Everything -- Part 2 by Pink Rabbit Productions

Title: Everything 
Author: Pink Rabbit Productions 
Email: pinkrabbit@altfic.com
Date: March, 2001 
Part: 2/4
Pairing: Sam/Janet 
Disclaimer: The characters and universe all belong to Showtime, MGM, Gekko, and Double Secret (the lucky bastards). The actual arrangement of words herein is mine, however (but, as usual, I openly invite the aforementioned corporate entities to steal at will, and gladly surrender all rights to their tender loving care--we're now up to a triple dog dare, btw). Oh, and it has all female prurient stuff, so if it's gonna make you squeal and hide, shoo along now. 
Series: No. It's a standalone.
Summary: Has there ever been anything or anyone you'd risk everything for?

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 |

Everything
~Part 2~

"Care to elaborate?" General Hammond's low Texas drawl still held the same unflappable note of command that Samantha Carter -- or rather, 'the other Samantha Carter,' as even she was beginning to think of herself -- remembered from her own world. He was watching her across the briefing room table with sharp eyes, a folder open in front of him that doubtless contained at least the initial results from the samples a doctor had taken the instant she was brought back to the base. Her eyes slid around the table, taking in Jack O'Neill, his expression as caustic as ever, Teal'c, perfectly impassive, though watching her carefully, a man her own age that she didn't recognize, and the older, slightly portly doctor who'd started the tests. She couldn't help but wonder where Carter -- their Carter -- and Fraiser were. Her cuffed hands rested on the table, and she fiddled with one of the silver bracelets, then ran her thumb over the fresh bandage the doctor had wrapped around her injured hand, noting that it wasn't quite as smooth as the one Fraiser had applied.

She swallowed hard. For a little while there she'd been able to forget,  to pretend this was her world, and herself in the pleasures of the flesh and human comfort. Well, that was over now. Time to pay the piper.

"Major," Hammond prompted after several moments.

"My apologies, sir," Carter said carefully as she looked up from the handcuffs. "As I said, we'd been studying the quantum mirror on PR3-686 when we got word that the Goa'uld had some kind of weapon in orbit around earth and were attacking the SGC...." As she began the story in earnest, she let her eyes fall back down to her own hands, concentrating on them to avoid thinking about her own words and the memories that went with them.

"Sam?" Janet whispered as she drew close to the major's stiff back where she stood at a camp table in her tent working on a series of calculations.

"Whatever it is, it's exploding outward from earth ... destroying everything in its path ... and it shows no sign of slowing--" After the last contact from Earth -- in the form of a badly burned Lieutenant Simmons, who'd told them that about the Goa'uld threats and their attack on the SGC -- they'd used a contact device supplied by the Tok'ra to determine that the earthgate was dead, as were most of the gates they'd already mapped. They'd made brief contact with the Asgard, who confirmed their worst fears that the Earth had been completely decimated and that the gates no longer in contact were on worlds that no longer existed. Carter had been able to use the data from the gates they'd lost contact with to form a rough model of what they were dealing with and it wasn't pretty.

Whatever the Goa'uld had done, it was clear they had no more control over it than anyone else, because it was devouring worlds under their control as thoroughly as any others. The Asgard had been of the opinion their enemy had made a catastrophic mistake and doomed everyone to pay for it. And then it didn't matter what the Asgard thought because they too went silent.

"Dear God," the doctor exhaled as though she'd been struck. "What are you saying?"

"I have no reason to believe it will lose any energy before it gets here--"

"How much time do we have?"

Sam shrugged, fighting the urge to hurl her notes aside. "Not much ... an hour at most." She couldn't even cry. Everything was dying and there wasn't a damn thing she could do about it. She'd gone past sorrow to a soul deep level of numbness. It wasn't real. It couldn't be real.

"Simmons is gone," Fraiser said very softly, focusing on their immediate situation because she couldn't deal with the larger one. It was too overwhelming.

Sam didn't bother pointing out that it was probably kinder that way.

"Oh, God, Sam." Fraiser's voice, thick and husky and sounding not at all like herself. Then Sam found herself enveloped in a desperate hug from behind. Strange how one's heart can warm at the worst of times.

"Shh," Sam soothed, turning inside that strong hold to wrap her arms tightly around the smaller woman, needing the contact they would never have allowed themselves under different circumstances. She buried her face in silky hair gratefully, accepting the comfort they both needed. "We'll see it through together."

"There has to be something," Janet murmured, her voice muffled against Sam's chest. Carter had pulled them all through so many times, she couldn't quite believe she didn't have one more miracle tucked away in her pocket.

Sam gently petted Janet's hair, then curved tapered fingers along the edge of her jawline to tip her head up until their eyes met. "According to my calculations, we've only got one chance ... and it's not a good one. The quantum mirror."

Janet frowned. "But the temporal failure you calculated?" she said by way of a question. "You said it would be fatal to any living thing."

"In time, yes, but not instantly. I think if we keep moving ... don't stay in any one universe for more than a few hours ... we can at least stave off the worst of the effects. We can gain some breathing room, then try and find if there are any mirrors still functioning in this universe. Whatever the hell the Goa'uld did, I think it's exploding along the wormholes the gates use ... that's the only way I can figure that it's moving so fast. Maybe there's something out there that it'll miss ... a world with a mirror, but no gate." It was a chance so slim it could barely be called a chance. It was also all they had.

Carter knew they had to get moving. It was close to a half mile hike from base camp to the cave where the quantum mirror was housed and she had no way of knowing how much time they had left, but she allowed herself an extra moment of holding the woman she--

She started to automatically cut off the thought, only to change her mind and pull away from the denial that had become such a part of their friendship. When the SGC still existed, she'd needed it to pretend that she didn't feel all of the things she felt. No time for hearts and flowers or gracefully worded declarations, which was a perverse relief since she'd never been any good at those things anyhow. "I love you," she said simply, cupping her hand alongside Janet's face and stroking her cheek tenderly.

"Sam?" Janet breathed, her heart in her eyes.

"I know my timing sucks, but I wanted you to know," Sam told her, then gently disengaged herself from the tight hug, not giving Janet time to confirm or deny similar feelings. She wasn't sure she could handle either response at that moment. Suddenly all business, she changed the subject. "We've got to leave now. We may not have much time." She stepped to the entrance to the tent and waved to the waiting officers, calling out, "We make for the quantum mirror. Now, let's go. Whatever the hell is happening, it's probably headed straight for us, so there may not be a lot of time left."

"Sam," Janet's low voice brought Carter's head back around until their eyes met. "I love you too," she said without fanfare, the knowledge that they were both going to die burning in her dark brown eyes. "And, whatever happens, at least we're together."

Sam reached out and caught Janet's hand in her own, drawing strength from that slight contact. "Come on," she said softly, tugging the other woman along with her.

There were six people in the team, all of them in good shape, and they covered ground quickly. Unfortunately, not quickly enough. They had just reached the cave when they all heard the sound of the Stargate exploding behind them.

"MOVE!" Carter shouted even as the sky overhead turned blood red with arcane energies. She dove into the cave, boots skidding on the dusty floor as she ran faster than ever before.

Carter reached the mirror first, her hands moving impossibly quickly as she activated it, not taking the time to look for any specific destination. At that point, almost anything was better than where they were. "GO!" she ordered, grabbing the nearest man and shoving him through as the world around them began to come apart at the seams. The surrounding rocks began to shatter, crushing inward while heat seared the air. Sam saw Janet stumble on the earth rippling beneath her feet and got a hand around her waist, yanking her close as she dove for the mirror.

She saw rock shatter and hurtle inward, then felt the jolt as something slammed solidly into Janet's upper back, hammering the smaller woman into her as they tumbled through the mirror together.

Freefall, and then she landed in something soft and cold, her arms still wrapped around the doctor's slight frame, the impact hard enough to knock the air from her lungs. She heard others landing around her, tossed out of the quantum mirror into a moment of freeflight before they came to a rest. She glanced up, taking fast stock of their situation, hunting for any immediate danger and concluding there was none. The quantum mirror was on some kind of platform above them all-- similar to the ones often found with the stargates, but much smaller -- while they lay in a thick snowbank in the middle of a universe of white in all directions.

She heard a tiny groan and dropped her gaze to the woman pressed against the length of her body, her heart suddenly in her throat as chocolate brown eyes fluttered open, staring up at her with pain-seared intensity.

"Janet?" Sam whispered as she remembered the impact that had occurred during that last moment. She ran her hand up the smaller woman's back, feeling something warm and wet as she reached the area between her shoulderblades. "Oh God," she exhaled, rolling so that she was leaning over Janet. She lifted her hand away from the smaller woman's back, staring at the crimson coating her palm in horror.

The doctor hung limp in Sam's hold, her breathing strained with effort. "I can't move my arms," she whispered, her eyes showing her shock at the revelation.

Sam looked up, noting the other team members where they lay sprawled nearby. No help there. She probably knew more about medicine than any of them. She shivered as a hard wind blew through her thin uniform and dropped her gaze back to the woman in her arms.

"This isn't good," Janet rasped, her voice vibrating with her fear. "I c-can't feel anything below my shoulders, Sam."

Carter's touch was incredibly gentle as she blindly searched the wound with one hand, afraid to move the woman any more than necessary. "You're probably just stunned," she whispered even as she felt the ridges of shattered bone.

"Major," Captain Abrams scrambled over, falling to his knees beside the two women. "Some bumps and bruises, but it looks like everyone else is okay," he panted. He'd realized there was a problem and seen to checking on the others while she worried about Fraiser. His eyes touched on the doctor's pale form. "Any idea how bad it is?"

"Not good," Fraiser rasped before Sam could come up with a noncommittal response.

Carter blinked back on the threat of tears. She'd just lost an entire world -- almost everything she'd ever known or cared about -- and the only thing that felt real was the woman lying injured in her arms. She looked up at Abrams, desperation in every line of her expression. "We need blankets ... she can't be moved ... we've got to keep her warm."

"Sam," Janet's voice faded with the effort required to speak. "I'm not cold." Dark eyes slid closed and for a moment, she lay so still that Sam was terrified she'd lost her, but her chest continued to rise and fall gently.

"Move," Carter snapped to Abrams while she remained where she was, tenderly petting auburn hair as she leaned close to Fraiser, listening for the sound of her breathing. "I can't lose you too," she whispered desperately, and was surprised when she felt the warmth of Janet's breath on her cheek.

"I don't think you have a choice."

Sam pulled back enough to stare down into Janet's ghost pale face as dark eyes slid open again.

"If there are survivors, they'll need you," Janet breathed, her voice so soft Sam had to lean closer to hear her. "Promise me you'll try and find them."

"Janet ... not now," Sam chastised gently.

But the doctor was not to be dissuaded. "I mean it," she insisted with what little strength she still had. "I don't want you giving up ... promise me you'll try."

"Stay here and make me," Sam challenged through angry tears.

A hint of a smile graced full lips. "I don't think I can." She swallowed hard, just breathing an obvious effort. "I know how badly I'm hurt, Sam ... and so do you ... now promise me you won't give up."

Blue eyes slid closed for a long moment. "Please don't ask this of me."

"I have to ... I love you."

Sam caught a slender hand, and lifted it to her lips, agonizingly aware of just how cold and limp it was in her grasp. "For as long as I can," she promised.

She was rewarded with a weak, but approving smile.

With Abrams help, Sam moved Janet closer to the base of the platform, gaining any possible protection from the harsh arctic winds that blew through the area, and wrapped her in what few blankets they had.

PR3-686 had been a comparatively temperate world, and the team had no harsh weather gear, just light jackets and blankets. As Sam sat huddled with a steadily weakening Janet in her arms, it quickly became obvious that staying where they were any longer than necessary was likely to wind up with her people freezing to death. She tenderly stroked silky hair, then gently shifted the doctor into the makeshift protection they'd built around her, stood, and waved for Abrams to join her a short distance away from the others.

Like her, he was blue with cold and shivering hard. "I want you to take the rest of the team and go through the mirror," she said without preamble. "I'm putting you in command."

His head swung around until his gaze landed on the woman lying unmoving in the shadow of the mirror platform. "Major," he began as he looked to Sam again, "killing yourself isn't doing her any favors."

"I can't leave her ... I won't."

Abrams gritted his teeth. "Fine ... then we'll take her with us. We can carry her--"

"If we try to move her, it'll kill her," Sam said flatly. She knew enough about back injuries and Fraiser's condition to be painfully certain of that much. Realistically, it was a miracle she was still alive at all.

"She's dying anyway, Major," Abrams shot back more sharply than he intended, then looked away, embarrassed, when Sam looked like she was about to shatter into a million pieces.

"I know that, Captain," Carter said very softly. "But I can't leave her." She swallowed back harsh tears. "I'll follow you if and when I can."

He seemed about to argue, but one look into her eyes convinced him it would be a pointless waste of time. "Major, she wouldn't want this," he said at last, "but I understand why you have to do it."

Carter nodded, then silently returned to her silent vigil holding Fraiser. When the rest of the team was ready to leave, Abrams returned to her side, quietly handing her a sheet of notepaper with their coordinates written on it.

"It looks safe enough from what we can see through the mirror ... we'll wait for you as long as we can."

"Good luck," Sam told him as he climbed back onto the platform and disappeared, leaving her alone with the woman in her arms.

Janet stirred gently, struggling to open her eyes. "Y'should go," she mumbled weakly.

"I'm not going anywhere," Sam whispered near a delicate ear as she tenderly stroked Janet's bangs back from her face.

Long lashes fluttered and dark eyes opened. "I don't want you to die."

"Shhh, nobody's dying."

There were tears in Janet's eyes. "One of us is."

"Do you know when I first fell in love with you?" Sam ignored Janet's softly spoken words.

"Sam, please--"

Carter stroked Janet's cheek lightly. "When you stood up to Hathor and told her to go to hell...." Sam laughed softly at the memory. "I thought she was going to burst an artery right there ... be the first Goa'uld killed by terminal stress levels ... and when you punched O'Neill after Urgo told him to kiss you ... that's when I knew that I'd love you for the rest of my life."

"I love you," Janet breathed almost inaudibly. They were to be her last words, though Sam kept talking for a long time, reliving the time they'd spent together until her voice trailed off and she slept.

She was warm and safe, the woman she loved in her arms. Everything was going to be all right.

"Sam."

"Mmm, Janet."

"Sam, it's time to get up"

"Lemme sleep a little longer," she mumbled, but Janet was insistent.

"Sam, you need to open your eyes and wake up."

She finally blinked and found herself staring into the most beautiful brown eyes in the known universe. "Janet ... you're awake," she said in a voice full of wonder, uncertain why that somehow didn't seem right.

A gentle hand smoothed hair stiff with ice back from her forehead. "That's right, honey, and now you need to wake up. You've got to get up and go through the quantum mirror."

Sam shook her head dazedly. "I'm okay here." She didn't feel like moving. She was warm and comfortable, and Janet was snuggled in her arms. No, that wasn't right, because Janet was staring down at her. She frowned, struggling to resolve the paradox.

"I know, but it's time." Janet's touch was so warm that Sam just wanted to close her eyes and go back to sleep. Janet leaned closer and her lips dusted Sam's cheek. "Do it for me ... please."

Sam couldn't resist that sweet plea and she groaned softly as she started to struggle to her feet, only to be slowed by the stiff weight draped across her lap. She frowned, wondering what it could be. The only thing she'd had in her arms was.... Raw horror rose in her chest as she suddenly knew what it was. "Janet?" she whispered in a voice full of terror. She started to look down, but Janet tucked a finger under her chin, stopping her.

"I'm not there anymore."

"Please, don't leave me."

"Shhh," the ghost soothed, still brushing icy hair back from Sam's face. "I'll always be with you ... and someday I'll hold you again."

Sam swallowed hard, tears freezing on her cheeks. "Promise?"

"I promise ... now, you have to go."

Her movements stiff and clumsy, Sam fought to climb to her feet. As she reached her knees, she started to look down again, but that gentle finger under the chin stopped her. "You don't need to see." Brown eyes held her gaze prisoner as she rose, then led her away through the snow and up to the mirror.

Sam's fingers were almost frozen stiff and she started trembling violently as she worked the controls to the mirror.

The hand that brushed her cheek no longer seemed warm but icy cold and Janet seemed to waver before her eyes.

It frightened her.

"It's okay, hon," Janet whispered as Sam waited for the mirror controls to react. "It means you're going back."

"I don't want to."

"I know, but it's not your time." The brown eyes were fading now, but she felt the soft dust of icy lips against her cheek as she stepped through the mirror, Janet's voice a whisper in her ear. "I'm always with you."

She left out the part about avowals of love and the hallucination. It was clear the SGC staff was already uncertain enough about her sanity as it was. No need to give them any additional ammunition. She continued staring at her own fingertips as they moved in random patterns on the glossy tabletop. "I ... uh ... caught up with the rest of the team ... but two jumps later, the others were killed when we landed in the middle of a local war. I only survived by accident ... went through the mirror first and was hit in the head by debris ... I was unconscious by the time they really opened fire." Her eyes closed for a moment as she remembered waking to find her companions dead. Already so numb she was simply existing on autopilot, she'd simply salvaged what equipment she could, done her best to cover the bodies, then moved on again. She didn't care whether she survived or not, but God seemed to have decided she was supposed to live. "After that, I kept moving ... ran into SGC personnel or the local equivalent a few times." More than a few times, if she was honest, but at some point, she'd started avoiding those alternate versions of old friends and colleagues. It just hurt too much. "Not a lot more to say. In something over six months I haven't been able to make contact with any functional mirrors in my universe so I have to conclude there probably aren't any," she sighed at last, needing to explain her actions. "When I saw your people, heard them talking about the base ... I just wanted to go home," she admitted in halting syllables. "I admit I cut myself on purpose. It was the only excuse I could think of. I didn't really plan to lie. I just did."

A long, silent moment passed and she finally risked a look, only to freeze as she realized that two more people had silently entered as she was telling her tale. It was a strange experience, facing her own angry disapproval that way. She'd met other versions of herself, but this was the first one who looked like she had a grudge to carry. Her eyes moved on to the slender figure standing next to Carter, her wide, luminous eyes swimming with emotion. Carter's hand was resting lightly on Janet's shoulder, her body language protectively tense.

Well, that explained the disapproval. She wondered how much her alternate knew, how much she guessed, and how much was simply instinct at work. She swallowed hard, working tight throat muscles as she stared at Janet, needing to make her understand. "I'm sorry," she whispered, half rising. "Sorry I frightened you ... and ... God ... I'm so sorry I frightened Cass. Please tell her that."

"She knows," Janet assured her. "We stopped and saw her ... I explained what happened. She understood."

Sam sank back into her chair, amazed by the relief that flared through her. How ironic that after months of being totally numb, literally dead to emotion, she could suddenly feel again ... so acutely that she thought she might go slightly mad with it. "Thank you," she exhaled heavily. She looked back down at the tabletop again, profoundly grateful for kindness from the one person in the room who had every right to hate her.

She was still trying to think of something more to say, something brilliant and witty, and maybe just earnest enough to keep her from going to hell when the pain began. It was suddenly hard to breathe and it was like someone was pulling a wide strap steadily tighter around her chest. She could feel her heart struggling to keep beating as though someone was gripping it tightly and squeezing hard. Reality shifted and ran like wet paint on an artist's pallet and she distantly heard Janet's voice.

"Code blue ... we need a medical team, stat! Just hold on, Sam."

She could almost hold onto reality if she focused on that voice and those incredible brown eyes.

Almost, but not quite.

A moment later, she lost her grip and was swept away into darkness.

* * * * * *

Fraiser stood staring at the various test results -- X-Rays, CAT scans, and such -- hanging from a brightly glowing lightbox, her eyes taking in a thousand details that most people would have missed. There was more information in the folder in her hands. The results from the tests Warner had started when the alternate Carter first arrived were still preliminary, but together with the rest, it was easy enough for her to form a picture of what was happening in her head.

She closed her eyes, wishing for once that she didn't see patterns so clearly.

"Janet?" Her Sam's voice. No, not her Sam; her universe's Sam. Perversely enough, her Sam was the other one; the one with hell in her eyes and the gentlest hands. "How is she?"

Janet sighed softly, keeping her back to her friend as she answered. "She regained consciousness and her vital signs have stabilized. She's fine for the moment."

"I've spoken to General Hammond. Apparently, before you and I arrived, he offered to let her return to PRX-1138 so she could use the mirror there if she proved to be who she said. She refused ... said that, since she couldn't get to her own universe, she'd just as soon stay here."

Janet couldn't contain a flinch.

Sam studied her friend, noting her obvious distress in every line of her stiff back. "So, how is she really?" she questioned cautiously. It didn't take a rocket scientist to see that Fraiser was having a hard time with this, but she couldn't pretend to totally understand what was going in the other woman's head. Her eyes lifted to the various images hanging in front of the lightbox, but as much as she'd learned working on various research projects with Fraiser, she had nothing like the expertise required to understand what she was looking at. "What do the test results say?"

Janet dropped her head, massaging her temple as she stared at the cold blooded facts on the top page of Warner's report.

"Janet?" Sam prompted when the doctor still hadn't spoken after a long moment.

Fraiser swallowed hard. She could do this. "She's dying," she said after another beat and tipped her head back up, struggling to get the professional mask in place.

Carter froze for a moment. "The temporal entropic cascade failure," she said softly, some of her anger at her alternate self evaporating in the face of Fraiser's announcement. "But from what she said, once she went through the mirror again, it would at least temporarily abate the symptoms--"

"No," Janet interrupted quietly. "It's not that simple."

Sam frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Even though moving steadily has reduced the damage, it hasn't eliminated it. The cumulative effect is...." She trailed off, shaking her head. Her voice was thicker than normal when she began again. She pointed at the chest X-ray on the lightboard. "There's physical stress on the body from the moment someone steps through a quantum mirror. It gets steadily worse the longer someone is in an alternate universe -- radically so if they have a surviving alternate in that reality -- but there's always some damage ... and it accumulates with time. Every major organ has some kind of impairment and there's considerable scar tissue on her heart. Every time she has one of those ... attacks, it's like a minor heart attack. Her pulse seems to stabilize quickly, but it leaves its mark." She gestured to the folder in her hand. "According to the blood tests, there's also considerable cellular breakdown -- which is caused by the attacks  -- which prevents the body from healing." She paused for another moment. "I spoke to her and she says that the cascades are happening more quickly with every jump through a mirror ... and the pain is getting worse. Her time in this universe seems to have accelerated the problem considerably." She closed her eyes for a brief moment, mildly amazed that she'd gotten through it without totally breaking down. If she was honest, she was far too emotionally involved. She should have turned the case over to another doctor and would have if it weren't for the fact that she knew damn well she was the best doctor on base for this sort of thing.

"Is there anything you can do?"

"No." She ran a hand over her hair, wincing as sore muscles protested the movement. "Even if she could get back to her own universe, she'd probably have serious long term health complications and as long as she's here, the damage continues. The harsh reality is that there's no pill to fix this." She glanced back at Sam, a flicker of hope in her expression. "At this point, the only real hope she's got is that you can pull a miracle out of your hat."

Sam shook her head. She'd faced this problem once before and been unable to find a solution that time either. "No brilliant ideas" She shrugged helplessly, wishing she had a better answer. "None of the research I did after the last contact panned out, but I'll see what I can come up with." Her tone didn't hold out much hope.

Hurt showed momentarily in the doctor's eyes before she turned back to the chart in her hands. "I was afraid of that," she exhaled almost inaudibly. "Still, we've worked miracles before in this place."

Sam didn't argue, and a long moment of uncomfortable silence passed before she quietly asked, "Can she be moved?"

Janet's brows knit together in a frown. "Within reason ... yes. Why?"

Sam looked uncomfortable. "There's appears to be an energy release during the episodes -- one which we haven't been able to quantify at this point, but which will probably increase with her continued presence in this universe. I don't think it's anything dangerous on a widespread basis, but it could be risky for anyone in the immediate vicinity."

Janet remembered the burning sensation when she'd touched the other Sam during the previous  cascade. She'd almost forgotten the incident, but her fingertips were still sore and slightly red. "What are you thinking of doing?" she questioned tersely, ready to fight for her patient if need be.

Sam found herself smiling at the other woman's suspicious tone, despite the seriousness of the situation. Fraiser was a regular mama-bear when it came to her patients. "I'd like to move her to one of the reinforced observation rooms. We can record a lot more data about what's going on and, if there is a problem, there's a lot of cement and steel protecting the base." Her eyes slid around the tight confines of the room. "Not like here in the infirmary where people could get hurt." She'd considered her argument carefully, certain Janet would be resistant to the idea, but confident it was for the best. "I'll have a team help you move in any equipment needed ... make her as comfortable as possible. Hell, it'll be quieter and more private than this place."

Janet fisted one hand tightly at her side in an effort to control the pain tightening like a band around her chest. "You really think there could be that much danger?"

Sam shrugged. "I'm still running the numbers ... but I think there's enough risk that we need to be careful."

Janet froze for a long moment, not wanting to contemplate what that might mean. Her emotions were already so on edge that if she thought too much about anything, she was going to lose it. She suddenly realized her hands were trembling ever so slightly and tamped down the response. "I'll make the necessary arrangements," she said at last, unable to keep a slight tremor out of her voice despite her best efforts.

"Let me know what you need and I'll make sure you have it," Sam assured her when she couldn't think of anything else to say.

Janet nodded, teeth digging into her lower lip to keep the threat of tears at bay. "Thank you," she finally said after a long beat. "I'll ... uh...." No sleep, a wrestling match, and enough stress to give an ulcer to a three-toed sloth were all playing havoc with her thought processes. "Let me check a couple of things in my office and I'll let you know ... is that okay?" A moment passed of total silence passed while she waited for Sam to mutter the appropriate confirmation and exit. She almost jumped out of her skin when a gentle hand landed on her shoulder.

"Are you okay?" Sam asked worriedly.

Janet closed her eyes tightly. Dammit. She could marginally keep up the professional act so long as she didn't look too closely at her own feelings. She drew a breath and tried to answer, but couldn't get the words out.

Sam took a step closer, watching her friend carefully as she tried to understand what was going on. "Janet, are you okay?" she repeated gently.

"No," she exhaled at last, the mask crumbling in an instant. If anyone else had asked, she could have kept the act in place, but her emotions were so confused when it came to Sam that she couldn't do it.

Carter's jaw dropped at the barely audible admission. Normally, Fraiser was one for cool control, seldom showing her emotions beyond the gentle teasing fašade that was an innate part of her bedside manner. Carter could only remember seeing her cry once in the whole time they'd been in the SGC together; after she'd been forced to withhold treatment from Apophis, and they'd sent the body back through the Stargate to appease another Goa'uld attacking Earth. After everything had died down and her father returned to the Tok'ra, Sam had gone down to the infirmary, hoping to cadge a free meal, an evening with Cassie, and the promise of a safe place to wind down. Instead, she'd found Janet in the room their alien prisoner had occupied, arms wrapped around her midsection, eyes tightly shut, body trembling with quiet tears. She'd almost stepped inside and offered what comfort she could, but had held back, afraid the doctor wouldn't welcome an intrusion at that point; her grief had seemed too private and unapproachable. In the end, Sam had simply turned on her heel and slipped back out.

This time, she reached out, drawing the smaller woman into her arms before she had a chance to argue. "Shhh, it's okay," Sam soothed as she hooked a hand behind Janet's head and gently pressed the doctor's cheek against her chest. She stiffened and would have pulled away, but Sam held on and kept whispering soothing nonsense near her ear until she felt her begin to relax. As the doctor's muscles began to lose some of their taut rigidity, Sam held on more tightly, offering whatever succor she could until, finally, Fraiser surrendered completely. Leaning heavily into Carter's chest, she wrapped her arms around her torso, clinging desperately while her entire body shook with harsh sobs. "That's it." Sam did her best to offer what comfort she could. "Just let go." She rested her cheek against Fraiser's temple and massaged her upper back with one hand. "It's okay, y'know," she whispered, her soft breath disturbing the fine hair that fell across Janet's ear. "We've all cried a few tears over the things we've seen in this place." She smoothed silky bangs back from her brow. "Sometimes more than a few."

Carter just went on holding her friend, offering the warmth of simple human contact and whatever soft words of consolation she could think of, until Janet hung almost limp in her hold, her body no longer quaking under the ragged sobs. She sniffled softly and Sam cupped a hand along her jaw, guiding her head up. She stared down into bloodshot eyes with a worried look.

"I'm sorry," Janet apologized unsteadily. "I-I don't usually fall apart like that."

"You're exhausted, you've had a bad scare, a physical confrontation, and now you're trying to do a demanding job without even taking a break. If any of the rest of us did that, Doctor, you'd take us off duty."

"Sam, I--"

"You know I'm right," Carter cut her off firmly. She continued smoothing her thumb back from Janet's temple. "Maybe it's time for you to hand this case over to Warner or one of the other doctors," she suggested gently, already braced and ready for the mutinous look that crossed Fraiser's face right on cue.

"I can't," Janet exhaled, her voice still showing the strain of her crying jag. "Realistically, I'm the better doctor for the job."

"Not if you're falling apart," Sam pointed out, startled by the flash of pain she saw in the doctor's eyes. "You're too tired and you're not thinking clearly. If you won't hand off the case, at least let Warner handle transferring her to the observation room. You can take the time and get a little rest." Sam saw her draw breath to argue and hardened herself to what she had to do for Janet's own good. "I mean it, Janet. Either you take the time while we're moving her, or I'll hand the decision on your fitness over to General Hammond ... and I guarantee you, he will take you off this case. I'll make sure of it."

Anger flashed in dark eyes. "Excuse me?"

Sam was calm in the face of her friend's stormy expression. "I mean it," she said quietly. "You're too tired and you need to rest, even if it's only for a few minutes."

Indignant at being blackmailed that way, Janet started to argue, but one look at the implacable look on Carter's face convinced her it wouldn't do any good. "You'd really do it, wouldn't you ... go to General Hammond, I mean?"

Sam's expression was sympathetic, but her voice was steely. "Count on it."

A long moment passed and then Janet nodded in surrender. "The iso-room in back is empty. I can crash on the cot in there for a little while." She let her chin fall forward until her forehead was resting against Sam's chest. "As soon as I--"

"Now," Sam said firmly before Janet could get any farther. She knew Fraiser too well. If she let her start delaying her break, she'd just keep putting it off.

Fraiser was still opening her mouth to answer when Sam got support from an unexpected quarter. "She's right. You're obviously exhausted."

Both women turned toward the soft voice, and Fraiser pulled back a step as her eyes fell on the lean figure standing in the doorway to the examining room, her expression unreadable.

Wearing borrowed scrubs, the other Carter ambled into the room with an easy grace, her gaze locked firmly on the pale figure of the doctor. "Working till you drop isn't going to help anyone."

"I've already agreed to take some time off," Janet whispered, her tone coming out more defensive than she intended.

Carter stiffened, sensing an undercurrent of tension between Fraiser and her alternate. The only cause she could think of was the bruises she'd seen, but instinct told her that wasn't it. Still, the knowledge of those injuries set her teeth on edge and drove her to step between her friend and her alternate self, forming a protective barrier between them. "I'll make certain she gets the rest she needs," she informed her mirror image. A dark blond brow lifted in wry acknowledgment and Sam felt a fresh swell of anger.

"That's good," the other Sam drawled, offering a hint of a smile that never reached her eyes.

Not certain where the sudden burst of raw possessiveness had come from, Sam forced it down as she straightened her shoulders, transforming from outraged friend to professional scientist in the blink of an eye. "In the meantime, I'd like to move you to an observation room," she said smoothly.

"Heavily reinforced, I assume," the duplicate Carter said dryly, subtly making the point that she knew the score.

"It seems like the best option," Sam confirmed, her tone neutral.

"A wise precaution," her alternate agreed in an equally blasÚ voice.

Janet stared back and forth between the two women, her emotions torn and on edge in a way that their discretely acidic conversation was doing nothing to remedy. "I think I'll go get that nap now," she muttered disgustedly and moved to step past Sam, only to stagger. Two sets of hands instantly reached for her, though she was in no real danger of falling. By the time she regained her balance, she was facing the alternate Carter, her upper arms held gently in strong hands, while her universe's Carter had caught her from behind, steadying her with a firm grip on her shoulders. For a moment, all of the players in the drama stood frozen, a strange tableau against the backdrop of the examining room.

Janet's eyes lifted and she was caught and held prisoner by limitlessly deep blue eyes as she instinctively braced her hands against the other woman's upper chest. She started to say something, only to remember the woman standing behind her. Finally, Janet shook off both holds with a shrug, only to feel Sam's hands settle back on her shoulders from behind and refuse to relinquish their light hold. "I need to call Warner," she said haltingly, her expression apologetic as she explained to the woman in front of her, "He'll be handling your transfer into the new quarters."

The other Sam's face was impassive as she accepted the news. "I understand." Her eyes slipped past Fraiser to the woman standing stiffly behind her, then back down to the smaller woman. She dropped her hands to her sides.

Janet's hands were still resting on Sam's chest, and she suddenly became aware of the tension in the muscles under her palms. "Y-you really shouldn't be out of bed yet ... not so soon after...." She couldn't finish her comment and trailed off, then self-consciously dropped her hands.

"It's okay ... perversely enough, after one of the ... entropic attacks, I guess you could call them, I usually feel a better for a while." The alternate Sam started to lift her hand, half intending to touch the smaller woman's cheek, only to catch herself as she encountered a blazing look from the Carter who belonged in the current universe. She dropped her hand back to her side and looked away.

They were all still standing there, with no one quite certain what to say or do next when they heard the heavy sound of boots on cement.

"Doctor Fraiser," Warner stuck his head in the door, "the lab called up and said to let you know it'll be several more hours before they've finished the additional tests you ordered."

Sam still hadn't removed her hands from Fraiser's shoulders and she tightened her hold fractionally at the news. "There, that settles it. You can afford to take a little time for yourself," she said firmly. She pinned a hard gaze on Warner, who didn't appear to notice the tension in the room. "Doctor Fraiser was just about to call you. We're moving our guest down to the reinforced observation rooms and I need you to oversee any medical needs so Doctor Fraiser can get a little time off. Lieutenant Andrews has all of the details and he'll help you until I get back."

Warner turned a questioning gaze on Fraiser, who nodded in confirmation.

"Okay, that should be straightforward enough," he said a little uncertainly, finally noticing how ill at ease all three women were.

Sam used her hold on Janet's shoulders to gently push her around her alternate and toward the door.

"Make sure there's a complete crash kit on hand," Janet instructed as she resisted Sam's firm pressure. "And take one of the--"

"He can handle it," Sam interrupted, then glanced at Warner, who nodded in agreement.

"I'll make certain we've got the best of everything on hand," he assured them.

Janet opened her mouth to say more, but couldn't, short of questioning her colleague's competency, something that would have been grossly unfair. Warner wasn't the most exciting or creative doctor who'd ever lived, but he was thorough. Then she looked back at the woman standing stiffly a short distance away, arms folded across her chest, her expression unreadable, her pose heartbreakingly alone. Janet almost broke away from her friend's hold and Carter seemed to sense the desire, because she hurried her out of the room and down the hall, calling out as she left, "I'll be back to help in a few minutes." She didn't let up the steady pressure on Fraiser, instead speeding her along. "She'll be fine," she assured Janet to ease any feelings of guilt, then flinched at the arch look flashed her way. "At least for the moment." She pushed her friend into the isolation room at the end of the short corridor.

Janet turned, pulling free of Sam's light hold. "I just feel like I should be doing something ... if nothing else I should be there ... for her."

Sam forced down a flare of resentment that bordered on jealousy. "I know," she said softly, "but you're no good to anyone if you run yourself into the ground." Janet started to argue and Sam overrode her, "Just take the time it takes for us to move her ... that's maybe a half an hour." She reached out and gently rested her hand alongside Janet's face, ruffling her hair ever so slightly in an affectionate gesture. "You can afford that much time."

Janet looked away, torn between the knowledge that Sam was right and the powerful need to do what she could to protect the other Sam. Technically, she didn't belong there, but the other woman had already become inextricably twined in her life and emotions and leaving her alone felt like an act of betrayal. She could see Sam trying to understand what was happening, struggling to fit the puzzle together but without a key piece. In that moment, Janet almost told her the truth. Even opened her mouth to speak, but the words dried up at the last moment when Sam quietly added.

"I meant what I said about going to General Hammond if I have to." Sam dropped the hand at Janet's temple to tap the stethoscope draped around her neck. "I realize that, as a doctor, your first concern is your patient. But I'm your friend and, as long as this base isn't threatened, you're my first concern."

Janet drew in a sharp breath, posture stiffening with anger. "You're not giving me a lot of options here," she said tightly.

"I'm not trying to," Sam said softly, her expression sympathetic. She cupped Janet's shoulders in her hands, urging her to sit on the edge of the bed. "I know you. If I give you any maneuvering room, you'll be out there working until you can't stand up anymore."

Janet didn't even bother to argue with the charge.

Sam sighed softly, relieved that the protests were at least slowing. She reached past Janet, pulling the blankets back before pressing gently on her friend's shoulder, urging her to lie down when she would have stayed where she was. "All I'm asking you to do is close your eyes for a few minutes," she urged, her voice low and tender as she tugged the blankets up over her friend, well aware of just how tense she was. "I give you my word, I'll make sure you're notified if there's a problem," she offered, knowing that otherwise the doctor would just sit there and worry, and probably be even more stressed than if she just kept working.

"You'll keep trying to find a way to help her?" Janet husked, well aware that any remaining hopes for the other woman lay solidly on her friend's shoulders.

"Of course I will," Carter assured her. "I don't have any brilliant ideas right now," she admitted, not wanting to hold out hope that she honestly didn't see. "But I'm not going to stop looking for something."

"Thank you," Janet exhaled and rolled onto her side, grabbing the bed pillow and coiling tightly around it. Her body still ached from overexertion and tears, and she was suddenly so tired she could barely keep her eyes open. A gentle hand massaged her shoulder lightly, working away some of the tension.

"Just rest," Sam encouraged. "We can take care of things for a little while."

Janet buried her face in the pillow clutched in her arms. A few minutes. That was all. She'd just rest for a few minutes. In moments, she was asleep and never heard Sam's silent exit.

* * * * * *

It was, Samantha Carter mused, very strange to watch yourself go into convulsions and appear to be at death's door. Very, very strange. It was the sort of thing that stuck with a person even after things started returning to normal. Except it altered what normal was; skewed the whole concept and tipped it on its side.

She was in a reinforced observation room, watching her alternate self where she lay sprawled in the hospital bed that had recently been moved in, still pale from the otherworldly convulsions that had recently shaken her body. Carter backed up another step, staying well out of Warner's way as he checked his patient over, his expression as intense as it ever got, which was not very.

The latest 'entropic attack' as she mentally dubbed them had hit shortly after they'd finished moving the doppleganger into her new quarters. Carter had been in the booth working on a series of calculations and paying scant attention to a video monitor when it started, but she'd rushed down, watching in instinctive horror as primal forces tore at her duplicate, making her twist and writhe, and torquing reality in mind-bending ways.

Very strange, indeed.

She ran a hand over her hair. "She okay?" she questioned Warner after several moments.

He looked up, but the alternate Carter answered before he had a chance to speak.

"Surviving," she responded, her tone somehow a challenge, as though she was silently adding the addendum, 'You got a problem with that?'

"Glad to hear it," Carter murmured, annoyed at the smirk that appeared on the other Carter's mouth. She found herself wondering if she ever got that look and if others found it half as annoying as she did. If so, she owed a few people apologies.

The answering smile had a distinct, sarcastic, 'Yeah, right,' quality to it.

At that moment, Carter suspected her own mouth was twisted into that same smirk she disliked so much. Wonderful, dueling smirks. Now, that was a mature response. Unfortunately, she just couldn't seem to maintain her professional detachment where her alternate was concerned, not after the woman used her face to insinuate herself into Janet's home, then hurt her. Fraiser might have forgiven that particular sin, but Sam hadn't and she wasn't sure she was going to anytime soon. The strange part was that had it been anyone else, she probably would have been able to pity her -- the woman was dying for God's sake -- but she couldn't forget the bruises she'd seen or the fact that the woman who'd put them there had worn her face. It left her feeling guilty somehow, as though she was the one who'd hurt her friend.

She was still musing on her own emotions when a familiar voice broke into her thoughts.

"How bad was it?"

Matching blond heads swung toward the door, then tracked the slender woman who rushed into the observation room, making a beeline for the figure on the hospital bed. Fraiser looked better for the half hour or so of downtime, though still ragged around the edges. She flashed Carter an annoyed look of reproach for not being notified about the latest attack.

"Her vitals are already normalizing," Warner informed his superior as he stepped out of her way.

Sam watched closely as Janet leaned over her patient, her touch light as she worked. From her position, she had a good look at the doctor's profile as well as the guilt in her expression. No surprise there, Fraiser felt guilty when she couldn't heal their enemies. She didn't want to think about what she was going through now. She watched her friend's gentle ministrations and felt her own surge of guilt. She had no doubt Janet's emotions were so involved because of their friendship. It made the doctor vulnerable to her doppleganger.

"How are you feeling now?" Janet questioned as delicate fingers checked the pulse at her patient's wrist.

Sam was surprised when the woman on the bed flashed a rakish smile. "Better already," she responded, staring up at the doctor as though she was a human lifeline.

"That's good to hear." Janet glanced back at the medical equipment stashed in one corner of the room, but made no move to use any of it, just retrieved a penlight from the breast pocket of her labcoat. She flashed the light in her patient's eyes, watching the response with practiced skill. "The patient complaint forms are a real pain to go through," she teased gently.

Sam took a step closer, watching carefully, her instinct to protect her friend at war with her knowledge that Janet was a professional with a job to do.

Finally, Fraiser glanced over her shoulder at Warner. "Since the situation's under control, and it looks like things are set up here, you can go ahead and return to the infirmary." She straightened and turned away from her patient. "I'd appreciate it if you'd coordinate the data coming in and also oversee normal operations."

He nodded in acknowledgment, his gaze staying with her longer than normal. Apparently, he'd finally noticed something was going on. "If you need anything else, just let me know."

"I will," Fraiser assured him.

With a last musing look at the three women, the older doctor turned and left.

"Well, that was fun," the woman on the bed drawled and folded an arm over her face.

As Sam watched, Janet reached out and lightly patted her patient's shoulder, the gesture clearly intended to offer some comfort, while the expression on her face was heartstoppingly sad. "I'm sorry. There's nothing I can give you for the pain."

"I know."

Sam frowned at hearing her own voice sounding so tired and heartsick and felt some of her anger melt away. She wondered if she'd have handled it any better if she'd found herself in the same situation; wondered too if she could be as forgiving as Fraiser if their situations were reversed.

"Major Carter, may I speak to you outside when I'm done here?" Janet's voice broke in on Sam's musings and she looked up, meeting the doctor's gaze.

"Sure," she said instantly. "Let me just do something in the booth while you finish up here ... I left in a bit of a hurry."

"I'll be out in a couple of minutes," Janet said as she turned back to her patient, not looking up as she heard the door open and close again.

* * * * * *

Carter was already waiting for Janet when she stepped into the hallway. Tense and full of energy, the major was virtually bouncing on her heels as she looked up, studying Fraiser closely under the unflattering fluorescent lights, a hint of a frown darkening her expression. "I was hoping you'd take a little more time off."

Janet shrugged. "I woke up and couldn't go back to sleep." She tapped her temple, thinking of the nightmare scenarios that had played out in her head as she lay alone in the darkened room. There was no way she could have stayed there doing nothing. "Too many thoughts."

Sam nodded. "I've been rereading my earlier research on the mirror ... trying to see if there's anything I missed." A frustrated headshake. "But I haven't found anything." She reached out and squeezed Janet's shoulder supportively. "I know this one is getting to you. If there's anything I can do to help...."

Janet's eyes slid away for a moment as she nerved herself up. Sam wasn't going to like this. "That's why I asked you out here," she said as she looked up again. "I need a favor."

"Of course." Sam's response was immediate. "Anything in my power."

A hint of a nervous smile touched Fraiser's mouth, and she half pointed over her shoulder. "I'd like to speak to her alone."

Sam tensed and Janet knew she'd been right. She didn't like the idea. "I don't think so."

"She's not going to hurt me, Sam," Janet insisted, correctly guessing at least one of Carter's worries. "What happened before ... that was a misunderstanding. She's not a prisoner ... she's my patient."

"A patient you've already had one altercation with," Sam pointed out, not even trying to hide her outrage over what had happened. No way was she going to give the other woman a chance at a repeat performance, particularly when Janet still hadn't explained the cause of the bruises to her satisfaction, merely dismissed them with an incomplete explanation.

"Sam ... please ... she's my patient," Janet said carefully, relying on her professionalism to get through the discussion without admitting how personally important this was to her. "There are things I need to discuss with her about her condition and I would prefer to do that with some privacy."

Carter pulled up short, a muscle pulsing in her jaw. "Janet, I'm sorry. I just don't think that's wise," she said firmly, but with as much sympathy for her friend's quandary as she could muster. "Look, I'll stay as far out of the way as I can ... give you as much privacy as possible, but I'm not leaving you alone with her."

Janet made a small, frustrated sound in the back of her throat, and tamped down on the urge to lose her temper and indulge in a few stress releasing histrionics. She tried another tack. "Do you trust my judgment?" she asked after a beat.

Carter looked uncomfortable. "Of course I do," she said instantly.

"Then trust my judgment that it would be inappropriate for you to stay." She reached up to massage the back of her neck. "I know what I'm asking, but I honestly believe that this is for the best, and I'm asking you to have a little faith that I know what I'm doing."

Carter stood staring at her friend for a long moment, visibly feeling cornered by the request. "I suppose I could monitor things from the booth," she allowed after some consideration.

Janet shook her head. Considering the personal issues the might come up, she couldn't allow that. "I'm asking you to shut off the cameras ... no tape and no monitoring."

"Kinda defeats the purpose of an observation room, doncha think?" Sam asked, unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

"She just had one of the attacks ... which means nothing's going to happen for awhile that requires that level of data collection." Janet rested a hand lightly on Carter's forearm. "I really need some time to speak to her ... privately."

Sam folded her arms across her chest, borderline to being angry over the none-too-subtle pressure being applied. "Are you sure this is just about her medical case?" she asked more sharply than she intended.

Janet paused for a moment, struggling with the question. How was she supposed to answer when she wasn't even entirely certain what needed to be said. There were the obvious physical realities, but there were also far more complex emotional matters at stake. Ones she couldn't discuss with Sam. She sighed heavily, struggling to come up with an answer that made sense without explaining too much. "No, it's not," she admitted. "She's been through hell ... and I have to go in there and tell her that she's probably dying." She looked down at her clasped hands for a moment as she mentally regrouped before continuing. "She may break down ... she may need a shoulder to cry on ... and, bluntly put, there's no way I can offer that with an audience looking on ... particularly you. I have a responsibility to any patient to do what I think is best for them, and I'm asking you as a friend to let me do what I think is right."

They were both silent for a long moment. Finally, Sam ran a hand over her hair in a gesture of frustration, obviously incredibly uncomfortable with the idea.

"Please, Sam ... it's nothing that affects this base," she said, hoping that would ease some of her friend's fears. "It's just something I need to do."

Carter was silent for another long beat and Janet could almost see the gears turning in her head. She was trying to figure things out, but couldn't fit the pieces together. "This is really important to you," she said at last.

Janet nodded. "Yes. There are things that need to be said. Please trust me on this."

Another long moment and finally Sam nodded, giving way against her better judgment. "All right. I'll shut things down in the booth ... let you know on the loudspeaker when you're clear. But if she hurts you in any way..." she added by way of threat.

A hint of an ironic smile touched the doctor's mouth. "She won't," she exhaled and turned to step back into the observation room, her attention already elsewhere so she never heard Carter's softly spoken response.

"She already has." She wasn't referring to bruises, though she wasn't entirely certain what she was referring to.

* * * * * *

"Hey there," Fraiser said softly as she reentered the observation room. It wasn't intended as a cell so there was a lock on the inside of the door, and she engaged it, guaranteeing they wouldn't be interrupted during their conversation.

The alternate Sam Carter lifted her arm from her face, lifting her head to peer at Janet, her expression ironic. "You lost your guard dog."

"She's a friend and she's worried," Janet explained. "She saw the bruises and she's not happy."

The other Sam paled several notches. "Bruises?" she repeated, sounding as though she'd been gut-punched. Her voice full of self-recrimination, she muttered, "And I put them there." She ran a hand through her hair. "God, I'm sorry." She sat up, staring at Janet with a kind of desperation. "Does she know what happened?" Only to answer her own question a beat later. "No, of course she doesn't know. She'd kill me if she knew."

"No," Janet admitted, making a small gesture to silence the woman on the bed. "But we can talk about that in a moment."

The blond frowned in confusion.

"She's agreed to shut off the monitors."

* * * * * *

Sam turned down the volume on the sound first, then began shutting down the video decks recorded information from a variety of monitoring devices. The array was designed to gather and record data from different angles and frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum and, for the moment at least, offered no signs of anything unusual in the observation chamber.

Another few switches on the master control board and the monitors still showing a camera's eye view of events flicked off as well. She waited a beat, then grabbed for the microphone that hung in front of the board, toggling the switch on the base as she spoke. "Doctor Fraiser, you're clear. Let me know in the booth when you're done, but I won't bother you in the meantime."

She flipped off the mic and reached for her laptop, determined not to sit and wonder what the hell was being said in the observation room. She'd promised and she kept her promises. Fraiser knew what the hell she was doing. She'd never had cause to doubt that before.

Sam focused grimly on the computer, searching through the notes she'd made on the quantum mirror in hopes of finding some kind of answer. Remembering the look of hope that had flashed more than once in the doctor's eyes when they'd turned her way, she gritted her teeth and dug in, hunting for something she'd missed before. She knew how personally her friend took her patients' health, and the harsh reality was no matter how Sam felt about her alternate, Janet was going to be shattered if they lost her. And, like it or not, her only real hope was that Sam could figure out some kind of miracle answer. Carter sighed softly, painfully aware that she was probably going to have to let her friend down, no matter how much she hated the idea.

* * * * * *

"I'm amazed she agreed," the alternate Sam muttered. "I'm not sure I would have in her shoes."

"I asked her to trust me," Janet said softly, uncertain how to read her patient's mood. She'd lain in this woman's arms, touched her body and listened to her heartbeat, but she wasn't sure how well she really knew her. Or maybe she knew her too well. She shook here head sharply as if she could throw off the confusion that easily. It didn't help and she was left just trying to get through each moment as it came.

A wry smile twisted the blonde's mouth. "Fought dirty, huh?"

"It's not like that," Janet said quietly, though there was frustration in her tone. "We're friends. She trusts my judgment."

"Yeah, and she hates my guts. She doesn't know exactly why, but she does--"

"She doesn't hate you," Janet said sharply, feeling the need to defend her friend from what felt like an accusation. "She just doesn't trust y--"

"She hates me," Janet's one-time lover disagreed as her eyes slid over the woman in front of her, silently reminding her of all the things they'd done together. "Just like I'd hate her if our situations were reversed."

Needing to halt that line of thought, Janet held up a hand in an effort to regain some measure of control over the situation. "I didn't come here to talk about Sam. I came here to discuss--"

"Sam," the blond drawled knowingly and pointed at her own chest, the gesture a clear cut reminder of just who she was.

Janet stared at the other woman for a long moment, struggling with her own emotions as she tried to read the expression on the alternate Sam's face. "You're angry," she said at last.

The woman on the bed flinched and started to respond only to hold the words back. After a beat, she seemed to wilt. "No," she denied, the bravado draining away in an instant. She let out a tiny bitter laugh. "Of everyone in this mess, I'm the one with the least right to be angry." She looked back down at her clasped hands, fiddling with the bandage with her thumb, self-consciously aware of the woman watching her. Her eyes slid closed, her tone full of disgust. "And she should hate me. I hurt you."

Fraiser let out a low sigh, and took a seat on the edge of the bed. "I really didn't come here to discuss that," she said after a long moment.

Blue eyes lifted, watching her closely, while the blond seemed to brace as if she expected an attack. "So, what did you come to discuss?" she asked hoarsely, her eyes dark with fear, fully expecting the woman in front of her to tell her to go to hell.

"Your medical tests."

Blond brows lifted in surprise. "My tests?" She'd almost forgotten about those.

Janet took a deep breath, struggling to put the professional mask in place. She could do this. She had to do this. She reached out, resting her hand lightly on a warm knee in an automatic gesture of comfort, then realized what she'd done and dropped her eyes to that point of contact. She found it hard to get the words past the sudden tightness in her throat. "I've gotten your tests back and--"

"I'm dying."

Dark eyes lifted and Janet let out a tiny surprised gasp. A second later, her hand was caught and held in a warm grip as she continued to stare at the other woman in open shock.

"I know."

Janet's breath caught. She'd been braced to tell the woman, and now she found out she already knew. "You know?" she exhaled as though she'd been struck. And then it all made sense in a perverse way. "Of course you know," she muttered and shook her head disgustedly. "That's why you told the general you'd just as soon stay here." She looked away, a dozen thoughts and emotions coursing through her brain, tumbling over one another in their haste to come to the forefront. Dark eyes slid closed for a long moment. "And that's why...." She would have pulled her hand back, but Sam wouldn't let go.

"No," the blond said quickly and reached out with her other hand to stroke Janet's cheek, wincing when the doctor flinched away from her touch, the look in her eyes accusing. Slender shoulders deflated. "All right ... yes ... you're right."

At that, Janet did yank her hand back and thrust to her feet, jumping back several paces as she stared at the woman on the bed in shock. "God ... you came to my house, acted like my friend ... you made me care ... made me..." Overwhelmed by hurt anger, she couldn't finish the sentence, but the words kept bubbling up. "And then you...." She shook her head, backing away. "And you knew!"

Sam bounded out of the bed, but Janet danced back just out of reach, holding up a hand to stop her from coming any closer.

"Don't ... just don't," she hissed. She blinked at the haze of tears filling her eyes. "Damn you," she choked and spun away, shoulders heaving as unwanted sob shook her delicate frame. She slammed her fist into the wall in a blind attempt to replace the emotional pain with something more concrete.

Arms wrapped around Janet from behind, and a hand caught her fist, pulling it back from the wall. "Don't ... please don't," Sam whispered near her ear. "Not because of me."

Janet calmed herself and stood unmoving, but profoundly tense, inside her one-time lover's arms. "Why?" she whispered, her voice rough with stress. "If you knew ... why would you...." She couldn't finish and trailed off.

"Why did I make love to you?" Sam finished for her.

"Yes."

A soft, sad sigh. "I think I've been a little insane since everything went to hell ... like I detached from myself when I lost her...." She took a deep breath, her voice low and calming when she started to tell the parts of the story she'd left out in the briefing room; about how her Janet had been injured, then holding her in the snow until they both slept, and finally those last hallucinatory moments when her dead love had urged her through the quantum mirror. As she felt taut muscles relax slightly, she lifted her bandaged hand, threading her fingers into auburn silk to massage Janet's temple with slow, soothing strokes. "I promised her I'd hold on as long as I could ... and I have ... but nothing worked ... nothing helped ... and when I reached PRX-1138, it was quiet ... pretty ... I thought it was a good place to let go...."

Janet hung paralyzed in her lover's arms, struggling to reconcile everything she was hearing.

"Then I saw the team ... heard your name ... and I couldn't resist temptation. I've met up with various versions of the SGC before ... but always as some poor freak they were trying to help.... This time I could just be me. I shouldn't have done it, but I did ... and when I saw you ... it was like everything that had happened wasn't real." She nuzzled Janet's ear, breathing in the scent of her skin. "I thought you'd be just like her, but you weren't. You were someone new ... the same, but different ... and I was fascinated." She smiled at the memory. "You're a little more cynical than she was ... quicker with a smartass remark ... but at the same time, you have her softness ... watching you with Cass, I found myself wishing she could have had a child...." She paused, swallowing hard against her own tears. "And I found myself falling in love with you ... both as a part of, and separate from, her." Janet's eyes were tightly closed, her body occasionally shuddering under the impact of small, disconnected sobs. "It was all bound up together ... you ... her ... my feelings. I'd kept everything I felt for her locked away until it was almost too late and I couldn't do it again...." Then she made the hardest admission of her life. "And I guess maybe I also felt that I deserved a moment of happiness ... of my own ... just a little something to make up for...."

"For losing everything," Janet whispered, her voice a husky shadow of itself.

"For losing everything," Sam confirmed, hanging her head in shame. "I'm sorry ... for everything." She let go as she felt the woman in her arms carefully disengage from her hold and closed her eyes tightly. She'd known she'd have to pay the piper. What she hadn't calculated was the cost. She stood waiting for words of fury and hatred to pour down on her head.

Instead, gentle fingers brushed a few strands of pale hair from her brow. "Look at me," Janet commanded gently.

Sam didn't want to obey; didn't want to see the rage she was certain would be reflected in the other woman's eyes.

"Please, Sam ... look at me."

A long moment passed and then blue eyes slowly slid open. "I don't blame you if you hate me," she husked, but there was no hatred in the brown eyes staring up at her.

"I don't," the smaller woman denied. "I couldn't." She trailed her fingers impossibly lightly down this Samantha Carter's face, brailing her features with a gentle touch, then outlined the curve of her lips. Tears filled her eyes and her chin quavered ever so slightly. "I just want it make it all better," she whispered in a voice full of pain, "and I can't."

"No one expects you to," Sam whispered and slipped her arms around Janet's shoulders, tugging her close with gentle pressure.

* * * * * *

Sam Carter tried to bury herself in her research, really, honestly tried, but the whole time she was working, a distant part of her brain remained with her friend, wondering if she was all right, worrying that she wasn't. Logically, she knew Janet was right and her alternate had nowhere to run and no reason to hurt the doctor. Instinctively, she didn't trust her. There was something going on beneath the surface there, and she feared her duplicate was using Fraiser's innate decency against her somehow.

She flashed a glance at the dark monitors as though they might offer some kind of solution. Unfortunately, the dim equipment offered neither answers nor sage advice.

Sam pursed her lips and entered another set of parameters into the theoretical model she'd set up, leaning back as the computer began making its calculations. Even with twin processors both operating at a over gigahertz, it would take several minutes to come up with all of the numbers she was looking for.

She glanced at the monitors again, silently cursing the agreement to leave them dark. She should never have gone along with that. She looked at her watch. Ten minutes gone already. If the other Carter planned on trying anything, she'd probably made her play by now. The thought set her pulse racing.

She studied at the master control board. Just a flick of a switch. That was all it would take. Hell, the way it was positioned, someone could easily hit it by accident; just bump it while doing something else.

Eyeballing the distance, she automatically laid out in her mind just how easy it would be for someone to accidentally flip the switch with a stray elbow. The logistics were simple enough. All she had to do was reach for the pen that lay on the opposite counter. If she didn't get up, she'd have to work to avoid the switch in question. Janet couldn't blame her it happened by accident ... and with luck, nothing would be wrong, so the doctor would never need to know anyway. A plan for plausible deniability firmly in place, she nonetheless paused as she leaned across the control panel to reach for the pen. After all, she'd given her word -- albeit under duress -- and if Fraiser ever found out she'd broken it, she'd rightfully be mad as hell, even if she probably would have done the same thing had their positions been reversed. She was probably being too suspicious in any event. Chances were that everything was fine and Fraiser was just breaking bad news to a patient and offering whatever comfort she could.

The final irony was that she was so involved in the internal debate that she really did lose track of where her arm was and accidentally trip the switch. In the first instant, she started to react the way she would have if she'd never contemplated intentionally turning the monitor on, scrabbling to shut things off even as an image flared to life on the high resolution screen. She froze a beat later, her hand hanging poised over the switch as she stared at the glowing screen.

Her alternate was standing, arms wrapped around Fraiser. Sam tensed suspiciously, momentarily thinking it was some kind of attack, then Janet looped her arms around the woman holding her, hiding her face in her shoulder. The other Sam lifted a hand, stroking auburn hair tenderly, and Sam could see her lips moving as she spoke. With the sound down, she couldn't hear the words, but she could see the way Fraiser pressed deeper into the hug and tightened her hold on the other Carter. By the look of it, the doctor was receiving more comfort than she was giving.

Which meant she should shut the monitor off. She'd seen what she needed.

Only she couldn't. For reasons she couldn't quite explain, she stayed where she was, her fingers still hovering over the control switch. Then, as she watched, Janet tipped her head up and Sam could see she was crying. She leaned forward, unable to look away from the monitor even though she knew she should. The emotions she was viewing were too intense and held the promise of an answer about what was tearing her friend up so badly.

The kiss that followed nearly knocked the major out of her seat.

It was like a reverse sense of deja vu, watching herself do something she'd never done as that other Samantha Carter curved long fingers along the doctor's jawline, tipping her head up and ducking her head to taste soft lips.

Sam could feel her heart hammering in her chest. Pure unadulterated shock was the only possible description of what she was feeling.

Her hand fisted as it occurred to her how Janet had gotten those bruises, momentarily forgetting that Fraiser had leaned into the hug. She thrust to her feet, lips pulling back from clenched teeth in a raw snarl. She was going to kill her alternate self.

And then the doctor's hands lifted, sliding up the taller woman's chest and around the back of her neck. Carter's knees threatened to buckle, her blind rage draining away in an instant, as Fraiser's fingers dug into blond hair, her body language not that of a woman trying to fight off an attacker, but rather struggling to pull a lover closer.

"Oh, God," she exhaled heavily. She sat heavily, dazed, her eyes locked on the monitor. Well, that explained Fraiser's emotional involvement. A thousand thoughts and suspicions ran through her mind even as she reached for the volume control.

The image of Fraiser broke the kiss, leaning away from the woman holding her even as the speakers crackled to life. "Oh, God, what am I doing?"

The other Carter, the one Sam would have gladly shot at that point, threaded her fingers through short, dark hair, stroking gently. "I don't know," she admitted, her voice ragged with emotion. "But you didn't do it, I did."

* * * * * *

"You're wrong," Janet disagreed and gently disengaged from her lover's hold, gaining some distance in hopes of clearing her head. "I was as much a part of that as you were." She massaged the back of her neck in hopes of releasing the knot of tension growing there.

Carter's double sat down heavily on the edge of the bed and it occurred to Janet that it was getting harder and harder to think of her as anyone's double -- she was fast becoming her own Samantha Carter in her mind -- wholly separate and distinct from any other Samantha Carter. "Except that it's not me you're kissing, it's her ... just like it was her you made love to." She pressed her hands deeply into her eye sockets and let out a tiny, bitter laugh. "I'm a goddamn ghost ... I don't really even exist."

"That's not true," Janet said instantly, moving to gently tug Sam's hands away from her face. "You said I was the same but different, but so are you ... you're not her ... you're you." She stroked her cheek lightly, then slid higher, smoothing her finger along an arched brow, before tucking her fingers under this Sam's chin and drawing her head up until their gazes locked and held. "I can see the hurt ... the sadness in your eyes, but also the wisdom and caring ... the gentleness. Even with what you've been through, there's nothing cruel in you ... nothing petty...." She trailed off and just stared down into pale blue eyes.

The eyes staring up at the doctor glittered with a worshipful kind of hope. "You know what I wish," she mused out loud. "I wish just once I could hold you as myself--" And then she cut that thought off right there, closing her eyes tightly. "I'm sorry, I have no right...." She fell silent, lost in her own thoughts and didn't realize the woman standing over her had moved until she felt tapered fingers slip into the hair at her temples and guide her head back up. Then warm velvet lips found hers, the kiss soft and tender as their mouths moved together.

When the kiss finally broke, Sam stared up at the woman leaning over her in awestruck wonder. "Janet?"

A finger dusted over Sam's mouth then slid lower, trailing down her throat. "Sam."

The other Carter frowned uncertainly, afraid to let herself hope. "I'm not her."

Pink lips lifted in a thoughtful smile. "No, she's this universe's Sam. You're my Sam," she whispered almost inaudibly and leaned down to kiss her lover again, catching her hands and drawing them around her own waist in silent invitation. A beat later, hands slid under her labcoat to spread against her back.

As the kiss broke, Sam tightened her hold on Janet's body, resting her cheek in the hollow between her breasts. "I can't ask this of you," she exhaled, her breath warming the flesh under Janet's thin t-shirt.

"You're not asking. I am," Janet corrected as she tipped Sam's head back up and found her lips. She shrugged out of her labcoat, then warm hands slid under her t-shirt, peeling it upward.

* * * * * *

Sam Carter didn't know what to think ... what to feel....

And she certainly didn't know what to do.

She could only sit watching in shock as her best friend tossed her shirt aside, then leaned into another kiss with the other Sam Carter.

Her hand fisted on the control board, and she swallowed hard. No wonder Fraiser hadn't wanted an audience. What the hell was she supposed to do now? Rush down and break them apart? Stay where she was and stay out of it? Just shut off the damn monitor and forget everything she'd seen? She honestly didn't know.

Sam massaged her temple in an effort to rid herself of the headache suddenly pounding there, self consciously looking away as the other Carter slipped the catches on Janet's bra and tossed it aside, murmuring something too low for her to understand.

"Sam, it's not--"

Carter's eyes flashed back to the screen at the sound of her name. Except it wasn't her name this time, it was another Samantha Carter's, spoken with enough love and tenderness to make the angels weep.

"I need to see." Her other self had leaned back and was peering up at the woman staring down at her.

"Sam--" Fraiser's voice was low and uncertain.

"Please." She pushed to her feet, resting her hands lightly on Janet's shoulders before smoothing them down her upper arms. A moment passed and then the doctor did a slow pivot.

Carter tensed, ready to rush down and rescue her friend if need be, but her alternate only stood staring at Janet's narrow back, fixated on the shadows darkening the smaller woman's back and shoulders. Finally, she reached out, her touch almost reverent as she ran a single finger down the center of Janet's spine. "I'm sorry ... I'd undo them if I could."

"They really don't hurt," Janet assured her. "I've always bruised easily."

"I wish I could undo every hurt you've ever suffered," the other Sam breathed, then she ducked her head, feathering delicate kisses over a bruise that marred the doctor's left shoulder. "Make your life perfect...." She moved lower, dusting more tiny kisses over Janet's injuries. "Give you everything you've ever wanted," then dropped to her knees, lips finding the pale bruise visible above the edge of her waistband. She wrapped her arms around her lover's hips, unzipping the front fly then tugging the cammos down just far enough to follow the line of the bruise with her lips.

"The only thing I want right now is you." Janet turned in the alternate Sam's loose hold, and the woman watching froze, paralyzed as she watched her friend reach down and draw the kneeling woman to her feet. Her hands found the bottom edge of the other Sam's scrub shirt to tug it upward. "I need this ... need to be with you."

The desperation in Fraiser's voice had Carter frozen as she found herself wondering if her friend's feelings were something new, or had she been carrying some secret torch for a long time? She shied from the thought of unknowingly hurting Janet, then her fury surged at the thought that her alternate might be using the doctor's feelings against her in some way. Fraiser had to be in deep emotionally to be willing to take so many chances for an opportunity to....

Sam opted not to finish that thought, though her eyes were drawn back to the screen as the two women sank to the bed together, mouths mated, hands flowing over pale flesh, clothing nearly all gone now. Unfortunately, doing anything now meant acknowledging what she was seeing. If she went down there and split them up, there was no way she could pretend she didn't know, no way she could pretend she hadn't betrayed Janet's trust and no way she could avoid the emotional fallout in their friendship. No one else needed to know, but it would affect the easy rapport they'd always shared. Hell, she wasn't sure their friendship would survive. Not that either of them would intentionally pull away, but there would be uncertainty and discomfort and that could doom a relationship faster than betrayal.

And Sam Carter wasn't exactly swimming in close friends. Her reclusive, workaholic nature had seen to that. She couldn't afford to lose the only one she had left who wasn't a member of SG-1.

She hid her face in her hands, trying not to think about the soft sounds of passion filling the room. She didn't know what to do. Emotional problems weren't her strong suit, for God's sake. Why was she the one stuck with this decision?

She heard the sound of the door to the booth opening at the same moment she heard Jack O'Neill's voice. "Hey, Carter."

Sam's hands had never moved so fast in her entire life as she shut off the monitor and slammed the volume control to zero in one quick pass. "Sir?" she yelped as she finished and spun in her seat.

"Thought I'd stop by and see how things are going," O'Neill explained as he stepped through the door. He glanced at the banks of tv screens and pulled up short, forehead creasing in a frown. "Wasn't the point of moving the other Carter to an observation room ... well ... observation?" he questioned, indicating the dark monitors.

Sam shrugged, trying desperately to look like she'd been involved in her computer work. "I ... uh ... shut them down, sir."

O'Neill's questioning look turned her way. "Because?"

Sam's brain went momentarily blank, and she suspected the colonel was starting to think she was losing it. "Doctor Fraiser requested it, sir." O'Neill's eyebrows shot up, driving Sam to continue her explanation. "Carter's medical tests came back ... and they weren't good." That much was true. "Fraiser felt that telling her in private was better."

Jack's mouth twisted. "You'd think doctor-patient confidentiality would be out the window under the circumstances," he muttered.

Which gave Sam an easy out. "You know Fraiser, sir."

"Yeah, she does tend to go all mama-bear when it comes to her patients," Jack snorted softly, his tone making it impossible to tell whether he admired or disliked that particular trait in the doctor. Sam suspected his opinion depended on whether she was helping or hindering his aims at any given moment.

"Yes, sir, she does," Sam agreed, risking a glance at the monitors to make absolutely certain they were all off. Whatever mental debate she'd had about breaking things up was out the window with O'Neill in the room. No way in hell she could let him have any idea what was going on in the observation room. Jack was old-school Air Force. God only knew how he'd react. He might just snort and look the other way. Or he might just see Fraiser cashiered out. Either way, it would change everything. "I was just working on some things ... trying to find a way to help her." Her tone made it obvious she'd had no luck.

Jack shook his head slowly. "How bad is it?"

"The worst," Sam said simply and saw him pale.

He gestured to her laptop. "C'mon, Carter, there's gotta be something you can pull out of your little bag of tricks."

Sam's teeth gritted with frustration. "I don't have a bag of tricks, Colonel," she said impatiently. "And we're dealing with very elemental forces here. I can't just change the laws of nature ... hell, I'm barely sure what they are in this instance." Despite her tone, she wasn't angry at him, just annoyed with herself for not having all the answers. They all trusted her to fix everything and she didn't know how.

O'Neill threw up both hands as though she meant to hit him. "Hey, easy," he defended himself from her brief explosion of anger. "I just meant that you usually...." He saw the self-recrimination in her expression and backed off. "You okay, Carter?"

Her mouth twisted in a wry smile. "Fine, sir," she said without any particular degree of sincerity. "Just a little tired." She massaged her temple. "And I really don't have time to talk."

He appeared surprised by her obvious hint. "Oh ... okay. Well, I just need a few minutes. I spoke with General Hammond and he and I both feel that we can't leave that quantum mirror out there on PRX-1138, so I'm going to take a team and see if we can bring it back. I wanted to check and see if there are any special precautions we need to take."

Sam sighed softly, wishing she could get him the hell out more quickly. He dragged a chair over and sank down into it, elbow braced on his knees as he waited for her to speak. Clearly, the fastest way to get rid of him was to just answer any questions as best she could. "Well, sir, the primary thing you'll need to worry about is...."

* * * * * *

The soft sounds of heavy breathing and moving bodies filled the small observation room alongside the musky perfume of sweat and arousal. Janet lay stretched out beside her lover, a leg thrown across her thigh, fingers dancing over silky flesh. "I love looking at you," she exhaled near Sam's ear, then pushed up on her elbow, letting her eyes travel over the woman's lean form. Odd how two people who should have looked exactly alike were now so easily delineated in her mind. There were individual things she could list; this Sam was slimmer, her muscles more defined, while a different set of pale scars marred her lightly tanned skin. But the real difference was something less tangible that registered at an instinctive level. She simply was different.

"I just love you," Sam drawled and smiled up at the woman arched over her. She ran long fingers along the outer curve of a firm breast, amazed by the perfect velvet feel, then let her eyes fall to track her hand's progress down smooth curves, studying the fine texture of Janet's skin. She drank in every sight and sensation, memorizing the details, knowing they would have to last her for the rest of eternity.

After months lost in the universal streams, Samantha Carter had finally come home.

"You say that so easily," Janet exhaled and tipped her head up to meet Sam's gaze.

A poignant smile curved Sam's mouth. "I don't have time for games," she whispered in a stark reminder of the harsh reality.

Dark eyes closed tightly. "Don't talk like that," she husked. "You're still here ... there's still a chance...." She had to believe that. Other than the woman in her arms, it was all she had to cling to.

She missed the look that flickered in pale eyes, but she felt the hands that twined with hers as Sam pressed her onto her back. "I don't want to think about that right now." She kissed Janet hungrily as she began to move against her. "We're here together now ... that's all I ask for."

Janet's stared up at Sam, every emotion living in her eyes. "Ask for one more thing," she breathed.

"Janet...."

The smaller woman disengaged a delicate hand from Sam's loose hold, lifting it to stroke the curve of her lips. "Ask."

Sam swallowed hard and barely got her voice past the heavy lump in her throat. "Love me ... that's the only thing I want."

A soft smile touched full lips. "I do ... and in case you have any doubts, I know who I'm with."

* * * * * *

Samantha Carter -- the one who belonged in the current universe -- stood frozen in front of the monitor, the soft sounds of the low declaration still reverberating in her ears. She'd only just gotten rid of O'Neill and turned the speakers back up when she heard their soft words.

She sat down heavily, palms still braced on the control panel. Well, that answered that. She couldn't interfere now.

Not when Janet had just....

She shied away from finishing the thought, but she knew she couldn't do that to her friend.

Her eyes lifted again and she couldn't stop staring despite her best intentions to look away. Janet had one arm stretched over her head, her fingers twined with the other Sam's, while their bodies danced together in an ancient rhythm. She could see every line of the doctor's body, the flex and play of her muscles, the faint gloss of perspiration on her skin as she moved together with a body that was a mirror of Sam's own. Disconcerting with the mildest term for the sight.

She tried to look away, but couldn't. Her eyes wouldn't leave the tableau laid out on the monitor. Janet's head slammed back into the pillows, and Sam's hand fisted tightly, nails digging into her palms as she heard her friend's small cry.

"Please...."

The other Sam buried her face in Janet's shoulder, the familiar features hidden, but not forgotten. "I love you ... God, I love you...." 

Sam knew it would be easier if she could just forget; wipe it out of her mind as though it had never happened. She also knew that was never going to be possible.

* * * * * *

Janet turned her head, lips brushing Sam's cheek, her breath coming in ragged gasps.

Sam twisted, blindly finding soft lips, drinking in her lover's hot breath. She could feel every inch of the smaller woman's delicate body molded to her own as sweet sensations rippled through every nerve ending, driving the accelerating cadence of their lovemaking.

Janet tightened her fingers in her lover's, holding on tightly, as though if she could just keep a strong enough grip, she could keep her close and safe. There were so many things she wanted to ask for, so many things she wanted to say, but she already knew too many of the answers, and only thing she had to say that really mattered was, "I love you...." Then her voice trailed off into tiny cries of pleasure that couldn't be contained.

* * * * * *

Sam flipped off the monitor and the sound, her hands ungraceful as she reached for her laptop with an inarticulate growl. She had work to do and spying on a friend wasn't going to do anyone any good. Clearly, Janet was safe enough and in control of the situation. She didn't need or want anyone acting the white knight and rescuing her. Sam ran shaking fingers through her hair, scraping overlong bangs back from her face. And she had a lot to do. She tapped the touchpad on the computer and the screen flared to life.

Work. Right. Lots of work.

She took a deep breath, struggling to focus her thoughts on the information in front of her and make her brain work. She had no real hope of finding any answers -- the research she'd already done had convinced her that the temporal entropic cascade failure was endemic to travel between universes -- but she had to try.

She gritted her teeth, determined to concentrate on her work and not think about what she'd seen.

Which was really none of her business anyway.

Just think about the numbers and theorems, calculate the probabilities and imagine the possibilities. All she had to do was let her mind run loose in the wilds of theoretical science and she'd be fine.

Now if she could just make herself believe it.

Continue to Part 3

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