Author's Note: omg, hello! It's been a while, eh? I got nudged pretty hard a couple months ago. And after a hard drive crisis adverted, I found my drafts for this story. I have awesome computer geeky friends.

Summary: For when she's this vulnerable and this open, I see her for who she really is and I sympathize. I sympathize and hate myself for liking her as much as I do. [Sam/Vala friendship; eventual Sam/Vala; spoilers for all of season 10]

Tumble and Fall

by e-dog

13. The Road Not Taken: Roll, Bounce

I peek over the top edge of my computer monitor to find Cameron peeking back at me. He's leaning on the lab table, both palms flat and his arms ramrod straight. He peers at me with bright, confused eyes and I try to meet his gaze with empowered indifference. It's all I can do to not fall apart, but his gaze is intense, his curiosity even more so.

Again, he says to me, "You told Vala you would do what now?"

Indifference. Total indifference. I can totally do that.

It's no use. I crack. My expression falls into a deep panic as I confess more readily, "I told her we could go on a date. I told her we could go on a. . ." I breathe in deeply and then mutter quickly, "That was a bad idea. A really bad idea."

"Whoa, whoa, stop. Don't hyperventilate on me now, Carter. Stay calm," Cameron urges, rounding the corner of the table to sit on the empty stool next to me. He crosses his arms, leans closer and says, "You can always tell her 'no'. Take it back."

I look at him, eyes widening. "Cam. I can't do that."

He chuckles, then says, "Why the hell not? It's easy. Just tell her you can't. She's a tough gal. She'll get it."

"Cam. I just can't do that to her," I tell him calmly. He, of all people, should understand. Cameron believes in promises. He believes in trust.

He leans back again, arms still crossed, eyes even more bemused. He wonders aloud, "What haven't you told me about your accidental trip to Alternate Universe Earth? And don't tell me it was nothing. Something else happened there. I can tell."

"You can tell?" I say, nearly rolling my eyes. "Are you suggesting that whatever happened over there now has me doing crazy things like asking Vala out on a date?"

"I didn't suggest that, you did," Cameron points out.

"Well, to clarify, I made this date before I zapped myself elsewhere," I tell him defiantly.

"Sam, I'm more concerned with what happened after the zapping," he pushes.

"Cam . . ."

"I'm serious, Sam. While the prospect of a date with Vala would be naturally nerve wracking for any sane human being, there's something else shaping your convictions."

I shake my head, turn away from him and let my eyes focus on the moving images flashing across my computer monitor. The screen saver plays the spinning SGC symbol and no matter how hard I try to will it, the symbol gives me no insight to my sudden terror. I'm terrified and I'm not even sure I know how to explain what's come over me.

"Sam. What happened to you over there? Tell me, please. Talk about it."

I sigh. "Cameron, I already told you everything. . ."

"Right. Of course you did," he says, finally giving up and rising from the stool. Moments later, he takes up residence in the doorway, watching me as I watch him.

After a long, pregnant pause, he advises, "Do what you think is right, Sam."

He's about to leave. I should let him leave.

"Cam, wait."

He stays in the doorway. I approach slowly, wonder what the hell I'm doing right now. I run a hand through my hair and confess, "No, I didn't tell you everything."

"I knew it," Cameron replies, a smirk on his lips. He can't help but be childishly triumphant sometimes, even if it can be totally inappropriate.

I manage to smile in return, even though in my mind, I see Their Cameron in his wheelchair. Their Cameron, his humor melted into dark comedy. Their Cameron again, exiled and abandoned. There aren't enough words in the world to express my relief to be home, to see My Cameron grinning impishly before me. With a deep sigh, I say, "I hope our world stays the way it is, Cam."

Cameron regards my words before saying, "There's a reason we call them Alternate Universes, Sam. It's just one of many possibilities."

"I know," I nod. "I just . . . when I look in your eyes, you actually look at me in return. If we weren't friends, weren't as close as we are, I don't know . . ."

"Alternate," Cameron repeats gently. "Not us."

"Not us," I repeat as confidently as I can. I can't help that Their World has shaken me so. I can't help but feel afraid that someday we'll end up like them. The 'what ifs' surround me with an enormous amount of irrational uncertainty and dread. I look at Cameron again, see his eyes shine at me with worry and then I remember. This is my Cameron.

I repeat, "Not us."

Cameron smiles at me. "Don't let what happened scare you. You agreed to do this date thing with Vala for a reason. Now get outta here."

So I do. I leave my lab, head to my quarters. A quick shower and a change of clothes later and I'm outside her door. Several minutes pass, my hand poised to knock, but I can't follow through on the motion.

Okay, Carter. Just get this over with. I shouldn't be this nervous. I've stood up against the practical destruction of the entire universe and I've won. I can do this. This is a piece of cake.

I glance around the empty corridor again, just to make sure I'm alone and then timidly knock on the door. I hear a faint response, then the door swings open a few seconds later. I manage a restive grin, one that probably makes my entire expression look pensive and constipated.

Vala waits for me to either say 'hello' or explain my presence. I do neither. I just stare at her dumbly, not sure how to say what I want to say. The more I allow myself to feel something for Vala, the more I find myself tongue tied around her. Also, my eyes tend to gravitate to her. . .

"Sam, I know I'm gorgeous. It's okay. I don't mind the attention, but surely you came here for a reason other than checking me out," Vala says. My eyes snap back up. I'd like to think she's joking, but I know she's not.

With eyes squeezed shut for a moment, I collect myself and blurt out, "Let's go. Grab a coat, put on make-up. Whatever it is you have to do."

"Excuse me?"

"We're going out," I tell her. She doesn't move. "We're leaving now."

Her eyes look me over, probably noticing for the first time that I'm not in military fatigues. Her eyes land on my face and she remarks inquisitively, "Is that eye shadow?"

I sigh impatiently. "Vala, let's go."

"Let's go? Where are we going?" Vala inquires.

"It's a surprise," I answer.

"I don't like surprises."

I try one last tactic; something I know will make her agree to leave with me.

"We get to ride my motorcycle there."

Vala's grin is instantaneous . . . and mildly salacious. "Let me grab my coat then."

My passenger is enjoying the ride just as much as I am. It's absolutely exhilarating.

Vala squeals when I take sharp turns, her arms tighten around me with I pick up speed. I don't feel I have to hold back, I don't have to be concerned that my companion will upchuck their dinner along the way. Vala is adventurous and bold and exciting. She actually encourages me to go faster. She almost convinced me to wheelie down an open stretch of road. Almost.

Her enthusiasm fuels my desire to transform into someone not quite like me.

Someone less cautious. Someone moved by their heart, not by their head.

I nearly skid to a stop at our destination, parking my bike next to a meter. I peel the helmet off my head, grinning from ear to ear. Vala is already complaining that the ride is over. I look over my shoulder and protest, "Hey, I already broke several traffic laws on the way here so we could 'go faster'. Let's slow down for a while."

"Fine," she pouts, looking about the busy street. "Where are we anyway?"

We both climb off the bike as I finally confess, "This is our date."

Vala's expression immediately falls into disbelief. "You really meant it? This is our date?"

Sheepishly, I say, "Yep. This is our date."

Vala's expression is so bright, smile full of teeth and eyes glistening with utter contentment. I wasn't aware until just now how much this would mean to her. I feel I should say something profound, but she surprises me with a searing kiss to my lips, an effective means to shut my brain down completely.

The kiss is over before I can properly react (or return it), her hand in mine as she waits on me to lead the way. Still recovering from tingly lips, I walk her through the crowds toward our destination.

Garish disco music blares loudly as flashing lights glitter around us. It's been several years since I stepped into a place like this, but I've found it rather easy to fall back into a comfortable rhythm. Vala, on the other hand, is having a hard time adjusting. I almost worry that this was a bad idea for a first date, but her attempts at mastering this task are quite comical. If anything, at least I'll look back on this memory with fondness.

Vala's grip on me is deathly now. She's literally hugging me as we coast along. I hold her close to me if only to help keep us both upright. Occasionally, she'll slip to one side or the other. We've only fallen twice.

I lead us to the wall, allow some of the younger kids and more experienced couples to whiz by us. She immediately leans on the wall for support and while she glares at me, I unabashedly grin back.

"Stop laughing at me," she orders.

"I'm not laughing," I say, still grinning. I scoot closer, offer up some advice, "Don't be so stiff. Relax."

"These things on my feet are going to kill me," Vala scoffs. Then her eyes shoot daggers at me. "And you of all people shouldn't be advising me to relax."

I look down at her feet, ignoring her comment. "I did tell you it would be best to start with roller skates."

"But the roller blades looked like more fun," Vala whines. She attempts to stand straight again, but loses her footing almost immediately. I catch her before she hits the polished wood floor, help her return to an upright position. Vala's hands now rest on my shoulders, my arms around her waist. She almost seems to blush as she comments, "I do have to admit, Sam, our constant physical contact is much appreciated."

"Yeah, about that," I smile. I let her go and back away. She squeals and grabs onto the wall again.

"Sam!"

"You're on your own now," I tell her. "Go on. I'll stay close."

"I'd rather you be closer," Vala replies, swiping at me in an attempt to grab my arm.

"I know," I say, smiling wider. I glide past her, pretend I'm going to leave her behind. "Let's go. Try to keep up."

It takes a bit of coaxing - more like a lot of coaxing - before Vala pushes away from the wall and manages to just roll along without tipping over. I wait patiently for her to reach me, while kids zoom by; scaring the living daylights out of her in the process. I can't stop grinning as I watch her struggle to skate, but she does eventually bump into me. I find myself hugging her once more, gazing at her as she scowls back at me.

"C'mon. You're having fun," I tease.

"I'm only putting up with this because you wanted to be here," Vala tells me honestly.

My taunting smile softens. I reach up, tuck a strand of lose hair behind her ear. I say, "Trust me. Your patience has not gone unnoticed."

"Hmm, well, maybe I should warn you that my patience is about to run out," Vala chides lightly.

"Fine, we can go. . .," I say sympathetically, ready to lead her off the rink. Vala stops us, stops me. Her hands cup my face, she tilts my head down until our noses barely brush one another. Suddenly, I don't hear or see anything but her. The disco music fades, the rambunctious teen skaters still fly by, but all the noise melds into quiescent calm. It's just Vala before me and my heart thumps wildly knowing that I'm privileged to have someone like her this close to me. I whisper, "You don't want to leave?"

"While I would love nothing more than to remove these horrid skates and escape this dreadful noise you call music, I was actually referring to something else," Vala clarifies. The pad of her thumb traces my bottom lip, her eyes on my mouth. "I've agreed to suffer through a date and I think I've been patient enough."

"You have been . . . patient," I agree, allowing my forehead to rest against hers for a moment. The thought that I could kiss her now is frightening. Knowing that she wants me to; even more so. I pull back, the coward that I am. She allows me to lead her off the rink this time.

We find a seat, presumably to remove our skates, but we just sit there.

To say my time in Alternate Universe Earth doesn't still plague me would be a lie. Even now, as Vala holds my gaze, I feel fear. Fear that she'll reject me. That'll she'll look at me with those cold eyes Their Vala had. Their Vala, locked away in Area 51, cold and bitter. How could I be so foolish? Me, Samantha Carter has fallen for an alien woman. How do I even know this isn't some con? That with Daniel being gone, I'm not some distraction until he returns?

I shut my eyes, confess, "Their Vala wasn't like you. She lost her will to fight."

Vala sighs, not because she's still impatient, but because she's exasperated. "I'm not her, Sam."

"I know," I say, reopening my eyes and smiling shyly. "Tonight proved that. I just needed a little reminder."

Vala's eyes seem to light up in amusement. "Out of all the Earth friends I've made here, you are the most frustrating."

I laugh. "Really? I would've thought Daniel would take that honor."

"One would think so," Vala agrees. She leans over to me, threatening to overtake me here and now.

Before she can kiss me, I manage to pull back, only a little. I tell her, my breathing not so surprisingly ragged. "Wait. Not here."

Vala tilts her head curiously, inquires, "Then where?"

"Just, not here," I repeat.

"This is about your planet's taboos, is it not?" Vala's palm cups my cheek, turns my head until I'm forced to look at her. She corrects me, "Yes, here."

I go to protest, almost beg her not to do this. It's just, I never really had a choice in all this. I think I'm beginning to understand that now. Vala didn't force me into this. I wanted to be here. I really, really wanted to be here. Here, where for a little while I don't have to think about my rank, or my job, or what Cameron will do when he finds out that this is so much more than any of us could have conceived.

Vala is still cupping my face, both hands now and she pulls me toward her, bringing our lips together. She's much gentler than I expected her to be, but maybe she knows I can only handle this, that I need time to process what's happening here, what's happening to me.

She pulls away, fingers now tracing my jaw line. She hums with what I perceive as delight and her touch is downright magnetic. This desire, this brazen affection she's shown toward me, I can't remember the last person to affect me in this way. I'm not sure anyone ever has. I fight the urge to recapture that mouth with mine own, smiling weakly at her.

"We should get back," I say. It's the way I've always operated. When something feels this good, it's bound to go horribly wrong. It's time to retreat for a moment, regroup. I manage to lean back out of her grasp and tug at the laces of my skates. "It's late and we have to report early."

"Hmm, that's too bad," Vala quips, now removing her skates as well.

I know I shouldn't ask, but I do. "Too bad? Why?"

Vala shrugs. "I was just beginning to see the real Samantha Carter. I might have even convinced her to join me in my bed tonight, had she not pulled away."

Words tumble out of my mouth before I can stop them. "I didn't say the night was over. It's just getting late." She arches an eyebrow at me, rather seductively, I might add. Quickly, I amend, "'Sides, you're lucky you got a kiss out of me at all. I don't usually kiss on the first date."

"Wait? This was a first date?" Vala says incredulously. "You mean to tell me that you Earthlings go through this ritual more than once?"

"I thought we covered this?"

"I thought you were joking!"

I smile apologetically, rise from my seat and head for the counter to return my skates. Vala sidles up next to me, setting her skates next to mine. She leans into me, promises, "You may not want to admit this, but you like me. You want me. You won't hold out much longer."

"You think you know me?" I challenge her, my tone more playful then I intended.

Vala smirks. "It's as you said. The night isn't over."

The heat in her stare almost burns. I concentrate on paying for our rentals and gathering up our shoes, trying my best to ignore Vala's wandering hand along my lower back.