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rocketfic | before knowing remembers

Title: Before Knowing Remembers by Rocketchick
Rating: 15+ Pairing: Sam/Janet
Notes: One day Sam wakes up and finds out Janet didn't die after all. Set in the 8th season, sometime soon after "Affinity."

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.
William Faulkner

Every time this happened, it was like a bad dream.

Sam woke slowly, taking in the sounds of the infirmary around her. The blip of her heart monitor was vaguely reassuring as always, as was that telltale antiseptic scent.

Nausea rolled casually through her gut, and that combined with the general indistinctness of her attachment to reality made her guess it had been a head injury this time around.

She pushed forward and out of the fog, and forced her eyes to blink open. They fluttered painfully shut as they always did under the harsh fluorescent lights.

With a sigh she pried them open again, and kept them that way until her eyes had adjusted. Now she just had to wait until some nurse bustled by and noticed that she was awake, then the dream would be officially over and she'd be back in the real world.

This time was a bit different than usual, though. There was a warm weight splayed across one of her wrists. For a heartbeat Sam was sure she'd been restrained; she panicked and jerked her arm away, not realizing for a few seconds that it had been nothing more than a hand resting on her arm.

Sam tried to turn her head, but the fuzziness of drugs and lingering sleep-fog was still impeding her fine motor skills.

The person that had been asleep at her side stirred and stood, then leaned over Sam with a soft smile.

"Hey there, Colonel Carter." The voice was warm and more familiar than the infirmary itself. "Welcome back."

Sam stared up at the face she hadn't seen in over a year. Janet's hair was different -- naturally -- but her dark eyes shone down at her with that same deeply-missed humor and gentle compassion. She tried to keep her eyes open, to soak in as much of Janet's presence as she could, but she couldn't stop herself from tilting towards unconsciousness again.

She felt Janet's fingertips brush lightly across her brow, and when the blackness came again she surrendered to the unexpected sweetness of this particular dream.

Just this once, it wasn't a nightmare after all.

Jack O'Neill poked his head into Janet's office. "Hey, Doc."

"General," Janet acknowledged. "Colonel Carter's condition is unchanged."

"You know, I could just be coming down here to... restock my tongue depressor supply. Or something."

She smiled at the blatant lie. "I expect she'll be conscious again in an hour or so, sir. Would you like me to inform you when she's awake?"

"Nah, that's all right." He stepped fully into her office, and gave her an appraising look. "Are you doing okay?"

"I'm fine, sir," she answered automatically. In an instant her eyes brightened with unshed tears.

"Well, that was convincing," he muttered. "Janet, she's gonna be fine. She's safe now."

"I won't be able to rule out neurological damage until she's conscious."

At that, the general's brow furrowed. "Okay. Keep me posted." On his way out, he stopped by one of the ubiquitous glass containers that housed random supplies throughout the infirmary, and lifted three wooden tongue depressors. "See?"

When she woke up again, Jack, Teal'c, and Daniel were murmuring somewhere off to her left. The memory of Janet's imaginary visit was still sharp and clear in her mind, and she had to blink back tears of fresh grief.

"Doctor? Colonel Carter appears to be conscious," announced an officious nurse somewhere outside her field of vision.

The three men to her left turned to face her, giving her hopeful, encouraging looks. She heard determined high heels thunk toward her, and a bright white lab coat obscured her view of her friends.

"Sam? I'd like you to try and stay awake this time, okay?" Janet said as she flashed her penlight into her friend's eyes. "The sedatives should be wearing off." She tucked the small light into her labcoat pocket. "How are you feeling?"

Sam couldn't quite restrain an agonized whimper. Her brain was spinning in nauseated circles, unable to make sense of any aspect of this situation.

The doctor's expression sharpened in instant concern. "Sam. Can you talk to me?"

"Jack..." Sam called roughly, and cleared her throat. "I need to speak to the General. In private," she whispered.

Janet blinked, then turned and glanced back at her superior officer. O'Neill shrugged, and his subordinates shuffled dutifully away. Before leaving Janet tugged the privacy curtain around Sam's bed. The genuinely concerned look the doctor and general shared before Janet disappeared nearly made Sam yell out loud about the cruelty of this extended hallucination.

In a moment they were as 'alone' as they were going to get; O'Neill peered down at her with raised eyebrows. "What's up, Carter?"

"Sir... Something's wrong," she whispered.

He frowned and perched on the side of the bed. "Yeah? Like what?"

"Janet shouldn't be here."

"Where should she be?"

"She's dead, sir," Sam barely managed to say. Amazing how after a year it still hadn't gotten any easier. "She died on P3X-666."

He frowned. "Carter, you saved her after 666. Remember? With the Tok'ra healing thingie?"

She stared up at him in unmeasured horror. "Jack," she rasped, desperate to make him understand. "I spoke at her funeral. You were there."

His jaw clamped shut as he looked away, apparently trying to remember things the way she did. After a moment he shook his head. "I don't know what to tell you, Sam... I mean, she got pretty beat up on that one. Hell, so did I. And I guess she might have actually died there for a bit. But you brought her back, right there on the Gateroom floor." He risked a look back at her, and could see the raw need she had to believe him burning in her bright eyes.

"I couldn't save her," she argued, but her certainty was dwindling by the second.

"You were the only one who could have. Damnedest thing I've ever seen."

His mind's eye flashed back to the chaos in the gateroom after their return from that botched rescue mission. There was so much yelling... it was a long time before he realized most of it was Carter's. She had carried Janet's crumpled body back through the gate personally, and was screaming orders to everyone around her. The other medics on the team had taken one look at their commanding officer's wound and written her off, instead focusing on the half-dozen other injured personnel that could still be saved. Sam, however, didn't know Janet was beyond help, and in truth it wouldn't have mattered if she had. She just wasn't going to give up that easily.

When someone finally got her the Tok'ra healing device she was demanding, Sam had set Janet's body on the floor as gently as possible, and hefted the alien device in her palm. An amber glow immediately shot forth with all its bearer's inherent urgency.

That was the point when O'Neill had finally been shuffled off to the infirmary by bustling medics and airmen. The last thing he saw was Sam kneeling perfectly still, her face a mask of concentration as she focused everything within her on healing her friend.

Daniel told him later that the dozen or so people left in the gateroom had just stood there, transfixed by the glow that had eventually permeated Sam's whole body. Emmett Bregman's illicitly-acquired videotape of the event would show that it was almost five minutes before Janet suddenly jerked and sucked in a shuddering breath, and Sam collapsed at her side.

Three days and countless hours of surgery later, Janet woke up. Sam wouldn't awaken for another two days after that.

"I don't remember it that way," Sam breathed.

Jack patted his 2IC's arm a bit. "She's okay, Sam. And so are you. I promise." He watched as she closed her eyes and dropped her head against the pillow, releasing a resigned sigh. He smiled pensively and lifted himself off the bed. "I'll have Fraiser stop by and see you, okay? Maybe that'll jog your memory."

Her eyes shot open again. "Sir, please don't tell her I said..."

"I won't," he promised, then leaned closer to give her a quiet, determined look. "We're going to figure out what's going on with you, Carter. Trust me. That's an order."

"Yes, sir."

Jack scrubbed his fingers through his silver hair before knocking on the Janet's office door and stepping inside. Not for the first time, he silently mused at how positively tiny the doctor looked behind her massive wooden desk, like a kid playing teacher.

"Sir?" she said instantly, and moved to rise.

He waved her off. "Relax, Doc. Listen, Carter's a little... disoriented. She's not remembering some stuff clearly."

Janet's worry was suddenly a palpable presence that threatened to crowd him right back out of her office. "I was afraid of that, but the MRIs didn't conclusively reveal any damage." For a moment she stared hard into empty space, as if willing the answer to appear in thin air. Then she seemed to remember he was still in the room. "Unfortunately, Colonel Carter has a lot of recent experience with head trauma and subsequent memory problems. You remember how out of it she was following her injuries on the Prometheus? Then at the Alpha Site?"

He tucked his hands into his pockets. "Are you telling me I have a Lieutenant Colonel that's prone to hallucinations? That's not good, Doc."

Janet frowned, and tried to think of a better way to put it. "She may simply need some time to recover, as she did before," she stated diplomatically. "Her neurochemistry is utterly unique, sir. Between Jolinar, the entity that inhabited her brain, and the scores of injuries she's been through, it's actually surprising she can still walk and talk, much less be healthy enough to go through the gate."

He gave her a pointed look. "Is she still healthy enough to go through the gate?"

"Right now I don't know, sir," the doctor admitted. "I'd like her to rest for the next several days, and then I can properly evaluate her condition."

"Then she's officially on downtime until you say otherwise," he ordered. "And you might wanna check in on her, huh?" The last suggestion was unnecessary and he knew it; he stepped back out of her office and had to practically duck out of her way as she hurried back to Sam's side.

The curtain closed around Sam's bed once more, and Jack wandered back out of the infirmary with a thoughtful look.

"Hey," Janet murmured. She swore she saw mild alarm in Sam's eyes, but it flickered away just as soon as she thought it. "The general tells me things are a little fuzzy for you right now."

"Fuzzy. Yeah." That was a better way of thinking about it than the vivid memory of crying so hard just before Janet's funeral she'd actually gotten sick.

The doctor raised one hand to trace gentle paths down the side of Sam's face with her fingertips. Her voice dropped to its lowest register. "Well, we'll figure it out together."

Sam knew she was having issues remembering things, but she was certain she would have recalled it if Janet had ever looked at her like that before. Her friend's dark, expressive eyes were threatening to pull her in entirely. She realized belatedly that she wouldn't really mind so much if they did.

God. Way more than a few memories had rattled loose, this time.

"I've missed you," Sam said in a ragged whisper.

Janet's brow drew together with mild confusion, but she smiled anyway. "I've been right here the whole time, Sam."

With that, Sam's composure finally broke apart, and the restrained tears sprang free. Janet immediately scooted onto the bed next to her and caught the blonde when she tipped clumsily forward, right into her arms.

Sam nosed against her friend's neck and sobbed silently. Her thoughts and memories were so jumbled in her head that she no longer had a clear idea of what she even knew was real. Everything here -- her long-lost friend, her coworkers -- all of it could be just a sick hallucination. For the moment though, she let herself cry on Janet's shoulder, venting remembered grief and letting herself be held by the woman she'd missed for so long.

Jack was relieved to see his former 2IC far more "with it" the next morning. He'd snagged a bowl of blue jell-o to share, and decided to try an impromptu quiz to test the limits of Sam's recollection. "So... you remember us beating Anubis," he said as he settled on a stool next to her bed.


"And my Han Solo impression."

Sam snorted. "Yes."

O'Neill grinned and sucked on a cube of gelatin. "That was pretty cool, huh?"

"I'm just glad you're all right, sir," she said diplomatically.

He mock-scowled, even though he was privately thrilled that she was feeling well enough not to put up with his typical obnoxiousness. "Fine. Remember Hammond leaving to command the Prometheus?"


"Daniel started a war."

"Again. Right."

"Teal'c moved off-base. Then he came back."

"I was there."

He shook his head. "I dunno, Carter. It sounds like you're pretty much up to date."

She sighed, and shifted in the infirmary bed. "Except for one thing."

O'Neill's attention was on her left hand, as it wandered idly through the air. "You know, maybe this has something to do with what happened the last time you got whacked on the head."

"The Prometheus?"

"Seems like you're missing bits after that, but not so much before."

Sam's jaw clenched, recalling the long hours of dizzy disorientation as her imagined friends and family popped in to visit. "That's less than comforting."

"So when are you going to tell Fraiser about this?" He looked back at her alarmed expression impassively. "Carter, she needs to know."

"'Hey, Janet, by the way -- I actually think you've been dead for a year?'" she asked, dripping with sarcasm.

"You can tell her or I can. Your choice."

She dipped her head and fiddled with the starched white sheet across her lap. "Yes, sir."

The curtain around the bed parted, and Janet stepped within. The doctor eyed the bowl of jell-o suspiciously, but chose not to comment on it. "General, Colonel. How's our patient today?"

"Feeling better," Sam said wanly. She and O'Neill both looked askance at the tray of assorted sharp objects the doctor had brought with her.

"That's my cue," O'Neill announced, looking pale as Janet hefted a particularly sizable needle. He gave the two women a rakish grin and fled before witnessing any poking, jabbing, or bodily fluids.

Janet smirked and put the needle back on the tray. "Gets him every time," she said with a wicked grin, answered by Sam's surprised chuckle. The doctor pulled up a stool and sat, grinning at her friend. "How's your head?"

"Not bad," Sam answered, surprised that she meant it.

"Good. Assuming your latest tests come back the way I'm expecting, I'll be sending you home this evening."

"Really?" the blonde blurted. She was expecting to be stuck within the gray walls of the infirmary for several more days.

"You're on extended downtime, Sam. I want you to relax, and you're not going to do that here. I don't want you driving, though, so Cassie and I are working out a schedule to be around and help you out."

"You don't have to do that," Sam said instantly.

"I know," Janet replied with a smile. "But we're going to anyway, so you should just smile and choose to be gracious about it."

The blonde could only shake her head bemusedly. Janet's wit was one of the things she'd missed most. Dream, hallucination, apparition, imagination gone awry -- whatever this was, Janet certainly felt right. "Okay," she said, surrendering. "Thank you."

Janet beamed in response. "Good. My shift is up in a few minutes, so I'll head over to your place and see if you have anything more than mustard and bottled water in your fridge, then tomorrow I'll do a little shopping." She hefted her instrument tray and ducked back out of the confines of the privacy curtain.

"I actually think I ran out of mustard," Sam called after her, smiling when she heard the deliberate stride of high heels hesitate for a second before the doctor sighed and left to finish her rounds.

Once released from the infirmary Sam spent a couple hours poking at the things in her lab, intending to pick up some light research to take home with her. Despite her lingering feeling of displacement, everything here was still exactly where she'd left it. Even the charred bits of her last experiment sat pitifully crumbled on one of her benches, waiting for her to get around to cleaning it up.

She'd been moving gingerly, trying not to turn too fast or change altitude too quickly, and was rather pleased at the lack of protest from her equilibrium. When she finally realized she was absolutely exhausted, she flagged an airman to drive her home.

Everything was exactly as she'd left it back at home, too, right down to the loose number on her mailbox that she kept meaning to fix. Except... she peered at the furtive light spilling between drawn drapes. Someone was in her house.

Sam's eyes narrowed as she slipped into the front door and stopped by the table in the hall to pull out her .380. With careful steps she crept toward the living room, where the muted TV flickered away.

She swung around the corner and saw Janet curled up, asleep on her couch. She dropped the aim of her weapon immediately, and looked the smaller woman over. Janet wore baggy sweats and ill-fitting socks, and had apparently made herself quite at home.

Sam stared blankly for a moment, then returned her pistol to its normal spot. She bent next to the couch, struck once more by how amazing it was to actually see her friend again. She lifted a hand to Janet's shoulder and shook her a little.


The brunette murmured in her sleep, and one hand snaked up to wrap itself around Sam's.

Sam chuckled indulgently and shook a bit harder. "Janet, wake up."

Dark eyes blinked open and peered up at her. Janet smiled sleepily and stretched, then pulled Sam's hand to her lips to plant a kiss on her knuckles.

"Hey. You're late."

Sam's mouth worked wordlessly for a moment, as she found her fingers tucked snugly under her friend's chin. "I... was... um." She scowled in confusion, and looked Janet over once more. "Are those my socks?" For some reason, the bland little detail was the only thing she could coherently catalogue.

"They're comfy," the doctor answered through a yawn.

"Oh," Sam breathed. Well, that explained... nothing at all. What the hell was happening here? Suddenly her heart was hammering, making her head throb painfully. She swayed and leaned against the couch to maintain her balance.

Janet was awake and alert in an instant. "Sam?" She leapt from the couch and tugged Sam upright enough to collapse against the cushions. "Easy now. Can you hear me?"

"... hurts," Sam said through clenched teeth, as she pressed her palms to her forehead.

"Deep breaths," the doctor ordered. "Nice and steady."

Sam focused on following Janet's directions and managed to slow her thundering heartbeat enough that the intolerable pulsing in her head eased off a bit. She forced herself to unclench fractionally from her tight fetal position. When she opened her eyes she saw Janet kneeling at her side, walking her fingers through her unruly bangs and making occasional calming noises.

Suddenly Sam couldn't take it anymore. "You should be dead," she rasped.

The brunette's eyebrows shot up wryly. "Well, you probably should be too, but who's keeping track?"

"No," Sam said, straining. She pinched the bridge of her nose, trying to keep the pounding behind her eyes at bay. "I went to your funeral. I said a eulogy. You're dead."

Janet pulled her hand away and sat back on her heels, surprised at the vehement words. "Sam..."

"You died, on P3X-666." Sam was whimpering now, as much from the pain in her skull as from the grief she'd towed around for over a year. "You were hit by a staff blast... Daniel was screaming, and by the time I got to you you were already gone."

The very-much alive Janet Fraiser reeled, and shook her head wildly. "No."

"And now you're here but you can't be here..." the blonde continued, screwing her eyes shut as she tried not to sob. "I'm stuck in a dream and I can't wake up, but I don't want to wake up because then you'll be gone again."

"Sam!" Janet said firmly. She sat next to the other woman on the couch, and tried to ignore Sam's flinch away from her. "I want you to look at me." She waited a moment, then gentled her voice a bit. "Open your eyes."

Bloodshot, glassy blue eyes blinked open and peered at her. Janet held up one finger, silently commanding Sam to wait. She shifted and pulled her sweatshirt up and over her head, then peeled off the t-shirt underneath. She sat before her friend naked from the waist up, save for her white bra.

Sam's eyes instantly found the scar. It was a rough, mottled patch of skin several inches in diameter just below Janet's breasts. The blonde sucked in a breath, and looked like she was about to burst into tears again.

The doctor latched onto one of Sam's hands and pressed trembling fingers against the healed wound. "You saved me, Sam," Janet said quietly. "I was gone and you brought me back. I don't know why you remember it differently, but I'm still here."

Sam spread her fingers out against the scar and stared up at her friend. The skin under her hand was damaged, unquestionably. But it was intact and warm and it moved with Janet's breath. The ensuing shiver of sensation rocked her, and the remaining vestiges of dreamlike unreality evaporated like mist after dawn.

She was awake and alive, and so was Janet.

So why the hell didn't she remember?

Mackenzie was nice enough, for a military shrink. It wasn't really his fault he gave her the heebie-jeebies.

Sam was trying not to fidget as she sat in his office and provided an outline of events as she remembered them in the past year. She watched him note every divergence against SG-1's mission report, then waited while he reread and digested the bulk of her story.

Eventually he set his notes down and peered at her over thick reading glasses. "So according to your recollection, you had a relationship with a civilian in law enforcement who initiated a high-level security check into your background, nearly got himself killed while secretly following you, and then you in turn informed him of the nature of the entire Stargate project?"

His tone was nothing but professional, but she could hear the incredulousness leaking through every syllable. She gave him a tight smile. "I guess it does sound a little out of character, huh?"

Mackenzie quirked an eyebrow, but didn't comment.

"I can't explain it, Doctor. I remember these things. I remember Pete Shanahan. We'd just gotten engaged." She held up her left hand, intending to display a diamond ring that was decidedly absent. When she remembered that, she sighed and chewed on a nail instead.

"So you loved this man?" He raised his pencil to make a notation in the file.


He looked impassively at her. His pencil hovered idly over the paper, awaiting her answer.

"Yes. Yes, of course I did," Sam continued, trying to sound confident. "We had a lot in common."

"Such as?"

"That's... awfully personal, isn't it?"

The pencil finally found the paper, and he completed his note. "Perhaps."

Sam swallowed. It did all sound pretty ridiculous when she said it aloud.

"Colonel Carter," Mackenzie said. "What concerns me is the timing of this... memory event. You say that upon your return from the accident on the Prometheus, you were experiencing a period of profound change in your personal outlook. You were ready to find a companion, a partner. From that point your memory diverts radically - and very specifically - from every record we have. Included in these recollections are the detailed existence of a man named Pete Shanahan, his subsequent access to top level security clearance, and Janet Fraiser's 'death.'"

She could only nod in response.

"Given the proximity of head trauma to the divergence of your recollection, it seems unlikely to be mere coincidence."

"You're telling me that I've imagined my own fiance because I got hit on the head?"

"I'm telling you that as a scientist, you need to examine the facts available to you and draw your own conclusions, Colonel. The brain has a remarkable ability to overcome and accommodate injury, but sometimes at the jeopardy of our memory and perceptions," the psychiatrist said blandly. "What you're experiencing now may simply be the functional equivalent of the 'memory stamp' you were subjected to several years ago. A few lingering suggestions in your mind, catalyzed by sudden physical trauma, and... poof."


Mackenzie shrugged. "For lack of a more scientific term, yes."

"But the memory stamp wore off," Sam pointed out.

"I see no reason to suspect this condition won't as well," he said. "In the meantime, I'd suggest immersing yourself in the current realities of your life. As you and Doctor Fraiser are good friends, you may wish to start with her."

"Start with her, how?"

"Spending time in a familiar setting with familiar people is the most expedient way to trigger recall. And you might try to decipher why your brain would creatively edit the events following the mission on P3X-666." He flipped his file shut and smiled. "Come see me again next week, Colonel."

"Shanahan," answered a terse voice.

Sam inhaled sharply, and took a moment to adjust the phone against her ear. "Pete. Hi. It's Sam."

"Excuse me? Sam who?"

She sighed. "Carter. Samantha Carter. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm swell... especially when strange women call my work line. How did you get this number?" She could hear papers shuffling in the background, then the line was muffled as one of Pete's coworkers asked him a question.

"My brother Mark," Sam said, eyeing the crumpled paper she'd dug out of her address book. "He gave me your number a while back."

"MC's kid sister? Well, no offense, 'Carter. Samantha Carter,' but why are you calling me?"

Her eyes slid shut. "I was just hoping to catch up. Sorry for bothering you."

She could hear his mildly confused sputter, and her mind's eye conjured that sleepily clueless look he seemed to have patented. "Well, okay then. Say hey to Mark for me," he said before disconnecting.

Sam turned off the phone and sat atop one of the kitchen stools. "We were going to get married, you idiot," she muttered, then sent the hapless phone skittering across the counter. She dropped her head forward with a sigh.

Spend time in the familiar, Mackenzie had said. Re-immerse in current reality.

She'd thought Pete was as familiar as her life got. Now what?

Just then the back door opened and Janet bustled in, laden with bags of groceries. "Hey, Sam," she called cheerfully. "How was your appointment with Mackenzie?"

And speaking of familiar... Sam cocked her head. They'd been close friends before, but Janet had never just wandered unannounced into her house. Now she'd done it twice in as many days.

Sam slid off the stool to relieve the brunette of a few bags. "It was okay," she said. "He thinks I've got the concussion-induced equivalent of a memory stamp."

"Mmhmm," Janet mused. She deposited a few items in the fridge, then closed it with the bump of her hip. "So he wants you to reintroduce yourself to your life, with settings and people most likely to stimulate recall?"

Sam had pulled a jar of peanut butter and some celery out of the bags. She leaned against the counter and tucked into her newfound snack. "Pretty much, yeah."

The doctor smiled fondly at her as she finished putting the rest of the groceries away. "So where do you want to start?"

With a piece of celery stuck in her mouth, Sam eyed the phone on the counter guiltily. Janet followed her gaze, then looked back at her with her eyebrows raised in question.

The blonde sighed. "I don't suppose I'm suddenly allowed to go back to base?"

"Nope," Janet said cheerfully. "Put on some shoes. We're going for a walk."

It was a beautiful day. The sun warmed her skin even as the mild breeze cooled it again, and the park around her was alive with birdsong and children's laughter. Unfortunately Sam wasn't noticing any of it; she just stared pensively at the sidewalk and wondered if she'd ever reconnect with reality enough to be allowed to go back to work.

A hot dog materialized below her nose, loaded with mustard and pickles just the way she liked it. She blinked, looked over at a grinning Janet, then took the hot dog from her. "Thanks," she said quietly, before the brunette steered her over to a bench to sit down.

"Who did you call before?" Janet asked as she perched beside her friend.

Sam sighed. "Someone I thought I knew." She took a thoughtful bite and watched some kids play tag in the sand before her.

Janet's hand wandered up to her friend's shoulder, and tangled her fingers in the short blonde hair at her neck. "It'll be okay."

Sam smiled and turned into the caress. She shifted on the bench until their knees bumped together. "It's got to be okay if you're here, right?" She shook her head, and couldn't help but look a little chagrined. "I'm sorry, this is just a little strange."

"We've done this before, Sam," the doctor said mildly.

"Too many times," Sam replied, before loosing another frustrated sigh. It seemed she came back with just a little less of herself after each traumatic mission. This time, though... She cocked her head to regard her friend. This time she'd actually regained something she thought was lost forever. "There were so many things I missed telling you about."

"Like what?"

Sam thought for a moment, then chuckled. "I don't remember."

"Well, how about I just talk for a while and you can interrupt me if you want?"

The blonde nodded, then sat back and listened to her friend tell her about the past year. Airman Wells' daughter was just learning to walk, and Janet, naturally, took all credit for the child's evident precociousness. She and General O'Neill were still getting used to each other, though she'd found it quite beneficial that their previous working relationship was largely grounded in his inordinate fear of sharp objects. And she'd declined a post on the Atlantis mission despite her apparent latent genetic predisposition to manipulation of Ancient technology.

Janet paused for a moment, and watched as the smaller children in the park were gathered by their parents while the sun dipped low in the sky. "And Cassie's off at school, though at least she stayed local," she said a little sadly, before she broke into a proud grin. "And her speech was five times better than that valedictorian's."

Sam swallowed hard and looked away. She remembered how hard she and Cassie had cried the day of the girl's high school graduation, robbed of the ability to celebrate by Janet's absence. Cassie's salutatorian speech had been of heroes and loss, and how her mother had changed the world in ways none of her classmates could even imagine. It was the proudest she'd ever been.

"That was the proudest I've ever been," Janet murmured. Sam looked sharply back at her, and they shared a small smile. The two women remained quiet for a few minutes as the sun dropped and painted the sky in shades of pink and orange.

"This bench is your favorite place to sit and think," Janet said quietly.

Again, Sam peered at her friend in some surprise. She didn't think she'd told anyone that -- not Pete, not Janet.

"I think you like watching the kids, because they're a reminder of why you do what you do."

"Yeah," Sam agreed. "I started coming here right after you adopted Cassie."

"You told me," Janet said.

"I did?"

"Mmhmm." The brunette nodded. "About six months ago."

Sam sat back and considered that. As a general rule of life she abhorred secrets; the price of keeping them was usually more than she was willing to pay. That was ultimately why she'd told Pete about the Stargate. But this spot, this bench -- this had been utterly private. She came to this spot when nothing else about her life or her job made any sense.

She thought she'd always come alone.

Janet stood then, and held a hand down to her friend. "Walk a doctor home, Colonel?"

Sam took the proffered hand and stood as well. "Your promotion cycle was about six months behind mine. I'm betting you're probably a Colonel yourself by now."

The doctor positively beamed up at her. "Fine then. Walk a colonel home, Colonel?"

Sam chuckled and gamely escorted Janet back to her house.

Early the next morning, Sam woke feeling better than any time in recent memory, the realization of which made her smirk a bit in irony. She padded out into her kitchen to rifle through the food Janet had brought over, and ended up munching on a bowl of cereal while leaning against the counter. It was raining, and she watched the steady tap of water against her kitchen window with a bemused smile.

She and Janet had sat on the couch and talked late into the night. She'd forgotten -- or at least put out of her mind -- just how much she'd enjoyed the doctor's company, and found they were falling into an old pattern of effortless companionship.

Her brows drew together in a frown when she noticed a bound leather album on the kitchen island. She set aside her cereal bowl, picked up the album, and flipped it open.

A note tucked inside the cover peeked back at her, written in Janet's distinctive, illegible physician's scrawl. Sam squinted at it, made out the words "help" and "remember," then set it aside.

The first few pictures were ones Sam herself had taken: pictures of Cassie as a young, tentative girl, and a few shots of her with Janet as they tried to figure each other out. Sam smiled in pure reflex. Those early days stuck out vividly in her memory, as she'd worked to make herself available to help. Janet had spent more than a few sleepless nights worrying that she wouldn't be able to adequately provide for this orphaned child, and Sam had spent more than a few hours in the middle of the night listening to the doctor work through her insecurities over the phone.

Next were the birthday pictures, including Cassie's fourteenth, and Colonel O'Neill's ill-advised purchase of a case of Silly String. Cassie's dog nearly didn't make it to number fifteen, as he'd ended up with a belly full of noxious aerosol chemicals.

Sam's smile abruptly disappeared when she saw Cassie in a cap and gown on the next page, proud and grinning at her high school graduation. She set the album down and just stared at the picture for a long moment. She and Janet were both flanking Cassie, Sam with her arm across the teen's shoulders, Janet with an arm around her waist. They looked every inch the proud parents.

She sat on a stool and drew the album closer, then flipped the page with trembling fingers.

The next shot was a profile of Janet as she leaned against the rail of a boat, with her hair flying wildly in the apparent breeze. In the next picture, Sam saw herself with a fishing pole and an entirely ridiculous bucket hat on her head, grinning madly at the camera. She and Janet had always talked about taking some leave together and going on vacation. Apparently they'd finally managed to do just that.

Sam found herself annoyed that this was among the memories eluding her; from the pictures it looked like they'd had a great time. She chuckled and flipped to the last photo, and had to study it a few moments before her brain deciphered it.

It was clearly another shot from graduation day. Janet stood behind her, with her arms wrapped around Sam's waist and her chin propped on the taller woman's shoulder. Sam's hands covered Janet's, with their fingers entwined. They were both smiling, but in an oddly intense kind of way -- one that said their attention was more on each other than on the photograph being taken.

Sam cocked her head, as if the image would make more sense when viewed at an angle. In a strange, objective way, she noted that they made a good looking couple.

Wait. A couple? She and Janet...? Sam blinked, then blinked a few more times for good measure.

The past several days spun abruptly into clear focus, as she added together all the tiny things Janet had said and done that had struck her as just a bit different than normal.

All of a sudden she didn't know what to think or feel, but she knew she had to see Janet as soon as possible. She grabbed her car keys and charged out the door.

Sam rang the doorbell and hopped back off the porch, back into the gray drizzle. Being too close to Janet's house seemed claustrophobic just then, so she paced in small, damp circles while she waited.

Janet opened the door and peered out at her, then stepped onto the porch. Sam couldn't tell if she'd woken her friend, or if she'd simply never gone to sleep. The doctor looked rumpled and exhausted in her bathrobe and slippers. She folded her arms and tried not to look nervous as she faced Sam. "Hey," she said quietly.

"So... you... and me? Are we...?" Sam stammered and made vague gestures in the air.

Janet gave her a wan smile. "I wasn't sure if you'd remembered any of that part. Guess I know now."

"When?" Sam asked, barely audible above the rain.

"After the Prometheus. After you came back and told me you were ready for more from your life."

Sam swallowed. That much she remembered. Then not a week later her brother had set her up with his old buddy from school, Pete Shanahan.

"About a week later, you'd been stood up on some date, and ended up coming over here to drown your sorrows in a bottle of cheap wine." Janet smiled shyly. "Things were never the same after that." She cleared her throat and hoped her sudden blush wasn't terribly evident. That first tipsy, daring kiss had rapidly turned into something neither of them had been prepared for, even though it had later seemed inevitable. "Come up here and out of the rain."

The blonde climbed up the steps, but could still feel the chill of the rain dripping down her neck.

Janet looked up at the limpid blue eyes that searched her face, as they silently pleaded for something more.

"I love you, Sam," Janet admitted miserably, answering the unspoken question. "Even though now I'm nothing but a ghost to you."

"You're not... you're not a ghost to me," Sam argued, shaking her head. "You're my best friend." She was near tears with the frustration of it. "I just don't remember." After a moment's indecision, she squared her shoulders and stepped forward, just under the eaves of the porch and finally out of the cold drizzle. "I want to remember," she said seriously.

With heartbreaking slowness, giving the other woman every chance to flee, Janet lifted a graceful hand to caress Sam's cheek. Her long fingers splayed and slid across the chilled skin, and she watched the flush chase after her touch. A small smile bent her lips as she realized that while Sam's mind seemed to forget, her body certainly hadn't; the response was practically autonomic.

Sam was hypnotized. She shuffled half a step closer and shut her eyes to concentrate on the feel of the warmth of Janet's body next to her own, as it chased through the wet bits where her clothes stuck to her skin. She couldn't help comparing it to the fading impressions of Pete. This was different in a way she couldn't quantify.

The brunette's hand curled around Sam's damp shoulder, then she leaned in to close the last of the distance between them. Her head found its favorite spot against Sam's collarbone, and she wrapped her arms around the taller woman's waist, ignoring the soaked clothes entirely. She shut her eyes with a sigh.

It was... indescribable. Sam bumped her chin against the ready softness of Janet's sleep-mussed hair and then returned the embrace, pulling them even closer together.

They might have been moving. It certainly felt like they were rocking together, to the rhythm of a shared heartbeat. "Definitely not a ghost," Sam murmured, gratified by Janet's exhaled laugh against her chest. "God, Janet. How could I forget this?"

Janet pushed backward, disengaging herself from her friend's hold. "I think that might be my fault."

Janet pulled Sam inside the house, where Cassie caught sight of her from the dining room.

"Sam!" Cass cried, as she bounded over and hugged the blonde, hard. "You're all wet."

"Yeah," Sam said dumbly, looking down at herself. "Sorry."

The teen looked between her two parents as her eyebrows hiked up. "Are you guys having a fight?"

Janet smiled. "No, sweetie."

"Yeeeah, that was convincing," Cassie said with a roll of her eyes before she wandered off, disappearing down the hallway. "I'll just get my clothes out of the dryer and head back to campus, okay?"

Janet watched her daughter leave with a mild scowl. "She's been spending entirely too much time with Jack O'Neill," she muttered. She and Sam smiled awkwardly at each other for a moment, before Janet turned and headed to the kitchen. "Coffee?"

"Please," Sam answered. She looked down at herself and tugged at her sodden shirt.

"You have a change of clothes upstairs," Janet called from the other room.

Sam was certain her eyes had nearly bugged out of her head. "Right," she breathed, then bounded up the stairs. She paused on the landing, wondering exactly where her clothes might be. She took a breath, then turned into Janet's bedroom. Sure enough, half an entire closet was stocked with some of her favorite shirts and jeans, and even a couple spare uniforms. She puffed out a bemused laugh and set about changing.

By the time she got back downstairs, Cassie's car was pulling out of the driveway and Janet was sitting at the kitchen table, trying not to look nervous.

That made Sam feel immensely better, as she was pretty damn nervous herself. She sat and wrapped her hands gratefully around the steaming mug that was waiting for her.

For a couple minutes they hid behind the convenient social prop of drinking their coffee, trying desperately not to look at each other. Finally the silence became too much to bear.

"This has to be really hard for you," they both said at the exact same time, then shared a wry chuckle.

Janet broke into a charmed smile. "You're the one missing the better part of a year, Sam."

"Yeah, but you're missing..." Sam trailed off.

You're missing me.

The blonde cleared her throat self-consciously and looked away. In a life filled with remarkable experiences, this ranked right up there. She'd imagined a blandly passionless marriage to a blandly passionless cop, and on occasion she'd even fantasized about what she might have done to Colonel O'Neill if she'd been caught in that time loop a few years back.

Janet had been strictly off-limits, even in her more fevered, emotionally exhausted moments.

Which, she figured, was why Janet hadn't popped out of her subconscious on the Prometheus to offer any cryptic advice.

And now, all those careful, rational reasons and all that careful, rational self-denial were laid waste, all because Janet loved her.

Loved. Her.

She wanted to start remembering things, post haste.

"You said..." Sam began, and then had to clear her throat again as her voice failed. "You said you might know why..."

The doctor nodded. "Mackenzie gave me his report, Sam. I know about Pete Shanahan."

Of course. Mackenzie would have passed his report directly to the program's CMO. Sam frowned and nursed her coffee, realizing that the past couple days had been the doctor's personal effort to speed her recovery by trying to stimulate recall.

"We had a fight the morning before you jumped out," Janet admitted quietly.

Sam put her coffee mug down very carefully. Her eyes were wide and focused intently on Janet's downcast face.

"You don't like the secrecy of... this. Sometimes you get frustrated, and I get frustrated right back," the doctor continued with a shrug. "I said that if you were so worried about it, maybe you should 'find some man and make it legal.'"

Sam chuckled. "So when I got hit on the head, my brain decided to take your advice?" What was it Mackenzie had said? A lingering suggestion catalyzed by physical trauma?

"It was a stupid thing to say. I'm sorry," Janet said, with an anguished look.

"You didn't mean it. I know," the blonde reassured her. "But why would I think you were... Unless that's the only way Pete and I would have..." She shook her head. "This is so weird."

It was mostly weird because it was so damn specific.

Janet seemed to think so, too. "Figures I'd make you mad enough that you'd wake up straight."

Deciding that was not a comment she could coherently address at that moment, Sam abruptly changed the topic. "I think Mackenzie knows," she announced. "About you and me."

"Actually, you told him," Janet replied wryly. "You had to, to explain what happened after P3X-666."

"What did happen?"

The brunette took a moment to set her mug down and close her eyes. The memory was intense enough to warrant a bit of preparation. "It was so fast," Janet began. "One second I was yelling at Simon, trying to keep him conscious, and the next I was flat on my back and couldn't breathe." Her hand moved to her chest, her fingers unconsciously flexing over the scar. "I saw Daniel lean over me, then it all faded away... Until I heard you."

Sam's fingers had tightened around her coffee mug so hard her knuckles had gone white.

"There was this glow," the doctor said, with a faraway smile. "It was you, taking care of me. I could feel you."

Somehow at that moment Sam could feel it too, along with the telltale metallic taste in her mouth that came with overuse of the Tok'ra healing device. She shut her eyes and savored the lingering impression, using it to tie herself to the spot where the memory should have been.

Even her false memories were laced with regret at Janet's absence. She remembered Pete asking her to marry him, and she remembered stalling, wishing like hell that she could talk to Janet about it. She remembered wishing she'd been a little faster, a little smarter, and a little more capable that day on P3X-666. Maybe then she could have saved her friend.

What a relief to have all those regrets simply fade away.

"It took you a while to... come back all the way from that," Janet continued. "You ended up having to explain to Mackenzie why you nearly killed yourself trying to save me."

Sam still didn't remember it that way, and she felt abruptly like a fraud. All she truly recalled about that day was being shocked and numb to the point of emotional shutdown. She'd heard later that she'd nearly decked Bregman when he came at her with his camera crew, but beyond that no one really wanted to talk about it at all. "Just so I don't do anything stupid... Who else knows?" she asked.

"Well... Jack," Janet said quietly. "And Daniel, and Teal'c. You wanted them to know, in case something happened to one of us. And I'm fairly sure your dad's clued in too."

"Cassie?" Sam asked. She was pretty sure she already knew the answer to that one.

Janet smirked. "I think she knew before we did."

Sam laughed and shook her head. "I thought we had to keep this secret?"

"They're the only ones," the doctor said a little sadly.

"Your family?"

"It would make things too complicated," Janet answered definitively. Sam got the feeling they'd talked about that particular issue before. The necessity of secrecy in regard to most of Cassie's existence had already strained Janet's relationship with her parents and siblings. Yet another secret had probably pushed things even closer to the breaking point.

"I'm sorry."

Janet gave her a grateful smile. "It's all been worth it, Sam."

"Worth risking everything we've worked for? Really?" The words flew out of her mouth, heedless of tact or sensitivity. She realized she was in rather desperate need of reassurance.

"You're worth risking everything, Sam. We're worth it."

She was in no position to argue, and the certainty in Janet's voice rocked her a bit. "Okay," she said, hoping to mirror Janet's confidence. They smiled shyly at each other, and returned to their coffee.

"Hey... do you remember that night after Nirrti?" Sam asked after a moment of long silence. She herself had deliberately not thought about it since.

"Of course I do," Janet answered, with an unfathomable smile. "That was the moment everything changed."

Sam had intended simply to walk Janet to her quarters, then head off to her own bunk for the night. But as they walked and traded mindless pleasantries that had nothing to do with the compound crises of the day, Janet's answers became less distinct, even erratic. They got to Janet's door, but the doctor seemed at a loss as to what to do next. Sam pushed her gently inside and shut the door behind them both.

"Shower first, or just crash?" Sam asked. Dark eyes blinked uncomprehendingly up at her. "We'll go with crashing, then," she decided, and began tugging bits of Janet's uniform off. The brunette stood dull and pliant, lifting her limbs when directed but otherwise not really helping the process.

Sam was shocked at the weight Janet had dropped over the past several days, though she'd already suspected that the doctor had survived solely on a caffeine IV drip when no one else was looking. Her friend's normally petite body seemed ever more fragile and delicate beneath her careful hands.

When the chill of the base air hit her skin, Janet started to shake.

The shivering didn't subside even as Sam tugged a sweatshirt over the doctor's head, or after she maneuvered Janet's legs into a pair of baggy sweats. Her friend had gone long past the point of endurance, and was starting to shut down.

"Janet? I think you're going into shock," Sam said, trying not to panic.

"You... think?" Janet responded through chattering teeth. "Need to... sleep." She tried to turn to head off to bed, but her coordination had left her the moment she'd stepped into the room. Her suddenly leaden feet couldn't keep her upright.

Sam leapt forward and grabbed the brunette before she collapsed. "I've got you, hold on. I'll get you back to the infirmary."

"N-no..." Janet argued. "Just let me get some rest." She tilted her head off to one side to look up at Sam. "I'm okay. I promise."

Sam agonized for a moment, then bent and got an arm under Janet's wobbly knees. She stood up easily, with the slight weight of her friend's body draped across her arms. Janet turned into her hold, and wrapped her arms around Sam's neck.

It was just a few steps, and Sam deposited Janet gently into her cot. Janet's breath had been hot and humid against her neck, and Sam reached up to reluctantly disengage her friend's hold around her shoulders.

"Please stay."

The words were barely a breath between them. Sam lifted wide blue eyes to meet Janet's, seeing the piquant need reflected there.

She shouldn't stay, Sam decided. The things she was feeling right that second were far too dangerous, and her friend was far too vulnerable. It was probably a bad idea to have touched Janet at all, as now she couldn't stop aching with the need to comfort her.

Janet could see her indecision, and lifted a clumsy hand toward her. It landed on Sam's chest, and she hooked a fingertip into the collar of the blonde's shirt. "Please," she rasped.

That one syllable nearly undid her. Very carefully, Sam sat on the edge of the cot, and bent to take off her shoes. Janet's hand slid from her chest, down her arm, leaving a trail of burning awareness in its wake.

Sam shifted and lay down on her side, facing Janet. Their foreheads were nearly pressed together on the small pillow. Sam lifted a hand to chafe Janet's arm through the sweatshirt, gratified that the shaking had diminished.

"She's okay," Sam whispered. She saw Janet's eyes slip shut, and felt the the small nod of acknowledgment.

"Thank you," the brunette replied, as she drifted off into sorely-needed slumber.

Years removed from that long night, Sam could see the same need in those same dark eyes, and could feel her resolve teetering once more. Janet was right; that was exactly when everything had changed. Denial had been entirely too comfortable.

She felt an anxious burn in her gut as she regarded her friend, one that wasn't wholly unfamiliar. She had a feeling that regaining her memories of this aspect of her life was going to be... interesting.

Playing a hunch, Sam leaned forward, propping her elbows on the table. "Hey, have we ever been out dancing?"

Janet's face split into a dazzling grin. "We sure have. We scandalized most of the old folks at that party."

Sam grinned back. "I bet." She couldn't help but wonder how many other times had her mind simply inserted Pete where Janet belonged.

Janet reached out and rested a hand on Sam's forearm, squeezing gently. "Listen, Sam, I don't want to pressure you. I know you're still trying to sort things out. I'll be here if you're ready."

"When I'm ready," the blonde countered, earning a bright, hopeful smile in response.

"I still remember pretty much everything that I did before. It's not going away."

Mackenzie jotted down a new note, and pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Tell me... Do you still have the false memories of your life as Therra on P3R-118?"

Sam sighed. "Yes."

"And with time you were able to set those aside."

"Well, yes," Sam said again, impatiently.

"You need to be willing to give this the same kind of time, Colonel."

She shifted in her seat and tried not to look annoyed.

"And you have to accept the possibility that your memories may not fully return."

"Why wouldn't they?" Sam asked, alarmed.

"Unfortunately, you are... unique. You've been through things current neural science doesn't even have names for, and yet you've managed to remain exceptionally functional. We have no idea how or why. The fact is, we cannot predict the ultimate course of this kind of memory effect."

She already knew that for fact, but she still didn't particularly want to hear it. "What about hypnosis? That's worked before."

The psychiatrist smiled, and took off his glasses. "Yes, and we could pursue it if things do not improve with time."

"'Time,'" she repeated, and sunk just a bit further down into her chair. "Right."

"I'd venture to say the Stargate will still be there when you're ready to return," he said.

It took her a moment to figure out that he'd assumed her rush to recollect was strictly a matter of going back to work. She was shocked to realize that she hadn't even thought about work for nearly a week, so consumed had she been with teasing out the riddle of her relationship with Janet. "Of course," she said. "I'm sorry, Doctor. I know you're doing what you can."

"To be honest, I'm relieved. Your interest in your own recovery is an excellent sign."

Unspoken was the reference to the half-dozen other times she'd had to report to Mackenzie for one reason or another, always after some new trauma. She'd spent far too much time being a poster child for poor mental health.

"I guess it's a matter of proper motivation," Sam said with a grin.

The psychiatrist smiled kindly. "You may well consider yourself lucky, Colonel. Some people don't manage to live one entire life, much less three different ones."

"Yeah," Sam answered thoughtfully. "Lucky."

"So tell me about the boat trip," Sam said sleepily.

"Can't. Don't have any Dramamine handy," Janet replied.

They were stretched out in Janet's backyard, on a blanket under the stars. Sam had her hands folded under her neck, and Janet's head was propped against her belly.

"You got seasick?" the blonde asked with a chuckle.

"Nuh uh, flygirl. You did."

Sam sat up halfway, nearly dislodging Janet from her comfortable snuggle. "I did not."

"You most certainly did. You spent the first day and a half leaning over the rail."

Sam settled back down with a distinct pout. "Well, there's a reason I didn't join the Navy."

Janet laughed. "That's what you said then, too."

"Hmmph," the blonde muttered, embarrassed. She felt Janet squirm a bit against her, then the doctor's head lifted to pin dark, deep eyes on Sam's.

"You adapted faster than a lot of people," Janet said gently. "It was just hard to believe that someone who spends her time careening across the galaxy in wormholes and alien spacecraft would get queasy on a two foot swell."

"Hey, I'll have you know that the Stargate used to make me sick too," Sam argued. Janet grinned down at her. "That's the only reason I worked so hard on the stabilization protocol to make the trip smoother."

"And don't think it's unappreciated, Sam. There are a lot of airmen who are glad they don't have mop detail in the gateroom." The brunette rubbed Sam's belly to soothe her bruised ego, then shifted to lie against her friend once more.

Long, dark minutes dragged by. Sam realized it was getting a little chilly, but was loathe to suggest they head back inside. Besides, she figured she was entitled to laze about for a while with a best friend who -- to her mind, anyway -- had just come back from the dead.

"That trip was the first real time we'd spent not talking about work," Janet said after a while. "It was nice."

"We have things to talk about other than work?" Sam asked wryly.

"See, that was exactly what I was worried about. Turns out you're pretty interesting even when you're not saving the world."

Sam grinned. "Good to know."

That earned her a poke in the side, and she chuckled more as Janet shifted around to make herself more comfortable. "I'm actually surprised you're not itching to get back," the doctor observed.

Sam blew out a loud breath. "You know, Mackenzie said as much earlier today," she replied, then squinted up at the heavens. Instead of seeing an infinity of places to explore, she just saw the stars, the moon, and the dusting of the galaxy's edge. She shrugged a bit. "I always thought that if I wasn't at work I was missing something. Maybe I was missing something because I was always at work."

That got Janet's attention. The doctor sat up and spun around on the blanket to face Sam. "Now, what does that mean?"

"Nothing, really... But I might never be cleared for Gate travel again. You know that better than anyone."

"It's too early to tell one way or another," the doctor countered.

Sam only shrugged. "I'm just thinking that maybe it wouldn't be so bad."


"Sure. I have a lifetime of research waiting in my lab. It's still important work, and there's still plenty to learn." She pushed herself up into a sitting position as well. "Besides, I'm told I'm pretty interesting even when I'm not saving the world." The two women shared a smile, until Janet dipped her head bashfully and looked away.

Sam leaned over to follow her friend's retreating countenance, missing the tug of those expressive eyes. "It's not like I'm not ready to retire, Janet. I'm just... keeping my options open. One of these times I'm going to get hurt badly enough that I won't be able to bounce back. Maybe this is a chance to quit while I'm ahead."

The brunette looked back then, smiling despite the telltale moisture gathered in her eyes. "You know, you never stop surprising me, Samantha Carter."

"Good to know," she murmured in response.

She was starting to forget the specter of loss that had been her constant companion for a year. She was starting to forget she'd ever thought Janet had been gone at all.

At first she fought it, and tried to keep the sense of sharp urgency fresh, like a bitter taste on her tongue. But as the days wore on it was entirely too easy to let the remembered grief diminish into the background of life as she now knew it.

She saw Janet every day, usually for several hours at a time. The year's gap of memories did little to dent the depth of friendship they'd shared before, while the knowledge that they'd also been lovers fizzled in the air between them like an electric current. It was so easy for Sam to just go along with the new tide of their relationship, to admit to those desires she'd never given voice to before. After all, it was a done deal; she just had to figure out when she was ready to resume her life.

"You might be getting ahead of yourself just a bit, Colonel," Doctor Mackenzie admonished gently.

"But I feel great," Sam said, trying to pretend she wasn't whining.

"I'm not prepared to clear you for duty again until your memory has demonstrated a bit more rebound."

She sighed in exasperation. "Fine."

The psychiatrist smiled, almost fondly. He'd never actually admit it, but Colonel Carter was definitely his favorite of all the repeat patients from the SGC. He was as eager to see her restored to health as she herself was. "I've spoken to your teammate, Teal'c. He's offered to teach you Kel'nor'eem, if you'd like."

"Do you think that'll help?"

"I don't think it could hurt," he said easily. "Meditation has long been demonstrated as a way to improve focus, if nothing else. His instruction may well provide the guidance you need."

She frowned, then puffed out a breath. "Guess I'll give it a shot."

"You must relax, Colonel Carter."

"This isn't a fire hazard?" Sam asked, glancing around at the dozens of candles lit around his quarters.

"I have disabled the smoke detector," Teal'c rumbled in response. He sat before her, the picture of perfect, contemplative repose. His legs were folded, his eyes were closed, and his hands were propped on his knees.

"Oh, good," she muttered, then sighed and set about mimicking his posture. She shifted uncomfortably, exhaling her annoyance as she tried to find some kind of meditative pose.

Teal'c's eyes split open to regard her. "You do not wish to perform Kel'no'reem," he observed quietly.

"No. Yes. Yes, I do, Teal'c," she replied. "I'm just... I'm a little worried about what happens if this doesn't work."

"It certainly will not work if you resist it," he said.

"Right," she answered, and re-settled her legs beneath her.

"That which you do not remember holds power over you only while it remains out of reach," he said sagely.

Sam tipped her head toward the ceiling with an exasperated noise. "What does that mean?"

"Perhaps you fear what you will recall."

"Why would I fear my own memories?" she asked, a little queasy at the very thought of it.

He pressed his lips together for a moment, then dipped his head. "Let us begin again. Try to focus on a memory that holds no anxiety for you. Then perhaps you can go further."

She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, easily picturing Janet.

She was never sure why she'd accepted her friend's invitation to go with her to visit Janet's parents in Kansas. It wasn't like Janet even had to try very hard; all she did was say "Please?" and tilt her head with that hopeful little smile...

Sam would never admit the lengths she'd go to see that smile.

It was a lazy summer evening, and the air was ponderous with the thunderstorm that would hit by daybreak. Cassie was busy entertaining her new grandparents, so Janet had decided to show Sam around. That was how they ended up walking together down some rural road, maybe a mile from the Fraiser farmhouse. Janet had on jeans and a white, half-buttoned shirt. In the twilight, the shadows were doing profoundly interesting things with that shirt, and Sam was hard-pressed to keep her attention off it.

She was so focused on not leering at her friend that she nearly tripped when she realized that Janet was suddenly not beside her. She stopped, spun around, and saw Janet just a few yards back, beckoning Sam to follow as she stepped off the road and into a small thicket.

It was a faint path, no doubt worn by other curious travelers following their crazy friends into unknown territory at twilight. Sam chuckled as she hopped over a felled tree, then stepped to Janet's side when the brunette drew to a halt.

The path opened into a clearing that was split by a tiny stream and covered in knee-high grasses. From the trickling water, straight up into the night sky, hundreds - maybe thousands - of fireflies spun in their nightly summer dance, rising and falling in fluoresced rhythm.

"I never see fireflies in Colorado," Janet murmured by way of explanation for their detour, watching Sam as she took it all in.

"It's amazing," Sam breathed as she stepped fully into the clearing. The insects skittered away from her, then swarmed again in her wake.

When she looked up into the sky, she couldn't tell the lights above from the lights all around them.

"It's like heaven on earth," Janet agreed. Sam looked back at her and they smiled...

... and suddenly a stray staff blast caught Janet in the chest, flinging her backwards.

It was no longer twilight, and they were no longer in a quiet glade in Kansas. This was a war zone, and Janet...

"Fraiser's been hit!" Daniel screamed, as he flopped down at her side. He dug through her supplies in a blind panic, hoping to find something that would stop the horrible gurgling noise coming from her mouth.

Sam looked on in horror, then jerked out of her stupor to run to Janet's side, pulling Daniel away. "Janet?!" she cried, and leaned over her friend. Janet's eyes tracked once to hers, then she exhaled, and her body went slack. The blonde saw the legs of people rushing about her -- field medics, she realized later -- but the only contiguous thought running through her mind was that she had to get Janet home.

Somehow, that would make things better. It had to.

She scooped the smaller woman up, ignoring the surprised squawks of the medics, and she ran. It was a few hundred meters to the Gate, and though Janet was a relatively small woman, Sam was still laden with gear and ammo, carrying a good one hundred and fifty pounds over and above her own weight. It didn't slow her down much.

She pelted to a halt at the end of the ramp in the gateroom, and started yelling. Someone had to get her a Tok'ra healing device. Someone had to help her help Janet. Everyone seemed to move in slow motion around her, even as the wormhole finally disengaged and medical staff bombarded the room.

Someone - Daniel? - had grabbed her shoulder, shouting in her ear that she had to let Janet go. She shook off the grip and snarled back, "No way in Hell!"

Finally, the Tok'ra device was in her hands. She set Janet down as gently as possible on the gateroom floor, lifted the device, and activated it.

A minute ticked by, then two. Sam wasn't sure if she was still even breathing.

The device was burning her hands, probably doing irreparable damage to her entire system, but she forged ahead, repairing what she could of the injury that had ravaged her friend's body. She could somehow feel that Janet was still there with her, still clinging to life even as the electrical charge that held her cells together dissipated.

With the Tok'ra device's help, Sam pulled Janet's very soul close to her, closing herself around her friend's essence until it could safely return where it belonged. A few times Janet almost slipped away, but soon Sam came to realize that Janet herself was in her mind, holding her together while she concentrated. They were working together, doctor and would-be healer, to save each other.

Finally, with the ghost of a kiss on Sam's brow, Janet's presence retreated, and the link was broken.

"Colonel Carter!"

She started, jerked abruptly out of the memory. She looked at her hands first, flexing her fingers as the burning sensation subsided. She was breathing hard, and took a few seconds to close her eyes and regain her breath.

"You have recalled something," Teal'c said.

"Yeah," she panted, looking up at him with a nod.

The Jaffa watched for a few seconds as her dazed blue eyes swept the room. She did not notice that the candles now burned much lower than before they had begun; the passage of time while in deep Kel'nor'eem was always surprising.

"Would you care to discuss it?" he asked.

Sam shook her head fervently. "No."

"Very well. Perhaps you would like to rest, then."

"Yeah," she said again, as she pushed herself to her feet. She was sticky with sweat and just a bit wobbly, and the candles were suddenly oppressive in the extreme. She had to get out of there.

Teal'c stood as well, grasping her upper arm while she steadied herself. "We may do this again when you are ready, Colonel Carter."

Sam stumbled into her quarters and stripped, then took a cool shower. Her head was spinning with what she'd remembered, and the vividness of it all had shocked her a bit. She could still hear the frantic crunch of leaves underfoot as she carried Janet back to the gate, heedless of the continuing volleys around them from Anubis' army. Most palpable was the need to Just Get Home; the perceived safety of Earth was like visceral pull that still tugged at her gut, long after she was free of the meditative state.

She scrubbed at her damp hair with a towel, and walked over to her bunk to relax for a few minutes and think. As she sat, the edge of something on her bed poked at her. She looked down to find a videotape there, labeled with a post-it note in General O'Neill's handwriting.

"Thought you might want to see this. - J."

Sam frowned, and put the tape in the nearby player. The camera's view swung around in wild arcs for a few seconds before peeking furtively past the edge of the gateroom door.

The room was in chaos. SG teams were pouring back through the gate, stumbling, bleeding, and yelling at each other. Then Sam saw herself, bearing the sickeningly limp weight of Janet's body across her arms.

Sam swallowed, watching herself fall to her knees at the bottom of the ramp.

It played out just as it had in her head minutes before; the Tok'ra device overtook her, and everyone stood by, anxiously waiting to see what would happen.

"She's breathing!" Daniel cried, when Janet took that first shuddering intake of air.

Sam paused the recording, staring at the image as it vibrated mildly on her screen.

A knock sounded quietly at her door. Sam rose to open it and automatically stepped aside to let Janet enter.

"Are you okay?" the doctor asked quietly.


Janet's eyes flickered to the video monitor, then back to Sam. "Teal'c said you were pretty shaken up when you left his quarters."

"I'm okay," Sam said firmly, smiling to lend her claim more credence. "I just wasn't expecting it to be that intense." She studied the affectionate expression on her friend's face for a long moment, then inhaled sharply. "I saved you," she said, her voice hollow with wonder.

"You did," Janet confirmed. She tipped her head with a smile. "You remember now?"

"Yeah," the blonde said through an incredulous laugh. She reached out a bit hesitantly, feeling a sudden need to reassure herself with her friend's tactile presence. Janet read the signal flawlessly and stepped forward into Sam's waiting arms. She pressed her face to Sam's shoulder, greedily inhaling the taller woman's shower-clean scent.

As her arms settled around Janet's shoulders, Sam sighed and shut her eyes, savoring the safety and warmth of the embrace. "How the hell did I do that?" A thought occurred to her. "How do you do that all the time?"

The doctor smiled against Sam's shirt. "I don't usually pour my soul into my patients and nearly kill myself to bring them back, Sam."

"Sure you do," Sam countered. "You just don't have the cool light show to go with it."

Janet shifted, turning to look at the video monitor again. Sam's cheek pressed against her hair as they regarded the frozen moment of their history.

"I couldn't bear to lose you," Sam whispered.

Janet squeezed her arms just a bit tighter around Sam's waist. "I couldn't bear to be lost."

After a few minutes, the embrace turned awkward. Janet pulled away, avoiding the other woman's eyes for a moment before excusing herself from Sam's quarters. Sam might have remembered saving Janet, but she couldn't yet recall loving her, and that rather sizable discrepancy now hung between them like a forbidding cloud.

Sam sat on her cot once more, feeling utterly bereft in her friend's sudden absence.

Her friend.

She canted her head to one side and closed her eyes, frustrated with herself. Was that all Janet was? Was that why she was tying herself in knots? Was that why her skin burned under Janet's every casual touch?

When in doubt, she decided, turn it into math. She could see numbers practically falling out of wormholes, for crying out loud. Surely she could calculate a couple emotional uncertainties. She rose again and began to pace, sorting out the variables.

Unknowns: Herself. Janet. Cassie. Pete... and Jack O'Neill, she acknowledged with a sigh. No use denying it at this point.

She frowned, setting up the equation in her mind. She immediately cancelled out Cassie as a variable, and then Jack for the same reason; they both loved her enough to abide by whatever decision she ultimately made, so long as it was in the interest of her own happiness.

It was harder to arrange the relationship between Janet and Pete. They were not equivalent, but Janet was definitely a factor of Pete's creation. He'd been a convenient attachment, a placeholder. An irrational one, at that. With a sigh, She ultimately discarded him -- null set.

Sam then imagined herself staring across a mathematical operator at Janet, studying her. Janet was not an unknown, despite a year's disparity in recall. The doctor was her best friend, occasionally on the verge of being just a bit more than that. She was her harbor, her home base. Sam had risked all of herself to save her, and would do it again in a heartbeat.

And there was the small fact that Janet loved her. Loved her. Every time Sam thought about it, her head swam in sheer wonder. One more variable accounted for.

Finally, that left the ultimate unknown: her own heart. As usual, it was the one piece of the equation she couldn't quite compute.

There had been times in her version of the past year when she felt that the hole punched through her by Janet's absence had left her structurally unsound, like she was on the verge of utter collapse. For seven years, she'd reached out to Janet for reassurance, for affection, and for companionship.

It had all been so easy, so convenient -- until she visited Oz by way of the Prometheus and a head injury, and realized that at the end of the day, her life was pretty empty.

She sighed, feeling that oppressive void more acutely than ever. Pete had never been enough to fill it. Agreeing to marry him was the bare result of lonely desperation; he'd never really stood a chance. Only one person had been able to fill the gap deep inside her heart.

And with that, her mind exploded in formulas describing the fractal geometry of Janet's smile.

Sam suddenly laughed aloud at herself, and at the long-standing denial that had seemed so plausible. Her equation had been solved long before the Prometheus. Seven years before, if she cared to be honest.

She stopped pacing, put away the mathematical playtoys in her mind, and looked back at the video monitor, which was still dutifully flickering away on pause.

Mackenzie had told her she wasn't ready for duty just yet. Well, that didn't mean the rest of her life had to be on hold too.

Sam straightened and headed out of her quarters with renewed purpose. Her decision was made, and that left one remaining question unanswered.

Just this once, it was her turn to do the stalking.

The Pete she'd invented might have thought he had connections, but all Sam had to do was whisper the words "national security" in the general direction of the NID, and she had his entire life in a file on her desk the next morning. She flipped through the pages with a curious sense of detachment; she hadn't realized how much she didn't know about the man she thought she was going to marry.

Finally, when she had what she needed, she grabbed her leather coat and took off.

An hour later, Sam slowed her car outside a row of shops in downtown Denver. Pete's credit card records indicated this area was a favorite of his on weekends. She discovered she was in luck when she spotted an enormously shiny SUV, and its license plate matched the one she'd found in his file. She pulled into a parking spot to wait while she watched the flurry of shoppers buzz around her.

After a few minutes Pete stumbled out of a store across the street, laden with shopping bags and laughing. He propped open the door with his bootheel as a tall, leggy blonde trailed after him. She said something that made him laugh harder, and they made their way to his car. After they'd dumped their purchases in the back, Pete snaked a hand out to grab the woman's wrist, and tugged her sideways into an off-balance hug. She giggled demurely, said something that made him smirk, then raised her hands to his face to hold him still while she kissed him.

Sam flinched, just a little, and looked away. The second she saw them together, she was expecting to be jealous. Instead, she just felt like a cheap voyeur. She hunched downward in her seat as they finally drove past, and sat there a few more minutes for good measure before restarting her car to head back home.

She'd seen the bright, unmistakable sparkle of a diamond on that woman's left hand. She'd seen Pete deliriously happy.

She'd seen enough.

Sam deposited her car keys onto the hall table beside Janet's front door. The doctor was enjoying a rare off-duty Saturday afternoon curled up on her favorite chair in the living room, reading some flavor of tacky spy novel. Sam smiled and walked over, dropping to sit on the ottoman positioned in front of the overstuffed chair.

"Hey," Janet said, as she peered over the pages of her book. "Go anyplace fun?"

"I needed to check on a couple things," Sam answered.

Janet tucked a bookmark into place and closed the novel. "Everything okay?"

Sam smiled, easily detecting the trepidation in the brunette's eyes. "Everything's perfect," she said, then reached out to stroke Janet's leg.

"Good," Janet replied. She covered Sam's hand with her own, and managed a smile in return. A question still lingered in her voice, as she tried to interpret the depths of Sam's expression.

Sam nodded, responding to the conversation neither of them were having aloud. "So. I know you've been wondering... if I'll ever remember... us." She felt the tension in Janet's body escalate a notch with her hesitation. "The truth is, I don't know if I ever will."

"Sam, it's okay."

"No, it's not," Sam said. "You deserve better than that. Don't tell me this isn't killing you."

Janet's eyes filled with tears, but her voice was still steady. "I waited you out for seven years, Sam. I can wait again."

"That long?" the blonde exhaled, then shook her head. "God. Then I guess I don't feel so bad."

Dark eyes locked onto Sam's with galvanic intensity. "What do you mean?"

Sam shifted just a bit closer and dipped her head shyly. "Janet, I may not remember the past year, but I also don't remember a time that I didn't love you."

The brunette expelled a shaky breath, blinking rapidly.

Inching forward again, Sam smiled. "The guy I remember - Pete?" She shook her head. "I have no idea what my subconscious was thinking."

"But what if you were right to think it in the first place? What if this is too risky?" Janet asked. She looked miserably upset with herself for needing to ask the question at all.

"What if it is?" Sam said rhetorically, before pinning an intense look on her friend. "I think... What if I died tomorrow, without remembering what it's like to kiss you? That's the greater risk."

"God, Sam," Janet breathed. Her eyes closed for a moment as she savored the declaration.

Sam grinned and pushed off the ottoman then, leaning against the arms of the chair as she drew inexorably closer to Janet.

"Are you even ready for this?" the brunette asked, peering up at the taller woman through thick lashes.

Sam's mouth tipped in a goofy, crooked smile. "Yeah, I think so. But I do have one question."


One of the blonde's hands slid down Janet's leg to tug at the oversized sock bunched at her ankle. "Why do you always insist on wearing my socks?"

Janet loosed a surprised chuckle. "Because you always insist on asking me that."

Blue eyes narrowed as Sam regarded her friend. "You're intentionally baiting me? Janet, I'm shocked."

"Hey, it's my job," the doctor declared virtuously. She grinned as Sam leaned even nearer. By now they were close enough to breathe the same air, and the space between their bodies grew warmer, charged by their mutual awareness.

"You're very good at it," Sam whispered. Her breath was hot and soft against Janet's lips.

"You always say that, too," Janet breathed, just as their lips made contact.

After one tentative, almost chaste meeting, Sam nearly laughed in surprise. A first kiss and a reunion all in one, it was a shock how much more intense it was than she was expecting. She realized Janet was smiling at her, so she leaned in for more.

The kisses grew slowly, evolving into breathless consumption. Sam inhaled through her nose and surged forward, pressing ever closer to Janet's waiting warmth. She felt the smaller woman's hand slide up her neck and into her hair, tugging in an altogether pleasant way. Soon Sam had half-climbed onto the chair with Janet, one knee on the cushion, and the other foot keeping tenuous purchase on the floor. She pulled away a little to catch her breath, smiling at the flushed face blinking back at her.

Janet tangled her fingers in the hem of Sam's shirt, and shook her head in wonder. "I thought I'd never get you back."

Sam tilted her forehead against the brunette's. "I know exactly what you mean," she said quietly. "I love you."

Janet's other hand found Sam's face, trailing warm fingers across the softness of her cheek. "I love you too," she whispered.

The blonde's face split in a toothy grin, and she looked pointedly between them. "This chair was not made for making out."

Janet's eyebrows twitched merrily, and she slipped around the other woman and off the chair, tugging on the hem of Sam's shirt. "C'mon."

Sam followed the smaller woman into her bedroom, but found herself hesitating at the door. The late afternoon sunlight illuminated the room in bold stripes of crimson and orange. Janet paused in one of the swaths of light cast on the floor and turned, slowly. She gazed back at Sam with an expression of gentle understanding.

"If you're not ready..."

The blonde stepped forward, raising a hand to forestall whatever sympathetic phrase was about to come out of her mouth. The last thing she needed right then was an excuse, especially with Janet standing before her in that sweater, with those ridiculous socks, and her mildly disheveled hair.

"You're beautiful," Sam uttered. She caught her breath when she realized the words had escaped her mouth unbidden.

Janet's responding smile eclipsed the other light pouring into the room. She held a hand out to Sam, beckoning slightly. "Come here."

She was falling forward, into impossibly dark eyes. She felt Janet's hand close around hers, until they stood together in the burnished sunlight. Sam reached up with her free hand to grasp Janet's chin, tilting her face upward and inspecting it as if it were a priceless jewel. Finally she dipped her head, meeting Janet's lips in a soft, humid kiss.

Within seconds they were mutually tugging on clothing, eager for the contact of skin on skin. Sam wanted to burn the memory of Janet's touch so deep that she could never possibly forget again.

Janet's shirt hit the floor first. There was a sense of victory as Sam's fingertips skimmed across warm, bare shoulders, but then she froze. She took half a step back to look down at the evidence of the wound that had almost claimed them both. She spread her hand against the scar, all the while staring deep into Janet's eyes. The brunette was breathing erratically, reeling in the power of that moment.

"I can still feel you," Janet whispered. "You're still inside me."

Sam groaned and kissed her again, beginning to urge the smaller woman over to the bed. Their efforts redoubled upon the removal of clothing, and by the time Janet's knees hit the edge of the bed they were mostly bared to each other.

Janet sat and leaned back, pulling Sam with her. They both gasped at the sensation when their bodies pressed fully together for the first time. Sam moved to one side, shifting the bulk of her weight off of Janet's smaller frame. For a moment they looked into each other, panting out the vividness of their mutual desire.

"I've wanted this for so long," Sam said. She raised a hand to Janet's hair, using the her fingertips to smooth the strands away from that beloved face. "I love you."

The brunette's smile returned the sentiment more than words ever could, though she noticed Sam studying her, as if judging the best angle of attack. "Do you want any hints here, or would you like to try and figure this out on your own?" Janet asked with a wicked twinkle.

Sam considered the question while eyeing the shape of her lover's lips. "Well... I was going to start with tasting every square inch of you, then just see what occurred to me after that." She tilted her head down with a tiny smirk. "If that's okay."

If it was even possible, Janet's eyes turned darker still, pulling at Sam with the sheer depths of her desire. "I have nothing but faith in your imagination," she said, her voice so rough it barely escaped from her throat.

Sam descended, breathing her lover in before tasting her lips once more. Janet's hands slid up the bare expanse of her back as they pressed together. After a long moment, Janet tore her lips away from Sam's hungry assault, and panted in her ear. "Wait - Sam, I forgot..."

Sam pushed herself back away from the brunette's welcoming skin, alarmed. "What? What is it?"

"You've been cleared for light duty, starting tomorrow."

The blonde relaxed with a chuckle, and then ducked her head and let her imagination take over.

The standard recon mission had gone south almost immediately. They were ambushed mere minutes after they'd arrived at what looked like the ruins of an Ancient city. Jaffa were everywhere, and bombers strafed them from above. The proximity of the attack to their arrival didn't strike Sam as terribly coincidental; she wondered just how they'd tipped their enemy off.

In the ensuing firefight she'd gotten separated from Daniel and Teal'c, and she was pelting down the ruined roads, dodging staff blasts as an entire platoon of Jaffa pursued her.

She seemed to be running down the main thoroughfare of the old city, toward a large, low-lying structure of crumbled stone. From behind it, an Al'kesh rose, then bore down on her imposingly. She saw its weapons bay engage and disgorge a ground charge, and judged by its trajectory that it would hit just a couple dozen meters away.

She could see the explosion coming at her almost in slow motion, but couldn't move fast enough to avoid it. A sudden harsh impact from her left took her off her feet, sending her skidding across the abandoned road's rough surface as the worst of the flame and heat blew past. Her head smacked against something sharp, dazing her.

She sat up woozily and touched her fingers to her temple. They came away sticky with blood. Jack O'Neill was leaning over her, panting from apparent exertion. "Sir?! What are you doing here?" she asked in confusion.

Jack looked her over, once, and pressed his lips together. "No time to explain, Carter. You all right?"

"Yeah, just a little rattled."

"Good." He stood up, drew a 'zat weapon, pointed it at her, and fired.

Sam blinked awake in the dark, frozen briefly in disorientation. As she shook off the last of the dream she felt Janet snuggle closer to her side, her naked warmth sending incredibly pleasant sensations buzzing along her nerve endings. The brunette shifted, sensing her bedmate's sudden alertness.

"You okay?" Janet slurred.

"Fine. Go back to sleep," Sam whispered back.

"'Kay." Janet immediately complied, settling more firmly against Sam's body and blowing quiet snores across her sternum. Sam gave the dream one last mental shrug, then closed her eyes again to join her lover in slumber.

There was a daisy on the desk in her lab the next morning. Sam chuckled and picked it up, twirling it.

It felt amazingly good to be back in uniform and back at work. Everything about the morning felt crisp and sharp, tantalizing in a way she hadn't noticed before. She put the flower aside and set about straightening her lab, getting ready to dive into some new research.

It was just before noon when General O'Neill's shadow darkened her door. "Hey, Carter. Welcome back."

She stood from behind her desk with a grin. "Thank you, sir. It's good to be back."

"You gonna be okay with desk duty for a while?"

"Absolutely. I have five projects already lined up. In fact, the mineral SG-7 discovered on P01-156 might just have potential to triple the efficiency of our naquada reactors..." She dove into some obscure technical gibberish, the kind that made his head hurt. For once, he gladly suffered through it. Finally she paused, giving him an odd look. "Sir, you know... I had the strangest dream about you."

Jack's eyebrows shot up as he leaned against the doorframe. "Yeah?"

She nodded, and her fingers automatically plucked the daisy back off her desk, toying with it as she thought back on the dream. "You were off-world, in a combat zone... and you shot me with a 'zat."

He stiffened a bit, eyeing the flower as it danced in her fingertips. "Well, I've shot you a few times, Carter. Your subconscious is probably still mad about it."

Sam smiled and shrugged, and went back to admiring the gift Janet had left her, oblivious to his scrutiny.

He tilted his head toward the daisy. "That from Fraiser?"

She froze, stared guiltily at the flower, then back at him. "Uh, well, actually..."

Jack abruptly jammed his fingers into his ears. "Lalalala! I hear NOTHING at ALL."

"Thank you, sir," Sam said loudly, knowing he'd hear her anyway.

"Nothing! I hear nothing!" he called over his shoulder as he fled her lab.

"You appear to be more relaxed today, Colonel Carter."

Sam gave Teal'c an enigmatic smile as she settled into position across from him on the floor. "You could say that."

"Then you have reconciled with Doctor Fraiser," he observed with a mildly satisfied nod.

Her mouth shut with an audible snap, and she looked around furtively. "Is it that obvious?"

"You have been unsettled since your injury. It was likely that only Doctor Fraiser's care could restore you to your normal state of equilibrium."

Unsettled. Sam frowned, turning the word over in her mind. "I thought she was gone."

"She likely thought the same of you," he said. "She has been unsettled as well."

"She has?" Sam asked. That probably shouldn't have surprised her, but it hurt to hear anyway.

"Indeed. All who visit the infirmary will be grateful that order has been restored."

She winced as she pictured a frustrated doctor stomping about and threatening innocent airmen with long, dull needles. "I didn't realize it would have such an impact."

"In truth, nor did the rest of us, Colonel Carter. These past weeks have merely demonstrated that Doctor Fraiser is essential to this base, as you are essential to her."

She had to swallow against the sudden lump in her throat. "She's pretty essential to me, too, Teal'c."

The Jaffa smiled kindly and inclined his head. "As I have said -- equilibrium has been restored."

Sam grinned at him, then closed her eyes. "Let's get meditating, then."

"You found some kind of hairspray that had sparkles in it."

Janet looked up from her file to see Sam leaning against her office door. "Hm?"

"When we went dancing. You had this sparkly stuff in your hair."

The doctor set down her pen, as her face split in a slow smile. "Yeah, I did."

"I thought you were kidding about it at first, but it was beautiful. You were beautiful." She pushed herself off the doorframe and stepped closer, studying the doctor. "And your dress was blue... Like cobalt." Her gaze turned a touch predatory when she saw the flush across her lover's face. She propped her hands on the edge of the desk and leaned across, smiling when Janet automatically tilted closer herself.

"You remember that?" the doctor said. Her entire face practically sparked with hope.

"Uh huh," Sam breathed. "Dinner tonight?"

Janet stared up at her, lost in the depths of her stormy blue eyes. "Yeah," she breathed.

"'Kay," Sam said, flashing a lazy smile before sauntering back out of the CMO's office.

Flashes of memory were coming back to her at random. First it was Janet in that dress. Then she had a sudden image of sitting at Cassie's graduation, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. Janet had subtly passed her a tissue, and when Sam looked over she was expecting to see the doctor's typically teasing smile. Instead she saw a look of such proud, profound understanding on her lover's face that she'd nearly wept. They'd sat together and sniffled all the way through Cassie's speech.

Unfortunately, it was right in the middle of their candlelit dinner that evening that Sam recalled their boat trip. She pushed her plate away, suddenly overcome with the remembered nausea. "Ugh."

Janet looked up, with her fork poised halfway to her mouth. "Something wrong?"

"Not hungry," Sam said tightly. She wondered if her face was as green as the salad. The sight of the food was bad enough already, but suddenly the smell caught her attention too. Her stomach rolled as she quickly pushed herself away from the dining room table, seeking fresher air.

The cool evening breeze out on the back porch helped immediately. Sam relaxed and sucked in a few deep breaths while her insides settled down. Janet poked her head out the door from the kitchen. "Sam?"

The blonde grinned back at her sheepishly. "Sorry. When I remember things, it's like I'm there. Pretty intense."

"So where were you just then?" Janet asked, as she stepped fully onto the porch.

"Leaning over a boat rail, sick as a dog."

The doctor winced. "Oooh. Sorry."

"It's all right. But I don't think I'm really up for dinner anymore."

"Do you remember that I eventually found a cure for your seasickness?" Janet sauntered closer and put her hands on the taller woman's hips.

Sam had to swallow when she saw the vibrant flicker of lust in her lover's eyes. "No?"

Leaning up on her tiptoes, Janet nipped at Sam's lips with a grin. "I think dinner will wait."

Sometime later, Sam was stretched out diagonally across Janet's bed, busily examining her lover's fingers. They'd always struck her as long for Janet's overall size, but she'd never noticed before how graceful they were. "So you have the Ancient gene?" she murmured.

"Looks that way," Janet said with a shrug.

"You could have gone to another galaxy," the blonde said as she folded her fingers around her lover's.

"I didn't want to go to another galaxy," Janet replied. "This one suits me fine." They shared a sleepy smile.

Suddenly struck by curiosity, Sam leaned upward and propped herself on one elbow. "Did anyone ever test Cassie?"

"Mmhmm," the doctor answered. "She showed the trait more strongly than anyone else tested."

"Does she know that?"

"Sure. But we agreed Atlantis is a little too far for college." Janet dipped her head to kiss the taller woman's collarbone.

As usual, Sam wasn't that easily distracted. "So she might be hok'taur after all." She stared out into space as she pondered the possibilities.

"She knows that, too," Janet said. "But it's not something she can really worry about right now."

Sam smiled as she detected the mildly worn patience in her lover's voice. "We've had this conversation before, huh?"

"Yup. And eventually you'll remember you were so concerned about it that you made Jack promise she'd always have an out through the Gate if she needs it, to the Tok'ra or the Nox or wherever else she might need to go."

That made Sam feel inexplicably guilty, but she nodded anyway. "Okay." She returned to her examination of Janet's hands, and shivered when she recalled just how dextrous the doctor really was. "Have I made crude jokes about how the Ancient gene must be responsible for what you do to me?"

Dark eyes rolled expressively. "Yes, Sam."

"Damn. I need new material," Sam sighed, then laughed when Janet shifted and rolled on top of her, effectively ending the conversation with a heart-stopping kiss.

Daniel was in her lab when she arrived the next morning, poking through a storage crate. "Hey, Sam!" he chirped happily when he saw her.

"'Morning, Daniel. What is all this stuff?" she asked as he started pulling alien knickknacks out of the container.

"The artifacts we put in storage after P9V-775," he answered. He knelt to corral some stray styrofoam packing peanuts.

"Right," Sam replied. "P9V-775."

He paused in his unpacking, then pushed his glasses up his nose to look more closely at her. "You know, where you got..." he pointed to his head.

"Ah. So these have been in storage since then?"

"Just waiting for you to start figuring them out," Daniel confirmed, then smiled brightly. "So. Can I help?"

Sam laughed, and gestured to the already half-empty shipping container. "Please, be my guest." With that, he dove right back into work, making an enormous mess on her floor. "I need coffee," she announced, after watching him attack the crate like a kid on Christmas morning.

He lifted his own mug and took a joyful slurp, barely managing not to choke on the wayward bit of styrofoam that had landed in his beverage. "Way ahead of you."

She turned to leave, and shook her head. "Yeah," she said under her breath.

Either Daniel's coffee had been especially strong, or Sam was woefully out of step with the usual pace of her job. She felt hard pressed to keep up with his excited chatter while they catalogued the artifacts. He was merrily pointing out unknown glyphs, speculating wildly on the use of each item, and clearly expecting her to play along.

Finally, she dropped her notepad and pencil and sat, rubbing the bridge of her nose. "Can we take five?"

He skidded to a halt in mid-explication and looked at her curiously. "Sure thing, Sam. You feeling okay?"

"Yeah," she said with a nod. "Just tired."

"Oh. Sorry about that." Daniel pushed out his lower lip, making his most pitifully guilty face. "I'm just glad you're back... must've got carried away."

She smiled and plucked a small relic out of the pile. "This stuff has been around for a long time," she said. "It'll wait until we get the chance to study it all."

"Yeah. I just wish Jack would let us go back and look around again. There has to be more where this came from."

"He's blacklisted the planet?" Sam asked with a frown.

Daniel nodded, and took a sip of his now-cold coffee. He couldn't restrain a wince as he quickly put the mug down again. "Yeah. Between the radiation and the buildings falling down, Jack decided it was too risky."

Sam leaned forward abruptly, pinning him with an intense gaze. "What kind of radiation?"

"I don't know," he said with a shrug. "I wasn't really paying attention. You didn't seem to think it was going to kill us, so I figured we were okay."

She stood and moved to a cabinet, rifling through its contents before she found her Tok'ra-enhanced radiation detector. She activated it and swept it through the air, looking for spikes.

"Sam, this stuff was screened as soon as we got back," Daniel said, eyeing her in concern.

"They might not have been looking for the right thing," Sam said vaguely. The gauge twitched, and she followed the direction it indicated, stepping closer to the crate the artifacts had been stored in.

She dug into the packing material, heedless of the mess as it spilled on her floor, and heedless of Daniel's worried stare as he sidled up alongside her.

Finally, the needle on the radiation detector gave a weak but definitive lurch, as Sam pulled out a handheld device with a dial on its top.

Daniel leaned over her shoulder and squinted at the artifact. "Looks like a controller for a quantum mirror," he observed idly. "I didn't think those were supposed to be dangerous."

"They're not," Sam whispered, staring at it in sudden, aching horror.

Kel'nor'eem wasn't working. Sleep was impossible. Eating was out of the question.

Sam paced the length of her quarters in agitation. The mission report for their jump to P9V-775 had been blandly uninformative; all it had done was make her more anxious.

The MALP had detected no signs of human life, but plenty of Ancient ruins. Daniel had suggested that Jack might want to tag along, since he was practically an Ancient himself. Jack had jumped at the chance. He claimed that he'd developed an acute allergy to paperwork.

On the planet they'd broken into teams of two. Daniel and Teal'c took the south end of the ruins, Sam and the general headed north. After an hour or so of fruitless exploration, General O'Neill reported a building had collapsed, and that Sam had been hurt. A day or so later she'd woken up on base.

Right then her mind helpfully conjured the sickening memory of stone falling, burying her. The dry collisions of aged rock enveloped her, blotting out everything else.

When she shook free of the memory, she was shaking, covered in a cold sweat.

Her hands were trembling almost beyond her control when she sat down at her computer console and began to type.

Half an hour later, Sam stood unnoticed in the doorway of the infirmary, watching as Janet directed her staff in their daily bustle. The members of SG-3 were preparing to gate out, and had just reported for their pre-jump physicals. There were also the normal bumps and bruises of any given day at the SGC. Right that moment Janet was on the far end of the room, bandaging a cut across Sergeant Siler's forearm.

She could hear Janet's voice -- not the actual words, but the resonance of the syllables as she teased the perpetually clumsy soldier, and the subtle change in the sound when she smiled.

With a deep breath Sam let her eyes sweep hungrily across the brunette's form, cataloging the minute details of her hands, the line of her jaw, and the warmth of her eyes.

Then she turned and left.

Janet looked over to the door, but only caught a flash of Sam's blonde hair before the taller woman disappeared from view. She frowned briefly, then returned to her work.

At 1643 hours, the mountain went dark. Not just Colorado-on-a-moonless-night dark, but powerless, thick, oppressive dark. And quiet -- even the perpetual hum of the base's air circulation system went eerily silent.

Jack O'Neill looked up from his desk, grateful for the reprieve from the latest stacks of tedious requisition forms. "Hey, guys?" he yelled, hoping they'd hear him downstairs at the control room. "What the hell?"

"Don't know, sir," came the pitiful call of a confused airman outside.

The general stood and felt his way gingerly around his desk, only crashing into two or three other pieces of furniture before getting to the door. The base's emergency lighting kicked on then, bathing the conference room in eerie green. He hurried down to the control room, where technicians scrambled in the restored lighting to figure out what had happened.

"Harriman?" O'Neill asked.

The sergeant shook his head as his hands flew over the console. "Everything went dead, sir. Computer systems are down, and the Gate is offline."

"Don't we have triple redundant thingies to keep that from happening?"

Harriman winced as he looked over his shoulder at the general. "Ideally, sir."

"'Ideally.' Great."

Just then a chevron on the gate lit up, and sent the large ring spinning to life.

"I thought we didn't have power," O'Neill said dryly.

The sergeant frantically tried to bring his systems back online, but they remained stubbornly unresponsive. He looked back at the other techs, who were equally mystified. "I don't know what's happening, sir."

As the third chevron locked, the blast shield came down over the control room window, making it even darker than it had been before. "All right. Kick the breakers. Let's get emergency systems up," O'Neill barked.

Four airmen scrambled out of the room, down into the depths of the base's central power core.

Everyone in the command room kept a silent tally of the chevrons as they encoded. Five... Six...

"Sir! I have level two emergency systems standing by," Harriman said.

"We have iris control?" O'Neill asked.

"And minimal video feed," the sergeant replied, pointing to the monitors mounted above. The screen flickered to life just as a wormhole flared open dramatically. "Outgoing wormhole established," he reported unnecessarily. He reached for the base comm, ready to shut the iris and summon a few squads of SFs to the gateroom to investigate.

Jack grabbed the sergeant's wrist. "Wait for it." He pursed his lips, watching fuzz chase across the video monitors.

"Sir?" Harriman asked, looking frantically to his commanding officer. Behind him, Siler and a couple other techs were moving preemptively to the circuit breakers, ready to shut down the entire mountain again if necessary.

"C'mon," Jack whispered. Right on cue, the video feed cleared of static, focusing sharply on the ramp. Sam strode into view, and looked up to the camera monitoring the room, as if asking permission. Jack exhaled a long breath, then nodded. "Let her go."

"Sir?!" Harriman squeaked.

"I said, let her go." He watched the monitors while Sam pulled a hat over her head and stepped into the event horizon.

As soon as the wormhole disengaged, the base seemed to suddenly catch its breath and power up again. The computer systems booted back into diagnostic mode, and the air started moving once more.

"General, systems appear to have returned to normal," Harriman reported as he studied the stream of data scrolling past his screen. "There's no indication of what caused the outage, or the destination Colonel Carter dialed."

"'Salright. I have a pretty good idea," O'Neill answered. "Let me know if anything else pops up." He turned and headed back to the stairs, feeling older than he ever had before.

It was sometime just before dark on P9V-775. Sam looked around, recognizing the ruins in a refracted kind of way. She pulled out her radiation detector and followed its readings down the main roadway to the heart of the village.

Her memories of this place were radically divergent, as if she'd been there twice under very different circumstances. She remembered the ruins as they were now --peaceful, quiet and abandoned -- but she also recalled this same place engulfed in explosions and swarming with Jaffa.

Finally, she ducked into a low-lying building at the apparent center of the town, and had to stumble to a halt as recollection poured over her.

"Hey, isn't that one of those mirror things?" Jack asked, squinting at the dusty relic in the corner.

"Looks like it, sir," she answered in some apprehension.

"Let's remember to come back here and blow it up later, huh? Damn things are more trouble than they're worth."

Sam wobbled a bit as the memory assaulted her senses, then she pointed her flashlight toward the corner. The dull surface of the mirror bounced the light feebly back at her. She stepped closer, pulled the mirror's controller out of her tactical vest and lifted it shakily, then started turning the dial.

Nothing. The mirror remained dark.

She frowned and turned the dial further. Each discrete click should have switched the mirror's display to universes increasingly different from the one she currently occupied, but nothing appeared. Frustrated, she dropped the controller in favor of her radiation detector again, and moved closer.

"Careful, Sam."

Sam whirled, smoothly drawing her handgun as she faced the new presence behind her. "Who's there?"

A woman stepped forward, mostly obscured in the shadows of the nighttime ruins. "You can't go back, you know."

"Like Hell," Sam snarled. "Now who are you?" Slowly she knelt, dropping the detector on the floor and picking up her flashlight instead. Her aim never wavered from the other woman's head.

The woman winced briefly as the harsh beam of the flashlight shined in her eyes, but otherwise she remained impassive and still while Sam looked her over. Sam scowled, and took a step closer.

"Sam will recognize me."

The voice came from somewhere without, a memory and a reminder all at once. Sam gasped, and let the hand holding her weapon fall loosely to her side. "Cass?" The woman smiled. Sam estimated she was somewhere close to her own age. It was surreal in the extreme to see her daughter grown up. "Is that really you?"

"Hi, Sam," Cassandra said. "It's good to see you."

"Sir, we've searched Colonel Carter's quarters, and we found this," Harriman reported as he handed a zip disk to his CO. "Looks like she stored a local copy of the worm on that disk only, and set it for a one-time detonation."

O'Neill sighed as he took the disk. "I'm assuming she exploited some previously-unknown security flaw in our system?"

"Five or six different flaws, actually, sir. Was that the point of her mission?"

The general snorted, and nodded without looking up. "Yeah... Yeah, that was it."

Harriman seemed chagrined, but satisfied with the explanation. "I'll assist her with the security modifications upon her return, sir."

"Thank you, Sergeant," O'Neill said, dismissing him.

Harriman turned to leave, but hesitated. "Sir, there's also a text file on the disk. Very short, but encrypted. I could work on decoding it, if you like."

"Later," the general ordered shortly. He sat and stared unseeing at the airplane photographs mounted on his wall.

"What are you doing here?" Sam asked, utterly bewildered.

"I thought you deserved an explanation," the older Cassandra said carefully.

"This isn't my reality," the blonde said, her voice shaking in horrified realization.

"No, it's not."

She may have already suspected as much, but hearing the confirmation nearly undid her. Sam took a deep breath, barely holding back tears. "I don't belong here. I have to go back."

"I already told you -- you can't go back."

Sam ignored her, and spun around to find the mirror's controller again. She continued turning the dial, frantic to make something appear, not even really caring if it was the place she'd started from.

"Sam!" Cassandra said firmly, stepping around her parent to regain her attention. "Listen to me."

"I don't belong here," Sam whispered, desperate. Suddenly wild-eyed, she lurched from around Cassandra and stepped haltingly toward the mirror. "I don't belong here. I DON'T BELONG HERE."

"Almost all the other mirrors are dark, Sam. There's no place for you to go to."

"What the hell does that mean?!" Sam cried, looking back over her shoulder.

"Anubis' Jaffa decimated the surface of P9V-775 in your universe, including the mirror. When they found what they needed they razed the place." She paused, taking pity on her parent's apparent shock. "He destroyed Earth about three days later."

Sam stared at her in slack disbelief. "What?"

"Half the galaxy was wiped out, Sam. There's just no place you could go."

"I don't believe you," Sam said, though her suddenly ashen face belied her apparent confidence. "Anubis is dead."

Cass just shook her head. "Half-ascended Goa'uld are a bit more resilient than you'd think. The deep freeze got him for a while, but he eventually escaped."

"But he didn't escape here?"

"Mom found him and isolated him," Cass said. "He got desperate, and attracted the Ancients' attention. They've taken care of him for now."

"Janet stopped him?" It wasn't really a question, but her voice rose in mild hysteria. Sam felt her head spinning. She took a shaky breath. "How was Earth destroyed?"

"There's a ZPM in the catacombs under these ruins. Anubis found it, used it to power an Ancient weapon he did not entirely understand, and then he pointed it at a Stargate that had connected to Earth. The resulting backfire ended up traveling the entire Gate system, wiping out thousands of worlds."

Sam still stood before the portal, still switching between realities. Around and round the dial she went, and felt a growing knot of dread in her stomach as she realized just how many different realities had been simply snuffed out by the similar catastrophic failure of Anubis' weapon.

Her mouth worked soundlessly for a few seconds, unable to decide which of the questions she had was most important. She settled for the one that struck her as the least consequential. "So why are you here?"

"I'm here because you're here, Sam. And you're here because of me."

"What the hell were you doing authorizing her for Gate travel?" Janet demanded as she stomped into General O'Neill's office.

Jack winced, and tried to hide behind his inordinately large pile of paperwork.

"And for a security exercise?!"

"We had to see if there were holes in the system, and if someone could successfully exploit them to gain unauthorized access to the Gate," he said impatiently. "Clearly, we have some stuff to fix."

"Sure -- by someone who is actually cleared for active duty!"

"That's enough," Jack roared as he stood, towering over her. "Stand down, Doctor."

Janet quieted, but the pugnacious lift of her chin was probably still enough to get her in trouble anyway. What she didn't know was that the worry in her eyes flashed up at him like a neon sign.

Jack took a deep breath, staring down at the zip disk on his desk. Sam had undoubtedly left a message behind, probably a terse goodbye to Janet, Cassie, and her teammates. It agonized him to know he'd be the one to deliver it, but not just yet -- not if there was the slightest chance she might decide to come back. "It's way past the end of your shift, Doc. Go home." He raised a hand to forestall her immediate protest. "That's an order."

"Yes, sir," she snapped, before spinning on her heel and stalking angrily out the door.

"What?" Sam breathed. "I'm here because of you?"

"Sam, you already remember what happened here... what happened when the building caved in."

She and Jack had scouted out another dozen or so unremarkable rooms in the central building, before her radiation detector picked up faint readings that appeared to emanate below them.

"Sir, there's a power source down there," she said, as she knelt next to a deep fissure in the stone floor.

"Yeah? Think it's a ZPM?"

Sam's eyebrows shot up. "Could be, given that it's still emitting energy after all this time."

"Cool," he said idly. "We'll get an excavation team here to check it out."

"Yes, sir." She stood, then stumbled when the floor under her feet shifted sharply downward.

"Carter!" Jack yelled, as he leapt forward to grab her hand.

Her fingers had slipped through his grasp as the stone floor gave way, collapsing down, then down again, then down further as it crashed into the hidden catacombs dozens of feet below.

He'd stared, frozen, into the black void where his 2IC had stood. "Carter!" he cried again, frantic. He looked around wildly, trying to find a way to get down to help her, as his training slowly overrode the unabiding horror of what he'd just witnessed.

He didn't think to call for help. He didn't bother fooling himself into believing for a second that she would have survived the catastrophic fall.

He did, however, remember the quantum mirror.

Sam sat heavily on a low-lying chunk of broken stone. "She died."

"Instantly," Cassandra confirmed. "There was nothing he could have done."

"So he went through the mirror... to... what? Steal me from another reality?"

Cassandra shook her head. "No. He went through to try stop you from making the same mistake somewhere else. He thought he could prevent it. He thought -- if he hurried -- that he could save you after all, somewhere."

"So when he got there and found we'd been ambushed, he shot me and brought me back."

"To keep you safe. He never meant to strand you here, but the mirror went dark almost as soon as you got back."

Bloodshot blue eyes peered up at Cass, taking on a suddenly bitter cast. "And you caused it."

"I... planted the suggestion about the mirror in his mind. Yes."

Sam bounced upright again, fury radiating from her entire body. "Why?"

"Your entire galaxy was about to be destroyed, Sam. It wasn't like they'd miss you."

"My entire galaxy?! Everyone I know is dead, and I'm not! Damn it, I want to know WHY." She glared into the face of her daughter, having no other target for her anger.

"Because you were a Sam without a Janet!" Cassandra yelled back, suddenly looking much younger as tears gathered in her eyes. "And she didn't deserve to be a Janet without a Sam."

She actually laughed at that, a harsh, unpleasant sound. She lurched backward a few steps, her laughter teetering on the edge of total hysteria, before the last thread of her composure finally snapped, and Sam began to weep. She sank to her knees on the stone floor, crying out her anguish for the immeasurable volume of her loss, and her guilt at being the only one to have survived it at all. She cried for the Janet she'd lost a year ago, and the Cassie she'd lost and not even known it. She cried for Pete, and Jack, and her father.

Cassandra knelt before her and cried, too. "I'm sorry, Sam. I'm so sorry."

"You let the entire world die, but you saved me," Sam said after the worst of her sobs had subsided.

"I was just returning the favor," her daughter answered through her own tears.

Sam's face crumpled again, but she held herself together. Taking a few deep breaths, she wiped her eyes and looked around the dark, dusty room. "Why do I remember what she remembered?"

The other woman took a shaky breath too. "You'll eventually call it 'quantum attrition.' It's the same root cause of entropic cascade, but the ballgame changes a bit when the quantum duplicate is deceased."

At that moment, science was about all her frazzled nerves could really latch onto. "Quantum matter can't possibly care that my memories don't match those of the original quantum version from this reality," Sam argued.

Cass shrugged. "It can't possibly care that there are two living versions of a particular person in any given region of space-time, either. But it does. You've been undergoing small temporal readjustments since you got here. And Kel'nor'eem happened to make you more susceptible to the effects."

The explanation flew right past her. "I don't belong here," Sam murmured, standing drunkenly and staggering again toward the darkened mirror. She felt that strange tug in her gut again, the one that told her she had to get home.

"Right now, you don't belong anywhere else, Sam." Her daughter's preternaturally calm voice actually shocked her into freezing. "This is what you have." Sam turned and stared at her, hollow and angry. "Was it really so bad?"

Sam felt like the contents of her brain had been pulled out violently, then released to snap back like a rubber band. Everything she knew was trying to return to its original shape, but had just been stretched too far. She stared dumbly at the woman her daughter would become.

"This would have been your world, if Pete had gotten that flat tire before your first date. You would have fallen in love with Mom. You would have saved her, and she would have stopped Anubis. One event, Sam. That's all that's changed."

"That's all," Sam breathed, incredulous. "I don't belong here," she said once more, gesturing to the ruins around them.

"Now you do," Cassandra said as she moved to stand before her surrogate parent. She smiled sadly. "Remember... you're very brave."

"I'm not, Cassie! I wasn't brave enough to love her," Sam said miserably. "And I couldn't save her."

"Are you brave enough to do it now?" Cass gave her a wistful look. "She needs you, Sam."

"I need her," Sam answered. She dropped her head with the admission, finally feeling the emptiness of the life she'd lived without Janet. She swiped at her eyes, profoundly annoyed at the weepy tendencies she'd managed to develop the past few weeks. "I love her."

"She would have fallen apart without you. Just like you did without her."

"I was doing okay," Sam protested.

"You were going to marry a guy who stalked you," Cassandra said pointedly.

"I might not have gone through with it," the blonde whined.

Cass snorted in surprise and cracked a tiny smile, profoundly relieved at the tiny bit of humor. It told her that Sam was regaining her emotional equilibrium.

Sam smiled back, weakly. "What about Cassie - my Cassie? Is she..."

"Dead?" the older Cassandra finished. "Not really." She scrunched her face in an altogether familiar way. "It's complicated. We talk, though."

"You can talk to her?" Sam asked, wiping her nose.

"Sort of. It's a hok'taur thing."

"Is she okay?"

Cass smiled. "You've already seen her, Sam. In a few decades she'll be the one who pulls together a gateroom for you to arrive at when you hit that solar flare."

And she'd look older, but wise beyond comprehension, Sam realized. "I lost track of you -- her -- there, after your mom died. I'm so sorry, Cass."

"She understood, Sam. I promise you that."

Sam nodded, then cocked her head. "A 'hok'taur thing?'" she asked wryly.

"We ascended members of the Fifth Race needed some kind of title. That works as well as anything."

"Huh," she responded. "Yeah, I guess you're right." She sat again, watching the beam of light in her discarded flashlight slowly fade as the batteries wore out.

Cassandra eyed her in concern. "Are you all right?"

"I don't know," Sam answered.

"You need to head back soon."

"Yeah. I'm just... just going to sit here, for a moment."

"Okay," Cassandra said. She sat too, and waited with her other mother into the small hours of the alien night.

She knew he knew she was there. She just couldn't face him yet.

Sam sat in her Volvo, parked in Jack O'Neill's driveway for a good twenty minutes before finally getting out of the car and wandering into his backyard.

Jack looked up from his grill and gave her a tight smile. "So you're back, then?" They both knew he'd gotten a call from the base as soon as she returned; it was the only reason she'd been allowed to leave, instead of being detained immediately for debriefing.

Sam's chest was heavy, standing there and looking at her commanding officer. The burden he'd carried in all this, and solely for the sake of having watched her literally slip through his fingers... she stepped forward and grabbed him in a fierce, sudden hug that knocked his breath away. Then, just as quickly, she stepped away again.

His eyes were moist as he nodded his understanding. "Hot dog?" he croaked, skewering one off the grill and offering it to her.

She smiled. "No, thank you, sir."

"'Kay." He looked around a bit, searching for what to say next. "Look, as far as I'm concerned, you were acting under orders, testing the integrity of our security systems. There won't be any problems."

"Thank you," she replied.

"I kinda figured you'd have to go back sooner or later... Carter, for what it's worth -- I'm sorry."

"Yeah," she said, inhaling sharply.

He nodded, realizing he had nothing more to offer her. For a few seconds they stood facing each other in awkward silence. Finally, he frowned and asked, "Mind telling me what tipped you off?"

"When the quantum mirror is active, the mechanism gives off a periodic spike of muon radiation."

"Ah," he said, as if that explained everything. "You know, they found the worm you left behind to take out the base's systems. That take you long to write?"

"About twenty minutes, sir."

Jack winced. "Okay, your next priority is to fix the security holes you just so graphically uncovered."

"Yes, sir." She crammed her hands into her pockets and glanced back in the direction of her car.

Jack caught the hint easily. "You gonna tell Fraiser?"

She'd been asking herself that same question since she discovered the truth herself. Right until that second she hadn't known the answer. "No," she said quietly. "She doesn't need to go through what I went through."

"Losing the woman she loves?" he asked despite himself. "No, no one needs to go through that."

Sam looked back at him with sharp blue eyes, seeing more than she ever had before. "Jack..."

He shrugged it off, returning his attention to the barbecue. "You should both take some time off. Tell Janet she can yell at me about my orders countermanding hers in a couple days. And give Cass a hug for me, huh?"

"I will," she promised, then she spun on her heel to leave.

"Hey, Carter," he called. She turned to face him once more, and swiped at the solitary tear trailing down her cheek. He fished into his pocket and pulled out a diamond ring, the one he'd taken off her finger when he first brought her to this reality. He held it up to her poised between his fingers, and waited.

The moment hung there, cutting across any number of quantum realities. Usually this was a question. Sometimes she said yes, or she said no, or she said that she was sorry, but she was in love with someone else.

This time, in this reality, she plucked the ring from his grasp with trembling fingers, and let out a shaky breath. "Thanks," she said quietly.

When she was gone, he doused the barbecue flame and headed back inside. He wasn't all that hungry anymore.

It was a little too chilly for the neighborhood children to be playing in the park that evening. The first snowflakes of the season tumbled through the air and landed haphazardly at her feet as she sat on her favorite bench.

Sam watched the swings before her move idly in the breeze and found herself somewhere beyond tears, beyond grief.

She looked down at the ring in her palm, turning it over as it caught the stray glare from the lights scattered around the park. She realized she couldn't remember being the woman who had accepted it. She had settled here, in this place, from her atomic resonance outward, and started to adapt. This piece of another universe no longer had any meaning to who she was.

She closed her fingers against the ring, felt it warm with her touch, then finally drew back her hand to cast it forward, into the sand. With a sigh she pushed herself upright, folded her arms against the cold, and headed home.

For someone else, the ring would be a treasure. For her, it was merely a remnant of a life that no longer existed.

Janet was pissed. Her eyes flared briefly with intense relief upon seeing Sam, but then her expression shuttered closed again. "Sam," she greeted coolly. She was standing on her porch, still in her uniform, and she looked like she'd been pacing non-stop for hours. When Sam's car had pulled into the driveway, she'd stomped out the front door, ready to give her lover holy hell.

Sam approached slowly. After the emotional overload of the past several hours, she was shocked she had anything left in her to feel; the sight of Janet filled her heart to the point of overflowing. It was hard at that moment to say which was more profound -- her loss, or the gift she'd been given to make up for it.

"Hey," the blonde said quietly.

"The general tells me you were acting under orders to try to override base security."

Sam nodded. "I was."

"Bullshit, Sam. You were not medically cleared for gate travel."

"I know."

"And what the hell took you so long?"

Her eyes swam in tears once more. "It's a long story."

Janet took a step forward, her anger instantly evaporating in the face of her lover's obvious pain. "What happened?"

She could only shake her head, and close the remaining distance between them to wrap Janet in a desperate hug. With her face buried in Janet's shoulder, she loosed one anguished, shuddering sob. She felt Janet return the embrace, and heard her quiet, soothing words of comfort. She held on for dear life.

Maybe this was how things were supposed to be, and maybe it wasn't. But it was how things were. Besides, like another Teal'c had once told her, this reality is the only one of consequence.

"I love you," Sam said quietly. She pressed her cheek to her lover's soft hair. "I'm here," she continued, though the emphasis lost on Janet. "And I'm sorry, and I love you so much."

"I love you too, Sam," Janet replied, sounding just a bit bewildered. "What's wrong? Are you okay?"

"I will be," the blonde whispered.

"Okay," the doctor said, before pulling away. "C'mon inside. I'll make you some dinner." She turned and stepped into the open front door.

Sam exhaled, then looked briefly over her shoulder at the stars above, at the mysteries they simultaneously concealed and revealed. A bright meteor streaked across the sky, and Sam had to catch her breath. For some reason she knew it was Cassie, or the universe -- or both -- telling her everything was going to be okay.

She nodded to herself, then turned and followed Janet into the house.

She was -- generally -- a woman who abhorred secrets.

This was one she would have to keep.

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