It seemed like Samantha Carter was finally getting into the swing of things.
After almost six months in this new present, six months of stewing over the injustice of it all and living off government hush money, things were finally starting to fall into place. She had a job as a museum tour guide—as close as the government had determined she was allowed to get to working in the sciences—a few casual acquaintances from work and, most importantly of all, a motorcycle.
Sam sped up, weaving through the lazy Seattle traffic effortlessly and letting the speed and sound clear her mind. She knew she shouldn't still have been mad; after all, aside from being forced out of her career and relegated to a life of anonymity under an assumed name, permanently disbarred from working in the field she loved or even talking to the only other two people on the planet who would understand what she was going through, this reality wasn't really so bad. No Goa'uld, no Replicators, no IOA looking over your shoulder. Still, the resentment was there, a slow burn at the back of her mind, always almost forgotten, then rearing its head at the worst possible times.
Like, for example, when it might cause her to stop paying attention and not notice an off-ramp.
Sam leaned hard, desperately trying to keep the bike from running head on into the guardrail that was suddenly in front of her. At the last moment, the bike turned, but the rush of elation Sam felt turned to horror as the tires slipped out from under her. She could vaguely hear cars honking and swerving away as the motorcycle slid out from under her, dropping her to the ground with a sickening thud.
Then, everything went black.
Since she'd woken up in the ambulance, Sam had been silently berating herself. Stupid, Carter. Just stupid. Way to keep your mind on your driving. She was sure the government liaison was going to have a fit: "What part of 'lay low' didn't you understand, Colonel?"
Now, as the nurse excused herself and Sam settled deeper into the hospital bed, the blonde sighed. Just what I need. Why was it that just when she was getting used to her new life things had to go and—
"Excuse me?" Sam looked up at the woman who had just entered the room. Then she forgot how to breathe.
The rich brown eyes blinked at her, and the full lips smiled. "I'm Doctor Janet Frasier. I'll be looking at your leg."
Then, everything went black again.
When Sam awoke again, it was to the unmistakable feeling that she was in her bed in her house in Colorado Springs, and that everything that had happened since Ba'al's extraction had just been a horrible and fascinating dream. Because if nothing else, there was no way that Janet Frasier could be real.
But when that warm, familiar voice laced with concern spoke to her again, it brought Sam crashing back down to earth. "Are you all right, Ms...Armstrong?"
"I...uh, I'm fine." Sam's mouth was suddenly dry, and it certainly wasn't just from the painkillers. "Still a little light-headed, I guess."
The doctor shifted uncomfortably under her patient's gaze. "Well, I could get you something different for the pain, but..."
"No. It's fine." Sam blinked. "Everything's fine."
The brunette obviously wasn't convinced, but she nodded reluctantly and pulled a stool up the side of the bed. Without warning, her hand came out to rest on Sam's exposed knee. When Sam stiffened, she looked up at her patient. "Does that hurt?"
Sam groaned to herself; this was going to be a long exam.
The awkward physical had one unforeseen advantage; the constant effort to think about something, anything else than the other woman's hands on her skin, even in a purely professional capacity, gave Sam the time to look at the situation objectively. Unfortunately, despite Sam's best efforts, that objective assessment boiled down to: Janet is alive. Don't let her out of your sight.
When the diminutive doctor informed her that she'd have to stay for a few days of recuperation and observation before they'd release her, Sam couldn't help but smile.
Over the next two days, as she submitted herself to this new Janet's gentle and naggingly familiar care, Sam learned about her. She had only been in Seattle for just over a month and hadn't made many friends yet, having taken a new job on the heels of her divorce; apparently this Janet's luck with marriage wasn't much better than her counterpart's. When Sam had asked her during one of their increasingly frequent and personal conversations whether she'd ever thought of joining the military, Janet had just laughed. The sound had made Sam ache.
When the time came for her release, Sam had made up her mind. With her crutches under one arm she signed the form Janet pushed across the nurses' station desk, smiling. "Don't the nurses usually do this?"
"It's a full-service job," the doctor drawled. After so much time Sam wasn't sure, but she could swear her accent was thicker here.
The blonde cleared her throat. "Listen, Doctor..."
"I told you, you can call me Janet."
Sam felt a twinge. "Janet...listen, I...I just wanted to thank you. You've been good company."
Janet smiled. "You too."
"Uh, I uh...I want to make it up to you. I thought, maybe, we could go out and grab coffee some time. If you want." Sam chuckled sheepishly. "My treat."
Janet eyed her for a moment, with an attentiveness that made Sam squirm. Then she nodded. "I'd like that."
Sam broke into a grin that the doctor slowly matched. "All right. I'll just write...oh, you have my number. On the...forms."
Janet giggled lightly. "Well, you could write it down again. If you want."
With a—hopefully—imperceptible blush, Sam tore a sticky note from the stack and scribbled down her number, even after all this time having to fight not to write the one from the other reality.
Janet took it with a slight smile and, unable to think of any more excuses to stick around, Sam swiveled and began hobbling towards the doors. Thought it might just have been her imagination, she could have sworn that when she looked back, she could see Janet watching her for a split second.
When she pushed through the front doors into the diffuse sunlight, she was grinning, thoughts racing through her head. Eventually, one won out;
"I have a date with Janet Frasier."
"Sorry I'm late." Sam had, as usual, tried to fit too many things into the day, in no small part in an attempt to perfect the very rendezvous they had made her late for.
"It's fine, really." Janet brushed a lock of red-brown hair behind her ear, and Sam's eyes couldn't help but be drawn to the familiar gesture.
When she realized Janet was looking at her, the blonde shook her head and sat down. "So, what are you having?"
"I don't know, I'm not much of a coffee drinker." Of course, Sam had known that; Janet had often playfully admonished the physicist for her own weakness in that area. "I think I'll just have some tea."
"Oh. Okay, I'll...go order for us?"
By the time she returned to the table, an uncomfortably hot cup in each hand, Sam still hadn't thought of anything to say. So instead, she merely tried not to watch Janet as the brunette sipped her tea, seemingly just as much at a loss for words.
Finally Janet glanced up, just in time to watch her companion's eyes dart away. She cleared her throat. "Listen, Cassandra...Cassie."
By now, Sam responded to the name almost as if it were her own. Choosing it when they assigned her a new identity had served two purposes; she knew she would never forget it, and it would always remind her of the world she had left behind. "Yes?"
"Don't take this the wrong way, but...are you being completely honest with me?"
Sam's eyes darted up in panic to find Janet's frank, piercing gaze leveled at her. She fought to keep her voice even. "What...what do you mean?"
The brunette stared deep into her tea for a moment, then took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm just going to come right out and say it. Is this...a date?"
Sam's brief feeling of relief that her security hadn't been compromised was almost immediately overtaken by an even greater panic than before. "Uh, I uh...no, I mean...I don't—"
"Because it's not like—"
"—not if you—"
"—have a problem...with...that." Sam trailed off, her eyes squeezed shut. "Look, I...I'm sorry. You just...I really liked you, and I wanted to get to know you better. I don't know if..."
When she finally looked up, Janet was meeting her eyes. The brunette smiled just slightly. "I kind of had a feeling. When you asked, I mean."
"So you're not...are you okay, or..." Sam was sure she was blushing.
Janet took another deep breath. "The thing is, when we talked, I just...felt like we connected. You know, how you can just meet someone and feel like you've known them for years?"
That was finally enough to make Sam chuckle. "You have no idea."
"So...I do like you. I mean, I've never...whatever this is, whatever it ends up being, I think it's important that we're upfront with each other." Sam nodded sedately, and the brunette let out a sigh. "That being said...I don't think I would be entirely averse to going on a date with you."
Sam could barely work up the mental acuity to speak. "I...wouldn't be averse to taking you on one."
Janet nodded almost matter-of-factly. "Okay then."
Sam sucked in a breath; six years of dancing around each other, four years of grief, six months in a world as alien to her as any she'd ever stepped onto through the Stargate, and this was finally what it all came down to.
She exhaled. "Janet. Would you go on a date with me?"
The next two days were a fascinating experience for Sam. On the one hand, they passed by in a blur, with research and preparations and agonizing second-guessing of every decision she made; at the same time, however, each moment seemed to pass with unbearable slowness. As afraid as she was that she didn't have enough time, she still wanted Friday to come as soon as possible.
Of course, Sam wasn't consciously thinking about any of this; what remained of her impressive multi-tasking capability after the aforementioned research and preparation and second-guessing was dedicated to constantly repeating one thought, like a mantra, running under all her other frantic activities:
She said yes.
Sam stood outside the front door of Janet's Queen Anne home fidgeting nervously, hands alternating between self-consciously fluffing her hair and hanging awkwardly at her sides. She was just about to ask herself for the third time if maybe she should have brought flowers when the door opened.
Then, Sam stopped thinking.
Janet looked down self-consciously. "I, uh...didn't know where we were going so I tried to go all-purpose. I hope I'm not too dressy."
The doctor was wearing a simple, blue silk dress that managed to emphasize her curves without being vulgar; Sam was blushing by the time her eyes finally followed the straps up to Janet's hair, which spilled in chestnut ringlets down her shoulders. The physicist, in her white dress shirt and slacks, suddenly felt very plain; of course, only to the degree that she was able to fight down the feeling of breathless arousal that preceded it.
"You look perfect," Sam practically whispered, before clearing her throat. "And I thought we'd start with dinner. I got us a reservation at this place downtown, then there's this concert thing in Green Lake Park, if you want to..." Sam smiled, only half nervous. "If you're not sick of me by then."
Janet chuckled. "That sounds great." She gave Sam an appraising gaze that made the blonde squirm a little, before offering her arm. "Well, what are we waiting for?"
Sam was about to lose her mind.
Dinner had been a disaster. Her reservation had managed to get lost somewhere between whoever had answered the phone and the maître d, so they'd had to wait almost an hour for a table. The first two dishes Janet had asked for both turned out to have ingredients out of stock, and the waiter acted as if the two women didn't know how good they had it.
Now, as they got out of the car and walked toward the tent that had been set up for the concert, Sam felt like screaming. Apparently, word had gotten out; the crowd was so huge, they couldn't even see the stage. "Dammit," Sam muttered, a little louder than she should have.
Janet cast her a sympathetic glance. "You know, I'm not really in a concert mood, anyway. Why don't we just take a walk around the lake or something?"
Sam managed to take a breath to calm herself a little. "In those shoes?"
Janet cast a glance down at her feet with a wry smile. "I'm a big girl, I can handle it."
In spite of herself, Sam smiled.
"And then I just figured, without him and his oh-so-important job, what was keeping me there? One of the residents had some contacts here, so I put out some feelers, packed up, and shipped out." Janet, despite her assurances, was now carrying her shoes as they walked, the last sunlight having finally given way to an overcast night lit from behind by a half moon. She turned to face her date, and found the blonde watching her intently. "Wow, you know, I've been talking about myself a lot. What about you?"
Sam prepared to trot out her government issue history, but couldn't force the words past her lips. This was Janet. She couldn't lie to Janet.
The blonde cleared her throat, silently resolving to tell as much of the truth as she could. "Well, my dad was in the Air Force, so we moved around a lot. My mom died when I was in high school, and I guess I blamed him for it. We were able to pull it back together though, thank God."
"Where is he now?"
"He died a couple years ago. Cancer." It wasn't that much of a lie.
"Oh, Cassie, I'm so sorry."
Sam just smiled. "Well, anyway, I went to college in Colorado Springs and sort of settled down there for a while."
"What did you major in, by the way?"
Janet chuckled. "What exactly do you do with an undergraduate physics degree?"
Sam cracked a smile. "I don't know. I guess that's how I ended up as a docent." Naturally, she didn't mention either her PhD or the Air Force Academy; where Samantha Carter was a world-renowned physicist colonel with the US Air Force, Cassandra Armstrong was just another college graduate.
"Anyway, after I got my degree, I...traveled a lot. I only moved here about six months ago. I guess I was looking for a fresh start."
"You find one?"
Sam stole a glance in Janet's direction to find the brunette smiling wryly at her; she hoped the darkness hid her blush. "You have no idea."
Sam and Janet stood, framed in the doctor's doorway and the anemic yellow glow of her porch light. By Sam's count, they'd been that way for two minutes and ten seconds. Sam cleared her throat.
The sound made Janet look up to meet her eyes, then quickly look back down. "I, uh...I should probably get in. I have work..."
"Right, me too."
Janet nodded, hesitating a moment before turning and sliding her key into the lock. When she stepped over the threshold of the door, Sam panicked. "I'm sorry."
Janet slowly turned back to face her. "For what?"
"For everything that went wrong tonight. For coming off as...weird."
A smile ghosted across Janet's lips. "You don't do this often, do you?" Sam winced. Was it that obvious? "You were just nervous."
"I know, I just...I really wanted this to go well."
"Cassie, it's okay." Janet cracked a genuine smile. "I was nervous too, you're just...abnormally bad at hiding it."
Sam let forth a burst of tense laughter in spite of herself. "Gee, thanks."
"Any time. Well...good night, Cassie." Janet turned back toward the door.
"Wait!" Sam blurted out, and Janet turned back again. "I mean, I don't know if you...would want to...go out again?"
The corner of the brunette's elegant lips turned up. "I'm free Tuesday night."
"Me too." Sam couldn't help the smile that split her face.
Janet's smile was more sedate, but undeniable. "Good night."
Janet turned back toward the door, but paused half-way through her first step. Sam was just about to open her mouth when the brunette turned around.
And suddenly, Samantha Carter was flying.
In some ways, it was totally unexpected; the soft insistence of Janet's lips on hers, the gentle longing of the touch, Janet's hand snaking out to grasp hers.
In other ways, it was everything she'd always imagined.
Janet pulled back from the kiss, and let out a deep breath. "Pick me up at eight?"
Sam hummed softly to herself as she approached Janet's door. This would mark their fourth date in the span of only two weeks. Despite their rocky start, Sam's budding relationship with Janet had left her feeling like a schoolgirl, and after their previous date, a picnic in the park, Janet had promised to make all the arrangements for their next.
The door was open almost before Sam had time to pull her hand away from the doorbell, Janet standing in the gap with a breathtaking smile on her face.
Sam smiled back. "Hi."
When she realized she and the blonde were still staring at each other, Janet cleared her throat and stepped back. "Come on in."
As she followed Janet into her house for the first time, Sam honestly didn't know where to look. Naturally, she wanted to take her time to examine the tchotchkes and photos and decorations that filled the elegant, understated home around her, scour them for any mysteries they might unlock in this new and still somewhat unfamiliar Janet Frasier.
At the same time, she found it hard to look anywhere but at the back of the good doctor's dress as she moved down the hall.
Janet had instructed Sam to "dress dressy," and while Sam had attempted to, Janet clearly eclipsed her. Where Sam was wearing a slinky, stylish blue dress, Janet's was black, ending in a frill around her knees and accompanied by long, satin gloves and a single string of pearls. The brunette's hair was up, expertly arranged on her head to give Sam a tantalizing view of her neck and upper back.
Sam ran a hand through her own loose hair nervously just as Janet turned to face her. "You, um…you look amazing."
As Sam blushed, a slow smile spread across Janet's face. "You too."
As Janet turned back around to continue through the small dining room, Sam shook her head. "So, uh…what did we get all dressed up for? Where are we going?"
As they reached the kitchen, Janet stopped short, almost causing Sam to run into her. "My favorite restaurant." Janet spun around, smiling.
Sam looked from the trapezoidal white box in Janet's hand to the doctor's shining eyes and unrepentant smile, then back. Then she started laughing.
Janet put the Chinese takeout box back with the others and, in one smooth motion, hopped up backwards onto the kitchen island and patted the counter next to her. "Come on. Up up."
Shaking her head, Sam lifted herself onto the counter, still chuckling as Janet handed her a box and a pair of chopsticks.
"This is ridiculous."
"I just thought to myself, 'What's the craziest thing I could do without scaring her off?'"
Sam stole a glance at Janet, cheeks already puffed out by her first bite. "You could have gotten away with crazier."
Janet swallowed, and smiled. "I'll keep that in mind." Janet kicked off her stilettos and leaned into Sam's shoulder. "Now...what would you say to some disproportionately expensive wine?"
As bad as their first date had been, their latest had succeeded with flying colors.
Two hours of Chinese food, free-flowing wine, and effortlessly intimate conversation later, and the two women were lounging at opposite ends of Janet's couch, bare feet intertwined in the middle.
As her laughter from nothing in particular Janet had said died down, Sam sighed. "Janet, I uh…thank you. This is the best date I've ever been on."
Janet smiled warmly. "Yeah. Me too." The brunette's smile faded as she ran a finger around the rim of her wine glass, finally setting it on the coffee table. "Listen, Cassie, I, um...I kind of had an ulterior motive in bringing you to...friendly territory tonight."
Sam swallowed hard. "Yeah?"
"Yeah." Janet took a deep breath. "Cassie, I...I've never felt the way I do about you about...about a woman before. And that scares me a little."
"I know. And you know that I don't want to push you into anything that you don't feel...comfortable with, or...I just really—"
Before she could finish her ever-so-urgent explanation, Janet was kissing her.
Gasping at the sudden fire that flooded through her, Sam leaned back against the arm of the couch, her hands threading through Janet's silky hair and her mouth crushing against the brunette's with abandon.
"I've never done this before," Janet mumbled around Sam's lips.
"I know. Me neither."
"You're okay with this?"
Sam pulled back just long enough to run her fingers down Janet's cheek, the brunette shivering slightly under her touch. "You have no idea."
Then, Janet was kissing her again.
As the haze of sleep slowly lifted away from around Sam's head, the first thing she noticed was that she was warm. Warmer, in point of fact, than she could remember being in a good long while. A heavy down comforter was pressed against her naked skin, and she pulled it tighter with a relaxed sigh.
An answering sigh behind her, and the warmth intensified as an arm hooked around her stomach and a pair of firm, soft breasts pressed into her back.
Sam's eyes shot open.
When she turned her head and the memory of the previous night came back to her, her breath caught in her throat. Janet was pressed tight against her back, humming softly in her sleep. Even seeing the scene in front of her, and feeling the doctor's body pressed up against hers, Sam still couldn't believe that what had happened had actually happened. As gently as she could, Sam pulled a hand out from under the blanket and, after a moment's hesitation, reverently stroked it down Janet's cheek.
With a final contented hum, Janet's eyes fluttered open. "Hey."
Sam's smile was so wide it almost hurt. "Hey."
Janet blinked as she took in her surroundings. "Wow."
"Yeah." Sam's grin faltered. "Wow?"
Janet chuckled. "Oh, yeah."
The two women grinned at each other.
"What time is it?"
Sam glanced over her shoulder at the alarm clock. "Nine fifteen. You got somewhere you need to be?"
"Good." Janet pulled Sam back down to the bed, their fingers threading together under the comforter. "I can't believe I've never done that before." The brunette cast an appreciative glance in Sam's direction. "I can't believe you've never done that before."
Sam chuckled self-consciously. "So does that mean I was...was I...okay?"
Janet practically exploded with laughter. "To quote a phrase you seem to be rather fond of…you have no idea."
Sam sighed. "Janet...there's a bunch of stuff I want to say...I mean, things I should tell you...but I just don't know how, or even if I should..."
"It's okay. I...I know what you want to say."
Sam's heart seized. "You...you do?"
Janet's hand squeezed hers under the blanket. "But why don't we just...see where this goes? We've got time."
Sam took a deep breath, and by the time she exhaled she was smiling. "Yeah. All the time in the world."
Sam floated through the small corner market she'd started patronizing almost exclusively since she discovered it a month after her arrival. Tonight was her six month anniversary with Janet, and she needed everything to be absolutely perfect. She carried the bags to her car on autopilot, going over the recipe again in her head. As much as Janet had always needled her about her cooking, this would be the perfect gift. And, if everything went just right...
Then, she heard the sound. Sam's head snapped up, the unmistakable black shape of the al'kesh cutting across the sky like a scar. Her hand went for her phone without thinking, because the only thought going through her head was:
Her conversations with the Pentagon and Daniel were short and to the point, not the least of which because she had the latter while driving—far too fast. She'd been ordered to report to Washington immediately, but immediately could wait.
After eleven years, this might be the only chance she would ever have.
Her frantic pounding only lasted a few seconds before Janet pulled open the door. "All right, I hear you! What the...Cassie? You're about four hours early, what—"
Sam cut Janet off with a desperate kiss, and when Janet melted against her it was all she could do to keep from bursting into tears. "I have to tell you everything. Right now. And I just need you to listen."
"My name's not Cassandra Armstrong. It's Samantha Carter. The government gave me a new identity when I came here but I need you to know who I am. And I need you to know that I'm in love with you."
Janet opened her mouth in confusion, but Sam plowed ahead.
"I've been in love with you for five years, and it took losing you to make me realize it, and I can't let that happen again. Something is coming, something bad, worse than anything else in the history of this planet. And I'm going to try to stop it, but I don't know if I can, or if I'm even going to come back. So I need you to do something for me." Sam's hand settled on either side of Janet's face. "Do you trust me?"
"Do you trust me?"
Janet was fighting back tears. "Of course I do..."
"Then as soon as I leave, I need you to pack some supplies and get out of the city. Get as far away from civilization as you can, the smallest town, the middle of the forest, anything. Just get out of the city. You have to."
"I don't understand, what—"
Janet just nodded. "I promise. What's going on, what's...where are you going, why did the...government..."
"If I can stop this, if I come back I'll tell you everything, I swear. Everything. But if I can't...I lost you. I lost you, and it killed me. More than anything else in this universe I need to know that somewhere, some time, some reality...you're safe."
Sam could hardly see through the tears streaming down her face, but she still felt Janet's thumb burn as it wiped the moisture from her cheek. "I don't want to lose you..." Janet's voice cracked, and Sam wrapped a hand around the back of her lover's neck.
The kiss was bittersweet, everything Sam had ever felt for her poured into it because she knew, at some horrible primal level, that it would be their last. "I love you, Janet Frasier."
Janet's hands tightened around her back, the brunette's nose settled in the crook of her shoulder, the warm, wet achingly real breath starting Sam's tears flowing again. "I love you...Samantha Carter."
It was all a blur. The bunker. Hayes. Hammond. Russia. Teal'c. Solar flares. Time travel. She was sure she must have seemed the consummate professional: calm, collected, and completely focused on the mission.
That was because she was already dead inside.
She dialed the gate on autopilot, the way she'd done everything else in the past six months that didn't involve Janet, and all the while a distant, echoing voice at the back of her head yelled at her to scream out, to make them understand, to make them find another way, that it wasn't fair.
When the telltale stinging spreading across her skin and the spike of electrical agony down her spine told her she'd been shot—again—that was Samantha Carter's last thought.
It wasn't fair.
Of course, as the strength left her body and Cam's frantic screaming faded into a haze of white noise, she chastised herself. Janet Frasier had loved her.
What more could she have ever wanted?
Ba'al's extraction had gone off without a hitch. Well, except for that rather cryptic talk about his "failsafe," but only Daniel had really been worried about that. Sam had tried to enjoy the moment, a monumental victory over their last remaining archnemesis, but she couldn't.
Something was eating at her.
"Sam?" She looked up as the rest of SG-1 headed out of the base, General O'Neill swaggering in the lead. "You coming? If Jack's gonna buy lunch, you don't want to miss the flying pigs."
Sam smiled halfheartedly, and the archaeologist fell back to walk beside her as the others kept moving further down the corridor. "Sam, what is it?"
Sam just shook her head. "I don't know. I've just...for some reason, I've been thinking a lot lately. About...Janet."
Daniel just nodded. After Janet's death, when Sam had had the revelation of her real feelings for the good doctor, it had been Daniel she'd confided in, only to find out he'd known all along. He always seemed to know.
"Do you think..." Sam cleared her throat. "Do you think we could have been happy?"
Daniel's eyes grew distant; in them, Sam could see the litany of pain and grief and lost love that haunted his own life. He smiled sadly. "Another time, another world. I think we all could have."
Sam just sighed.