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rocketfic | darkly within

Title: Darkly Within by Rocketchick
Rating: 15+ Pairing: Sam/Janet
Notes: Part 2 of 9 of the Ancient Air Series. Sequel to The Tea Rose.

It had been a week since that night on the mountain, and it seemed entirely surreal to Janet now. They had not spoken since of the tender words, declarations of love, and, lest she forget, the kissing.

Ooohboy, the kissing.

Janet didn't consider herself a terribly experienced person, but she was certain those few kisses were something special.

Then there was Cassie, the SGC, Don't Ask Don't Tell, and the small detail that she had never ever had these kind of feelings for a woman before. Or for a man either, if she was honest...

She was confused, and she wished desperately that her best friend was around so they could talk about it.

What she didn't know was that Sam Carter - astrophysicist, soldier, and all-around galactic badass - was scared stiff.

She'd spent most of the week holed up in her lab, reasoning that Janet could find her if she really wanted to, but probably wouldn't bother.

In truth, it was just about the most passive-aggressive behavior she'd ever exhibited in her life.

She was studying the calculations Valosh Med left behind about the periodic dimensional shift on his home planet of Eloy. Beyond the fascinating concept of such a thing even existing, she felt an obligation to figure out how he'd managed to get stuck there with no way out. After all, he'd delivered her to the place she belonged, maybe she could return the favor.

Of course, the "place she belonged" had turned out to be in a certain doctor's waiting embrace, which was enough to freak her out totally if she spent any time dwelling on it. Instead she went steadfastly back to work.

"Mom? Is something wrong?"

Janet looked up at her daughter across the dining room table in surprise. "No... nothing's wrong."

Cassandra nodded, and seemed to accept that. For a few minutes she continued eating her dinner in silence. Then she said, "Did you and Sam have a fight?"

She counted herself lucky that she hadn't had any food in her mouth at that moment to choke on. After silently cursing her daughter's excessive observational skills, she sat back in her seat to meet Cassie's curious eyes. "All right. Why are you asking?"

"You seem bummed out lately, is all. Usually when you're bummed out you talk to Sam to feel better. And Sam hasn't been over for a while."

Janet realized the truth of that. "Well, I wouldn't call it a fight, exactly," she began. The girl's gaze was unwavering, and Janet squirmed a bit under the scrutiny. "We... it was..." She sighed. "Cass, it's complicated."

Her daughter rolled her eyes. "Well, duh." Janet smiled at her fondly, then watched as she dipped her head and pushed some food around on her plate. "It's not about me, is it?" Cassandra asked in a small voice.

"No, absolutely not," Janet answered firmly. "We're just a little confused with each other right now. We'll figure it out." She watched her daughter sadly. "I'm sorry, sweetie, I didn't know this was bothering you."

"Yeah, well..." She shrugged in that adolescent way that projected indifference but did nothing to hide the real hurt underneath it.

Janet had figured that she could wait Sam out, and that they'd work this out whenever they got to it. But not if Cassie was getting hurt in the process. They needed to fix it now.

Sam was bent over her desk, chewing her lip as she studied the massive equation scrawled on her notepad. Janet stood leaning in the doorway of the lab, watching the blonde head bob as Sam shifted her attention to different variables and calculations.

Janet knew full well the extreme focus that powerful mind was capable of; in fact, it was usually one of the things she found most intriguing about Sam as a person and as a fellow scientist. But today it was simply maddening, because she knew that it was also a convenient cloak, a barrier to protect an emotionally embattled heart. The doctor sighed, pushed herself away from the door frame and moved slowly across the room to grab a chair, plant it in front of Sam's desk, and sit down.

"Hm?" Sam muttered indistinctly to the person she was vaguely aware was in the room with her as she jotted down some more numbers.

"Sam," Janet said quietly.

"Yeah?" Furious erasing and rewriting.

"SAM," she said more firmly.

Watching Sam wrench her attention away from her work was like seeing a train derail, Janet discovered. The blonde head jerked up and the fierce concentration in her eyes gave way to annoyance, then recognition, then abject terror in less than a second before grinding to a halt in cool indifference.

"Hey," Sam said with forced casualness.

Janet fought the urge to roll her eyes. "We need to talk."

"Can it wait? I'm busy," the blonde answered with a vague impatient gesture at the work on her desk.

The doctor leaned closer to the desk, narrowing her eyes. "My daughter thinks we're fighting. She thinks we're fighting about her. So, no. This can't wait," she ground out through clenched teeth.

Sam's face fell. "Oh," she said, having the good grace to look ashamed.

The smaller woman sighed and stood up. "Let me buy you a cup of coffee," she said, tilting her head toward the door, relieved when Sam didn't protest any further, but simply got up, grabbed her coat, and followed her out.

They couldn't seem to find a coffee shop that was actually open, so Janet decided to calm her nerves by pulling onto the highway and driving for a while. It was late, there were few cars on the road, and the speed limit was seventy-five. It was perfect.

In the passenger seat Sam sat in dejected silence, watching the streetlights flash by overhead.

After a few minutes, Janet expelled a noisy breath and threw a glance over at her companion. Sam had slumped low in the seat and propped one long leg against the dashboard. Her head was tipped toward the window, with an oddly petulant look on her face. The doctor was furious to discover she found the entire picture impossibly cute.

"Look, I'm sorry for kidnapping you," Janet began.

The only answer was a one-shouldered shrug. The brunette sighed and kept driving.

"So where are we going?" Sam asked sometime later.

"Nowhere in particular. Driving just helps me think."

"Oh." After a moment the blonde remembered something. "I promised that we'd take a road trip, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did," Janet responded neutrally, glancing at the rearview mirror.

"I'm being an ass, aren't I?"

"Yes, you are," came the wry confirmation.

At that, Sam shoved herself upright in her seat. "God, Janet. I'm sorry." She scrubbed a hand through her short hair. "If anyone I knew was acting like this I'd smack them."

Janet refrained from replying, sensing that the other woman needed a bit of space to order her thoughts.

"I feel like this whole thing got yanked out of our control," Sam muttered, making a vague gesture that encompassed them both. "I just wasn't ready to face this yet."

"'This' meaning 'us?'" Janet asked curtly.

"Yeah," came the soft reply. Sam realized she was making a true mess of things, and struggled to find a way to express her confusion without further hurting her friend. "I mean, I knew we were close, I knew we could potentially get closer, and I knew I cared about you..." She closed her eyes and forced herself to be more honest. "I knew that I loved you. I just feel like I got... I don't know... outed, I guess... and I wasn't ready for that."

"Is that why you've been hiding from me?" Janet asked. The other woman mumbled an embarrassed affirmative. "Would you ever have been ready on your own?"

Her tone did nothing to reveal to Sam how she was feeling. "I like to think I would have been," the blonde answered miserably.

"But you love me."

"Yeah," Sam murmured, still somewhat surprised herself by that revelation.

Janet abruptly pulled the car into the right lane to catch the next exit ramp, then looped around to backtrack the other direction on the highway. Sam studied the brunette's profile in worried silence.

After accelerating the car back up to highway speed, Janet turned to her with a tremulous smile. "We can work with that," she said simply before looking back out at the road.

Sam laughed a little in relief, then slumped in her seat again, exhausted. This whole "sharing your feelings" thing was a lot harder than it looked. "Now where are we going?"

"Home," Janet responded. "I'd like you to tuck Cassie in, if that's all right with you."

"Yeah, that's okay with me," Sam said with a smile. She congratulated herself for successfully navigating this particular emotional minefield, though she had the distinct feeling there were more dangerous spots ahead. In her head it was suddenly quite clear why she'd been on her own for so long.

Cassie was eager to stay up and chat with Sam, not having seen her friend for several days. They laughed and gossiped late into the night before Sam finally managed to convince the teen to get some sleep.

Sam poked her head into Janet's bedroom, intending to offer a brief goodnight before crashing on the couch. The brunette was already fast asleep, mostly still dressed and sprawled in a somewhat undignified heap on her bed. Sam crept into the room and moved to the bedside lamp to turn it off. Before flipping the switch, the blonde head cocked as she studied the smaller woman, letting her eyes linger for several moments on the doctor's relaxed features. She felt a goofy smile splitting her face, then clicked off the light, ducked back out the door and began to close it slowly behind her.

"Sam?" came an incoherent mumble from inside the bedroom.

She pushed the door back open. "Yeah?" she whispered.

"Get over here." Janet had pried one eye open in the moonlight now bathing the bed, and a small hand was waving Sam back into the room.

She padded across the room, watching with some amusement as Janet struggled to the far side of the bed, tangling most of the covers around her legs in the process. "Cass is all set, she just needed a bit of reassurance."

Janet managed a faint nod, but lost the battle with her drooping eyelids. "Take your shoes off," she slurred.

"Um... I was just gonna go downstairs and sleep on the couch..."

"'S a big bed, Sam. Lie down. Doctor's orders." The last words were nearly obliterated by a yawn.

The blonde hesitated for a few long moments, debating the merits of pushing their tentatively reestablished friendship, then shrugged and kicked off her shoes. She crawled into the bed, not missing the sleepy smirk of satisfaction that crossed the doctor's lips.

She lay on her side facing Janet, an arm bent under her head to prop it up, as she studied the other woman in the moonlight. For the first time Sam consciously let loose the ball of emotion that always seemed to bounce around inside her when she saw the brunette, and almost got lost in the sudden depth of the feeling. It was warm, and fierce, and more intense than anything she'd felt in her life.

God, it was terrifying.

A small hand snaked out from under the comforter and latched onto hers. "Love you," Janet murmured.

Sam had to swallow hard against the sudden lump in her throat. "Love you too," she answered, entwining Janet's fingers firmly with her own.

It was a long time before she fell asleep.

Janet woke alone, in a strangely silent house. She sat up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and looking around her room. Was Sam being there last night just a dream? And where was the ubiquitous blaring of Cassie's clock radio?

She padded downstairs with a frown, caught sight of Cassie sitting in the dining room staring blankly at something, then moved closer and saw what Cassie was staring at.

Janet sidled up to her daughter. "How long's she been at this?" she whispered.

"Dunno," Cassie whispered back. "Since before I got up."

The entire surface of the dining room table was obscured by paper that Sam had apparently stolen from her printer. The paper was covered with Stargate symbols and a squiggle that spanned multiple sheets in a pattern that reminded Janet of representations she'd seen of the Mandelbrot set. Sam herself was sitting cross-legged on the floor, punching some numbers into a calculator and mumbling softly under her breath.

Janet took in the spectacle with an indulgent smile, then bent to plant a kiss on the crown of her daughter's head. "Did you get breakfast?"

Cassie nodded, transfixed by the extreme fit of geekery she was witnessing. "Does she get like this a lot?"

"Only when she's tracking down something that's really important to her," Janet answered, remembering the long months Sam had spent in her lab working to bring back Jack O'Neill. She left the dining room, careful not to disturb any of Sam's notes, and disappeared into the kitchen to make some coffee.

She returned several minutes later, carrying a mug for Sam. She laid a gentle hand on Sam's bent head, and waited for the blonde to jerk her attention back to her surroundings. "Made you some coffee," Janet explained as the blue eyes focused on her.

The intensely grateful smile she got back made Janet's heart skip a beat. "Thanks, Janet." Sam grabbed the mug and took a loud slurp.

"You know you're jumping at 1100, right?"

"I'll be done before then," Sam insisted.

A horn sounded from the street outside, and Janet shooed Cassie out to meet the carpool for school. She reclaimed her own coffee mug from the kitchen, then sat in the chair Cassie had vacated, squinting at the papers on the table as she sipped.

The math was mostly over her head, but she recognized some of the Stargate symbols and the worlds they represented. There was Abydos, Tollana... and Eloy, she noted with little surprise.

After a couple minutes, Sam abandoned her calculator on the floor and took a seat opposite Janet. "Need my stuff back at the lab to get any further," she explained, rubbing her eyes wearily.

"What's the thing coming out of Eloy?" Janet asked, pointing at the curving line that shot out of the planet's symbol and arced across three other sheets of paper.

Sam leaned closer to the table and reached out to tap a finger on the point Janet had indicated. "I've been thinking... what if that portal was really just one end of a natural wormhole that moved around our version of normal space at a regular rate?"

"I didn't know such a thing could even exist," Janet answered.

"Me neither," Sam said with an excited grin. "What if the beings who built the Stargate system modeled it after naturally occurring phenomena? What if they saw one of these things and decided to replicate the effect in a more predictable way?"

"You think you can figure out where the portal will intersect normal space next?"

"Mmhmm," the blonde answered, swallowing another mouthful of coffee. "I have to adjust the equations Valosh Med left behind for the expansion and curvature of normal space, but I think this thing might just be bumping into another planet pretty soon." She jabbed a finger at another spot on the pile of papers that contained a couple Stargate symbols and a bunch of question marks. "I'll need the computers on base to verify it."

Janet pursed her lips as she considered the unlikely physics of what Sam described. "So... what? You go to that planet and hop back into that thing?"

"No, but I think we can more or less recreate the circumstances of what trapped Valosh Med, and maybe pull him back out again."

For several long moments, Janet studied her friend, taking in the dark circles under her blue eyes, and the almost-controlled fidgeting at her fingertips. "More happened to you in there than you're telling me."

The blonde flashed her a guilty look and shook her head unconvincingly. "I just want to help him out if I can, that's all." She pushed herself upright and leaned over the table to gather the papers strewn about its surface. "Sorry about the mess," she mumbled.

Janet also rose to help push the papers into a pile, and while moving around the table ended up bumping into the taller woman's side. She muttered an apology, then looked up at into clear blue eyes and was easily snared by the charming twinkle dancing within them. "You're so cute when you go all brilliant rocket scientist," she observed.

Sam's eyes widened in outrage. "'Cute?!'"

"Sure, with your little calculator and your fractal drawings... the 'wormholes' and the 'curvature of normal space...'"

Soft lips descended on hers and abruptly ended the teasing, as gentle fingers tangled in her hair. They spent a long leisurely moment savoring the contact, before finally Sam pulled away.

"'Cute,'" Sam muttered under her breath with a disgusted shake of her head, as she turned and headed to the kitchen to wash out her coffee mug. Janet stayed behind, her eyes still closed, with a dreamy smile lingering on her face.

They drove together back to the base, and went through the requisite physicals before SG-1 was cleared to jump. Sam was last in the infirmary, and before she hopped off her bed to get suited up and briefed, Janet caught hold of her hand.

"Be careful out there, Major," she murmured, locking intense brown eyes onto Sam's.

The blonde returned a watery half-smile and squeezed the doctor's hand in return. "Yes, ma'am."

An hour later Janet stood in the control room, watching the gate's event horizon flare open, and SG-1 wink out of existence one by one as they stepped through. Sam bounded up the ramp last, pulling a floppy camouflage hat over tousled blonde hair. About two steps from the gate she whirled around, flashed a dazzling grin at the woman she knew was watching her in control room, then ducked into the shimmering aperture and disappeared.

After SG-1's departure and a tedious day of paperwork, Janet went back home, spent a few hours watching old movies with her daughter, and went to bed.

Soon she found herself caught up in a dream, strolling on the shore of a great lake that was mostly obscured by fog. A man was sitting nearby on a rock, his bare feet planted in the mud at the gently moving waterline. He drew back an arm to cast a pebble out into the water.

"Oh, great," Janet muttered, recognizing him instantly.

"So nice to see you too, Janet," the Seer answered dryly.

SG-1 arrived just after planetary dawn on the surface of P38-939, then split up to perform their standard recon tasks. O'Neill and Teal'c wandered north into the hills to investigate mineral deposits the MALP had detected, leaving Sam and Daniel to look for possible signs of habitation.

After several hours of exploring a radius around the gate, it was now late afternoon and Sam and Daniel had found nothing even remotely suggesting alien civilization. They picked their way through a sparse forest, following a small stream. "So Sam," Daniel said as he ducked under a low branch. "How's Cassie doing these days?"

"Great," Sam answered. "She's starting Trig next semester."

"And Janet?"

"I think Janet's already taken Trig."

Daniel rolled his eyes as Sam flashed him a mischievous grin. "That's not what I meant," he said with a sigh. "It seemed you two weren't hanging out as much as you used to after that Eloy thing, that's all," he explained.

Sam was already primed to be wary of insinuations made between herself and Janet, and so she read entirely too much into the bland observation and began to panic. How exactly had they managed to be so damn obvious? Hell, she hadn't even been truly aware of her feelings for Janet until Valosh Med had explicitly pointed them out to her. And now that certain new aspects of their relationship were open for exploration, would they be able to keep a lid on things at work? If they couldn't, what would they do? Was it worth the risk?

"H-hey, Sam," Daniel stammered at her silence. "It's not..."

She grabbed hold of his flak jacket and yanked him to the ground. "Quiet!" she hissed, as she wrenched her IR goggles out of her pack.

Daniel obliged immediately, flattening himself into the dirt as Sam ducked behind a tree. He raised his head a little and saw what had caught Sam's attention. It was a tiny village, or at least what was left of one. Small mud brick buildings appeared to be crumbling away in the late afternoon sunshine. He checked their location and found they were less than two kilometers southwest of the gate.

Sam scanned the village with the infrared goggles, detecting no sources of heat large enough to be human, then relaxed, confident that there were no natives nearby that posed a potential threat.

She stood back up, grabbing Daniel's hand and helping to haul him upright. "C'mon, maybe there're some artifacts left over," she said, jerking her head toward the ruined buildings. She took three more steps before the forest floor gave out underneath her, and she plunged through the leaf litter into darkness.

Janet sat next to Valosh Med and frowned out into the shifting fog. "Okay, so what now?"

The Seer grinned in response. "You tend to think I have a far greater degree of control over this situation than I do." He watched as she turned and stared at him expectantly. "No, really, my dear Janet. I am not responsible for bringing you here. Not that I object to your company, mind you."

"Then who is responsible?"

He shrugged. "Hard to say. Maybe not so much of a 'who' but a 'what.' You and your compatriots do seem to spend a lot of time dabbling with the primal forces that bind the universe together."

"But why me? Why Sam?"

The Seer tsked. "Wrong question, Doctor. You should be asking, 'Why Me?'" He poked himself several times in the chest for emphasis. "In the current iteration of reality there are many places where you exist, many places where Samantha exists. Many places where you are friends, or more than friends," he stressed the word with a smirk that made Janet blush. "Many places where you haven't even met. But for all those places, all those Janet Fraisers and Samantha Carters, there is only one of me." He shrugged a bit. "So I suppose it's only fitting that I therefore remain in a state that exists in all of those places at once."

"Okay, don't take this the wrong way," Janet began. "But what makes you so special?"

The Seer laughed. "I quite literally have no idea. But yet, here I am." He pitched another pebble into the lake.

Janet exhaled, watching her breath condense in front of her and drift away. "Sam thinks this place is a naturally occurring wormhole, and that it might be possible to get you out of here."

"Ah yes. These 'wormholes' you two refer to so blithely... two fixed points in space tethered by a miasma of energy that not even your Samantha can fully explain. Fascinating." The Seer turned to her then, and his voice lowered mysteriously. "But what if someone were to tug on one end of that tether?" He trailed off, casting an expectant look at the heavens.

Suddenly Janet leapt from the rock as if stung, feeling shockwaves of alarm surging through her. In her mind's eye, she had a sickening impression of Sam falling through empty space, then crashing to a halt on the ground below. Janet could feel her heart racing, and her chest heaved as if she'd just run a windsprint. "Something's wrong," she panted, then disappeared.

The Seer nodded at the space she had occupied. "Indeed."

Janet bolted awake and flew out of bed, not even waiting for the call. Something had happened to Sam, something she knew as certainly as if she had witnessed it herself.

She actually got to base before SG-1 had even returned, managing to burst into the embarkation room just as the team was stumbling down the ramp. O'Neill and Jackson had Sam's arms slung over their shoulders, dragging her along bodily.

"What happened?" Janet snapped as she directed the men to rest their burden on a waiting gurney.

"It looked like an old pit trap, probably used for hunting game," Daniel explained. "It was covered by a bunch of branches, and when she stepped on them she just fell through."

As Sam collapsed heavily onto the gurney, nurses and techs swarmed around her to check her vitals and ensure she was stable.

While the gurney was in transit to the infirmary, Sam regained lucidity long enough to loll her head around, catch sight of her favorite doctor, grin drunkenly, and say "Hey, gorgeous," before mercifully passing out again.

Sam came to again a short while later, and groaned as she recognized her surroundings. "Dammit, not again..."

A visibly annoyed Janet Fraiser drifted into her field of view and went through her rote patient check. This time it was really just a mild concussion, combined with a few scrapes and bruises. As Sam's long and varied list of afflictions and injuries went, this ranked somewhere just above a skinned knee.

"Can we please not make a habit of this?" Janet asked as she flashed a penlight into dazed blue eyes.

The blonde frowned in chagrin. "Sorry," she muttered.

Rich brown eyes remained stern as they studied Sam. "Are you missing anything up here?" Janet asked, tapping a forefinger over a delicate brow. "Do you remember what day it is? What you had for breakfast?"

"I had breakfast?" Sam responded with a playful leer, which promptly faded under Janet's dire glare. "Sorry," she said again.

"Do you remember calling me 'gorgeous' in front of SG-1, the general, and most of my staff?"

Sam thought about that for a moment before flushing a deep red. "Oh, God." Her eyes slid shut in a wince and she lifted a hand to cover her face.

Janet watched her in some amusement for a few moments, but was careful to keep a serious look on her face.

The fingers over Sam's eyes split as she peeked out at the doctor. "I'm so sorry... I didn't mean..." she trailed off into embarrassed silence and shut her eyes again.

"Didn't mean what, exactly? That you think I'm gorgeous? Or you didn't mean to announce it to most of the officers on base at once?"

A low keening sound issued from Sam's throat. "I didn't... Janet..."

Janet waited, her arms folded over her chest.

Blue eyes peeked again, and saw the faintest bit of a smirk on the doctor's lips, combined with a gracefully arched eyebrow that told her she was being teased. "Hey, not fair, I'm sick here," she whined.

"No you're not," Janet responded, finally offering a genuine smile. "You'll be fine, though on my recommendation SG-1 is standing down for a week while you recuperate."

"What? C'mon! Over a few bruises?" Sam sat up abruptly, then had to close her eyes as her aching head protested the sudden altitude change with violent reeling.

The doctor grabbed her arms to steady her. "Sam, you're exhausted. It's making you sloppy, and it got you hurt. You know I can't let you offworld like this. It's a risk to your teammates and to this base."

Sam's jaw clenched in brief defiance, before her innate sense of personal responsibility forced her to acknowledge the truth of Janet's words. She knew she hadn't been one hundred percent lately, and she felt a sudden wave of shame that she'd allowed stubbornness to make her a liability to people who counted on her. She jerked her head in a nod. "Okay."

"I'm not done yet," Janet said. She still had her hands wrapped around Sam's biceps, but deliberately loosened her hold a bit, and let her thumbs rub gentle circles on the fabric covering her arms. "You need to talk to somebody about what happened to you on Eloy. It can be me, it can be a counselor, it can be someone else on SG-1, I don't care. You need to tell someone what's going on in there."

"You," Sam answered without a second thought. "I'll tell you."

Two days later, they sat together in the afternoon sun on the bench on Janet's back porch, curled around each other in lazy companionship. Sam was watching the sunlight do fascinating things as it bounced off Janet's hair, the plane of her cheek, the curve of her... hey... wait a minute.



"I just thought of something. Why were you on base when we came back from P38-939? Wasn't that way past your shift?"

"Yeah... I was home, sleeping." She stretched a bit within Sam's embrace, and turned to face her. "I had this dream."

Blue eyes widened in instant comprehension. "Valosh Med." She saw the smaller woman nod a bit. "How is that possible?"

"I have no idea. But there I was, watching him throw rocks into this lake. He was talking about how there are multiple universes but only one of him, then said something obscure about wormholes, and then I had some sort of vision of you falling and getting hurt. I woke up and got to the base as quickly as I could."

Sam abruptly extricated herself from Janet's arms - much to the doctor's consternation - and began to pace. "You knew what had happened to me?"

"I guess so." Janet shifted a bit on the bench. "He implied it was some sort of..."

"A tether," Sam interjected.

"Yes, that's right." She peered up at her friend curiously.

Sam stopped pacing as abruptly as she'd started, and stared hard into nowhere as she thought. "So he gave you the speech about all the different realities?" Janet nodded. "Did he get to the part about how the fate of the entire universe rests in this reality?"

"Um, no, he sort of skipped that."

Sam exhaled loudly. "When I was there with him he told me that there will soon come a time of great unrest, when the forces that bind the universe together will pull taut, and only thing that will keep them from snapping completely will be something in my hands."

The smaller woman's brows drew together in confusion. "In your hands? Like some sort of weapon?"

"I don't know," Sam spat, clearly frustrated. "He also said I'd have help when I needed it." She sat again next to Janet, her gaze imploring. "Which is why I think we need to get him here, Janet. Whatever it is that's coming, I won't be able to stop it alone."

An hour later they were back on base, watching a progress bar march slowly but determinedly across a flickering computer screen.

Following Sam's little revelation, Janet had dragged her back to the mountain, insisting that she get the numbers crunched once and for all so they could determine if the portal would be accessible again in the immediate future. It didn't take long for Sam to enter the correct data, but the variables were so complex it took the computer several minutes to generate a solution. They sat together to wait it out.

"So why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" Janet asked quietly.

Sam shrugged a bit. "I didn't really believe it... He said a lot of weird things."

The doctor sighed in exasperation. "Dammit, Sam," she muttered on an exhale.

"Well, c'mon, Janet," Sam continued rather sheepishly. "The fate of the universe in my hands? I mean... that's ridiculous. I was sure he was exaggerating."

"No, you weren't. This is has been eating at you since you got back," Janet countered.

Knowing that to be the truth, the taller woman ducked her head and worried a fingernail at a splinter in the desk's surface.

Janet watched her for a while, then scooted a bit closer so that their sides brushed together, seeking to offer some amount of subtle reassurance. The blonde responded instantly, and her posture relaxed as she leaned into Janet's warmth with a grateful sigh.

"You know, I've lost count of the number of times you've saved us all," the doctor observed. "Whatever all this is about, you'll come through."

Sam turned to look at her with wide, vulnerably blue eyes. "What if I can't? This seems so big, Janet."

"You can. You will," the doctor pronounced with utter confidence. "And you won't be doing it alone." She tilted her head to rest on Sam's shoulder. "Remember, I told you I believe in you."

Sam's eyes drifted shut, and she rested her head against Janet's. They lingered for a while in the shared affection.

All at once the computer finished its calculations with a beep. The result blinked vividly on the screen in front of them, wrenching their attention away from each other.

"Bingo," Sam whispered.

Janet joined SG-1 and General Hammond in the briefing room to assist Sam in explaining this latest development and why they suddenly needed to visit P72-776 to track down an infuriatingly obscure ancient prophet living within a wormhole.

She looked around the table, saw the varying levels of confusion, skepticism, and doubt, and decided there were times she wished she'd joined the Navy instead.

"Have we been to P72-776 before?" Hammond asked.

"Yes, sir," Sam answered. "SG-6 was there eighteen months ago. They determined it had once been inhabited, but found evidence of a massive drought that most likely wiped out any human tenants several hundred years ago."

"So what do you propose we do?"

"The computer model indicates the latitude and longitude of the probable recurrence of the event horizon, approximate to within about a square kilometer." Sam called up the relevant image on the screen, watching as the rendered globe swiveled to bring up a specific highlighted square on the surface. "This location is about thirty kilometers northwest from the local Stargate, well outside the radius SG-6 explored. We could send another team there to look around."

Hammond frowned and sat back in his seat. "Major, the last time we encountered this thing we nearly lost a team member. I'd rather not risk repeating that."

Sam's head cocked as she acknowledged the point. "Well, we could send a MALP, and equip it to detect the delta radiation this thing throws off."

The General considered that and looked around the table, assessing the team's agreement before turning back to Sam. "All right. If you can pinpoint the event horizon we'll figure out what to do next. Get that MALP ready to go."

It was deeply tedious work, driving the MALP over rough terrain for a fairly long distance. The inherent delay in signal transmission made it even more difficult, and the ungainly vehicle nearly got stranded on a few rough spots. Fortunately the airman controlling it made a valiant effort to keep it upright and moving.

It was all Sam could do to keep from hauling the airman away from the controls and driving it herself.

While Sam hovered anxiously over the monitor showing the MALP's progress, the other members of SG-1 milled about the operations room. Janet stayed unobtrusively against a far wall near Teal'c, and watched as Colonel O'Neill fought off obvious boredom and Daniel Jackson pored over some new scholarly text. She also watched the anxious tension crawling up Sam's back and wished she could be closer to offer a bit of support without potentially compromising their professional relationship.

Janet had always been somewhat envious of the rapport of Sam's teammates, and generally felt like a mere accessory to their adventures. Since Eloy that dynamic seemed to be subtly changing, as if she was now being accepted as one of their own. There was no question that she belonged in that room with the team that day. She watched Jack O'Neill bending paperclips into obscene shapes and stifled a laugh, gratified to realize that the people who were Sam's friends were slowly becoming her own as well.

Suddenly Sam noticed a thoroughly unnatural right angle on the screen. "Hey, that's a building," she said, reaching to point at the object. She ordered the airman to steer toward it. Behind her Daniel snapped his book closed, stood, and moved closer to the monitor.

What was one solitary wall soon expanded into an entire deserted village, one starkly reminiscent of the one they'd discovered on Eloy. Sam double-checked their bearings, and found that the MALP was solidly within the square kilometer her computer model had predicted. She keyed in a remote command for the radiation detectors to unfurl and start sending back data.

Under the careful control of the airman, the MALP made its way down narrow ancient streets to the apparent center of the village.

"Delta emissions are spiking. This has got to be it," Sam said as she watched the readings flood in. The remote cameras began a slow pan, stopping on a large, conspicuous stone building.

Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose as he leaned closer to the monitor. "Sam, this looks like some sort of temple."

With that, the MALP's transmission abruptly ceased, spewing static across the screen in the SGC.

SG-1 dutifully piled back into the briefing room after the MALP's apparent equipment failure. General Hammond strode in moments later and looked expectantly at Sam.

She took a deep breath and dove right in. "Let's assume the MALP malfunctioned because it encountered the event horizon of that portal. I can go in just like I did on Eloy, find Valosh Med, and tell him we can get him back out."

"By shooting at the portal with a staff weapon?" O'Neill asked doubtfully.

She nodded. "All matter in the universe vibrates at a certain frequency. My theory is that when the energy from the staff weapon blast combined with the energy of the portal, it set up a harmonic resonance shift that knocked his matter just off kilter from normal, which therefore got him stuck within the wormhole. If we can duplicate that shift, I think we could pull him back out into normal space." Sam explained.

"How do you know the staff weapons we have will produce the same effect?" Daniel asked.

"We actually don't know for sure," Sam allowed, then looked over at Teal'c, who cocked his head.

"Staves have been the traditional Jaffa weapon for hundreds of years. I believe the design is sufficiently the same to produce the effect Major Carter describes," he intoned.

"But since we don't know for sure, I'll need to talk to Valosh Med first to describe the situation," Sam added.

"What about entropic cascade?" Hammond asked.

At that Janet leaned forward and shook her head. "Not a factor here, sir. He came from our universe, there shouldn't be any risk in his returning."

The general spent a few moments digesting this information before coming to his decision. "All right. Doctor Fraiser, you're tagging along for this one. Get this man back here in one piece."

They had been treading the arid surface of P72-776 for a few hours before they caught sight of the ancient village the MALP had discovered. Colonel O'Neill ordered Sam to take point with him, closely followed by Teal'c, while Janet and Daniel trailed somewhat behind. Sam held a delta radiation detector, and was paying close attention to the growing spikes as they drew nearer. O'Neill ordered the team to stop in a shady corner of a half-collapsed building on the outskirts to regroup.

The colonel took a gulp from his canteen and leaned lightly against the building's wall. "So, Carter, after you go poof," he wiggled his fingers as if casting a spell, "How are we supposed to get you out of there? I still haven't figured out how you got back the first time."

Sam glanced at Janet, who shrugged. This was a question they still didn't know how to answer. "Well, sir, I think there are two possibilities," the blonde began.

O'Neill's gaze flicked between the two women, and his eyes narrowed. "Go on, Major."

"I think there may be an intelligence controlling the portal, sir, and it allowed me to leave. Either that, or Doctor Fraiser's proximity to it can act as a kind of... tether."

"A tether?" he responded blankly.

"Yes, sir."

"Between you two." He pointed back and forth at the two women.

"Yes, sir," Sam answered again.

He opened his mouth to question further, then seemed to think better of it and waved a dismissive hand at them both. "Well, whatever. You'll be able to get out, though, right?"

With Sam's confident affirmative, O'Neill ordered the team to get moving again in search of the MALP. This time Daniel and O'Neill took the lead as they explored the village.

"I keep getting the feeling there's more going on than Carter and the Doc are telling us," the colonel grumbled.

"No, you think?" Daniel muttered dryly.

O'Neill's head jerked around to look at the other man. "Huh? Whaddya mean?"

Daniel just shook his head with a smirk, then suddenly pointed ahead. "There's the MALP." The group stopped and clustered around him.

"Okay. Carter, if you're ready to go, we'll wait back here. I don't particularly need another sunburn," O'Neill said.

"Yes, sir." Sam stripped off some excess gear and her weapons, then glanced around at her teammates. "Back in a flash," she said with a grin. She shared one lingering look with Janet, then turned and jogged purposefully toward the temple.

Janet felt seconds stretch into small eternities as Sam disappeared into the ancient building. Finally, there was a bright flash that made her throw her hand in front of her face.

O'Neill approached the building cautiously and tried hailing Sam on his radio. He peeked in the door, then turned around to look at his team and shrugged. "She's gone."

Janet released a shuddering breath she didn't know she was holding, and felt a warm hand land softly on her shoulder. She looked up to see a grim-faced Daniel Jackson watching her in sympathy. "She'll be back," he murmured.

"She better be," Janet responded.

It looked a lot different this time.

Sam found herself at the bottom of a deep canyon with steep rock walls shooting up on either side of her. She craned her neck to look up, trying to catch sight of the sky, and the sliver she could actually see glared back at her with blood red intensity.

The ground began to shake, and pebbles tumbled from the walls of the canyon. Sam ducked a few, and as the barrage got more severe, she began to run.

Eventually she found she was going uphill, and the confines of the canyon were peeling away from her. She kept running, and finally crested the gully to find herself on a dusty red plateau. "Seer!" she yelled, spinning around. The ground vibrated unsteadily under her feet.

"Samantha," came a placid voice behind her. She whirled to face him.

"Seer," she panted. "I came back to get you out of here."

He smiled serenely, unaffected by the tremors. "No, you didn't."

"Yes, I did," Sam insisted. "We can duplicate the effect that got you stuck here, which means we can try to pull you back out again."

The Seer gave her a gently indulgent look. "Ah, Samantha. But I'm not going anywhere."

"Why is this taking so long?" O'Neill growled as he paced around their rendezvous point.

"Time undoubtedly passes in a different fashion within the portal," Teal'c volunteered, unfazed by the glare he got in return.

It had grown dark, and the dry desert heat gave way to a dry desert chill as the sun set. Teal'c and Daniel had combined forces to find enough tinder to build a small campfire in the middle of the ancient village road.

Janet sat propped up against Sam's gear as she stared past the fire into the door of the temple. Occasionally O'Neill would stop in front of her, give her a frustrated look and say, "Anything?" She'd shake her head, he'd curse and continue pacing.

The long hike they'd taken to get there, combined with the stress of worrying about Sam, and the hypnotic effect of O'Neill's frenetic pacing soon lulled the doctor into a peaceful doze.

The tremors abruptly stopped. Sam looked around in confusion, and the Seer simply continued smiling at her.


The blonde spun around to see Janet approaching them carefully on the uneven ground. She sighed in some relief. "Hey. Thanks for coming," she said as the doctor moved to her side.

Janet looked around curiously, and nodded in greeting to the Seer. "You've been gone for hours. What's going on?"

"He's not coming back with us," Sam ground out in frustration.

The Seer's smile merely broadened a notch.

The doctor studied him for a moment. "Why not? We need your help." He didn't answer. "Okay, how about we figure out where the rest of your people went, and we can help you get there?"

He sighed happily. "Ah, love," he said, neatly avoiding Janet's questions altogether. He watched the two women interact without even knowing they were doing so, as Sam's temper cooled immediately in the brunette's calming presence. "You two are so cute together."

Sam made an odd sputtering noise, and Janet immediately felt her face warm in a vivid blush. While willing the heat from her face, Janet spent a few moments ordering her thoughts. Since the Seer had the annoying habit of answering only the questions that seemed to interest him, the doctor decided to try and work around that to find out what they needed to know. "How come I can come here in my dreams and Sam can't?"

"Because you are not quite as painfully literal as your friend here," he said with a sniff. "She requires a doorway. You do not. You don't demand all the whys and wherefores, you simply accept your situation as it is and try to navigate through it." He rearranged his voluminous robes with a small flourish. "The two of you actually balance quite well. I had my doubts, but they have proven unfounded."

Janet looked up at Sam, who returned the questioning gaze with a confused shrug.

"The entire universe is a question of balance," he explained seriously. "Energy and matter, thought and will, life and death. You must seek that balance to survive what is to come."

"Which is what, exactly?" Janet pressed. "The 'time of great unrest' you told Sam about? What does that mean?"

He pursed his lips, as if considering how best to answer her question. "The first people to wander your galaxy... you call them the 'Ancients.' They were artists of balance. They observed the universe's natural order, and bent its very forces for their own experimentation. This place... this was their first." He raised his arms in a sweeping motion. "When they refined the process, built structures to contain the portals, they returned to this first experiment with the intention of destroying it, of quelching the captive energy contained within it. Instead they perceived that it would become critical for those who would come after. Its very imbalance would serve to protect the overall fabric of the universe.

"The energy that houses this place, the energy that the Ancients harnessed... it is an odd thing for a human to encounter. It tends to rip away many of the blindfolds covering most of human perceptions. I know things beyond this place, beyond this time, that I should not know. As do the both of you."

That much was easy to acknowledge. "So they left the experiment running, knowing that you'd eventually end up here?" Sam ventured.

"Most likely they did not know the specifics. Only that the purpose of this place had not yet been fulfilled, and that others would arrive to discover it. And here we are."

"Before, you said I'd have help when I needed it," Sam pointed out.

"You do, Samantha," he replied patiently, and bowed his head toward Janet.

There it was. The acknowledgment Sam both expected and feared. There had always been too much coincidence in this place, and now she understood that it wasn't coincidence at all, but a carefully orchestrated series of events to lead her and Janet to precisely this place and time and stage in their relationship. She instinctively bridled at idea that there was some sort of ancient gameplan designed to bring her and the other woman together. Didn't they have any choice at all?

Janet was looking up at her curiously. "Sam?"

The blonde met her gaze, but was still rather distracted. "Hm?"

"It doesn't matter how or why," the doctor said firmly as she reached out to take Sam's hand.

The Seer nodded in immediate approval. "This is what I'm saying. No doorways."

Sam threw a quick glare at him, then looked back down at her friend and spent a long silent moment arguing with herself. Finally she nodded, and reached up with her free hand to gently cradle Janet's jaw. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right." They smiled at each other in a moment of timeless understanding, then Sam turned back to Valosh Med. "But couldn't you still come back with us?"

The Seer smiled sadly and shook his head. "Ironic, isn't it, that an imbalance of energy locked me away, and now with the very promise of freedom, an imbalance of matter will destroy me?"

Sam's eyes widened in horror as she deciphered his words. "My coming back here - it destabilized the portal?"

He did not answer, but cast his eyes around as if memorizing what he saw. "I have often wondered what oblivion would be like."

"No, no... Wait, we still have some time..." Sam exclaimed, as the tremors that had faded with Janet's arrival overtook them once more.

Energy seemed to gather around the Seer as he spoke. "Remember: We Seers have no choice over what it is we see, Samantha, only how we react to it. Many, many events had to occur in excruciatingly exact order for us to be here today. You two must be vigilant, for the purpose of all of this draws near."

A vortex of light and energy appeared behind him, and began to pull him inexorably into its grasp. "Go now, my friends. Good luck."

Janet jerked awake with a gasp, and lurched upright. "Sam!" she yelled, charging heedlessly into the temple. The rest of SG-1 simply watched flatfooted as she ran into the building, then quickly shook off their surprise and moved to follow. A brilliant flash of light temporarily blinded the men, and moments later the diminutive doctor reappeared, practically hauling a disoriented Sam Carter out of the building.

"We need to get out of here," Sam slurred as she stumbled away from Janet to retrieve her gear.

O'Neill and Daniel each grabbed one of her arms to help stabilize her, and they moved as quickly as they could out of the village and into the outlying flatlands.

Suddenly they were overwhelmed by a light that was so intense it seemed to nullify their edges, quickly followed by a silent shockwave that easily tossed them each into the air, then pelted them hard onto the ground. After that it was all mercifully dark.

Daniel Jackson woke some time later with what felt like a terminal hangover. His head pounded violently as he squinted up into a bright alien sky. It took him a while to remember that last he saw, it was the middle of the night. Apparently whatever it was that had knocked them out had done a pretty thorough job of it. He pushed himself into a sitting position, and saw Jack O'Neill lying a few feet away, unconscious but otherwise not much the worse for wear. In the distance, a tall dark figure distorted by heat rising from the ground approached from the general vicinity of the village, which he identified as Teal'c. A quiet sound to his right then drew his attention, and he gingerly turned his head to see what was making it.

Janet Fraiser was seated on the dusty ground, her arms wrapped around a nearly-fetal Sam, who had her face buried in the brunette's shoulder. Daniel realized that the sound he'd heard was a muffled sob, as the blonde fell apart in her friends' embrace. Janet's wide dark eyes met his, transmitting such a profound anguish that he instantly knew he was intruding on something incredibly private. He held her gaze for a moment, communicating as much sympathy as he could, before forcibly tearing his eyes away.

A few minutes later Teal'c returned to their position to report that the village had been leveled, and that delta radiation emissions had ceased. By then Sam had mostly pulled herself together, and Colonel O'Neill was coming to with a pathetic groan.

Slowly, the battered SG-1 team made their way back to the gate, then gratefully returned home.

"So the girls watch the football games at school and basically have no idea what they're cheering about," Cassie complained. "We look like idiots."

"I could teach you some of the rules, if you like," Sam said as she flopped onto the couch between Cassie and her mother.

The teen rolled her eyes. "I know the rules, Sam," she said with a long-suffering sigh. "It's the rest of the girls who can't tell pass interference from a point after attempt."

Sam blinked and looked over at Janet, who grinned. "Football is a staple of the Fraiser household," the brunette stated innocently.

"So, Sam, when do you think college ball is going to get an instant replay rule?" Cassie chimed in with a wicked smile.

The blonde just laughed and shook her head. "Okay, okay, never mind."

The trip back from P72-776 had been grueling, and under rules enforced by a strict Doctor Fraiser, Sam was enjoying several days of mundane relaxation. Included in those rules was time reserved entirely for watching bad movies with her makeshift family, like they were doing now.

Sam found it was easy to linger here, trading sarcastic comments with a witty sixteen year old and enjoying the warmth as Janet curled up at her side. Much easier than thinking about Valosh Med, about the dire predictions he'd made, and about how she'd been inadvertently responsible for his death.

Much easier than being responsible for the fate of the universe.

Their report to Hammond about the events on P72-776 had been factual but brief, and although it wasn't in the General's nature to be suspicious of his subordinates, they could tell he wasn't thoroughly convinced they'd told him everything.

But no one asked, and no one told.

A few hours later a sleepy Cass had drifted gracelessly off to bed, leaving Sam and Janet alone on the couch. The doctor watched her friend as she stared past the television into nowhere. "What are you thinking about?" she asked quietly.

Sam turned to her and shook her head. "Too many things."

Janet reached out to run delicate fingers softly across Sam's brow, brushing away a few stray tendrils of blonde hair. "I'm going to keep telling you that it wasn't your fault until you believe me," she murmured, seeing the ghosts lingering behind the very blue eyes.

She got a sad smile in return. "That might take a while."

"S'okay, I'll make time."

Sam studied the brunette for a moment, then dipped her head to claim a leisurely kiss, shifting closer as Janet curled a hand around her neck and tugged.

The answering moan that issued from the brunette's throat effectively chased away all deeper thoughts about balance, energy, and the fate of the universe, instead focusing Sam's attention on more immediate pursuits.

Some time later they lay together in a warm, sated daze, having managed to drag themselves up the stairs and become thoroughly tangled in the sheets covering Janet's bed. Sam buried her face in warm chestnut hair as they fell asleep, certain that she'd seen stars exploding as they'd crested together.

What she wouldn't know until much later was that three local stars had, in fact, gone nova that night.

The time of unrest had begun.

Continue to the next chapter, As One Hand.
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