Stargate SG1 is somebody else's, probably MGM/Gekko Corp/Sci-Fi, and I freely admit that whoever's it is, I'm borrowing their show and they retain all rights, etc.

Author's Note: Gen. Written for the Women of the Gate Ficathon 2010. Warnings for minor violence, mention of rape, disability and teen alcoholism. Prompt was: the first time Cassie steps through the wormhole since her mother's death. Set timeline wise post Continuum in the Milky Way (effectively during SGA S5); minor spoilers for SG1 and SGA. Thank you as always to Denise for the beta.

One Small Step

Don't let him see you squirm.

Cassandra Fraiser stilled the urge to shift in the uncomfortable chair and tried to return General Landry's penetrating gaze with the same easy confidence as Vala Mal Doran sat next to her. After a brief moment of stand-off, Cassie's eyes flickered to the wide internal window behind the General. The familiar Stargate in the gate room below gleamed dully. She wondered how it was possible to simultaneously love and hate the inanimate object so passionately.

'You want to what?' Landry asked brusquely, regaining her attention. His brow rose as though in disbelief although Cassie figured it was more for effect than a real response. He clasped his hands on top of the polished surface of the conference room table.

'Leave.' Vala repeated, flicking her dark hair over one shoulder. 'As soon as possible.' She flashed a false smile at the SGC commander.

Landry stared at her for a beat before he shifted his gaze back to Cassie. 'Miss Fraiser, Colonel Carter...'

'Sam's not here.' Cassie interrupted him sharply. The ache in her heart sharpened like a knife twisting. 'That's kind of the point.'

He hid his flinch at the stark boldness of her statement well but not before she caught the shadow of it in his eyes as they dropped to the table. She knew he was as frustrated as she was at the disappearance of SG1. It was supposed to have been a milk-run, a non-event of a mission...

'We'll be gone a few weeks.'

Cassie winced at the crackling line that distorted Sam's voice. 'And by we?' She prompted, picking up the large mug Daniel had gotten her for Christmas proclaiming her a 'Coffee Lover Extraordinaire.'

'SG1.' Sam replied.

'You're not assigned to SG1.' Cassie pulled a face at the cold bitter dregs in the mug and dumped them down the kitchen sink in the tiny apartment that she shared with her friend, Kelly.

'I'll always be a part of the team according to Cam.' Sam sounded overly cheery.

Cassie rolled her eyes. She knew Sam was pissed about the political delay that had seen her own ship, The Phoenix, put on hold while The Tzu Sun was completed to satisfy the Chinese government. Sam was being shuffled from one temporary assignment to another in the interim.

'So, are you, Daniel and Teal'c planning to drive Cam and Vala batty with your stories of the old days?' Cassie teased.

'Actually, Jack, Daniel, Teal'c and I are planning to drive Cam batty with stories of the old days.' Sam said brightly.

'Jack's going with you?' Cassie's lips started to twitch as she imagined Jack's glee; he really missed going through the wormhole on a regular basis since he'd become Head of Homeworld Security.

'Oh yeah.'

Cassie's lips turned into a full scale smirk at the fond mix of amusement and exasperation in Sam's reply. Jack was probably driving them all nuts on some level and yet she knew they would all love having him along. She frowned suddenly as she replayed the list of names in her head. 'Is Vala not going with you?'

'She has some kind of chicken pox.' Sam murmured.

Meaning it wasn't chicken pox but some kind of alien disease. Cassie winced in silent sympathy with Vala's plight.

'Carolyn won't sign off on her.' Sam continued. 'We met these people when Vala was...you know, away...'

Meaning lost in another galaxy, Cassie supplied.

'...so she's not really on the invite list. Jack's only going because he signed the original treaty.'

'Poor Vala.' Cassie said, turning her attention to making a fresh pot of coffee. She wrinkled her nose as she gathered up the old filter and tossed it in the garbage.

'How are things with you?'

Cassie tensed at the sudden switch in subject, slamming the new filter into place with more force than necessary. 'I'm fine, Sam.'

'You and Will were dating a long time.' Sam said mildly, evidently ignoring Cassie's unspoken plea that she didn't want to talk about her recent break-up.

'I haven't fallen off the wagon if that's what you mean.' Cassie snapped angrily.

There was a tense pause.

Cassie closed her eyes and took a breath. 'Sorry.' It wasn't as though Sam didn't have cause to worry, Cassie reminded herself. The day Cassie and her childhood sweetheart Dominic had parted ways, Cassie had wrapped her car around a tree in a drunken stupor. The drink had been a guilty comfort in the wake of her mother's death on a battlefield and somehow in a very short year had become an addiction. Sam had supported her while she'd gotten sober.

Sam sighed heavily and Cassie knew she was struggling with what to say to make everything better; the break-up, the alcoholism. 'I love you, you know that.'

Cassie slumped back against the kitchen counter. 'I love you too.'

Three weeks later, Landry had called with the news that SG1 were missing.

Five weeks later, Vala had shown up at Cassie's door, looking pale and drawn with shadows under her eyes. SG1 were officially being declared MIA and the active search discontinued. It had been Cassie who'd come up with the insane idea of going after SG1 themselves.

'I understand you're disappointed with the decision regarding SG1,' Landry began carefully, 'but leaving isn't the answer.'

'You called off the search because of the IOA.' The words came out colder than Cassie had meant them as though blasted by the cool air from the air-conditioning that penetrated Cassie's smart grey pants suit.

Landry shot Vala a look of annoyance, blaming her correctly for telling Cassie. 'I called off the search because there was nowhere else to look.' He corrected briskly. 'Vala, you were on the Odyssey when they scanned Cartegia; SG1 aren't being held by the Cartegians.'

'You can't believe their claim that SG1 simply disappeared.' Vala started to argue.

'The Cartegians showed us the new treaty with Jack's signature,' Landry said, speaking over her, 'and they've been loyal allies. They have no reason to lie to us. They believed we'd picked them up early for some reason without informing them. And let's not forget that they're a medieval society which doesn't have the technology to hide something from us.'

Vala's mouth thinned into a straight line. She hadn't been allowed on Cartegia to question the locals.

'You and I know that the likely explanation is the Lucian Alliance grabbed them from the planet.' Landry said. 'They could be anywhere but one place we know they're not is Cartegia.' He stabbed the table forcefully with his finger. 'Officially, I can't continue the search but that doesn't mean we won't keep our eyes and ears open unofficially and as soon as we have any leads we will follow them up.'

Cassie waved a hand to attract his attention. 'Vala and I aren't from Earth. We can leave and continue searching whether the IOA wants it or not. Teal'c did the same thing when the rest of the team was captured by Hathor and Uncle George, I mean General Hammond, had to call off the search.'

Landry's expression cleared as he realised their intent but Cassie could see he was reformulating his strategy. She'd spent too much time with the various members of SG1 not to recognise the look. He didn't disappoint her.

He turned to her with a solicitous concern. 'I can appreciate your determination but we're talking about a potentially dangerous situation and you're not trained.'

Cassie held his gaze squarely; she'd had the same argument with Vala. 'General, I'm young and fit. I speak fluent Goa'uld; I know more than most people about self-defence, and I know SG1 better than anyone else in the galaxy.' Her eyes slid to the woman beside her. 'I'm also not going alone. Vala has years of off-world experience.'

Landry shot another annoyed look at Vala who raised her hands in supplication.

'Don't look at me,' Vala exclaimed brightly, 'this is all her idea. She insisted that either I go along with her or she'd find a way to do it herself.' She tossed Cassie her 'I told you' look.

Cassie sighed and ignored it. There was nothing left for her on Earth and if the positions were reversed, she knew all of SG1 would do the same for her.

'What about your studies?' Landry asked. 'Jack tells me you're almost a qualified teacher, right?' His statement left no uncertainty that Jack had boasted about Cassie to him probably on several occasions.

'I asked the same question.' Vala grinned at Cassie.

'I've taken a personal leave of absence.' Cassie said stiffly. The college had been very understanding. They knew Sam, who was her legal contact, was in the Air Force and had assumed she'd gone MIA in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The General huffed out a breath. He pursed his lips as he considered their request. 'I can't give you a GDO.'

'We know.' Vala said evenly. 'When we find the others we'll follow protocol and head for one of the off-world bases or an ally.'

'And I can't guarantee you back-up if you run into trouble.' Landry continued.

Cassie smiled grimly but nodded.

'However, if you insist on doing this, I can give you some supplies.' He conceded.

'Thank you, General.' Cassie felt her shoulders unknot a little before they tensed back up at the realisation that it was really happening; she was going to leave Earth and search for her family.

'You do realise Jack is going to kill me when he finds out I let you leave.' Landry laughed but his eyes were serious.

'If Samantha doesn't do it first.' Vala added sweetly.

Landry's eyebrows shot up but he smirked back at the former thief. 'What do you think they're going to do to you?'

Vala opened her mouth to reply and shut it again. Her fingers tapped the wooden table restlessly. 'You may have a point.'

Cassie grimaced at the by-play; they could remember she was in the room. 'When can we leave?'

'There's a team scheduled for departure to the Gamma site at thirteen hundred.' Landry informed them. 'You can go through with them.' He regarded them thoughtfully. 'Any ideas about your first move?'

'We're going to Hak'tyl.' Vala informed him. She had smoothed her mobile face into an impassivity of which Teal'c would have been proud. 'We're hoping to secure a transport.' She continued. 'Make our way from there to Cartegia.'

Landry nodded and stood up. 'You should gather your gear. I'll see you in the gate room.' He departed into his office, closing the door with a dull thud.

Vala jerked her head towards the exit and Cassie followed her out. They walked the corridors in silence to Vala's quarters.

Vala closed the door behind them and gave a dramatic sigh. 'Well, that went well.'

'He's letting us go.' Cassie wondered why it felt like she was arguing rather than agreeing.

'It's not too late to change your mind.' Vala said dryly.

Cassie raised an eyebrow and didn't reply.

'We should change.' Vala gestured at Cassie's outfit.

Cassie nodded. She reached for the large duffel bag she had stowed by the door and pointed at the bathroom. Vala nodded and Cassie escaped into the small room, shutting the door behind her.

The functional room was cluttered with colourful bottles of gel, soap and perfume. They added vibrancy to the grey walls and bright white units. The room reminded her of department stores and the weird mix of perfumes that were sprayed all over the beauty counters.

Cassie briefly made use of the facilities before she stripped her pant suit off, leaving it in the laundry basket in the corner; she wouldn't need it again. She dressed quickly in a pair of khaki cargo pants. She pulled on a heavy cotton shirt over her white tank top. She completed the outfit with a brown leather bomber jacket and matching hiking boots before she tied her auburn hair back into a ponytail and pulled on a worn green olive cap.

She caught sight of herself in the tiny mirror above the sink and stopped. She looked scared; pale. She licked her lips, more aware than she would have liked of the tempting urge to find some kind of alcoholic Dutch courage.

You can do this, Cassie told herself briskly. They need you to find them. If Sam could stay with you in a bunker, if they can all protect you from Nirrti, you can walk through the wormhole and find them.

Only it wasn't that simple.

The last time she'd walked through a wormhole had been an emergency evacuation to the Alpha site, she couldn't remember why. She'd walked through with her Mom, Doctor Janet Fraiser; the woman who had adopted her after SG1 had rescued her from Hanka. After her mother had died, Cassie had refused to be evacuated any more. She hadn't wanted to ever see the Stargate or the SGC again. She'd even refused to come to her Mom's memorial. Sam had reluctantly agreed to her decision, Cassie thought sadly.

A sharp rap on the door had Cassie jerking out of her thoughts. She opened the door and stared at Vala. The brunette had changed into skin-tight leather pants and a halter-neck bustiere under a leather blazer; thigh high boots completed the outfit.

'What?' asked Vala, looking down at herself with a frown. 'Is there a stain or a rip?'

'No,' Cassie remarked, 'you just...you look great.'

Vala smiled and swept her eyes over Cassie's outfit. She lifted an arched eyebrow. 'That's what you're wearing?'

'Yes.' Cassie frowned as Vala had done previously. 'What's the matter with it?'

'Absolutely nothing.' Vala's suddenly wide and guileless eyes said otherwise. 'I mean, if you like that...' she waved a hand at Cassie, 'kind of thing.'

Cassie glared at her.

Vala smiled sheepishly. 'You could change your mind.'

And Cassie knew she wasn't talking about the clothes. 'I'm not going to.' Cassie said firmly. She had made her decision.

Vala picked up a bag and opened the door. 'Then, let's go.'

Cassie hoisted her own duffel. Her breath seemed to quicken with every step on the way to the gate room. Fear coiled around her belly; skittered down her spine. She could hear the grinding sound of the Stargate spinning as they neared the gate room; the thuds of military issue combat boots along the concrete floor; the babble of activity as the team waiting prepared to move out.

Sergeant Siler moved to intercept them at the gate room door. He held up a hand. 'I have orders to issue you both with weapons.' He motioned towards one of his people and picked up two zats. He handed one of them to Cassie who wondered where she was supposed to put it. She settled for the side pocket of her duffel bag.

Vala tucked hers into an inside pocket of the blazer. 'Thank you, Siler.'

'There's also this.' Siler handed them a large black back-pack. Supplies, Cassie deduced as Vala took hold of it.

Siler nodded at them briskly. 'Good luck.' He moved out of the way and Cassie stepped into the gate room.

'Ladies.' Dave Dixon called out a greeting. 'I hear you're joining us on this jaunt to the Gamma site.'

'We are, indeed.' Vala answered back, saving Cassie from the effort of making conversation.

The wormhole exploded out furiously; a splash of white and blue that looked for a moment like nothing more than a violent gush of water suspended in air and Cassie froze, her eyes widening in remembered surprise. It's so beautiful, she thought awestruck. It was quickly sucked back into the shimmering pool that filled the Stargate and the moment passed.

Cassie's head filled with memories; of stepping through that first time with Sam holding her hand; the noise and terror, the strange alien environment of the SGC so claustrophobic and grey compared to the bright Hankan fields.

'Ready?' Vala asked quietly.

Cassie nodded. She turned back to the control room and saw Landry stood silently behind the ubiquitous Walter. She turned back; the room was half empty, Dixon and his team already gone; Vala half-way up the metal ramp. Cassie strode forward, ignoring the trembling that attacked her legs and the way her chest tightened with worry. Just a step, Cassie thought determinedly. It was just a step.

The wormhole swallowed Vala and Cassie paused in front of the event horizon. She could feel the pull; the graze of the electricity across her skin. There was no-one to hold her hand this time; no Mom, no Sam. Just her. She was alone and she had to find the courage. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and stepped into the wormhole.