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rocketfic | the lost are found

Title: The Lost Are Found by Rocketchick
Rating: 15+ Pairing: Sam/Janet
Notes: Part 6 of 9 of the Ancient Air Series. Sequel to My Only Light.

The scars were a map, charting the geography of her life.

There was the slice across her bicep, a knife wound from a grumpy native of P9Y-something-or-other who thought she was a demon trying to steal his food.

There was the uneven bump on her knee, left over from a biking accident she'd had as a child.

There was the faded burn across her knuckles from her one and only attempt at cooking for Janet.

Then there was the rough patch of skin on her shoulder, the last remaining visual evidence of an errant staff weapon blast that had indirectly led to her current condition.

But this latest affliction left no visible scars, no external hints. It left her doctor powerless. It left her lover terrified.

Samantha Carter's current pastime was sitting cross-legged in front of an observation portal of the Tok'ra transport vessel, watching hyperspace flow by, silently cataloging all the leftover bits of her life.

She still knew how to walk and talk, how to play chess, how to do calculus. These were functions of procedural memory, some doctor had explained when she first woke up, not the episodic memory that told her who she was, where she had been, and who she loved.

She found herself unable to abide the horror of knowing she was losing herself, bit by bit, to an out of control immune reaction running rampant in her brain. The entire thing was no more than a very complicated accident, one that would not have occurred had she not been possessed by Jolinar, or had Janet not used some untested antibiotic herbs to treat her wounds while they hid out in the forest of a godforsaken alien planet.

It was hard not to harbor a bit of blame for the desperate Tok'ra symbiote who had temporarily taken lodging in her body. In a rush of disappointment she realized it was even harder not to blame her lover, despite logically knowing there was no way to predict how the plantlife on P7X-943 would react to her utterly unique neurochemistry.

Sam swiped at the wetness of a sudden tear on her cheek. If she was honest, what she felt wasn't about blame or regret. It was fear, plain and simple. That in itself was a new sensation. She'd faced death too many times to count, watched the universe nearly unravel in front of her, and barely flinched. This was different, and it was scaring her profoundly. In a month, would she remember bringing Cassie to Earth? Would she still remember the distinctive rhythm of Janet's footsteps, or know her voice, her scent?

She'd just found her family, for chrissake. Now she faced losing them in increments, not even knowing it was really happening, but watching them look on in pity as she deteriorated more each day.

As the blonde sat consumed in her thoughts, Janet watched her unobtrusively from the doorway to the meeting room. They'd said less than twenty words to each other since Sam had awakened three days earlier. She knew Sam was struggling, she knew there was little she could do to help, so she kept her distance.

Even though it was killing her.

The doctor released a tiny sigh and turned from the heartbreaking view, leaving the woman she loved to try to find herself in the liquid-light smear of hyperspace outside the window.

Jack O'Neill aimed and launched the small rubber ball he'd found buried in a pocket of his flak jacket, watching with satisfaction as it ricocheted off of eight different cargo containers, then bounced off the ceiling, off a ventilation grill, and back into his hand. Then he looked at the ball with a small pout. He'd been working on that shot for days, and finally having mastered it was far less satisfying than he'd imagined it would be.

"So. They're still not talking to each other?" he muttered to Daniel, who was seated next to him, thumbing through an archaic manuscript.

"Looks that way," the archeologist replied.

"Ridiculous," the colonel said, tossing the ball again. He miscalculated this time, and it disappeared behind an immovable metal crate. Thus robbed of his sole distraction, he decided to distract someone else. He paced lazily in a circle directly in front of Daniel, purposely letting his shoes squeak on the slick metal floor, until the younger man finally slammed his book shut in sheer frustration.

"Is there a problem, Jack?" Daniel asked, pushing his glasses to a more stable perch on his nose.

"I'm bored."

"I noticed."

"Why are Carter and the Doc avoiding each other?"

Daniel shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe because Sam's having a harder time dealing with this illness than she anticipated, and she's pushing people away in a misguided attempt to keep herself and those around her from getting hurt?"

O'Neill stared hard at him for a long moment. "Nah, that's not it."

"Well, what do you want to do about it?"

"Fix it," the colonel said definitively. "Carter just woke up from a coma, fer cryin' out loud. They should be happy and spending time together," he continued, waving his hands. "Not doing this pissed off stuff."

"You know, Jack, it's really none of our business..." Daniel trailed off as the door to the storage bay opened, and Jacob Carter ducked into the room.

"Hey," he said casually. "Listen, did Sam and Doctor Fraiser have a fight?"

O'Neill pointed at him in triumph. "Thank you!"

Daniel pulled off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Guys..."

The colonel spun to face him. "Dammit, Daniel, we're gonna be on this ship for a long time until we find the Big Dark Thingie that Anteaus keeps yammering on about, and I'd rather not be walking on eggshells around those two the whole trip."

"But..." Daniel began again.

Jacob's eyes flared white, and his voice deepened into the echoey tones of his symbiote Selmak. "If Anteaus is to be believed, the success of this mission may well depend upon the bond between Doctor Fraiser and Major Carter. It would be wise to encourage them to reconcile."

"Great. Then it's settled," O'Neill declared, clapping his hands and rubbing them in anticipation. "And I have just the idea. Let's go." He turned and marched out of the room, with Jacob Carter a few steps behind.

The archeologist sighed heavily and trailed after the other two men, nearly colliding with Teal'c in the hallway. "Ever get the feeling we're just a bunch of intergalactic busybodies?" he grumbled.

Teal'c inclined his head. "Indeed."

A small whispering entourage led by Colonel O'Neill trooped through the main cockpit area, before splitting into two groups that disappeared again into the bowels of the ship. At the ship's controls, Anise cast a single bemused look over her shoulder, then caught the eye of Anteaus, who stood quietly next to her. His lips quirked in what almost passed as a smile.

"Humans are an... interesting species," the Tok'ra scientist said noncommittally.

The Nox dipped his head. "An understatement."

"Yet you believe these humans will be the salvation of the galaxy?"

"My people have a saying," he said by way of answering, then rattled off a series of graceful syllables in his native tongue. "It means, 'The Universe has a peculiar sense of humor.'"

Daniel paused in the doorway, digging his hands into his pockets as he watched Sam stare out the window. He wasn't entirely sure how he'd gotten involved in this stupid little plan anyway... "Hey, Sam?" She didn't answer, didn't even appear to hear him. He took a couple steps closer, felt his heart sink at the faraway expression on her face. He'd seen that before, too many times, looking back at him in the mirror in the months after he'd first lost Sha're. "Sam?" he ventured again.

She regained her focus gradually, and turned to look back at him. "Yeah?"

"Your father said there was something going wrong with the power regulation buffer... He thought you might be able to help him."

"Anise knows that stuff better than I do," she answered impatiently.

"Anise is sort of... driving right at the moment," he said, pointing vaguely in the direction of the ship's cockpit.

Sam unfolded her long legs from under her, and slowly stood, stretching the stiffness from her limbs. "Yeah, okay."

He dipped his head, wondering if he had any right at all to pry. "Listen," he began hesitantly. "If you ever need to talk..."

"I know where to find you," she answered immediately, dismissively. "But thanks." She wandered out of the room to locate her father.

"It's a small ship, Teal'c. Tricking two people into the same place at the same time without either of them noticing isn't the easiest thing to do," O'Neill explained impatiently, peeking around the bend in the corridor to see if either woman was inbound. He was balanced on one foot, since the other was bare, and while he waited he wobbled precariously.

"I do not understand the need for subterfuge in this matter, O'Neill," Teal'c answered implacably.

The colonel looked back at the larger man, gauging how much he already knew about Carter and Fraiser's relationship. It wasn't something they'd actually talked about, due to regulations and all, but he'd figured everyone who needed to know had caught a clue by this point. Quick, determined footsteps sounded down the corridor as they drew closer. "That's her," O'Neill whispered before hopping back into the room and sprawling on the floor.

Mere moments later, Janet hurried in, concerned and professional as ever. "Colonel? Daniel said you were hurt?"

He managed a grimace. "Yeah. Stubbed my toe."

She blinked once, slowly. "Your toe."

"Yeah." He held up the offending appendage and wiggled it. "It hurts."

Janet stared at him for a moment, then looked up at Teal'c, who returned her gaze most unhelpfully. "What, exactly, would you like me to do about that, sir?"

"See if it's broken?" he said hopefully. He was trying to peer over her shoulder, stalling to see if Jacob would be able to execute the timing on his half of the plan.

"Broken?" Janet repeated again.

Behind the doctor, a flash of blonde hair breezed past the open doorway as Sam tracked down the phantom engine problem her father had invented. O'Neill grinned up at Janet. "Yeah, probably need a splint or something."

Her eyebrows were climbing her forehead at an alarming rate. "All right, Colonel. I'll dig through my supplies and see what I can find. Think you can manage for a few minutes, or do I need to get some morphine?"

O'Neill smiled acidly at her. "I'll live, thanks, Doc."

She shook her head a bit and headed back out the room, on her way to the primary storage bay. The colonel got up again and snuck after her, hissing when his bare foot made contact with the metal deck flooring. "Damn, that's cold." Teal'c trailed after him curiously. On their way they bumped into Jacob. O'Neill grinned at the older man. "Did you move her stuff?"

"Yup, all the medical supplies are now in the secondary storage bay."

"Where Carter's taking things apart trying to find a problem that doesn't exist," he concluded triumphantly. "We are so good."

Sam swore loudly as she banged her head on a low-hanging conduit. "Dad?" she said into her comm. "I can't find the transfer assembly you were talking about. Are you sure it's behind the bulkhead in the supply bay?"

"Yup, keep looking, Sam," came his immediate response.

Behind her, the door to the supply bay slid open, and a grumbling Janet Fraiser stomped into the room. Sam froze. She was well obscured behind a large crate in the back of the bay, so it was likely Janet hadn't seen her. She heard the doctor rummaging through some supplies, and risked a peek around the crate to catch sight of her lover.

By now Janet was unleashing the most colorful portions of her vocabulary, digging around to locate the medical supplies she was sure she'd very carefully stowed in the primary storage bay prior to their departure. The sight hit Sam with an unexpected jolt of longing. She'd missed Janet the past few days, despite her self-imposed solitude.

With a sigh the doctor finally uncovered what she was searching for, and turned to leave the storage room. The door didn't part automatically, and a few swats at the control pad didn't force it open either.

Sam frowned. That was weird. Janet took a deep breath, and keyed the open command more carefully. The door still didn't budge. She pounded on the door a few times. "Hello? Anybody out there?"

The blonde ducked out from behind the crate and approached Janet quietly. "The door's jammed?" she asked.

Janet whirled, startled to hear the voice behind her. "Jesus, Sam. You scared me." Her eyes narrowed. "What are you doing hiding in here?"

"Dad wanted me to check on some power flow problems," Sam answered, pointing over her shoulder to the open access panel in the back of the room. "Hang on." She leaned forward to examine the unresponsive command pad, then keyed her radio. "Hey, Dad? The door to the supply room's jammed."

"Uh, that's a ten-four, Major. Figure it'll be that way until about... oh... 1100 hours tomorrow," came Colonel O'Neill's droll response.

Sam blinked, and shared a bewildered look with Janet. "Say again, sir?"

"Yup. It's just plain stuck, Major. Guess we'll bug you guys if there's some sort of emergency, but pretty much we don't want to hear from you for twenty four hours. Got it?" the colonel's voice inquired.

Janet yanked the radio out of Sam's hand. "Colonel..." she growled.

"Talk to you tomorrow, Doctor," O'Neill's voice cheerfully interrupted. "Oh, and if you two see a little rubber ball in there, grab it for me, would ya?" Then the radio crackle went dead.

"Was it wise to mislead Major Carter and Doctor Fraiser in this fashion?" Teal'c inquired as the colonel did a little self-congratulatory dance.

O'Neill stopped, and glanced at the door to the storage bay with an uncertain expression. "God, I hope so."

Janet had been pacing for... what, an hour? Sam took a quick look at her watch, and tipped her head back against the wall to stare at the ceiling with some disbelief. The doctor was furious, more so than Sam had ever seen her, pounding out frustrated steps in a circle that unknowingly mimicked the Colonel's pacing in that exact spot earlier that day.

The blonde had spent about ten minutes trying to jury-rig a bypass for the door command, but without access to a cutting torch and some spare wiring bundles, there was no way to force it open from the inside. After giving up she'd sat down to watch Janet work off some steam while she paced. The only problem was, the smaller woman showed no signs of actually cooling off any time soon.

"You know, you've spent more time in worse accommodations," Sam ventured in a quiet voice. The frenetic pacing ground to a halt. "Remember that dive we stayed in when we went to visit your mom?" The memory brought a nostalgic smile to her face. "With the bugzapper outside our room, frying mosquitos all night, and the people next door going at it so loudly you blushed for a week?" She grinned and dropped her head forward again, meeting Janet's eyes.

"I remember," Janet murmured.

Sam's smile faded. "Well, that's good, 'cause who knows if I still will in a couple days?"

The doctor's face fell, and she took a step closer. "Oh, Sam..."

A one-shouldered shrug. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that."

There was little to say in response, so Janet sighed, and tried to rekindle her anger over their current predicament. "I cannot believe he locked us in here," she muttered.

Another shrug. "He thinks he's helping, in that uniquely socially stunted Colonel O'Neill kind of way," Sam answered with a wry twist of her lips, then looked away from her lover. "I think he's worried. We haven't exactly been spending a lot of time together."

It was an opening Janet was quick to take. "I know you're really hurting," she said quietly. "But I don't know how to help."

"Well, you can't, can you?" the blonde answered, her voice weak and brittle. She raked a hand through her hair. "This can't be fixed."

"Not yet, you mean," the doctor interjected.

"Who knows if we're actually going to find the technology of the Ancients in time?" Sam looked at her lover beseechingly. "Who knows if it will actually help? There is every chance that I am not going to get any better, Janet."

It was true, and they both knew it, but Janet still found herself wanting to argue the point. She looked at Sam through the blur of sudden tears. "I have to believe you will."

"You have it easier than I do," the blonde pointed out. "You're just losing me, but I'm losing you, Cass, my Dad, and everyone else I've ever known."

The doctor stepped closer, insinuating herself between Sam's knees where her legs hung off the edge of the cargo container. "Then tell me, Sam," she whispered. "Tell me everything you can. I'll remember for both of us."

A rough gasp escaped the blonde's throat, and she reached out blindly as her own eyes filled with tears, grabbing Janet and pulling her close in a desperate hug. The smaller woman instantly responded, wrapping her arms around her lover, murmuring reassuring nonsense into a convenient ear.

They stayed that way for an untold stretch of time, long after the tears dried on their cheeks, enjoying the closeness of the embrace. Eventually Janet pulled away, just enough to lay a gentle kiss on the blonde's lips. She blinked up at Sam with a smile. "I'm hungry."

The absurdly bland statement made Sam laugh. "Okay. Let's see what we can find."

It didn't take long for them to locate some unobjectionable rations, and even a six pack of beer O'Neill had undoubtedly stashed during the hurried departure preparations. They stayed up late into the night, huddled together among the storage crates, talking and laughing and generally becoming reacquainted after the strain of Sam's coma and subsequent withdrawal. It wasn't perfect, and the specter of Sam's illness still lay between them, but when they finally fell asleep in each other's arms, Janet realized with some satisfaction that they'd managed to regain some faith in each other.

It was the smallest, but sweetest of possible victories.

The next morning Jack O'Neill bounced anxiously on the balls of his feet, and checked his watch. 1100 hours, on the dot. He nodded to Teal'c, who reconnected the severed circuits in the control panel and restored power to the door. It slid open, revealing Janet Fraiser and Samantha Carter standing side by side at parade rest, staring back out at him with duplicate unreadable expressions.

"Majors," he greeted with enthusiasm. When they didn't respond, his forced cheer wilted ever so slightly. "How was your day off?"

The two women looked at each other, then back at him. One of Janet's hands whipped out, flinging a small projectile his way. He caught it against his chest, then opened his hand to reveal the small rubber ball he'd lost the day before. The two women left the bay, brushing past him in the corridor, and he swore he saw the faintest hint of a smirk on the doctor's face.

"Well, okay then," he exhaled in relief. "Phew."

According to their primary mission directive, they were to locate the homeworld of the Ancients, find the means to heal Sam, then maybe acquire a few choice bits of technology to bring back with them to the SGC.

It would have been straightforward enough, save for the small detail of not actually knowing where the homeworld of the Ancients was.

That the members of SG-1 would make the journey was a given; that Jacob Carter and Anteaus would accompany them, also given. Anise had asked to tag along strictly out of personal scientific curiosity, and her passage was granted without hesitation. General Hammond had been less enthusiastic about Janet's inclusion in the mission, and likely would have insisted that she remain on Earth for the greater good of the SGC had Anteaus not declared her presence imperative to their success.

Janet's mother had dropped everything the second her daughter had called, thrilled at the prospect of spending some quality time with her granddaughter. Cassie had implored Janet, Sam, and Jack individually to be allowed to tag along, but of course the mission was deemed far too dangerous for a civilian, much less a civilian child. As distressed as the teen was, her mothers' agony was multiplied by the uncertainty of Cassie's overall health and her proximity to the Stargate, which wasn't the safest place on the planet in the best of times. Before they departed General Hammond had taken the doctor aside, and vowed to her that he would look after Cassandra as if she was his own grandchild. He was so formal, so earnest, that Janet had nearly hugged him. Instead she merely drew herself up to her full height, thanked him, and reported for duty. His smile told her he understood completely.

Now, with Sam's return from melancholy preoccupation, the team was more or less back at one hundred percent, and fully bent on solving the mystery they pursued.

Their first destination was the planet where the entire adventure had started, the original home of Alain's people.

Back on Earth Anteaus had taken in the plight of the Dodonans, listened carefully to SG-1's description of the events surrounding their discovery and transplantation, and had he been human, he likely would have shaken his head in abject disgust. Instead, he merely said in his perfectly mild way that they should return to P7X-943 to find that which they had missed the first time. It was all he would say on the subject, but it was enough to dispatch a Tok'ra vessel to take them back to the forested world.

Now they were less than twelve hours out from P7X-943, and the entire ship's crew gathered in the conference room for dinner. Daniel was spending the meal plying Anteaus for more information about the homeworld of the Ancients, with little success. He'd read every scrap of information they had gathered at New Heliopolis, but the references were too vague to be terribly useful.

"So we're seeking a hole in space," the archeologist prompted, hoping the odd, pale alien might volunteer something more.

"Not a hole. Merely a dark place where there should not be darkness."

"Okay. But I thought we were seeking The Light?" Daniel pressed, referring to the world described in the passages he'd found on New Heliopolis.

"We are."

"Which begs the obvious question, then," Daniel continued. "How can it be simultaneously light and dark?"

The Nox smiled slightly, and chewed on a piece of fruit. "Perhaps it is not as 'obvious' as you suppose. Light and dark are the least of its contradictions. It also contains life and death, disease and health, and is the beginning and end of our journey. It is all a matter of perception."

It was probably the longest string of words the alien had uttered at once, and easily the most baffling. Daniel gave up for a while, returning to his meal in thoughtful silence.

At the other end of the long table Janet sat with Sam and Teal'c, studiously avoiding the Nox's gaze, and his strangely familiar prattle. There was something disconcerting about how he looked at her, as if he was silently laughing at the punchline to a joke she had not yet heard. Instead she focused on her lover, who was thoughtfully silent, but not nearly as preoccupied as before. One day locked away together had not healed the distance between the two women, but it was a start, and the doctor was reluctantly grateful for Colonel O'Neill's interference.

The situation had to be a little odd for him, Janet realized, because despite any regulations to the contrary, she knew full well he had more than strictly professional feelings for Sam. The fact that he was able to overlook that, as well as the fact that the blonde's affections were thoroughly occupied with another woman, and still keep Sam's welfare at heart was rather remarkable. If she kept that in mind, Janet found she was mostly able to ignore the smug, self-satisfied look he'd had on his face all day.

She looked around the room at this rather oddball group of friends and family and snorted a bit in a half-laugh, drawing the inquisitive attention of Teal'c from across the table. Janet merely shook her head and smiled, knowing that she could never explain to the painfully literal Jaffa that finding yourself at dinner with a group of humans, almost humans, and complete aliens, on a spaceship hurtling toward God-knows-where was oddly amusing, in a totally surreal kind of way. At her side, Sam turned and smiled at her, then gave her a friendly nudge under the table with her knee.

Hours later, Janet woke alone, the chill air of the ship climbing under her rough blanket and making her shiver. She sat up and peered about the small cabin, feeling the distinct absence of Sam. Anise sat in a corner of the room, reading a book she'd borrowed from Daniel. The Tok'ra scientist looked up at Janet, and dipped her head in acknowledgment. "Major Carter awoke and left approximately one hour ago," the demure voice of Anise's host Freya offered quietly.

"Thanks," the doctor responded, before slipping off of the rather uncomfortable cot and padding out of the room.

The ship was on night shift, the lights dimmed to accommodate the natural sleep cycle of its human occupants. Janet walked down the corridor, following the pull of an unseen force to the observation lounge, where Sam was once again seated within the triangular window, staring at hyperspace as it swam past the ship.

She approached Sam carefully, feeling the nervous burn of deja vu in her gut. Had some unknown stress caused Sam to retreat within herself once more? Had the damage in her brain claimed another memory as a casualty?

Sam looked over her shoulder, and offered her lover a warm smile. "Hey."

The low-grade panic buzzing along Janet's nerves disappeared so quickly it left her shaken. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," the blonde responded, spinning in place within the metal alcove to face her, and unfolding her legs so that her feet dangled just above the floor. In this position, they were nearly eye to eye. Sam found herself grinning unaccountably at the sleep-ruffled doctor. "Are you okay?" she asked in return.

Janet nodded. "I was a little worried."

Sam snaked one hand out to grab a handful of her lover's clothing and tug her closer. "I'm sorry," she said, reaching up to smooth tousled dark hair. "I couldn't sleep, and I didn't want to bug you."

The frightened, overprotective impulse that had driven her out of bed was now effectively chased away, rendered inert by the very real, warm, and affectionate presence of her lover. Janet indulged in her rare height advantage, dipping her head to claim what she'd intended as a gentle kiss, which quickly escalated into something far more. The contact forced a spontaneous growl from Sam's throat, and the hand tangled in Janet's hair pulled the smaller woman even closer, as lips parted to deepen the contact, and hands roamed across warm bodies, increasingly desperate for more intense sensation.

After a few minutes the touches gentled, and Janet broke off with one last press of warm lips, leaning her forehead against her lover's as they both regained their breath. The heat between them tempered, changed, flooding the doctor with vibrant awareness that reminded her of the first time they'd really touched each other, back on a mountain so long ago. "God, I've missed you," she breathed, and felt Sam smile in agreement.

Janet straightened, pulling away just a bit, and ran the pad of her thumb across Sam's forehead; Sam's brow always furrowed when they kissed, as if she was focusing her considerable attention upon doing it right, and hoping like hell she didn't screw it up. For some reason it always made Janet smile.

Eventually the doctor's eyes were drawn to the play of energy outside the window over Sam's head. "What is it you see when you look out there?" she asked in a whisper.

At that, Sam pushed herself out of the alcove, never losing the warm contact with her lover's body as she shifted to move behind her. Their hands twined together at Janet's waist as they leaned into each other. They both stared out for a time, breathing in synch in the darkened room. "It's hard to explain," Sam murmured finally. "It's just... where we are right now is impossible, at least according to every physicist on Earth. We're outside of normal space, moving faster than the speed of light, right through solid matter. It's really cool."

Janet chuckled. "Cool, huh?"

"Sure," the blonde answered. Though Janet couldn't see her face, she could hear the smile shaping the words. "Think about it... How many humans get to do the things we do? We wander all over the galaxy, trying to help people, trying to protect our own people. This is a rare privilege."

The brunette thought about that, regarding the fluid miracle of modern physics that so easily enthralled Sam, trying to see it the way her lover did. "I dunno. I think it's a little too much like sitting in a plane, watching the clouds go by, waiting to just Be There already." She craned her neck, catching sight of Sam's profile. "Let me guess. You love watching the clouds go by." She felt the answering chuckle in the body wrapped around her own, and shrugged. "I've always preferred the destination over the journey."

At that instant, the ship dropped out of hyperspace, pulling to a relative stop just outside orbit of P7X-943. The system's sun was cresting the planet's horizon in a brilliant sunrise, flooding the observation room with light.

Sam laughed. "How did you do that?"

The doctor just shook her head, incredulous at the beauty of the sight. She let her fingers tangle more securely with her lover's, keeping her close, wanting to draw out the moment just a bit longer. In a few minutes the rest of the team would be stirring, and the mission would be underway once more. But for this small stretch of time Janet decided she was content to be one of the few humans wandering the galaxy, just so long as Sam was there to wander it with her.

The ship landed gingerly among the ruins of the village, which was still scarred and blackened by the massive fire they'd set upon leaving. Anteaus walked down the ramp out of the belly of the Tok'ra vessel, and looked around at the destruction with sadness.

"This was not necessary," the Nox said, indicating the collapsed buildings and charred ground.

A few steps behind him, Colonel O'Neill looked a little sheepish, tacitly admitting that their solution to ensure the safety of Alain's people did seem like overkill in retrospect. "We didn't want the Goa'uld to figure out what was so special about this place."

"Which even you yourself had not yet discovered," Anteaus countered, with a sigh. By now the rest of the team had gathered around him, waiting. The small alien looked thoughtfully into empty space for a moment, then raised his hand, waving it subtly in the air. One by one, small pods hovering around twenty feet off the ground began to materialize out of thin air, forming a ring around the periphery of the village buildings.

Sam squinted at the devices. "What are those things?"

"They project a modified version of the energies my people use for healing," the Nox explained. "They were sustaining the people who lived here."

The blonde was already digging through her equipment to find some instruments to measure the energy output of the small devices. "Why couldn't we detect them?" she asked. Anteaus merely looked at her, and she remembered the selectively-visible technology the Nox were so fond of. "Oh, right."

"So the Dodonans are dependent on these devices?" Daniel asked.

"In a manner of speaking," Anteaus allowed. "The devices monitor the subjects to detect and heal any damage before it becomes life threatening."

"'Subjects?' So this was an experiment," Janet murmured.

"In a manner of speaking," Anteaus repeated.

"So how did you collect data on the subjects?" Sam asked.

"Every day we received a data pulse containing the villagers' status," the Nox answered. "When we lost all incoming data, we tried to use the Stargate to come here, but could not. My people feared that the villagers had been tampered with. That was when I came to Earth."

"Can we collect those things, and send 'em to the new planet?" O'Neill asked.

"Yes. And it is vital that we do so, or many of those people will die." He waved his hand again, and the devices sank out of the air to eye level.

The colonel nodded. "Okay, Teal'c, Daniel and I will get the Stargate unburied. Carter, get your naquada reactor up and running. Doc, you and Anise gather those things up so we can send 'em home."

The team split up to attend to their various tasks. O'Neill squinted as Janet and Anise cautiously approached one of the now dormant devices. "They look like lava lamps," he muttered.

Hours later, Anteaus stood under the bow of the Tok'ra transport vessel, his hands folded in front of him as he blandly observed the team's progress. The last of the Nox devices was on its way through the Stargate, and radio transmissions back from the SGC indicated the Dodonans in the base infirmary were already showing marked improvement. Of course, somehow Anteaus knew that already.

"Well, that's one problem solved," O'Neill observed with a relieved grin as he approached the Nox. He folded his hands over the P-90 harnessed to his jacket. "So, where do we go next?"

The Nox didn't answer, but his gaze shifted to where Sam and Janet worked across the village. As if feeling the scrutiny on her back, Sam stiffened and turned to meet his eyes. Her brows drew together in confusion, and she began to walk back across the blackened ground, inexplicably pulled toward the alien.

Janet watched her lover with alarm. "Sam?" she asked, and jogged to her side, keeping pace as Sam drew closer to Anteaus.

The blonde looked down at the small, pale man, studying his face, feeling memories that weren't strictly hers find form in her head. "You've been here before," she whispered.

Anteaus smiled. "As have you."

O'Neill's eyes narrowed as he looked between Carter and the Nox. "Yeah. A couple months ago. Remember?" he shared a confused look with Janet and shrugged.

"Before that," Sam countered, her voice wavering. "Way before that."

"Jolinar?" Janet guessed.

The blonde nodded, concentrating on the stray images that were chasing around her brain. In her mind's eye the destroyed village around her dissolved, replaced by virgin forest land. Anteaus was there, noticeably younger, making final adjustments to the healing devices he'd brought with him. Other Nox scientists milled about amongst the trees, implementing the subtle genetic enhancements that would render the future human inhabitants of this world immune to Goa'uld implantation.

Carter reeled a bit, engulfed in the foreign memories. A strong hand - Janet's, maybe - latched onto her arm to steady her, but she could not even acknowledge it. Still she stared into Anteaus' placid eyes, still the world swam around her as she looked on with a gaze that was not her own.

"This will take too much time," a voice said, emerging from her own skull, resonant with the deeper tones of the warrior who first bore her symbiote.

"It will take just enough time," the young Nox countered, with a small smirk. "Impatience does not serve us in this matter."

"That's easy for you to say," Tau grumbled. "Your people are not being held prisoner."

"We are all held prisoner by the Scourge," Anteaus said. "Remember that. Our future holds the key that will free us all."

An electric charge tingled across the back of the warrior's neck, and Tau looked up as the shadow of an enormous Asgard ship eclipsed the sun. "They're here," he observed.

"They're here," Sam repeated, her head tipped back, looking up at a sky which now held nothing at all.

A familiar voice broke through the dizzy haze of remembrance, and she felt Janet's assessing touch glide along the pulsepoint at her wrist. "Let's get her back to the SGC," the doctor ordered briskly.

Sam shook herself a bit. "No, wait," she murmured. The busy hands at her side stilled. She blinked once, then again, pulling her mind with effort back into the present. "I'm okay," she said, swinging her eyes in a slow arc to meet Janet's. "I'm okay," she repeated, this time a bit stronger. She was breathing hard, exhausted, all from the effort of sorting through Jolinar's remaining imprint on her brain.

Janet gently guided her lover to sit on the remains of a collapsed stone column, watching the blonde's color return, and the clammy sheen of sweat dissipate as she relaxed. A canteen appeared over the doctor's shoulder, and she smiled a bit in gratitude at the intensely curious face of Daniel Jackson.

Sam took a few gulps from the canteen, and collected herself. "I think the Asgard brought them here," she said by way of explanation.

Daniel started. "Wait. The Asgard?" he asked excitedly. "Then they must have been the 'angels' that the village elders remember."

"And the Nox... they altered the plants, and set up those devices here to protect them," the blonde continued. "They were left here as part of the plan to save Tau's people."

"Five hundred years ago? That's one hell of a long-term plan," Colonel O'Neill interjected.

Janet remained silent, her hands still automatically checking the blonde's vitals. When she was mostly assured that Sam was in no immediate danger, she cast a stern look at Anteaus. "Why didn't you just tell us about this?"

"It was not mine to reveal," the Nox said simply, spreading his hands.

"Oh my God, Janet," Sam breathed suddenly. She flicked a stunned gaze up at the doctor. "Tau was one of the Ancients."

"Okay. That makes no sense whatsoever." O'Neill muttered. He threw a glance over at Daniel. "I mean... Right? That doesn't make any sense?" The archeologist just shrugged back at him, thoroughly perplexed. "'Ancient,' Carter," the colonel continued, returning his attention to his 2IC. "Five hundred years is not 'ancient.' It's 'old,' but..."

"He had returned to corporeal form," Sam murmured, her eyes once again focused on something no one else could see. "To defend their world."

Daniel edged a little closer. "Why? If they're like Oma Desala, they wouldn't have needed to regain corporeal form to defend themselves."

"The others had sworn... not to interfere," Sam said, her voice failing as she swayed dizzily in place. Janet's grip on her arm tightened almost painfully, and the contact served to pull her totally out of the hold of the warrior's memories. She smiled weakly up at her lover, and wiped the sweat from her brow. "God, that's weird."

Janet was quietly seething, ready to lash out at Anteaus for not explaining this sooner, ready to open the damn Stargate herself and drag Sam through to get her back into the infirmary, as if that might help. She ground her molars together in frustration, her eyes twitching up and down her lover's form, each glance its own diagnosis. She noticed Sam was staring off into space again, breathing slowly to regain her equilibrium. Janet followed the far-off look until her eyes landed on Anteaus, who still calmly watched them both. He smiled at her, and for a moment, Janet saw the burned out remains of the village recede around her.

Blood rushed painfully through her head as her perception swam through the suddenly lush forest land, dodging the occasional Nox as they wandered through the woods instituting subtle changes to the DNA of the life around her. The feel of the place changed with their progress, a subtle swell of triumph in the very soil, as if expelling the plague of the Goa'uld's galactic tyranny from the roots upward.

She could hear voices ahead, and they pulled her inexorably forward. Sam was there with Anteaus, standing with her head cast toward the sky, watching an enormous alien ship as it descended. "They're here," the blonde murmured.

Reality pulled taut like a rubber band, then rebounded around the doctor as she returned to the present.

Back in the verdant forest, the warrior known simply as Tau peered curiously around the trees, then looked back to his Nox companion. "Did you hear that?"

Janet blinked, finding that her gaze had not wavered from Anteaus' placid smile, and her hand had not abandoned its secure grip around Sam's arm.

So where the hell had she just gone?

O'Neill was pacing again. Night had fallen on P7X-943, and the ship was still parked next to the ominous ruins of the village.

Daniel and Teal'c started a small campfire just away from the Tok'ra vessel, careful this time to stay upwind of the smoke. The Jaffa watched the flames intently, letting the rhythm of their heat and consumption lull him into light meditation. The fire had no such calming effect on his commanding officer, who spun on his heel to make another circuit around the makeshift campsite.

"So suddenly Carter was an Ancient in a past life?" the colonel grumbled. "I don't like the sound of that. Too convenient."

Seated beside Teal'c, the archeologist shrugged. "I agree, it doesn't all add up yet, but why else were the Asgard secretly moving groups of humans around? Why were the Nox manipulating the environment to sustain them?"

"Why did the Asgard tell me the Ancients disappeared from this region of the galaxy thousands of years ago?" the colonel returned.

Daniel silently conceded the point.

O'Neill drew to a halt and sighed. "I just don't know how much we can trust Carter's memory right now," he said quietly. He deflated a little on saying it, hating the reality of his 2IC's compromised state. "We're chasing ghosts here."

"Anteaus trusts her," Daniel murmured.

"I know. That's why I haven't aborted the mission." He pinned an intense look on the archeologist. "But I need more to go on."

The younger man heard the implicit order loud and clear, and levered himself upright. "I'll see what I can find out."

After Daniel left, O'Neill sat heavily in his place. For several minutes, his eyes rested on the flames, though his attention was clearly elsewhere.

"Sometimes ghosts will not rest until they have been heard, O'Neill," Teal'c pronounced quietly.

The colonel didn't answer.

Sam pushed herself away from the computer console with a faint groan, then stood to stretch. For hours she'd huddled over Tok'ra navigational maps and sensor logs, determined to match the vague impressions in her mind with a physical location for Tau's homeworld. She had even suggested to Janet that they could use a Tok'ra memory enhancing device to help her sift out more specific information, but the doctor had simply scowled at her, not needing to remind her of the extent of damage such a device had done previously.

Janet had been a little prickly since the revelation about Tau's origin, and had Sam been less certain that she possessed the pieces they needed to proceed, she would have abandoned her task and tried to convince her lover they needed a mutual break, maybe a shared massage. Just the thought was nearly enough to derail her intense concentration, and she found her fingers flexing involuntarily at the thought of exploring her lover's soft skin.

Instead she dug her fingers into the muscles at the base of her neck, roughly pushing into the tightly wound tension that lingered there.

"Hey Sam, how's it going?" came the warm voice of her father as he strode into the room.

She sighed, and cast a frustrated look at the unyielding Tok'ra navigational maps. "Not so good. The worlds on record don't feel right, and there's not enough information on the unexplored areas to go on."

Jacob considered that for a moment. "Well, you know, those areas are unexplored for a reason."

"Like what?" called Daniel, catching the tail end of his comment as he joined them.

The elder Carter's chin dropped, then raised again under the control of his symbiote. "Unpredictable magnetic fields, radiation, violent solar flares, nebula that obscure sensor readings... There are any number of hazards space-faring races would avoid in certain regions of the galaxy."

"What if one of those hazards was hiding the homeworld of the Ancients? Wouldn't that account for why the Goa'uld have never located it?" Daniel asked.

Sam sat again, tuning out the intellectual debate between Tok'ra and archeologist, and concentrated on the fragments of former lives resident in her mind.

As far as Janet could tell, Anteaus didn't sleep. He tended to simply disappear in a quiet corner of the ship to meditate. This time she found him in the cargo hold, seated calmly among the large storage crates. She stood in front of him and folded her arms, waiting for him to acknowledge her presence.

If he noticed she was even there, he was ignoring her. For about a minute she waited before finally losing her patience altogether. "What the hell was that?" she asked testily, referring to her little departure from reality a few hours previous.

His eyes drifted open, and he looked up at her. "You are beginning to See," he answered.

She felt her insides start to shake. "See what?"

The Nox smiled, and closed his eyes again. "That which is hidden." His voice sounded in her ears, but she did not see his lips move.

Reality spun around her once more. It was nighttime in the forest. Sam walked by -- but not Sam, she realized now -- to make one last assessment of the preparations they'd made.

"It's like the dream," Janet murmured, thinking of the gory images of battle she'd seen in Sam's own nightmare weeks before, when somehow she'd managed to unknowingly enter Sam's subconscious and see the dream with her.

"Yes," Anteaus' voice confirmed in a low buzz around her.

So it was Tau she now followed, in the guise of Sam. The warrior walked determinedly through the forest, and ended up in the clearing where the Stargate rose ominously from the forest floor.

If Janet consumed oxygen in this particular representation of reality, she would have held her breath. As best she could figure, Tau was standing in the exact spot where five hundred years later she would kill a Goa'uld in cold blood to save her lover's life. The spot was burned into her memory as a place where everything changed; little did she know it was about to change again.

Tau paused and made a slow turn, taking in the overgrowth of the forest, taking in the nascent power of the place. Then the warrior sat, and cast a blonde head up to look at the stars.

Time accelerated, and still Tau did not move from his vigil, nor Janet from hers, until the first pinkish rays of dawn glowed upon the horizon. Then the warrior stood, and moved back through the forest toward the center of the newly born village.

Janet's consciousness lingered at that spot, lingered near the gate, knowing there was something more here to see, something she was missing. She looked up as the growing daylight slowly obliterated the twinkling stars from the sky, looked up to where Tau had been watching, and realized...

That as the planet pursued its natural nightly rotation, the stars had each described an arc in the sky, just like they would on Earth. But Tau had never moved, his gaze had never wavered. The spot that he'd been watching with such intensity, such longing, had stayed in one place, fixed in the night sky.

"May you walk in the light forever," Sam murmured.

Daniel and Jacob were still talking in animated fashion, exchanging theories and comparing Goa'uld myth to reality. At Sam's quietly spoken words, they turned simultaneously to look at her. "What was that?" Daniel asked, his eyebrows hiked in curiosity.

She looked back at the two men with some surprise, not even aware she'd spoken at all. "I... I don't really know."

"Noemi said it," came Janet's voice from the doorway. "Noemi told you that when you visited the Eloyim on their new world." She stepped up to the computer console across from Sam, her focus solely on her lover, deliberately ignoring the two men in the room. "Remember?"

Sam's eyes grew wide and scared. "No," she breathed in a small, devastated voice.

The doctor leaned across the console, and Sam did the same, drawing closer out of sheer reflex. "The Light of Heaven, Sam. It was the pole star of their world, in the apex of the constellation of Noemi's ancestor."

"Valosh Med?" Daniel supplied helpfully, even though he was quite certain they weren't paying attention to him.

Sam's jaw clenched. "I don't remember."

"Isn't that the one we blew up?" Jacob Carter muttered to Daniel, who nodded, but didn't tear his eyes away from the two women. Something very intense was happening here, something he could only perceive in a vague way, that did nothing to detract from its obvious power.

"We had to destroy it, to 'set the light aflame,' to open a dimensional rift and allow the extra matter in our universe to flow back to where it came from," Janet continued. "Noemi was giving us a hint, pointing us in the right direction."

"I don't think this world has a visible pole star," the blonde pointed out.

"No, not a visible one," Janet countered, with a small smile, watching the comprehension dawn in her lover's eyes.

At that, their mutual gaze broke, and they looked down at the computer console between them. Both women's hands raised and worked the controls in tandem, as Sam performed axis calculations based on the ship's sensor readings of the planet, and Janet correlated the results with the unexplored regions of space Sam had been investigating earlier.

Daniel watched them in utter fascination. He had of course seen them work in concert before, usually attacking whatever new exotic problem an SG team had brought back to the base, side by side in Fraiser's isolation room or Carter's lab, but this... this was very different.

They were anticipating, compensating, correcting each others' errors, all without seeming even to realize they were doing so. He started to pull out of his memory things they'd told him about their encounters with the Seer, about the nature of the universe, about balance.

Suddenly he realized he was looking at the very embodiment of what that all meant.

After about a minute their individual efforts intersected, evident in a small flashing beacon on the navigational console. Jacob took a step forward, peering at the result. "Kahshak," he read from the map display.

"'Darkened or hidden,'" Daniel translated absently, just a little rocked by what he'd witnessed. He peered first at Sam, then at Janet. "How did you know?"

The doctor turned dark, depthless eyes at him. "I Saw it," she answered, shaking her head with a tiny incredulous laugh as if not quite believing it herself.

The colonel poked his head into the storage bay where the team was packing up their gear once more in preparation to depart. "Hey, has anyone seen Anteaus?"

"He went home, sir," Janet answered succinctly, as she catalogued her remaining medical supplies.

"Wha.. he went where?!" O'Neill demanded in disbelief.

"Home," the doctor repeated. "Through the Stargate, a couple hours ago."

"And you didn't think to mention this earlier?" he growled. "What are we supposed to do without him?"

She countered his bluster with perfect calm. "The Dodonans were his responsibility, and he wanted to make sure they were all right. Now that they are, his mission is complete."

"Doc," he warned, taking a step toward her. "I am this close to ordering this ship back to Earth." He held up one hand in front of her face, his thumb and index finger describing a minute distance. "Carter's losing it, you're acting weirder by the second, and Anteaus just takes off... What the hell am I supposed to do about that?"

"Nothing yet, Colonel," she answered placidly. "Your part comes later."

He probably would have exploded in sheer frustration at that point had Daniel not put a firm hand on his shoulder. "Jack, c'mere, I need to talk to you."

O'Neill's jaw clenched, and he noted the stolid defiance in the doctor's eyes before letting the younger man pull him from the room.

"Something is really wrong here. She doesn't do insubordinate," O'Neill muttered. "At least, not so blatantly."

"I don't think it's her," Daniel responded. "At least, not totally her."

The colonel scoffed. "Oh, great, now you're talking like that too?"

"Jack, something big is happening here. I think we need to go along with it."

"Go along with what? We just lost our tourguide," O'Neill countered angrily.

"Anteaus isn't the guide," the archeologist said. "I don't think he ever was."


"Jack," Daniel interrupted. "I'm asking you to trust me. We need to follow Janet's lead."


"This is the only way to help Sam."

"I don't buy that."

"I do," Jacob Carter chimed in as he rounded the corner in the hallway.

"Are you kidding me? Ghosts, past lives, and ESP -- this is what we're working with right now," O'Neill exclaimed. "And you want to fly blind based on just Fraiser's word??"

"Five hundred years ago, the Ancients set in motion some sort of plan, and we've bumped into it," Daniel said quickly. "I think we have to see it through."

"We won't reach the Kahshak region for several days," Jacob added. "Let's just see what happens in the meantime."

The colonel glared at the former general. "And you actually believe this stuff?"

"Not really," Jacob answered with a wry grin. "But Selmak does. And that's good enough for me."

O'Neill gated back to the SGC and gave General Hammond a slightly edited report of events, knowing that his commanding officer would be as skeptical as he was. On his way back to P7X-943, Alain stopped him in the gateroom, tugging on his uniform sleeve with a smile.

"Your journey continues, then?" the Dodonan healer asked.

"Yeah, looks that way."

"Please wish Major Carter and Doctor Fraiser well on my people's behalf. We owe them both a great debt."

O'Neill sighed and rubbed his eyes. "You know, we're the ones that got you into this in the first place."

Alain's smile only widened. "Perhaps, Colonel. Nevertheless, I wish you and your team a safe journey."

Upon his return, Anise took the Tok'ra vessel aloft once more, and set course for the dark, threatening region of space the Goa'uld called Kahshak.

The ship had been traveling for almost two days, luckily unhampered by equipment failures or enemy pursuit. They had at least another three days to go before crossing into the Kahshak expanse, then they would spend an untold amount of time exploring the area to find the world they sought.

It was a relatively small vessel, with relatively little to do, and the team members were coping with the downtime with varying degrees of success. Sam and Janet found themselves nearly inseparable, much to their own surprise. They'd always each been independent, always each needed a certain amount of solitude for the sake of their individual mental health, but whereas the enforced togetherness of the journey could have been a strain, instead it seemed to inspire a comforting bond.

Tucked away in quiet corners of the armory, or the storage bay, or the engine room, the two women curled around each other in an intimate tangle of warm limbs and hot breath, fighting mutual uncertainty and growing fear with physical contact in an almost primal, instinctive reaction. The closeness sometimes felt like they had crawled into each other's skin, leaving them breathless from the intensity of it.

They were savoring the indulgence of not having to actively hide their relationship. No doubt things would be radically different upon their return to Earth, but on the ship they were not governed strictly by regulations or military protocol, more the camaraderie and friendship of the team.

Sam had broken out her chess set earlier in the day, and coaxed her lover into playing to wile away a few hours. After promptly losing three games straight, Janet's enthusiasm and good humor were wearing thin.

"God, I hate this game," the doctor muttered as she nudged her ivory knight across the board.

"Cassie likes it," Sam countered, reaching for her pawn before Janet's hand had even returned to the table.

"No she doesn't. She just puts up with it because you enjoy it so much."

The blonde's hand hovered over the board, and she looked at her lover with wide, hurt eyes. "She doesn't like it?"

Janet snorted. "Sam. Really. How many teenagers - besides you - would want to spend a Saturday afternoon playing chess?"

Sam abandoned the move and sat back in her seat, her jaw drooping in mild shock. "But... I thought..." she trailed off, blinking a lot.

The brunette shrugged. "It's not a bad thing. She adores you, and she loves spending time with you. How you're spending the time isn't really the important part."

Her lover still looked rather disappointed, and the explanation did little to mollify her. Janet tilted her head as she regarded the other woman, a tender and completely reflexive smile creasing her face. "You know... When I was nine, my father signed me up for the local softball league," she said thoughtfully. "He volunteered to be the assistant coach for my team, and we went absolutely everywhere in our matching uniforms." By now Sam was grinning at her, no doubt picturing a tiny kiddo with pigtails, freckles, and a bunch of attitude whacking away at slow rainbow pitches.

"Were you any good?"

"No," Janet said shortly, with a laugh and a wry shake of her head. "I think the bat was bigger than I was, actually. They stuck me in right field. I chased foul balls and hated every second of it."


"But," the doctor continued, "My dad was there. And even if he had some goofy notion of me becoming a star shortstop -- " she raised one index finger, forestalling the obligatory height joke, "No comments from the peanut gallery, please -- he was there, always cheering me on, and he cared. That was what made it special."

Sam sighed. "I just want Cass to have some fun, you know? She's been through so much..." She watched as dark eyes swept across the chess board, then back up to meet her gaze. "Okay," the blonde relented with a laugh. "Maybe chess wasn't the most 'fun' thing to pick."

"Sam, I'm just kidding you," Janet said, finding her lover's hand and tangling their fingers together. "You spend time with her, you love her, you teach her and protect her as much as you can, and she knows it. That's about the best any parent can hope for."

"'Parent,'" Sam echoed, in a small, incredulous breath.

"Yeah. Samantha Carter the mom," Janet said, her eyes twinkling. "Who woulda thought?"

The blonde smiled at her wistfully. "Not me, that's for sure." She let her foot rub against her lover's shin under the table, cocking her head while she regarded Janet. "We're good, the three of us."

"You bet we are," her lover agreed with a smile.

"I hope she's okay."

Janet took a slow breath through her nose. "Me too," she whispered.

Sam looked down at the chess board with a preoccupied little frown. "So... would you rather do something else?"

"Nah," Janet answered easily. She pointed her chin at the pieces. "It's your move."

The doctor continued losing, but suddenly didn't mind in the least.

As a scientist, Janet had been trained to watch the transitions: the borders, the passages between states.

Patients' lives were saved or lost based on the battle at the edges of ragged wounds or broken bones, where healthy cells and disease fought to rule the day.

The most important things in life tended to happen while on your way to something else entirely. Janet's own life was testament to that; she'd started out in the Air Force wanting to be a flight surgeon, and ended up as Earth's foremost expert of alien physiology. In the process she'd gained a child, then a lover, and now it seemed she was walking some preordained path toward an entirely new development her brain could not even fully conceive.

And so it came as little surprise to her that while in this state of transition, the course of their journey to Kahshak, something profound would happen.

It came as even less of a surprise that it happened within a dream, that odd state of passage between being conscious and not.

She was in the main corridor of the Tok'ra ship, but as she peered toward its end it lengthened, stretched to an impossible degree, converging into a point far off in the distance. To her left a door opened, and the Goa'uld lord Isten stepped out, his eyes flashing as they rested on her.

On some level, she remembered to be afraid, but she held her ground, having defeated this opponent once before. As if sensing her resolve, the Goa'uld looked away, and began walking down the hallway. Janet trailed him curiously, listening to the dull clank of his boots on the metal flooring.

They traversed the impossibly long hallway with alacrity only found in such a dream, and finally Isten stopped at the doorway, gesturing for her to proceed.

The door opened to the vast battlefield she'd seen before in Sam's memories, but this time it was not littered with bodies and decay. Centuries had passed; the overgrowth obscured almost all evidence of the butchery that had occurred there. The only reminders were the bits of armor and bleached bone that still stuck out of the ground at precarious angles, dubious gravemarkers on this otherwise barren world.

Janet turned to ask Isten why he'd brought her there, but the Goa'uld, the doorway, and the corridor from the Tok'ra ship had disappeared, replaced by the figure of Sam, who smiled at her as the breeze tossed her short light hair.

"Jolinar," Janet said. It wasn't a question.

"And the warrior Tau. And your Samantha," the blonde confirmed. "We are all here." Her eyes lost focus suddenly, turned inward. "But we are fading."

Behind Sam, in the vibrant and otherwise cloudless sky, a storm was brewing, pulling matter and dark energies together with unknown purpose, drawing closer in a menacing haze.

"Please hold on a little longer," Janet implored. "We're coming."

While representative of many entities at once, the smile the image of Sam gave her was so adoring, it could only have come from her lover. "You've always been here."

The churning storm clouds paused above her, stirring the wind on the ancient battlefield. A chant rose up in the air around them, calling to Janet. "You will lose her."

"I'll get her back," the brunette declared to the gathering storm.

"Then you must defeat me," came a snarling voice behind her.

She spun to face the newcomer and nearly staggered when she saw a gigantic figure swathed in deep black robes looming over her. It hissed malevolently and drew closer, using its sheer size in an intimidating display of strength.

Janet knew she was all that stood between this evil presence and her lover, so she fought the urge to run, even as the rotting creep of darkness gathered in invisible tendrils around them. She looked up under the hood of the creature's robes, and saw a cataclysm of light where its face should have been, a spinning whirl of energy that appeared to be only some sort of metaphorical projection of its true form.

It recoiled a bit from her scrutiny, hesitated, then lunged for her as it unleashed a deep growl that shook the very ground.

Just as the creature's claws closed around her, Janet snapped awake from the nightmare, her dark eyes pried wide open in the dim light of their makeshift quarters. She sat up slowly on the cot, studying Sam's peacefully somnolent form next to her.

Under other circumstances, the dream would have been disturbing, frightening, but instead the doctor found her only reaction to be a small shiver of anticipation.

That glowing thing wanted to hurt Sam?

Bring it on.

The next morning found Sam tinkering with her naquada reactor, switching out components with items she'd scrounged from around the Tok'ra vessel. Janet sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her, watching her lover with a tolerant smile.

"Ah ha, see? This alloy is a better conductor. Ten percent better energy transfer," Sam muttered as she watched the needle spike on her handheld voltmeter.

"Mmhmm," Janet agreed mildly.

The blonde peeked up at her, then set down her tools. For a stretch of time they just sat there smiling goofily at each other, before Sam eventually dipped her head. "I'm probably driving you nuts."

Janet's smile broadened a notch. "Never," she lied, badly.

"Chess yesterday, watching me fiddle with reactor stuff today..." she sighed. "It's just... there's not a lot to do out here, and I'm not used to having you along on these kinds of missions."

"What would you normally be doing if I wasn't here?" the doctor asked.

"Well, this," Sam replied, gesturing to the reactor bits strewn across the floor. "And there's a reason Daniel won't play chess with me anymore." She scratched idly at the back of her head and gave her lover an apologetic look. "Is there something else you'd rather be doing?" she asked for the second time in as many days.

Janet's smile turned downright predatory. "One or two things."

The blonde's eyebrows shot up, her face mirroring her lover's apparently playful mood. "Oh really?"

"But I can sit here and watch you play with power tools some more, that's okay too."

"Actually, I think I like your idea better," Sam countered as she scrambled to her feet, then offered a hand down to her lover. Janet allowed herself to be pulled upright, and for a long moment they simply stood together, sharing each other's breath. It was another odd moment of symbiosis, a feeling of such intimate knowing that it robbed the blonde of any further speech.

Instead she settled on communicating by touch, letting her hands slide up Janet's arms, her thumbs tracing the rise and fall of muscles under the skin. One hand rested on the smaller woman's shoulder, and the other lifted to braille delicate fingertips up the curve of Janet's neck, to her jaw and under her chin, coaxing the brunette's head to tip back just a little further so that Sam could place the gentlest of kisses on waiting lips.

When she pulled away Janet was smiling at her. "Mm," the brunette hummed. "Still feels like the first time."

Sam's eyes slid shut. "On a mountain, right?" Her voice wavered painfully. "God, Janet, I'm sorry..." She started to step backwards, but was held in place by strong hands that curled around her waist.

"It doesn't matter," Janet said firmly. "We have right now."

"Whatever happens, I want you to know I love you. I always will," the blonde vowed.

"I'm not letting you go, Sam," her lover answered, hauling her down for a fiery kiss, intending to burn an imprint of the emotion on them both. Janet stepped even closer, deliberately pushing Sam backwards a few stumbling steps until her back was against the ship's bulkhead, never losing the deep contact of the kiss.

They lost themselves within each other, so much so that neither woman noticed the footsteps approaching down the corridor, pausing in the doorway, then beating a hasty retreat in the opposite direction.

Jack O'Neill shook his head to clear it, then rubbed his eyes for good measure as he hurried back down the ship's corridor.

He tried to be an upstanding guy, a good friend, a discreet commanding officer. Really.

But inadvertently witnessing Janet Fraiser shove his 2IC against a bulkhead and kiss her senseless?

That was pushing it.

He shook his head again, then decided to go in search of a nice, cold drink. Maybe he could bug Daniel, and make the archeologist tell him something utterly dull...

He found Jacob Carter instead, studying the ship's long-range sensor logs. The former general looked up briefly from his work. "Hey, have you seen Sam?"

O'Neill barely fought off a blush. "Uh, yeah."

"Do you know if she's busy? 'Cause I could use her help sorting through these readings."

The colonel cleared his throat. "Actually, I think she and the Doc are... occupied."

Jacob stared at him, nonplussed. "Occupied."

"Right. You know. Busy, otherwise engaged." A vague twitch of his fingers in the air. "Occupied."

"They seem to be 'occupied' rather frequently," the older man observed with a hidden smirk, as he shifted his attention between computer readouts.

Jack blinked a lot, hoping to accidentally be swallowed into an alternate universe, or maybe just spontaneously decapitated before he had to think of a response to that.

The elder Carter let him sweat for a few seconds, then relented. "Relax, Jack. They're lovers. I knew that."

"Oh. Okay." O'Neill let out a relieved breath. "I guess I didn't expect you to be so..." he paused, searching for the right word.

"Progressive? Open-minded? Accepting?" Jacob snorted. "I wasn't. One of the reasons I wanted her out of that damned mountain a few years back was because on the rare occasions we talked, she never mentioned a boyfriend, or ever going on a date... Just this 'Janet' person, and her daughter." He watched as O'Neill silently did the math, tallying up all the years he'd been completely clueless about the growing relationship between the two women, then smiled as he saw the dawning comprehension on the colonel's face. "Look, parents can read the things their kids say, and the things they don't say. There was something there for a long time."

"But now you're all right with it."

"Well, the Tok'ra don't exactly have the luxury of sexual bigotry," Jacob pointed out. "You may meet the love of your life, spend a couple hundred years together, then something happens and the symbiote joins to another host -- then what?"

Jack just shook his head to indicate he didn't know the answer to that question, his eyebrows hiked up in curiosity.

The former general grinned sheepishly at him. "Let's just say when I met Selmak, I acquired some memories I never thought I'd have." A shrug. "You start to realize there are more important things to worry about than the packaging that houses the person you love."

"And what dad doesn't want their daughter to fall for a doctor, right?"

Jacob laughed. "Exactly. Bet it puts you in an awkward situation, though."

"Who, me? I never asked, they never told," O'Neill said easily, as he mentally boxed up what he'd witnessed a few minutes previous and FedEx-ed it to oblivion. He felt the older man's kind eyes resting on him, giving him that oddly paternal look that he found simultaneously embarrassing and comforting. "What?" he asked defensively.

"You are a good friend, Colonel O'Neill," came the answer, spoken by Selmak with a little smile.

"Yeah, yeah," O'Neill muttered, waving off the comment as he left the room.

Anise was at the controls a few hours later when turbulent shockwaves rumbled through the ship, knocking it back into normal space. The Tok'ra scientist compensated quickly, pulling the ship to a stop to assess any damage.

The door to the cockpit slid open, allowing Jacob Carter and Colonel O'Neill into the room. "What happened?" Selmak demanded.

"We appear to have passed through a quantum fragment. The hyperspace engines are offline," Anise answered.

"What about sublight engines?"

"They are still functional."

"A quantum what?" O'Neill asked.

"Fragment. This area of space is littered with them," Jacob explained, as his hands flew over the sensor controls. "Almost like the universe shattered here at one point a long time ago, and someone tried to glue it back together. The hyperspace engines can't always compensate for the quantum fluctuations." He turned to the colonel with a sigh. "Welcome to Kahshak. Things are only gonna get weirder from here."

Some time later, the team was gathered in the ship's main quarters as Sam detailed the environmental challenges posed by the unique area of space through which they were traveling.

"According to sensor readings, the quantum fragments increase in density at an exponential rate as we go deeper into the expanse. If we follow the buildup, chances are we'll find what we're looking for," Sam explained.

"Which would be the 'light' that is 'dark,' 'beginning' and 'end,' all that stuff," Daniel said dryly.

"Right. So anyway, stay alert," the colonel ordered. "It sounds like we're going to start seeing some pretty screwy things as we get closer."

"'Screwy,' sir?" Janet asked. "Like what?"

O'Neill's gaze was focused on a point behind them all. "Well, like that, I'd guess," he said, pointing.

The team turned on cue, and started as they saw mirror images of Sam and Janet standing together at the back of the room, staring back at them.

"Whoa," Daniel murmured.

The two Sams exchanged a curious look, then spoke simultaneously.

"The fragments must allow other quantum realities to bleed into each other," Sam pondered aloud.

"Must be due to the variations in quantum stability in this region," the alternate offered.

Behind them the far door opened, admitting an alternate O'Neill. "Carter, Doc, briefing on the bridge in five," he said, before catching sight of the duplicates behind them. He drew to a halt and blinked a few times. "Uh... bring your friends." His expression grew a touch wistful when it fell on Daniel. "Is it you? Are you the one doing this?"

"D-doing what?" the archeologist stuttered.

Then, just as suddenly as they'd appeared, the alternates blinked out of their version of existence again. O'Neill peered around the room, looking for any other doubles, and shuddered. "Okay, my weird-shit meter just pegged out."

"Most unusual," Teal'c agreed blandly.

Sam had the dubious distinction of having met multiple alternate versions of herself over the years, and so was a little less fazed than her superior. "It's only going to get worse the further we go," she pointed out.

At that, the team shifted in unison to look at O'Neill, mostly expecting an order to turn the ship around, to head back toward the relative safety of Earth and find another less dangerous solution. The colonel returned their gazes with a grim look, then his eyes rested on his 2IC for a long beat before coming to an apparent decision. "All right. Pair up, arm yourselves," he ordered briskly. "No one stays alone while we're out here, and 'zat anything hostile that pops up. Teal'c, you're with me," he turned and stalked out the door, on his way to the armory.

Daniel trailed after the two other men, pulled along by sheer curiosity. "Hey, Jack? Why would you -- the other you -- think I had something to do with this?" the archeologist asked, indicating the general location where the other O'Neill had stood.

The colonel just shrugged. "Hell, Daniel, I dunno. Last I heard you weren't messing around with the fabric of reality... were you?"

After a nearly a day the team was almost used to the odd quantum intrusions into their reality. Sam managed to catalog at least seven different iterations of alternate realities that bumped into their own, mostly in conversations with other versions of herself.

It was fascinating to see the variations on what they currently experienced as reality. Sometimes Sam was losing her memory, sometimes she wasn't. Sometimes her alternates made cryptic references to a planet called Kelowna, and something awful that had happened to Daniel there. Sometimes her father was making the trip as a Tok'ra, sometimes he had succumbed to his lymphoma years previous.

The one constant she observed was Janet hovering in the background of every single reality, watching the team like a hawk as their stress levels rose, as other Sams collapsed under the weight of Jolinar's buried memories. Her perpetual presence was reassuring in the extreme, even as different versions occasionally bumped into each other with a skeptical look, a smart remark, or comparison of hairstyles.

The teams from each reality they encountered seemed to have approximately the same goal in common, tracking down an Ancient something that had been eluding them for months. Some saw the opportunity to gain new technology, some were following cryptic clues left by a teammate who was currently wandering an alternate plane of existence, others were simply fleeing the destruction wrought by whatever evil force was plundering their version of the galaxy.

Sam was starting to wonder if each iteration was equally likely to succeed or fail, or if maybe one particular version might just have an advantage.

She was hurrying down the corridor from the engine room to catch up with the team for a briefing on the bridge. She looked up, and had the sudden distinct impression of being stuck in a carnival funhouse, about to collide with an image of herself in a distorting mirror. Sam and this latest alternate both slowed, then stopped, and they peered at each other with curious eyes.

"Since I've asked everyone else, I'll ask you, too. Ever been to PY9-2346?" the alternate inquired.

Sam thought furiously, but came up blank. She sighed in frustration. "Maybe?"

"I ended up there after dialing a nine-chevron combination from a different quantum reality," the other woman explained.

That Sam remembered. "The one where Janet..." she trailed off, meeting her other self's look of anguish. Indeed she did have a fuzzy recollection of months previous when they'd met this version of Sam Carter, haunted and haggard in the ruins of a formerly Goa'uld-occupied world, stranded after the destabilization of the Stargate system and mourning a Janet that had died in a car accident.

"Right," the alternate said briskly, after shoving away the moment of lingering grief. "So you're the ones who fixed the universe."

"Could be," Sam said slowly, as her brain raced to piece together the few fragments she had left in her recent past.

The quantum visitor grinned at her. "Then you're the ones who sent me home. I don't know quite how that happened, but I always wanted to thank you."

From around the corner of the corridor came a familiar voice. "Sam?"

The two blondes turned in unison. "Janet?"

The doctor hurried into the hallway, toting her medical bag, and paused when she saw the duplicate Sams. She turned unerringly to the one from the other reality, the one who had apparently found her way "home." "Are you feeling all right? Daniel's having some problems with vertigo."

The alternate Sam frowned. "Yeah, I'm feeling fine."

"I feel okay, too," Sam offered.

The two women from another reality spared her a small, impatient glance before returning their attention to each other. Sam studied their interaction with some curiosity, seeing familiar mannerisms with new eyes. Were this version of herself and Janet lovers as well?

They shifted subtly as they conversed, and she almost smacked herself in the forehead. Okay, question answered. But did she look that ridiculously adoring when her own Janet inhabited her personal space like that? God, no wonder no one had seemed particularly surprised to find out they were intimately involved.

"Do you think he's being affected by the quantum shifts?" the other Sam was asking the doctor.

Janet gave her a mildly frustrated sigh. "That's why I wanted to find you, to see if you had any ideas about how we could measure the effect."

Both Sams considered the question for a moment, staring off into space. "We know that matter destabilizes as it encounters different quantum states," one said.

The other nodded and continued the thought. "Which is why eventually it loses cohesion in entropic cascade."

"So there's probably a detectable infrared variance coinciding with each shift."

And also probably an increasing risk that the ship and everyone on it would end up fizzling away in a violent subnuclear reaction long before they got to where they were going if they didn't figure out a way to avoid the quantum fragments, Sam considered idly. One glance told her that her counterpart was thinking the same.

"Let's see if we can correlate that variance with Daniel's symptoms," Janet suggested, oblivious to the more ominous implications of their discussion.

"Yeah," the Sam from her reality agreed, as they turned together to head back down the hallway. After a few steps the other two women faded, relegated to their own reality once more, but not without one last grateful smile cast over the other Sam's shoulder.

"Sam?" came a voice around the bend of the corridor.

"I'm here," Sam answered, shaking off the odd sensation of quantum deja vu.

Janet hurried into the hallway, toting her medical bag, and paused when she saw the distracted look on her lover's face. "Are you feeling all right? Daniel's having some problems with..."

"Vertigo," Sam interrupted, with a faint smile. "Right?"

Janet studied her for a moment. "Yeah. How did you know?"

"You were just here," the blonde explained. "Along with a version of me we apparently helped out a few months back."

The entire situation was giving Janet a rapid headache, and trying to decipher the encounters with other realities was more trouble than it was worth. She decided simply to accept her lover's explanation at face value and move on. "But no vertigo?"

"Nope," Sam confirmed. "C'mon, we need to adjust the ship's sensors to measure infrared shifts," she continued as they turned together to head back to the bridge and report in to the colonel. However, after a few paces Sam slowed, her brain churning over a new puzzle. The other Janet she'd just encountered had known instantly which Sam was the one from her native reality, and her own Janet hadn't even stopped to consider that she could be yet another alternate Sam. "Hey... how did you know it was me, and not an alternate?" Sam asked.

Her lover looked up at her quizzically. "Are you serious?" She canted her head to one side. "Sam, I'd know you anywhere. You're mine."

It took a Sam and Anise a few hours of combined effort to modify the ship's sensor system for the unique conditions of the Kahshak expanse. They directed a small matter stream from the engine exhaust forward, then calibrated the array to detect infrared shifts as the particles encountered the areas of quantum instability. It was like mapping a minefield, one step at a time, but armed with the information the ship picked its way gingerly through the fractured area of space with little further incident.

Unfortunately Daniel's vertigo did not ease, and nothing Janet gave him seemed to help. He insisted they continue forward as he holed up in darkened quarters to ride it out.

Watching Daniel suffer and watching Sam lose more and more pieces of herself wore steadily on Janet. They were out here largely on her say-so, and she was starting to doubt how long the rest of the team would stoically follow her lead.

She and Sam were giving a rather bleak status report to Colonel O'Neill when the ship once again lurched out of hyperspace. The blonde jumped as though stung, and stalked onto the bridge, with Janet and O'Neill a few steps behind. "Why have we stopped?"

Her father gave her a sideways glance. "Take a look for yourself."

She stepped up to the sensor display, scowling at the readout. The quantum fragmentation had reached a saturation point, a concentration so dense the ship could not safely traverse it. With a few quick swipes of her fingers, Sam re-calibrated the sensors to peer beyond the fragments. The information coming back made little sense. She saw magnetic and gravitational anomalies consistent with a nearby class A star, but no evident radiation. Even more disconcerting was the apparent wall of dense, solid matter that blocked their path.

A gentle touch at her back made her start. "Sam?"

She whipped her head around to meet Janet's concerned gaze. "Yeah?"

"You've been staring at those readouts for about an hour now," the doctor said quietly. "You okay?"

Sam blinked in surprise and pushed herself away from the console. She may as well have been bent over the sensors for a day, her body was so stiff. "It doesn't make sense," she explained, instead of answering her lover's question. She thumbed through a few screens of mostly meaningless data, pointing out certain features for Janet's benefit. "There's something solid out there, something bigger than the sensors can even measure, and something only dense and massive enough to be a star."

"We have been drifting in response to gravitational force," Anise confirmed from the ship's controls.

"So where's the source?" Sam asked her. "Why aren't we seeing the star, or the accretion disk of a black hole, something?" She sighed and closed her eyes. Somewhere deep inside her, the answer lay dormant, struggling to emerge.

Somewhere deep inside, a piece of her had found its way home.

"I need to use the memory device," she declared. She turned to Janet, her gaze broadcasting a preemptive apology. "Tau knew this place, and we need to know what he knew."

"Wait a minute," O'Neill grumbled from his perch on an unused computer console. "There's gotta be another option."

His 2IC shook her head. "I don't think so, sir."

"The damage could be irreversible," Janet warned in a small voice.

Sam swallowed hard. "I know."

"Jacob?" O'Neill asked. He looked to the older man with something akin to mild desperation. "Isn't there something else we can do? Just keep looking around until we have a better idea what we're dealing with?"

"Given the information we possess, we have come as far as we safely can," Selmak answered practically. "It would be unwise to proceed without a better understanding of what lies ahead."

"We got this far not knowing 'what lies ahead,'" the colonel growled. "Now you're telling me we're stuck?"

Jacob's head dipped as control returned to the retired general. "Jack, the sensors are feeding us gibberish, reality as we know it is ripped to shreds the next hundred thousand kilometers, and it looks like there's a dead end in space past that."

"So?!" O'Neill exclaimed.

The older man shook his head, and looked over to his daughter. "Sam, you don't have to do this."

She tore her gaze away from Janet's with effort. "Yeah, I do."

Daniel's eyes were screwed shut, the wince tightening a degree as the light from the corridor outside the room split the doorway. "Stop the room, please. I'd like to get off," he joked faintly.

Sam stepped into his quarters and let the door shut behind her. "Hey," she murmured in greeting. "Janet says you're still pretty dizzy."

He slitted his eyes open and lifted his head just enough to get a look at her. "The Abydonians had this fermented nectar drink called 'hereret.' No one bothered to tell me that it was 180 proof fruit juice." His head dropped back onto the pillow with a little groan. "I didn't think it was possible to be that hungover ever again. I was wrong."

Carter winced in sympathy. "I'm sorry."

He waved off the apology. "So what's going on out there? I felt the ship drop out of hyperspace."

"We've reached a point where quantum fragmentation is too dense to continue," she answered. "Sensors are giving us weird feedback, so we're holding steady for the moment."

The archeologist absorbed that information quietly. "And what comes next?"

"I'm going to try to use the Tok'ra memory device to see if Tau had more specific information about this place, and how we should best proceed."

At that, his eyes flew open again, widening in alarm. "That thing could kill you."

"The answer is inside my head, somewhere," she continued, ignoring the comment. "I just have to find it."

"Sam, don't."

"And you're sitting in here, sick and miserable, because you're trying to help me," she grated out. "I'm sorry."

With effort Daniel pushed himself up to a seated position, and reached out to snag one of her sleeves. "I'm going to be fine, and you are, too."

"I need to ask a favor," Sam responded in a shaky voice.


"I need someone to look after Janet and Cassie," she pressed on.

"Don't do this."

"Janet will be fine, but Cassie will probably still need help with her homework from time to time..."

He rallied all of his remaining equilibrium and stood, balling his hands into fists on her shoulders, clinging to her for balance. "Sam," he enunciated. "She won't be fine without you. None of us will."

"I have to go," she replied sadly, as she reached up to wrap warm hands around his forearms.

His insides were starting to rattle again, and he knew he couldn't remain upright for much longer. "You better come back," he insisted, as Sam moved to help ease him back onto his cot.

"I'll try," she responded. Then she was gone.

Janet fiddled with the memory device's controller, keeping her fingers occupied while she waited for Sam to arrive. When the door to their shared quarters slid open, the blonde strode in and paused, not expecting Janet to be waiting for her alone. No one but her lover would have seen how truly nervous Sam was, how the anxiety radiated from her in waves.

"Anise showed me how to activate the device," the doctor offered by way of explanation. Sam nodded and sat down.

There were no words, Sam realized. There simply was no Hallmark sentiment to tell the person you loved everything you wanted her to know at the moment you stood at the edge of the unknown, about to plunge in headlong. She looked up into Janet's deep brown eyes and realized abruptly that they were both crying.

"I have to do this," Sam whispered, desperate for the doctor to understand.

"I know," Janet answered. She attached the memory device to her lover's temple with shaky fingers, waited as it burrowed microscopic filaments deep into Sam's brain, then activated it at maximum power.

Sam's head was bowed, and she shook a bit as the memories assaulted her. She let out a ragged breath, sucked another in, then was still. She lifted her head to regard the doctor, and her eyes flared a sudden milky white color.

Janet gasped. She had of course had seen Sam's eyes flash with the bright naquada-enhanced neurochemicals inherent to the Goa'uld before, once when the other woman had been possessed by Jolinar, again while hallucinating under the influence of Machello's anti-Goa'uld devices. This was the first time she'd seen the telltale sign in an unblended human. Part of her catalogued it objectively and filed it away for further study; would any similar surge of neurochemicals in a brain already flooded with naquada cause the same reaction? Even as she pondered the question she stifled a small shiver of dread. "Sam?"

Her lover stood and stalked out of their quarters, marching with determined steps toward the ship's bridge. Janet followed, and shrugged off the questioning look of Colonel O'Neill, who was forced to hop out of Sam's way when she stormed into the room. Jacob Carter and Anise merely looked on in silence, unsure what to make of this latest development.

For a long moment Sam simply stared out the viewport, her eyes searching the dark area of space ahead. Then she turned to the navigational console and started keying in several rapid commands.

Anise jerked in surprise, then began entering commands of her own. "She's locked out the navigational computer," the scientist reported in bewilderment.

A loud alarm from another console drew Jacob's attention. "There's an overload building up in the engines," he reported grimly.

Janet stepped to Sam's side and gripped her arm. "Sam, what are you doing?" The sharp glance she received in return had nothing of her lover in it, merely a determined, wholly alien entity. The doctor recoiled involuntarily.

The energy buildup in the engines whined at a dangerous pitch, then the ship shuddered once more into hyperspace, on a course directly through the worst of the ruptured quantum states.

"Carter!" O'Neill yelled, reaching out to pull her away from the controls. She batted him away like little more than an annoying fly, then bent again to her task, keying in yet more cryptic commands to take them deeper into the expanse.

There was no question when they hit the fragments; reality split into dozens of pieces, each more chaotic than the last. Janet clung to an unoccupied computer console, struggling to stay upright as the ship was tossed about by mingling quantum energies. Around her, ghosts of other realities popped in and out of view, varying Sams and O'Neills and Jacobs all yelling commands into the disorder.

Something off to her left was glowing, an eerie otherworldly kind of light that scrawled across her vision, casting deep shadows on everything else she saw. With supreme effort she swung around to face it, pulling her head slowly through the subnuclear soup of fractured realities.

Daniel stood there, bathed in iridescence, incongruously wearing a tan sweater and lacking his usual glasses. He smiled rakishly, gave her a little wave, mouthed something that looked like "good luck," then disappeared.

As he faded out, reality came crashing to an abrupt halt.

"Doctor Fraiser."

Janet groaned a bit, feeling like her head was wrapped in thick wool.

"Doctor Fraiser," the voice repeated with just a hint of impatience.

She pried one eye open only to pull it quickly shut again as an intense light lanced into her optic nerve.

The voice above her sighed minutely. "Doctor, are you conscious?"

Janet opened both her eyes this time and blinked several times as her pupils adjusted to the brightness. "Would you believe me if I said 'no?'" she muttered.

Predictably, Teal'c cocked an eyebrow, but did not offer a response. She stirred a bit, stretching bruised limbs with ginger motions before moving to sit upright. Teal'c instantly reached out with massive but gentle hands to steady her.

"What happened?" she drawled. She spent a few moments working her tongue in the sticky dryness around her teeth.

"That we are still trying to determine," the Jaffa answered.

She did not really hear his answer, as her attention was instead fastened on the blonde figure standing rigid at the ship's controls. The light pouring in through the ship's primary viewport nearly obliterated Sam's silhouette as she steered the ship carefully around... something.

"It's a class A star," Jacob Carter's voice offered from off to Janet's side. He was moving slowly, and appeared as shaken by their recent passage as she was. He activated a few controls on his console and the light dimmed to a more tolerable level, cut by the ship's filters.

At that point Daniel bustled by, flipping through some of his notes. "Okay, just like I thought. The writings at New Heliopolis didn't mention anything that remotely resembled what we just traveled through." He squinted at his own writing for a few moments, then looked up and saw Janet being helped to stand by a solicitous Jaffa. "Hey, you're back."

"You're feeling better, I take it," Janet slurred, as she fought to stay on her feet. She took a few unsteady steps toward Sam and finally came to a halt leaning against the computer console next to her lover. She studied the blonde's profile and noted that the whites of her eyes still burned a dull white. "And reality hadn't been run through a paper shredder when they wrote that stuff down," she muttered. On Daniel's questioning look, she gave him a tired shake of her head. "Don't ask me how I know that." With that, her attention returned again to her lover.

The archeologist pursed his lips and regarded the two women with a worried expression, then stepped back near Jacob to watch over his shoulder and try to make sense of the stream of information flooding in now that the sensors were back online.

"Sam?" Janet murmured. The taller woman's faintly glowing eyes twitched over to rest on her, but there was no recognition in them. The doctor's heart sank. She reached out and clutched at Sam's sleeve desperately, hoping the contact would somehow bring her lover back to her. "Sam?" she said again. The name came out strangled, nearly unrecognizable. Blue eyes gone steely gray with the excess of alien chemical singing along her nerve endings flicked away from her again, focused on steering the vessel.

For long moments Janet struggled to breathe, swallowing an anguished gasp. What she had dreaded for so long was finally upon them; the Sam she knew was gone. The realization flowed over the doctor in a horrified rush, sparking near panic as she suddenly felt more alone than she ever had in her life. Her fingers tightened into a fist in the fabric of Sam's fatigues while she struggled to maintain her composure, quite literally refusing to let the other woman go.

On the other side of the bridge and oblivious to the doctor's plight, Daniel stared hard at the sensor readouts, swung his head over to peer out the viewport, then looked back at the readouts again. His jaw hung open in sheer amazement. "Is that right? We're on the inside of a planet?"

"Not really," Jacob temporized, rocking his head a bit as he tried to find a way to explain the sensor readings. "It's essentially a giant spherical shell built around the star." He scowled at the readouts. "I'm not reading any obvious points of entry."

"Then how did Major Carter gain entrance?" Teal'c asked.

"Well, she must have found a door," Daniel said with a shrug. "Presumably Tau would have known the ins and outs of this thing... whatever it is."

"A Dyson Sphere," Janet interjected, dredging the name from one of the myriad conversations about theoretical science she and Sam had had over their years of friendship. The team looked at her curiously. "Freeman Dyson -- he's a physicist," she faltered a moment as she tried to recall the details. "Back in the Fifties, I think, he theorized that given enough time and resources, an advanced civilization could build a shell around a star and use all the collected radiation as a massive, unlimited power source." She looked up at Sam once more. "You said it was just science fiction," she whispered.

As expected the blonde did not respond, but made a minor course correction with a negligent flick of her fingers.

"So when the Ancients disappeared a few thousand years ago, they were probably here, building this thing," Colonel O'Neill ventured, speaking for the first time since Janet had regained consciousness. She spared him a small nod of agreement.

Daniel pressed himself to the window, trying to get a better view as the ship swooped a little closer to the sphere's perimeter. "It all makes sense now," he murmured.

O'Neill sidled closer. "Really?"

"Well, yeah," the archeologist answered. "Think about it. We've found 'The Light' which is also dark, just depending on your perspective -- whether you're on the inside or the outside of the structure. This is the place Anteaus was talking about." By now his nose was practically flattened against the viewport. "Could they have lived inside it?"

"Sensors indicate an artificially generated gravity field along the interior of the sphere's surface, and what looks like a thin, but breathable atmosphere," Jacob reported, before snorting a bit in wry self-deprecation. "I think." He looked apologetic. "This is a bit out of my league."

"What about Selmak?" O'Neill asked.

"Jack, I don't think there is a league for this," the former general replied dryly.

"Great," the colonel sighed.

A crackle sounded on the ship's communication system. "I believe I can manually disable Major Carter's override of our navigational systems," Anise's voice reported from somewhere in the bowels of the ship.

"No, wait," Daniel interrupted, "She knows where we're going. Let her keep control for now."

O'Neill and the elder Carter shared a brief look, and a mutual shrug. "Acknowledged. Stand by," the former general ordered the Tok'ra scientist via the comm.

"It is easy to see why Aten wished to conquer this world," Teal'c rumbled thoughtfully.

"Yeah," the colonel agreed. "Too bad he messed with the wrong people."

Hours dragged by as the ship skimmed the sphere's massive inner circumference. Sam remained at the controls, steering them with sure hands toward their ultimate but as yet unknown destination. Janet was still a bit shaky from whatever had happened to her when they'd hit the quantum fragments, but she waved off any attempt of Sam's teammates to assist in favor of standing unflagging at her lover's side.

She could see the naquada-induced glow in Sam's eyes growing dimmer as the minutes wore on, and refused to contemplate what would occur when it died completely.

For a time Colonel O'Neill had also stood vigil with the doctor, intending to lend support if he could. Suddenly, as they were somewhere over a painted desert he'd gotten an odd, sour look on his face and excused himself from the bridge, taking Teal'c with him.

Daniel spent the time skittering between the bridge and the viewport in the observation room, cataloguing the bits of artificial alien landscape he could see as they flew over it. He and Jacob had calculated by the rough interior surface area of the sphere that literally tens of billions of people could have inhabited it in comfort, supported by the constant energy of the star they held captive. It was a scientific marvel, and he was determined to record it the best he could for Sam's benefit, assuming she would one day be able to appreciate it again.

They were careening over a vast ocean an untold amount of time later when Janet started, caught by surprise by Jacob Carter's gentle hand on her shoulder. "Doctor, you really should rest," he said quietly.

She shook her head. "I'm okay."

He looked her over, easily seeing that she was holding herself upright by sheer force of will. "Janet..."

"I can't go anywhere if there's a chance she'll come back," she interrupted.

He sighed. She knew as well as he did that an earlier scan with a healing device showed rampant damage in his daughter's brain, likely irrecoverable even by the most advanced science. It appeared the memory device had triggered one last, dramatic reaction between memory and immunity, pulling the ancient warrior Tau out of dormancy for a short time, but likely sealing Sam's own dark fate. When her brain finally did shake off the warrior's thrall, it was anyone's guess what would remain.

The sensor readouts beeped to gain his attention, and he turned back to his console. "I'm detecting faint energy signatures on the large landmass ahead," Jacob announced. "Looks like reactor leakage from a few motherships that crash landed."

"After five hundred years?" Janet asked.

"Not much left, but it is there," he answered. "God, there are ships littered all over the place." He looked up at the viewport and could see the first traces of land rising out of the ocean. The vessel dipped closer to the surface, for the first time breaching the thin atmosphere clinging to the edges of the artificial world.

As the air buffeted the craft lightly, Jacob and Janet shared a mildly alarmed look. "She's taking us to Ground Zero," the doctor whispered.

The ship landed on a bluff overlooking the plain that had apparently been the primary site of battle.

Beside Janet, Sam slumped as the naquada burning through her neural pathways finally exhausted itself. The doctor summoned her remaining energy to tug on Sam's sleeve, and whisper her name.

Confused blue eyes focused on the brunette. "I... we..." Sam stuttered, at a total loss. She looked around. "Where... ?"

Her heart was splitting apart, but Janet struggled to maintain her composure. "I know this is confusing, Sam. We're going to work through it."

Sam nodded, the motion rendered small and jerky by her fear. "Okay."

Janet breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized something familiar in her lover's eyes at long last -- trust.

By now the rest of the team was filing onto the bridge, curious about where their vessel had come to rest. Jacob quickly ran the ship's scanners through their paces. "Breathable atmosphere, no apparent toxins or pollutants. Pretty boring flora, no obvious fauna beyond a few insects," he reported. "It looks like there are some abandoned buildings about eight kilometers north of here. No lifesigns." He shook his head with a frown.

"This is the closest to those buildings the ship could have safely landed," Anise observed as she studied the topographic sensor readings. "We must assume Major Carter had a reason for bringing us to this location," she concluded.

"Right. Doc, Daniel, get suited up," O'Neill ordered.

The ramp lowered from the belly of the Tok'ra vessel, and Sam peered cautiously down its length to the grassy field underneath. Nothing particularly threatening appeared below, and certainly nothing indicative of why the warrior formerly resident in her mind might have chosen this location. Janet hovered about her, tightening the straps on her lover's tactical vest while the blonde stood quietly pliant.

"Anything look familiar?" Janet asked, careful not to specify the planet, ship, or its inhabitants.

Sam just gave her a worried look, and a shake of her head. "I'm not sure. Of anything, really."

"All right. Just stick with me and we'll see what we can find out there, okay?" The doctor cast her most confident look up at the blonde, and was relieved to see a hint of a smile in return.

Daniel moved toward them, adjusting his floppy green hat on his head. "Well, it'll be good to get some fresh air," he said cheerfully. He gave the doctor a curious look, and flicked his eyes over to Sam, asking a silent question. The doctor could only shrug. A minute later Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c emerged from the armory, decked out in full tactical gear and heavily armed. It was obvious they'd spent the past few hours prepping their equipment in anticipation of some major resistance. The archeologist regarded them with raised eyebrows. "Isn't that kinda overkill?"

O'Neill shrugged. "Better hope so." He strode down the ramp at point, leaving the rest of the team to follow.

They didn't get their first good look at the battlefield until they crested the short bluff on which the ship was perched. What they saw left all five teammates quite speechless. Far off on the horizon, skeletons of half a dozen ruined Goa'uld ships sat crumpled and oxidizing in the thin atmosphere, while in between thousands of leftover weapons and armor poked their way out of the rough grasses and rocks covering the ground.

Daniel pulled out his binoculars to scan the area. "I can see the buildings Jacob mentioned," he said, pointing off to the north.

O'Neill looked to Janet, who shook her head to indicate she had little idea how to proceed, then over to Sam, who just looked a little shell-shocked. "Okay, that's where we'll start."

They scuffed their way down the hillside and onto the plain proper, working slowly over the uneven terrain. Janet found herself growing unaccountably more anxious with every step. As if sensing that and perhaps needing to soothe her own anxiety, Sam stayed nearly within arm's reach of the brunette for the entire journey, and had to concentrate to keep from stepping on the shorter woman's heels.

About halfway to the structures they paused on a small rise to rest. The thin atmosphere was wearing on them all, and Janet gratefully took the chance to sit and wipe the sweat out of her eyes.

Sam sat pensive and silent next to her. No one seemed quite sure what to say, not certain if they even wanted to know exactly how she was feeling, what she was recalling. Finally, O'Neill plunked down across from the two women and eyed Sam for a long moment.

"So, Carter. How you doin'?"

She blinked at him. "I guess I feel all right," she allowed.

"D'ya even know who we are?" the colonel asked.

"Jack!" Daniel chastised.

"What?" O'Neill barked back. "I'm tired of pretending we don't know something's wrong here." He shifted a bit closer to Sam. "Carter, exactly what do you remember?"

She frowned in her customary way, concentrating on her internal catalogue of information. "I... don't know... I'm having trouble figuring things out."

"Without a familiar context, this must be pretty confusing," Daniel murmured.

"But you are familiar," Sam countered. "All of you are." Now her gaze rested on Janet, who could only look back with sad, dark eyes. "I just can't remember why."

O'Neill's jaw bunched as he watched the two women look at each other. "We're going to help you, Carter. Just stick with the Doc and everything's gonna be okay." With that he stood and began marching toward the ruined structures once more.

The team approached the crumbled ruins cautiously as they baked under the constant sun. Teal'c paused outside the perimeter of the buildings and observed them apprehensively. "There is great power here," he said.

Janet grimaced, and edged around some pointy bits of Goa'uld weaponry that poked out of the ground. She'd felt it too, the charge in the air and the earth, but figured it was just her imagination getting the better of her. O'Neill pulled a sidearm free from the holster strapped around his thigh, and handed it solemnly to the doctor as he stepped past her. "Fan out."

The pile of old walls and doorways quickly revealed a careful architectural design meant to funnel attention to the building at the center, which was originally the tallest of the structures. The five teammates clustered around its entrance, not surprised in the least to see familiar Ancient writing engraved into the crumbled stone.

Daniel squinted at the prominent inscription over the doorway. "Abitus Ascensum," he translated. "Place of Ascension."

"That is not accurate, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c rumbled.

"Actually, it's closer to 'Point of Departure,'" O'Neill muttered. Daniel peered back at them. "Hey, you're the one who taught us this stuff." He stepped closer, then paused in the doorway and swung his head around. "Did you see that?"

"See what?" Daniel asked.

"Looked like the distortion trailing a staff blast."

The younger man's eyebrows rose, and he turned to peer the direction O'Neill's was studying. "I don't see anything."


Daniel looked back at the colonel with a shrug, then pushed past him to continue exploring the ruins. Janet and Sam followed.

Behind them, O'Neill and Teal'c shared a look and shifted their weapons just slightly closer to the ready.

The ruins were empty, utterly devoid of anything resembling the technological wonders they expected from the Ancients. The sunlight filtered through the caved in roof as the team paced the interior idly, making a few useless circuits before O'Neill called the search to a halt.

"We got nothin', campers. We'll get back to the ship and do some low passes over the plain to see if there's anything else out there that can help us," the colonel announced.

Janet sighed. The surge of adrenaline that had sustained her while believing they were close to an answer had slipped away, leaving her more exhausted now than she could recall ever being. As the team dutifully filed back out the door, she strode to follow, then stopped dead in the center of the building's floor. That nascent energy was back, this time skittering up and down the nerves in her legs. Ahead of her, Sam took another two steps before noticing the doctor was not keeping pace, then whirled to look back at the smaller woman.

"Daniel," Janet hissed.

The archeologist ducked back into the building. "Yeah?"

"I'm standing in the center of a circle."

His eyes widened, and he immediately dropped to his knees to confirm that she was indeed standing directly in the center of a circle of inscriptions imprinted carefully in the dusty floor. To his trained eye it was similar, but not exactly identical to the inscription on the floor of the Ancient Repository they'd discovered years previous.

"Okay, don't move," Daniel said excitedly.

"I don't think I can," the doctor answered.

O'Neill stomped back inside. "What's the hold up?" the colonel demanded.

"Janet's found something," Daniel explained, with a gesture toward the circle. He leaned in closer to it to blow some dust off the inscription.

The dull rattle of a far-off explosion reverberated through the ground. O'Neill spat out a curse and jogged back out the building. Once again the colonel's eyes were drawn to the distinctive trail of superheated atmosphere that typically followed a shot from a staff weapon. He turned to Teal'c, who bobbed his head in a grave nod. "I saw it as well, O'Neill."

The colonel leaned in through the doorway. "Now really isn't the best time. Let's go."

"Jack, we can't -- this could be the explanation of how the Ancients ascended," Daniel said.

He swore he could hear the low whine of a deathglider nearby. "Now, Daniel," O'Neill growled.

"I can't go anywhere, sir," Janet said.

"Oh, for cryin' out loud. Left foot, right foot, let's move."

"Colonel, I can't."

The colonel stepped over to the circle, careful to tiptoe around its edge, and reached out with one hand to clasp the doctor's arm. As he touched her he shuddered, feeling the charge of something pass through him. He jerked his hand away and stared at her, even had to shake himself to get rid of the vague shocks of energy that seemed to be still skipping up and down his arm. "You can't go," he murmured, understanding nothing of what was transpiring, only that it was happening. Another explosion rattled the walls, sending ancient dust cascading down on them. "We'll buy you whatever time we can," O'Neill said softly. He looked to Sam. "Stay with her."

"We can't just leave them here," Daniel protested once they were back out in the sunlight.

O'Neill ignored him, trying to hail the Tok'ra vessel via radio. When he got no response he sighed. "Teal'c, give him your 'zat."

The younger man was about to protest further, when the colonel grabbed him by a sleeve and spun him around to look out at the battlefield. Daniel blinked in alarm at what he saw, and fell silent.

"For once, Daniel, just do what I say," O'Neill growled.

Before them, ghostly images of ancient warriors rose to fight among their own graves as realities and times mingled and swam together.

Inside, mostly oblivious to the ghostly battle being waged without, Janet closed her eyes and bathed in the energy rising from the ground as it danced within and around her. Sam paced the inscription's circumference like a caged animal, ready to react at the first sign of threat. When the carved words began to glow a faint blue, she jerked and nearly bolted from the building. Only Janet's low voice held her still.

"Sam," Janet said. The word issued forth in an oddly resonant way.

"Yeah?" the blonde replied uncertainly.

"Come here."

Sam stepped to the edge of the glowing circle, directly in front of Janet, and studied the smaller woman. Somehow she appeared to be directly in the apex of the energy flow, magnifying it and projecting it outward again. It was mesmerizing.

"I know you don't remember, but we had a friend who used to talk a lot about balance, and about how the universe couldn't exist without it." The brunette's eyes opened then, and she cast a look of ineffable fondness on her lover. "You're my balance, Sam. I can't do this without you."

Whatever it was Sam remembered was irrelevant in that second, as Janet's hand rose in the air to beckon her forward. She took it without thought, and let the doctor pull her forward into the glowing circle.

The flash of light was bright enough to wash out everything else for a long moment. O'Neill ripped his eyes away from the ethereal chaos manifesting in the air before him and peeked back in the doorway of the crumbled building. "Doc! Carter!" He squinted into the building's shadows, could smell the acrid scent of leftover electric charge in the air. With a frown he returned outside. "They're gone."

Daniel gave him an apprehensive look. "So what do we do now?"

"We hold this position until they get back," the colonel declared, before rechecking his weapon's ammunition.

Janet looked around, blinking hard in the aftermath of the bright flash. She could see they were no longer in the temple, but in a vast expanse of darkness.

"What just happened?" Sam whispered, still clinging to the doctor's hand.

"I don't know." Her answer wasn't entirely truthful, as she had a very good idea what might have just occurred, but decided to keep it to herself for the time being. She turned in a slow circle, taking in the frozen chaos around them. She realized she could see shards of reality delineated in space, and could tell by their shattered pattern that they were standing in the exact epicenter of the fracture.

Behind the women, a hooded figure emerged, seething in a pool of gathered quantum flux. "Finally," it rasped. Sam and Janet whirled to face it. "I have been waiting for you."

"Who are you?" Janet asked.

Instead of answering, it just let out a rancid snarl. "I thought they would have chosen the archeologist. He would have been far more interesting to kill."

Janet shifted to put herself between the hooded figure and Sam, and studied it as it paced before them, realizing she recognized it from her dream. If she peered under the hood, would she see the spinning whirl of light where its head should have been?

It drew to a halt, then turned slowly to face them, gathering energy from the fabric of space around it. The doctor realized its intent almost too late, and drew her sidearm as if in slow motion, pulling the trigger and emptying the magazine into the large, foul creature.

Her head rang from the percussive noise, oddly amplified in the darkness, but the creature had not so much as flinched. "Fool," it growled derisively, then raised one hand and let loose a bolt of quantum energy that sailed over her shoulder, catching Sam squarely in the chest.

"Uh, Jack, that wave of Jaffa is coming straight for us," Daniel observed.

"Yup. Teal'c, with me. Daniel, you stay here and keep anything from coming in or out of that damn temple."

Daniel watched speechless as the other two men jogged away to intercept the incoming army. A half-manifested deathglider zipped over his head, dropping a not-so-half-manifested energy charge nearby that nearly knocked the archeologist off his feet. He scrambled for cover in the ruins and held his 'zat at the ready, hoping to God Jack knew what the hell he was doing.

Janet felt her lover's body lurch away, propelled by the energy blast, and turned to watch in horror as the blonde crumpled to the ground. She spun to face her adversary again, seething in a combination of barely contained panic and fury.

"They have done you a great disservice, bringing you here," the creature growled. "A pathetic healer and a crippled warrior could not hope to stand against Me."

"Who are you?" Janet asked again. It was a stall tactic more than anything, but she knew she wouldn't be able to overcome this being if she let it scare her. She took a breath through her nose and balled her fists.

"I am your death," it snarled.

"Besides that," the doctor said with a roll of her eyes. Rampantly egotistical "all-powerful" beings were nothing new in her experience, and oddly the claim only helped her regain her focus.

"I am Anubis," it announced, as if expecting that to explain everything.

"A Goa'uld," she realized.

"Once the most powerful of all the system lords," it confirmed. "Until I fell out of favor. I will have my revenge, and you cannot stop me." The cloaked hand drew back once more, summoning untold energies forth before casting them mercilessly at the doctor.

Daniel made himself as small as he could against a stone wall and occasionally peeked up over it to fire a few shots from the 'zat as an advance team of Jaffa broke through their enemy's lines and started swarming in the ruins. Around him, ethereal warriors materialized to return fire, yelling into the growing chaos of battle. Suddenly a tall, armored figure skipped along the ground dodging energy fire and dove behind cover where Daniel was hiding, and both men froze in a moment of shocked recognition.

"Taur'i?" the ancient warrior panted. "How is that possible?"

An energy grenade lobbed from an ancient Goa'uld bounced lazily behind their meager shelter. Time slowed, as both men swung their heads around to stare at it in horror, then Daniel felt himself buried under a heavy body just before the shockwave hit.

O'Neill crouched and bounded between spots of passable cover, watching as the ghostly images of the fight gained greater purchase in his own timeframe. Overhead a midrange Goa'uld bomber buzzed by, singeing the treetops. The colonel thudded to a halt behind a small pile of boulders and traded a grim look with Teal'c, who similarly skidded behind cover a few yards away. The wave of Jaffa was drawing closer; they could hear the soldiers' shouting. The two trained warriors hefted their respective weapons, then with a small nod from the colonel both scrambled out into the open, guns blazing.

All Daniel could hear was harsh breathing, desperate rasping pulling itself from his own lungs, as well as echoing in the injured body lying on top of him. He shifted, managed to squirm out from under the bloodied weight, and froze.

The ancient warrior had jumped on top of him to shield him from the blast of the energy grenade. He'd felt the weapon's impact, felt the weight of the body protecting him. He stood and looked around, over the small rock wall they hid behind, and saw the battle raging at full tilt, no longer shrouded by any ghostly disconnection from reality.

The archeologist took in the scene with a disbelieving stare, hardly reacting even as staff blasts whizzed by, and dirt kicked up in a nearby explosion rained down on his head. He shook himself and knelt next to the warrior who had saved him, putting pressure on the wounds that gaped open under his armor.

"How did the Taur'i find this place?" the warrior rasped.

"One of your warriors left us some clues," Daniel answered cryptically. He tore off his backpack to retrieve his first aid supplies. The warrior's head lolled. "Tell me, you're one of the race that built this world?" the archeologist said quickly, hoping to keep the warrior conscious and talking.


"You returned from your Ascended state to fight off the Goa'uld?"

The warrior blinked at him in surprise. "Yes."

"Can't you re-ascend?"

The man grimaced. "I have not seen any of my fallen comrades return to the Others," he choked out on a harsh breath. "I do not know why." He looked down at his own battered body, at Daniel's futile attempts to treat him, and offered a faint, resigned smile. "You should spare your efforts for someone who may still be helped." His head dropped back heavily against the ground.

"You saved my life," Daniel pointed out unnecessarily.

"Then perhaps you were not meant to die this day, Taur'i." The warrior coughed, bringing flecks of blood to his lips.

"Daniel," he corrected. "My name is Daniel."

"And I am Tau," the warrior muttered. He held his hand aloft, offering it to the archeologist in a soldier's greeting. "I only wish I could live long enough to learn how the Taur'i arrived in this place."

Daniel offered him a sad, ironic smile. "You may yet, friend."

Right then another body tumbled over the small wall, this time a mortally-wounded Jaffa, scorched and blistered across most of his body by his own army's weapons. He rolled onto his back with a full-body spasm and lay staring at the sky in abject terror. Before Daniel could even react his body went slack, and his eyes turned glassy as life left him in one last, desperate gasp.

The Jaffa's symbiote ripped itself free of the dead man's abdomen, shrieking as it found itself without a host.

Daniel stared at the small immature Goa'uld, knowing full well what was about to happen. In a vague way he understood he had been granted the power to change it; he could stop the symbiote from entering Tau, could stop the complicated chain of events that would lead to his friend's eventual loss of herself. The gravity of it all held him still, even as the small creature shot across the clearing to seek the nearest unoccupied living body.

He remained still as it buried itself in the back of Tau's neck.

The warrior arched his back and gasped at the invasion. His eyes flared a milky white and he collapsed as the two joined beings fell dormant, focused on treating the host.

Daniel sat heavily beside the fallen warrior and buried his face in dirty, bloodstained hands.

Janet cocked her head, studying the incoming wave of energy, extending the infant Sight she was finally beginning to understand. Somehow it slowed, pulsing at her in quantum bursts, obvious patterns that seemed trivial to comprehend. Without thinking she reached out into the darkness herself, summoned her own answering energies, and cast them back, the conflicting interference effectively dissolving both bursts in a sputtering fizzle of light.

Anubis stopped pacing, obviously taken aback by the display.

A frustrated roar, and two more bolts swarmed toward Janet, both just as easily neutralized. Thus the battle continued for an untold stretch of time, energy against energy, sworn destroyer against sworn healer. The quantum fissures multiplied around them though neither combatant noticed as reality grew more and more brittle with each volley.

The Jaffa line was taken utterly by surprise as the colonel's P-90 tore through their leading ranks. These Jaffa of the past still believed the Taur'i to be little more than whispered myth, and so were wholly unprepared for the difference in weaponry and fighting style. The Goa'uld at the head of the line roared as his soldiers fell one by one under the onslaught.

"Jaffa! We must take the temple!" he cried, just as a hail of gunfire blasted through his armor, rendering wounds too massive for any symbiote to repair.

"Give up, Taur'i. You have already lost," the half-ascended Goa'uld snarled.

"No," Janet countered. Her voice sounded low and clear throughout the darkness.

Suddenly Anubis jerked, his entire body was thrown backward as if a bullet had just slammed into his shoulder. If he'd still had a face, he would have looked shocked, peering down into the determined expression of the small woman who wielded such power.

The being reared, ready to attack her again. Janet stood before him, still, calm and defiant.

In the coalescing mixture of timelines somewhere without, the former ruler of all system lords now posing as a minor Goa'uld lieutenant perished, slain by the unexpected cover fire from a Taur'i weapon, a hundred yards shy of the temple he sought so desperately.

Within, removed from time, Anubis shrieked once as the temporal paradox claimed him, ripping him from his five hundred year dominion over the Ancients' Point of Departure.

O'Neill was almost out of ammo, and Teal'c's staff weapon was likewise nearly drained of energy. They stood back to back on the small rise outside the ruins, taking down anything Goa'uld that was in range, struggling to prolong the battle.

Finally the colonel's P-90 rattled to a sickening crunch, the last of its ammunition spent. He panted a bit as the adrenaline of the fight wore down and resignation settled in. Behind him, Teal'c similarly paused. "Not looking so good," O'Neill muttered.

"No, it is not," the Jaffa answered.

"I was hoping we could buy the Doc time to do whatever it was she needed to do."

The Jaffa planted one end of his staff in the dirt, and drew himself to his full height. "I do not believe our efforts were in vain, O'Neill."

The colonel blinked, as with Teal'c declaration the entire battle around them had ceased. No -- it had simply disappeared. The sudden eerie silence was shockingly calm. "What the hell?" He spun around, then caught sight of what the Jaffa was already watching.

From far off in the distance, forms spun of light rolled up from the ground, extricating themselves from the very soil of the battlefield. One by one they resolved into spidery tendrils of energy and drifted upward into the sun. In a wave, the phenomenon swelled around them, until the colonel was ducking the fluttering forms as they lifted past him. One stray wisp swung idly through his leg and left him shivering from the oddly ethereal contact.

Finally the beings disappeared, absorbed by the far greater light above.

O'Neill peered around with an incredulous look. "Whoa."

Janet could feel the oozing evil lose its knotted grip on the very fabric of the universe, and slowly the scattered and fragile bits of reality shuffled back to their original configurations. The release of it left her breathless.

As the last of Anubis' horrified shriek echoed away, she fell to her knees, panting in soul-weary exhaustion. She dragged herself back to Sam's side and pulled the blonde head into her lap, curling into herself with a quiet whimper.

Faint footsteps approached in the shadowed space, which eventually revealed a small man clothed in colorful robes.

She sighed. "Seer."

Valosh Med smiled and dipped his head in a respectful bow. "Seer," he greeted in return. "You have come far, my dear Janet."

"Always figured you were an Ancient."

"I was not," he countered. "I, like you, merely found myself noticing things others could not see. Eventually while exposed to the great energies of the wormhole I came to outgrow the confines of my own mind and I ascended."

"Is that what's happened to me? I've ascended?"

A slow, enigmatic smile. "Not quite yet."

"You were guiding this from the outset, weren't you? This was all pre-ordained," she realized.

"Not exactly. Merely... anticipated. You stepped onto this path long ago, many of us merely worked to ensure you would find its end." He folded his hands before him with a smile. "And here you are. Quite literally, you have saved the universe. Not bad for a little girl who once couldn't swing a baseball bat."

She cast a look down at her lover, still slumped unconscious in her lap. "But what about Sam?"

"The universe, my dear -- you would weigh untold billions of souls against but one?"


The Seer grinned, expecting no other answer. "Well, your Samantha would likely compare the function of the human mind to that of a computer. As if it was only the sum of its mechanical components, reacting in predictable ways based on input." He gave the doctor a look of mild reproach. "As if the essence of who we are is merely the electrical imprint of what we remember."

"But if she can't remember, how is she supposed to know who she is?" Janet asked.

"As far as you have come, the path still has a few turns left in it," he observed, then settled on his knees before them. "Her memories are but Lost. Now you have the choice to find them, to restore who she once was to who she is."

"I don't understand," she whispered desperately.

The Seer issued a cosmic sigh, and leaned backward with a grand gesture. Suddenly the space Sam occupied split into a brilliant kaleidoscope of of light, which whirled and spun around the doctor. Different images bombarded Janet, impressions of Sam as a girl, as a young pilot, as the dear friend she'd eventually come to love.

"Who is she?" the Seer asked.

Janet shook her head, and could feel tears of frustration burn in her eyes. "I don't know how to answer that."

"Because you do not yet know yourself."

At that, Janet felt herself split wide open, as if her consciousness was pulled from the small space it occupied in her head and blown up to occupy a large chunk of the space around her.

It was chaos, and horribly exposing, and her mind whirled in it.

"What is the essence of who you are?" a voice said. It could have been the Seer, it could have been Anteaus, it could have been herself. "Are you only the sum of what you remember?"

Janet spun in nauseating circles within herself for tiny, horrible eternities before finding a center: Cassie. Her daughter was there, on the edges, holding steadily by to anchor her thoughts. Focused on the girl, Janet slowly worked to expand the view, feeling as much as seeing Sam come into focus over the teen's shoulder, her own mother off in the distance, SG-1, General Hammond, her distant friends and relatives. It was her love of these people that gave her meaning, and suddenly she could See that more clearly than she had ever perceived anything.

"Here," she said. "I am here."

She felt the proud smile in the voice's confirmation. "You Are."

Thus centered, Janet reached out with herself, mingling in the space where Sam's fractured essence drifted. The doctor could see pieces of her lover described in the ether around her, suffusing her with warmth as they danced together.

There was Sam the capable but reluctant warrior, embodied by the Ancient known as Tau. There was Sam the selfless defender of her species, depicted as Jolinar. Then there were aspects solely Sam's, her love, her loyalty, her intelligence and humor.

"Just as you contain multitudes, she is all of these and more. But what is her essence?" the voice asked.

She considered that for a moment. Her answer was obvious, profound in its simplicity. "She is the one that I love."

With that, the shards of Sam's spirit reassembled themselves just as reality had moments or hours or years before, guided by Janet's careful heart. Once complete, the play of light and spirit around them accelerated. Janet took it all in with wonder, reaching up with a hand she was no longer sure actually possessed to trail it through the beautiful, ghostly impressions, unable to contain the laugh of pure joy the contact inspired.

"What is this?" she wondered aloud.

The answer surrounded them both, wove between them, and bound them together.

"This... is how souls mate."

It was a while before awareness returned. Janet blinked her eyes open and discovered that she was flat on her back in this odd dark space that did not technically exist within the known universe.

Sam was seated next to her, holding her hand and smiling down with an expression of peaceful devotion. She looked different, and it took Janet a moment to place why. The stress of losing her memory had left a constant weight on the blonde's shoulders, a perpetually haunted look around her eyes. Now she appeared perfectly healthy and utterly untroubled for the first time in many long weeks.

Janet suddenly had to force air into her lungs. "Sam?"

Her lover did not answer immediately, but smiled and raised a trembling hand to the doctor's face, and trailed light fingertips across a cheekbone, then down her jaw. "Hi," she whispered.

The doctor sat up slowly, mesmerized by the sparkle in Sam's eyes. She smiled. "Hi."

Their arms twined around each other in an instant, a fierce embrace that knocked the air from their lungs. "God, Sam," Janet whispered, then she pushed her lover back to arm's length to appraise her with a doctor's eye. "What do you remember?"

Sam made a noise halfway between a laugh and a sob. "Everything," she replied, then pressed her head to her lover's, overcome with relief and reunion.

A politely cleared throat tore their attention away from each other. "You two are feeling better, then?" Valosh Med inquired.

Janet let out a small laugh as tears welled and escaped her eyes. "Yes."

"Good. Because as much as I personally adore you both, you cannot stay here much longer."

"Where is 'here,' exactly?" Sam asked. She pushed herself upright and offered Janet a hand up as well.

"The Point of Departure," the Seer answered with a merry twinkle. "This is the place where the race you call the Ancients first learned to untie themselves from reality as you generally think of it. Here they learned to manipulate quantum energy, and its effects throughout the various dimensions of the universe. Here they learned to ascend."

"Why didn't Anubis ascend?" Janet asked. She still had her hand firmly tangled with Sam's, and felt her lover's fingers tighten on hers reassuringly.

"He nearly did. Instead he rested here, like an impurity in a lens, splitting apart the very energies that hold the universe together. What you saw in Kahshak was merely the beginning." He stepped closer to Janet and considered her seriously. "You know, your Samantha here has some very interesting ideas about the nature of time," he said to the doctor, completely ignoring the subject of his lecture at her side. "Chief among them that the temporal flow does not - cannot - move in a straight line, but rather bends and twists inward upon itself in infinite loops. Occasionally different times almost brush together, to the extent that humans can even perceive the disruption."

"Deja vu," Janet said.

"Exactly. And sometimes, once in a great while, a person comes along with the ability to perceive even more than that," he said, gesturing between the two of them with a knowing look. "Which is why you have been having flashes of Sight, and why Anteaus was able to help you learn to focus that talent." He spread his arms, now gesturing to take in the whole of the dark expanse. "This is a point where time literally crossed over itself, and the distinction between past and present was negligible. The walls of reality were weak enough to bleed timelines together, and allow you and your companions the chance to save our people. Without your stalwart efforts, Anubis would never have lost his grip on this place, and your companions would not have been able to stop his army's advance. Had he not been destroyed, all of reality would have eventually split apart into meaningless chaos, just like Kahshak," the Seer concluded.

"He wanted revenge," the brunette said. "He wanted to conquer the system lords."

"Which he could have done had his minion succeeded in revealing the world you call New Heliopolis, and the evidence of Tau's plan," Valosh Med confirmed.

"Isten would have taken the evidence to the system lords, and the Asgard treaty would have been nullified," Janet said.

"Leaving the Asgard vulnerable to all out war with the system lords, throwing the galaxy in chaos..." Sam added.

He took it a step further back. "And creating a vacuum of power perfect for a half-ascended Goa'uld to re-enter reality and destroy us all. Fortunately he did not anticipate that his very actions would ultimately lead to his own doom."

The circularity of it all made Janet's head ache. She rubbed her nose a bit. "So now what?"

"Well, the rebellion of Tau, Oma and their followers leaves us in uncharted waters," the Seer said with a shrug. "The Others did not approve of interfering with the natural course of the galaxy in this fashion. In another time we may have been punished, but ultimately, it has saved us all." He cocked his head with a reflective look. "There are some changes in store for us. For all of us."

When no further explanation was forthcoming, Janet and Sam shared an incredulous look. "What, that's it?" the brunette asked.

Valosh Med blinked at her in apparent disbelief. "'That's it?'" he sputtered. "Divert the fundamental course of the universe so that she finds her soulmate, give her the means to defeat the worst enemy her galaxy has yet seen, help her ascend to a higher plane of existence, and allow her to mend the very fabric of space and time, and she asks if that's 'it?!'"

He huffed for a moment further, then the two Seers grinned at each other.

"Yes. That's 'it,'" he conceded finally. "You can go home now and be outrageously shmoopy with your girlfriend here."

"Thank you," Janet answered. The words were wholly inadequate to convey her gratitude for the gift she'd been given, but she knew he'd understand.

"You are welcome, my friend," he said with a gentle smile. "I will miss you both."

"One last question," Sam said suddenly.

The Seer chuckled. "Naturally. Ask."

"Why us?"

He looked them over then, considering the many ways they were suited both to each other and to the greater purpose of the universe. Light and dark, warrior and healer, faith and logic. "Because you are the guardians of what is to come," he responded, for once without prevarication.

Realization forced Janet's stomach into a barrel roll, and all color drained from her face. "Cassie."

"Who better to share the secrets of the universe with than the mothers of the hok'taur?"

The doctor sighed, as the last few years of her life finally dropped into place on the cosmic timeline. "We're going to keep finding out that what we thought was just coincidence really wasn't, aren't we?"

He did not answer, but instead raised his hand to her cheek and gave them both one last fond, paternal look, then dissolved into the light form his people preferred. The Seer rose and drifted away, borne upon the inconceivable currents of consciousness and energy.

"Jack! Jack!" Daniel's voice yelled, as the archeologist bounded out of the ruins toward his teammates.

"Daniel," the colonel answered, with an exhausted nod. He noted the younger man's bloody hands and clothes. "You all right?"

"Fine." The younger man gestured around to the now empty battlefield. "Did you see that?!"

"Yup. Pretty cool."

Daniel didn't even bother with his typical impatience. "Don't you get it? What just happened here?"

O'Neill's eyebrows shot up, and he shared a look with Teal'c. "Apparently not."

"We just 'set The Light Aflame,' Jack. We fulfilled the prophecy."

"I thought we did that once already."

"Indeed," Teal'c rumbled.

The archeologist shook his head. "We did, but we just did it again -- which meant the true meaning of the prophecy hadn't been fulfilled yet."

"So. Two prophecies for the price of one?" Now that the worst of it all appeared to be over, the colonel allowed himself the luxury of a small smirk.

Daniel snorted out a faint disbelieving laugh, and shook his head at his friend. After a moment his face fell, and he tucked his hands into his pockets. "They haven't come back."

O'Neill had to swallow hard past the sudden tightness in his throat, and saw Teal'c's jaw clench. "Yeah. Well, don't give up on them just yet."

Together the three men strode in tired silence back to their ship.

He'd never admit as much, but Jack O'Neill was worried. In an effort to distract himself he'd tried pacing around the cargo bay, pacing up and down the long corridors of the ship, and finally settled on hovering about the bridge and annoying Anise as much as humanly possible. Her exasperation as he bounced his small rubber ball off the control panel next to her was almost entertaining enough to distract him from the fact that two of his team were still missing.

The battle had disappeared almost a day before. They'd done a brief survey of the area, trying to find traces of the missing women, but came up empty. They'd either winked out of existence with the warriors that had bled into their own time, or they'd been vaporized by one of the dozens of energy grenades that had exploded in the immediate area.

Either way, O'Neill wasn't convinced they wouldn't somehow find their way back.

He tossed his ball at the control panel again, and started a bit when a small alert sounded. "Oops. Did I do that?"

Anise ignored him as she set to work analyzing the ship's sensor readouts. "I am detecting a massive energy surge, eight kilometers north."

"The ruins?" the colonel asked.

The Tok'ra scientist paused, read over the sensor information once more, then peered at him over her shoulder. "It appears the ruins have been destroyed, Colonel. But I am detecting two lifesigns."

He grinned and clapped his hand into her back, almost knocking the scientist over before charging off the bridge to gather the rest of his team.

The two women were walking side by side off in the distance, distinguishable only by their height difference.

"What do you think happened to them?" Daniel murmured.

"If our own experience in recent days is any indication, it was undoubtedly extraordinary," Teal'c replied.

O'Neill only grunted in agreement and stepped up his pace a little, anxious find out for himself. As the distance between them dwindled, he could see the two women were in absolutely no hurry, just strolling along without a care in this inside-out godforsaken world. He slowed, then stopped, and swore he heard Carter laughing.

"Guess they're okay," the archeologist said with a blink.

"Majors," the colonel called once they were within earshot. "Report."

Janet smiled at him. "Everything's fine with us, sir. Are you all right?"

"Swell," he answered, and gave a mildly bewildered shrug. "Carter," he greeted. "You're looking better."

"I'm feeling better, sir. Thank you." She beamed at him, that smile that had always made his heart skip a beat.

He turned back to the doctor. "So? What happened to you two?" The two women looked at each other, and he watched them appear to have an entire conversation without uttering a syllable. "Doc?"

"We saved the universe, sir," the doctor answered with a shrug.

"She saved the universe," Sam corrected. "For the second time. We also met up with Valosh Med."

"Yeah? What'd he have to say?" O'Neill asked. He wasn't sure if he should be worried by their apparent lack of care, or just damn relieved.

Sam and Janet looked at each other again, then gave their CO identical smiles. "Meaning of life kinda stuff, sir," the doctor said.

With that, they strode past the three men, on their way back to the ship and from there, finally back home.

Things were returning to normal, Jack O'Neill considered with a smile as he ambled down the bland hallways of the SGC. They'd been home for a few weeks, Carter was by all indications healthier than ever, Alain's people were restored to their normal good health, the Tok'ra were doing further analyses of the protein that might render the Goa'uld dominion over the galaxy inert, and The Simpsons was out of reruns again. Everything was damn near perfect. He ducked into a darkened office with a happy whistle. "Carter. O'Malley's tonight."

She looked up from her notes to see her CO's head poked into the doorway of her lab. "Yes, sir."

"Bring Fraiser."

An involuntary grin. "Yes, sir."

He rolled his eyes. "Like there was any question of that, right?"

That evening they sat around their favorite pub, downing good beer and consuming volumes of food that would likely have sent most mere mortals into a coma. The colonel surveyed his friends with a quick glance, noting the now-familiar face of Janet Fraiser included amongst The Team.

Since their return O'Neill had watched the two women wrangle their relationship into an easy, amiable working rapport on-duty, which gave way to a blindingly intense off-duty companionship that sparked more than a bit of jealousy, and inspired more than a few fevered fantasies.

Whatever had happened to them on the Ancient homeworld had apparently cemented their already enviable bond; they were so in synch now it was a little spooky. Though the change was noticed and remarked upon by other SGC personnel they remained professional enough in public that they managed to avoid the more tasteless base rumors.

It also helped that if anyone so much as breathed a word of gossip, Teal'c tended to show up and glare at the offender until he or she recanted.

O'Neill had always had a somewhat grudging respect for the diminutive doctor, had always enjoyed sharpening his smartass tendencies against her dry wit, but he never would have called her a "friend," per se. Thus it was still a bit awkward having Carter's girlfriend along for what he traditionally considered team bonding events.

But hell, she'd single-handedly saved the entire universe (twice, to hear Carter tell it), which meant she'd fulfilled the primary requisite for being part of SG-1, right?

He sighed and took a pull from his beer. "Anybody catch the game Monday night?" he muttered.

Heads shook in the negative all around the table, except for Janet's, which was shaking in consternation. "Why do they bother having a replay rule if they're going to butcher it like that?" she groused.

The colonel paused, his bottle poised in mid-air, as one eyebrow edged upward in surprise.

"The receiver had possession, he got both feet inbounds - twice - and they still ruled it an incomplete pass," she continued, exasperated.

O'Neill's face split in a slow smile. His mind's eye conjured a wildly amusing image of the small woman unleashing the spitfire energy he knew she normally kept tucked away, yelling obscenities at blind referees and cursing the opposition's ancestry in vibrant, colorful terms. It was too good to pass up. "Doc. You, me, next Broncos' game." Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Carter's face drain of color, and she shook her head in a tiny, horrified way that he supposed was meant to dissuade him. His grin only widened.

"You're on, Colonel," Janet answered with a slightly manic look. Beside her Sam slumped, and she muttered a soft imprecation. The doctor elbowed her in the side. "Oh, stop it."

Hours later Sam wandered into Janet's bedroom and saw her lover was standing in the window, watching the moon traverse overhead. The silvery light trickled through her hair and lent her skin a pearlescent glow. It reminded Sam of when they'd been half-ascended together, when their very souls had touched and Janet had given her back the essence of herself. She couldn't suppress a shiver at the thought.

She stepped up behind the brunette and rubbed the pad of her thumb on the sensitive spot at the base of Janet's neck, smiling when the smaller woman arched closer to the gentle touch. "Hey."

"Hey," Janet murmured back. "Listen, I was just humoring the Colonel, I don't really need to go to a game with him..."

"Actually, I think you should," Sam countered. "He's trying to fit you into the team, and wants to get to know you better." The brunette turned to give her a dubious look. "No, really. It'll be good." She bent and placed a fond kiss on a dark brow. "Just try not to get thrown out of the stadium this time."

Janet loosed an indignant snort, just like Sam knew she would. "You know that was not my fault."

"Mmhmm. Whatever you say, dear." She dodged a playful swat and laughed. On impulse she reached out to draw Janet into a hug, then sighed as their bodies settled warmly against each other. "Hey, what do you think about me moving in here fulltime?"

Janet cocked her head. "I'd love it, you know that. Are you sure that's a good idea?"

The blonde shrugged. "Valosh Med hinted about Cassie... that much is in our reports. Might just be logical for her two primary caregivers to combine forces."

A small nod. "Okay, we'll take it to Hammond, tell him we're planning to be roommates."

"Roommates," Sam confirmed, with a sad smile. "Someday, I swear to you, I'm going to stand on top of Cheyenne mountain and tell everyone within earshot what you really are to me."

"Someday," the doctor vowed in return. She pulled away just enough to look up into Sam's eyes.

Sam leaned forward and pressed her forehead to Janet's, drawing forth with little effort the strength of devotion between them, as it flared to life and tickled their senses. She bent to press her lips to her lover's, then soon found herself pushed gently in the direction of the bed, clothes shed along the way.

They had seen what humans weren't supposed to see, known things beyond most human comprehension, and upon their return to normal space it was mostly forgotten. But at moments like this, with skin pressed against skin, sometimes they could remember what it was like to truly See one another. It brought tears to Sam's eyes each and every time.

"I love you," she whispered.

"So much," Janet answered.

With that the universe collapsed inward until Sam realized she could no longer differentiate her lover from the dancing moonlight around them.

Continue to the next chapter, Cloak and Dagger.
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