"Dr. Fraiser? There's a phone call for you. A Dr. Gushman..."
Janet's head shot up from where she'd been organizing medical supplies. If SG-1 managed to arrest Amaunet's invasion of Abydos, and possibly retrieve Sha're, they would be desperately needed. It took a moment for the other woman's words to sink in--Dr. Gushman? Why would Gushie be calling her? And at work no less?
"He says it's urgent..." the nurse continued apologetically.
A cold knot of fear tying itself in her intestines, Dr. Fraiser dropped the chart she'd been reading and nodded curtly. "All right. I'll take it in my office."
She was trembling by the time the door closed behind her, openly shaking as she picked up the phone. "Gushie?"
Gushie didn't give her a chance to ask what was wrong. "Dr. Fraiser...you might want to come out here as soon as you can."
Janet sat down hard. "Oh God...what's happened? Is he...?" She didn't finish the sentence because there were too many ways to end it. Home? Dead? Had the Project been shut down?
Or...suddenly she remembered the last call she'd gotten from Al and the knot in her gut tightened even more. Sam had Leaped into a patient at a mental hospital...been administered shock treatment and become lost in a DID-like maze of past Leaps...Al had warned her grimly that if they couldn't figure out how to restore Sam's ego, they might lose contact forever...
"We don't know," Gushie answered apologetically. "Something happened...just as Dr. Beckett Leaped. There was a huge power surge...Ziggy's reading it as a catastrophic collapse of the radium Accelerator ring. She's sealed off both the Accelerator and the Imaging Chamber--"
The Accelerator ring...a catastrophic collapse...sealed the Imaging Chamber...oh God. That was why Gushie was calling her, not Al. Because Al...the one thing, aside from leaving Project Quantum Leap, that had kept her sane through all of this...was sealed inside the Imaging Chamber.
Oh God, no...she couldn't lose them both. If there was any mercy, any justice left in the world...somehow one or both men had to live.
Janet ruthlessly silenced the voice in the back of her mind that pointed out that even if Al had survived the collapse...the radiation would probably kill him. And she wouldn't be able to do anything, because once the Imaging Chamber was sealed...
"We're trying to figure out what happened, but so far..." the little programmer trailed off lamely.
...you're having about as much luck as you did retrieving Sam after the first Leap, she added silently. "I'll be there as fast as I can."
Closing her eyes, she dropped her head into her hands, then picked up the phone again to call Margaret Horan, mother of one of Cassie's school friends. Hopefully they would be willing to give her a place to stay and a ride to school for a few days, and Cassie would be delighted to get to sleep over at Dierdre's house.
SG-1 came through the 'Gate at a limping run; first Sam and Jack, supporting an unsteady, obviously wounded Daniel between them, then Teal'c, carrying...
Hammond couldn't quite hide the look of dismay that crossed his face at the sight of the limp, lifeless form in the Jaffa's arms. It was Sha're...or Amaunet rather, based on the attire. And he didn't have to be a doctor to know that she was dead.
Dead...like he'd just been informed that Dr. Fraiser's husband might be. It hadn't even been a day since he'd granted her an emergency leave to return to New Mexico, and already another search had ended badly. Fate, he decided with a sigh as he ordered a medical team to the Gate Room and hurried down himself, had a cruel sense of humor.
"I've sent for a medical team...what the hell happened?" he demanded, not quite successfully masking his irritation.
Three of the four members of SG-1 looked at each other hesitantly. Dr. Jackson's eyes remained numbly fixed on the floor. He carefully avoided looking at Teal'c...or the body in Teal'c's arms that had once been his wife.
Jack finally spoke. "I take full responsibility, Sir--"
To Hammond's surprise, Teal'c interrupted him. "It is not your fault, O'Neill. It is mine." Reluctantly handing over Sha're to the medics who arrived, he lifted his chin and looked the General straight in the eyes as if he were expecting a court martial. "Amaunet was attempting to kill DanielJackson with a ribbon device. I saw no choice but to fire upon her."
The General's heart sank. Teal'c had killed Amaunet? No wonder Dr. Jackson couldn't bring himself to look at the Jaffa, even if there had been no other choice.
A brief scuffle distracted him for a moment from the reassurance he'd been about to offer, that Teal'c had done the right thing. Daniel was fighting with the doctors and nurses who were trying to get him onto a gurney. "Please...I have to be with her."
Jack raised an eyebrow at Hammond. "Where's Fraiser?"
The commander of the SGC sighed, suddenly feeling very tired. "New Mexico. Possibly for her husband's funeral."
He heard Major Carter murmur a soft, "Oh God..." as he walked away.
No one met her at the airport; she'd firmly instructed them all not to. She wanted every available hand and mind to focus on what had happened to Sam...she could find her way to the Project without help, and she'd kept her ID current just in case this day ever came. Until she knew with absolute certainty that Sam was dead...she would always be part of Project Quantum Leap, no matter how far away from it she was.
The surface guards waved her through with a sympathetic smile--even though she'd been gone for two years, most of them still recognized her, and even if they didn't know what was going on below them...they knew what it meant that she was here.
Janet closed her eyes as the elevator descended into the Earth under the New Mexico desert, fighting dizziness, hope and deja vu all at once. She'd jokingly told Al once that black projects seemed to be unusually fond of operating miles underground, but fortunately for her PQL had cured any claustrophobia she might've otherwise experienced at her new assignment.
The corridor she finally emerged into, though, was silver-blue and gleaming with light, not gunmetal gray, which dispelled the momentary flash of hope that she'd just imagined the phone call, the journey, and she was really still at the SGC. That Sam was still missing...but she knew where he was, knew that Al was still in contact with him, and knew he was still alive.
This new waking nightmare gave her no such reassurances.
She passed the Waiting Room--also sealed until they knew what had happened--and fought a lump in her throat. Whatever happened, at least she'd never have to go into that room again and see a stranger looking back at her through her husband's eyes. That had been the hardest part, and a very big reason why she'd left.
The sound of heels clicking rapidly on the hard floor arrested her attention when she'd almost reached the control room, and a moment later she was almost bowled over by Tina Martinez-O'Farrell, Al's on-and-off girlfriend. "Janet!" she exclaimed eagerly in that bubbly, empty-headed soprano voice that led so many to underestimate how brilliant the woman actually was. "Sweetie, you're just in time! We got a letter--they're all right!"
They're all right--Janet's mind immediately locked on those precious three words, hope surging through her like electricity. They were alive! It took a moment for the rest of Tina's statement to register.
"What do you mean, a letter?" she asked, confused. "How--?"
The taller woman grabbed her hand and pulled her the last few feet to the Control Room, bursting in as soon as the door slid open to let them. Gushie was waiting for them, his own face so alive with excitement that Janet just held her breath and gave in to the hug he pulled her into. When Gushie released her enough to let her inhale without suffering his halitosis, she took a deep breath and accepted the envelope he was holding out to her with an eager grin.
It only took her an instant to recognize the significance of the familiar scribble and the yellowed paper. "This is Al's handwriting!"
The little programmer nodded eagerly. "The power surge we experienced? Apparently there was a lightning strike just as Dr. Beckett was receiving a second shock treatment to restore his ego. The electrical overload hyperaccelerated the Leap already in progress, causing him and Admiral Calavicci to Leap together...Dr. Fraiser...Sam is in the Imaging Chamber, and this letter contains the back-door code to reopen it in case it's sealed in error."
For a split second, Janet felt almost certain she was going to faint or have a heart attack. In a few short minutes, she'd gone from terrified to cautiously hopeful to ecstatic--Sam was in the Imaging Chamber! He was home!
Shaking with anticipation, she shoved the letter back into Gushie's hands. "Then what the hell are you waiting for??"
"You," he answered with a dizzy grin before hurrying back to the multicolored control console and beginning to enter the code. "I thought you'd want to be here."
Janet felt a sudden surge of gratitude for the friends she'd left behind, and blinked back tears as she nodded. She did want to be here--she wanted to be the first thing Sam saw when he walked through that door...the first thing he remembered.
The few seconds it took to input the code felt like an eternity, but finally the door opened. And Sam didn't walk out...he ran. Five steps down the ramp...then he suddenly paused and turned back, a heartsick look in his eyes for the moment before the door closed.
"Sam..." The word slipped out before she could help it. Oh God...it was him. It was really him, not just a stranger wearing his face.
Sam turned back to her, and the brilliant green eyes she'd loved for almost fifteen years lit up with recognition. Her name, when he spoke it, sounded like a prayer and a sob and plea all at once: "Janet..."
That was all the encouragement she needed--dignity and military protocol went out the window as she threw herself into his arms. And even after four years apart...she still fit there perfectly. Sam kissed her hair, her forehead, her cheek, then finally let go enough to wrap her in a real kiss, a kiss filled with four years of separation, longing and regret. A kiss she eagerly returned.
His hands started to roam too, which sent a whole different kind of thrill through her, even though it was a little uncharacteristic. Sam had never been fond of overly public displays of affection--a kiss, yes, but he'd never groped her in public. That was more like something Al would do.
But after all, they'd been separated for four years...they had a right to show a little lack of self-control.
When they finally came up for air, both were breathing heavily. Sam took Janet's face between his hands and just stared into her eyes, making her melt like no other man had ever been able to, only him. "How could I have forgotten you?" he whispered.
She hugged him fiercely. "That's not important anymore. You're home. We're together now...everything else is in the past."
Okay, so that wasn't the whole truth. It was in the past, in more ways than one, but the other women had still hurt her, swiss-cheesed memory or no. Still...she'd be damned if she was going to open that can of worms when she'd just gotten him back. They had the rest of their lives to deal with indiscretions that would never have happened if he'd known she was waiting for him.
"You remember your stars?"
They were lying wrapped in a blanket on the flat roof of the house that had once been their home. It was mostly empty now, Janet having taken all but the bare bones and Sam's possessions with her to Colorado. But that--like Sam's Leaping--was a subject they had tacitly agreed to ignore for the time being.
Janet propped herself up on one elbow, letting the blanket slide down her back a little. Her breasts were exposed, but she didn't care. Sam was her husband, and no one else could see them out here in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Even the currently quiescent wrist-links to Ziggy that they both wore were for auditory communication only.
"I had a good teacher," she smiled softly. "Any star in particular?"
Sam's hand ghosted along her vertebrae, making her shiver with pleasure. "Magrez."
Janet turned over, staring up at the sky even as she snuggled once again into his chest. Her eyes were drawn immediately to the Big Dipper. "Magrez...it's part of the Big Dipper. Ursa Major. The faintest one in the bowl."
What she didn't add was that she knew the natives' name for at least one planet that circled it. That she knew people who had walked on that world, seen that star as a sun in a blue sky. Someday she would tell him...maybe the same time that she would be able to tell her friends at the SGC that she'd known time travel with possible long before SG-1 had gotten sent back to 1969.
When he smiled, she traced the pattern of the constellation on his chest. "What brought that on?"
He sighed. "It's 54 light years from Earth. That little sparkle was born in 1945."
Al. He was thinking about Al.
Janet felt a twinge of guilt--almost from the moment she'd found out that Sam was home, Al had flown almost completely out of her mind. Of all the sacrifices he'd made for Sam...now he'd taken his friend's place as fate's reluctant instrument for "fixing" history. And not by choice, although knowing Al, if he could have made that choice, he very well might have.
"He'll be fine," she promised quietly. "If some higher power out there really is guiding your Leaps...it wouldn't have sent him there if he couldn't do what was needed of him."
"Yeah maybe," Sam agreed, but he didn't sound convinced. "Observing isn't the same as Leaping though. This may be more than Al can handle."
Janet shook her head, a tiny smile touching her lips. "More than watching his best friend risk his life every day? More than holding this Project together by sheer force of will so it would still be here when you came home?"
Not just the Project either...he'd held her together by sheer force of will, too. So that she would be here when Sam came home, like Beth hadn't been for him. Sending a grateful thought in the Admiral's direction, she kissed her husband on the collarbone. "Sam...you know I love you, but there isn't much that Al can't handle."
He laughed. "Okay, okay, you're right. God, I wish he was here..."
"I know," Janet agreed. "I do too."
"...so I could kick his butt."
That made her sit up and stare at him. "What?"
"How could he not tell me about you after all these years?" he demanded. "The woman I love--the woman I married."
Janet sighed. For the first time since they'd decided to come up on the roof, she shivered in the suddenly cold desert night. "Sam...by the time we even realized that Leaping had affected your memory, you were half in love with Peg Stratton. And if you hadn't been, she would never have believed you were her husband. Believe me, Verbena and I had a long, long talk about it...and we finally decided that you couldn't act freely if you knew you were married."
Sam sobered. "Everything that's happened the last four years is fast becoming a blur...it's kind of like a reverse swiss cheese effect. I don't remember..." He sat up too, taking her shoulders in his hands and meeting her eyes evenly. "Was there anything that I did that hurt you?"
She couldn't lie to him. As much as she wanted to keep this reunion untainted by the past, at least until she'd held him for one night, the reason he'd fallen in love with her in the first place was because she was honest with him. It would be wrong to betray that.
"Yes," she admitted in a voice barely above a whisper.
Sam fell onto the blanket, his face stricken.
"But it hurt the way it would if I'd loved you all these years and you never saw me at all..." she explained, lowering herself to him and cupping his strong jaw in one hand. "I never felt betrayed, Sam. Never."
When their lips met, Sam's arms came around her back again, pulling her close to him so it would've been impossible not to feel his arousal. The kiss deepened, and Sam rolled them both over, pressing her into the blanket so she could feel almost every thread. Janet's own excitement was climbing--they'd been apart for so long, and even before he Leaped she'd never been able to get enough of him. The separation had only enhanced what was already there.
"Dr Beckett..." Janet almost screamed as Ziggy's melodious voice broke the silence; the computer had the worst timing she'd ever seen! "Dr Beckett..."
Sam ignored her, instead continuing to test how long he could kiss his wife without needing to breathe.
"Dr Beckett." Now Ziggy sounded annoyed.
He groaned, rolling away and pressing a button to activate the wrist-link. "Yeah?"
"Sorry to interrupt your first night of matrimonial bliss in four years, but I thought you might like to know that I can now project with 81% accuracy the reason Admiral Calavicci leaped into Crown Point, Indiana." Despite her words, the computer didn't sound a bit apologetic. In fact, she sounded almost smug.
Janet grimaced wryly. Part of her had always suspected that Ziggy was a little jealous of anyone who took her father's attention away from her--sort of the AI equivalent of an Electra complex. She wondered briefly what Sam Carter would make of that.
Her husband was waiting impatiently for the computer to continue. When she didn't, he finally asked, "Well?"
"It appears that Captain Tom Jarrett and Suzanne Elsinga committed suicide on June 15, 1945," Ziggy replied glibly, as if she hadn't just pronounced a death sentence.
By the time she'd finished the sentence, Janet was already gathering up the clothes that had gotten scattered across the roof. She handed Sam his pants as he turned to her, before he had a chance to ask for them.
Matrimonial bliss would have to wait--both of them owed Al far too much to take chances with his life.
Janet recognized the look in Sam's eyes the minute he came running out of the Imaging Chamber, a blend of desperation and determination that she'd last seen when he'd told her he would find a way to stop the Committee from cutting funding to the Project. Then he Leaped, and she'd lost him for four years. And this time there was more than the Project at stake...Al's life was on the line.
When he hollered for Tina to get him a Fermisuit and started to strip, her heart sank. "You're going to try to save him, aren't you?"
Sam stopped and turned to her, his hands coming to rest on her shoulders. "I have to try. My first Leap was random, targetless. But since then, I think my subconscious has been working on the problem, because I now know how to hit the bullseye."
But do you know how to bring yourself home? "You can't Leap outside your own lifetime," she reminded him.
He shook his head, accepting the suit from Tina and beginning to pull it on. "When we simo-leaped, some of our neurons and mesons obviously merged. Part of me is Al."
If her life hadn't been unraveling in front of her eyes all over again, Janet probably would have laughed. She'd attributed Sam's slightly-healthier-than-usual sexual appetite exclusively to their separation, but she should have known better. It was one more thing she owed Al...
But damn it, why did Sam have to be the price of repaying that debt?
All around them, Ziggy's voice continued calmly counting down the minutes until Al would die if someone didn't intervene. Until his life ended...or hers did.
But no...she'd survived losing Sam once. She would survive again. She would go back to Colorado, back to the life she'd established there, and just keep hoping that he would find a way home for good. And if that failed...well, she didn't think even Al would blame her for moving on.
Sam was watching her, his face twisted in an agony of indecision while he waited for her blessing.
Janet granted it by standing on tiptoe to kiss him again. When he'd left before, he hadn't told her what he was planning to do, so she hadn't had the chance to say goodbye. She wasn't going to make the mistake of not taking it now. "Just come home to me. Whatever you have to do to find a way..."
He embraced her fiercely. "I've updated the Retrieval Program. If it still doesn't work..."
"Just find a way," she repeated. "No matter how long it takes."
Sam nodded. "I will. I swear to God, I'll be back someday."
Janet echoed his nod, then forced herself to pull away while she still could. "Then go. And tell Al he owes me one."
"I love you," he whispered, head bowed close to hers. "Don't ever doubt that."
"I love you too." She touched his lips with her finger, clinging to every memory she had of the smell, taste, and feel of him. "So don't be gone long, okay?"
With one last smile, her husband turned and disappeared into the Accelerator.
It took three rings before Samantha Carter finally picked up her phone, the breathlessness in her voice suggesting that she hadn't been in the office on the first ring. "Daniel?"
"Not last time I checked," Janet replied wryly, appreciating the irony of her own words far more than Sam ever could. Jack, Daniel and Teal'c might be able to, but Sam...
For a brief moment, she had the insane notion of trying to find a way to get her husband, the Visitor, and Machello's machine into the same room, but discarded it. It wouldn't have worked anyway--Sam's body and soul were still his, no matter when or where he was, he just assumed the aura of whoever's life he was borrowing.
"Janet?" Carter sounded surprised, then sympathetic. "Sorry, I was expecting...how are you? General Hammond told us you might be going back for...a funeral."
The petite CMO sighed. No, not a funeral...just a revisitation to the worst day of her life. "We thought we might have found him...it turned out we were wrong. But at least he's still alive."
It was a gross oversimplification, but she'd gotten used to dealing in those after two classified assignments.
"I'm sorry," the blonde Major sympathized quietly.
Janet smiled again, half-heartedly. "I guess I just needed to hear a familiar voice that didn't remind me of him." Though if that was the case, why she'd picked the one friend who had the same nickname as her husband, she didn't know. "I hope things are better out there?"
There was a long pause before the other woman answered. "Not really. We lost Sha're."
The doctor grimaced. "Amaunet got away again?"
Carter took a deep, shaky breath. "She was trying to kill Daniel with a ribbon device. Teal'c...Teal'c shot her to save his life."
Just like Sam had Leaped to save Al's life--a faint sound of empathy escaped Janet's lips. "Oh God..."
"Daniel's doing better than we expected," the Major continued in a subdued voice. "General Hammond sent him home for a few days...honestly, I half expected him to pick up and leave, or at the very least give Teal'c a wide berth for a few days..."
"Yeah, I wouldn't blame him," Janet agreed. She'd had a hard time being around Al since he'd returned, but was determined to speak to him before she left, so he would know she didn't blame him for Sam's leaving. Eventually. She was just still a little too raw to face him.
"Well, apparently Sha're managed to get a message to him through the ribbon device before she died, asking him to find her baby and take care of him, so at least he has a reason to go on," the taller woman sighed. "But he's hurting, and there's nothing we can do to help him."
There might be something she could do, though, Janet realized. She'd never talked much about Sam to her friends at the SGC...Major Carter didn't even know that her best friend was married to one of the most brilliant physicists of the age, one of her heroes. But Daniel...Daniel might need someone right now who could really understand what he was going through. Maybe it was time she trusted somebody with the whole story.
"I picked Cassie up at school today," the Major shared then. "She misses you."
The CMO's smile softened, thinking about her adopted daughter. A daughter Sam would never know unless he kept his promise and came home again, because she hadn't gotten around to telling him. "I miss her too. I should be home tomorrow, if all goes well."
"Want me to meet you at the airport?"
"No," Janet shook her head even though she knew her friend couldn't see it. "I left my car in the long term lot...I might stop by Daniel's on the way home, though. Just offer to listen, if he needs it..."
She could almost hear the Major smile, her voice rueful: "He just might let you."
Al looked up guiltily from whatever he'd been reading. He immediately stubbed out his cigar in they ashtray on his desk, as if she'd come to scold him about his smoking.
Janet saw no reason to disappoint. "Those things are going to kill you one day, you know," she chastized lightly with a little smile.
He just snorted. "I'll be surprised if they get a chance." For a long moment, an uncomfortable silence hung between them, then Al cleared his throat. "Look, Janet--"
She knew what he was going to say, and held up a hand to forestall it. "It's not your fault, Al. Sam wouldn't be the man I love if he'd let you die when he could save you. And he would never have forgiven me if I'd tried to make him. Besides, I'm a doctor--even if you weren't one of my best friends, letting you die would be a violation of my Hypocratic Oath."
She tried to smile at her own flat joke, but only half succeeded.
Al grimaced too. "So what now?" he asked quietly.
Janet straightened her shoulders. "I'm going home. I have a daughter who needs me, and friends..."
The Admiral nodded. "Do you want me to tell him anything?"
Her gut seizing for a moment in remembered pain, she slowly shook her head. "If he doesn't remember on his own...no. Leaping is Sam's life now...and the SGC is mine. No reason for both of us to have to know what we lost. Besides..." A small smile touched her lips again. "...he promised he'd find a way home again. That's enough, at least for now."
Al smiled sadly at her. "You're an amazing woman, Janet."
Janet ducked her head, looking away for a long moment before finally turning back to him. "One of my friends...lost his wife the day I came out here. I just wanted you to know...I'm going to tell him everything. I don't know if it will help, but it's worth a try. And considering he's on our flagship team, he has the right level of clearance anyway."
Al inclined his head in understanding, eyeing her shrewdly. "This friend wouldn't happen to be the Dr. Jackson you've told me about, would it?"
The Admiral nodded too. "Then give him my sympathies."
Impulsively, Janet stepped all the way into the office and gave him a tight hug. "Thank you, Al. For being here for Sam...for me. I'll never forget that, never be able to repay it."
"I don't want you to repay me. I just want the same thing you want--Sam home safe, and for good." He returned the hug. "Anything else is just icing on the cake."
She smiled and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Goodbye, Al."
"Take care, Kid."
For a full minute after opening the door, Daniel just blinked at her as if he was trying to process that there was someone on his doorstep, let alone Janet Fraiser. "Janet...hi..." he finally spoke, the words slow and still a little uncertain. "I thought you were--"
"In New Mexico?" Janet smiled sadly. "I was. But things didn't work out quite the way I was hoping they would. Do you mind if I come in?"
The archaeologist shook his head and stepped aside to let her enter. He followed her into the living room, where she stopped to give him a brief, sympathetic hug. "Sam told me about Sha're, Daniel...I'm so sorry. If you need to talk to someone--"
He looked embarrassed, but looked away. "I don't mean to be rude, but--"
"I couldn't possibly understand?" she asked gently, folding her arms over her chest. "You might be surprised, Daniel. What would you say if I told you I lost my husband this week too?"
Daniel really looked at her for the first time since she'd appeared at his door.
Janet's smile turned wry. "I suppose you've heard of Dr. Sam Beckett?"
He nodded, seeming unsure of where she was going with this. "TIME called him the next Einstein...one of the greatest minds of his generation....six doctorates, ranging from quantum physics to medicine to ancient languages to music--Jack would probably say he could make Sam and I combined look like dunces. He dropped out of sight about the time..." An abashed smile crept onto Daniel's face. "About a year before I did."
She nodded too, her voice still soft. "He's my husband. Four years ago, when he 'dropped out of sight,' he was taken from me by circumstances beyond our control. Two days ago, I saw him again for the first time since he disappeared...and barring a miracle, probably the last time too."
The archaeologist's eyes met hers with the recognition of one kindred spirit for another. "You're right..." he admitted quietly. "I guess you do understand."
Another empathetic smile passed between the two, then Daniel made a motion towards the couch. "Please...sit down."