Author: Rysler
Rating: PG
Pairings: Sam/Janet, established relationship
Category: Angst, AU
Date: 04/15/04
Website: MGM owns them. I just have the calendar.
Summary: Cassandra decides to join the Tok'ra
Notes: Post-Lost City, several AU features. I'm using the crippled Janet inspired by other authors. I borrowed a scene from Rocketchick's "Ancient Air" series, and this fic is a challenge response to her "Further North" wallpaper. The title comes from Babylon 5--Za'Ha'Dum is a place between life and death.


"What is it, Cassie?" Samantha Carter didn't look up from the laptop she was pecking at, set up on the corner of the coffee table in the Fraiser living room.

"You know, Mom doesn't like it when you bring work home."

Sam's head jerked up, and she glared at Cassandra, barely suppressing the urge for a snippy retort. "What is it, Cassie?"

Suddenly faced with Sam's full attention, Cassandra balked. "I was wondering... um... if you could contact Jacob for me? I kinda want to talk to him."

Sam lost interest. "You know the Tok'ra have broken off all diplomatic relations with Earth." She looked back at her notebook computer.

"It's important," Cassandra insisted.

Sam began typing. "What is?"

"It--just is."

"Dammit, Cassie, I don't have time for this." Sam tossed another glower in the direction of her daughter, and then focused pointedly on the screen.

Cassandra stood quietly for a long moment before blurting out, "I want to join the Tok'ra."

"No." Sam slammed the lid of the laptop shut, and stared at Cassandra, the full brunt of her frustration and anguish, brought on by the last few months, unleashed onto the girl.

"Mom said-" Cassandra began.

"I don't care what Mom said. You're staying here with us. You're going to college!" Sam tried to catch her breath, and quell the pounding in her chest from the fear suddenly rising inside her.

Cassandra stared at her. "Fuck you!" She cried, and fled from the room.

Sam went back to work. After long minutes of reading the same equation over and over, she was relieved to hear the faint buzzing that signaled Janet's arrival. She looked up to see Janet maneuvering the electric wheelchair into the living room with the faintest touches on the control pad.

After the mission to P3X-666, Janet had been left paralyzed. She was, essentially, a quadriplegic, with faint sensation in her left hand and arm. The staff blast she endured had nearly split her in two, drilling a hole through her breastbone and out her lower back, vaporizing parts of her spine. Veins near her heart had been cauterized, and the heart muscle itself had been grazed. The damage was irreparable. Janet slept more than 15 hours a day, and could not get out of bed, or do anything, by herself. The Air Force had assigned a military nurse to her, but he was mercifully absent. Sam hated the sight of him.

Sam smiled at Janet, and Janet smiled back, but it was a faint, thin, we're about to have a serious talk smile. Sam decided to get it over with. "Cassie wants to join the Tok'ra."

"I know," Janet murmured.

"I think she should go to college. Join the Air Force. Be a doctor. Anything but that."

Janet nodded toward a stack of papers on the other end of the coffee table, and Sam slid over to glance through them. Janet summarized while her partner flipped sheets. "Application to the University of Colorado. Application to the University of Southern California. Chemistry. History. Pre-Med. Application to the Air Force - Pilot Track. MP track. Foreign Service Application. Letters from her vocational counselor. Letters from her doctor. Essays." Janet exhausted herself in the recitation, and looked wearily in Sam's direction.

"When did--?"

"You were gone."

"I'm sorry--"

"Don't be sorry," Janet said. "Saving the planet is important. But life doesn't just stop in your absence. It goes on." She looked pale.

"So we're just going to let her go? To the," Sam spat the last word. "Tok'ra?"

"We were always just her caretakers, Sam. This was just temporary. She's not human. She may even be Hak'taur. This is the best thing..." Janet's weak voice trailed off.

Sam looked down at her hands.

"Major, it's not that I'm not sympathetic. I am. But we've been trying to contact the Tok'ra for several weeks now. Ever since we defeated Anubis. The Asgard and the Jaffa tribes have been willing to negotiate, but the Tok'ra are holding out."

"Maybe if you told them we have a host candidate-"

"There aren't enough symbiotes for hosts these days, ever since the queen died. You know that." Elizabeth Weir saw the look on Sam's face and relented. "But it wouldn't hurt to send another message, I suppose. If Earth could provide another host, especially an advanced human, the Tok'ra would be indebted to us. Again."

Sam exhaled and closed her eyes. "Thank you."

"Major." Elizabeth started, and then halted.

Sam opened her eyes and looked at Elizabeth curiously.

"Why couldn't--Dr. Fraiser--go through the same procedure?" Dr. Weir looked apologetic even as she inquired, knowing she was crossing far past the line of privacy, and interfering in another's pain.

"Janet's humanity is far too strong--even stronger than Colonel O'Neill's." Carter closed her eyes again. "She has worked too hard to make her life her own, to ever share it. She's too... fucking proud."

Elizabeth saw that Sam had already asked herself that question a thousand times in the months since the incident, and said no more.

Sam was walking through Stargate Command, her case slung over her shoulder, intent on getting back to her car and back home, when Doctor Warner caught up with her.

"Major Carter, wait!"

Sam stopped. "What do you want?"

He was flushed from exertion. "Can you please come to my office? I have something to discuss with you."

"I'm in a hurry, Dr. Warner," she snapped. "What is it?"

He lowered his voice, and stepped closer to the wall. "I need to make you aware of Fraiser's medical condition."

She looked at him wordlessly.

"It's deteriorating, Major." Warner frowned. "She doesn't have much time left. You need to know."

In that moment, Sam hated him. He saw it in her face. He waited.

"How long?" She managed hoarsely.

"A few weeks."

She sagged against the curved wall of the hallway. Warner stepped closer, shielding her from the glances of airmen passing by, but he didn't touch her.

"What am I supposed to do?"

"Fraiser already knows. vigilant."

Three days later, Sam was waiting at the base of the ramp in the gateroom. The iris opened, to reveal a gaping blue maw that spit out her father, who paused to make sure no guns were trained on him, and then ambled down the ramp. Jacob Carter looked older.

He hugged Sam, cursorily, and then she took his arm as they walked into the base.

"So, you have a new candidate, huh?"

"It's Cassandra," Sam told him.

"Cassandra Fraiser?" The vibrating voice of Selmak answered in surprise.

Sam began to tell them everything.

"Sam, wait."

Jacob's voice stopped her with her hand on the door release of her car. They were parked outside the Fraiser's house. Sam looked at him in confusion.

He lowered his head, and then lifted again, clearing his throat. "Sam, last time, I had to leave in a hurry. I didn't get a chance-"

"It's okay, Dad. I understand."

"Sam, I left you with nothing. I realized that as soon as I had a chance to catch my breath, and I'm profoundly sorry. I was caught up in salvaging the Tok'ra Council. I was too focused on politics. Sam..."

He reached up and pulled a chain from around his neck, on which dangled a slender golden ring. "I was wrong to leave like that. Selmak agrees. I thought saving the universe was important, but nothing-" Jacob looked at his daughter sternly. "Nothing is more important than family." He pressed the band into her hand, and covered it with his own.

"Dad-" Her eyes still held confusion, and guilt.

"That's my wedding ring, Sam. I've never gone a day without thinking about your mother, or you. I don't need it to remember. But I think you do." He squeezed her hand. "I know what's happening with Janet is rough, kiddo. But you are not alone. And you never will be."

He pulled her into a hug, and she clung to him. The maneuver was difficult in the small car, and the gearshift jabbed into her side as Sam pressed her face into her father's shoulder, but she held on until she had cried herself out. She was weeping for many things, and not the least of them the knowledge that Jacob was going to leave her again, soon.

Cassandra had been accepted, and she and Jacob were leaving together, via Stargate. She had said her goodbyes to her parents, and had asked them not to be there. She didn't want to have any reason to look back.

So, at the appointed time, Sam drove Janet to the mountains in Cascade, Colorado. They climbed to a particular spot, sacred and quiet. Teal'c, who had carried Janet up the steep trail without a single "Small for a doctor, big for a backpack" comment, settled Janet onto a pile of blankets and handed Sam the small monitoring device that watched Fraiser's vitals before he inclined his head, sadly, and descended from the mountain.

Janet sighed happily, snuggled in Sam's arms. "This is where we had our first kiss."

"Yup." Sam nuzzled the reddish-brown hair under her cheek. She refused to notice how thin it was. She lifted her chin as Janet's head moved to look up at her. Reading the small woman's expression, Sam smiled, and kissed Janet chastely.

"Mmmm." Janet sighed against Sam's lips. "Best kiss ever."

"The first one or this one?"

"What?" Janet looked at her innocently.

Sam grinned, her entire face lightening, as she kissed Janet again. And again. Her warm, enticing lips moved to Janet's cheek, then down to her jaw. Finally, as her teeth tenderly grazed Janet's neck, Janet protested. "You're a cruel woman, Samantha Carter."

Sam lifted her head, still grinning. "You know us Black Ops types. We take no prisoners." She glanced down at her wristwatch. "It's time."

They faced east, toward Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs, and home.

"There she goes..." Janet murmured.

Sam held her closer, resting her chin on Janet's shoulder. The sun was setting behind them, turning their hair golden and bronze in the vivid orange light. "Everything's changing," she said dully, a tint of anger to her voice.

Janet looked away, toward the northwest. The evening star had risen above the horizon, defiantly white and twinkling against the orange canvas. "What's that?"

Sam looked behind her. "Venus."

Janet chuckled. "Another world." Her voice caught. "Meet me there, Sam, someday."

Sam gripped her tighter, if she could only hold onto her, and not let her slip away--panic made her heart pound in her ears. Janet buried her face in Sam's neck, and Sam could feel the wetness on her lover's cheeks. The small woman seemed to be expecting an answer from her. "There's no point to going out there, if I can't even hold onto what's here."

"You're wrong, Sam." Janet's voice was weak and breathless. "The answers are out there, in the universe. In the hea--heavens." She gasped. "You need to keep trying. For all of us."

Sam covered her face with her hand, fighting back tears. Janet continued to watch the tiny star rising eternally against the twilight.