A distance of forty feet made the slight form of Dr Janet Fraiser even smaller to Sam who was propped against a stack of crates watching her absently, unaware of the soft curve her lips had formed, and the look that had come over her eyes, the same fascination and reverence with which she gazed upon the most wondrous of ancient artefacts or most complex of scientific theory.
The doctor was decked in her fatigues, confidently coordinating the assembly of her off world infirmary as part of their effort to help the post apocalyptic survivors of a world littered with the ruins of a civilization Sam would have likened to that of the Asgard. Sleek and striking buildings still stood, for the most part, cracked and hollowed like the colossal bones of strange and majestic giants.
Their base was taking shape inside the open ruins of the facility that housed the Stargate. It was understood the Stargate had been all but forgotten since the war broke out.
The real interest in the world was the surviving technology and weapons. But the path to obtaining them began with providing medical aid to a society reduced to using drugs and ammo as currency. The leader of the nearest city, a man calling himself Kreder, wanted preferential treatment for his son. Sam diplomatically informed him that to be fair, treatment would be provided on an assessment of individual cases.
She was only surprised at how willingly he accepted this proposal. There was something dark in his old shiny eyes.
Sam could just hear Dr Fraiser’s voice, a short, commanding tone Sam at times unquestionably obeyed, and other times resisted, rarely successfully, and was overwhelmed with admiration.
Another familiar voice barked at her from behind. It might have been her name. It may have been instruction. But even if she knew what it was the man had said, Sam would have responded the same way.
Jack came up to her, boots crunching on the dusty ground, and presented her with a sloppy grin. “I saw that.”
Her face burned as she spluttered. “S-saw what, Sir?”
The greying eyebrows crowning Jack’s face tilted suspiciously. “You.”
Sam shimmied uncomfortably, as though she could melt backwards inside the crates.
Jack leaned toward her. “Taking a break.”
“Oh!” Sam breathed in relief. “Sorry, Sir.”
Jack dug his hands slowly into his pockets and rolled on his heels. “Daniel and Teal’c are about ready to move out. Are you...” he dipped his gaze down to her feet and back, critical of her casual stance. “Ready?”
Sam straightened off the stack of crates. “Of course.”
“If you have some time maybe you could see how the technicians are doing,” Jack advised with a resentful glance across the camp. Sam smiled and nodded, watching as Jack trudged away. She caught Janet in her field of vision, and startled to find the doctor smiling at her.
Sam returned a warm smile of her own and turned away, intending to follow Jack’s orders. She was halfway across the camp when she was distracted again. The looming figures jutting out of the wounded plains were as hypnotic as the majestic breaching of whales, and Sam could almost hear them singing in similar deep and breathtaking tones. But the buildings were dead, and the only noise the land made was when the wind swept through it, funnelling through cavernous buildings.
“Pretty, isn’t it? I mean, in a sad sort of way.”
Sam hummed in agreement before realizing she had moved quite a distance from the work station of her intended destination. Then, turning to the voice over her shoulder, her breath hitched to find Janet admiring the enchanted scenery.
A full head and shoulders taller, Sam was well positioned to appreciate the doctor with the full advantage of her height, and her normally disciplined gaze was drawn, despite their dangerous closeness, to the edge of Janet’s jaw, where Sam began the slow and delicate examination of every minute detail of her pretty face in a trail she made to a pounding heartbeat.
She came inevitably to the sharp corner of well defined lips, modestly touched with a shade of red that had Sam biting the inside of her cheek. From there her indulgent journey came to rest at the pout of her bottom lip, where it stayed for long moments until Janet turned to face her, and Sam blinked herself alert.
Janet peered at her uncertainly. “You okay?”
Sam cleared her throat and feigned aloofness. “Course.”
“You seem distracted,” the doctor noted, trained eyes never missing a thing.
Sam struggled to keep the laugh down her throat. She felt Janet inspecting her, checking her all over for damage, and Sam felt her skin tickling even under her thick combat gear.
“I’m fine,” she insisted a little too aggressively. But Dr Fraiser simply smiled at the Major’s behaviour.
“Oh, I see that now. How silly of me to ask,” she teased.
Sam sighed and was about to attempt an explanation when they were approached by Teal’c.
“Major Carter. Dr Fraiser.” The Jaffa gave both women a friendly bow and stood attentively.
“Hello, Teal’c,” Janet said. Sam couldn’t find her own voice.
“Colonel O’Neill is ready to make contact with the appointed leader of this settlement. Are you ready to go Major Carter?” Teal’c stood patiently while Sam looked between him and Janet, and had to stop herself snatching the woman by the shoulders and pulling her close enough to taste.
Sam tapped her utility vest. “Yep. Ready to go.”
“I’ll be waiting here,” Janet smirked at her.
“Right,” Sam smiled uncertainly, and then released a soft gasp as she felt the woman’s fingers brush into her hand and take hold. That bite of panic gnawed at the back of her neck, concerned Janet had noticed the way she had reacted. When she was making her way with Jack, Daniel and Teal’c through the devastated cities, she wished she’d had the guts to squeeze back.
She couldn’t have known there were eyes watching them. The interested individual had kept close and uninterrupted surveillance ever since returning to find the Stargate compromised, and despite her orders, could not pull herself away from her unseen perch.
“You’re only going to make yourself feel worse.”
She ignored the sage advice and propped her binoculars on the windowsill. Every time she looked through them the illusion of closeness it afforded her punctured the air from her lungs.
“This isn’t good for you.” When she made no acknowledgement he urged again. “Carter.”
When she turned to glare at him it was not pity she saw, but the same pain she felt.
“Sir...She’s right there!” The words she spoke dragged up emotions with them, and all the pieces of her broken heart came pouring out of her.
Jack let her cry. There was nothing that made him feel worse than seeing Sam in pain. But it was pain they both shared.
It was simply expected that because his flesh and blood had been replaced with chips and wires he should automatically forfeit everything he’d ever known, for fear of being hunted down and destroyed. Or worse. Having their Stargate disabled.
It was less than a month after their human counterparts had left for home, the home they would never again see as long as they lived, and he found Sam curled up against the ring of the Stargate, clinging to it like her very last lifeline. She shook, Jack discovered as he approached, from silent sobbing.
He said nothing coming closer, and even when he was sure she knew of his presence, she gave no indication she wanted him gone. He sat at the opposite edge of the ring, getting comfortable against it and settling in for what he knew would be a long vigil.
Sam sniffed and pawed at the Stargate. She had not yet met his gaze, but Jack wanted to be sure he could return it with reassurance when she did, be the Jack O’Neill she knew and depended on. Every now and then her drawn and waxen features would tense and she would battle through a seizure of anguish.
Normally he would offer his shoulder, but not this time. There was something different about this time. Something he was sure neither of his shoulders could cure.
He could see the light glinting off her tearstained cheeks. Whatever Harlan had given Jack for a heart was twisting in the goop filled cavity of his synthetic chest. He could count the time in Carter’s tears.
She hadn’t made a sound in a while when she suddenly spoke. Jack had been so focussed on her silent form that he was quite unprepared for the noise.
“What’s that?” he asked casually.
Sam winced and scratched a finger inside a glyph. Her fingertip made several revolutions before she said again, “I miss her.”
“Who?” Jack urged innocently with a shrug.
He could hear the intake of breath she took slicing between her teeth. Her skin was suddenly flushed, reminding Jack angrily of how accurately these bodies could emulate their original ones.
Sam tried and failed again and again to answer. She took a breath, and the lips that parted with intention closed again a second later.
The pipes and gears of their new home hissed and clanged, engines grunting in the bowels of the building. But that noise had become their definition of silence, and for a long stretch of time, Sam did little more than tap the Stargate slowly with a restless finger. Jack resisted asking her again. If she wanted to tell him, she would. Until that time, he would just be with her, if only to let her know that she wasn’t alone.
“I miss George,” Jack reflected, lifting his knee so he could hold his shin.
Sam’s eyes squeezed shut, sending tiny silver tears down her cheeks.
“I’m guessing...not in the same way.” A small smile tugged at the edge of Jack’s mouth.
Sam’s soft blue eyes flashed open. When she looked across at him he arched a thick, grey eyebrow and lifted his nose expectantly. Sam’s head rolled back against the Stargate ring, and she hugged herself close to it.
“I’ll never see her again,” she sniffed after a short pause. “She’s just on the other side of this gate but...I can never go through.”
Jack felt the thing in his chest crack. With painful realization he could see why she had come here, and why she clung to the Stargate as she did. The arm Sam had hugged around the ring was as close as she could ever be to reaching for the woman she loved, imagining, Jack thought, a wormhole stretching the billion light years between them.
An actual wormhole would alert the SGC of an offworld activation they were obliged to investigate, and the small illusion of freedom, the small remnant of purpose Jack, Daniel, Teal’c and Sam had left would be taken away from them. She wouldn’t risk it.
But now, two years later, Jack was sick of it. Two years of trying to forget who they used to be, where they came from. Two years of denying they were ever the Samantha Carter or the Daniel Jackson or the Teal’c of their memories, denying they ever had wives or sons or people they loved. It was like being at war with their own souls. Every day.
Then they stepped through the Stargate into this world; a horrible, dreadful world with bodies littering the roads and the carcases of homes lying open and rotting in the streets. And when all that horror became too much and they tried to leave, Jack all but had to catch Sam and hold her together.
Daniel and Teal’c, they couldn’t know why. They assumed it was the shock of seeing themselves at the Stargate, the fear of being discovered, of being disabled. They never questioned the way Sam always offered to keep watch. Not with any real concern or suspicion. But Jack could no longer bear to see her this way. He could no longer bear to live this way.
“Go to her.”
Sam’s body lurched. Her sobbing ceased and she looked up with startled eyes. “Sir?”
Jack’s voice was calm and even. “Go to her. Go be close to her. Go and...” he fluttered his fingers about, “Touch her with your own hands.”
Sam sniffed and drew her sleeve under her nose. “Don’t be stupid...”
Jack leaned forward on his chair and grabbed Sam’s shoulders firmly. “Of all the billion trillion planets in the whole frikkin universe we could have gone to, we travelled to the one planet on the To Do list of the woman you love.” He shook her once gently. “The universe is giving you a sign, Carter.”
A hopeless smile made Sam’s face shine. “Sir...she doesn’t know how I feel, remember? I...I can’t...”
“Maybe she does by now,” Jack shrugged helpfully.
Sam shook her head. “I may be a machine now but I’m still me. I...Sam wouldn’t have that kind of courage. She would always find an excuse.”
“Like you’re doing now?”
He sighed at the shame that snuffed the light from Sam’s eyes. He cupped her chin with the edge of his finger and lifted her gaze to meet his. “Carter. Are you in love with the tiny doctor or not?”
A small laugh spluttered clumsily from Sam’s mouth. “More deeply than I can stand.”
“Then for god sake, Carter, go to her. You don’t want this to be something you regret for the rest of your life. May I remind you how long that’s going to be? You know...failing we don’t all get shot or blown up or something.”
Sam laughed again, bowing her head to wipe her tears.
Jack took her face in his fingers with both hands, and lifted her once more. He softly dried her cheeks and tenderly brushed a finger across the sunlight locks that fell over her brow.
“At the very least,” he said, searching for and discovering all the reasons he loved her, “Dr Fraiser deserves to know someone out there loves her.”
This made more tears well and fall from Sam’s pale blue eyes. “I’ll have to tell her who I am. Or she will work it out eventually. The other SG-1 will come after us. You know they will.”
“Is she worth it?” Jack asked simply.
Sam seemed struck by the question.
Her bottom lip trembled. “Yes.”
“Then get going!” Jack said, clapping her on the side of her arms. He was standing up as she protested again. “Besides, I am getting sick to death of ‘comptria!’, ugh! Being shut down by the SGC would be a blessing.”
“Sir! I can’t! I can’t just...tell her.” Sam picked at her fingers.
“If you don’t, I will,” Jack pointed resolutely to his own chest.
Sam’s brows furrowed together. “What?”
“I’ll march into that camp and confess my love to her. Tell her about all the times I spent lying in the infirmary undressing her with my mind. About all the times I got a little too excited during her examinations.”
“Jack...” Sam grinned.
“Oh that touch. That firm yet gentle touch.” Jack brought his hands to his chest theatrically. “Oh to feel those tiny, silken hands reaching down my pants and around my...”
“Sir!” Sam reached forward and smacked him on the leg. Jack jumped sideways and chuckled down at her, tongue between his teeth.
Sam shook her head. “I still can’t go down there. Even looking like I do, the security will be suspicious seeing Sam returning to camp on her own so soon. They’ll ask too many questions.”
Jack put his hands on his hips. “Well, I can help you out there.”
Sam and Jack scuttled around the perimeter of the offworld camp and crouched behind a wall. The other Jack O’Neill had left a single SG team on guard. They needed only to distract one to allow Sam access to the temporary building. The non combat personnel would not question her presence if they saw her.
“Remember, Carter. In and out. You swoop in, you blow her brilliant little mind, and you swoop out.” Jack gave satirical hand actions as he gave his orders.
Sam saluted. “Yes, Sir. And Sir?”
Jack was peering carefully through the cracks in the single shed wall still left standing. Sam’s dextrous hand shot around his neck and yanked him sideways. His cry was muffled against her lips, and he teetered helplessly on the balls of his feet until she released him with an audible smack of her mouth.
Jack fell back on his ass, gasping as though he’d been without oxygen for minutes.
Sam smirked. “Thank you.”
Jack eyed her incredulously as he crawled back onto his feet. “Shit, Carter,” he said, tentatively tapping himself above the temple. “Think you blew a fuse.”
Sam grinned mischievously. Jack had never seen her eyes sparkle this brightly. He needed to squint or be blinded by them. He edged against the wall again and spied through the missing bricks. The closest man standing guard was sitting on a crate, idly picking at the tread of his boot. Using the surviving structure of the nearby buildings, Jack was sure he could lead the man quite a distance away without being seen.
Without another word he propelled himself from their hiding spot and scampered to the next convenient cover. Sam watched him getting closer and closer with each daring dash. Then, close enough, he tapped his gun against the cracked cement.
Sam saw the guard’s ears prick, his head and neck extending like a bloodhound. The man snatched his radio and muttered his intent before investigating the noise. Then Jack was off, and Sam stole her moment to breach the camp perimeter.
If any personnel spotted her they thought nothing of it. The camp was mostly empty, save for the technicians working in the single station closest to the populated side of the city. Sam kept a steady, confident pace across the dust up to the steel door of the infirmary.
In the same motion her hand came down on the handle she pushed it open. She couldn’t slow down. She couldn’t stop to think. She kept moving, kept walking through the beds and benches and life sustaining machines until she froze as though she’d suddenly struck an invisible wall.
Janet Fraiser moved swiftly from one console to the next, collecting folders and print outs with the familiar grace that left Sam dazzled.
“Oh!” Janet gasped when she turned to discover her. She bounced backwards a little, clutching the desk behind her. Sam watched her hand float up over her chest. “You scared me. I didn’t even hear you come in.”
Sam opened her mouth. Not even air passed her lips. Her heart, or whatever it was, thundered.
Janet cleared her throat and stepped away from the desk, pulling at her fatigues to straighten them.
Without thinking, Sam took the three strides needed to quickly close the gap between them. Janet scrambled nervously again for the desk behind her, bumping against it so hard it clanked against the metal wall.
The dark brown eyes Sam had spent her dreams gazing into were swimming in confusion, examining her own for an explanation. Sam leaned a little closer, and Janet lifted her head, determined not to be daunted by the height and strength the soldier had over her.
Sam lifted her hand because Janet’s eyes were shimmering at her behind long, dark lashes, and the wisps of hair shaken loose about her brow made her pretty face more enchanting than she could remember, and like a poor fool caught in the woven threads of a spell, Sam needed to touch it.
Janet pushed herself onto her toes and leaned from the encroaching fingers, taking a single, sharp, anxious breath. Sam’s fluid motion was unavoidable, and both women uttered a noise at the contact made against the delicate edge of the doctor’s cheekbone; Janet a small, reticent hum and Sam a hushed sigh.
Sam’s other hand came easily to the same spot on the other cheek, four fingertips barely touching skin Sam had for years longed to explore. The confusion fluttering on Janet’s elegant features had become sheer bewilderment.
Sam leaned in further still, bringing their bodies close enough but not quite together and felt all resistance melt in the doctor. Sam smiled as Janet’s eyes drifted close and then she did the same, pressing her lips as softly as she could, impressing all her passion and love and soul into a single, lingering kiss.
Serenely wetting her lips as she parted, Sam felt Janet’s hot breath sigh against them. Smiling, Sam tilted her head the other way and moved in again, nothing more than lips meeting softly in the silent medical lab, and Sam felt Janet’s arms fall limp at her sides from her failing grip on the desk.
One more time, drifting two fingers to the edge of her chin, and the others into her hairline, Sam eased back the woman’s head to her squeak of surrender and kissed her again.
With a breath, Sam pulled away, and Janet leaned after her briefly, eyes still shut. When she opened them Sam gave her a lopsided and deeply sated grin. The doctor’s face was flushed dark crimson from her ears to her cheeks to her neck, where Sam saw muscles contract enticingly with an anxious swallow.
Wordlessly, Sam reached for and traced the edge of her face, wanting to imprint to memory the contour of her bone, the texture of her skin.
Janet swayed from her touch, uselessly parting her mouth but making no sound. Sam brought a single finger to the edge of her mouth and sniffed in amusement before bringing her arm away. This was all she could have, all she would allow herself to take. She shouldn’t have taken even this much at all and it was time to steal herself away.
She turned, feeling tears threaten in her eyes and made to escape.
Sam came to a halt at Janet’s spluttered plea. She winced, admonishing herself for stopping. She forced herself to move again, making it almost as far as the door.
Her name had come from the woman in an anguished sort of cry that made her stop again, whimpering with the crushing weight of regret. It was like Janet had lain bear traps along the path to the door. She couldn’t pull her feet free and it hurt to try. She bit her lip and shut her eyes.
“Sam, look out!”
Sam startled at the scream. Her eyes flashed upward as a stranger in harsh, rugged clothing brandished a crude energy weapon in her face.
He crept forward, cocking his head to one side so that his long wormlike hair stuck against his neck.
His red, narrow face creased unpleasantly from the grin that stretched his mouth. Sam backed away, stopping only when she felt Janet behind her, and the woman’s hands grasp onto the fabric of her clothing.
His hips jutted forward as he swaggered towards them, drawing attention to the unsightly stains on his pants. His open vest hung loosely around a shallow, sweating chest where he plastered a large, bony hand.
“Which one of you is Dr Janet Fraiser?” He smeared his hand across skin and fabric, and came to a stop uncomfortably close to the women. He immediately noticed the name stitched onto Sam’s uniform and smirked. “Never mind.”
He leaned over to get a better view of Janet. “Doctor?”
Sam was seconds from chopping the arm holding the weapon and sticking her boot right into his crotch, but the door burst open again. A second man stormed through and Sam felt Janet huddle herself behind her back, exploiting the soldier’s height. Sam only wished she could hide her completely.
“Did you find her?” the second man asked.
The long haired man snorted like a hog. “Right there.”
The other man edged around the room to angle himself better and barked in amusement at the sight of Janet trying to disappear behind Sam.
Sam frowned, feeling her blood coursing like razors beneath her skin.
The second man sniffed and dragged a fist under his nose.
“Bring them both.”
The first man grabbed for Sam’s hair. Instinctually, her arm snapped and wound into her aggressor, detaching his grip and tucking his arm into a position where only a little more pressure would snap his elbow like chalk. The barrel of a gun jabbed between her eyes.
Janet gasped behind her. Sam tensed. She couldn’t provoke them. She had to stay alive to protect Janet.
“Go ahead,” the man said dispassionately at her. “You’re not nearly as valuable as the little one. Not that I don’t think we’d get a good deal for you. But I really don’t mind splitting your head open and watching your brains splatter in all directions. Far more satisfying.”
Sam released the other man. The gun was removed from her head. She was made to give up all her weapons which she handed over reluctantly.
Sam felt behind her, gently encouraging Janet to move in front of her so that on their way out of the infirmary she could put herself between her and the men. The processor in her synthetic skull scanned furiously for her next step.
Once outside the building Sam could see the extent of the situation. The camp had been left relatively intact. Three bodies lay in thickening blood on the ground, their SG uniforms ripped apart from repeated gunfire that she never heard. A large foreboding vehicle was parked just outside the camp. Sam felt a nudge in the back.
Sam kept hold of Janet, keeping an arm around her quivering frame as she led her across the dirt. The back of the tank was open and once they were up behind it Sam could see the technicians huddled along the benches inside.
“Get in.” A sharp jab into the small of her back forced Sam forward. She helped Janet climb up into the miserable machine and sat down next to her.
“Major Carter!” One of the technicians gasped in both relief and surprise when he recognized her.
The door slammed shut on them, shutting out the light. They were in almost total darkness, but somehow Sam could still see a little. Harlan must have made her eyesight remarkably sensitive. There were four technicians sitting opposite them, and another next to Janet.
The air was thick and stagnant inside the tank. She heard a few people gagging, but it could have been out of fear. With a roar the tank shook to life. Janet was hunched against her when the tank started moving forward, gaining speed and crushing the dirt and stones in its path like a raging beast.
Sam stared open mouthed at her feet, unwilling tears burning in her eyes. A sick sensation swam in her gut, and a debilitating chill clasped around the back of her neck. She couldn’t help feel that this was her fault. If Jack hadn’t distracted one of the men on guard these hostiles might not so easily have taken the base. Janet would be safe.
That was what troubled Sam the most. Not only was Janet in danger but it was clear the men had come with the intention of taking her. They knew she would be at the offworld camp and they knew where to find her.
Janet was obviously highly valued for some reason. Sam shuddered as the thought occurred to her that these people could be slave traders. Her skin flushed cold and clammy beneath her combat gear. She felt Janet hug more deeply into her, sniffing quietly.
She would do anything to make sure they were not separated. Jack was still out there and might have seen what had happened. He was no doubt trailing them.
She was going to get Janet safely through this. She was certain that, if worst came to worst, Jack would not hesitate to warn their human counterparts of what had happened and enlist their help.
The tank slowed and after a few turns, came to a stop. Doors opened and slammed shut again and feet could just be heard stomping around the outside of the vehicle. Janet squeezed Sam’s arm so tightly Sam mused that if she still had bones they might have broken.
The back of the tank opened with a shunt and squeal. The two men stood there with their guns pointed up at them. “Everyone out.”
Sam hopped down from the tank and lined up with the others. When she looked down at Janet she saw the woman staring resolutely forward.
They were taken into the ruined courtyard of what might once have been a luxury hotel. The walls Sam could see of the garden had been completely destroyed, and in their place were piles of stone and scrap metal with outposts at both edges. Peering up Sam spotted gunman standing watch.
She followed the technicians into the lobby of the building. Sam was immediately hit by the smell. It was like a drill to the nose, burrowing up through her skull. A technician spluttered and wretched, stuff spilling wetly against the hard floor.
Sam looked up. Nailed to the walls were the splayed and hollowed bodies she barely recognized as people. Some were missing limbs, others had their chests torn open, a dirt red smear trailing on the wall beneath them. Sam decided they must serve as a warning for anyone thinking of disobeying or trying to escape. Janet covered her nose and mouth with her sleeve.
Sam put her arm around her.
More men with unfamiliar weapons came from one of the archways, oil glistening on their faces. Sam pulled Janet closed, tucking her against her hip as the men divided up and removed the technicians until only the two of them remained.
The man who appeared to be in charge noticed the way Sam held Janet. He regarded them silently, features cold.
Sam swallowed tensely but kept her gaze determinedly on the man. He appeared to be considering whether or not to separate them. He must have decided it wasn’t worth the hassle.
They were shown into a small room with stained carpet and unclean mattresses. The windows had been boarded up to keep them cut off from the outside world. The smell was only marginally better than out in the lobby. Then they were locked inside. Janet was already exploring the room when Sam turned from the door. She saw her standing inside a doorframe revealing a small white, tiled room.
“At least there’s a real toilet in there,” Janet said.
Sam found she couldn’t move or say anything. The doctor turned around, arms folded across her jacket.
“You’re not really Sam Carter, are you.”
Sam took the opportunity to release all her pent up nervous tension with a small laugh.
“What gave it away?”
If she had an answer, Janet didn’t say. She stalked around the room, keeping a painfully obvious distance. Sam grimaced.
“I know this is going to be hard to believe but...help is on the way. I’m sure of it”
Janet nodded at the floor.
“What do you think...” the tone failed in parts of Janet’s tiny voice, “...they want with me?”
Sam swallowed and tried to keep her voice level.
“I think it’s because you’re a doctor. People with medical knowledge must be highly valued.”
Janet laughed uneasily. “Nice to know you’re appreciated.”
Sam began to walk to her. “Janet...”
“Don’t.” Her eyes were so dark Sam shivered. “You haven’t even...Who are you, exactly? Where’s...Where’s Sam?”
Her voice struggled so much over the name that by the time she finally said it only her breath was left. Sam felt a stab of pain.
“Sam is fine. I haven’t done anything to her.” She put her hands to her chest. “I’m from P3X-989. I’m...” she winced, “Sam’s robot duplicate.”
Janet simply stared for a long time. Then her head bowed and she turned away. She moved over to the wall and, despite the protest that stuck in Sam’s throat, she sat down. The carpet looked like it had been soaked in blood and bile and other human bodily fluids. The walls looked no better. But she supposed Janet could do whatever the hell she wanted.
“Then you are Sam.”
Janet was gazing up at her, a small and lopsided smile on her face. Sam hesitated and then took a step towards her. When she received no indication she should stop, she made her way across the room and settled down beside her.
“I suppose the others are here too, then?” Janet asked.
“You mean Jack, Daniel and Teal’c? Yeah. Jack’s the one who helped me slip into the camp to...see you.”
“Yeah. That was...interesting.”
Sam looked at her and had to laugh at the look on her face. Janet’s slender eyebrows were knitted together, and her perfect nose crinkled in confusion.
Sam’s laugh petered out contentedly and she smiled into her lap. “Jack’s orders were to swoop in, and swoop out.”
“Oh, you were acting on the Colonel’s orders?” Janet’s brows shot back up incredulously.
“Yep. That’s all it was. Just following orders.” Sam grinned to herself and felt Janet eye her with an unappreciative pinch to her lips.
“...Was it assigned to you because you wanted it or because no one else volunteered?”
It felt strange to laugh in such a situation. But Sam could appreciate that Janet needed the distraction.
“I won’t lie to you,” she said, bringing her knees up so she could link her arms around them. “I took a lot of convincing.” She waited for some sign from Janet that she was insulted. It came in the form of an unimpressed leer that tickled Sam’s mechanical heart.
“The truth is...” Sam sighed. “I’ve spent seven-hundred and fifty three days getting over you.”
Beside her, Janet released a sustained breath. “You sure were determined.”
Sam hummed a small laugh. “I had to be. There was no way I was ever going to see you again.”
She shuffled to find comfort against the grotty carpet and hard plaster wall. She stretched out one leg, clasping her fingers together around the shin of her other.
“I failed, you know? Every day I failed. I held onto you. Every night before sleep...or...in my case powering down, every morning after powering up, I would just lie there, picturing you, making sure I could recall every little detail about how you looked.
I’d imagine how you’d wear your uniform, how you wore your hair, your make up. I’d imagine how you looked when you smiled, when you frowned, when you laughed. And when I had the picture of you in my mind I’d imagine your voice. I’d imagine how you would greet me when we would run into each other on base. I’d imagine things you would say to me during pre and post mission exams, the concern in your eyes or the scold on your face.” Sam paused a moment to grin to herself.
“Memories fade over time. I didn’t want to lose you. I didn’t want to think of you one day and see this...hazy, featureless figure that was supposed to be you. But with the processors Harlan gave us to replace our brains it was...so easy. I was so used to human limitations. But now our imagination can be so vivid it’s like visiting a real world inside our own heads.”
Sam picked irritably at the fabric of her pants and then let both arms collapse at her sides with a heave of frustration. It was hard not to get angry. It was hard not to hate herself, resent the Sam who was allowed to keep her life over a technicality like having an organic body.
Sam felt something, the soft brush of fingers tracing into her hand and weaving between her own. She looked down at Janet’s small, delicate hand holding hers and lifted her quizzical gaze to the woman’s eyes.
Janet’s features were solid. “You may have been prevented from living her life, that’s true. But nothing has ever stopped you being the real Samantha Carter.”
The impact of the woman’s words went through her like a seismic assault. She couldn’t even hold herself up. Janet saw this and gently guided her down, cradling her head to her lap, where Samantha Carter curled up tightly and wept. And Janet, forgetting she was ever afraid, lovingly combed her fingers through Sam’s hair.
It was only a short time later when they heard voices outside the door. There was a click of a lock opening and then the door burst inward. Sam and Janet scrambled, on their feet in an instant. Two men entered the room. One was the man who had led the raid, and the other was a tall man with a shaven head wearing a dark brown suit and smart leather shoes.
There was a languid flow to his limbs as he brought himself to the middle of the room.
The man, whom Sam decided to call Suit, towered over Janet and took her by the shoulders, positioning her forward from the wall as though to better inspect her. Sam clenched her hands into shuddering fists.
His large but thankfully clean hand cupped her chin and lifted her face. “Pretty. Very pretty.” He peered all over her like a jeweller examining the qualities of a gem. Then he stroked the skin of her cheek to her hushed fretting.
His fingers drifted slowly to the zip of her vest. Janet stayed defiantly still.
When Suit caught the look in Sam’s eyes he said, “You can relax. I’m not going to touch your friend.”
Sam chewed her lips doubtfully, but stayed her hand. There was little she could do anyway.
“Who are you?”
“My name is Cloake,” he said, as he released the catch at the end of the zip and began carefully to push the vest off Janet’s shoulders.
“What do you plan to do with us?” Sam’s eyes darted to the raid leader, and the gun on his hip. But he noticed, and his hand came to rest over it.
“I was commissioned to acquire the lovely doctor here,” he said, smiling almost sweetly as if he were trying to coax a smile out of Janet. He began to undo the buttons of her fatigues. Janet grabbed his wrists.
Sam twitched. The raid leader whipped out his gun. Cloake paused. He waited for as long as it took for both women to realize they would not get out of this situation.
Janet’s grip went slack and her hands trembled as they returned to her sides. Cloake instantly resumed his task of undressing her.
Sam wanted to tell him to stop. Janet was shaking and she wanted so desperately to hold her, to close around her like impenetrable armour.
Cloake stood back from Janet and appraised her appearance. He had removed her heavy military issue shirt and draped it over his arm. Janet reflexively hugged herself, mercifully allowed to keep the simple black top she had been wearing underneath
“The buyer for the doctor will be here any minute. Get her down to my office.”
Janet let out hopeless, rasping breath.
“Sam...” Janet fretted as she was led past her.
As Cloake turned to leave Sam staggered forward.
“No! Wait! Wait, please!”
Cloake turned at the door, but raider continued to force Janet out into the hall. Sam saw her trying to look back over her shoulder, but she was dwarfed by the man’s imposing frame.
Cloake eyed Sam expectantly.
She stammered, “T-take me too. Please.”
“For what purpose?” Cloake asked, his head cocking the other way.
“Sweeten the deal?” Sam shrugged hopefully.
“I will have absolutely no trouble securing a good deal for the doctor. To be perfectly honest you’re worth more as bit of light release for my men than anything I could get for you in trade.”
Sam clenched her jaw to keep from gagging. It didn’t matter that Cloake had seen her reaction, only that she could keep her voice at an even pitch.
“I’m a scientist. Considered one of the best on my world.” Sam saw the barest glint of interest in his eyes and she seized on it. “All that technology you thought you’d lost, that you can’t get operating? I can fix it. Machines, computers, weapons...I can get them working even better than before.”
“If you’re lying you will be killed,” Cloake said. “And so will I.”
“You know what I’m trying to do. You know I want to stay with my friend. Why would I risk that by lying? I can’t protect her if I’m dead.”
“Perhaps you’re a fool.”
“Then you may as well kill me now.”
The man narrowed his eyes.
Sam tossed her hands out by her sides. “For all the use I am to her.”
A small smile gleamed in the dim light of the room. Cloake took a step from the doorway to make room for her.
When Sam entered Cloak’s office Janet turned and, at the sight of the soldier, appeared to lose the strength to stand. Sam hurried to her, catching her in a firm, protective hug.
As she held the woman against her Sam took in her surroundings. The office was large with boarded windows and littered with dusty, broken furniture. She watched Cloake move around the room to the large wooden desk. There, in front of it, she noticed a conspicuous blood stain. Instinctively she drew Janet closer.
She caught the eye of the raider who had taken a seat at the side of the room. The way he returned her gaze without expression sent a shiver through her.
Janet shifted in her arms.
Sam looked down at her. “You okay?”
Janet opened her mouth to respond but nodded instead. Sam tried to reassure her with a brave smile but she knew it looked more like a grimace.
“Is he here?”
Sam turned her head at the sound of Cloake’s voice. He was holding the button of what must have been an intercom on his desk.
The voice came through crystal clear on the little device. “Just pulling up now.”
“Send him in.”
Cloake sat gracefully down in his chair. Sam expected him to give some indication of where he wanted her and Janet to be, or what he wanted them to do. For the moment he ignored them.
Sam looked down at Janet. She hoped there was enough strength in her expression to reassure the doctor and keep her calm. She seemed content to stay tucked against the taller woman’s hip. There was a gentle pressure at her back where Sam realized Janet was gripping tight to her shirt.
A while later there was a knock at the door.
The door opened for an older man in a grey suit with long white hair slicked back on his head. A thick and well manicured beared covered his jaw. A pronounced brow kept his tiny old eyes in shadow, making his gaze seem like that of a peculiar creature leering hungrily from the darkness.
Janet gripped Sam’s shirt tighter and huddled closer to her. “Sam...” The sound she made was barely a whisper.
“Mr Kreder. A pleasure to finally meet you.” Cloake said. He remained seated, however.
The old man locked eyes with Sam.
“What is this? What is she doing here?” Kreder barked.
Cloake leaned forward, perching his fingertips together and resting his elbows on the desk. “She claims to be a scientist. That she can get some of our old technology to work again.”
“That woman. She is from SG-1.” Kreder looked savagely at Cloake. “You were supposed to raid the Earth camp during the meeting with their representatives.”
“I don’t understand,” Cloake said, the edge of his lips twitching.
“Major Samantha Carter. How can she be here if you were supposed to be raiding the camp when she was present at our meeting?” Kreder’s face was red with rage. “I demand an explanation.”
Sam heard a quite noise of distress and felt Janet lean more tightly against her. Sam held her arm firmly around her back, and let her other shield across her tiny body.
“The raid was carried out exactly when you gave us the word. If this...Major...woman is here now it’s because she was at the camp during the raid,” Cloake reasoned carefully.
Kreder looked unconvinced and, Sam hoped, ready to call off the deal.
“Maybe she was in two places at once,” the henchman leader suggested with a shrug.
Somehow, this explanation went over better than Sam would have expected. Kreder walked slowly up to Sam and peered at her.
“Clone? Or android?” He said both with equal disgust.
Sam pursed her lips and held up her jaw indignantly.
Kreder scoffed. “I can always cut you open and find out.”
“You break, you buy,” Cloake warned.
“I’m only here for the doctor. I assume that would be you.” Kreder looked down at Janet. Sam felt no small sense of pride at the way Janet glared up at him with resolve.
“Answer me, girl,” the man hissed.
“Yes,” Janet said quickly before her voice could shake.
Kreder’s eyes scaled her body, an apprehensive crease to his brow. Janet’s skin flushed angrily and Sam felt her shiver.
“I could always trade the scientist to your enemy,” Cloake said. Kreder’s black eyes snapped on him. “When she gets the old tanks working again it won’t matter how good your doctor is.”
Cloak eased back in his chair.
The deal was made. Unfamiliar men came into the room to take Sam and Janet, hustling them through the lobby and out into the courtyard. Another monstrous vehicle stood waiting for them.
Janet sat next to Sam in silence, hands together on her knees. Darkness closed around them once more, though Sam could still see.
Gently, she rested a hand on Janet’s back. The woman released a small breath, but otherwise made no protest.
The tank began moving, and Sam couldn’t be sure if it was the terrain or if Janet was really shaking that much. The vehicle had not travelled far when a violent impact knocked the women from the bench to the ground. They scrambled for hold as the machine was knocked again. A bestial roar filled their ears.
Sam pulled Janet back into her hold. “Hold on!” The doctor clung to her. The tank gave another lurch and Sam felt gravity shifting. She balled Janet and herself together, protecting the woman’s head with her arms and felt the floor beneath them heave upwards.
They crashed and rolled inside the machine. Sam felt herself slamming against every hard interior wall when, finally, the motion stopped.
Sam moaned. If she still had bones they would not so much have broken as been turned to powder. Moving slightly she felt the woman in her arms. She gently eased her over and frantically assessed her in the dark.
“Janet? Janet?” She carefully touched her face. Her eyes were screwed tightly shut.
Relief swelled and burst in Sam’s chest. “Oh, thank god. Janet? Are you okay?”
The doors swung open. Light flooded the back of the upturned tank. Sam squinted against the haze and saw Jack. Her Jack. And her Daniel.
“Sam!” Daniel scrambled into the tank with her, crouching by the wounded doctor. “Oh god. Is she okay?”
Janet opened her eyes briefly and shut them again, wincing.
Sam tenderly brushed the hair from her face. “Where does it hurt?”
“I’m fine, Sam.” And she proved it by sitting up. She was surprised momentarily by the hand that hovered before her. Jack gave her a charming smile.
When Janet took the Colonel’s offered hand he helped her up and out of the tank. Sam followed, discovering her Teal’c with his staff weapon pointed at Kreder and his men.
“Dr Fraiser,” Jack nodded politely as he steadied Janet on her feet. Sam checked herself over for any injuries or exposed wires.
“Jack,” Janet said, lips thin and eyes narrow.
The Colonel frowned. “Aw now, you people took my truck. Don’t take my rank.”
“It is a pleasure to see you again, Dr Janet Fraiser,” Teal’c said, keeping an eye on Kreder.
“Oh, Teal’c.” It could have been post traumatic stress or unstable emotions, but Janet walked up to his side and threw her arms around him. It didn’t seem to concern her at all that the Jaffa had his staff weapon trained at someone’s head.
“It’s good to see you, too,” she said, eyes closed and a smile on her face.
Sam noted the curious slant to Teal’c eyebrow. Taking one hand off his staff weapon, he lowered his arm around the woman’s back, returning the hug.
“Right,” Jack said, “We should probably get you back to the Stargate. The other Teal’c is just going nuts with worry about you.”
The robots had procured a tank of their own. This time, Sam and Janet sat together in passenger seats as Jack drove them back to their hideout.
They stood just outside the building they’d chosen to wait out the stay of the SG station. Jack prepared Janet for her return to the SG camp.
“If anyone asks,” he said, handing her one of the crude energy weapons popular on the planet, “You overpowered them and broke yourself out.”
Janet snorted appreciatively and whacked him on the chest.
“What?” Jack demanded innocently. He noticed everyone was staring at him and he held out his hands. “What, she can’t say it was us or we’re toast.”
“That is true,” Teal’c said, “But perhaps an alternative explanation would be prudent.”
Daniel stepped forward. “You only need to tell them that they were attacked by a rival gang. You were able to escape in the confusion and you made your way back here.”
“There’s still SG personnel at that place,” Janet said, accepting Daniel’s idea.
“Actually...we saw them killed. They were testing weapons on them in the courtyard,” he said grimly.
Janet looked down. “Oh...”
“Not to sound selfish here, but if we don’t get you guys away from the Stargate our power is going to run out,” Daniel said.
“I can convince them to leave for a period,” Janet assured them.
“If you could do that we’d be grateful. And don’t worry. We’ll deal with Kreder.” Daniel smiled at her.
“Thanks, Daniel.” Janet reached up to lightly finger the ends of his floppy locks of hair. She perched on her tip toes, pressed her fingers lightly under the man’s chin and kissed him there. Daniel seemed to freeze, spine bent, lips slack.
“Okay, now this is just unfair,” Jack declared with the wave of his arms. “Teal’c gets a hug, Daniel gets a kiss and what do I get? Assaulted.” He stood over the woman and jutted his finger in her face. “You’re just a big tease, you know that?”
Janet suddenly reached up and held his hand in hers. She drew his finger down and lightly pressed closed lips to the tip. Sam sniffed in amusement. Jack’s jaw remained open, frozen in place like Daniel.
“Are we sure this is the real Dr Fraiser?” Teal’c queried with a sideways glance at Sam.
“I’m never washing this finger again...” Jack sighed without moving his jaw. He began to walk away, entranced by his own finger. “Never, ever, ever...”
Sam told the boys to give her and Janet a moment. She watched Teal’c usher the stunned Daniel and bewitched Jack back inside the building, and Sam turned to smile bashfully at the doctor.
Sam’s heart moved at the sight of her demure smile. But her own smile suddenly faded from her face and Janet tilted her head in concern.
“No, it’s nothing. It’s just...you’re actually here. I can actually see you...talk to you...touch you.” She demonstrated by cupping her fingers tenderly to Janet’s cheek, and the doctor shuddered a sigh.
“And...now you have to leave.” Her voice cracked.
“You really are in love with me, aren’t you?” Janet breathed, staggered.
Sam nodded and sniffed. She heard Janet giggle. Then she felt the woman’s arms slip through hers and around her back, pulling herself close. Sam melted into the embrace, savouring the contact, inhaling deeply from her scent.
She walked Janet as far as she dared to the SGC offworld camp. They hid behind the shed wall and Sam peered around the edge. She could see the human Jack O’Neill giving instructions to what must have been four SG teams. The camp was mad with activity. The light was almost gone from the sky.
She could see herself, and even from this distance could plainly see she was sick with dread. Sam knew exactly how she felt. Bringing herself back to lean against the wall, she tried to fight the reluctance to give Janet up.
“Sam,” Janet said softly.
Warm tears had fallen from the robot’s eyes. “I’m fine.” She sniffed and wiped them away quickly. “You need to go before they start the search and discover my team.”
Janet stepped closer, her feet coming either side of Sam’s. The soldier peered down at this curiously, tiny hands gently climbing, tickling over her chest, into her neck and hair. The doctor was on her toes, and Sam closed her eyes, squeezing fresh hot tears down her cheeks.
The touch of her lips was electric and liquid. Every wire beneath her synthetic skin tingled against the metal casing of her body’s architecture. She slipped her hands around the woman’s back, pulling her closer, whimpering when Janet allowed her to deepen their affection.
It was over too quickly. Sam cradled Janet’s neck, resting her brow against hers and whined again as she felt a single finger tracing the salt stains on her cheek. She sobbed when Janet whispered,
“Hey...Dr Fraiser. It’s Dr Fraiser!”
Sam’s heart stopped. She wouldn’t have believed Daniel if she didn’t look up and see him running towards the edge of camp. The doctor was limping exhaustedly towards the perimeter. Sam blinked hard, a scream of relief catching in her throat.
“Medics! We need medics over here!” Daniel called out. Everyone had turned, and even Jack stood dumbfounded at the flurry of response to the archaeologist’s orders. More cautious minded, he hurried over before Daniel could get too close.
“Uh, uh, hold it!” He hefted his P90, alerting everyone edging around Janet that she was actually armed. Sam stepped cautiously closer as Janet came to an obedient stop and held up the hand not holding the energy weapon. This she bent over to place on the ground.
“Doc,” Jack said, beginning towards her.
“Colonel,” Janet puffed, exhaustedly.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what the hell happened? How did you...?” He was searching her all over, even circling behind to brush the hair up from the back of her neck.
“I’m not a Goa’uld, Colonel,” she assured him, hands up, “And there’s no time to explain. We all need to get out of here. I have reason to believe this camp will come under a chemical attack.”
If Janet’s gaze were not so solid Jack might have resisted.
“Alright, dial it up! Everyone, we’re evacuating now! Take only the essentials!” As he escorted her towards the Stargate he said, “I expect a full explanation when we get back to SGC.”
“You’ll have it, Colonel.” As the Stargate splashed light across the busy camp, Sam quietly closed her hand over her drumming heart.
She looked out across the land in the direction Janet had appeared from. Rows of cracked and crumbling buildings lined the dust. She saw nothing else. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching her.
Hammond sat down at the head of the table, settling his hands together on the surface. He faced the leader of SG-1 who drummed his fingers in an agitated rhythm across a folder lying in front of him. Sam eyed it apprehensively. She had no idea what was in it.
“Dr Fraiser has been debriefed?” Hammond asked Jack.
“Yes, Sir. I performed it myself.” The Colonel’s eyes did not look up from the folder.
“I understand there is nothing physically wrong with her aside from a few bruises. I’ve organised a psychiatrist to assess her mental condition.”
Sam winced at Hammond’s words, and clipped her thumbs together on her lap. When she next looked up, Daniel averted his gaze, but his lips still formed a concerned pout.
Hammond bowed his head, seeming to prepare for news he was otherwise unlikely to handle. “Tell me what happened.”
“Well, Sir,” Jack said, drawing a nervous line down the cover of the folder with his finger. Sam watched its trail, feeling a chill down her spine. “I left SG-5 to guard the offworld base around the Stargate while I took SG-1 to meet with Kreder, as we had previously arranged. The meeting went well, they were prepared to offer us access to some of the newly established weapons warehouses in exchange for the extended medical service we’d agreed to.”
Sam chilled suddenly, remembering the way Kreder looked at her during the meeting.
“During that meeting, Dr Fraiser reports that two men tore through the camp, killing three members of SG-5, and abducted her and five of our technicians who were later killed. These men were slavers and Fraiser claims they had come for her,” Jack said.
Beside her, Teal’c clenched the arms of his seat. Sam could hear the plastic rubbing and straining under his angered grip.
“What happened to the fourth member of SG-5? Where was he?” Hammond asked.
“Captain Mitchell says he was investigating a noise beyond the perimeter. He followed it a few hundred feet before radioing backup. He never got a response and then he heard gunfire. He witnessed most of the attack but did not engage. He then contacted us. By the time we arrived the whole place was empty.”
“How did Dr Fraiser know these men had come specifically for her?” Hammond asked.
“According to Fraiser, it was Kreder who had organised the raid so that he could...purchase her...off the slavers.” Jack pinched and fidgeted with the bottom corner of the folder. His eyes had never looked up from the pale yellow card.
Sam lifted her gaze across the table to her leader. His voice had never sounded so sombre.
“But she escaped,” Hammond said, sensing the discomfort in the room.
“A rival gang of slavers attacked their base of operations. Dr Fraiser claims she was herded into one of the tanks found on the world. Apparently it was driven over some unstable road which collapsed. The slavers were killed and Janet survived. She encountered someone from Legion.”
“Legion?” Hammond asked.
“From what we understand it’s an independent police force dealing mostly with uncovering medical knowledge and supplies lost during the war on their world, and settling territorial disputes,” Daniel explained, and then went back to picking his nails.
Hammond turned back to Jack. “Go on.”
“He was able to guide her back to the Stargate. He also warned her about the chemical attack.” Jack was done. He pressed his hands flat against the folder, and only after a long pause did he finally look up.
“This man from Legion,” Hammond said, “Is there any chance of meeting with him?”
“Fraiser claims she couldn’t remember his name,” Jack said.
Hammond nodded. “Any chance we’d be able to re-establish trade negotiations with the locals?”
“Not with Kreder, that’s for sure,” Daniel interjected, leering darkly into his own hands.
Jack considered him for a moment and then twisted his chair around to Hammond. “I’m sure we could manage it, Sir,” he said in his characteristic tone of general contempt.
“What about the weapon Dr Fraiser brought back with her? Has there been an initial analysis?” Hammond asked.
“Yes, how good for us that Janet made herself useful while she was out there being terrorized by slave traders.” Daniel slammed his hands down on the table and Sam jumped. Silence settled thickly over the briefing room. The man sat fuming a moment, and his head sank deeply into his hands.
Sam had to cough to get her voice to work. “I um...I haven’t started yet.”
Hammond only smiled sadly. “You know the pressure we’re under from the Pentagon. In light of this report I’m going to delay our return to PX2-748 for another forty eight hours. I’ll revisit my orders once I have Dr Fraiser’s psych evaluation. Dismissed.”
In two days Sam had made little to no progress on the alien weapon brought back from PX2-748, when she was called to Hammond’s office. She tapped a knuckle on the door and heard the man say,
Feeling suddenly cold, Sam stepped apprehensively into the office, hurriedly collecting the meagre scraps of information in her head she could tell him about the energy weapon.
“Thanks for coming, Major.” He smiled up at her and Sam nodded, arms straight and shoulders hunched like she was standing in the cold and rain. A curve of amusement tilted the General’s eyebrows.
“How is work on the weapon progressing?”
“To be honest, Sir, not well.”
Far from disappointed, Hammond sat back in his chair with a nod of understanding. He wove his fingers together and set them in front of him.
“Yesterday I received a psych evaluation on Dr Fraiser.”
Sam chewed the inside of her cheek.
“It seems to advise she may not be telling the whole truth about what happened.” Hammond kept his tone calm and conversational. Sam remained silent, sticking the tip of her tongue behind a convenient tooth. “Eight of our men lost their lives in this attack. I’ve put my case forward to the President that returning to that planet is an unacceptable risk when we already have one weapon to work from.”
“What did he say?” Sam asked.
“The President agrees with me. The entire matter is under investigation. For the most part, Dr Fraiser has cooperated.”
Sam detected the frustration in his voice. “Has her story changed?”
“Not one word,” Hammond smiled thinly.
“You believe her?” Sam needed to know the answer to this more than she expected to. She needed the reassurance that someone like General Hammond could accept Janet’s version of events because it would give her less reason to doubt them. She hated not knowing what happened to her.
“I’ve spoken with her. She appears to be as stable and good humoured as she ever was. She admitted to me that there were parts of her story she was deliberately leaving out, and asked me to respect that,” Hammond said, sitting deeper into his chair and resting his arms on his lap.
“Given...what she went through...that seems perfectly reasonable, Sir,” Sam said.
“Of course. And I’m going to do what I can to hurry this investigation along. I don’t need my people under scrutiny longer than is absolutely necessary, and Dr Fraiser has been through enough.”
Sam nodded and paused cautiously before saying, “Then, if you don’t mind my asking, Sir, what is it you needed me for?”
Hammond smiled warmly. “I want you to talk to her.”
A race of heat washed down the back of her neck and spine. “I have, Sir.”
Hammond’s smiled broadened and he chuckled to himself. “Yes, Janet told me you popped in briefly to her guest room on the base with Cassandra. She said you didn’t talk much at all.”
Sam smiled sheepishly and scoffed. “I didn’t really know what to say.”
Hammond flattened his arms against his desk and stood up. He walked up to face Sam. “I’ve sent Dr Fraiser home and I’ve given her the week off. I want you to go visit her. It doesn’t have to be today. Just, sometime during the week. As a favour to me.”
After another unsuccessful day in the lab, Sam stepped into the elevator, hovering by the number pad as Teal’c walked in.
“Major Carter.” He positioned his hands gracefully behind his back and stood at the back of the lift.
“Teal’c.” Sam eyed the number buttons, finally pressing one quickly and dropping herself back against the wall.
“Are you on your way to visit Dr Fraiser?”
The innocent question of her friend made Sam cringe.
“I believe she would be happy to see you,” Teal’c offered kindly.
Her brow furrowed in doubt. “...What do I even say?”
The door opened and Sam followed Teal’c into the corridors. She walked only as far as the next turn and hugged into the wall. Teal’c stood faithfully at her side. Personnel passed them intermittently but paid them no attention.
Sam stared hard at the floor. “...I should have seen it coming.”
“How could you?” Teal’c questioned calmly.
“Kreder. I just...I felt...something.” Sam spat in exasperation.
Teal’c lifted his head, stretching to his full height. “There was no way you could have known of his plans. There was nothing you could have done. The disappointment you place in yourself is unfounded,” he reasoned wisely.
Sam just shook her head, the movement slight and affected by nervous tension.
“She shouldn’t have had to endure that...” Her head bowed again, eyes stinging with freshly forming tears. “God, what if she never made it out, Teal’c? What if...” Her fingers quickly rubbed her tears away before they could fall.
Teal’c set his hand on her shoulder, and the Major sniffed.
“You cannot dwell on what could have been. Janet Fraiser is here, now. She needs her friends, now.”
Sam sniffed again, holding her fist over her mouth, her lips able to taste the tears on her fingers. Teal’c gave her shoulder a firm squeeze.
“It is my observation that Janet Fraiser considers you to be her closest friend, the one on whom she depends most for support, from whom she draws her strength.”
Tears burned in Sam’s eyes and fell too freely to catch. Teal’c stood bracingly, and gently pulled Sam close. The soldier sobbed quietly into his broad chest, grateful for the comfort of his arms around her.
“You may not say much, Teal’c,” she said, voice muffled by his shirt, “But you sure know the right words to say when you do.”
She heard a chuffed noise above her head.
“It is an art.”
Sam laughed into the damp patch on his shirt. She was smiling when he eased her gently from him. He left her with one last firm touch of her shoulder and then went his own way. Sam quickly dried her eyes on her sleeves, brushed fingers through her hair and straightened her uniform. Satisfied, she set off with renewed confidence.
Standing on Janet’s front porch, Sam breathed through a heavy dread and knocked on the door. Waiting in pounding heartbeats, looking everywhere but at the door, it finally opened. Cassie grinned to see her.
“Hey Cassie.” The growing girl stepped aside eagerly to let Sam in. “Mom around?”
“She’s in the kitchen, I think.”
Sam followed the girl through the house to the entrance of the small quaint kitchen area where she could see the back of the small woman as she worked at the sink.
“Mom, Sam’s here,” Cassie announced, hanging to the archway. “I’m gonna be in my room, okay?” The girl didn’t wait for a response and dashed up the stairs and Sam heard a door close.
Only then did Janet brush her hands on a towel, flop it over the counter and turn. Her arms crossed her chest and she leaned back against the sink.
“Well. You certainly took your sweet ass time.”
Sam winced at the thin, unimpressed line of her mouth.
“Right. Sorry ‘bout that.” She stayed just outside the kitchen arch as though it would offer her some kind of protection.
Somehow, the sight of Janet in civilian clothes made her seem foreign and unfamiliar to Sam. She wore tan slacks and a blue cardigan, and with her hair brushed long, Sam had to stare for some length at the woman’s face until her heart turned and sent a fresh pulse of pain through her chest.
She flapped her arms at her sides and smiled sheepishly. “So...how are you?” She met her firm gaze and warm smile with uncertainty.
“Relax, Sam. I’m perfectly fine. Well,” she shrugged her head to the side and gingerly unfolded her arms, “There are a few aches and pains. Nothing to worry about.”
Sam stared. She stared until the smile on Janet’s face wavered.
“I was worried,” Sam insisted. “Sick with worry.”
Janet nodded. “I know.”
Sam’s fingers curled into tight fists. “If anything happened to you, I...”
A brief smile appeared and faded on Janet’s face like sunlight breaking behind a moving cloud. Her eyes twinkled.
Sam shook her head, releasing the tension in her body with a quick sigh. Her gaze drifted across the tiled floor.
“I should have been there for you.”
“Why? The camp was guarded. There was absolutely nothing to suggest anything would happen while you were gone,” Janet assured her.
“I just...” Sam started, shoulders lifting. She dropped them again, spitting with self disgust. “I should have...” Her words failed her again and again.
Janet walked closer to her, stopping short a few strides. “Sam,” she said gently to get her attention. Sam only turned her gaze shamefully away.
She couldn’t look at her. She couldn’t stand seeing her so strong and together when she felt so useless and pathetic. She couldn’t stand knowing that Janet had been so alone during her whole ordeal. She couldn’t stand to think that those slavers still had some small piece of her, some important little piece that otherwise made Janet whole.
Janet sighed and lowered her voice.
“When I was held captive by those men, when I was facing...an uncertain future on an unknown world...It was you who kept me from falling completely apart.”
Sam twitched. The ache crept up on her heart as she looked back at Janet, finding her dark eyes alight with such warmth, such gratitude. Sam couldn’t breathe.
“I knew,” Janet said, stepping a little closer, “You would never give up on me. Your strength, your resolve, your unrelenting courage...”
Sam’s vision shimmered with unbelieving tears as Janet stepped closer still, now at a distance easily crossed by the simple extension of her arm.
“Without you I could never have survived it...any of it.”
Sam flinched at the unexpected touch of Janet’s hand to her arm, but the doctor held on gently, tenderly soothing the flesh with her thumb.
“Sam,” she said firmly, “I’d really appreciate it if you could stop blaming yourself. You’re making me feel kind of crappy.” She pouted.
Sam clicked her tongue and looked down, the barest smile quivering on her lips. “Sorry.”
“You and the other members of SG-1 get into all sorts of terrifying situations. I get myself into a teeny bit of trouble, one time, and everyone’s treating me like I’m made of glass.”
Sam felt words of protest gurgle in her throat, but Janet had more to say.
“I really don’t need that from you.” Her eyes were stern, but never lost their warmth. And when the shock wore off a little, Sam just smiled. Janet backed off, eyes narrowing suspiciously.
“Janet,” she paused to shake her head in awe, “I don’t think you’re made of glass. You’re the strongest person I know.”
Her heart was swelling, adrenalin rushing. “If you’re made of anything, it’s something rare and wonderful and...every day I see it shining in and around you, this warm...light...You amaze me. You astound me.” Janet was only staring at her but Sam couldn’t stop herself. “You fight battles I don’t even know how to fight. The rest of us can only watch on helplessly and you...you fight furiously, tirelessly to bring us back from death. You never give up. You never let go. I don’t know how you do it. You have to be made of stronger stuff than me. Than any of us.”
Sam took a moment to breathe, slowly wetting her drying lips and then lifted her eyes back to Janet. “The only reason I continue to go through the Stargate, the only reason I continue to risk my life and get into all those terrifying situations is because I know...you will fight for me. You’ll never give up on me. I’m only brave because...I know you’re waiting for me and...you’re going to save me-”
Sam was stunned at how fast Janet came towards her. She barely uttered the final word when she felt hands slip around the back of her neck, and lips press softly against hers.
She grabbed Janet by the shoulders and pushed her away.
“W-what’s happening?” she stammered.
“I was kissing you,” Janet said with the slight turn of her head.
Sam licked her lips and tightened them shut. “...Yeah. I felt that.”
“Seemed the only way to shut you up,” Janet shrugged.
Sam felt her features lock. She blinked, and watched a sly grin bloom on Janet’s face.
“Can I go back to kissing you?” she asked, taking a step towards her. Sam still held her at arm’s length, so the action only succeeded in pushing Sam a step backwards.
“Uhh...” Sam stammered, eyes widening. Janet kept taking step after step, and eventually Sam felt her back meet a wall.
“Did you mean everything you said just now?” Janet asked, tilting her head a degree.
Sam opened and shut her mouth like a fish.
“No one has ever said anything like that to me...Did you really mean it?” the doctor asked again.
Sam searched her face, her eyes for some sign that this wasn’t real. Some sign that she was dreaming or trapped inside some mind manipulating machine.
She’d never seen the woman she loved look back at her with such heat and desire in her eyes.
“...Janet...” she said softly. The beautiful woman gazed up at her expectantly. “...You are breathtaking.”
Janet pushed against her arms and Sam felt all the strength drain instantly from them. Hands felt up her neck and into her hair and then she was tasting Janet’s lips on hers once more. The woman seemed to drive her into the wall, trapping Sam in her passion.
Sam just had to stay standing. But her knees were shaking, her whole body trembling. Whimpering, she felt around Janet’s back and pulled her close.
She gasped when Janet broke the kiss, staggering clumsily between her and the wall. She laughed and her eyes fluttered open. Janet traced a finger down her cheek and cupped her jaw, gazing at her adoringly.
“You have...no idea how long I’ve spent imagining this happening...” Sam said breathlessly.
Janet hummed, something sly in her eyes. “I have a fair idea.”
Sam dropped her head at a sideways slant. “...How?”
Janet rubbed her thumb across her cheekbone, eyes shifting as though admiring all the unique details of her face in turn. She smirked.
“It suddenly came back to me all those times I caught you spaced out during your medical exams.”
Sam blushed so hard she thought her head would explode from the rush of blood. “...Uhh...” she stammered, horrified.
Janet giggled and slipped her hands down, resting them lightly across her collarbone. “All the times I’ve caught you watching me from a distance.”
Sam’s face felt so hot it was suddenly a concern it might catch fire.
Janet cupped her face in both hands and lifted her gaze again.
“Anything you want to tell me?” the smaller woman asked, quirking an eyebrow.
Sam swallowed and chewed her lip. “...You know.”
“I want to hear you say it.”
Sam shivered, closing her eyes against a wave of desire. She felt her heart, the tireless organ, throbbing in her chest, and took several nervous breaths.
Janet’s eyes shined, warm and deep. Sam licked her lips. It took several more breaths before she could get her voice to work.
“...I’m in love with you.”
Janet smiled, bringing Sam down to her lips. Softly, sweetly, Sam had never felt anything so tender.
She chuckled softly. “You have no idea how long I’ve waited to hear you say that.”
Sam laughed through an outpour of emotion. Everything came spilling from her heart and Janet had to gather her up in her arms.
Sam didn’t understand how this had happened. She probably would have gone on the rest of her life never telling Janet how she really felt about her. It was overwhelming to think that the woman had the same feelings about her.
Janet lifted her chin onto Sam’s shoulder to whisper, “So, you wanna go out to dinner or what?”
Sam felt her whole body lurch from laughter and she squeezed Janet tight.
“I mean you’ve probably been planning the perfect first date for a while now,” Janet breathed lightly into her ear.
Sam closed her eyes and chuckled into the woman’s hair, breathing deeply. “Oh, it’s gonna blow your mind.”
Janet hummed low against her neck, making Sam shiver at the sensation. She never knew it was possible to feel so happy. When they slowly pulled apart, she brushed the length of Janet’s hair reverently with a finger. The woman smiled at her.
“What are you going to tell Hammond about our talk?” Janet asked, raising an eyebrow.
Sam laughed and snorted. She trained her features and gave a firm nod. “That it went pretty well.”
Janet pulled her down, chuckling as their lips met. Sam was still weak in the knees and standing only by the support of the wall and the woman kissing her. Sam felt firmly around Janet’s body and held on. She was never going to let go.