietly, “I know it may be a little early in our relationship to bring this up, but ever since we decided to make a go of it, I’ve been thinking... about a way of acknowledging each other as partners even if no one else can know about it.”
Heart racing, Sam returned her remaining half-bagel to the plate and gave Janet her full attention. “Go on,” she encouraged gently.
“I want ... I need something to hold on to—something tangible that means something to just the two of us,” she said meeting Sam’s gaze, her face open and vulnerable. “Maybe if we didn’t have to hide, maybe I wouldn’t feel this way, but I do; I don’t want to put any pressure—”
Sam reached for her hand. “I understand,” she said simply as she intertwined her fingers with Janet’s. “I do, and I would love the same thing, but I have no idea what. Do you have anything in particular in mind?”
Janet nodded. “Our religious medallions—I’ve never had mine inscribed—”
“Neither have I.”
“I thought that maybe we could get them inscribed,” Janet continued in that quiet, solemn voice. “And I know now what I’d like to have on mine,” she said, lifting the book from her lap and opening it.
Sam stared in shock as she quickly leafed through it, stopping close to midway through. It was a fairly new book, but in the last month, she’d probably written more than she had in the previous six. Janet smiled and showed her the page.
“This one,” she said tapping it. “I want this one inscribed on my medallion.”
Sam stared at those few lines she’d written the morning after they first slept together, before meeting Janet’s gaze again. “Why?” she croaked, eyes filled with unshed tears.
Janet reached out again to caress Sam’s cheek. “Because it says everything I want to say,” she replied. “I want to be your home, and for you to be mine.”
sing me to sleep
on butterfly-blown winds
teach me to soar
on the songs the Spheres sing
dream me to life
in the spinning of the Great Wheel
and be my home, my love,
in all my journeys back to you
Sam recited the words now, more from memory than from the tiny script etched into the medallion, which was blurred by her tears. And she remembered Janet’s brilliant smile when she, Sam, still in a daze at the entire conversation, had consented to her use of the poem.
But once Janet had chosen that particular piece, the piece for Sam’s medallion had immediately suggested itself. It was another short poem—not that she ever wrote anything longer than ten or fifteen lines—she’d been struggling to finish recently. Suddenly, it seemed perfect … finished.
whenever I lose my way
I will always seek you out—
knowing I will find
you, in the play of sunlight
you, in the whispers of moonbeams
you, in songs the winds sing through trees
Chapter 20: Part 20
A nightingale’s soft song invaded Gwen’s dreams, and as the beautiful voice burrowed deep into her soul, she forgot how to breathe.
A time for us, someday there’ll be
When chains are torn, by courage born of a love that’s free
A time when dreams, so long denied
Can flourish, as we unveil the love we now must hide
A time for us, at last to see
A life worthwhile for you and me—
“Sam!” Cassandra’s quiet squeal of delight broke the spell her voice had been weaving around Gwen’s semi-conscious mind. Gwen felt an immediate, irrational anger well up at the blonde woman for interrupting her daughter’s beautiful song. She sat up on the couch; someone had covered her with a colourful afghan throw while she slept—Cassandra, she realised looking at the time on the DVD player’s digital clock … 6:23 AM. The young woman was already awake, and apparently so was Sam Carter—awake and already invading my home first thing in the morning, Gwen thought, resentfulness taking root in her still half-asleep mind.
“So, did you bring it?” Cassie’s excited whisper came from the direction of the kitchen—its door was slightly ajar. Sam’s soft chuckle accompanied the unmistakeable smack of an enthusiastic kiss, and then the rustle of paper. “Gods, umm … smell heavenly,” her daughter said and gave a low, ecstatic moan that gave rise to all Gwen’s hackles—what the hell is going on in there between that woman and my daughter?
Cassandra moaned again. “Taste even better,” she growled in a more muffled voice.
“Glad to feed the addiction,” Sam said, sending all Gwen’s protective instincts and amorphous anger spiralling into high gear.
Addiction! What the hell? Gwen rose from the couch, shaking with fury. Stalking across the living room, slammed open the kitchen door … and found Sam and Cassie seated in the small breakfast nook devouring bagels.
“Mom, you’re awake!” her daughter squealed, nearly knocking over her chair in her haste to get up. Suddenly, Gwen’s arms—and heart—were filled to overflowing with her daughter’s infectious happiness.
“Good morning, Cassandra,” she said hoarsely, joy replacing the irrational anger of only a moment ago.
As Cassie hugged her tightly and said her own happy “good morning”, Gwen looked at Sam over her daughter’s shoulder. The woman was staring at them with a strange smile on her face that Gwen couldn’t quite decipher.
“You’re here early, Colonel Carter,” she said as Cassie let her go.
Sam’s smile left her face with the fluidity of water flowing down a drain. “Bagel run,” she said simply, gesturing to the plate and paper bag of baked goods on the table in front of her.
“Have one, Mom,” Cassie said, bouncing over to the refrigerator. “They’re fresh from the ovens over at Stella’s—so divine!” she enthused as she pulled eggs, bacon and milk from the fridge.
“You came all the way here to deliver bagels?” Gwen said incredulously; suddenly feeling silly for the suspicions her sleep-addled mind had conjured, and just as suddenly, unreasonably resentful of the blonde woman for causing them in the first place.
“Cass asked me to pick some up on my way in to the mountain,” Sam replied, giving an almost helpless shrug—as if to say that she couldn’t deny the young woman anything. “And Stella’s is only a few minutes from my house.”
A bare-chested Miro chose that moment to enter the kitchen. Before Gwen could say anything, he snaked his arms around her and pulled her in for a sound kiss—making her feel distinctly uncomfortable in front of Carter for some reason.
“Hey babe, you’re up early.”
Gwen wondered if he even realised that she hadn’t been in bed with him for half the night. “Cassie’s making breakfast,” she said instead.
“Umm, fresh bagels,” he said, snagging one off the plate and biting into it.
“Anyway Cassie, I really should get going,” Sam said, her face closed and eyes shuttered of all emotion.
“You’re not staying for breakfast?” Cassandra’s disappointment was palpable, especially since she’d been so happy only minutes ago.
“Sorry, I have a presentation to give this morning to Jack, General Landry and some other Brass,” she said, picking her keys up off the table. “I promise I’ll be back around fourteen hundred, sweetheart, and then I’m all yours for the rest of the afternoon.”
“Colonel Carter, before you leave could you show Miro where the tools are kept?” Gwen asked, feeling another flare of resentment that the other woman would not only be intruding again so soon, but had made plans to monopolize her daughter for the afternoon. “He’s going to help Cassandra hang her paintings this morning.”
“Sure, they’re in the garage—follow me,” she said quietly, turning and preceding him from the kitchen—nearly running into Diana in the process. “Sorry Diana, I didn’t see you there.”
“Morning Sam,” Diana said warmly, but looking quizzically at the younger woman, as if there were something about her she couldn’t quite figure out. Gwen could sympathise; there was a lot about this woman she couldn’t figure out.
“Good morning, Diana,” Sam replied nodding, before leaving with Miro trailing after her.
After a beat, Gwen acknowledged her friend with a smile. “Hey Di.”
“Morning Gwen,” Diana said bending to place a gentle kiss on her cheek. “Good morning, Cassandra.”
Cassie gave her a brilliant smile and leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Good morning, Diana. Did you sleep well?”
“Very well, my dear—and you?”
“Like a baby,” she replied chuckling.
“What was that beautiful song you were singing just as I woke up?” Gwen asked, leaning against the counter nibbling on a pumpernickel bagel. Cassie was right; it was the best bagel she’d ever tasted.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you up—”
Gwen waved off her apology. “No, it was a lovely way to wake up, sweetheart.”
A wide grin graced her daughter’s features. “It’s called A Time For Us—an old song from like ... the Sixties based on the theme from Franco Zefirelli’s film, Romeo and Juliet.”
Diana chuckled. “I remember when the film first came out,” she said with a faraway smile. “I remember my girlfriends and I were simply bawling at the end of it.” She laughed heartily as she continued, “My poor hair! I must have endured six months of hot-pressing it to keep it looking as smooth and straight and silky as Olivia Hussey’s; she was Juliet in the film. And that song—I loved it even more than the version that was actually in the film. If I remember correctly, it was originally sung by the old English crooner, Engelbert Humperdinck.”
“Wow!” Cassie said, eyes shining and definitely impressed. “I just saw the film for the first time a few months ago at Madame Petrovna’s. I’m learning the role of Juilette in the Gounod opera Roméo et Juilette and she wanted me to study Olivia Hussey’s performance. She said that wanted me to capture the same sort of youthful innocence and not simply act the ingénue. Anyway, Jack’s having his annual end-of-summer barbeque on Saturday and he’s asked me to sing a couple of songs—you’re all invited, by the way.”
“Barbeque?” Diana queried, putting strips of bacon down on the stovetop skillet while Cassie cracked and beat about half-a-dozen eggs in a glass bowl.
“Yeah, Jack’s all about the grill ... gets all growly, carnivore, he-man about it,” Cassie said laughing. “And I’m the entertainment. Practically everyone from the mountain will be there, including General Landry—he’s the base CO, and also happens to be Caroline Lam’s dad.”
“I thought General O’Neill was the base’s commanding officer,” Gwen said curiously.
“He used to be,” Cassie replied, pouring the eggs into the frying pan and fluffing them with a fork as they cooked. “Then the president decided he wanted Jack in Washington—something about co-ordinating similar projects; it’s all pretty top secret, so I don’t know the details.”
“And Sam—what does she do?” Diana asked.
Cassie chuckled again. “What doesn’t Sam do,” she said. “When he was still in the field, she was Jack’s 2IC—second in command of the team that provided security for the scientists. She’s also a scientist herself—astrophysics, mathematics and computer science. I had to stop getting math and science help from her in high school because I’d get a headache just listening to her. Anyway, since Jack left the field, she’s been promoted twice and moved into a couple of different command positions—at the moment, she’s chief scientist on the base.”
“Oh.” After an awkward few moments of silence, Diana moved to a more neutral subject matter. “What else do you plan to sing at this barbeque?”
Cassie grinned as she tended the sausages. “Mostly show tunes,” she said. “It’s a party, and although I know people love me and are proud of me, except for Sam and Daniel, too much opera tends to produce a lot of glazed-over eyes and polite, strained smiles. Anyway, Sam’s promised to take me shopping for a new recital dress when she gets back this afternoon.”
“Why?” Gwen demanded, again feeling the other woman’s intrusion acutely. “We can take you—there’s no need to impose on her.”
Cassandra looked at her quizzically now. “It’s alright, Mom,” she said. “It’s no imposition—Sam’s been taking me shopping since you adopted me ... you both have. She’ll be thrilled if we all went—it’ll be like old times. It’s not as if I need you guys to take me shopping or anything—I’ve been buying my own clothes and dressing myself since I hit puberty,” she said giggling.
“Shopping with Sam is like a ritual,” she continued and Gwen stared at her in confusion. “Think of it as retail therapy ... it’s not really about buying clothes, but more like girls’ day out … gabbing about this and that and mostly just window-shopping. I mean … have you seen the way Sam dresses when she’s off-duty? The woman hasn’t met a pair of jeans or rack of white cotton underwear she hasn’t liked yet,” she quipped as Diana chuckled softly. “And most of the formal wear she has, you chose for her years ago ... classic outfits that never go out of style for those occasions where it’s required and her uniform isn’t really appropriate. Otherwise, Mom, her default is a pair of black dress slacks and a white dress shirt. Sam may be beautiful, but even Daniel has a better sense of style and fashion than she does.”
“I see,” Gwen said quietly. “Well, I think I’ll go take a shower before breakfast.”
“You sure you don’t want to eat first,” Cassandra asked, removing the bacon from the skillet to drain on a plate with a paper towel.
“I’m sure,” she replied, forcing a smile. “Anyway, I still have to brush my teeth and my bladder is complaining something fierce. I shouldn’t be more than fifteen or twenty minutes.”
Cassie nodded. “I’ll keep your sausage and bacon warm in the oven and hold off on your eggs until you come back. Coffee, tea or orange juice?”
Gwen laughed. “My cravings say coffee—but my doctor says tea ... peppermint if you have it.”
“Sure do; I’ll have a pot brewed by the time you get back.”
“Thanks,” Gwen said before leaving the kitchen; Diana followed her up the stairs to the master bedroom like a silent shadow.
“What was all that about?” she asked quietly, closing the door as Gwen quickly divested herself of her robe.
“What was what about?” Gwen retorted irritably as she dug through her suitcase for some clothes.
“Don’t!” Diana snarled, startling her. “Don’t you dare start playing games with me; what’s with all the hostility towards Samantha Carter?”
Gwen clamped her lips together to keep from blurting out, in anger, the first thing that came to mind.
But Diana was relentless. “The woman has been nothing but kind to you since this whole thing started, yet you waste no opportunity to treat her like crap!”
“I do not,” Gwen protested hotly. “She just irritates the hell out of me—always looking at me with that damned stupid smile on her face.”
“St-stupid smile?” Diana sputtered in disbelief. “I cannot believe you just said that! You mean the joyous smile she wears seeing her best friend reunited with her daughter?”
“And she couldn’t leave us alone for one damned day? I’ve barely had any time with Cassandra, yet here she is—back in my house before six-thirty in the goddamned morning!”
“All she wants is to be your friend, Gwen!” Diana grabbed her roughly, forcing her to meet her gaze. “You’re jealous,” she said in sudden realization. “You’re jealous of the relationship between Sam and Cassie.”
“Yes you are,” Diana said calmly now, looking down with those kind grey eyes; Gwen felt her own eyes well with tears and spill over. “You’re jealous because Cassandra looks at Sam as her mother now and has been doing so for the last five ... six years. It’s okay to feel that way, sweetheart,” she continued hoarsely, drawing Gwen into her warm embrace. “It’s only natural to feel upset for all the time you’ve missed with your daughter—all those special things you’ve missed out on. But it’s not Sam’s fault—any more than it is Cassandra’s fault for needing her. That child lost two families—two mothers in less than a decade. She needed someone to be there for her; she needed a family ... a mother while she finished growing up—and Janet Fraiser had a best friend who could be there for her daughter like that. But honey, despite their closeness, they both know Sam isn’t Cassie’s Mom ... not the way you are.”
“Oh God,” Gwen whispered as the reality of her daughter’s situation hit her and she realized how selfish she was being. “I don’t know what it is, Diana,” Gwen wailed. “I want to like Sam—there’s a part of me that wants to be friends with her. But every time I see her, there’s a part of me that gets all scared and defensive ... I just want to lash out at her and I don’t know why!”
“Do you think it’s because of something she’s done to you in the past?” Diana asked, very concerned now. “Or maybe it’s because she left you behind when she evacuated everyone else?”
“I don’t think so,” Gwen said wearily as she dried her eyes. “I understand what happened and why. And according to Cassie and everyone else, we were best friends until the day they thought I died. No one has said anything about a falling-out.”
“It’s a happy occasion Gwen,” she replied. “They wouldn’t want to bring up any unpleasantness—especially if it was a fight over some trivial thing that got blown out of proportion. Also, things happen behind closed doors that Cassie and the others may not necessarily know about. If only Sam knows, it may be why she’s so desperate to make amends ... to have some relationship with you again even though you don’t remember her.”
“I guess,” Gwen said gathering up her clothes and heading for the bathroom. “I don’t know. I just feel off-balance and defensive whenever she’s around. And yes, I guess I am jealous of her relationship with Cassie—she’s had so many years to watch her blossom and grow into a woman and I can’t help but feel it’s my turn now. I’ve missed so much; is it wrong for me to want Cassie to myself?”
“No,” Diana replied gently. “It’s not wrong at all. But in the years you’ve been gone, Cassie and Sam have forged a close relationship outside the relationships they had with you. Now suddenly you’re back and they’re trying to adjust their relationship to include you again. And that will take time—it’s only been a day, Gwen. Do you think it’s right or fair of you to come between them? To cut Sam out of Cassie’s life or to make Cassandra choose between you?”
Chapter 21: Part 21
Diana studied the blonde woman as she stood off to the side watching Gwen and Cassandra rifle through racks of dresses.
“I don’t want anything that looks too high school prom,” Cassie declared, wrinkling her nose at a pink concoction with entirely too many ruffles.
Gwen chuckled and held out a sleek, elegant, champagne-coloured dress to the young woman. Cassie gave a squeal of excitement and dragged her mother over to the dressing room area babbling excitedly.
Sam’s face broke into a fond smile as she picked up the discarded pink dress and put it back on the correct rack. Choosing two other dresses that had caught Cassandra’s attention earlier—a classic black gown with silver threading highlighting the bodice and a bronze sheath with an asymmetric neckline—she followed them at a more sedate pace.
“They’re certainly alike in their love of shopping,” Diana said as a spate of giggles came from the dressing room Gwen and Cassandra had disappeared into.
“That they are,” Sam replied chuckling, blue eyes twinkling as she draped the two dresses over the door.
“Thanks Sam!” Cassie called out between giggles.
“Come out so we can see how it looks.”
Sam grinned at Diana and led her over to a couple of free chairs near the wall of mirrors.
“Is Gwen’s sense of style and fashion very different from Janet’s?” Diana asked curiously.
The other woman looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes and no, I suppose,” she said at last. “From what I’ve seen, Gwen’s got more ... eclectic tastes, while Janet was quite elegant and reserved ...”
For a moment she seemed lost in her memories, a small, enigmatic smile playing on her lips.
“Not that she was staid or stuffy,” she said quickly as she caught herself again. “Janet’s always had a great sense of humour—you should see her collection of gardening hats or her aprons.” She laughed softly. “For a while there, it seemed that every time we turned around, Jack was giving her another one as a gag gift—everything from “Kiss-the-Chef” to decidedly more X-rated ones. But look at Gwen’s choice of dresses for Cassandra—that’s the sort of thing Janet would have chosen for herself. At home she dressed comfortably—in her Mom clothes to keep up with Cassie—yet she was always undeniably very feminine. But when she dressed up, she was stunning ... elegant and simply stunning ...”
Sam’s voice faded away so abruptly, Diana studied her in confusion for a moment, but the blonde wasn’t paying her any attention. Diana followed her rapt look to Gwen and a gorgeous, sophisticated-looking Cassandra exiting the dressing room. Diana glanced at Sam again—no, that intense gaze ... that intensely hungry gaze was trained only on one person. Gwen.
Sudden recognition sucked the air out of Diana’s lungs; it wasn’t simply hunger lurking behind those blue eyes. It was love.
“Well what do you think, Sam?” Cassandra said expectantly.
Sam seemed to shake herself from her momentary immobility, an easy smile curling on her lips as she stood and regarded the girl thoughtfully. As Cassie went through her obligatory inspection in front of the mirror, Sam conferred quietly with Gwen.
Diana sat glued to her chair, mind reeling from the sudden revelation; Samantha Carter had been in love with Janet Fraiser! And judging by her reactions, she was still in love with her. With Gwen.
It all made such sense now, Diana realised. All Sam’s reactions made such perfect sense now, as did the palpable sense of devastation she’d felt from the blonde woman when Gwen didn’t remember her ... each time Gwen rejected her overtures of friendship ... each time Gwen turned to Miro for affection ...
Oh God, the baby!
Diana’s gaze dropped to Gwen’s belly, where one hand was lazily rubbing circles over the rounded bulk as she spoke quietly to Sam. The way Sam’s lean frame seemed to be positioned so instinctively protective just slightly behind and to the side of Gwen had a naturalness ... a rightness that was undeniable.
Sam went down on her knees to examine the hem of the dress—it was a bit long for Cassandra. After conferring with Gwen that it would indeed have to be taken up at least an inch, Sam rocked back and sat on her heels.
Suddenly the charcoal drawing of one of Gwen’s female nudes in a similar pose rose up in her mind’s eye ... that long, lean torso—even clothed—flaring to those slim, gently rounded hips, and that elegant neck crowned by that halo of light blonde hair were unmistakeable. The hair was longer now, cascading over her shoulders, but Diana knew without a doubt that Sam had been the model for that picture.
The nudes ... Gwen’s perfect female form ... they are all Samantha Carter, Diana realised now, just as all the male nudes are Teal’c’s form.
But whereas the drawings of the stunning black man were almost clinical studies in form, power and movement, those of Sam were unabashedly sensual and erotic in their utter stillness ... private moments captured forever in fractured memory.
“What do you think, Di?”
Gwen’s voice jolted her from her thoughts and for a moment, Diana stared at the woman she’d come to love as a daughter as if seeing her for the first time.
How much of Gwen’s ideas about sexuality had she unwittingly shaped in attempting to get the amnesiac woman back to some semblance of a normal life? She’d been the one to set Gwen up with her first tentative dates; young men she’d known personally ... good boys—if one could call thirty-five to forty-five year old men, boys—whom she and Mike could count on not to hurt Gwen.
However, Gwen had quickly decided on the type of men she wanted to be with—not necessarily bad boys per se, but certainly not the staid social worker/accountant-types Diana had first set her up with. No, the one word she’d use now to describe Gwen’s type of men was hero. From the first tall, blonde Vancouver fireman she’d brought home to meet Diana and Mike, to her dashing sea-captain, Miro Da Silva—with all his personal problems—they had all been heroes, one and all.
Yet, none of them seemed to do more than scratch Gwen’s surface; after the first flush of excitement, they’d go along hot and heavy for a few months, then plateau out to something that seemed to be headed towards a long-term, stable relationship before it quickly fizzled out. Her relationship with Miro had seemed to be on a similar trajectory before it hit that surprising bump ... the baby bump ... derailing everything.
But what if Gwen had been looking for her hero in the wrong place; a place that Diana herself—without knowing it—had directed her to look?
“Di?” Gwen said in concern now. “Is something wrong?”
Diana scrambled to gather her scattered thoughts as Sam rose gracefully to her feet, regarding her with the same concern.
“Sorry, just woolgathering,” Diana said hoarsely. “What did you say dear?”
“Do you think you can help Cassie alter the dress for Saturday?” Gwen asked. “She really likes this one, but it’s the only one left and a little too big for her.”
Diana rose and studied the dress with a critical eye; the bodice gaped a bit under the arms and across the chest, and Sam was right about the length; even in high heels, it would still be too long. A bit of taking-in at the seams, and a couple of darts on the torso just beneath the breasts would give the bodice a more fitted look, while a quick hem shouldn’t be too onerous.
She smiled at Gwen. “We should be able to get it done for Saturday,” she said. “Do you have a sewing machine?”
“There’s an old one in the garage,” Sam said quietly. “I’ll pull it out this afternoon and get it set up, but you’ll have to get Cassie or Gwen to help you string up all the reels and things—never could figure out how to rig it up right.”
As Cassandra squealed with excitement, a vice seemed to tighten about Diana’s heart as she thought about the garage at Janet Fraiser’s house; a house that Sam took care of, lovingly fixing the shutters and tending the furnace ... a garage that Sam organised to her specifications ... a car she kept in running order ... a kitchen she knew better than her own.
It isn’t simply a house she keeps up for Cassandra’s sake, Diana realised sadly, it’s a home.
Chapter 22: Part 22
“You’re going back?” Cassie said hollowly, staring at Gwen with tears in her eyes, bottom lip trembling.
“Well, not right now,” Gwen hastened to soothe her, gathering her up in her arms and kissing her forehead. “But I will have to eventually, Cassie. It’s my home now and I have responsibilities there. I have a friend looking after the inn right now, but it is my job. And then there’s the baby ... and Miro ...”
Cassie nodded, her head moving against Gwen’s aching chest. “I understand,” she said hoarsely. “I guess I just thought that you’d want to move back here. I guess I have a hard time imagining anywhere else as home.”
“But you’ll be off to New York in a few days,” Gwen reminded her. “I’d say it’s almost as easy to fly to Vancouver as it is to come here to Colorado.”
“I suppose,” the girl husked. “But what about Sam? All our friends?”
Gwen felt a twinge of annoyance that her daughter’s first concern always seemed to run to the blonde woman. “They know where I am now; they can always visit, Cassie.”
“I know,” she replied despondently, tears sparkling on her cheeks. “It’s just not the same, no matter how much I want it; things can never be the same again, can they? No matter how much I don’t want them to, everything changes. So I guess we’ll just have to adapt, won’t we?”
“Yes, we will,” Gwen replied, brushing the strawberry blonde locks from her daughter’s tearstained face. “We will.”
Gwen laughed now as Cassandra tried to re-create the painting of her twelve-year-old self on the swing. She’d even braided her hair into two adorable pigtails!
Gwen’s heart felt like it would burst in her chest. “She’s so beautiful,” she whispered to Diana, who was sitting next to her on a park bench.
“That she is,” her friend replied.
Cassie gave one last mighty swing backwards, and then jumped from the apparatus, floating freely in the air for just one perfect moment, before landing with surprising grace.
“This was my favourite park when I was a kid,” she said quietly as she sat down next to Gwen and rested her head on her shoulder. “You used to bring me here at least once a week—and when you first adopted me, it was more like every day. We’d walk Toby—the puppy Jack gave me—and talk about things ...”
“What sort of things?” Gwen asked curiously.
“All sorts of stuff,” Cassandra replied; there was a wistful note in her voice. “We’d talk about school, soccer ... my friends ... how I was adapting—just regular stuff that was happening in my life at the time. Then we’d walk home and you’d buy us ice cream sundaes from the Crazy Quilt Ice Cream Shop down the road.”
“You’d have the Death by Chocolate—double-chocolate fudge brownie ice cream with chocolate chips, whipped cream and chocolate sauce,” Gwen said, her nostrils flaring with phantom scents of ice cream. “And I’d have vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips, peanut butter, graham crackers, cashews, pretzels, whipped cream and cherry sauce!”
“You remember!” Cassandra’s tears of happiness rolled down her cheeks as she threw her arms around Gwen and held her tight.
“Your ice crap sundae,” Diana said smiling through her tears as she held Gwen’s startled gaze. “That’s where it came from.”
“Ice crap sundae?” Cassandra giggled hysterically as she let her mother go. Gwen squirmed under her daughter’s scrutiny.
“That’s what Diana named it,” Gwen said a bit peevishly.
“Since she got pregnant, she craves it almost every night,” Diana replied chuckling. “But I don’t remember any cherry sauce.”
Gwen shook her head and rolled her eyes. “None of the brands I tried tasted right, so I didn’t use it,” she said.
Cassie rose excitedly from the bench. “Come on,” she said holding her hand out to Gwen, who stared at her in confusion. “The reason that none of them tasted right is because Mr. and Mrs. Henson make all their sauces from scratch—the cherry sauce recipe hasn’t changed in … like forty years!”
As Cassie pulled Gwen to her feet, Diana laughed, “Someone actually makes and sells that?”
“It’s one of their more popular sundaes after the Death by Chocolate and their Banana Split,” Cassandra said as they headed out of the park. “It’s called a Martian Cherry Landslide—sort of a play on Maraschino Cherry. But if you want to talk about crazy flavours, how about lime gelato with black pepper, ground chilli, a splash of hot Tabasco sauce and shaved Belgian dark chocolate truffle on top!”
She laughed as the stared at her, mouths open in disbelief. “They make it especially for exactly one customer.”
“Who?” Gwen demanded.
“Sam,” Cassandra replied giggling at Gwen’s shock. “It’s the one dessert she loves almost as much as she loves blue Jello!”
Gwen was still laughing when they arrived at the door of the ice cream shop.
“Why don’t you wait here a moment?” Cassie said gently. “The Hensons are pretty old—both nearly seventy—and it would be a shock to see you if I didn’t warn them first.”
“I understand,” Gwen replied, hugging her briefly.
Cassie nodded and pushed through the jingling door; Gwen stopped it from closing all the way. Almost immediately, a disembodied male voice cried, “Cassie Fraiser—as I live and breath!”
“Hi Mr. Henson,” Cassie replied with soft laugh. Gwen watched as she hugged the tall, white-haired man with the rounded shoulders.
“Izzy! Hey Izzy, come see who’s here!” he shouted towards the back of the shop. “So how’re you doing at that fancy singing school of yours back East?” he asked gently.
“Good,” Cassie replied. “I’m doing really well.”
Just then a small, plump black woman came bustling out from the back of the store, wiping her hands on her apron.
“What’re you bellowing about, old man?” she demanded imperiously. After a beat, she registered Cassandra’s presence. “Cassie!” she shouted, gathering Gwen’s daughter into another tight hug. “When did you get home, girl?”
“A couple of days ago—”
“And you’re only now coming here?” Izzy said in outrage.
“Sorry,” Cassie replied with genuine contrition. “But it’s been a hectic couple of days, and well … I have a surprise for you.”
“Cassie?” Izzy said gently as she and her husband regarded the young woman with concern.
“Mom’scomehome,” Cassandra blurted out all in a rush, before taking a deep breath. Concern turned to confusion as they tried to decipher her words. “Mom has come home, Mr. and Mrs. Henson,” she said more intelligibly and their mouths dropped with shock. “She didn’t really die; it was all a horrible mistake—her dog tags ended up with the wrong body.”
“Oh Cassie,” Izzy moaned, gathering the girl up in her arms again. “This must be such a shock for you.”
“It was a bit of a shock,” Cassie replied smiling through her tears. “But it’s so wonderful too. Anyway, Mom’s lost her memory—” Again, they stared at her in shock and Cassie hastened to continue. “But she’s remembering bits and pieces. Her name is Gwen now, and she remembers your ice cream sundaes … she and her friend, Diana, are outside—”
The old couple’s eyes immediately swivelled to the door; Gwen met their gazes shyly, forcing herself not to shrink back against the wall.
“My God—by all means, Cassie, bring them in!” Mr. Henson said enthusiastically; Cassie hurried to the door to usher Gwen and Diana inside.
Gwen stood for a moment, stomach tight with nerves; Diana’s gentle hand on her shoulder gave her the strength to relax as Cassie made the introductions.
“Mom, I’d like you to meet some friends, Isabel and Peter Henson,” she said beaming. “Mr. and Mrs. Henson, this is Gwen Nemo.”
“I’m very pleased to meet you both,” Gwen said shaking each offered hand in turn as they beamed at her. “And I’d like you to meet my good friend, Diana Sullivan.”
As Diana shook their hands, Cassie continued excitedly, “Mom’s been craving your Martian Cherry Landslide since she got pregnant.” Gwen blushed as the elderly couple looked down at her belly with identical grins. “Except she couldn’t get a cherry sauce like yours—so she’s been eating it without! Anyway, I thought that we could get a couple sundaes right now and some to go? General Jack is having his end of summer barbeque and it would be great to bring dessert.”
Izzy laughed heartily. “So that’s one Death by Chocolate, one Martian Cherry Landslide—Diana, what do you want, dear?”
Diana chuckled softly. “It’s been a while since I’ve had an ice cream sundae—what about an old-fashioned Banana Split?”
“No problem. Why don’t you go set yourselves up in a booth, Cassie,” she said joining her husband behind the counter. “Oh and what flavours do you want for the General’s party?”
“I’ll take two pints of the Death by Chocolate,” Cassie replied and giggling as she glanced at Gwen, she continued, “three pints of the Martian Cherry Landslide, two pints of Strawberry Fields, and then two pints each of plain chocolate fudge and French vanilla.”
“And a pint of Lime Gelato Inferno?” Izzy asked eyes twinkling.
“Definitely … thanks!” Cassie replied as led Gwen and Diana to a booth.
As they sat waiting for their treats, Cassie pointed out the local landmarks; the elementary school she had gone to was just beyond a small copse of trees … the supermarket where she’d got her first job outside babysitting … the non-denominational church they’d gone to most Sundays was down the street, its spire rising up beyond the Baptist Church in the foreground.
“We often went up to the mountains on weekends,” Cassie was saying as Izzy brought their sundaes to the table.
“The pints will take about another ten minutes to make up,” she said a shade apologetically.
“No problem,” Cassie said. “We’re in no rush.”
“Oh my God!” Gwen moaned as the flavours from her first spoon burst over her tongue. The cherry sauce was like nothing she’d ever tasted before … delightfully sweet without being cloying, there was a tart undertone of sour cherries, and spices like cinnamon, a hint of cloves, and other things that she couldn’t identify. “Oh no wonder,” she said softly, not even caring about the tears spilling down her face.
“Mom?” Cassie said in concern.
“I’m okay, Cassandra,” Gwen replied after a deep breath. “I’m okay.” She stirred some more of the cherry sauce into the ice cream, making sure there was a healthy portion of the other ingredients also. Savouring the next mouthful, she explained, “I know it’s only ice cream, but it’s like being handed a large piece of a very small puzzle—a puzzle that fits into the much larger puzzle of my life. Do you understand?” she asked anxiously. “Every couple of months, I’d buy another jar of cherry sauce, but none were ever right—now, it feels right … this place feels right.”
“I understand,” Cassie said gently. “Really, I do and I’m so glad, Mom; I’m so glad.”
Sam smiled as they came up the sidewalk; it was like déjà vu watching Cassie and Janet enjoy their ice creams in the distinctive plastic bowls as they laughed and chatted all the way up the driveway. Cassie and Diana both carried large, bulging bags on their shoulders.
“Hey Sam,” Cassie called. “Guess what? Mom remembered her favourite ice cream.”
“Really, that’s wonderful, Cass, Gwen,” she said, suddenly remembering Gwen’s midnight concoction that first night at the Inn.
“It’s the cherry sauce that made all the difference,” Gwen said, meeting Sam’s gaze with a curious look.
“Ah, I see,” Sam said, not quite understanding the undercurrents in the other woman’s words. “Anyway, I just stopped by on the way from work to let you know that I’ve arranged for Sergeants Siler and Harriman to help transport everyone over to Jack’s. So everyone should be prepared to go around thirteen hundred hours.”
“One pm for those of us not in the military,” Cassie chuckled.
“That sounds great,” Gwen said.
“After dinner, Mom’s going to make broccoli salad and sweet potato pies for the barbeque,” Cassie enthused. “We’ve also got ice cream from the Hensons’ shop and even a pint of your favourite.
“Sounds yummy,” Sam replied with a wide smile. She couldn’t help but feel wistful; it had been a long time since she’d tasted Janet’s cooking and she wished she didn’t have to wait until tomorrow to taste it again.
There was an awkward silence as Cassie fitted the right key to the door.
“What are you bringing, Sam?” Gwen asked curiously; Sam’s heart leapt a little as Gwen used her given name and not her rank.
She chuckled softly. “Well, the General keeps a well-stocked liquor cabinet, and Teal’c is bringing the beer, so I’m left with wine, soft drinks and the only thing other than breakfast food that I know how to cook—well bake.”
Cassie giggled as she opened the door and went inside.
“And what is that?”
Sam grinned as she finally felt relaxed enough around Gwen to tease a little. “Ah-ah! You’ll just have to wait and find out tomorrow,” she said.
There was another short silence, during which Sam berated herself for pushing too quickly.
Just as she was getting ready to say good night, Gwen asked, “Would you like to stay for dinner, Sam?”
Again Sam’s heart constricted just a little in her chest and she had to force her tears down. “I would love to,” she said hoarsely and followed them inside.
Preparing dinner turned out to be a surprisingly light-hearted affair, with Cassie and Diana helping Gwen with the meal, while Sam sat at the kitchen table with Cassandra’s laptop, getting rid of a virus the girl had managed to pick up.
However, every so often, Diana caught the blonde woman gazing lovingly at Gwen and Cassie as they stirred their pots, singing along enthusiastically to the pop songs on the radio.
“Come on, Sam,” Gwen teased. “Sing along!”
Sam shook her head and laughed. “No way,” she replied. “Just like I don’t cook, I don’t sing; I croak—my brother once compared my singing voice to a bullfrog’s.”
“Oh come now, you can’t be that bad,” Gwen declared grinning at her. “You have a nice speaking voice.”
Cassie collapsed into helpless laughter. “Believe me, Mom, you don’t want to hear Sam sing,” she said. “One Christmas when I was little, we tried to teach Sam a carol.”
“So what happened?” Gwen asked as Sam turned beet red.
Cassie sniggered. “Well it might have made a passable Good King Wenceslas, except she was trying to sing Jingle Bells! Believe me, you gave up after that!” she said laughing at Gwen’s and Diana’s flabbergasted expressions.
“Oh come on!” Gwen said in outrage. “Everybody can sing Jingle Bells! There’s nothing to it.”
“Really Mom,” Cassie said more soberly now; Diana could see that Sam was clearly uncomfortable. “Sam can’t sing—it has something to do with the way that big, genius brain of hers processes music. She could probably write me a symphony if she put her mind to it, but she couldn’t play it.”
Sam gave a heartbreakingly sweet, lopsided smile. “My mom was a professional cellist before she married my dad,” she said quietly. “She could also play piano and violin—gave lessons on the bases we lived on when I was growing up—and she could never teach me to play even a simple scale. She tried to teach me to sing as well, but she never could. I seem to be lacking the genes for rhythm and timing, but I’ve always wanted to learn to play the cello.”
“Sorry,” Gwen said, obviously uneasy at the direction the conversation had taken.
“No problem,” Sam assured her with a sunny smile. “You and Cassie sing beautifully enough to make up for my shortcomings in that area.”
Gwen’s breath caught as she stared at the blonde woman, and for one unguarded moment, Diana thought she saw love in Gwen’s gaze.
Cassie met Diana’s gaze and grinned happily.
Chapter 23: Part 23
I knew it!
She’d known it was only time before he pulled the rug out from under her.
“Let’s not make a scene over this,” he said quietly as Gwen prowled the living room.
“Now?” she said in a low dangerous voice. “You’re abandoning me now?”
“It’s not like that,” Miro blustered. “You know it’s not like that—I’ve been recalled, Gwen. Jim McGregor called; they’re short shift and Laura’s out with the flu. He’s been captaining the Cape Pacific for the last two days in addition to his other duties—I’ve got to go, Gwen. There’s a flight leaving for Vancouver at three pm.”
“And what time will that get you to Port Hallet?” she fumed, unsure of why she was so angry. “Does it really make a difference if you leave now or later tonight after the barbeque?” Turning away from his apologetic eyes, she said, “I knew I should never have trusted you.”
“Trusted me?” he growled, grabbing her arm and turning her roughly around. “When have you ever trusted me, Gwen? All you ever do is wait for me to screw up!”
Gwen yanked her arm from his grasp. “Oh boo-fucking-hoo! Little Miro has to grow up!” she hissed furiously. “You’re the one who wanted to come along—”
A sudden fumbling at the front door, and then the sound of it closing interrupted them.
Sam Carter stumbled into the living room, smiling sheepishly at them. “Sorry,” she said, “clumsy me—I tripped over one of Cassie’s shoes.”
“God! Why the hell are you here?” Gwen shouted, unaccountably angry by the sight of the smiling, blonde woman carrying a Saran-covered glass dish.
Miro shifted uncomfortably from one leg to the other, looking like he’d rather be anywhere but there. That only made Gwen even angrier; an anger that found a convenient target in the suddenly pale, shell-shocked Carter.
“I’m s-sorry—” the other woman began hoarsely. “I didn’t mean to interrupt any ... thing.”
“You’re s-sorry?” Gwen jeered cruelly even as something inside her beat itself against the prison of her heart, screaming at her to stop; but she was too angry to stop. “Why the hell are you always hanging around? Don’t you have your own fucking home? It’s barely eleven o’clock in the morning, yet here you are! I can’t bloody turn around without you always being there—always sneaking up behind me! Do you have any idea how creepy it is?”
“Gwen—no!” Diana’s cry came as if from a distance.
“Gwen,” Miro said almost at the same time. “Colonel Carter offered to drive me to the airport.”
In that frozen moment, a look of absolute horror settled on Sam’s face, and then to Gwen’s shock, gave way to utter devastation as she swayed on the spot, as if on the verge of collapse. The dish slipped from nerveless fingers and smashed, spilling chocolate chip cookies everywhere.
One hand flew to her mouth, while the other scrabbled at the wall for support. Gwen watched with sick fascination as the woman literally collapsed in on herself. Tears steaming down her face, Samantha Carter seemed unable to even lift her head to meet Gwen’s gaze as she whispered hoarsely, “I never meant to intrude.”
As the blonde Air Force colonel stumbled out the front door, something in Gwen tore loose howling, “No!” But she fought against it, denying it her voice, because to give it voice would be to give it the power to change her, to change everything Gwen Nemo was. And for a moment she stood triumphant as she beat it back into its prison and slammed the door shut, while it screamed its agony.
Then the screaming came from an unexpected source.
“Sam!” Cassie shouted from the top of the stairs. Racing down the steps as quickly as she could in the gown Diana had been helping her to alter, the young woman flew out the door after her friend, crying the other woman’s name. But Gwen could hear that she was too late, as a car engine started up and the vehicle drove away, tires protesting shrilly against the pavement.
“What did you say to her?” Cassie shrieked, tearing back into the house. “What the hell did you say to her?”
“Don’t you speak to me that way, young lady,” Gwen admonished, trying desperately to exert some control over the situation.
“What. Did. You. Say. To. Her!”
The absolute fury in Cassandra’s voice broke through that paper-thin veneer of control, making it impossible for Gwen not to answer and equally impossible to lie. She found refuge in cold indifference.
“Every time I turn around she’s always there,” Gwen replied. “She’s always sneaking up on me with that damned stupid smile on her face. I simply told her it was creepy.”
“No,” Cassandra gasped, blood draining from her face, which looked almost as devastated as Sam’s had been. She shook her head in disbelief and backed away from Gwen. “No, no, no! You did not say that to her ... not to Sam. Tell me you didn’t s-say that to her,” she pleaded, tears pouring down her cheeks.
“Oh God,” she cried as the uncomfortable silence dragged out and Gwen said nothing.
A cold coil of fear took up residence in Gwen’s gut now as Cassie dashed over to the phone and frantically punched a number in. After a few moments with it to her ear, she pulled it away and stood trembling as she stared at the handset in her palm. She looked helplessly at Gwen again.
“It’s gone straight to voicemail,” she said in a small, shaken voice. “My calls never go to voicemail … unless she’s away on a mission, Sam always answers my calls.”
“Look Cassandra, I know that you’re upset because I upset Sam,” Gwen said frustrated at all the drama the blonde woman had provoked; the girl regarded her in confusion. “I’m sorry—maybe I was a bit out of line—and I’ll apologise to her next time I see her. But honestly, I don’t see what you’re getting so worked up about. If Sam’s not taking your call, it probably just means that she’s driving—or she needs a couple of minutes to calm down.”
Something ghosted into Cassandra’s brown eyes and lodged there. “You really aren’t my mother, are you?” she said in a low, hard voice. “Because my mother would never do what you’ve done to Sam—act the way you have since coming here. You’re really not Janet Fraiser, are you? You’re just some random ghost who has shown up wearing her face and her DNA!”
“Cassie … please,” Diana pleaded hoarsely, fearfully, as Gwen reeled from hearing her daughter reject her.
“No!” the girl snarled at Diana. “You know what—I’m tired of this bullshit! You think you’re the only one who lost everything on that battlefield, Gwen? You think you’re the only one whose life was completely destroyed? You want to know why Sam’s always here?” she said advancing on Gwen, whose heart was now lodged in her throat. “You want to know why she follows you around like a dog, hoping against hope for any small scrap of acknowledgement from you—even if it’s just to fucking kick her? She’s your wife! ”
Gwen gaped at the girl in disbelief, barely able to comprehend her words as she continued her tirade.
“She is your wife and this is her home … and she’s had to watch you run around all week with that—that man!” Gwen couldn’t bear to watch as Cassie’s tear-stained face twisted with an expression of absolute fury, but found that she couldn’t look away from the girl. “She’s had to watch you flaunt him in her face at every turn and say nothing, because you don’t remember her … and you love him … and he’s the father of your baby … and he makes you happy!
“And she loves you enough to only want your happiness, to let you go back to Canada so you can play Happy Families with him and leave her here all alone again. Because there you can live openly with him … you can raise your baby with him … and you can have your house and your family with your damned white fence … and go for walks in the park like lovers, instead of two friends strolling along never daring to touch, because someone might see something … and you can kiss him in the middle of the street when you want to without fear of losing everything you’ve both worked so hard for. With him, you won’t have to pretend he doesn’t love you … live with you … sleep in your bed … help you raise your child!”
As Gwen collapsed onto the couch sobbing, she felt Diana’s arms wrap around her and pull her close. Cassandra’s angry words echoed through the hollowed-out places in her mind, “She’s your wife … she’s your wife … she’s your wife …” and with it, the broken spectre of Samantha Carter.
“Jack?” Cassie’s voice was hoarse and tear-filled as she spoke on the phone. “Where are you, Jack?” She listened for a moment and then said, “I need you to pick me up … I don’t give a damn about the bloody barbeque! Get Walter to call everyone and cancel it! Sam’s in trouble … yeah, she’s finally gone too far. I need to find Sam—she’s in a bad way … it looked like she was probably headed back to her house … all right—I just need to change and then I’ll be waiting outside for you. Thanks Jack.”
Cassandra met Gwen’s fearful gaze for a moment with a fulminating glare. “You want to know why she brought you those cookies?” she said in a low, hard voice. “They’re the only thing she knows how to cook—the last thing her mother taught her before she died—and whether they were burnt or undercooked, or she forgot the baking soda, they were my mother’s favourite.” With that she turned her back and hurried up the stairs as quickly as the gown would allow.
Chapter 24: Part 24
Cassie stared out the window as the SUV barrelled through the quiet streets.
“According to the Hammond, your guess was right—she’s at home,” Jack said breaking the silence at last.
“No, that place may be the house she owns,” Cassie said angrily as she turned to regard him. “It may be her official domicile according to the United States Air Force, but you and I both know that it’s certainly not her home!”
“I’m sorry, Cassie,” he said hoarsely. “I didn’t make the rules.”
“No, you just perpetuate them,” she said bitterly as she fixed her gaze out the window again. “You just enforce them.”
“I have never—” he started heatedly, but she cut him off with ruthless viciousness.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell, Jack!” she snarled at him. “Don’t fucking ask and don’t fucking tell; neat little trap, isn’t it! They’re good enough to die for you, General ... to die for this world ... but not good enough to be treated like human beings.”
“Enough!” he shouted angrily. “I know it’s a crappy system and things are changing too damned slowly, but when have I ever treated either of your mothers as less than human? They’re my closest friends. When have I ever treated them with anything less than the utmost respect?”
“Mom’s flag—her pall,” she said hoarsely. “What did you do with it after the Gateroom Memorial?”
He stared at her in confusion at the sudden change in subject, before it gave away to shock and horror that the girl didn’t know where her mother’s flag was.
“I gave it to you, Cassie,” he said, anger starting to roil in his guts. He knew that the military wasn’t among her favourite things, especially since Janet’s death, but he couldn’t believe she’d be so careless as to lose her mother’s flag. “I gave it to you right after the memorial! I know I did!”
“Yes, you did,” she said softly, still staring out the window. “I watched it on the monitor in General Hammond’s office, because in the end, I couldn’t bring myself to be in the same room with that ... that thing that brought me to her and ultimately took her away from me. But that ceremony haunted me for a long time—I couldn’t figure out why, and I was too broken up and too caught up in my own grief to even try, but it stayed with me a very long time. I took the flag with me to college—not sure why, but I did. Anyway, my old roommate, Emma-Lynn, saw it one day—all neatly folded in its box—and asked about it. So I told her, and she said that every time she’d seen a ceremony on television, it was always given to the husband or wife of the dead soldier—so why did I have it and not my dad. I explained that Mom hadn’t been married and that I was adopted, and she left it at that.
“But it suddenly hit me what had been bothering me so much about that day. In all the public ceremonies I’d attended with Mom and Sam, you or General Hammond or whoever always gave the flag to the wife, husband—hell girlfriend or boyfriend of the soldier, or to their parents. Very rarely did you give it to their kids unless there was no one else to accept it. It was then that I realised what was so wrong about Mom’s ceremony—you came all the way to Hammond’s office to give it to me. You walked right past Sam and came all the way to Hammond’s office to give it to me. You walked right past her, General, as if she wasn’t even there.”
They drove in silence; Jack couldn’t speak as the weight of her words dragged at his heart.
Cassie’s voice startled him when she spoke again as they pulled into Sam’s driveway and parked just behind her car.
“Don’t get me wrong, Jack, I love you—I will always love you. You’ve been a father to me and I never want to lose that,” she said taking his hand and squeezing it gently. “And Sam loves you—hell Sam’s always been half in love with you and still is,” she said chuckling as he met her gaze in shock. “And I think that if she could have really loved you the way she loved Mom, she would have. After all, look at those Samantha Carters you’ve glimpsed across realities—the ones that have loved you ... married you ... had your baby...
“But in this reality, her heart has led her somewhere else,” she said softly as she unbuckled her seatbelt. “And I don’t think that she should be punished for it because of a discriminatory system that should have been changed long ago—do you?”
“No,” he said hoarsely, letting go of her hand and turning off the SUV. Slipping the keys into his pocket, he continued, “She shouldn’t be punished for following her heart—no one should. And I hope that soon, no one will ever be again.”
She smiled sadly and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek before opening her door and hopping out of the SUV. By the time he caught up with her, she’d already unlocked the front door and entered. Standing in the still, silent living room, he knew that the place was deserted.
As Cassie hurried to the master bedroom calling Sam’s name, Jack called the Hammond. “Sawyer, you still have a lock on Carter’s locator?”
“Sir? Yes sir,” Carter’s second in command replied with more than a bit of confusion in his voice. “She’s in the other room with Miss Fraiser—they’re headed towards your location.”
Jack met Cassandra’s tear-filled gaze as she re-entered the living room—a bloody switchblade in one hand and a small metal device covered with blood in the other.
Chapter 25: Part 25
Gwen sat on the edge of the bed in her master bedroom ... head bowed ... hands resting on her knees. She sat as still as a statue, and that frightened Diana, because except when she was painting, Gwen was coiled energy given form, and was rarely, if ever, truly still.
“Gwen?” she called softly; the younger woman gave no sign that she was aware of her. “Come on, darling, I’ve made you some tea.”
Pressing the cup into Gwen’s hands, Diana sat down on the bed beside her and slid one arm around her shoulders, pulling her close. A tremor shook Gwen’s body as Diana encouraged her to sip the tea.
“I don’t know who I am anymore,” she whispered at last, looking up at Diana with those devastated brown eyes. “I don’t know who I’m supposed to be.”
Diana didn’t know what to say; the raw pain in Gwen’s voice was heartbreaking. She’d always vowed to look out for Gwen—tried to spare her as many emotional blows as she could, but Gwen’s independent streak made it nearly impossible, and there was no way to protect her from this. She had been tempted to tell Gwen her suspicions regarding Janet Fraiser’s relationship with Samantha Carter, but after thinking about it and speaking with Mike, she’d decided to wait and see what developed between the two women naturally.
Now she wished she’d chosen differently.
“Why didn’t she tell me?” Gwen wailed, pain and confusion etched on her face. “Why didn’t Sam tell me? Now Cassie h-hates me—”
“Oh Mom, no!” Cassandra cried from the threshold of the bedroom, her face stricken as she flew across the room to kneel before Gwen. Diana rescued the teacup from Gwen’s trembling hands and placed it on the nightstand; she hadn’t realized that the young woman had returned so soon.
“Oh gods, I’m sorry,” Cassie continued, tears streaming down her face. “I’m so sorry I made you feel that way,” she said cupping her mother’s face. “I could never hate you, Mom—no matter what, I could never hate you. And I’m sorry I let my anger and frustration at this whole impossible situation get the better of me; I’m sorry I lashed out at you. Please, please forgive me.”
After a moment, Gwen nodded, relief flowing through her tiny frame even as tears flowed down her face. “I thought I’d lost you,” she cried clinging to daughter.
“Never!” Cassie said fiercely. “I will always love you, Mom; I will always love you.”
As Gwen drew back from their embrace, Diana could see the resolve in her eyes. Taking a deep breath, she asked, “I’m sorry I hurt Sam —I’m sorry I made you so angry.”
The girl was silent for a few beats as she dried her eyes on her sleeve; at that moment, she looked incredibly young and vulnerable.
“No, it was my fault; I was more furious with myself than with you—I see that now,” she answered hoarsely. “I kept hoping that the more time you spent with Sam, the more it would jog your memory and you’d remember her—that you’d eat one of her cookies remember your love for her,” she chuckled ruefully as tears slipped out the corner of her eyes. “I was wrong … wrong not to push Sam into telling you … wrong not to tell you myself … wrong to let Sam get to a place where she felt that she was only entitled to whatever little scraps of affection came her way.”
“I don’t understand,” Gwen said plaintively.
“I know,” Cassie replied; her smile was heartbreakingly sad. “But you were the one who helped me to understand about Sam all those years ago. When you two got together, I was ecstatic—you were both so happy and it felt so right. For the first time since I lost my birth parents, I felt my family was whole.” She chuckled softly at Gwen’s shocked expression. “Of course being a teenager, that lasted until the first time Sam disciplined me as a parent, instead of like in the past when she would bring me to you for disciplining. She caught me cutting school and in the embarrassment of being hauled off in front of my so-called friends, I really lit into her—rather like you did today. Basically, I called her an intruder in our lives.”
Both Gwen and Diana stared at the girl in confusion. “I know,” she continued sadly. “It doesn’t sound so terrible when put like that—but for Sam, there probably isn’t anything worse a loved one can call her. You see, her mother died in a car accident when Sam was barely sixteen. Jacob, her father, was supposed to pick her mother up, but had to work, so Maureen ended up taking a taxi, which then got sideswiped. The family simply fell apart after that. Jacob, for whatever reason couldn’t cope, so he buried himself in his work—work that took him away for weeks and even months at a time. Her brother, Mark, hated the military and blamed their father for their mom’s death. He was twenty-one and already in college; after the funeral, he transferred as far away as he could get from their father and the Air Force—to Cornell in New York. But at the time, Jacob was on some Top Secret assignment—”
“What about Sam?” Gwen asked, eyes snapping in outrage. “Who looked after her?”
“No one,” Cassie replied, holding Gwen’s furious gaze. “To Jacob’s credit, he had asked Mark to look after his sister, but knowing Jacob, it was probably more like an order, so the minute his back was turned—”
“Mark took off,” Diana finished grimly and the girl nodded.
“And had Sam been any other teenager, she would have run wild, got into all sorts of trouble—and probably ended up in the care of child services,” Cassie continued with a wry smile. “I should know—after you d-died, Mom, even though I had Sam and the guys looking after me, I still managed to get myself on track to a rather nasty drinking habit before she could haul my head out of my ass.”
A small gasp escaped Gwen as she looked down at Cassie, stricken. The young woman took her hand and squeezed it gently.
“I’m fine now—Sam made sure I got the help I needed. But I was nearly eighteen at the time—at sixteen I probably would have self-destructed completely. But not our Sam; she graduated from high school that summer with top honours—crammed eighteen months of courses into just six months—aced her SATs and pre-college exams, and was granted early admission. Two years later, she finished her undergrad, majoring in mathematics and physics, a year after that she had a double-masters degree in computer science and theoretical astrophysics. The Air Force literally snapped her up—pushed her through officer and flight training because she wanted to be an astronaut. Meanwhile, she got to work on her PhD in astrophysics. And through it all, she had no one to support her—except maybe her godfather, General Hammond, and his wife. I don’t think that Jacob even made an effort to get to any of her graduations except maybe her graduation from the Air Force Academy.”
There was another long silence as Gwen and Diana pondered the girl’s words; Diana couldn’t imagine not being there for her boys at such a tender age—hell, her youngest hadn’t moved out of the house until he was twenty-three! And she would have never dreamt of pushing Richard out before she was sure that he was truly ready to be on his own. What the hell had Jacob Carter been thinking?
“Everyone always sees the brilliant scientist, the tough, decorated soldier, the top-gun pilot,” Cassandra continued bitterly. “Few people ever saw the little girl who had to bring herself up … who was made to feel like an intruder in her father’s life—an intruder in her brother’s life. So she learned to live on what little scraps of affection came her way—and she’s always so bloody grateful when they take notice of her. She’s so beautiful … has so much love to give, and loves so unreservedly when she does give her love, it’s easy for people to take advantage of that—even those who should know better—and for some reason, she can never see that when she gives her love, she doesn’t deserve just scraps … she deserves a feast of love in return.
“And don’t even get me started on the whole homosexuality thing,” she spat, eyes flashing angrily. “Not to mention the military’s ridiculous stance on the issue. Jacob may have mellowed as he got older—tried to make up for a lot of things in the end—but I doubt that Sam would have felt that she could talk to him about it when she was young and vulnerable. I suppose that it was inevitable that she would fall for fellow officer, who had all the right Air Force-approved—and more importantly, Daddy-approved—parts. He was apparently quite charming at first … only showed her father his good side, but for Sam, being brilliant is like breathing—and he was no Sam Carter. He became controlling and verbally abusive when she eclipsed him without even trying … showed him to be nothing but a common plodder, and while being a plodder is nothing to be ashamed of—it’s not what you want to be when you have ambitions of being something greater … something that takes brilliance.”
“But she got out of it okay, didn’t she?” Gwen asked hoarsely.
“Define okay,” Cassie said sardonically. “From what you told me, and the bits and pieces I’ve put together over the years, thank whatever deities you pray to that General Hammond was looking out for her. When the Pentagon needed a brilliant computer scientist with a background in math and physics for a Top Secret project, he was able to offer her an out. I know that you thanked God that Sam’s spirit wasn’t too broken by then to recognise and—more importantly—take that opportunity. She broke off the engagement and went to Washington.”
Cassie was silent for a few moments before continuing. “Eventually, that job led her to the project here,” she said softly. “Sam would always say that it led her to you, and later to me—to us, our family.” Cassie wrapped her arms around Gwen and laid her head on her shoulder. “This wasn’t something either of you entered into lightly, Mom. You were best friends for six years before you decided to become partners—we didn’t lie to you about that—and you remained best friends afterwards. And despite the need for secrecy and all the pressure and rigmarole that came with it, we were a family and it was worth it, Mom. It was all worth it.”
Chapter 26: Part 26
Gwen stood on the back porch staring out over the garden. She shivered in the cool autumn air and pulled the old over-sized cable-knit sweater more tightly around her
Miro was gone. Jack O’Neill had arranged for Sergeant Siler to give him a ride to the airport in time to make the flight Sam had arranged for him.
“Look, there are obviously a lot of things you need to figure out here,” he’d said softly, kindly. “And if you’re honest about it, you know that this is the only thing binding us together right now,” he said rubbing her belly. “And a couple of weeks ago, we didn’t even have that.”
She’d started to speak, but he placed one finger on her lips. “I want this baby, Gwen, and I want to be a part of his life—or hers. But I meant it when I said before that it’s up to you about how much you want me to be a part of his life. I know I’m not exactly great Daddy material, but I know I want what’s best for him, and I know what’s best for him are two parents who love him, even if they’re not in love with each other. Two people trying to force something—force themselves together all for his sake—is not what’s best for him.”
“Is that what you think I’m trying to do?” she asked hoarsely, unable to meet his gaze.
“I think you’ve been trying to figure things out like the rest of us mortals, Gwen,” he replied. “I mean it was always so much easier to view you as the one who had it all together … the one who had all the answers. After all, it took a lot of the pressure off me. I could still be ‘Miro the Screw-up’ and that was okay because everyone knew that you had everything together, so my screw-ups really didn’t matter that much. But you’re right; I do have to grow up and this is part of it. I want to be there when he’s born … when he takes his first steps … when he says his first words … when he needs his poopy diapers changed at two in the morning.”
She chuckled softly. “I doubt that Miro,” she said with a sad half-smile.
He grinned back at her. “You’re probably right,” he acknowledged. “But I also want him to have a Mama who is happy—with the woman she is and with the decisions she’s made. And being here with you this week, I realise that Janet Fraiser isn’t simply a different person, Gwen. She isn’t just a collection of memories you’ve forgotten; she’s a beautiful, vibrant woman, and she’s you.”
Gwen couldn’t help smiling; she’d never heard Miro be so eloquent. And she’d never expected him to be perceptive enough to realise that she desperately needed this out he’d given her ... that she needed to be able to explore this relationship she apparently had with Samantha Carter without feeling guilty about abandoning him.
But she did feel guilty. The spectre of Sam’s devastated face rose in her mind together with the bile that rose to her mouth, threatening to make her gag. She swallowed thickly around the painful lump in her throat and felt the tears slip past her control and down her face.
God, I didn’t think I had it in me to be that vicious, she reflected mournfully as the sun slipped closer and closer towards the mountains in the distance. And now there was no way for her to apologise ... to let the other woman know that she understood now where all those confusing feelings—that made her lash out in the first place—were coming from.
“Have you heard anything, General O’Neill?” Diana’s quiet voice floated out the open window to her.
“No, everyone’s out looking in her usual haunts,” the man replied hoarsely. “But it will probably take some time—she didn’t leave any clues to where she might be going. She just took off on her Harley—”
“She left her cell phone ... left everything behind,” Cassandra croaked, a soft sob escaping her.
“I’m sure they’ll find her, sweetheart.”
As if reading her mind, Cassie voiced Gwen’s fear. “You don’t know Sam, Mike. If she doesn’t want to be found, they won’t find her. Sam knows places around here that not even people who’ve lived here all their lives know about. And on her bike, she can go practically anywhere.”
Just then, a quiet voice beckoned on the wind and Gwen leaned into it. “Hold tight to me ... lean with me ... I won’t let you fall. I promise ...”
Gwen found herself riding the wind, spooned against the back of her lover, as if to protect her ... keep her safe. Yet she, herself, was filled with warmth and a feeling of safety as she clung to the warm body in front of her as the machine between their legs roared to life.
“Hold tight to me ... lean with me ... I won’t let you fall. I promise ...”
And then it came, the whickering lightning strikes of memory ... the deluge of emotions drowning her heart ... and the whispers ... the soft susurrations of a life well lived and loved.
Sam crying her name through her massive climax, as she let herself go completely, filled Janet with the most overwhelming tenderness she’d ever experienced.
Looking down into those wet, blue eyes, so unfocused as she continued to whisper insensibly, “Janet ... Janet ... Janet,” Janet Fraiser found that she could nothing but lie back and pull Sam into the warm shelter of her arms.
Sam curled into her, tucking her head under Janet’s chin and lacing their fingers together as she fought to bring her breathing under control.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said hoarsely after a few minutes, bringing Janet’s fingers to her lips and kissing them.
Janet stared in confusion at that golden head resting against her breast; an apology was the last thing she’d expected from Sam.
“For what, hon?”
“For losing control like that,” she whispered. “I don’t usually ... and—and you haven’t ... yet ...”
Janet’s heart constricted painfully and she silently cursed all the people in Sam’s life who had ultimately led her to this moment; apologising for taking pleasure when that pleasure was freely given. From her father and brother, to all those lovers in her past who had probably taken advantage of that almost child-like need to please, Janet heartily cursed them all.
Oh my beautiful darling, she thought despairingly, they’ve certainly done a number on you, haven’t they.
“There’s nothing to apologise for, Sam,” Janet said in a firm, quiet voice and bent her head to lay a gentle kiss on Sam’s damp forehead. “I’m honoured that you’re comfortable with me enough to let go of your control.”
Sam lifted her head and stared at Janet with speechless shock. Her dog tags hung down, glinting in the afternoon light; Janet’s own tags lay resting in the valley between her breasts. It had been twelve days since they’d had their religious medallions inscribed with their chosen poems and Sam had gone through the Stargate two days later. After a dangerous mission—during which Janet had received a crash course in being the spouse waiting anxiously for news when her wife’s mission had gone four days overdue without regular reports back through the Gate—Sam had returned bone tired, yet needing to feel alive.
Feathering the fingers of her free hand through damp, blonde curls framing her face, Janet continued, “And it’s not always about having an orgasm, Sam.” She chuckled devilishly at Sam’s wide-eyed surprise and pecked her on the lips. “You think I haven’t had my pleasure? Watching you like that—so free and wild … watching you like that gave me a great deal of pleasure. And for that I thank you, my love. I thank you.”
She chuckled softly again. “Anyway, I’m so sensitive from our earlier bout—I don’t think I can take another orgasm right now.”
Like the sun coming out from behind dark clouds, a slow smile broke over Sam’s face. “Thank you,” she said, “for making me just feel when I need to, and for understanding my neuroses even if I don’t.”
“No problem,” she said airily, instinctively knowing that Sam needed her to keep it light, “I have a few neuroses myself you’re going to need to put up with.”
Sam chuckled, lowering her head to playfully nip Janet’s right breast. “Like what?” she asked.
“Clowns,” Janet replied before she could censor herself, shuddering even at saying the word. “Hate the things—nasty, distorted features ... give me the willies every time.” She shuddered again as Sam stared at her with amazement.
“All right,” she said slowly. “No clowns for you at your next birthday party.”
Janet groaned. “Please, can we just drop it—I hate even thinking about them.”
“Sure,” Sam said quietly as she scooted up to lie beside Janet. “Actually, all the time I was away, I couldn’t stop thinking—”
Janet laughed. “Well seeing that you’re generally considered the brains of SG1, I rather thought that came with the territory.”
Sam giggled and nudged her in the ribs with her elbow. “No, seriously ... I’ve been thinking about a commitment ceremony,” she said gently, looking down into Janet’s eyes. Janet sobered up immediately as she continued quickly, “I know a place ... for just the two of us ... no outside trappings—no one else, not even Cassandra. We can celebrate with her after—”
“Yes!” Janet cried, launching herself into Sam’s arms—naked bodies crushed tightly together. “Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you.”
Sam kissed her passionately, but as her hands roamed down Janet’s body, pulling her closer, Janet pulled back.
“Now,” she said breathlessly. “Let’s do it now.”
Sam stared at her in surprise. “You mean right this afternoon?”
“Is there any reason we can’t?”
“None at all,” Sam replied. “I just thought you’d want to think it over for a bit that’s all.”
Janet chuckled softly again and kissed her forehead before hopping out of bed. “Nope, you think enough for the both of us,” she quipped.
She held her hand out to Sam and helped her out of bed. Sam’s blue eyes twinkled merrily as she padded over to her closet and took down a large, white box tied with baby blue ribbon.
With trembling hands, Janet reached out and undid the bow. Carefully opening the lid and clearing the tissue paper, her breath caught as she drank in the sight of the black helmet and leather nestled within. Trailing one finger along the buttery material, she could only gasp one word.
“Hold tight to me ... lean with me ... I won’t let you fall. I promise ...”
Chapter 27: Part 27
The sun set over the mountain lake, bathing it with veils of russet orange, deep yellows and other-worldly purples.
It shouldn’t be this glorious, Sam thought, wrapping her arms tightly around herself. Sitting on the rock outcropping overlooking the lake, her thin, white t-shirt, while sufficient under her leather jacket, was no protection against the autumn chill. It should be the colours of sorrow, despair ... hopelessness.
Again, just when she thought she’d had no tears left to shed, they came and it was all she could do to just hold on to herself in the unrelenting deluge.
When she could finally breathe again, she dried her eyes with the heels of her hands and tried to bring herself back under control. Looking around from the lake to the cabin looming in the rapidly darkening twilight, she came to a decision—perhaps it’s time to get rid of this place. Coming back here again and again only poured salt on the wound—more so than keeping Janet’s house did.
I need to move on.
And with that realisation, another flood of tears threatened to drown her.
“I’m glad you decided to keep the place.”
The gentle voice from behind pierced Sam’s heart, and she cried out for the physical pain of it ... closing her eyes and hunching over as if that could protect her. Then a warm supple arm wound around her waist, pulling her into that soft body now nestled into her side. Familiar scents of jasmine and chocolate tantalised Sam’s senses, and she squeezed her eyes shut even tighter, guarding herself against phantoms and prayers.
“I’m sorry, Sam. I’m so sorry.”
Sam cried even harder at the cruelty of it; she sounded so much like Janet ... she sounded so much like she cared. Sam wanted to leave the warmth of her arms, but she hadn’t the strength move.
“Please,” she whispered through her tears. “Please, just go away—please don’t do this to me.”
She felt the body beside her stiffen and withdraw, and she cried out again for the loss of it.
“Sam? Sam, please look at me.”
Sam shook with the force of her tears now, feeling herself crumbling under the weight of them.
Involuntarily she obeyed, unable to deny even this phantom. Janet’s tear-stained face looked back at her, pale in the waning light and oh so beautiful and tempting.
“It’s me, Sam,” she said. “It really is me.”
But all Sam could do was cry, because to believe her was only to invite more pain.
Levering herself up to kneel beside Sam, she removed her sweater, and then untied the belt of the simple wrap dress she wore. It slipped from her shoulders, exposing her swollen breasts and belly to the cooling evening breeze. She reached for Sam’s dog tags, and cradling the two small medallions in her hand, she recited their vows taken on that spot all those years ago.
whenever I lose my way
I will always seek you out—
knowing I will find
you, in the play of sunlight
you, in the whispers of moonbeams
you, in songs the winds sing through trees
Sam shuddered as Janet hoarsely recited the second poem, clutching that painful hope blossoming in her heart again.
sing me to sleep
on butterfly-blown winds
teach me to soar
on the songs the Spheres sing
dream me to life
in the spinning of the Great Wheel
and be my home, my love,
in all my journeys back to you
“We stood here naked, with only the stars for our witnesses,” she said, tears streaming down her face as she cupped Sam’s cheek gently. “And we promised that we’d always find each other ... that we’d always return home to each other. Well, I’ve come home, Sam, and it’s been a very long journey.”
With that Sam collapsed into the reality of her ... crying out years of despair … burrowing into Janet as if to get beneath her very skin.
Chapter 28: Part 28
Sam felt like she’d been crying forever. The soft breast beneath her cheek was decidedly larger and plumper than she remembered, and the baby moving beneath her hand was definitely strange, but it was undeniably Janet. As she brought her sobbing under control, she relaxed with the sensation of Janet’s hand stroking her hair and wished they could stay like this forever.
A quiet chuckle brought her back to the woman she clung to so desperately. “I love you more than ever, Sam, but this rock is killing my knees, lover.”
Sam lifted her head and looked up into those laughing chocolate eyes, darkening with desire.
“Let’s go inside,” Janet said quietly. Sam nodded and rose before offering her hand to Janet. Gently, she helped her pregnant partner to stand and held her close as she belted her dress again.
Taking Sam’s hand again, Janet brought it to her lips before leading her inside the cabin. As Janet settled on the couch, Sam went to the fireplace, already laid with firewood and kindling; her hands trembled as she struggled to get it lit. Finally it caught, the flames flickering like her thoughts.
Her name in that whiskey-smooth voice ignited something deep within Sam’s core; something she thought she’d never feel again.
“Come darlin’, sit with me.”
Sam nodded, helpless but to grant that request, as she would grant that voice any request. She sat down beside Janet. She knew that her posture was stiff and stand-offish, but she can’t help herself; she’s afraid that she’ll wake and this will only be a dream.
Janet wrapped an arm around her and pulled her closer. “It really is me, Sam,” she said gently. “Dr. Janet Fraiser, CMO Stargate Command—well former CMO anyway. Died on P3X-666; resurrected on Earth. The details are still a little fuzzy, but I know you, Sam. I know Cassandra and I know the guys.”
She laid her head on Sam’s shoulder as she continued, feeling the tension flow out of her partner’s body as she spoke.
“It all sort of came back to me in a great rush as I listened to Jack and Cassandra talking to Diana and Mike. They didn’t know where you’d gone and suddenly it was all there—our life together … Cassie … the SGC … everything—and I knew at once where you would go. Next thing I knew, I was in Jack’s SUV driving up here. And then hiking up that damned trail.”
Sam turned to face her at last, concern shining in her eyes. “You’re all right, aren’t you?” she asked anxiously.
“I’m fine,” she replied, cupping Sam’s face gently to reassure her. “It was good exercise, but frankly all I could think about was getting here to you. I’m sorry I was so cruel to you.”
“Why?” Sam whispered hoarsely, the despair in that single word ate at Janet’s heart.
“Because you scared me,” Janet replied hoarsely and Sam pulled back, staring in surprise. “Gwen Nemo was created whole-cloth out of thin air. You don’t know what it’s like to have no memory ... to have no past. You don’t know how frightening it is.
“Being Gwen ... that first day Mike gave me the name Guinevere, it was like being born again. Gwen was all I had and all I knew ... and she was the woman I had made her. The only things tying me to some sort of past were disjointed images of Cassandra and all those images I tried to paint ... images that haunted me. But everything else I had, Gwen had to scrabble for ... fight for tooth and nail, and she wasn’t about to let anyone interfere with what she’d built.
“Then there you were, one night, in my off the beaten path inn, crying as if your heart was breaking after purchasing thousands of dollars worth of those images I’d tried so desperately to reproduce.” Janet’s eyes filled with tears as she rubbed Sam’s hands between her own as if to warm them. “I didn’t know why you were crying, but in that first moment, my first thought was to hold you and reassure you that everything would be okay ... to make you smile again. Of course, Gwen’s reason reasserted itself quickly; you were a stranger and the reason you were crying was none of my business. But you immediately affected me in some visceral way I couldn’t define, and I was trapped by my feelings of wanting to run to you and simultaneously run away from you.
“I think I instinctively knew that you would change everything if I let you,” Janet continued softly, tears flowing down her cheeks. “You would change everything Gwen Nemo was ... everything she stood for ... created … and that she simply could not abide. So confusion morphed into anger, and gave me a convenient excuse to lash out at you ... push you away. Because somehow I knew that if I let you get close, you would rip Gwen apart to bring back Janet Fraiser and I couldn’t let that happen. I was Gwen Nemo ... I didn’t want to be Janet Fraiser ... not for you and not even for Cassie.”
“Oh Janet, I’m so sorry you had to go through that,” Sam cried. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save you ...”
“Shh,” Janet replied, smiling through her tears as she placed a finger on Sam’s lips to forestall her protests and self-recrimination. “Shh. There was nothing you could do, love; nothing you could do. I was thinking—on the way up here—that perhaps it couldn’t have happened any other way. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m here now. I’m Janet Fraiser. Gwen Nemo will always be a part of me—I don’t want to lose that—but I am Janet Fraiser. And I love you, Samantha Carter. I love you.”
Sam nodded in acceptance now, her heart aching as if it would burst out of her chest. “I love you too, Janet Fraiser.”
Janet chuckled softly and pulled her into a passionate kiss that stole her breath. Sam felt as if she were soaring through the clouds, climbing higher and ever higher until she thought she would never draw breath again. And she cried out at the loss when they broke for air.
Panting heavily, Sam tried to pull Janet into another heady kiss, but her hand landed awkwardly on the bulk of Janet’s belly, bringing her down from that incredible high back to stark reality.
The baby. Miro.
“What—what about Miro?” she asked hoarsely still fearful of the answer. “The baby?”
“Miro has gone back to Port Hallett,” Janet replied as she held Sam’s gaze. “That’s what we were fighting about when you interrupted us—him wanting to leave. I suppose I was feeling abandoned by him—a more than familiar state of affairs when it comes to Miro, believe me—and frankly I didn’t care that he had a legitimate reason to go,” she said, bitterness shading her voice.
“I don’t understand,” Sam whispered confusion evident in those fathomless blue eyes. “I thought—I thought ...”
“You thought I was in love with him?” Sam nodded and Janet smiled ruefully. “I think I was always more in love with the idea of Miro,” she said taking Sam’s hands again, thumbs rubbing the back of them. “My dashing sea captain—” She giggled softly. “Sounds like something out of one of those dreadful Harlequin Romances Cassie used to sneak when she was fourteen. But the reality of Miro Da Silva is somewhat different from fantasy. For all his good qualities and that undeniable hero streak of his, he really is an overgrown boy who, in a lot of ways, hasn’t quite grown up.”
Janet was quiet for a few moments as she stared off into the distance, her gaze slightly unfocussed. “He’s a good man—a kind man,” she continued quietly. “But from the moment I knew I was pregnant, I knew that he wasn’t cut out for the responsibilities of fatherhood. But I suppose that I clung to him—gave him second and third chances—because frankly, there was really no one else besides Diana and Mike, and I was scared witless that I couldn’t do it alone. Anyway, in the beginning, he promised me that I could count on him ... that I could always call on him. But when push came to shove, and the first time I needed him, he ignored my calls—went carousing with his friends, I found out later—and I nearly miscarried.”
“Oh Janet,” Sam croaked as her heart lodged firmly in her throat. Her hand automatically went to Janet’s belly. “But he’s okay now isn’t he?” she asked tremulously.
Janet laughed. “Oh he’s fine—very active ... loves to tap dance on my bladder.” She was quiet again for a moment before continuing. “Miro and I spoke before he left, and he was very nice about everything; said I needed to figure out my relationship with you and what I wanted. He just wants me to be happy, and our child to be happy. I think it was also a bit of a relief for him, finding out about us. Anyway, he said that whatever I decided was fine with him. He recognises that he isn’t ready for the responsibilities of raising a kid, but he wants to be a part of the baby’s life—and I don’t think I can ever deny him that. We’ll still need to work out some sort of custody arrangement, but he’s ours, Sam; the baby is ours if you want.”
Sam smiled, sniffling as she realised that she was crying. “Oh yes,” she husked, leaning in and laying her cheek against Janet’s belly, while cradling it in her left hand. “Oh please yes!”
Janet chuckled as she stroked Sam’s hair. “All right,” she said. “But I hope you know that those poopy diapers at two in the morning are all yours!”
Chapter 29: Part 29
Sam couldn’t sleep. Every time she dozed off for a few moments, a slight movement or soft breathing would draw her attention back to the soft body spooned against her and Sam would feel an almost compulsive need to draw Janet closer.
Janet mumbled something incoherent, wriggling her bottom against Sam’s lap as she settled back into sleep.
After calling Cassandra and Jack to let them know that they were both safe and that Janet had regained her memories—for which an excitedly screaming Cassie had wanted to join them right away—they’d enjoyed a simple meal of grilled cheese sandwiches and salad, then undressed, and fallen naked into bed.
The kisses were tender and healing and filled with promises; both were too tired and too overcome by their emotions to strive for passion.
But although Janet had fallen asleep quickly, Sam remained awake for hours, afraid to close her eyes and have her love disappear like smoke on the wind. Even as exhaustion overtook her, any movement Janet made woke her. So she lay awake studying Janet in the pale moonlight.
Janet was lying on her side—her back nestled against Sam’s taller frame. The coverlet had fallen, or been kicked so that it covered only her legs from her hip, leaving her belly and breasts, in all their glory, bare to Sam’s scrutiny.
Tentatively, Sam ran her fingers over the swell of Janet’s belly, fingers skimming lightly over silken skin as she marvelled at the tiny spark of life growing within.
A baby. Sam’s tired mind looped over and over with that single thought. We’re going to have a baby.
“Hey there little one,” she whispered, turning her body to bring her lips close to Janet’s belly. “You don’t know me yet, but I’m Sam and I’m going to be your Mommy too. I hope you’ll like that—I hope you’ll like me when you get here,” she babbled. “I already love your Mama and you, and I can’t wait for you to get here to show you how much. I know there’ll be lots of poopy and pee-pee diapers for the next couple of years and I promise to try to be here for as many of them as I can.”
Gently tracing around Janet’s navel, she continued, “And the midnight and three am feedings as well. I won’t be able to do lullabies—I’m sure your Mama and big sister will have that covered—but I can do stories and build you anything you want, my love. I hope you’ll like Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder.” She chuckled softly. “Hey, don’t tell your Mama, but I can even build you Barbie’s Super-Deluxe Dream Home if that’s what you really want; chalk it up to an obsessed eight-year-old’s love of doll houses and some early engineering efforts.”
The low chuckle vibrated Janet’s belly against Sam’s questing fingers.
“Early engineering efforts, huh,” Janet said meeting Sam’s startled gaze. “I thought those were more directed towards building rocket ships to the moon.”
Sam grinned sheepishly as Janet manoeuvred herself to sit up against the pillows—deftly snatching Sam’s to cushion her lower back.
“There were rocket ships,” Sam said feeling a little defensive for some reason.
“And Barbie’s Super-Deluxe Dream Home,” Janet prompted, mischief sparkling in her dark eyes.
Sam shrugged and looked down at her hand, which had come to rest on along the curve of Janet’s belly. “Just because I played with rocket ships and my brother’s old Major Mac Mason doll, doesn’t mean that I was immune to an eight-year-old girl’s obsession with Barbie and everything pink,” she said softly. “All my friends had the dolls and all the bits of plastic paraphernalia that came with them—”
Janet lifted her chin gently to meet her gaze. “I’m not judging you, honey,” she assured Sam with a soft chuckle. “I distinctly remember my own obsession with Barbie and all things pink. For a while there, I think that my parents feared from my brothers’ sanity and future heterosexuality, considering how often I roped them into playing Barbie.”
Sam couldn’t help the giggles that burst forth as she imagined a miniature Janet imperiously coercing her younger brothers into that world of relentless Pepto Bismol Pink!
“My Mom bought me the doll for my birthday,” she confessed blushing as she curled up at Janet’s side. “I think she was relieved at the blessedly normal request. Christmas had been only a few days earlier and I’d gotten the bicycle, the train engine, the model kits and books I’d asked for—I think my father had as much fun with that stuff as I did putting it all together. I also think that I didn’t ask Santa for Barbie because I was a little ashamed to admit in front my father that I wanted something so exclusively girly.”
“But you told your mother,” Janet murmured stroking her hair.
Sam nodded. “I didn’t have many girl friends, and they all played Barbie,” she replied. “Mom got me the doll, some clothing and the doll house.” She giggled softly again. “I think the doll held my attention for all of a month—I mean, it was great to play with my friends, but it was the house that really captivated me. From the start, I couldn’t help but notice how badly designed the layout was—honestly, it was like whoever designed it had never seen a house before, so I started re-designing it—”
Janet howled with laughter. “You re-designed Barbie’s Dream House?”
“Hence the Super-Deluxe version!” Sam laughed, laying her head on Janet’s shoulder as she started stroking Janet’s belly again. “I took it apart—built on additions until it practically took up the entire family room floor. Then I decided that it was stupid to build on such a flawed foundation—so I took it on myself to build my own version.
“My poor mother,” she said her breath catching as she thought of her Mom’s lovely face. “I think that’s when she gave up on me being a conventional girly-girl. After hearing my declaration that I was going to build Barbie a better house, she took me out and got me a pad of proper drafting paper, pencils, pens, rulers and a book about building dollhouses. Then once my design was done and I’d built a model from cardboard, she took me to a friend who made cabinets, and other woodwork, and asked him to cut everything from thin, but sturdy pieces of wood to my design’s specifications. And then we spent the next couple of months putting it together in my bedroom after school and on weekends. It was so much fun—it had a retractable roof and movable walls so you could change the configuration whenever you wanted. We even made little appliances out of cardboard, and spray-painted them different colours.”
“It sounds extraordinary,” Janet said hoarsely. “What happened to it?”
Sam sat up. “I don’t know exactly,” she replied. “Dad got transferred from Edwards to Germany and it was too big to take with us. I know Mom offered it to General Hammond’s wife for Kathleen, their youngest daughter. Anyway, by the time we moved back when I was thirteen, I’d completely forgotten about it. I’d outgrown dolls and so had Kathleen by then. I don’t ever remember seeing it at their house.”
Janet placed her hand over Sam’s where it rested on her belly. “Well, I think that she—or he—will love it when you help them build a doll’s house ... or a rocket ship to the moon,” she said quietly holding Sam’s gaze. “This baby is ours, and she will love you—just as much as Cassie loves you ... just as much as I love you. Don’t ever doubt that Sam; don’t ever doubt our love.”
Sam nodded, smiling through her tears ... her heart filled to bursting at Janet’s soft words. She leaned in kissed Janet gently on the lips.
As Sam broke away and started to snuggle down with the intention of finally going to sleep, Janet cleared her throat noisily. Looking up into a pair of devilish chocolate-brown eyes, Sam felt her heart flip and a flare of heat at the epicentre between her thighs.
“It’s three in the morning, Sam, and you’ve woken the Sleeping Dragon,” she purred, hitting that exact pitch guaranteed to make Sam squirm. “You didn’t think it was going to let you get to sleep now, did you darling?”
“No?” Sam rasped eyes wide with surprise.
“Good, because I thought I was going to have to toast those lovely buns of yours. I haven’t had sex in about six months, Sam,” Janet said leaning over to kiss her. “Six months. So unless you do something to quench this fire, I might just burn the place down.”
“Well we can’t have that—now can we,” Sam said laughing before pulling her into a deeper kiss that proved a little awkward with Sam lying flat and Janet leaning over her.
Janet pulled back, panting heavily. “Damn, I don’t know how we’re going to work this without me suffocating you with either my boobs or my belly,” she said in frustration.
Sam giggled as she got up on her hands and knees, bending to worshipfully take one stiff dusky nipple into her mouth and then the next.
“Well, at least I’d go happy,” Sam quipped, rolling the wet nipples with her thumbs. “They’re such wonderful boobs!”
Janet giggled and swatted her.
“Oww! Just give me a minute to study the situation,” Sam protested with mock indignation. Running her hands over Janet’s belly down to her parted thighs, she said, “As a physicist, I need to study the problem from every angle possible.”
Janet’s breath caught as Sam’s fingers played tantalisingly through her moist curls hidden by her belly.
“Every angle possible, huh?” Janet croaked.
“Uh huh,” Sam replied grinning as an idea suddenly struck. “Get on your knees and turn around—grab hold of the headboard.”
Sam kissed away her adorable bewilderment. “Trust me,” she said, helping Janet onto her hands and knees, and manoeuvred her into position, making sure her belly was supported and cushioned by the nest of pillows. “This will quench the Dragon’s fire—at least for now.”
Kissing Janet along her jaw and neck, Sam carefully got herself into position and, a moment later, was gratified to hear her love’s long, low moan as she entered her moist, wet, hot centre from behind.
“I’ve got you, Janet. I won’t let you go ... I won’t let you go ...”
Chapter 30: Part 30
General Jack O’Neill studied the SGC Commander as the other man stared out through the window of Jack’s study into the backyard where the barbeque—which Walter Harriman was able to pull together overnight for that Sunday afternoon—was still in full swing even as the sun dipped towards the horizon. More specifically, General Hank Landry was watching Sam and Janet with a concerned look on his face as the women sat under the old oak tree; Sam sat behind the smaller woman, bracing against the tree as Janet’s head rested against her chest, their hands laced over her protruding belly.
It was that look on Landry’s face that prompted Jack to invite him into the study for a drink.
“Here,” Jack said, handing him a glass of Glenfiddich, his favourite single-malt Scotch whisky—neat, the way Jack liked it.
“How long?” Landry asked accepting the glass from him and taking a good slug.
“What—how long they’ve been friends?” Jack said sarcastically. “How long they’ve been lovers? How long they’ve been soul mates?” Landry grimaced as Jack continued, “Well I don’t remember the exact date, but I’d say the moment Janet set foot on the base, there was no one else for either, although I don’t think they acted on those feeling until Cassie nearly died. Something like that tends to highlight what’s really important in life.”
“Of course Hammond knew,” Jack grated out. “He was Sam’s godfather, for crying out loud; of course he knew. But they were discrete and they were professional—no one could fault them on that.”
“Well they’re not being very discrete right now,” Landry said sourly returning his gaze to the two women.
“Yeah, well Janet died ... ascended ... whatever—and then she came back from the dead. Like I said, something like that tends to highlight what’s really important in this life.”
Jack sat down in his desk chair, studying the other man for a few moments longer.
“Sam’s got a second chance, especially since Janet’s got her memory back now—and we both know she’s a very smart woman—she won’t waste it. Oh no, she’s going to grab hold of that second chance with both hands and hold on tight. You’d better accept that right now and deal with it.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Landry demanded.
“Don’t play games with me, Hank!” Jack snarled before taking another sip from his glass; the whisky was smooth going down. “Push this—try to make Sam choose and I guarantee you’ll lose. I know Sam’s service records as well as I know mine. Her stint is up in six months. Janet’s now a civilian and Sam’s a step away from being one as well—so what are you going to do? Reprimand her? Threaten to court martial the woman the president’s pinned with enough medals to sink a battleship?”
“No,” the other man replied hoarsely, watching as Teal’c served a couple slices of cake to the two women and then settle down next to Diana and Mike, chatting with them as he ate his own large piece.
“What do you suggest, Jack?” Landry asked.
Jack gestured to the armchair across from him. As Landry sat down, he continued, “Like I said, accept it and move on. Come Monday morning, Sam’s going to be in your office asking to take her accumulated leave—she’s got, what three or four months?” Landry nodded. “Then grant her request,” Jack said.
“That baby is coming in just a couple of weeks and there’s no way she’s going to want to leave Janet. She’s also going to ask for reassignment to Earth—like she did when Cassie was in trouble—so do it. I’m sure there are a lot of projects going on at the SGC that can use her expertise. And if there’s trouble and you really need her, I know she’ll go ... she’ll do her duty ... but you can’t be calling her in every time some damn crystal breaks. As for re-upping in six months, it could go either way. Before this, even before Janet died, I would have said Sam was a lifer. But now, she’s got to be reassessing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she did decide to go civilian. If so, offer her a place as a civilian consultant—hell offer them both spots ... you know how good Janet is.”
“My daughter is already excited about the prospect of consulting with her,” the other man said ruefully.
“So take advantage of the fact that Sam is not going to want to leave the SGC unless she’s pushed,” Jack said practically. “Take advantage of the fact that in a year or two, when the baby is older, Janet is going to be craving the chance to get in on some cutting-edge research. Work with them … work around their schedules so that they can still spend quality time with their family without having to worry. Come with me and talk to the president; lay it out before him and get whatever special dispensation you’re going to need to make this transition as smooth as possible. Advocate for a more concerted push to repeal DADT.”
Landry chuckled. “You don’t think small do you?”
“Tell me they’re not worth it,” Jack said quietly. “Tell me “don’t ask—don’t tell” is working. Tell me that you don’t lose a lot of good men and women who opt out, not because the work is too hard or it’s too dangerous, but because they can’t have a home life outside the SGC that isn’t couched in secrets and lies ... because if they get caught living with and loving the partner they want, they get court martial and lose everything.”
“There is that,” the other man agreed tiredly. “All right, Jack, I’ll follow your lead on this. When do you think we can meet with the president?”
“I have a Homeworld Security briefing with him on Thursday; we can do it then.” As Landry nodded, Jack smiled and rose. “Well let’s get back to the party—looks like they’re serving the chocolate cake Vala brought and Cassie’s about to start singing.”
Siler was busy lighting Cassandra’s impromptu stage in the middle of the lawn, while Walter Harriman checked the camera and the recording system.
As they stepped outside, Jack accepted a large slice of cake from Vala and promptly began shovelling the delicious confection into his mouth. Finding a lawn chair not to far from where Sam and Janet were sitting, he settled down to watch the concert; Landry settled on the lawn close to his daughter, Carolyn.
Jack took a moment to surreptitiously watch the two women talking and laughing as Sam fed Janet small forkfuls of cake. Landry was right; they weren’t being very discrete today.
But then again, he didn’t think they should have to.
Daniel sat down in the chair next to him, which of course meant that Vala immediately plopped herself down in his lap.
“Hey Jack,” his best friend said with a strained smile as Vala wound her arms around his neck.
“Daniel, Vala,” Jack acknowledged with a grin as the alien woman proceeded to devour Daniel’s mouth. “Having fun are we?” he teased as Daniel sputtered, barely managing to break the voracious kiss.
“Loads of fun,” Vala answered, flexing like a large cat in Daniel’s lap before laying her head against his shoulder. Daniel groaned and rolled his eyes, but snaked his arm possessively about her waist as she reclined against him.
Jack glanced at Sam and Janet again, but this time found two pairs of eyes trained on him. Raising his glass of Scotch, he saluted them.
And after a surprised moment, they smiled radiantly.
The moment was broken as Walter called for their attention. “All right everyone, settle down,” the little Stargate technician ordered. “Without much further ado, it gives me great pleasure to present for your listening pleasure, our very own Cassandra Fraiser!”
After a roar of applause, the young woman stepped confidently into the spotlight; then bowing to her mothers, she opened her mouth and sang!
A time for us, someday there’ll be
When chains are torn, by courage born of a love that’s free
A time when dreams, so long denied
Can flourish as we unveil the love we now must hide
A time for us, at last to see
A life worthwhile for you and me
And with our love, through tears and thorns
We will endure, as we pass surely through every storm
A time for us, someday there’ll be
A new world, a world of shining hope for you and me
A time for us, at last to see
A life worthwhile for you and me
And with our love, through tears and thorns
We will endure, as we pass surely through every storm
A time for us, someday there’ll be
A new world, a world of shining hope for you and me
A new world, a world of shining hope for you and me …
(Music by Nino Rota, 1968; Theme from Zifferelli's Romeo & Juliet; Lyrics by Larry Kusik and Eddie Snyder)