Into the Breach
by Pink Rabbit Productions

Disclaimer: This includes all female type prurient (yes, that means sex) stuff, and should not be read by those of a youthful (I.E. underage) nature, those who might find themselves in jail for the perusal of the contents (my weekends are already booked visiting family, thank you very much--and, yes, that *is* a joke), or who consider Jerry Fallwell to be anything but a great big doofus (I mean, come on Tinky Winky doesn't even *have* any sexual parts)

 

PROLOGUE

 

Pleasure. Sweet. Rich. Incredibly intense.

Janet Fraiser's body arched upward, her breath coming in ragged gasps, a thin sheen of sweat gleaming on her skin. Taut muscles rippled beneath the surface of pale flesh and soft sounds erupted from her throat as her head rocked back on her shoulders, slamming into the softness of her pillow in response to the soft lips and agile fingers working their magic on her body.

"Tell me," a honey smooth voice whispered in the darkness, "what it feels like when I touch you like this."

Janet could feel her heart hammering in her chest as she fought to draw sufficient breath to answer the question. "I can't," she gasped weakly, threading her fingers into silky blond hair in an attempt to physically convey some measure of what she was feeling. "There . . . aren't . . . words...."

"Tell me," Samantha Carter repeated the command, her voice a warm purr that vibrated through her lover as the caresses slowed, drawing the pleasure out to near painful lengths. They had been lovers for a little over four months, and in that time she had studied the other woman's every response with the same attention she'd once reserved for astrophysics texts and Stargate technology. She knew exactly what she was doing and gloried in it.

"I...it's ... I can't think ... like this...." Janet gasped. Couldn't think, couldn't speak, sometimes she could barely even breathe. It was so intense that there were days she was afraid someone at SGC would notice her new limp.

Suddenly, Sam slid up the length of her body, bisecting Janet's torso with the tip of her tongue, pausing only briefly to taste the swell of each breast, before stretching languorously next to her lover. "Tell me," she whispered again.

The dark haired woman whimpered softly, wrapping an arm around the back of Sam's neck to draw her down into a devouring kiss as she whispered, "You have a very cruel streak."

Sam laughed softly and broke away to nibble softly on the point of her chin. "No," she disagreed, her voice little more than a low growl, "I just like watching you like this." She leaned down to run her tongue along the upper curve of a taut breast before swirling it around the coral tip. "And tasting you like this."

Janet dug her fingers into pale blond hair and reached up with her other hand as if to grab Sam, only to meet her lover's hand halfway. Fingers twined together, and Sam pressed their joined hands into the softness of the mattress. She leaned across Janet, dragging her tongue to the center of her chest, then rubbing her cheeks against the inner curve of rounded breasts. "And feeling you like this."

"God," the tiny bit of sound burst from Janet's lips, half a curse and half a prayer, as her head slammed back into the pillow again.

Half draped across her lover's body, Sam slowly slid up to share another languorous kiss, deliberately playing with her mouth while she matched time with the slow undulations rippling through the smaller woman's body.

Point, counterpoint; they moved together in graceful syncopation, bodies sinuous and perfectly matched, while their mouths blended together in an intimate mimicry of the game played between their bodies.

"Tell me," Sam whispered again as she dragged their woven hands over Janet's head until her lover's body was stretched taut, every muscle standing out in sharp relief. She leaned down, tasted the underside of her jaw, pressed lower, muscles strained to maintain both the position and the rhythm of their lovemaking. Sharp teeth ranged over Janet's heaving chest, scraping, but never hard enough to leave a mark.

"Perfect," Janet gasped the only word that even came close. She hooked a leg over lean hips, trying to draw her lover even closer and hold her there, as if they could become one body.

Sam arched up, kissing her lover hard as she watched the shifting play of emotion and arousal in her dark eyes. "...perfect..." she repeated through the blending of their mouths, thrilled by the quiet admission. She tasted, Janet's aroused groan, then felt silky lips against her cheek.

"...you're the only person who's ever made me feel like this...safe...cherished...."

"Yes," Sam groaned, turning her mouth into the roving kiss. "Talk to me," she panted when their mouths parted to explore further. With Cassie away for the weekend at a friend's house, they didn't have to be careful or quiet for once.

"Please," Janet groaned, writhing desperately. She was so close that just breathing had become a strain, and she could hear the buzz of her blood in her ears.

Releasing the hands bound to hers, Sam pushed up on her elbows to stare down into the other woman's eyes, watching the shift and play of arousal, seeing the burn as they drew closer and closer to the edge.

Janet slid her fingers into damp strands of blond hair, toying with them as she shaped fine boned hands to Sam's face, watching the intensity of emotion playing over her features. She loved these moments--the sense that they were bonded beyond mind or body--when her lover's eyes were an open window to the deepest parts of her soul, no longer shuttered to hide her secrets from any and all who might try to look too deep. "I love you," she whispered almost inaudibly, but knew Sam had heard from the bright flare of emotion that gleamed in her eyes.

Sam's breath caught and she experienced the by-now familiar flood of emotion in response to those softly spoken words. She swallowed hard, overwhelmed by the depth and intensity of her own feelings. She'd spent so much of her life alone, whether in a laboratory or in a crowd, that it still shocked her to realize just how deep her feelings ran, how integral this woman had become to her life. "I love you more than my life...."

Their mouths met in ranging kisses and their hands trailed over sweet curves with confident familiarity, fingers dancing over sweat damp flesh, stroking, teasing, leaving no inch untouched. Janet held Sam tightly, staring into passion-dazed blue eyes. She'd had other lovers in her life, but none who even came close to meaning as much to her as this woman did.

"Never leave me," the blond pleaded, her heart in her eyes.

"Never," Janet agreed, drawing Sam back down to her. And then Sam was moving with her again, pressing her into the mattress, muscles flexing and drawing them together and apart again in staccato rhythm, her passion a piano wire drawn impossibly taut until it had to either snap or break the instrument.

No more pauses or delays, just the blazing friction of their bodies and the heated emotion of their bonded souls.

Janet heard the scream bubbling up in her chest, felt the bowstring tautness of her own muscles as they strained more with every passing second. Time slowed, each second becoming ten as she hung poised at the edge of an abyss, her only tieline to earth, the sensation of her lover's flesh against her own. She tasted Sam's breath in her mouth, felt the matched pounding of her heart where they lay breast to breast.

Then the bowstring snapped, electricity flaring outward from the center of her body along overheated nerve endings and over sensitized skin, the invisible arc encompassing both of their bodies in its sensual fire.

Sam cried out, her lover's name torn from her lips in the conflagration that followed as she clung to sleek curves, all self-control lost. Pleasure condensed, thickened, coalesced in a secondary pulse almost as intense as the first that left her barely able to think or breathe.

"Oh god," Janet groaned after an eight-pointer's worth of shocks and aftershocks, muscles going completely limp as she tumbled back to earth, sinking into mattress in a puddle of sweat and satiation.

"Seein' stars?" Sam mumbled against the curve of her lover's shoulder as she shifted to one side, stretching out alongside Janet while she reclaimed the warmth of her mouth.

Janet groaned softly, fingers spreading against hardened back muscles as she held Sam as close as possible. "...sun... moon... stars..." she mumbled through the ranging kiss. "...maybe a supernova or two...."

Sam chuckled softly. She loved these moments, seeing the pleasure only she could give this woman. "And you said you weren't into astrophysics."

Janet lifted a hand to the back of Sam's hair, tangling her fingers into the damp strands to tug her head back down. Her breath was coming in hard shudders and she was barely cognizant of anything beyond the body pressed intimately close to her own. "Mmm, I guess it all depends on the teacher," she purred.

Sam sighed happily. "Twenty-four hour tutoring available on call," she mumbled, nuzzling Janet's shoulder as she struggled to catch her breath. "So, am I still alive?" the blond groaned weakly after a long moment of silently communing with her equally spent lover. She felt gentle fingers find her wrist, checking for a pulse with automatic ease.

"Your heart's still beating, so I'd guess yes," Janet chuckled near her ear. She pressed a small kiss to her lover's temple, snuggling against her and listening while her breathing slowed to something approaching normal.

Still trembling, Sam did a slow roll onto her side, drawing Janet to her as she moved until they lay pressed heart to heart, arms loosely wrapped around each other. Small, soft kisses followed while Janet toyed with the hair at the nape of Sam's neck, then skated gentle fingers down her spine, enjoying the closeness in the aftermath.

"Have I mentioned lately that I love you?" Sam questioned idly as she smoothed damp hair away from Janet's brow to study her expression.

The brunette managed a throaty chuckle. "You may have hinted at something like that," she murmured. "But I don't mind hearing it as many times as you want to say it."

Sam continued stroking damp hair back from Janet's face, the tiny rhythmic gesture soothing a sudden burst of half-expected fear. "Really?" she questioned seriously, and swallowed hard, looking uncertain. "Because I know it's not easy sometimes...my being gone so much...the dangers of the project...not to mention the whole 'Don't ask, don't tell' experience."

Janet trailed a fingertip down the slope of Sam's nose, then dropped lower to outline full lips. "It's hard sometimes...I won't deny that." She kissed her softly, barely dusting her lips over the blond's mouth. "But you're worth it. We're worth it." She rested her hand lightly over Sam's chest, feeling the steady throb of her heart. "I've never felt like with anyone...not just the sex." She grinned wickedly. "Though I'll admit, that's...it's...there just...aren't words." She pressed another tiny kiss to Sam's mouth. "But it's more than that too. It's the way your brain works, the bad jokes you tell--usually blowing the punchline in the process--"

"I do not," Sam insisted defensively, "I just don't always remember in time."

Janet laughed. "The way you pout when I mention that you blow punchlines," she teased before continuing more seriously, "The way you make me feel safe and trusted...and trusting...." She shook her head in wonderment. "I've never been one to pour my heart out to lovers, but I do with you...and I know you listen...and care." She looked away, slightly embarrassed by the confession as she struggled to find more words. Finally, she just whispered, "I love you." She was startled a brief moment later when she felt the bed depress as Sam pushed into a sitting position.

"I feel the same way." She reached down to stroke Janet's cheek tenderly. "I try to tell you, you know...any way I can...maybe not always with great success--spending your life in a lab or ... or soldiering... they don't always make for the best social skills--"

"You do okay," Janet assured her, then smiled more broadly as a dozen different memories of sweet gestures came to mind. "Better than okay."

"I try," Sam admitted, then leaned down and pressed a small kiss to waiting lips before straightening. "I...um...I have something for you..." she said uncertainly.

Janet snuggled into the pillows, folding an arm under her head as she watched Sam lean across her and reach for the top drawer of the nightstand, enjoying the complex play of muscles just under the skin. Curious now, she noted what her lover retrieved with raised brows. They often gave each other small gifts--mostly silly things that they'd happened upon--but the gold hinged, red velvet covered box in her hand didn't look like the sort of thing token gifts typically came in.

Then Sam flipped it open, and Janet felt her brain seize up, followed in fast succession by her heart and nearly every other major organ in her body.

"I know...um...this relationship...it's not exactly something either one of can trumpet from the highest rafters," Sam said self-consciously, the words coming in uncertain syllables, with unpredictable pauses in between. "And there's nothing...legal...that we could...even if we could...." This had been so much easier when she'd practiced it in front of the bathroom mirror. She'd been downright smooth then. "But...well, I just...I wanted...." Now she was a babbling wreck with no idea what might come out of her mouth next.

"It's a wedding ring," Janet exhaled at last, unable to pull her gaze from the gold ring nestled inside the velvet lining. The metal gleamed brightly, the subtle twist pattern in the band reflecting the light in random sprays.

Sam's eyes dropped to the ring, and she seemed to be struggling for air as she muttered, "Yeah...kinda...yeah..." She used a fingernail to hook the delicate gold chain pooled around the ring, lifting it so Janet could see. "I know you can't wear it... y'know, the normal way--too many questions-- but I thought--with the chain--if you want...you could wear it ... that way...." Sam paused long enough to take a deep breath in a completely unsuccessful effort to calm her nerves. "... wear it...next to your heart...." she stumbled to an uncomfortable finish at last and didn't have the courage to look up for a long beat, uncertain how the suggestion was being taken. It had seemed like the right thing to do at the time; a way to say to themselves, if not to anyone else, that they were committed to each other.

She felt the bed shift as Janet sat up, but still no comment, leaving Sam thinking she should have just kept her mouth shut. She'd moved too fast; probably scared Janet off. God, what was I thinking, she demanded mentally. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...." She fell silent as soft fingers were laid across her lips.

Sam risked a glance then and was surprised to find her lover staring into the tiny box, her eyes glistening suspiciously. "Janet?" she whispered through the gentle barricade pressed against her lips. The last thing she'd meant to do was make her cry.

The brunette swallowed hard and reached out a tentative hand, barely touching the simple gold band with a single finger, as though it might dissolve into nothing but smoke if she made firm contact.

Sam caught Janet's hand, tugging it gently away from her mouth as she whispered, "It doesn't have to be...I mean...it can mean whatever we want it to mean." She snorted disgustedly at herself. "I know I'm not doing this very well, but--"

"You're doing it beautifully," Janet disagreed. She tipped her head up to stare at her lover through eyes rimmed in tears. "You just...you caught my by surprise," she admitted, her throat tight with emotion. She stroked the ring more firmly, actually making contact with the warm metal, reassuring herself it was real and not just some strange dream. "Are you asking me to marry you?" she questioned at last, a trace of humor sneaking into her voice.

Lightheaded from the lack of oxygen--not breathing will do that to a person--Sam took another deep breath before speaking. "Legally...no...I mean, I can't. And if I did, we might both be out of a job." She was honest about that. They both knew the realities of their situation. Hammond might not care, but he also might have them both cashiered out. Another deep breath followed as she tried to get away from the harsher realities of her life. She pressed Janet's hand to her chest, letting her feel the beat of her heart. "But in every other way...in my heart, and my soul...my mind and body.... Yes." Then lifted it to her lips to press small kisses across the knuckles.

The air was thick and silent for a long moment as the two women sat staring at each other, each hunting for answers to questions only the heart can ask.

And then Janet's lips lifted as she gave the only answer available to her. "Yes..."

CHAPTER ONE

"The iris is closed. The outbound team is through the gate," the emotionless voice rang through the prep room.

Janet Fraiser yanked free of the memories of the night before, tucking the ring and chain back inside her shirt before yanking on a heavy flak vest and quickly adjusting the buckles so that it fit her small frame snugly. Perversely enough, she was almost relieved that Sam and the rest of SG-1 were still out on a jump. Hopefully, by the time they got back, she would be home safe and sound in her quiet infirmary, and Sam wouldn't have to live through the fears she went through on a daily basis.

A tall figure appeared in the open doorway lugging a heavily loaded backpack. "I think I've got everything you'll need in here, Doctor," the young field medic informed her.

She nodded, ignoring the look of almost worshipful admiration in his eyes as she went through a supply checklist despite his assurances. The last thing she could afford was to find herself on the other side without something she needed. The point of this mission was to get in, get the job done, and get out again as quickly as possible. She tried not to think about the fact that getting the job done very probably meant sawing off a young man's leg. Dammit, she would be saving his life. At least, she had to pray that would be the end result. If something went wrong in the field, or something unpredictable came up, there might not be a thing she could do to stop it. Or maybe she'd be faced with a man whose leg might be saved and no choice but to do it anyway if any of them were going to survive.

She shut off that line of thought right there.

No time for doubts or second guesses. Not when a team was pinned down by fire, one of their own badly injured and incapable of being moved.

After learning that a member of SG-5 had been trapped by some kind of booby trap, his leg caught under a fallen slab of stone while they were taking fire, Hammond had called her in to talk the field medic already with them through the operation if there was nothing else they could do, but the harsh reality was the medic had never done a field amputation. In fact none of their medics had ever even been involved in that kind of surgery in the field or even in a hospital. They'd had the training, but it had all been purely theoretical. Added to that had been the limited time the wormhole could be kept open to allow for communication. The choice had been obvious in her opinion.

Hammond had simply stared at her as she quietly pointed out that she was the logical choice. She'd done four field amputations, two while working with rescue teams after an earthquake in Turkey, one amid the rubble of a car bomb in the mideast, and one under a fallen Los Angeles underpass while aftershocks rattled the cement around and over her head. Under fire, and with an agonized, possibly dying man was no time for anyone to be talked through surgery for the first time, especially if there was high probability of losing communications.

He hadn't liked it--she'd seen it in his eyes--hadn't liked it, but he'd also known she was right.

"All right, Doctor," his agreement for the mission was said through gritted teeth. "SG-3 and SG-11 are scrambling. SG-3 will go through first to help lay down cover fire, and then the engineers to see if there's any way they can free Michaels. If not, you'll go. Colonel Boone will be in charge of the mission. You do what he tells you."

Janet had nodded her understanding. She knew the man in charge of SG-5 reasonably well, just like she knew most of the SG teams--they were under her care often enough. Tall, barrel chested, and surprisingly easy going for a marine, he'd always impressed her with his seriousness and loyalty to his team. Considering what she was about to walk into, she felt better having someone she trusted in charge.

Only moments later, she'd been moving, calling down to the infirmary for the supplies she'd need to have any hope of saving the man's life and heading to prep for the jump. No time to write Sam a note or call Cass and say goodbye. Which was probably for the best. She had an awful feeling that if she thought too hard about what she'd just volunteered for, she might just unvolunteer.

She glanced at her watch. Almost three minutes since SG-3 and SG-11 had gone through. Her turn was coming up soon.

Focused on the task at hand, she virtually ignored the med-tech, grunting a quick, "Thank you," when he helped her get the heavy backpack settled on her shoulders and strapped into place.

"Keep your head down, Doc," he reminded her as she strapped a helmet in place, feeling hopelessly dwarfed by all of the equipment, much of it designed to protect her body from the fire SG-5 had already warned them to expect the moment anyone stepped through the gate.

"Definitely my plan," she exhaled as she hurried out, trying desperately to ignore the rolling sensation in her stomach. She knew the fear was a perfectly rational response to what she was walking into. Anyone who wasn't scared spitless would have to be an idiot of colossal proportions. She'd gated before, not often, but enough times to have her sea legs, but this time she was walking into a hornet's nest to do a job she hated on one of the people under her care.

There was no positive spin one could put on the situation.

That harsh reality didn't make her feel like any less of a coward as she stood at the base of the ramp leading up to the Stargate only a couple of minutes later, waiting for the go ahead. She supposed it was the influence of all of those movies where the heroes waited bravely to go to their doom, showing not the least bit of fear. Or maybe it was just the fact that she worked with people who stood in this very spot on a daily basis and cracked bad jokes while they were waiting to leap through to other worlds.

She couldn't have cracked a joke if her life depended on it.

"Prepare for jump, Doctor," Hammond's voice came over the louderspeaker, his thicker-than-normal Texas drawl the only sign of any increased stress. She glanced up toward the control booth, noting the grim set of his expression. Not a comforting sight. "It looks like we're going to need you to go through. Colonel Boone tells me to advise you to move to your immediate left and get off the platform as quickly as possible. They'll cover you as best they can, but you will be under fire. He says the ammunition appears to be similar to old-fashioned ball and powder. Low velocity and your vest should stop it, but it'll kick like a mule...and if it hits exposed flesh, it'll take it right off."

Janet swallowed hard, trying to forget what she knew about wounds from similar weapons. "Understood, sir." She reached up, checking her earpiece a final time, and then down to the unfamiliar weight of the sidearm strapped to her thigh. And if a tiny voice in the back of her head was demanding to know what the hell she thought she was doing, it was only a normal human reaction to stepping willingly into extreme danger.

And then it was time. She moved forward at Hammond's instruction, waiting only a moment before the iris opened, folding neatly back into itself to reveal the watery depths of the Stargate. She heard Hammond give the go-ahead through the tinny speaker tucked in her ear, took a deep calming breath, and stepped forward....

Straight into the mind-numbing, soul-chilling, body-torquing terror of the Stargate.

It was an almost instantaneous journey through hell, and after no more than a heartbeat, the beast spat her out on the other side. Janet felt the shock of her boots hitting stone pavers all the way up through her legs as she experienced the profound disorientation of going from the dimly lit safety of the gate room to a sunny and very dangerous battlefield. She blinked rapidly against the sudden brightness, scrambling to get her bearings and regain her equilibrium as the staccato pulse of small arms fire assaulted her ears.

"DOC'! HERE!" Boone's voice reached her through the din, breaking the instinctive paralysis that hadn't even lasted a second.

She ducked, using the backpack as a makeshift shield as she sprinted toward the left edge of the gate platform, where she could just make out the tops of several helmets and rifles braced in firing position. Small iron or lead balls plunked into the edges of the gate behind her as she moved, then hit the stones on either side of her, kicking up tiny plumes of grit everywhere they hit. She skidded short of a fresh flare of dust as a bullet hit no more than an inch from the tip of her left boot, momentarily losing traction when something punched her right shoulder with the force of Hammond's proverbial mule's kick. The flack jacket stopped the round, but it hurt like hell. That, however, was the least of her worries and she kept moving the instant she regained her balance. Another round tore into the jacket just under her right breast as she hit the edge of the platform, the force of the impact nearly upending her. Arms pinwheeling to regain her balance, she felt a hand wrap around her ankle and jerk sharply enough to dump her off her feet. She hit hard, a dull grunt torn from her lungs. For a panicked moment, she didn't know who had done it, then she felt a solid yank pulling her toward the edge of the platform and realized it was the colonel.

"Sorry, Doc'," he apologized as he unceremoniously hauled her off the edge of the platform, first by the ankle and then, when he could reach, with a solid grip on her waistband. In less than a second she was freefalling, the world spinning by in a confusing jumble of stones, camo-clad men, and throat stinging dust. A couple of outstretched hands slowed her descent as she fell past, but she still hit the dirt hard enough to knock the air from her lungs. All in all, no more than a few seconds had passed since she'd stood at the entrance to the Stargate.

Boone leapt to the ground and she realized he'd been standing on a narrow ledge several feet above the earth to reach her. It was wide enough to stand on and the men were using it as a firing platform. "Sorry about that," he growled as he dropped to a crouch beside her. "But I was afraid you weren't moving fast enough."

Already making sure that she hadn't been seriously hurt where the bullets had impacted her vest, Janet waved his apology off. "Not a problem." She winced at the fresh bruises left by her less than graceful entry into this new world. "Obviously, I wasn't moving fast enough," she muttered as she rubbed her hand against her side, brushing up against torn fabric and feeling the ball still lodged in the padding.

He noted the damage. "You okay?"

She shrugged. "A little worse for the wear, but I'll be fine. Where's the patient?" She looked past him, noting that at least two of the men braced on the ledge and firing had dressings showing, indicating they had injuries, though obviously not serious enough to keep them off their feet.

Grabbing the back of her backpack and taking some of the weight as he helped her to stand--though they both remained partially crouched--he nodded toward the steeply angled cliff that rose sharply from the ground roughly fifteen yards behind the Stargate. Her eyes lifted, noting that the sharp cuts of sheer stone rose several hundred feet above them, while at the base of the cliff at least a half a dozen tunnel entrances of some kind had been carved into the rock, the portals neatly arched and decorated with low reliefs of the Stargate glyphs.

"This way," Boone informed her and headed for the centermost of the tunnels.

As they hurried along, Janet glanced back over her shoulder, trying to get a feel for the lay of the land. The Stargate sat on a huge stone dais a good eight feet above the ground and close to one hundred feet wide by thirty feet deep, the sandy-colored platform covered in intricately carved patterns that reminded her of Celtic knots. Beyond the platform, she glimpsed a short space of rolling plain bordered by a thick forest of what appeared to be pine. Obviously their attackers were using the forest for cover.

"SG-5 took cover in the caves when they came under fire and apparently they tripped some kind of booby trap," the colonel warned her as he led her into the darkened confines of the tunnel. A tall man, he had to duck to avoid crashing his skull into the low, rough-hewn ceiling. He flicked on a flashlight. "The engineers from SG-11 have checked the area for more traps, and they haven't find anything, but step carefully anyway."

Janet nodded, watching around herself nervously as the tunnel narrowed until they were forced to move single file. "Understood."

"The injured man is Pete Michaels..."

Janet knew him. Maybe all of twenty-four; handsome, brash, and reliable to flirt with her whenever he wound up in the infirmary. Something she'd never taken personally since he seemed to do it with every woman he met, including at least one visiting scientist who'd been old enough to be his grandmother.

"The medic's got him as stable as possible and prepped things so you should be able to begin quickly." A muscle pulsed in his jaw. "He knows the score. He's scared, but holding up."

The tunnel widened out just then, the narrow corridor opening into a broad, low-ceilinged chamber sunk in dust and rock debris. The trap appeared to have pulled most of the entire far wall down, including a stone slab at least ten feet by fifteen feet, and several feet thick. It wasn't hard to spot the sprawled figure lying alongside one edge of the stone, his helmet off, head pillowed on a wadded up shirt, while a medic attended to him. Two more men knelt at the opposite end of the slab, apparently studying it, but the doctor ignored them, already popping the buckle on the backpack's waist strap as she slung it off her shoulders and stepped forward.

"Colonel," one the engineers called out, and Boone went to them while Janet focused on her patient.

"The things you'll do for a woman's attention," she teased gently as she skidded to one knee beside the injured man. He was in a bad way, breathing too fast, his skin bloodless with shock, eyes glazed, but he offered a weak smile.

"Keep tellin' you, you're the only one for me."

"I gave him what I had for the pain," the medic informed her, holding up the empty container so she could see.

Janet nodded, barely pausing to toss aside her helmet before she began digging through the backpack. As she fished out the headlamp she'd need to perform surgery, she caught a few snatches of the conversation going on between the engineers and Boone.

"...with maybe three hours...could work...just have to get enough leverage...."

Using the headlamp to spot the point where her patient's leg disappeared under the several tons of rock, she leaned in close and knew instantly that even if Michaels could be removed quickly enough to keep him out of danger from the shock and blood loss, trying to save the leg would be pointless. It had been virtually pulverized just below the knee on impact. It was only due to luck and the medic's quick work that he hadn't already bled to death. She glanced over her shoulder, catching Boone's eye and shook her head ever so slightly, just enough to let him know the situation.

Michaels obviously sensed the decision she'd come to because he tensed, drawing in a tiny gasp of air. He'd held out a last bit of hope she could conjure a miracle until that moment. "Doc...y-you do what you have to," he whispered, and as she looked at him, she could see the terror in his eyes, though he was trying desperately to hide it.

Janet reached out, squeezing his hand to offer any comfort she could, amazed he wasn't already unconscious. "We'll take care of you."

And then she was working as fast as she could, ignoring the distant throb of gunfire to focus on the task at hand. She used a local anaesthetic to numb as much of Michaels' pain as possible, but didn't dare use a general without an anaesthesiologist there, so she was acutely aware that the man was semi-conscious and watching her. Her shoulder and side were in agony where the bullets had struck the flack vest, sweat slid over her skin, stinging her eyes and making it hard to see, particularly on top of the limited illumination cast by her headlamp, but somehow she kept her hands steady, doing what she had to. Some days adrenaline is a wonderful thing.

Mercifully, Michaels lost consciousness quickly, which made her job no easier, but at least eased his suffering.

In the background, one of the engineers remained behind, jerry-rigging a stretcher out of several backpack frames, while the other man left to help the others with their defense.

As she worked, she automatically tracked everything going on, listening for any sign they were about to be overrun--not because she could anything to stop it, but out of some animal instinct of the hunted to know where the hunter might be hiding. Consciously, she could ignore the burning urge to flee, but she could not rid herself of the instincts that caused it.

Colonel Boone stepped inside several times, checking on her progress and she could tell he wanted to tell her to hurry, but didn't dare. Instead, he just watched for a moment, then slipped out again.

Finally, she was done, hands moving as gracefully as ever as she dressed the wound. Able to relax slightly, she sat back on her heels, . She glanced over her shoulder at the waiting engineer from SG-11. "Go tell Boone we're ready to move. We'll need two men to carry the stretcher."

"Got it," he said quickly and hurried out.

"Hell of a job, Doc'," the medic murmured as he helped her clear the equipment and remaining debris out of the way to make it as easy as possible to load their patient onto the litter.

Knowing her patient was still looking at more surgery, retraining, the probable loss of his career, and a total life-change, she couldn't enjoy the compliment. "He'll live," she said softly.

She took charge as Boone returned along with the man she'd sent to get him, ignoring rank and ordering them around as they loaded Michaels onto the stretcher and strapped him into place, making certain he was as stable as possible.

Boone assigned the medic and the engineer from SG-11 to handle the stretcher during the evacuation, then led the small group toward the entrance to the cave, laying out the plan as they moved. "We're still under fire, so to move as safely as possible, we're going to have to do this in waves. My men will lay down cover fire and the wounded will go first. It's going to be hell getting people up onto the platform fast, so anyone not firing or running is gonna have to help. After they're through, Doc', you and the remaining members of SG-11 will be on the dock...same pattern, we'll lay down cover fire, and I'll give you the signal. When that happens, you move fast. Understood?"

She knew he was more worried about her than most of the others because she wasn't used to being in the field, and she nodded sharply. "Understood."

"SG-3 and I will be the last ones through." He didn't wait for any more confirmations as he simply said, "All right, let's go home."

Running low on ammunition, the soldiers were forced to hold their fire until the moments immediately before the evacuation began and it was a mad, desperate scramble of men moving as fast as they could while bullets punched the air around them.

Janet found herself helping transport her patient from the ground up the nearly eight feet to the top of the gate platform. It wasn't an easy maneuver, and they bumped and bounced the young man far more than she would have wished, but finally, balanced neatly on the ledge that ran along the dais several feet above the ground, one arm hooked over the top edge of the stone, she finished helping to heft the litter up, then dropped back to the ground, diving down behind safe cover and out of the way of the men providing cover fire.

Against all odds, the first wave got through without incident.

Crouched down behind the platform, bullets coming at them at a steady rate, it struck Janet that they were catching fire from more angles than when she'd first arrived. Obviously, their attackers had managed to fan out while she was in the cave. No wonder the colonel wanted to move as quickly as possible. The situation had apparently been worsening with every passing minute spent on this world.

She rubbed at the sweat stinging her eyes, wishing fervently that the order to move would come. She wanted nothing more than for this particular adventure to be over and the waiting was more stressful than she might have imagined. There was nothing to do but stay out of the way, keep her head down, and pray.

It was pure chance that she looked up, blinking against the harsh sunlight as she stared at the cliffs that overlooked them, suddenly frowning as she spotted something dark against the sand-colored stone. The doctor's expression twisted as she made out movement. At least three figures poised on the rocks above them.

"COLONEL!! THEY'RE ABOVE US!!" she screamed, already reaching for her sidearm. The nine millimeter didn't have the accuracy of the men's rifles and she was nowhere near as practiced with a weapon as they were, but it might slow this new attack.

The colonel spun and she heard him curse above the sounds of gunfire even as she felt her wrists ground to powder by the rapid-fire concussion of the weapon in her hand.

And then as she watched in mute horror, something bowling-ball-sized and dark came arcing downward, the bright glow of a burning wick visible at the top.

It was aimed straight for her.

"DOC'!!" Boone shouted in warning, but she was already moving, diving out of the predicted path of the device. She was still running as it hit, the thin crockery shattering and spreading flames in liquid splashes reminiscent of a Molotov cocktail. Except she'd never seen a Molotov with a secondary concussion device, but less than a second after the incendiary flames spread across the ground, something in it exploded with the power of several sticks of dynamite, the force hurling her off her feet. Momentarily airborne, the doctor tumbled with no sense of up or down until she hit the ground with bone rattling force and was tossed end over end by her own momentum. Finally, she skidded to a halt in deep grass, only semi-aware of the sudden panic of the team. No more than a second or two passed before she pushed up on a hand, but already total havoc reigned as several more of the incendiary bombs came raining down from the cliffs.

"EVERYONE THROUGH THE GATE!!" Boone screamed to make himself heard above the din. There was no more time for an ordered evacuation. At this rate, if they didn't get through now, they wouldn't make it at all.

Knowing she would be left behind if she didn't move fast enough, Janet ignored the agony rattling through her body and shoved to her feet, intending to make a run for it. She saw the colonel hit the top of the platform and turn back, their eyes meeting as he crouched down, braced and ready to pull her up if she could just get there. She had to get through a sea of flame, but it was already thinning down, and if she moved fast enough, she was sure she could make it. It wasn't like she had a choice after all.

Unfortunately, fate had other plans in mind.

Her first clue was the look of horror on the colonel's face as his head tipped up. She followed the line of his gaze and saw the incoming Molotov. She had at least seventy feet to cross before she reached the edge of the platform where Boone waited for her, and it was arcing to drop right in the middle of that distance. She had no choice but to dive into nearest of the caves, ducking behind an outcropping of rock as her senses were overwhelmed by heat, fire, and the explosive power of the blast that followed only a moment behind, echoing inside the low cave until she couldn't even hear her own panicked scream above the roar.

Time ceased to exist as she huddled into the scant protection of the rock, praying to a God she often doubted even existed, until finally some of the heat died away and she could safely lift her head. Another moment passed and she pushed shakily to her feet, barely tasting the blood that ran freely from a split in her lip, and only scantly aware of the streamers of crimson that ran freely from a gash opened at the hairline by flying debris. Badly dazed and bleeding from a myriad of small cuts on her hands and forearms, she stumbled back into the world, curiously struck by how quiet things had become.

Janet's eyes lifted to the imposing figure of the Stargate, standing uncaring above her, unsurprised to find it was no longer active. With explosions going off on all sides and his men in full retreat, Hammond would have had no choice but to shut down. Flames still dotted the area where the others had been, but she saw no sign of bodies, which meant hopefully the rest had gotten out safely.

And then she got her first look at their enemy as men began swarming around the edges of the Stargate platform, primitive looking rifles trained on her. They all wore dark crimson leggings and shirts under pieces of segmented leather armor that protected their chests, forearms, and lower legs, and helmets that reminded her eerily of any number of bad tits-and-toga's films from her childhood. At least half carried some kind of short sword in addition to their rifles, and she glimpsed one or two relatively small pistols of some kind.

She almost laughed as the dark irony sank in that she'd had to leave so quickly that there'd been no time for any kind of briefing on the planet. She was just supposed to go in, do her job, and leave. There had been no thought that she might get caught behind. Now, she had no idea what the language was, who the people were, or what the hell had started the whole firefight. She'd lost her sidearm in the confusion, not that it really mattered. She'd exhausted her ammo firing at the men on the cliffs, and somehow she doubted throwing it at them would do any good. Her equipment belt included a combat knife, the blade close to a foot long and razor-honed, and she drew it, holding it so the blade rested along her forearm, just like she'd been taught in basic more years ago than she cared to contemplate.

Not that she was under any illusions. There was nothing she could do against the number of men surrounding her, except perhaps enrage them enough to make her end a quick one if it came down to it.

Fully expecting to die at any moment, her only thoughts were for Cassie and Sam. She wished she could hold them both one more time, wished to God she could comfort the agony she knew they would go through. She felt the warmth of Sam's ring nestled in the valley between her breasts and was achingly grateful they'd had that last time together; that she'd had a chance to pledge herself to Sam and let her lover know just how deep her emotions ran.

A man half again as tall as she was and at least twice as broad, moved through the others, pressing them aside with the authority of someone in charge until he came to a halt no more than ten or fifteen feet from her, eyeing her with the sort of calm she'd seen on the faces of her fellow Air Force officers on more than a few occasions. He was a professional soldier. She'd have bet her life on it. "Drop the weapon, boy," he commanded quietly.

It took her a moment to decipher the heavily accented words and realize what he wanted and that he didn't realize she was female under the heavy uniform, flack jacket, and helmet. Reacting mostly on adrenaline and instinct, she shook her head slowly.

"The little one wants to fight," someone laughed among the crowd of soldiers.

"Too small for the games," another man chortled, "But they might use him to feed the saraks."

Apparently, they considered that joke the height of humor, because almost all of them laughed, and one piped in, "Nahh, not enough meat for a sarak."

As comments were traded back and forth, only their leader remained stone-faced, not advancing on her, but not retreating either. "Your master's left you behind, boy," he said quietly, his voice low and calming. "You're on your own now. You can surrender or you can die, but you can't win."

Janet just stood facing him, braced to defend herself, but not daring to speak. The moment he heard her voice he'd know she was no boy under all the padding and grime.

"What are you gonna do with him, Paulus?" someone shouted from the crowd.

Their leader offered the smallest of smiles, meant, Janet suspected, to reassure her. "Cilla needs a new scut-boy since the last one ran off with Marco's serving wench...." His eyes still held Janet's, reminding her oddly of O'Neill when he was trying to take control of a situation without resorting to violence. The familiarity of the expression was oddly comforting.

"I dunno, Paulus," someone called from the crowd, "he looks kinda pretty under all that dirt. She might decide to have a taste after twenty years of waking up to your ugly face in the sheets."

"My wife, Cilla, has a gentle heart," Paulus told her, ignoring the jibes from his men and still using that soft, coaxing voice, "She didn't even send slavers after the boy that ran away. A few years of hard work and you can earn your freedom."

Janet dropped the knife a notch, debating her course of action. Paulus was right about one thing, fighting would only get her killed, something he seemed none too eager to do. Of course, there was the very real possibility that the situation would change when they knew she was female. She was under no illusions on that score.

Her would-be captor seemed to sense her internal debate because he waved his hand, indicating she should hand him the knife, and murmured, "Come on, boy, just hand it to me. I've no reason to hurt you for your master's actions."

Janet rechecked her grip on the weapon, trying to decide if maybe it was time to speak and see how they reacted.

"Centurion," a hard voice cut in before she could make a decision and a man rode through the crowd on some kind of creature similar to a horse, forcing the men to dive out of the way to avoid being trampled. He sat tall in the saddle, golden armor gleaming in the sun, a crimson plume arcing above his helmet, and a look of colossal arrogance in his dark eyes. "What's the delay? The other prisoners have already been seen to ... this conflict is making them edgy."

Janet tensed. Other prisoners? She prayed none of them were from the SGC.

Paulus' expression darkened, and she sensed he wasn't happy with this latest development. "The boy's just surrendering."

The newcomer eyed her with a raised brow. "Too small for the games ... probably just a slave with no knowledge. He's not worth the effort. Kill him."

"Imperator Severidus--" Paulus began, and Janet could see he wasn't happy with the pronouncement.

"What part of 'Kill him,' did you not understand, Centurion?" the newcomer growled angrily, then snarled something Janet didn't catch under his breath and spurred his mount forward. "The curse of the upper classes is the stupidity of the lower ones," he muttered as he drew the gleaming sword hanging from a tabard that stretched across his chest.

Reacting on instinct more than planning, she dodged the first thrust of the sword, then lost her knife blocking the second just before the big animal swept on past her. She heard distant, unhappy mumbles from the watching men, but was under no illusions that there would be any help from that direction. As the Imperator wheeled his mount around, she dodged another slash of his weapon, then dove under the animal's belly, relieved that it had soft pads rather than sharp slashing hooves that might kill or maim with a single blow. Startled by the figure suddenly running under it, the creature panicked, trying to rear and forcing its rider to cling desperately while Janet came up on his other side, scrambling to get a hold on her attacker's glittering armor. She leapt up, fingers clawing into a sharp edged joint until the metal drew blood, gashing her fingers deeply. He saw her intention too late and didn't have time to try and bring his sword across before she could put all of her weight into toppling him off.

Janet felt the rider's balance give way and heaved every ounce of strength she possessed into bringing him down, driving her knee into the creature's heaving side to add more force to her efforts. Suddenly in freefall, she twisted, trying to fall back to her feet without going down. If she could just get to his mount.... Maybe....

Imperator Severidus went flying with a strangled cry, grabbing for her in a panic. He got a hand on her helmet, and for a moment, she feared his momentum might break her neck, then the chin strap gave way and he tumbled free, her helmet still gripped tightly in his hand.

Somehow, Janet dug in and maintained her footing, momentarily hitting one knee before she pushed upright again. She spun, lunging to grab for the reins only to crash into solid metal and obdurate muscle. A hand grabbed her flack jacket at the shoulder, half lifting her and snapping the already tenuously held top buckles. Half open now, the vest revealed soft curves, even under the heavy uniform. Her eyes lifted to find the man called Paulus staring down at her, his expression twisted by a sudden realization as he got a better look at both her face and body now that the vest was open and her helmet was lost.

"A woman?" her captor exhaled as though struck.

"Yes," the doctor hissed. She saw that the other men had caught the imperator's panicked mount, blocking off her last hope for escape.

"Lucky," Paulus breathed, eyes lifting as his superior scrambled to his feet, howling curses and insults at the top of his lungs.

Janet twisted in time to see the imperator grab for his fallen sword. "Hold that little bastard while I carve his heart out."

Paulus pushed Janet slightly to the side, his own arm forming an impromptu shield. "I'm afraid that won't be possible, My Lord," he said, his tone deferential even in defiance.

The other man pulled up sharply. He'd lost his helmet in the fall, revealing a cap of perfect blond ringlets disarrayed around a sinfully beautiful face. "What?" he hissed, his tone that of a man unused to any kind of disagreement.

"I'm afraid the bastard's a bitch, sir...." He yanked her around until his superior could see the evidence for himself. "A woman."

Rage flickered across the imperator's perfect features, but he didn't loosen his grip on his sword.

"And as such," Paulus continued implacably, "the property of Emperor Constantine."

"Then he can have her head," the Imperator snarled and lunged.

Janet felt Paulus' huge hand yank her around so hard she stumbled badly as his other arm came up, and then something crashed into the back of her skull, toppling the world into total darkness before she even had a chance to cry out.

Chapter Two

"Well, that was fun," Jack O'Neill growled as he stepped through the Stargate, slapping dust off his camos with a disgusted look.

"I'm so sorry," Daniel apologized for roughly the tenth time.

Jack slapped more dust out of his hair. "Think nothing of it, Daniel," he said acidly, his tone making it clear he was still annoyed.

"Well, I...." Also knocking dust out of her hair and fatigues, Samantha Carter suddenly lifted her eyes past the immediate concerns of SG-1 and trailed off to realize that the gate-room was in a state of utter chaos. "Colonel," she exhaled to draw his attention, but he'd already noticed.

"Yeah, I see," Jack muttered.

Men were scattered around the room, their bodies bruised and bloodied, eyes dazed while medical teams stabilized the worst of the injuries. Sam automatically checked for Janet, expecting to find the glossy badge of her hair as she moved from patient to patient. No sign of her, which meant she'd probably already gone with someone to the infirmary. Fraiser always went with the most seriously injured patients, unwilling to trust their care to anyone else. She felt a shiver slide down her spine at the thought that someone might be badly hurt.

"There appears to have been some kind of incident," Teal'C commented, his low voice neutral to anyone who didn't know him well, though Sam picked out a subtle note of worry hidden there.

"To say the least," Jack muttered, searching the crowd until he spotted Hammond. The general was speaking to Dave Boone, who looked like he'd been through a meat-grinder; one sleeve missing, his arm haphazardly bandaged, his uniform ripped and torn, the flesh underneath badly abraded. As Jack watched, a white coated doctor pulled the man away, focusing on his injuries. "I think we'd better find out what's going on."

As if on cue, Hammond looked up, waving them over with a sharp gesture. He didn't bother with the preamble of a greeting as the team drew within hearing distance. "Colonel O'Neill, can you and your people go back out if need be?"

The colonel glanced back at the injured men. Clearly, his team was in a lot better shape to go than anyone else he could see. "Yes, sir. Things were quiet on TX-87...we can go out anytime you need."

Hammond nodded in acknowledgment. "Good. We'll need to wait until there's some chance that the situation on the other side of the gate has stabilized, then we'll send a MALP through...we need some intel before we make any decisions."

"What happened?"

Hammond's eyes were grim, his mouth a thin line of tension. "SG-5 was on P8R-232 when encountered some kind of booby trap...Lieutenant Michaels was badly injured...too much for the medics to deal with...particularly when they came under fire from some kind of indigenous militia." His eyes ran over the injured men all around them. "There was an ugly firefight."

Sam suddenly felt mildly light-headed, and her heart was throbbing in her chest. Which was silly. Janet was safely in the infirmary. She wouldn't have--

"Doctor Fraiser gated to do an on-site amputation," Hammond said quietly, his voice thick with regret.

"Ah... no," Jack exhaled, sensing where this was going.

"There was an emergency evacuation when several incendiary devices exploded in the area. They got the wounded out, but--"

"Oh, god," Daniel whispered, suddenly realizing what the general wasn't saying.

"I'm afraid Doctor Fraiser didn't make it to the gate in time. We had to shut down before she could get through."

Sam heard the words, but her brain resisted translating them into any kind of meaning. It couldn't be. It just couldn't. She closed her eyes tightly as the world seemed to spin around her, barely aware when Daniel's hand landed supportively on her shoulder. She only distantly heard Jack's voice, though the words seemed to reverberate inside her head like marbles inside an aluminum trash can.

"Any idea if she's still alive?" the colonel asked quietly.

"According to Colonel Boone, she may have made it to cover in one of several caves in the immediate area just before the last explosion forced the remaining team members to evacuate."

"No," Sam exhaled as though struck. Janet was on the other side of the gate, maybe hurt, in trouble, maybe– Sam couldn't complete the thought; not and keep from falling apart. She turned an angry look toward Boone where he sat getting his injuries treated. He was the one who'd left Janet behind. Her hands fisted tightly at her sides.

Hammond turned her way, sensing her turmoil, if not its complete cause. "He had no choice, Major. One of his men went down and couldn't make it to the gate on his own, and he felt there was no reasonable chance of getting to Doctor Fraiser before the gate closed. He had to make a lousy choice."

A muscle pulsed in Sam's jaw and her eyes flared with something raw and furious. She probably would have gotten through the burst of rage without incident if the man in question hadn't chosen that moment to break away from the doctor treating his injuries in order to step up to Hammond.

"Request permission to join any rescue mission, sir," the marine colonel requested, his expression twisted with guilt.

"You left her behind," Sam growled, her voice low and furious. She turned a hard glare on the marine colonel, hands flexing at her sides as though she wanted to lunge at the men, despite the fact that he was a half a head taller and weighed half again as much. "And now you want a second chance to screw it up--"

"Carter," O'Neill snapped, sensing how close to the edge her temper was running.

Sam ignored her commanding officer, instead taking a step forward and getting in Boone's face. "I thought you jarheads never leave anyone behind," she sneered. "Well, guess what, you fucked up this time--"

"Carter!" O'Neill barked sharply and yanked her back. "Back off!" He looked up at the man standing a short distance away. He was beat to hell and barely standing, but it was obvious he would have gratefully stepped back through the gate to try and undo the decision he'd had to make. He felt Carter try and pull away from his hard grip on her collar, reacting on adrenaline and frustration and when he looked at her, he saw the unreasoning anger in her expression. Boone was just a convenient target for her fear and frustration. He yanked her back another step, getting in her space as he hauled her around so he was between them. "Dammit, Carter, nobody wanted this to happen...and nobody fucked up...it just...just came out wrong." She looked up at him then, and he saw the raw terror in her eyes. For a moment, he thought she might just shatter into a thousand pieces right there in front of them all. "Daniel, Teal'c, start a mission briefing," he growled, then hoping Hammond understood--or maybe not, all things considered-- he pushed Sam ahead of him. "Major Carter and I need to talk." He hauled her out of the gateroom, down the hall, and into one of the prep-rooms, pushing her inside, then slamming the door in their wake. The last thing they needed for this little confrontation was an audience.

Carter spun, shaking his hard hold off with a snarl. She waved a hand back toward the gate room. "Sir, he left her behind...to God only knows what..." she choked off, unable to continue, and spun away, bracing her hands against the wall and leaning heavily against the much-needed support.

"He didn't have a choice, Carter. You heard the general. He had a man down and had to get him out."

Sam flashed an angry look over her shoulder. "So...what...his life was more important than Janet's?" she demanded, knowing she was being unreasonable even as the words left her mouth, but at that moment, she didn't care. She just wanted Janet there, safe and sound and a part of her didn't give a damn about the price.

"You know that's not true," O'Neill said sadly. He sighed and ran a hand over his hair. "He couldn't get to her, Sam. His only choices were to have one person on the wrong side of the gate when it closed, or three...he chose one."

Sam slammed a fist into the cement, welcoming the pain, hoping it would break up some of the emotional agony roiling through her system. "Goddammit, what the hell was she doing in a combat zone?" she groaned, the words coming in ragged gasps. It distantly occurred to her that she should at least be trying to appear like she was taking this calmly, like it was just another part of the job, but she couldn't seem to work up the ability to care.

"Her job," Jack reminded her gently.

Sam ran a hand over her hair, then slammed her fist into the wall again with a muttered curse, hoping maybe the influx of physical pain would make the emotional agony more bearable. It didn't work.

"You've got to get it under control, Carter," O'Neill lectured coolly, knowing sympathy was the last thing she needed at that point. "Because you're no good to her like this."

"You don't understand," she choked through the tightness in her chest. She couldn't think, couldn't breathe, could barely remain on her feet.

"Look, Carter, I know what you're feeling, but--"

"No...you don't," she ground out. She closed her eyes tightly, wanting this to be nothing but a nightmare, willing herself to wake up next to Janet, her lover snuggled against her side. She could still see the chain and ring glittering against pale skin, and she wanted nothing more than to open her eyes and see them again. "You don't understand at all." He thought Janet was just her friend and colleague, Cassie's mother, and the base's doctor. He had no way of knowing what she really meant to Sam; not when they had been so careful to keep it secret.

O'Neill stared at her stiff back, knowing he had to be her commander, not her friend, but wishing he could offer words of comfort all the same. Unfortunately, he didn't have the luxury of kindness. "I understand that in your current condition there's no way in hell I'd let you through that gate on a rescue mission."

Sam spun, eyes narrowing dangerously. "What the hell do you mean?" she demanded.

He met her blazing fury with a wall of calm. "You're in no condition to walk into a possible combat situation, Carter."

Teeth gritted, muscles taut with the effort required not to take a swing at her superior, Sam glared at him. "You are not keeping me off this mission," she growled each word with shotgun precision and moved to step past him. "Now, I've got a briefing to attend."

Jack grabbed her by the shirtfront and shoved her back. "Not until, and unless, you're under control."

A muscle pulsed in her jaw as she glared at him. She had to fight the urge to take her anger at the world out on him with every shuddering breath.

"I know how you feel--"

"No," she snarled, "you don't." And she tried to jerk free of his hold.

Jack didn't let go, instead straight-arming her into the wall. "Yes," he said softly, "I do, Sam. I know...." He let his voice trail off as he stared meaningfully down at her. He leaned closer, his voice dropping low as though there might be someone there to hear. "And I understand how scared and angry you are. Which is why I can't let you through the gate unless I know you can handle it." That knocked the rage down, at least temporarily, breaking through and forcing her to listen to him.

She stared at him, mouth working soundlessly for a beat as she struggled to process his words. He knew? Knew what? She stared at the look in his eyes, seeing an answer to the question that shook her to her foundations. He knew.

"I value Fraiser's life too much to let any team member through who isn't clear headed and at optimum." He shook his head. "I won't take that chance with her life ... or yours."

As she heard the softly spoken words, Sam wanted to scream and rail, pound on him until he gave way and saw it her way. But he was right and she knew it. She was careening out of control, reacting like a frightened animal backed into a corner; because that was exactly how she felt; like some wild thing caught in a trap not of her own making, desperate just to make the pain go away. She inhaled in deep, shuddery breaths, shading her eyes with one hand as she leaned up against the wall. Even that support wasn't enough as her knees buckled and she slid down until she was sitting, shoulders trembling with the force of the terror rattling through her. She'd always known something like this was a possibility, but it had seemed distant, impossible, unreal. Janet was supposed to be okay, safe in her infirmary if Sam just kept the demons at bay. And now she had failed miserably. She hadn't even been there when her lover needed her. "You know?" she rasped, her mouth several paces behind her scattered thoughts.

"Since that night Blanchard tried to kill you two...."

She tried to come up with some kind of response and couldn't think of anything. Even if she'd been at her best, she wouldn't have known what to say, but at that point, she could barely string two words together. "Y-you never said anything..." she whispered at last, sounding punch-drunk.

He shrugged. "I didn't think there was much of anything to say." Jack reached out, resting a hand lightly on her shoulder. "I wouldn't say anything now," he admitted, "but I wanted you to understand why I can't let this slide. I hope you'd do the same thing for me if our positions were reversed."

As much as she wanted to fight him, she knew he was right. Had their positions been reversed, she'd have been doing the same thing he was. Sam pinched the bridge of her nose tightly. "Yes, sir," she croaked raggedly, the anger draining away in an instant, leaving a sick, hollow feeling in its place.

Jack sighed. "There's something else you need to consider...Cass...."

Sam frowned in confusion. "I don't...." She shook her head, not understanding what he was getting at.

Jack didn't want to say his next words, but didn't feel he had a choice. "If Janet's gone--"

"She may be fine," Sam groaned as though just wanting it could make it true. "We don't know anything yet."

"I know," Jack agreed. "But, Sam, Cass may need you...and this could be dangerous...." He trailed off, wishing there was a gentle way of doing this. "Maybe you should consider staying--"

"No," Sam exploded, then continued more calmly. "I can't, Colonel. W-we've made arrangements...if something were to happen... I love Cass, but I can't abandon Janet...not when she needs me." Her brain conjured up tormented images of her lover in trouble and begging for her. She couldn't take the risk of not being there for her.

Jack ran a hand over his hair, feeling a tightness in his own chest. "You know this may just be a matter of retrieving...remains?" he whispered, stumbling over the words. God only knew what it would do to Sam or Cass if they couldn't bring her back alive. Hell, the whole SGC, himself included, was going to hurt if she'd been lost. She wasn't like the members on the various SG teams, who tended to be tight with each other, but were seldom terribly close to members of other teams. She looked after all of them; cared for their health, healed their injuries, listened when they dumped about missions, and, in his case at least, even sparred good naturedly when that was what it took.

Sam flinched as though struck, but nodded. She could barely force the words past the tightness in her throat, and this time, she couldn't hold back a few stray tears. "I know that...and...and if that's... the case...I'll--I'll bring her home...." She blinked off the tears clinging to her lashes. "Please, sir, don't ask me to stay behind."

Jack sighed, meeting her desperate gaze. The awful rage was gone now, leaving a despairing sense of urgency in its place. He felt for her. He'd lost so many people he cared for over the years; experienced that particular agony of helplessness far too many times to wish it on any friend. Unfortunately, it wasn't a mental state that tended to make for a lot of rational decision-making.

She saw the worry in his eyes. "I wouldn't do anything to put her life in danger. You know that." She caught his hand in a tight grip. "Colonel...Jack...." She struggled for words, not knowing how to express her feelings. She'd never expected to have to explain any of this to anyone, much less Jack O'Neill.

She had no way of knowing that her every emotion lived in her eyes more intensely than he'd quite expected, or was in some ways ready for. "You love her that much?" he said quietly.

"More than my life," Sam croaked, not caring about keeping the secret any more. If he wanted her out of the SGC, she didn't care so long as he let her on this mission. She swallowed hard, fighting tears. "I can't lose her, Jack."

He hurt for the pain he could see in her eyes. "We'll do everything possible to bring her back," he assured her.

Sam linked her fingers together, studying the complex play of bone and sinew, focusing on something outside of her emotions as she worked to clear her mind of everything but what she had to do. "She needs me, and I need to be there for her."

Jack studied his 2IC carefully, sharp eyes watching her closely as he assessed her condition. "Answer me honestly, Sam, can you do this? Can I trust you to act with your head and not let your emotions get the better of you?"

Sam buried her nails in her palms, using the pain as a pathway out of the confused jumble of thoughts and feelings. She had to get her head clear. She nodded slowly. "Yes, sir," she whispered, her voice sounding hoarse to her own ears. "I'll do whatever I have to."

A muscle pulsed in his jaw. It went against his better judgement, but he also knew how he'd feel in her shoes. Looking at the desperation in her eyes, he couldn't order her to stay behind. "All right," he sighed at last. "Keep it together until it's time and you'll go...but," he sharpened his tone, "I see another episode like in the gateroom with Boone and I'll take you off this mission so fast it'll make your head spin. Understood?"

She nodded jerkily.

"All right," he murmured and pushed to his feet. "You ready to go back and join that briefing?"

Sam managed another unsteady nod as she accepted the hand he offered and let him pull her to her feet.

* * * * * *

Fraiser regained consciousness to the awareness that her cheek was resting on something warm and firm. She frowned slightly, shifting as she opened her eyes with considerable effort. A figure with blond hair and pale skin swam into her blurry view and she realized her head was pillowed on someone's lap. "Sam?" the doctor croaked as she struggled to bring things into focus.

"Shhh, do not try to move," a soft, heavily accented voice urged while a hand landed lightly on her chest.

The smell of wet hay assaulted her nostrils and she became aware that the world was rolling beneath her. A wagon, she realized, as she stared around herself in confusion. She was in some kind of wagon. She looked up, focusing on the young woman leaning over her; blond, young--maybe twenty-five--her expression worried. Definitely not Sam. And then the doctor's body reminded her of the beating she'd taken, while her stomach rolled violently. She lurched for the edge of the wagon, leaning between the wide-spaced railing that bordered the main platform as she retched fiercely, her entire body wracked by the harsh spasms. She wasn't even aware of the supportive hand that landed on her shoulder.

"It will pass," the young woman soothed.

Finally, the worst of the spasms passed, and Fraiser collapsed, lying limp in the hay that lined the bottom of the wagon, what little energy she had possessed completely spent. Nausea, weakness, blurry vision, dizziness, light sensitivity. She groaned softly. "Congratulations," she mumbled, "you're now the proud mother of a bouncing baby concussion."

"Con-cussion?" a voice questioned, drawing Janet's attention back to the young woman leaning over her. She reached out, petting dark hair soothingly, while she studied Janet worriedly.

The doctor reached up to massage her temple shakily. "M-my head...it's...hurt...." She closed her eyes tightly against the bright sunlight as her skull insisted on throbbing in time with the slow creaking of the wagon. Gentle fingers probed the lump at the back of her skull and Janet winced.

"Yes...you were hit...hard...." The words were spoken haltingly as though the young woman had fair command of the language, but had to think to translate, making for odd pauses and uneven sentences that sometimes took some thought to decode.

"Yeah," Janet groaned and moved to massage her temple, only to freeze as she realized her forearms were heavily weighted. She slitted her eyes open as she lifted her wrists into view to find them encased in thick iron manacles. "I really was out of it," she mumbled as she realized that she hadn't even noticed them while caught in the grips of agonizing nausea. "That's not good." She fumbled with her left wrist, hoping to find her wristwatch under the manacle, but it was gone, either lost or stolen by her captors, so she had no real way of knowing how long she'd been unconscious or how far from the gate they might have traveled. She dropped her eyes to her own chest, noting that her equipment belt and vest were also missing.

"The centurion...he took...your...things..." her fellow prisoner told her in uncertain syllables.

Janet nodded, unsurprised by the news. She was still lying there like that, concentrating on not giving way to the nausea again when she heard the dull thuds--the rhythm that of a horse's hoofbeats, but the sound thicker and softer--and blinked her eyes open to find the centurion who had captured her riding down on the wagon on the same kind of soft pawed, horselike creatures the imperator had been riding. Her vest, equipment belt, and the backpack of medical supplies that had been discarded in the cave during the evacuation were all strapped to the back of his saddle. As he pulled alongside, he grabbed something off his saddlehorn and tossed it to the young woman leaned over Janet. "Make certain she drinks," he ordered as she caught the canteen. Without further comment, he spurred his mount and continued on.

The blond uncapped the cork, then held out the canteen to Janet. "He is...right...you must...drink...."

Janet groaned softly, her stomach rebelling at the idea, though she knew she was in serious danger of dehydration if she wasn't careful. She held up a hand, pushing the canteen back. "In a little while."

The blond accepted the refusal with a frown, but capped the canteen. "I am Leilla," she prompted quietly. "Of the western Icenei."

"Ahm...Janet...Fraiser...U.S. Air Force," Fraiser mumbled by way of introduction.

"Your people," the young woman whispered, then glanced furtively around herself as though afraid of being overheard, "we could hear the fight...they must be very...fierce...no one has ever...held...a Romani...legion back so...long."

Janet was barely listening and merely nodded distantly. Muscles screaming with the effort required, she slowly pushed into a sitting position, then nearly flopped back down as her stomach did several deep barrel rolls in fast succession. Breathing deeply and slowly to control the nausea, she leaned her head forward until the worst of it passed, then slowly looked up. The wagon she was sitting in was perhaps fourteen feet long by six feet wide, the sides bordered by rough wooden rails several feet high. Her ankles, like her wrists, were manacled, ending any hope of making a quick break for it. Not that she could have outrun a toddler at that point. Janet's eyes touched on the worried looking young woman watching her. She was pretty in a raw-boned way; tall and long limbed, her features bordering on heavy, though her long blond hair softened her face considerably. The doctor's eyes slid on and she flinched as though struck as she realized they weren't the only ones in the wagon. Four girls, none of them looking old enough to pass for college freshman, the youngest no more than a year or two older than Cassie were huddled together at the foot of the wagon, the look in their eyes terrified. "God...they're children...."

"Yet they call us...savages...."

Janet looked past the girls, doing her best to gather as much data as possible and take stock of the situation. Some kind of tongue, similar to what might be used by a horse team pulling a heavy wagon hung off the back, and young men, most of them wearing little more than loincloths and all of them hard muscled were chained to the cross-bars. Remembering mention of a prisoner before she passed out, she hunted through the faces of the half-dozen or so men, looking for anyone familiar. She couldn't' decide whether to be worried or relieved that she didn't recognize anyone. It might mean that she'd misunderstood and they hadn't taken any other SGC personnel prisoner, or it might mean that they had and that person hadn't survived.

"Where are they taking us?" Janet croaked, her words trailing off into a cough as dust stung her eyes and throat. She twisted, peering past the front of the wagon, which was pulled by another of the soft padded beasts that were obviously the local work animal. Perfect lines of armor clad men marched in lockstep, while far in the distance, she could see the bright gold helmet and crimson plume of the imperator. Well, that explained the dust. Considering the size of the phalanx she was looking at, it was a minor miracle that more people hadn't been hurt in the battle. At best guess, she was looking at close to a hundred men.

"To Helios," her young caretaker whispered and Janet could hear the fear in her voice. "The men to the games...us...to the Emperor's palace."

A band tightened around the doctor's chest. That didn't sound good. She looked back again, hunting for any sign of outriders or pickets that might be guarding the rear. If they were there, they were far enough back to be out of sight. At least the thick forest that surrounded the road would make for good cover for a rescue team. She closed her eyes tightly, wondering if Sam was out there looking for her. She knew her lover well enough to be certain she would do everything in her power to be with any team coming for her. Sam would never abandon her. "Please," she mouthed silently, "stay safe." She opened her eyes again, staring back the way they'd come as though she could make a special ops team appear through sheer willpower alone.

Leilla followed the line of her gaze, correctly reading her longing. "Your people," she whispered, once again looking around herself furtively as she spoke, "they will come for you?"

Janet nodded. "They will," she said softly. She swallowed hard, her fear showing in her eyes. "If they can find me."

Leilla ducked her head, her voice sad as she whispered, "My husband...he will not know..." she shook her head sadly. "My..." she trailed off, apparently uncertain what word to use, "protector," she decided at last, "and I were...taken...on the road...Ergan will never know...what...happened."

"I'm sorry," Janet exhaled and reached out, giving the younger woman's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. "If there's any way we can help you...any of you...we will."

"This You-ess-air-force...where is it? I have never heard of it."

Janet frowned, realizing that Leilla would have no way of understanding. "It's a long way away," she said softly. "Through the Stargate." She closed her eyes again, escaping the painful brightness of the sunlight as she massaged her throbbing temple.

"Star-gate?" Leilla questioned, frowning in confusion and shook her head, making it obvious she had no idea what the term meant.

"Where I was captured...taken..." Janet clarified.

"I'm sorry...I could not...see...we were back from the...fighting.... We could only hear the sounds...and the comments of the soldiers."

"It's a...uh...giant ring," Janet explained, holding her hands up to indicate the shape. "When it looks like water inside, you can travel through it." She was caught by surprise when Leilla's eyes went wide and she lunged backward, visibly terrified.

"Deamhan," she hissed, bracing herself as though she expected Janet to attack.

Fraiser glanced nervously around, not wanting to draw any attention, though she noted the girls pressed together in the back of the wagon suddenly looked terrified, while at least one of the captured men had tensed and was glaring at her. "Shh, I'm not going to hurt you--"

"You are arach...or you serve them," Leilla accused, her expression a mix of fear and anger.

"Arach? I don't...I don't know what that is–"

"The dragons...the evil...you serve them like the Romani...let them inside of you...."

Janet frowned, then suddenly understood. "You mean the Goa'uld?"

The young woman nodded, lips pulling back from her gritted teeth. "Your masters," she hissed. "They ... call ... themselves... that. They say they are gods."

Janet shook her head quickly, then regretted the gesture as the world spun violently around her. "No," she insisted on a gasp. "Not my masters...certainly not my god." She closed her eyes tightly as her stomach rolled again. "We fight them...my people--"

"You can't fight demons."

"They're not demons and they're certainly not gods." She screwed her eyes tightly shut and had to lean heavily against the rail at her back to keep from toppling sideways, nails digging into her palms as the nausea resurged. "They're just overly ambitious parasites; leeches with an attitude." Breathing deeply in an effort to keep her stomach from coming up, she opened her eyes, squinting against the bright sunlight. "I swear, I don't serve them...my people don't serve them. They've tried to conquer my...world..." At Leilla's blank look, she amended the comment. "My people... they've killed friends...they've conquered and destroyed...they completely wiped out my daughter's...people...." She held the younger woman's frightened, uncertain gaze, knowing that in her present condition, she had a far better chance of surviving with an ally. "We use their Stargates because it's the only way we can fight them." She laughed a little bitterly when Leilla still seemed uncertain. "If I were their servant or one of them, would I be a beaten bloody and lying in the back of this wagon?"

The younger woman watched her, visibly debating the evidence. "No," she whispered at last and shook her head slowly. "You would not." The Romani would never abuse a Deamhan that way. The repercussions would be death and disaster for them all. She considered Janet's explanations with the seriousness of historians debating the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. "But if they are not...gods...." She crept closer to Janet again, searching her face as if she might find answers there. "And not Deamhan...." She looked around herself furtively, leaning in close until she was only scant inches from Janet. "And you can fight them...we ... could fight them...."

It was a little like watching it occur to Orville or Wilbur Wright that maybe birds weren't the only ones who could fly, so awed was the look in the woman's eyes. Janet was sure she would have enjoyed it if the world would just stop rocking from side to side for a moment. A desperate hand grabbed her sleeve.

"Have you ever...b-beaten them?"

Janet nodded. "A few times," she whispered. "And we've found allies...increased our chances of ultimately winning..." she trailed off, nowhere near coherent enough to try and explain the scope of the war to a young woman who'd only just discovered that maybe the Goa'uld weren't gods or demons. "It's a lot bigger than just this world."

"But they...can...be beaten?"

"Not easily...or quickly...but, yes, they can be beaten." She shaded her eyes with one hand, amazed she was still conscious as her body threatened to simply fold. She stared at her fingers, noting the nasty gashes she'd gotten from the Imperator's armor, the dried blood still clinging to her skin in streaks. Her eyes slid on, taking in other injuries and more dried blood. She reached up, running light fingers along the gash at the hairline, then down her forehead, brushing away flaking blood. It would be a wonder if she wasn't down with infection within hours. She considered using some of the water in the canteen to wash the wounds, but discarded the idea. As heavily as they'd bled, they were probably cleaner without adding water swimming with god only knew what contaminants and bacteria. She was startled when a light hand landed on her shoulder.

"You are...tired...I'm sorry...I should not have...asked...so many...questions."

"S'okay," Janet exhaled, suddenly exhausted, the brief adrenaline rush that had kept her going draining away. "I shouldn't sleep anyway." She rubbed the back of her neck to relieve some of the stress gathered there. "That's not particularly good when you've got a concussion."

Leilla glanced at the girls still cowering in the back of the wagon, then back at Janet. "They do not speak Romani...only Icenei...some of the words I spoke...were Icenei. I must ... explain ... to them that you will not... harm... them."

Janet nodded her understanding, then wished she hadn't. "Go on." Leilla moved away, leaving Janet alone. She leaned her head on her hands, holding on to an image of Sam coming for her to get through. Just thinking of her lover made her feel a little less alone and she pressed a hand against her chest, feeling the comforting warmth of Sam's ring against her skin. Thank god her captors hadn't taken that when they took her vest and belt. It gave her something to hold onto emotionally.

"Awake now, eh, slave?" the sneering voice brought her head up and she realized that Imperator, Severidus, was riding next to the wagon, his mouth twisted in an ugly smirk that seemed out of place on a face that beautiful. "Tonight," he said just loud enough for her to hear, smiling at the fear that entered her eyes in response to his words. "Retribution." Then, laughing, he spurred his mount and road off, leaving her to stew in her own fears.

Janet swallowed hard and closed her eyes tightly for a long moment as she mentally regrouped. Okay, so she knew exactly what that threat meant--and it wasn't a vicious game of monopoly--but she couldn't afford to fall apart. Any chance she had of avoiding his little plan for revenge lay in staying calm and in control. Scared? Hell yes, but she didn't believe in fates worse than death and if it came down to it she could survive. She would survive. Sam would kick her butt if she didn't. Comforted by thoughts of her lover, she settled in as comfortably as possible, closing her eyes to let her battered body rest. And if her fears threatened to torment her, she was just too tired to focus on them. Despite her intentions to remain awake, she soon lay huddled in the hay, so deeply asleep, she was nearly comatose.

* * * * * *

Chapter Three

 

"Nothing," Sam muttered to herself, her voice little more than a tortured rasp as she tried not to think about the burned grass and scorched earth that surrounded the Stargate platform. She couldn't afford to consider what that might mean, not and maintain a hold on herself. Boone had held out the hope that Janet might have made it to cover and she was clinging to that with every fiber of her being.

"It's over here," Jack said softly, his voice echoing oddly in the confines of the cave.

She turned, noting he was shining his flashlight along another edge of the slab, and flashed her beam across his face, noting the greenish tinge that had come over his complexion. "Sir?" she started his way, but he waved her to stay put.

"Somebody's picked up the pack and equipment Boone said was left behind...." He crouched down, picking up a discarded paper gauze wrapper. "All that's left is some of the packing materials...and...." He gestured toward the edge of the slab and paled another notch. "Um...."

Sam got the message without his having to explain. "Oh."

"Jack...Sam," Daniel called as he stepped into the chamber, "Teal'c thinks he's found something."

With nothing more for them to do there, the two officers followed Daniel back into the waning daylight.

It had been nearly six hours since the original team's panicked evacuation. Six hours that could have brought any number of terrors to the woman lost on the wrong side of the gate. Nails digging into her palms, Sam cut that train of thought off right there as she hurried after Daniel.

They quickly found the Jaffa where he was crouching at the center of a patch of blackened earth. He looked up as they drew close and held out a hand to reveal the coiled wire of an earpiece. "I found this," Teal'c said by way of explanation. "And boot prints that are most likely Doctor Fraiser's."

Sam leaned past him, staring at the disturbed soil. The prints were deep, turning up black ground and grass to reveal the undamaged soil underneath and showed the distinctive waffle pattern of a combat boot. They were also about half the size of the prints left by Teal'c's boots and even a little smaller than Sam's prints. Sam glanced at the other prints in the area, all considerably larger and made by smooth soled shoes.

The major felt her heart start to beat again as she recognized the import of what they were looking at. The prints had to be Janet's and they'd definitely been made after the fire. Which meant she'd at least survived the explosions Boone described.

Teal'c rose, pointing toward a cave entrance a short distance away. "I found more boot prints just inside that cave. I believe it is where Doctor Fraiser took shelter from the fire and explosions." He gestured to the other prints Sam had noticed. "I believe she came out of the cave and, after some kind of conflict, she was taken."

Sam's breath caught, her momentary joy at realizing that her lover might still be alive dampened by the harsh realities of the situation. If Janet had been captured, God only knew what was happening to her.

Teal'c indicated a set of large, smooth soled prints. "They scuffled...the earth is deeply disturbed by some kind of animal tracks....and then here...I believe he was carrying her. Her prints disappear and his deepen, indicating an increase in weight." He pointed back toward the road that lead past the gate. "The army Colonel Boone described would need to move by road through forest this thick...." He looked back, his expression serious, a subtle hint of worry gleaming deeply in his dark eyes. It wasn't the worst case scenario--that had involved finding the doctor's body--but it was far from the best.

"Okay," O'Neill muttered. "You go figure out which way they went. I'll check in with SG-2; let 'em know we're headed out." SG-2 had joined them on the mission and was standing guard over the gate. They would remain behind and continue that mission to make certain the path home was clear.

With some idea of their course of action, Sam was anxious to be moving, certain that every second they delayed decreased their chances of finding Janet. As they hiked the short distance to the road, Daniel was almost jogging to keep up and even Teal'c had to noticeably lengthen his strides.

"We will retrieve Doctor Fraiser," Teal'c said softly, his voice determined. She was his teammate's mate, and more than that, he owed her a debt of honor for saving his life when O'Neill and the others were taken by Hathor. He took neither responsibility lightly. The fact that he genuinely liked and respected the woman only deepened his commitment to her rescue.

"We'll do everything possible, Sam," Daniel added quietly, and reached out to give her shoulder a comforting squeeze.

She nodded without speaking and hurried her stride.

By the time O'Neill joined them, they had concluded that the army phalanx they were pursuing had headed West. It was impossible to tell how many men might have marched past, though it was apparent that they'd been in tight formation, the lines four men wide. There were also signs of several draft animals and fresh ruts in the road indicating at least one wagon had taken up the rear. Combined with what they knew from Boone, it seemed apparent they were pursuing a sizable contingent of armed men.

"All right, gang," O'Neill said when it was time. "SG-2 has our backs...and they'll check in with General Hammond at the arranged time...let him know what's up." He nodded in the direction they needed to go. "Let's get her back."

Sam was already moving, boots scuffing up dust with every long stride, her every thought with the woman somewhere on the road ahead of them. She barely even noticed as the men caught up with her and fell into line with her long paces. She had other things on her mind.

* * * * * *

Janet came awake to the sense of lurching movement and nausea. "More fun than a body can shake a stick at," she mumbled weakly, thinking that maybe next time she wanted to be heroic, she'd just leap off the nearest building instead. As far as she could tell, it would probably hurt less. Something sharp edged was pressing uncomfortably into her calf, and she concentrated on that small pain to focus past the larger ones threatening to overwhelm her. Finally, convinced that just lying there wasn't going to help get out of the mess she'd found herself in, she struggled to open her eyes, relieved to find the light had dimmed. Then it occurred to her that she probably shouldn't be so pleased to find it getting darker. That meant that hours had passed since she'd originally been captured; hours that had taken her farther and farther from the Stargate. She glanced toward the back of the wagon, noting that Leilla lay asleep with the girls from her tribe, her side pressed up against the rear rails.

Determined to just suck it up and move, she pushed up on one hand with a low groan, breathing deeply to control the pain that simple movement sent rattling through her battered frame. Needing to distract herself, she ran a hand down her calf, easily finding the lump that had been pressing into her leg while she slept. After fumbling to find the zipper pull, she tugged it down, easily opening the cargo pocket that ran about halfway down her calf, starting a couple of inches below the knee. A smile touched the doctor's mouth as she retrieved the cause of her discomfort. It was a survival kit. Designed to give a downed pilot the basics of survival in a package weighing only a few ounces, it contained a mylar survival blanket, small knife, matches, a compass, a signal mirror, a tiny mechanical pencil, a couple of small folded sheets of graph paper...and a wire saw with ridged teeth tough enough to cut through hard wood...or soft metal. Like the iron manacles wrapped around her wrists and ankles. Her captors had obviously missed the tiny package when they'd stolen the rest of her gear.

It was wrapped in a small, airtight, zippered bag which she quickly opened, slipping out the saw, one of the sheets of graph paper, the pencil, and the small knife before resealing the package and tucking it back into the pocket on her calf. Palming the items, she lifted her head, silently calculating her chances for actually escaping. She could see outriders now, ranging back and forth alongside the phalanx of soldiers. Even under the best of circumstances that would make escape difficult.

The wagon hit a deep rut, jarring her badly and leaving her clinging to the rails around the edge of the wagon for balance while her stomach pitched and rolled and the world tilted violently on its axis.

Oh, this was not good; not even remotely the best of circumstances. Janet's hand fisted around the saw and the small knife, not feeling the pain as ridged metal wire pressed into her flesh. With an army of men chasing her, she probably wouldn't make it more than ten feet. Hell, as well as she was doing, she'd probably fall and break her neck trying to get out of the wagon. She gritted her teeth against the sudden, almost overwhelming need to give way to tears of hopelessness and frustration. "Oh no, you don't," she chastised herself. "Need to keep a clear head if you're going to get yourself out of this." And she had too many reasons to get out alive to start giving up already. It was just a matter of centering herself and figuring a way through the problem.

She took a moment, writing down what little she could remember about the route they must have taken and her best guesses about how much time had passed. She wasn't sure how much help the notes might be if she found herself trying to get back to the Stargate, but it was a start and it helped her focus her thoughts and clear her head. She could do this; just take it a step at a time.

Okay, so she wasn't at her strongest, but night was coming. If she could just get free and slip away under the cover of darkness, they might not even notice she was gone for hours. As little respect as they had for women, they might not even bother to send anyone in pursuit.

Which was probably her best hope for escaping. Her only real hope if she was honest about it.

No, no thinking like that. Janet ducked her head, studying how the leg irons were locked to her ankles. A thin staple held the hinge side closed. Clearly, it was the narrowest stretch of metal. Saw through that and the chains were history. After tucking the tiny knife in her from pants pocket, she looped the wire saw around the bent edge of the staple where it fastened the hinge pin and began slowly dragging it back and forth, grating it against the metal and slowly grinding dust sized particles up around the wire.

* * * * * *

Sam could barely resist the urge to pace as she watched Teal'c carefully survey the multiples paths the road ahead of them took, but a single look from O'Neill where he stood talking to the Jaffa quelled her urge to let off tension that way. He was worried about how well she was holding it together, and the last thing she wanted to do was give him any cause to try and send her back. Besides, she needed to conserve her energy. Exhausting herself pointlessly wouldn't help anyone.

"She'll be okay," Daniel said softly as he settled a hand on Carter's shoulder, hoping to ease some of the awful terror he knew she was feeling.

A muscle pulsed in her jaw. "You don't know that," she exhaled, her voice tight with stress. Her mind was alive with possible scenarios, each one worse than the last, until all she could try and do was concentrate past them.

"But I do know that she's smart ... that she's got everything to come home to ... everything to fight for." He swallowed hard against his own emotions, surprised by how the situation had brought up his own nightmare with Sha're. "And I know that we are going to do everything possible to get her back." He needed to believe that almost as much as Sam did. "And she knows that too. Wherever she is," he reiterated that point, "she knows you're looking for her."

"Thanks." Sam managed a watery smile and reached back, blindly catching hold of Daniel's hand in a tight grip.

Finally, Jack jogged back several feet, hooking his thumb over his shoulder. "Teal'c says they went that way," he called out to the other two. He looked worried. "He thinks men and wagons have been turning from the other roads onto this one ... and it looks to me like he's right." Jack didn't have as much experience tracking people as Teal'c, but he'd had enough special forces training to do a pretty fair job.

"Which means we may be up against one hell of an army," Daniel correctly interpreted.

Jack nodded. "Yeah." His eyes touched on Sam who was standing stiffly. She absorbed the news without comment.

"Let's get moving," Carter growled after a beat. "They're getting farther ahead of us with every passing minute." She resettled her pack, and started moving, forcing the pace, knowing her teammates would fall in line and keep up. If nothing else, she'd become convinced that they were every bit as determined as she was to bring her lover back.

* * * * * * *

Janet growled a soft curse under her breath as the saw slipped again, the wire blade slicing another gash in her already bloody hands. The only light came from the double moons high overhead, but the task was simple enough to do by feel even though her hands were getting stiff with cold and injury. With nightfall, the temperature was dropping rapidly, and while her uniform warded off the worst of the chill, her hands were completely unprotected.

The good news was she'd gotten the ankle manacles off and was well on the way to freeing the left handcuff. Despite the physical pain, she was feeling almost lighthearted. She'd made a few more notes that might help her get back and she was almost through the hinge pin on the left cuff. Even the worst of the dizziness and nausea seemed to be letting up.

She was so focused on what she was doing that she didn't realize she had company until a light hand landed on her shoulder. "You are...awake...again," the soft voice with its lilting accent and halting cadence reached her ears.

Janet turned her head to peer up at the young woman who crouched down beside her, her expression worried. "Leilla." She swallowed, moistening her lips when her voice came out dry and raspy as it occurred to her that she was thirsty as hell. She'd earlier considered drinking from the water-skin the centurion had tossed them, but was afraid it was swimming with enough bacteria to make her situation her whole lot worse. Dysentery or its local equivalent would leave her dehydrated a whole lot faster than simply not drinking. "The last time I looked you were asleep."

The younger woman nodded toward the rear of the wagon. "I fell ... asleep after ... after talking to my ... my protector ... Calloran...."

Janet frowned, struggling to bring the world into focus as she followed the line of Leilla's gaze, easily spotting the tall, well-built young man following behind the wagon, his dark eyes locked on her, his expression full of suspicious frustration. "Your protector?" she repeated, then clarified, "your guard?"

The blond nodded. "He was taking me to my ... my husband."

Janet didn't know what to say to that as she was reminded that she wasn't the only one trapped in hell. Her eyes slid past the younger woman again as she debated what to do. It wasn't even a long debate. "Your protector ... Calloran ... could he get you and those girls somewhere safe?"

Leilla frowned in confusion as though she suspected Janet had slipped a few key cogs. "We are ... prisoners," she said cautiously.

Janet offered a small, reassuring smile. "If you could get loose though?"

"Yes ... if even he just he could get ... free ... he would ... find a-a way ... to get ... help."

Janet yanked sharply on the tiny saw, the gesture drawing the younger woman's attention, as she snapped the head on the hinge pin, then began working the pin free from the manacle.

"What is that?"

Janet held up the wire. "It's a saw. It can cut through the metal." She held up the cuff, showing the young woman the weak point. "Drag it back and forth right here and you can free yourself."

Blue eyes lifted and the young woman's face was oddly luminous in the thin moonlight. "How...it's so ... so small."

"But it's strong," Janet told her, then handed the saw over to the young woman. "We've all got a better chance of escaping if we work together." She forced down any eagerness. "If we could get back to the Stargate ... the circle with water ... my people would help us. You've seen their weapons; you know they can fight the Romani." That was assuming they didn't think she was already dead. She forced that thought down as Leilla questioned.

"They would ... help ... us?" The young woman's hand tightened on the saw as she stared at Janet in awe.

Fraiser nodded. "If humanly possible." She glanced back the way they'd come over her shoulders. "It's only a few hours back ... maybe faster if someone knows these woods--"

"Calloran does," the younger woman breathed and then suddenly she looked up, losing all color, her pale blue eyes going wide. She exhaled something incomprehensible under her breath, pushing to her feet as she stared at something in shock.

"What?" Janet whispered, using her grip on the rail to haul herself to her feet as she twisted in the direction the younger woman was staring.

And then she nearly went down again she found herself faced with a black valley that glittered with campfires scattered across the length and breadth of the land. The sounds of men and animals reached her ears and she could see flickers of fire glinting off armor. "Dear God," Janet exhaled heavily. There had to be hundreds of small campfires ... maybe even thousands. And God only knew how many men to go with them. She felt her heart sink and had to bite back on a sob. Sam would never find her in the middle of all that.

She was still standing there like that, staring out at the sight with raw horror when she heard the clumping rhythm of one of local version of a horse drawing near. She spun to find Imperator Severidus riding down on the wagon, his gold armor glittering in the moonlight and torchlight, his face cast in perversely regal shadows. Four foot soldiers, their uniforms decorated in gold trim and apparently under his command, trotted behind his mount and he waved them forward as he reined in the animal. Eyes gleaming with bitter lights, he pointed at Fraiser. "Bring her...."

* * * * * *

Chapters 4-7

 

 

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