TITLE: The Memory Burns

AUTHOR: Flotternz

EMAIL: flotternz@yahoo.co.nz

STORY STATUS: Complete

SEQUEL/SERIES INFO: None

SEASON: Seven, but kinda AU (No Jonas . sorry)

SPOILERS: Divide & Conquer, Entity

CATEGORIES: Angst, Romance

PAIRINGS: Sam & Jack

RATING: G

CONTENT WARNINGS: None

SUMMARY: Jack must come to terms with a decision that has harmed the rest of SG-1.

ARCHIVE PERMISSIONS: Dyiallias II, Jackfic, All others please ask.

DISCLAIMER: Sadly the Stargate and it's characters don't belong to me, but are the property of Showtime, Gekko, MGM . hence I don't not earn money from posting this, I just wrote it for pure entertainments value. Blah Blah Blah....

FILE SIZE: 75k

STORY URL: None

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is a response to a sentence opener challenge that was posted to one of the lists, and for the life of me I can't which remember now!

I gotta thank Tara, not only for Betaing, but for putting up with my persistence to write this when we have a couple of stories on the backburner that we *should* be working on. Getting on to it now babe, I promise!!



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The Memory Burns

By Flotternz

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The memory burns, searing itself into my consciousness so I can't forget it, ever. Quite honestly, I don't think I will ever *want* to forget. That in itself is a first for me. I always prided myself on the fact that I could hide my feelings, forget about my problems. But I'm responsible for my actions; I'm culpable to the fact that my friends are now lying in the Infirmary fighting for their lives and for what?

My pride, that's what.

I have been lying on my cot, unable to sleep, going over everything that happened today. Trying to think of some way that I could have handled things differently. I can't think of anything, except for the obvious. No matter how many times I run the scenario over in my head I can't think of another way, other than the one thing that I had refused to do.

I can't bring myself to go down to the Infirmary. I can't bear to leave the sanctuary of my quarters. To see the accusing stares of my colleagues, my friends. I disregarded the advice and reservations of my team and in doing so caused them to be injured.

I deserve the looks I get.

I deserve their distain, their anger. I feel the same things for myself, of myself. How could I have been so irresponsible? How could I have endangered them all in this way, so carelessly and recklessly? Daniel in this way? Teal'c? Or worse still, Carter?

I sit up, scrubbing a hand through my already tousled hair, not really caring if it came out looking worse or not. It couldn't look as bad as the condition my team was in. Teal'c, at least, had been released to his quarters with strict orders to Kel'no'reem. The same couldn't be said for Daniel and Carter. The last time I saw them they still hadn't woken up, and both had their fair share of breaks and bruises.

All I want to do is go home, to sit down in my favorite armchair with a bottle of beer. But I can't, there's no way I could leave without knowing that they were going to be okay. I *had* to know that they were going to be all right. I wanted to be there to meet the accusatory looks in their eyes.

And I want to apologize. I want to tell them that I should never have doubted their judgment. I should have valued their opinions and listened to their doubts, like I had so often in the past. I should have listened to my heart instead of my gut and my foolish head.

I should have listened to *them*.

The phone next to my bed gives out a shrill ring, startling me from my self- depreciating musings. I reach out and quickly pull it from its cradle, wanting nothing more than to put an end to the horrible sound it's making.

"O'Neill," my voice comes out in a harsh bark, even though I hadn't really meant it to sound that way. Well, not really.

I listened silently as Doc Fraiser announced herself. To my ears her voice seems brusque, maybe even a little angry, like she was quietly wishing that I was down there in the Infirmary so she could stick her needles relentlessly into my flesh as a way of punishing me.

She didn't need to. I was doing well enough on my own on the punishment front, thank you very much.

"Daniel's conscious," she tells me, a little too bluntly for my liking. "He's asking for you."

My momentary relief is quickly overtaken by dread. He wants to see me? All I can think of is that this can't be good, there was absolutely no way this was going to be good. And I deserve every last bit of what I was to receive down there.

I was about to hang up the phone when a nagging thought popped into my head, a nagging fear of something I had been trying to not think about. But I couldn't dismiss the fact that there was one other person that Janet had neglected to mention, which could only mean one thing, but I had to ask anyway.

"What about Carter?"

My voice sounds husky to my own ears, and the Doc is perceptive enough that she no doubt noticed it. Hell, of course she noticed it.

A soft sigh is issued through the receiver, answering my silent thoughts. When she responds her tone is softer, more caring. "She's still the same, Colonel."

I close my eyes at her reply and make a sound deep in my throat, a sound full of my anger and self-loathing. Of all the members of my team, it's her that I would punish myself most for putting into harms way. She, above them all, was the one that had my total and complete trust, among other things.

And she was the one that I had disregarded first.

"I'll be right down," I manage to mutter past the lump that has suddenly formed in my throat, and hanging up the phone.

Sometimes, I hate my job.

***

My eyes are drawn to the entranceway to the Infirmary as I hear heavy footsteps enter through it. I know who it is immediately; after all, it was me that had requested him to come down here.

I take a moment to study him, my eyes still a little grainy from my long, imposed, slumber and the unforgiving pounding in my head. His hands are buried deep in his pockets, his shoulders slumped slightly, enough for me to notice. He has his perfect mask in place, but for once it isn't as perfect as he might like to think and as his eyes slide to Sam, still unconscious on the gurney next to mine, it slips slightly.

I can see the guilt glinting in his eyes, the anger at himself, the recrimination, but I can't make myself feel pity for him. He should have listened to me, and Sam. He's always listened in the past, but for some reason that I would probably never understand, he chose today of all days to ignore us. And it almost proved fatal.

"I see you walked away without even a scratch to show for it," I spit, unable to keep the cold scorn from my voice.

Jack blinks, finally reaching my bedside, and a haunted look fills his eyes as he glances over at Sam again before looking back at me. His eyes drop to quickly examine me, and all my visible injuries, the most noticeable of which is the heavy white cast that my left wrist is encased in. Finally, he looks up to meet my eyes.

To his credit, he barely flinches when his eyes greet the anger and disappointment in mine. He looks ready to face whatever I might throw in his direction, and I have a fleeting feeling that he won't try to defend himself either. He looks like he has actually accepted that he was the one in the wrong.

And that's a first for Jack O'Neill.

It makes it difficult to stay angry at him. Almost. If it hadn't been for the fact that I had entrusted him with my life and he'd flagrantly disregarded it. I can't forgive that as easily as I might like. And it looks to me that he's not expecting me to forgive him any time soon.

How can you expect someone to forgive you if you're not willing to forgive yourself?

Jack still hadn't said a word and as a result the tension in the room is rapidly becoming thicker and almost unbearable. I'm not about to say anything, it's not up to me to break the ice, and there is only one sentence that is actually going to break it. I have serious doubts that he would even entertain uttering that sentence.

"I'm sorry Daniel," Jack's voice sounds raw, pained, and not just because it was a hard thing for him to say. He really *is* sorry. "I should have trusted you. I should have listened to you and Carter."

The sincerity in his voice is nearly enough to make me forgive him on the spot, but I'm still angry. I'm disappointed in him, and as petty as it may seem, I feel a little betrayed by him. In recent years he's never made me feel as tiny and insignificant as he did today. Because of that I'm not feeling in any way inclined to accept his apology as readily as he might hope.

"Yes, you should have," I mutter angrily, breaking eye contact to look at Sam, who is still sleeping soundly, or so I thought until I saw one of her eyes open slightly and the almost imperceptible shake of her head. "But you didn't and look what happened!"

"You don't need to remind me," he snarls through clenched teeth, "I've only spent the last few hours torturing myself about it."

I try to show disinterest in what he's telling me. Jack having regrets on a command decision? Jack actually admitting that he regretted what happened? It's almost too unbelievable to true, but one look at him cement it.

"So why didn't you listen to us in the first place? It would have prevented any of this happening!"

Jack flinches and looks down at his feet. "I just . I needed to get back."

"Back for what?" I ask, my voice rising in confusion. What could be more important than a mission?

His eyes meet mine, a look of steel in them, a flash of fury before his mask snaps into place and he's completely shut off to me. "That's none of your business," he snaps irritably. Turning sharply on his heel, he stalks out of the Infirmary without a backwards glance.

I can only sit there, stunned, and watch as his back disappears into the corridor. Great. What the hell was that about?

A small, irritated, sigh draws my attention back to Sam as she raises herself up on an elbow. "That was tactful, Daniel. Wasn't an apology coming from him enough to placate you?"

Her tone is mildly scolding and painfully condescending, and I know that I deserve the scorn. It isn't often that Jack O'Neill apologizes, and I all but threw it back in his face. But that still doesn't explain his reaction to my tactless questioning.

"So why did he do *that* then?" I asked, referring both to him stalking out of the Infirmary and his behavior during the mission.

"You don't know?" Sam asks, exasperated. "It's the anniversary of Charlie's death, Daniel!"

Now, I feel like the biggest ass on this and any other planet.

***

I watch as the shock registers on Daniel's face from what I have just told him. How had he not known? I'd always thought that the Colonel and Daniel were best friends, and yet Daniel had not known this one, simple, fact.

And I had.

Was it possible that I was the only person that knew that I was the only person that Colonel O'Neill had told? Knowing the man for as long as I guess it isn't completely surprising. It was only purely by accident that I had found out myself, but for some reason I had just assumed that Daniel would know. I guess I'd been wrong.

We lapse into an awkward silence as I'm not really willing to talk, and I can tell by the look on his face that Daniel feels like a total ass, but I know it's only a matter of time before two questions leave his mouth, and they're both questions that I'm not really willing to answer. At least not here, in the Infirmary, on the base.

"Why didn't you want him to know you were awake?"

At his question I let my eyes slide shut and a small sigh escapes my lips. That was question one, but at least it was the easier of the two to answer.

"I didn't want his apologies just yet. It's my duty to follow his orders, and his choice to ignore my arguments and recommendations if he chooses. It doesn't mean I want to forgive him just yet, and I would have to do it if he apologized."

It isn't an outright lie, but it wasn't exactly the full truth either. Daniel seemed to accept my explanation readily. I couldn't help feeling a slight pang of guilt that I hadn't been one hundred percent honest with my friend, but I couldn't be. Hell, I couldn't even be honest with myself.

I roll over so my back is to him, my vain attempt to show that the conversation is over, and he seems to take the hint. I bite my lip against the sharp sting of pain that the movement causes, having forgotten that my leg was firmly encased in a sheath of plaster, and the agonizing, breath- taking, sting that could only be a broken rib, or two. The pain only serves to intensify my anger towards my CO.

I can understand why he acted the way he did, and I will never blame him for trying to rush the mission. Unlike Daniel, I don't have the pleasure of not being able to forgive him. This is my job, the Colonel is my commanding officer, and if I wasn't to forgive him it would affect our relationship and the harmony of the team. But I trust him, a lot more than I should, and I know I always will.

He broke that trust. He had to have known that his decision would have an adverse affect. He had to have known, given our arguments, and yet he still chose to make the decision that would ultimately end in harm to us. It's a difficult thing to have your trust betrayed in such a way, especially by a man that I respect and car for so much.

The worst part of it all is that when I do see him, when he does apologize, I will forgive him on the spot, despite my anger and pain, because he has that power over me. I can't stay angry with him, just like he can't stay angry with me. So I would prefer not to face him for the moment, and to harbor my hurt for as long as I can.

So instead, I will lie here and pretend to be asleep until I can pretend no longer. And then I will face him. In my own time and at my own pace. I will face him, and tell him exactly how he hurt me, and accept his apology like a good 2IC.

***

It isn't until I'm two corridors away from the Infirmary that I finally realized what I'd done. I groan, deep in my throat and consider smacking my head against the wall, until I realize that the act would be pointless, and painful. However, the idea is still tempting.

I'd blown it. It was so typical really, that I went in there with my heart on my sleeve, prepared to do something that I don't often to - to admit that I was wrong, and to apologize. But Daniel had to go and ask the question that would get under my skin, even if he hadn't known that it would. In fact, only one member of my team knew about it . and she was still unconscious.

My anger at his questioning quickly dissipates as I stand there in the corridor trying to decide what I'm going to do now. Given that I'm still feeling excessively guilty for my actions on the planet, I can only see one option open to me. So I turn around and begin walking back to the Infirmary, and mentally prepare myself to grease like I've never greased before.

I pause outside the doorway to the Infirmary in an attempt to compose myself. The sound of voices greets my ears, and my heart begins to pound harder when I recognize one of the voices as Carter's. So she *is* awake, which only brings me to question why she was pretending to be asleep while I was in there. I think I know, though, and I sure as hell can't blame her. I'd be angry too if I was her.

Curious to know what they are discussing, especially after I hear my name mentioned, I lean in closer to the door. The words I hear hit me like a slap to the face.

"Why didn't you want him to know you were awake?" Daniel asks her quietly, his curiosity obvious.

Carter's reply is slow to come, as if she is trying to decide what is more appropriate to tell him, and when she speaks her voice is quiet and pained, "I didn't want his apologies just yet. It's my duty to follow his orders, and his choice to ignore my arguments and recommendations if he chooses. It doesn't mean I want to forgive him just yet, and I would have to do it if he apologized."

I let out a small gasp at the vulnerability and hurt in her voice. I did this to her, I hurt her in this way. I know she hasn't told Daniel half of what she's feeling, I know she can't even admit to feeling half those things, but at least I can acknowledge how deeply my actions have affected her, and at least I know now. And now I can act on it accordingly and do the most difficult thing - apologize for my actions on a personal level, rather than just a professional level. She deserves nothing less.

Taking a deep breath, I step back into the Infirmary, as I notice their conversation seems to be over. My eyes instantly drift to Carter, noticing her lying with her back to Daniel, but in such a way that I can see her face, and her blatant attempt at pretending to be asleep. That in itself cuts me like a knife. I'm used to seeing her look at me when I enter the same room; I'm used to her greeting me with one of her beautiful, warm, smiles. But not this time.

I look at Daniel, to find him looking back at me, the anger all but gone from his face. I knew, the moment I heard that she was awake, that Sam would have told him about the importance of today, and why I had reacted the way that I had. I could only hope that he didn't inquire too deeply into how she knew about it when I had never even mentioned it to him. I know her well enough to trust that she didn't divulge too much. It's not like we've ever done anything even remotely wrong anyway, but it doesn't mean we want our actions questioned.

"I'm sorry, Daniel," I tell my friend as I near his bedside. Out of the corner of my eye I notice Sam stiffen slightly as I speak, before I turn my full attention back to Daniel. "I'm an ass. I didn't mean to fly off the handle like that."

Daniel is silent for so long, his face completely unreadable that I begin to wonder whether this was all the reply I'm going to get. Finally, as I prepare myself to turn and leave, he looks up at me with that big blue puppy dog eyes look that he's mastered. "Why didn't you tell me?"

I can't help but sigh as I shift my feet and run a hand through my hair. "It's not exactly the sort of thing that you'd bring up in a normal conversation Daniel. Oh, by the way, did you know that the anniversary of my son killing himself with my gun is today?" I say with more than a little sarcasm.

Okay, as evidenced by my tone of voice, it's still a touchy subject for me, but I think given the circumstances it's understandable really and Daniel, at least, manages to look reasonably abashed. "Good point," he says quietly.

I nod my head and shove my hands in my pockets. Now that the apology is out of the way I'm not sure what to do next. Do I apologize again to reinforce myself? Do I stay silent and wait for him to say something else? Or do I leave? I can still see the tenseness in the set of his shoulders. I can tell that he is still angry with me, though not nearly as angry as when I had first walked into the Infirmary.

Now, he understood. He knew why my actions had been so ignorant and fool- hardy on that planet, and why I had acted the way that I did. He may not understand it, and he might not ever understand, but at least he knows. And I have Carter to thank for taking the step that was to difficult for me to take in telling him.

"So, uh," I start awkwardly. "I guess I should go and let you get some rest before the Doc has my ass. I have to start on the mission report anyway."

Daniel is watching me with wide-eyed innocence. He blinks quickly and licks his lips, a faint smile gathering on his lips. "Sure. Thank you, Jack."

I shrug, suddenly feeling a little uncomfortable. The thought that any one might pity me nearly drives me insane, and the last thing I want is for my friends to pity me. I don't pity myself, so why should they. "You don't have to thank me. I should have told you sooner. I should have told you all."

"Well, at least I know now."

I nod, the lump that normally forms in my throat when I think of Charlie rapidly growing. This sure as hell hadn't been the best way of mourning Charlie, by nearly getting my friends killed in the process. "Yeah," I mutter, shuffling my feet uncomfortably. I have to get out of here. "Well you rest up, okay Daniel? I'll come back later."

"Okay," I hear Daniel say tiredly as I make my way out of the infirmary.

That was one apology down; the second one was going to be a lot harder to do.

***

I hate crutches.

It's now my firm belief that whoever invented them should have gotten one shoved firmly up his . nose. The stupid things were never designed with people with broken ribs in mind. I only realize this as I stagger on the damn things trying to get into my office whilst attempting to carry a cup of coffee at the same time.

And the pain is horrible.

I bite my lip, but a strangled groan of pain manages to escape, and nearly jump out of my skin as a pair of hands settles on my waist to help me keep my balance. I manage to freeze, although my first instinct was to jerk out of the unexpected grip. Thankfully I did suppress my instincts or else I would have ended up flat on my face, and no doubt back in the Infirmary.

"You okay?"

The Colonel's concern seemed heartfelt, his voice cast low, and despite myself it sent a little involuntary shiver down my spine. He's always had that effect on me, and I've given up trying to suppress it from myself when it is so difficult to hide it from him too.

My first instinct is to respond angrily, to take out my surprise on him. But I'm not angry at him any longer. I can never stay angry at him. It's my greatest flaw, and my greatest asset. I am not governed by my feelings, and I will never let them rule me, but at least it offers me a little more lenience when I do disagree with him.

At least I can forgive him easier than I could anyone else.

His hands are still resting on my waist, making my heart palpitate erratically. I turn my head and meet his eyes for the first time since our return from P4C-732. The concern in his eyes is overwhelming and my breath catches. I can see his guilt and his desire for me to forgive him. I can see the pain. He's often let me read him at times like this, and it's something I appreciate about him.

"Are you alright Carter?" he asks, his voice rising in pitch and I suddenly remember that I forgot to answer him the first time he asked me.

He still hasn't moved his hands, and I'm finding it difficult to form a response. Damn the man for affecting me like this. Damn him for focusing those worried brown eyes on me, and for making me feel this way.

"Yeah," I manage to croak out; hoping that he would assume it was pain that had given rise to the raspiness in my voice, and not his closeness to me. "I'm fine."

His eyes narrow, showing me that he doesn't believe my assurance. What was I going to tell him? Actually no sir, I feel like crap? Yeah that would work. Not. Instead I roughly shove my mug of coffee towards him. His hands disappear from my waist, and I can't help the little swell of disappointment that accompanies it.

A small smile appears on his face as he takes the mug from me, but he suddenly looks uneasy as he turns and shuffles into my lab, opening the door wider as he walks through. I hobble slowly after him, every step forward jarring my ribs, and making my aching hands hurt even more. I have no idea how I'm going to survive six weeks using these things. I exhale sharply through my teeth as I drop myself down on the chair that the Colonel pulled out for me.

I can feel his eyes on me, watching me. I can almost feel his concern radiating across the room to me from where he is standing.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

I can't help but sigh as he asks the question for a third time in less than five minutes. I know he means well, but frankly, it's annoying. "I'm fine, sir," I snap, a little irritably, "I'm as well as I can be."

My mouth snaps shut as I realize the implications of what I just said. I look in his direction in time to see his face fall before he looks down at his feet. Now I feel rotten. Could I have been any bitchier? "Colonel, I . I didn't mean that the way it sounded," I stammer. "I mean . I'm sorry."

The Colonel raises his head sharply, his eyes flashing with some emotion I can't discern. He moves so suddenly it startles me, crossing the room and quickly closing the door to give us some privacy. He turns back to me slowly, like he's trying to recompose himself before he faces me again. It's only when he faces me again that I see it is the opposite, and the raw emotion on his face is astounding.

"You don't need to apologize to me Carter," he tells me quietly. "It should be the other way round. It's my fault you're in this state . I came here to apologize to you."

"You don't have to apologize to me," I tell him matter-of-factly. It's true after all. He doesn't have to apologize.

His eyes flash as he licks his lips nervously. "No, I don't *have* to apologize, but I *want* to. I *need *to."

*Wow*. This is not the Colonel Jack O'Neill I know. The Jack O'Neill I know rarely feels the need to apologize; in fact, I can't even remember the last time that he's done it.

"I need you to forgive me."

He said the last so quietly that I almost didn't hear it. My eyes shoot to his, and could not avoid the look of desperation that I see there and the desire.

"Why is it so important to you that I forgive you?"

The question just slips out as I think it, and before I could stop it. Mentally I brace myself for him to turn and stalk out of my lab believing that I had just rebuked his attempt at making an apology. Until I look into his eyes again and see with sudden clarity that he isn't going to walk out, and that he must have expected my unreasonable question. I see more there than I would ever have believed possible.

"Don't you know?"

My heart stops. He isn't. He couldn't be. There's no way.

Something brushes my hand and my eyes flutter open. When did I close them? He's leaning over me, he's so close. Closer than he's dared to get to me in a long time. "I can't bare the thought of you hating me and blaming me Sam."

*Sam*. He said my name. I can't remember the last time my name left his lips. My stomach flips over. "I'll never hate you Jack." I choke when I speak his name, a word that has become completely alien to my tongue. I might think it all the time, but it doesn't mean I can use it. "And I don't blame you."

I watch his eyes widen as I utter his name, and I'm pretty certain he hasn't heard anything else I said. His eyes slide shut and he seems to be struggling for breath. Was it my words that caused this reaction in him, or was it something as simple as my use of his name? I have the strangest feeling that it's the latter.

As his eyes open, I am breath taken at what I see in them. I see something I have not seen in them for a long time and that I'd believed had long been forgotten. The power in them almost makes me want to cry, and it would have if I was that sort of a person. It reignites the fire that I had kept under tight control for almost three years, which I'd tried to ignore but had never been able to.

"You have no idea how much I'd hoped you'd say that." His voice is still almost a whisper, yet the eagerness in it is unmistakable. Again I find myself wondering if it was merely my use of his name that incited that reaction. "Because I'd wanted to know for sure before I went to see General Hammond."

I can feel my brow furrow in confusion, suddenly losing track of where this conversation was heading. I thought he just wanted to apologize, but as I study him I can see that he has come to some sort of decision, one that he is happy about. "What did you want to know?" I ask, trying to fool myself into believing that I had no inkling of what he could be talking about. "Why are you going to see the General?"

This could not be happening. There was absolutely no way that what I thought was happening could be happening. But one look at his face told me that it had to be because I could still read him, and I could see the happiness there, I could see the finality. He had made some unfathomable decision.

"I think you know why, Sam," he said, in what seemed to be a moment of perfect clarity, like he could see straight through to my soul and read my thoughts. He drew closer, leaning over me so I could almost feel him pressed against my shoulder, his breath whispering against my cheek. "And I think you want it to happen as much as I do."

Then he was gone. I turn in time to see his back as it disappears into the corridor beyond my Lab, my mind reeling from the events that had just taken place. Had I been in any condition to chase after him I would have, to get him to clarify what he had just intimated, to have him confirm that what just happened was what I believed was happening.

I'm not stupid. I know what happened, even through all my disbelief I know what he is about to do, and I'm not about to stop him. As always with our screwed up relationship it's the things that are left unsaid that are the most important, and now I know I want it as much as he does.

He is going to retire . for *me*.

***

I can't help but smile as I watch the expressions on General Hammond's face rapidly change from disbelief, to shock to what I can only perceive as anger. And that is after I state my reasons behind my current request. I don't think they're bad reasons really, well part of it at least. The other part I might not have put in quite the right way.

"You're in love with who?"

I can't help but flinch, my good humor rapidly giving way to mortification. Okay, so I might have kinda mumbled the last part, and it might've kinda come out something like 'and I have feelings for Major Curr umm err', but I would have assumed he would have picked that up. Crap. That was the one thing that I didn't want to have to repeat if I could help it.

But can you blame me for not wanting to disappoint the man that had become my mentor and friend during the last seven years? Not that he would be disappointed or anything, but the implications do make the situation look a lot worse than it actually is. That would explain why the General now had a bright red face and is glaring at me across his desk.

I let out a little sigh, preparing myself for the inevitable explosion. "I'm in love with Major Carter."

He leans back in his seat, his eyes studying me intensely; his face strangely devoid of emotion. My first thought is that he knew, and that he had been expecting this. The second was that this was all completely new to him, and as a result he was at a loss for words.

Until he begins to chuckle, deep in his throat, which only confirmed to me that it was the latter. He knew, he'd probably known since the Za'tarc testing. Hell, he'd even let on that he'd known while Carter was possessed by that damn computer virus. But recently we'd grown so unattached and distant in the hopes of removing that attention from ourselves.

I don't want to hide how I feel any more. I don't want the rules and regulations to define the way I should or shouldn't feel about someone, and I sure as hell don't want anything to try and force me into ignoring the feelings that I can't help feeling. I love Sam Carter, and I want to be free to pursue that love before it is ripped from me and I spent the rest of my live regretting actions that I never took.

And I don't want to be responsible for her being torn away from me. The same goes for my friends. We've all had far too many brushes with death and I'm sick of it. I was sick of the stress; sick of sitting at their bedside as they fight for their lives. That's why I'm sitting here now. I've made my decision to put my friends before my job. They are more important to me than any war could be.

That's why I'm here right now, after all.

Hammond still hasn't said a word, and frankly I'm getting a little worried. I can't help but shuffle my feet as I wait for him to say something, anything. At least he's stopped chuckling. "I must say, I've been expecting this for some time," he says finally.

I blink in surprise. That was the last thing I'd expected him to say. "Sir?"

"I know how you feel about Major Carter. I'd have been blind if I didn't. Actually, I had expected you to do this sooner," he told me, his deep, basso voice, filling the room, and a smile lighting his face. "There's nothing I can say to change your mind, is there?"

Despite the fact that my mind is still reeling from his humble attitude I manage to shake my head and swallow past the lump that has formed in my throat. "No, sir," I agree.

"Then I can't stand in your way," he says quietly, pushing his chair back and standing up. He extend his hand out to me and I take it, shaking it warmly. This man is more than my mentor, he's my friend. "But don't be surprised if you get a call from me soon offering you an advisory position."

So that's it then. Silently he's just conveyed to me that he'll organize all the paper work, and that effective immediately I am no longer the CO of SG-1. My heart thuds painfully in my chest. I'm taking an enormous risk here. I'm giving up my career for the woman I love. I'm risking everything to the uncertainty that a new relationship brings. I'm risking heartache, but at least I now have the chance to be with Carter. Essentially, I am a free man.

I can't wait to be out of the room, and I think the General can see that. He grins at me. "What are you waiting for? Go and take Major Carter home, she's on leave for two weeks, effective immediately."

I can feel my face stretch in what must look like a really stupid grin, release his hand, and am out of his office and half way down the corridor before I realize I didn't even utter a word of goodbye or thank you. Oh well, I have more pressing matters to take care of right now.

I'd always thought that when the moment came I'd be as nervous as a teenager on his first date. Oddly enough, I feel a kind of calmness and clarity that I never would have expected. When I step back into Carter's lab a few minutes later, I'm aware that I am oozing a confidence that I don't normally possess. She swivels on her chair to face me, her face conveying her surprise, and I pause for a moment to study her, to commit to memory everything about her at this moment, the moment before I show her how I truly feel.

I can see the silent question in her eyes as I absently push the door closed behind me and cross the room to stand in front of her. Though she has to crane her neck to look up at me, her eyes hold contact with mine the whole time. I can see her confusion, and I can see the tiny glimmer of hope that she is trying desperately to hide. God, I love her so much.

I reach out and grip her shoulders tightly with my hands and pull her up so she is standing in front of me, with me supporting as much of her weight as possible. Her eyes have widened slightly, and a shy, uncomfortable, smile is lighting her face, making her even more beautiful to my eyes. "Si-"

I can't let her talk, so I do the only thing I can think of that'll shut her up immediately. I lean in closer and brush my lips across hers. She freezes in my arms, stiffening for a brief moment in surprise. But I persist, wrapping my arms around her shoulders, pulling her body closer to mine as I deepen the kiss, my tongue demanding entry. I need to taste her on my lips. I need to convey all my feelings in this one primal embrace. I feel her melt into my embrace, her arms sliding up my sides to tighten around my waist. Her mouth grants my tongue the entry that it desires.

As much as I love the feeling of the first kiss we've shared that isn't induced by some bizarre alien virus, this is not the place that I want to spill my heart to the woman that I love. I break the kiss, and try to dispel the sudden disappointment that I feel as it ends. Sam's eyes drift open, and I can see them swimming dreamily as they meet mine.

"Let's go home, Sam," I tell her, knowing that this is not the end of things, but a new beginning.

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Fin.

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