The characters all belong to MGM; I've had fun playing with them but definitely no infringement intended. This is my first fic after a very long period of dormancy - I welcome reviews! Rated M as I'm extra cautious. Please excuse the slight license with Entropic Cascade Failure - I needed the option of Sam and Vala being allowed to stay.

This story has been nominated for a Blue Moon Award, and wow, I'm thrilled! Thanks to whoever nominated it, and please go over to Blue Moon to vote, if you like it

"Bloody hell". Sam swore as the crystal sparked, sending a jolt into her hand and up her arm. "Bloody bloody hell!" She sucked the offending finger, and surveyed the panel with a rather more jaundiced eye. Her musings were broken by a violent shudder, as the cargo ship was flung sideways, then seemed to jump in the air and come down slightly to the right of where it was before.

"Sam..." Vala's voice echoed down the corridor. "Any freakin time now would be oh so very good..."

Exhaling hard and now cradling her left arm a bit gingerly, Sam applied herself to the problem of the crystals again. Lifting a vivid red one, she attempted to place it, only to be thrown back by another jolt and a flash of light. The crystal landed in another slot altogether, a second bright flash lit the room, and Sam heard a scream from the flight deck. Rushing forwards, she was hit by a wave of energy that pulsed briefly through the craft, and seemed to make a connection with the red crystal, which flashed brightly and then faded, leaving a vivid after image before her eyes. Sam's last thought, as she lost consciouness, was for Vala...

Memory, Samantha Carter reflected, was a peculiar thing. Hers seemed to be a bit Swiss cheese-y (Swiss cheese? Now there was a memory from a time long gone) and certainly nothing in the immediate past seemed to justify waking up slowly in what had to be a real bed, with sheets and everything. As her wakefulness increased, however she became aware of the needle in her arm, and she panicked, sitting up abruptly and ripping out the offending drip...

Cue alarms and shrieks and strong hands pushing her back... and then a voice she'd never thought to hear again this side of death (Am I dead? Could be... oh god, what about Vala?) saying her name, over and over, till she calmed down and opened her eyes properly for the first time. Carolyn Lam stood in front of her, frowning and looking stern, a look, Sam recalled, that she was pretty good at. This wasn't, however, the Carolyn from her memory. This Carolyn was still a beautiful woman, but older, with lines round her eyes and a streak of grey running through her hair. Confused, Sam opened her mouth and asked the only question that seemed to matter. "Vala? Please, where is she?"

Daniel Jackson wasn't sure he appreciated the call from the SGC at 0700 on a Saturday morning. The kids were finally at an age where they could be relied on to watch cartoons on their own for an hour, while he and Vala caught up on some sleep which, thankfully, was still sometimes a euphemism for, well, you know what. Having that precious time disturbed was irritating, to say the least. Still, you never knew. Saving the world had become less frequent of late years, but incidents did still happen. He pressed the answer button on the phone, rolling Vala off to one side and grinning at her sleepy growl, and sat on the end of the bed to speak to Walter.

A minute later he wasn't grinning anymore. His frown very much in evidence, Vala heard him say "What? Where? But, well... No, No, of course I'll come. Have you called Cam? OK, no, be there in 30 minutes". At this, Vala resigned herself to no Saturday morning nookie, and started getting up. When she heard the phone go back on its cradle she looked up. Daniel sat unmoving, like a man poleaxed. "Darling" She approached the bed and rested her hand on his head. "My Daniel? What on earth has happened?"

An hour later, Daniel was pacing outside the infirmary door. Vala was home with the kids, getting them ready to spend the day with friends. The kids, wildly excited by this change in the normal Saturday routine, hadn't put up a fuss. For the moment he was the only member of SG-1 here, and in a second he was going to have to go in there and deal with what seemed to be a rather thorny problem. On beds side by side in the infirmary lay exact doubles of his wife, and of Sam Carter. The Vala in the infirmary wore a leather blouse and leather trousers, had her long dark hair caught up with a clip and was currently unconscious. The Sam sitting next to her wore similar leather trousers, and a linen shirt ripped in places and tied over her hips. Her hair was short, mussed and her arm was in a sling. She held Vala's hand, and was talking to her unhearing form quietly and urgently.

Daniel shook his head. The image of Sam Carter-O'Neill came to him; the immaculately turned out General and wife of the Head of Homeland Security. Long blonde hair clipped up, make up perfect, smile in place... only a a slight wildness in the eyes suggesting that a Presidential Fall party wasn't exactly where she wanted to be at that very moment. Daniel grinned at the memory. To be fair, Jack, shifting his tie restlessly, had had exactly the same cornered look. About an hour after the formal do ended, they had been on their way to the cabin, for a long break. The fact that the cabin was on P5X-789 (better fish in the lakes for Jack) meant that contacting them was not going to be as simple as picking up the phone.

He was procrastinating. It had been a number of years since there'd been an alternate universe incident, but this looked like a doozy. Sighing, he knocked, then opened the door.

"We were on our way to deliver a cargo of goods to Paul Davis' settlement, before heading for Tryan Cep. They go into the dark phase of their year any minute, and needed their stuff beforehand. Unfortunately we got approached by Lucian Alliance ships, and as per normal they started firing before negotiating." Sam shook her head. "I was trying to get the hyperdrive back on line when they fired some new kind of weapon - some kind of shockwave passed though the ship and I heard Vala scream" Swallowing convulsively, she glanced at the motionless woman whose hand she held. "It reacted with the red crystal, produced a truly blinding flash. Then I lost consciousness, and despite a few flashes of memory, my first real awareness was waking up here". She glanced up at Daniel, a briefly amused smile crossing her face. "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Dorothy"

General Landry felt put upon. Downtime was a rare event in his life, and he'd been looking forward to some. Being called back on a Saturday was bad enough, but he'd only cleared his desk yesterday, and bade everyone a cheerful goodbye as he had looked forward to a week of R&R with Kim. Maintaining his rebuilt relationship was paramount - this wasn't going to help. But it had been Carolyn herself on the phone, and whatever she had said to her mother afterwards had obviously softened the blow - Kim had kissed him goodbye and told him she'd keep the coffee hot for him. He felt his mood lifting at the thought.

That lifted mood soon gave way to something approaching flabbergasted, when he sat down with Daniel in the briefing room and heard the current update on the events of the day. A distress call suddenly being heard where no spacecraft should be, followed by confirmation of a crash. The Daedalus thankfully in orbit, a team able to beam down to give assistance merely minutes after the crash. The astonishment of the rescue crew when the only two people on board had turned out to be...

"General Carter-O'Neill? And Vala? Isn't she at home with you? And I KNOW Sam is offworld with Jack, I waved them off and heard from Colonel Head that they'd been safely delivered to P5X-789."

Daniel felt he wasn't making a good job of explaining. He ran his hand over his face, and exhaled strongly.

"Yes, General. Vala, my Vala, is at home. With the kids. Although she'll be here any minute now. The Sam and Vala from the ship are not ours, not from this reality. Somehow, and I theorize the red crystal flash must have something to do with it, they have transcended realities, and found themselves here."

He paused. General Landry's face was impassive. Daniel wracked his brain for a clearer way of putting the problem to him, but was saved from starting to babble by a deep sigh from the General. He watched as Hank heaved himself up and started for the door, pausing only to look back with one word, heartfelt.

"Again?"

Wordless for once, Daniel nodded, and General Landry set off for the infirmary.

Vala was coming round. Her head felt as though it had been repeatedly battered against something... oh... her hand found the stitches. Seems like perhaps it had. Blinking, she took in her surroundings, and gasped, waking Samantha, who was sitting beside the bed, holding her hand and dozing.

"Vala! Vala, baby, it's OK, I'm here" Anxious to avoid a repeat of her own, rather wild wake-up, Sam leaned over the bed and stroked her hair. But Vala, who had, after all, spent more years waking up in strange places, was calmer than Sam, and absorbed in the surroundings. "Sam, this is, no it can't be, but it looks just like the SGC infirmary. Just like! The green curtains and everything! I must be hallucinating, mustn't I? We were on our way to the Earth settlement before heading for Tryan Cep, and the Alliance... I remember a flash, oh gods..." Her increasingly panicky babble was stopped by Sam's mouth on hers, Sam's free hand under her chin. In reflex Vala kissed back, and felt herself calming, felt Sam's reassuring presence seeping into her bones (Ah Sam, my Sam, what would I do if you weren't here? Wherever "here" is?)

The General found them like that, and waited a good minute before clearing his throat in a remarkably, he thought, collected way. The two woman instantly separated, although he noticed that Vala still clung to General Carter-O'Neill's hand (No. No. Definitely not General Carter -O'Neill. Mustn't forget that)

"Ladies." He cleared his throat again, and stepped into the room. "Ah, welcome to the SGC." It was inane, but it got a weak smile from them both. The atmosphere eased slightly, and he relaxed his military stance somewhat. "When you feel up to it, um, Ms Carter," there was a slight hesitation and questioning tone to his voice, but she merely nodded, mutely, "I'd appreciate a slightly more indepth briefing. I understand you've been through a lot " his voice softened as he took in, more thoroughly, the slings and stitches and assorted evidence of injury "but the sooner we can work out what happened, the better." Sam nodded, then stood up, brushing her shirt down with her good arm.

"I'll come with you now, General. Sweetheart, will you be OK if I'm away for a little while?" Hank noted the endearment, used quite unselfconsciously, and noted also the look of trust in Vala's eyes as she replied that she would. She added "Alternative reality, I presume?" and, on Sam's nod, sighed, and reclined back. "Well" she said, with the wicked grin that was so very Vala Mal Doran "let's enjoy it then, hmm?" Hank heard Sam's reluctant chuckle, then turned to follow her as she left the infirmary and set off for the briefing room

It had turned into a bit of a marathon session. Sam had twice returned to the infirmary to check on Vala (who had surrounded herself with magazines and chocolate and was having a wonderful time), and just as Daniel thought his head might explode, his own Vala had arrived, and was demanding to be brought up to date. Shushing her, he tried to tell her that there was a back story here that needed explaining, but Vala, as was generally the case, ignored him and bounced into the briefing room, sleek ponytail shining, lipstick in place and toenails gleaming with a fresh pedicure. Glancing up, she saw Sam, and beamed, enveloping the other woman in a huge bear hug.

"SAM! you're back! And here I thought there was something wrong... I love your hair, by the way. When did you decide to get it cut? Too much trouble keeping it long at the cabin? Suits you short, I've always thought so..." she trailed off, and stepped back, with her hands still on the other woman's shoulders. The Sam in front of her was frozen, with eyes like saucers. Tentatively she reached out a hand and lightly touched Vala's cheek. Her eyes took in the glossy hair, the bright eyes, the admittedly slightly rounder although still startlingly attractive figure, and her hand dropped again to her side. Confused, Vala let her own hands fall, and stepped back, studying the figure before her. "Sam?" Her eyes took in the clothes and the sling, and began to widen. Swinging round she demanded "Daniel! What exactly is going on here?"

"So then Jack's stasis pod was lost in the attack on Earth." Sam's eyes stayed dry, but Daniel noted the grimace of pain that flashed across her features. "We won that battle, but the damage to Earth was extensive. The SGC kept running on a much smaller scale, with a civilian overseer." The twist of her lip indicated her opinion of this. "The battle with the Ori went pretty much as it seems to have done in this universe, except for a couple of notable differences. Morgan le Fay was prevented from coming to the party, so to speak (she couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of her voice) and Daniel ascended again, just after Adria killed him on Cori Celestis, and engaged her in battle. We presume they're still at it."

Daniel felt Vala's hand clutch at his own, and grasped it firmly back. It wasn't pleasant to hear.

"The battle with Anubis had severely weakened Earth, and the remainder of the SGC was reduced to the level of an underground movement once the Priors moved in. When word of the disappearance of the Ori and the Orici filtered through to them, they abandoned the planet, but it had been reduced to pre-industrial revolution status by then. Very few of us were left... Cam and Teal'c were with the Jaffa and we had no way of contacting them. It wasn't until some years later that we managed to get word of them, and by then Vala and I were already running cargo between worlds devastated by Origin." Sam rubbed her eyes, and took a long drink of water from the glass in front of her. " That cargo ship has been a lifesaver; it got us off the planet and has kept us alive since then. Anyway, we had a cargo load full of food and were on our way to Paul Davis' settlement here in Colorado, when the Lucian Alliance, who are pretty strong in our reality, tried out a new weapon on us. It reacted with one of the engine crystals, and here we are..."

Sam looked up. "And we're going to have to get back pretty sharpish too. If, as you say, your Sam is offworld, I should be OK, but with two Vala's here in the building, we'll have Entropic Cascade Failure to deal with in a couple of days too." Her voice wavered. "And I'm not putting her through that." She met this Vala's curious look with a steadfastly neutral one. "We have to get back".

Cameron Mitchell didn't see why. On his arrival three hours earlier he'd been keyed in by Daniel, and, as far as he was concerned, couldn't see a reason why Sam and Vala needed to go back. "It's a war zone, all but" he expostulated to Sam. "We know that Entropic Cascasde Thingie is brought on by proximity; we can send you and Vala to an inhabited planet in this reality, far away from Earth, and you can integrate with the locals, settle back into normal life. Hell, we'll visit! As long as our Sam and our Vala don't spend more than a couple days there, it'll be fine."

"Cam..."

"Grief, it'll be fun! We'll pick a planet with cute men, for Vala, and lots of science-y type geeks for you. You must have a got a bit tired of each other's company, admit it, flying around just the two of you all these years?" He stopped talking, caught by the tilt of Sam's head, and the way she was biting her lower lip. "What?"

Sam sighed. "We're not tired of each other, Cameron. We've found we, ahem, make rather a good team. Rather a good couple even." His open mouthed expression made her grin. "And we have responsibilities in our reality that we can't just abandon out of hand. We have to at least try."

She wasn't sure Cam had heard the last bit. His mouth was still open, and he seemed to be processing something. As she moved away from him and off down the corridor to the infirmary he shook himself and seemed to come back to life. "Wait! Sam, wait... couple?"

Sam sat in "her" lab - the familiarity of it was unnerving. This reality's Samantha Carter used it much less than in the days of the Goa'uld and the Ori, but it had never been cleared out, and all "her" old things were there. Even some of the passwords on the computer were the same. If it weren't for the memories, she might never have been away...

The first few months had been the worst. After the adrenaline rush of finding the old cargo ship in Area 51 and getting the few remaining members of SGC into it and away, it had become a hard grind. Major Davis had insisted on remaining behind on Earth - one of their regular stops was to bring him supplies. Despite the fact that he, and the group of ragtag survivors he'd gathered together, could have left with Sam and Vala, they chose not to. Sam was never sure why, but Paul was obdurate; he wasn't going anywhere. It had been on one of their regular food drops to him that the Lucian Alliance had finally caught up with them.

Those early months... Vala had been in denial at first about Daniel's death. She was convinced he'd come back again, defeat Adria and return to her. When it became clear that that wasn't going to happen, at least not in a hurry, she became angry; with him, with herself for the incident with the bracelets that brought them to the Ori's attention, with Adria. The night the anger became guilt, Sam held her for hours while she wept and railed, punishing herself for bearing the Orici, raging against her putative daughter for taking away the only man she'd ever cared about. In vain Sam pointed out that Daniel had made a choice to go and fight Adria, made a decision to allow them all a chance to rebuild, and recover. In vain she pointed out that since the attack by Anubis the SGC had been operating on a skeleton staff, that it was a miracle that the weapon against the Ori had been able to be created at all, or the Ark found. That, in short, sometimes luck just runs out... Vala couldn't listen.

But the night of weeping did her good. In the morning she was calmer, more accepting, ready to look to the future again and to see what could be made of it. After all, she said, it was what Daniel would have wanted. Sam, who had already had three years experience of trying to live the life a lost love would have wanted, merely nodded mutely.

It wasn't the last time either of them cried. They had learned to share the grief, learned that hiding it only made it worse. During one of the times she held Vala while she wept, Sam found herself wiping away the tears with her hand, then, almost outside her own volition, following up with her mouth, kissing the smooth skin, running her lips over Vala's cheeks, tasting the tears, scooping up handfuls of her hair and feeling the full softness of her lips under her own. When Vala's hand tentatively came up against her cheek, Sam deepened the kiss, tasting for the first time the sweetness of another woman's mouth, the softness of her skin, the smooth ripeness of her breasts, and, later, the salty slickness of her, the incredible responsiveness of her against her tongue, the little cries Sam thought might drive her mad with her own need...

It had been a previously undreamed of awakening for them both, and it had only grown stronger in the five years since that first time. They had built a life, of sorts, and when Teal'c and Cameron had resurfaced (Cam, with his hair to his shoulders, and a beard like the Old Man of the Sea; she almost hadn't recognised him) a vestige of the old team spirit had emerged, and bound them together again, fighting the same fight...

No, they must get back. This was an interesting interlude, a look at what might have been. Harder for Vala, who must face Daniel here, but they would deal with that when it happened. And she would get them home again. Sam bent to her workbench, and lost herself in the maths.

"Well, Ms Carter," General Landry was smiling. "It seems that whatever reality you originate in, you're able to work technological magic." He bent over the re-fashioned crystal engine. "And give us something useful into the bargain."

Sam shook her head slowly, and stifled a yawn. "I hope so," she grimaced, "it works on paper. The energy beam was designed to lift out and beam away all our cargo. You're welcome to that technology! The interaction with the red crystal simply amplified that effect, and lifted us right out of our universe and into yours. I can repeat the effect, I think, and follow the path of the beam back to our own reality." This time the yawn couldn't be suppressed. "The Asgard database was a huge help. What a resource we missed out on in my reality!"

General Landry cocked his head, paused for a second, and made an executive decision. He'd defend it to the IOA later if he needed to. "Sam. We'll give you a copy of the database to take with you. There's stuff in there that your reality could, from the sound of it, really benefit from. We're going to stock you up with medicines and other essentials anyway; with the database you'll be able to recreate them as and when needed." He paused - this strange version of the SGC's brilliant General Carter-O'Neill had tears in her eyes. Impulsively she leant over and kissed his cheek. "Thank you" she whispered, and hurried from the room.

Vala, released from the infirmary, had found herself at her old quarters. To her suprise, the once utilitarian green walls were now a baby blue and a bright yellow, cartoon butterflies adorned the ceiling and a hole in the wall contained a thick glass panel, allowing a view of the inside of the room. Around which were scattered small chairs, and tables, and seemingly an inordinate amount of cuddly toys, puzzles and colouring books. Inside were a variety of small children, ranging in age from Walter Harriman's youngest, Lucy, who was a mere six weeks old, up to Daniel and Vala Jackson's eldest, Nick, who at six years old was most definitely feeling his age and was bored stiff. He was apprising his father of this fact in no uncertain terms when Daniel looked up, and saw Vala, the other Vala, watching them through the window. Aware she'd been spotted, she stepped quickly back, and by the time Daniel had managed to pacify Nick with the promise of a manly day out at the baseball, she was in the commissary, pushing a piece of cake around in a half hearted fashion.

She looked up calmly enough as Daniel sat down, but he noticed how her hand shook, and couldn't think how to start this most difficult of all difficult conversations. While he debated with himself, Vala put her fork down with a sigh, and pushed her plate away. At Daniel's questioning look she explained "I lost my sweet tooth. No cake for a year can do that to you." She smiled half heartedly. "I wouldn't say it was the hardest thing we endured during that year, but it was very frustrating!"

Relieved, Daniel responded in kind, with a remark about commissary standards, and suddenly there wasn't any awkwardness at all. She was just Vala, and although, as she said, he looked very like her Daniel, she was savvy enough to know that he wasn't. It was only when he mentioned his children that sadness chased across her face. although she merely swallowed hard and turned on her smile again. He wasn't fooled though - the sadness had been there. It made his heart ache, and the strangest thought cross his mind. It was crazy, absurd... but he needed to speak to his Vala, and then Carolyn. And soon; Sam was planning on their making the attempt to leave first thing the next morning, before ECF became an issue. He made his excuses and left hurriedly, leaving Vala looking after him with a little frown playing over her mobile features. Sighing, she shrugged, and meditatively pulled the abandoned slice of cake back to her side.

Sam and Daniel stood together, outside the SGC nursery room, companionably close and both smiling at the scene within. It felt...right...to be here, Sam realised. They couldn't stay, but seeing Daniel again, seeing this reality - it was good to know this ending had played out somewhere in the multiverse.

There was just one thing, one question she had to ask. "Are they happy?" She didn't take her eyes off the gaggle of children inside the room, but didn't miss Daniel's quick, sideways glance. He didn't ask her to clarify. He knew who she meant.

He cleared his throat, turning against the wall towards her. "Yes. Yes, they are, Sam, very happy. They have the little place offworld, and get away from the politicians often enough to stop Jack from exploding." He chuckled, then sobered slightly. "No kids." His gaze moved over to his own two, in the room. "They left it a bit late. But they borrow ours fairly regularly." He glanced back at Sam.

There was a pause, then "I'm glad" she said softly, then softer still "silly of them to wait so long." Her knuckles on the window frame were white with the force of her grip. "It's what Vala wants, more than anything, and it's the one thing I can't give her." As if she heard her name, Vala's great green eyes turned towards them; her smile flashed out, as brilliant as ever, but the unshed tears glistening there were plain to see.

Suddenly anxious, as if eager to reassure him, Sam turned and began speaking earnestly.

"We do have a home you know, apart from the cargo ship. There's a Jaffa homeworld, very green, very fertile, and Teal'c has a large farm there." She laughed slightly at his expression, watching him struggle to assimilate the idea of Teal'c as a farmer. "Vala and I have a house, about three acres away from the main homestead. Cam has a room in the main house, for whenever he's around. Teal'c wanted his SGC family close by." She smiled sadly. "What was left of us, anyway. Of course, we're not there very much, but it's ours. And we could make that change - there are others who can run the cargo for us. We can't keep on playing space pirates forever."

She looked at Vala, cradling Lucy Harriman and crooning a lullaby. "If you did decide to do this, I..." she lifted up her hands, wordless, "we..."

Daniel too was watching Vala, both of them now, his wife and Sam's most unexpected lover, as they swopped children, Baby Harriman for Evie Jackson. "We have decided" he said softly. "We'll always wonder, and wish we could see for ourselves, but really, it wasn't a difficult decision." He looked at Sam and his blue eyes were as intense as she had ever seen them. "We're your SGC family too. My kids are - everything - to me. To Vala too. We want to share that. Hey," he reached out and wiped away the tears that were now falling freely down her cheeks. "We'll load that cargo ship of yours up with medicines, equipment, the Asgard database..."

"Your sperm" she interjected, smiling through the tears and fishing for a tissue. "Yeah," he said softly, and smiled back, "and that." There was a brief, heartfelt pause. "Well," Sam said, and drew a deep, shaky breath. "Let's hope I've got it right, and can get us back again." She felt Daniel's arm snake round her shoulders, and just for a second he hugged her fiercely. "I have every confidence in you," he whispered in her ear, and with that he opened the door to the nursery, scooping up a fractious Evie from a now clearly exhausted Vala, and dropping a kiss on his wife's head. Sam lingered a moment before following him in, eyes closed. "Oh god" she whispered. "Please let him be right."

General Samantha Carter-O'Neill, tanned from a month of offworld fishing, leaned closer in towards her friend, absolutely fascinated. "So what happened? Was the launch a success? My god, we go away for a break and miss all the excitement!"

Vala Jackson laughed at her eagerness. "It went fine, Sam, at least from this end. There's no way of knowing if they got back to their reality, but, after all, she was you - I'm sure she got the calculations right. I'll bet anything they're safely back on their Jaffa farm, making babies." She grinned at Sam, who was shaking her head, smiling at the unlikeliness of it all. "You know," she reached out and delicately tucked a stray strand of blonde hair back behind Sam's ear, curling it round her finger before smoothing it out, "I really DO prefer your hair short"