With this tear by Sharim

TITLE: With this tear

AUTHOR: Sharim

EMAIL: MissSharim@Yahoo.com

STATUS: Complete

CATEGORY: *Very* heavy angst, hurt/comfort, drama

PAIRINGS: Sam/Jack

SPOILERS: All minor ones - Tin Man, Double Jeopardy, Urgo, Beneath the Surface. Prodigy - mediumish spoiler...

SEASON: Uh...Future story? Like 2005?

SEQUEL/CHAPTERS: None.

RATING: M (just in case)

CONTENT WARNINGS: Death of a minor character, not really much, just a lot of imagery. Very heavy angst though. Like seriously heavy angst.

SUMMARY: Promises broken

YEAR COMPLETED: 16/11/2001

SIZE: 178 KB

ARCHIVE: Ahh...Heliopolis if I get around to it...Sam and Jack...i think.

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. What more can I say?

AUTHORS NOTE: Okay. This is what happens when you have two exams coming up that you don't know squat about, your family is giving you grief AND you're totally bored. Also, I'm annoyed because a disk stuffed up and deleted all my hard work on another fic and now I have to go back and write it *all* again...something like 20 pages worth. GRRRRR.

Oh. And to suds and Jo and all those other lovely peoples like Starbuck, William (special thanx for the wonderful beta-ing), Shane and Joey who all give me wonderful feedback. Oh yes, Anne and Kelly and all the girls/guys on Sam_and_Jack cos you made me feel all warm and gooey inside with your great comments!! And, of course, if i've missed anyone then i'm sorry but my memory isn't that great (as poor exam results tend to show) Flames aren't necessary cos I don't smoke, but *if* you do send em then I'll have you know that I promptly throw a bucket of ice water over them before they burn anything and then feed them to junior. HA!

*hugs* Sharim

~x0x~

Do they know how it feels? One half of me is gone Missing Secrets Vanished without reason

Do they know how it feels? Telling me lies Feeding me excuses Knowing i'm alone?

Do they know how it feels? The music is gone Emptiness in my soul Missing Void One half of my life erased

Do they know how it feels? No. If they knew They wouldn't be doing it.

~x0x~

They were still there. Burning away in the back of her mind. Each time she closed her eyes, she could see them. She could feel them in her hands, the cool metal covered with the warm, stickiness of blood; her senses clogged with the rich, sour scent of the red life force welling so quickly out of the dying body.

"Sam? Are you okay?" Daniel's voice sounded far away.

A rushing sound filled her senses, she felt herself being dragged through time faster and faster and faster until she opened her eyes and looked up into the clear blue depths of Daniel's own eyes.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Really." She smiled at him briefly, looking back down at the meaningless documents in front of her.

"Are you sure? I mean, you look a little pale..." Daniel studied her anxiously.

"I'm fine Daniel. I told you so, didn't I?" She regretted it the instant the words slipped out of her mouth, the curtness biting into Daniel's good intentions. "I'm just...it's been a long day." She smiled apologetically, but the smile didn't reach her eyes. Instead, they started to sting suspiciously, burning with unshed tears.

"It has?" Daniel blinked, cocking his head to one side. A long day? No, he hadn't thought so. A morning off, for the whole SG-1, an afternoon of light paper-work and catch up work...no pressing matters, no life-threatening situations, no near death escapes. No, all in all a pretty quick, boring day by his standards. Not even any research to be done...

"What's the time?" Sam asked, sighing as she shuffled her paper, wondering if the General would notice if she left early. Probably. The whole base would probably stop in shock...but still. It had been a long day. Not just a long day, a long year. A *very* long year.

"Uh...4:30...1630?" Daniel checked.

"Thanks." Sam gathered her papers up, shuffling them again before stacking them messily on one side of her desk.

"What are you doing?" Daniel frowned, confused.

"I'm going home." Sam sighed, standing up and grabbing her empty mug to dump it in the small sink.

"Already?"

"Already. See you tomorrow, Daniel." She hurried from the room, already slipping back into the nightmare she couldn't seem to shake.

Gunfire. Rapid, staccato bursts of noise that hammered against her skull.

"Major Carter!"

"Huh?" She blinked, the blood stained face in her memory fading to reveal the Airman watching her with curiousity. "Oh, sorry." She reached for the pen.

Pale hands. Small hands. Blood covered hands.

"See you tomorrow, Major. Have a nice evening."

"You too Airman." She offered a brief smile and turned briskly on her heel, marching out of the complex towards her car.

Gurgling, gasping. Choking.

A sob arose in her throat, but she choked back it hastily, her shaking hands digging in her bag for her car keys.

The glint of sun on silver. She dropped her bag and jumped backwards, her hands jammed over her mouth to prevent the cry of horror escaping. No matter how many times she'd scrubbed them, soaked them, the tags still haunted her. The blood slicked engraved plaques of metal slipping out of her own red hands, smearing a trail of red over her tattered BDU's.

"Carter!" Hands on her shoulder, steadying her.

Sam blinked, looking around in surprise. Trees. Where was she? How'd she gotten here?

"Carter, are you okay?" The hands were still on her shoulders, and for the first time she realised who was attached to them.

"Colonel?" She blinked again, looking up at his brown eyes.

"Yes Major." He frowned slightly, satisfied that she was with it again. "Are you okay?" He asked hesitantly, taking in the mascara stained cheeks and red, haunted eyes.

"What? Oh, yeah. I'm fine." She stuttered, jerking back, her movements erratic and panicky.

"Are you sure? You were a little...out of it before." He motioned slightly with his hand.

Movement. Falling. Oh...

"Carter! Snap out of it!" O'Neill's hand waved in front of her face, alighting on her shoulders again and shaking her slightly.

"What?" She blinked. Forest again. Scent of wet dirt, pine trees, cool breeze, his aftershave...

"What's wrong with you?" He asked bluntly, studying her agitated form.

"I..." She licked her lips, confused as her blue eyes fought for a grasp on reality again. "I don't know..." She whispered, shaking his hands off and stepping backwards, her eyes darting around again.

"Oh." O'Neill frowned slightly.

"Well...see you around, Sir." She stepped backwards again, half turning.

"Where are you going?" O'Neill followed her, still concerned about his 2IC's odd behaviour.

"Home. I'm going home, Sir." She shook her head slightly, clearing it, and offered him a slight smile.

"Long way from home, Major." O'Neill raised an eyebrow.

"Felt like a run, Sir." She was lying; he could tell she was lying. But he couldn't do anything about it.

"In those boots?" He glanced down at her feet and chuckled slightly. "Must be aiming for some medical leave. Intentionally out to damage yourself?" He glanced at her, but her eyes were vacant again, staring off at something that he couldn't see. "Major!" He nudged her arm, worry blooming in the pit of his stomach as she focused her eyes back on him.

"What? Oh yes. Leave. Oh, no Sir." She shook her head, studying her scuffed boots silently as they made their way back up the path towards the parking lot.

"Major Carter!" A relieved Airman trotted up to them, clutching her bag. "We were worried, Ma'am, when we found your bag just lying there..."

"I must have dropped it." She murmured, reaching out a shaking hand to take it tentatively. "I'll see you tomorrow then, Sir. Airman." She glanced at each of them hurriedly before half stumbling in her haste to get away from them and to her car.

"What happened?" O'Neill frowned slightly, his question directed at the Airman still standing next to him.

"I don't know, Sir. She checked out about ten minutes ago. Gate patrol called us up when she didn't leave the premises, so I went to go see if everything was okay. I just found her bag lying there, Sir, dropped open like right next to the car, everything fallen out of it."

"Thank you, Airman." O'Neill nodded curtly before walking towards Carter's car. Something was wrong with his normally serious, stable 2IC.

~x0x~

......I'm writing this, Erin, because there is a chance that I'm not coming home. There is a chance that I might get listed as MIA or KIA, and you won't be told anything about the circumstances. I'm writing this letter, Erin, so that I can be sure you're told as much as possible. I'm giving it to a friend of mine to give to you if the inevitable should happen....

~x0x~

"Excuse me, General Hammond?" It was three a.m., but the General was still on base, just like she expected.

"Major. What can I do for you?" He looked up, surprise and a slight fatherly look of concern on his face.

"I was wondering if I could talk to you, Sir." She licked her lips nervously, jamming her hands behind her back and twisting her fingers together tightly.

"Of course. What can I do for you?" He asked again as she stepped inside and closed the door.

"Sir...It's been a long time, hasn't it?" She asked unsurely, her blue eyes boring into his for confirmation.

"What's been a long time?" Major Hammond asked gently, motioning for her to sit.

"Since the SGC opened up again. Nearly seven years." She looked away, her eyes travelling over the familiar contours of the General's office.

"Eight if you count the Abydos mission as the beginning." General Hammond agreed neutrally, his eyes glancing down at a file half hidden on his desk. A feeling of regret started to build up in his gut.

"Right. Well, I've been working on the SGC program for nearly ten years then." She swallowed, looking up at him, uncertainty in her clouded eyes.

"A long time." He agreed softly. "For all of us."

"I know that Sir." She looked slightly guilty now, he realised, and he was more concerned by this than the file sitting half hidden on his desk. "I...I know that I don't really have any right asking this but..." She stopped, shame flooding through her.

Shame. Guilt. Blame. It was all the same.

"Ask away, Major. It's too early in the morning, or too late at night - depending on your perspective - to take offence." He offered her gently.

"I'm....I'm tired General." She whispered, gazing up at him, tears threatening to spill again.

He frowned in concern. The file glared up at him, a neon beacon he had ignored despite his instincts.

"What are you saying, Major?" He asked her, holding his breath slightly.

"I would like a break, Sir." She stopped, studying the clenched fists on her lap.

"You've been serving for a long time without a break, Major, I don't think its too much to ask." He sighed in relief.

"No Sir, I don't want to go on leave." She shook her head slightly, licking her lips.

"You don't?" He frowned, fear of losing this fine officer clutching at his gut.

"No Sir. I...I just need a change. That's all." She looked down at her hands again. "Just to get away from...things for a while."

"Things?" He asked, studying her pale face.

"Yes Sir."

A jolt shot through him. Things. What things? "Would it be prying, Major, or could I ask you what things?"

"I...no Sir." She shook her head, hesitancy causing her to catch her breath. "I...it's just been a long time, Sir. I'm just...I..." She breathed in deeply, regaining her control. He was shocked to see tears threatening to spill over. "It's just the pressure...the constant strain of it...of everything." She was ashamed to feel a tear running down her cheek.

"What would you like, Sam?" He asked gently, handing her a box of tissues with concern.

What would you like? Sam closed her eyes and another tear escaped. What would she like? She'd like to go back in time. She'd like to erase this whole year, pretend it never happened and *change* things. But she couldn't. Life didn't work that way.

"I don't know, Sir. Maybe a reassignment for a while...a few months. I just need a different pace for a while." She opened her eyes again and gazed at him steadily. That's what she needed. She just needed to get away for a while, away from the constant reminders and memories.

"Sam..." She looked at the General, "I'm not promising anything." He hesitated and then pulled a thick file out from underneath the papers on his desk.

"But you'll try, right?" Why did she sound so desperate, even to her own ears?

"Yes." He hesitated, and then looked determinedly at her. "Some people have been voicing their concerns about you lately..." He started out.

"Concerns?" Her voice panicked, even her eye movement became erratic and jerky.

"Yes. Medical concerns." He added, watching as she marginally gained control of herself again. "Dr. Fraiser has been pushing, for some time now, to give you and the rest of SG-1 some leave. Not just a few weeks, but some good and proper leave." General Hammond opened the file slowly and pulled out the top sheet of paper. "Major, I'm not claiming to be the expert on these things, but according to Dr. Fraiser's reports on you, your physical condition is slipping." He said gently.

"I know." Sam swallowed, not allowing herself to move.

"A lot of it, Dr. Fraiser thinks, is attributed to stress, and trauma." He looked up.

"Trauma, Sir?" Sam nearly snorted with laughter.

"Trauma." He didn't look like he was going to laugh. "I am aware, Major Carter, that out of the SG teams currently on base, SG-1 is amongst one of only three original teams remaining. You're also the team that has the highest percentage of dangerous missions, alien take-overs and traumatic experiences." He paused. "Doing something like this for seven years takes its toll on everyone."

No, Sam thought suddenly, not everyone. Teal'c, Jack and Daniel were all fine. *She* was the one falling to pieces. But it wasn't because of her lifestyle, the danger. No. It wasn't that at all. It was...

"I want you to go home, Major, take a week off and relax. No coming into base, no working on projects. I want you to relax. Go shopping. Visit Cassie, repaint your living room if you have to, but absolutely *nothing* work related. Do I make myself understood?" He raised an eyebrow pointedly.

"Yes Sir." Sam swallowed. NO! That's not what she needed. She *needed* to work.. She *needed* to be distracted. "But, General..." She stopped, catching herself.

"Yes?" General Hammond waited.

"Nothing, Sir." She shook her head, standing up slightly.

"Sam, it's nothing to be ashamed of, okay?" He watched her push the chair back into place.

She smiled sadly at him, but she didn't answer. What could she say?

"Actually, I want you to go down to the infirmary now and get some rest. As soon as Dr. Fraiser starts her shift I want her to check you up before you have your break." He decided, closing her file and putting it to one side.

"General, with all due respect Sir, I'd much rather stay in my quarters..."

"Negative. I know you Major. You'll have some work stashed away there and stay awake all night trying to solve the world's problems." He smiled slightly. "Goodnight."

~x0x~

We are but a single note, existing for only the briefest count in the great symphony that we call life.

~x0x~

"Good morning Suzy." Janet swept into the infirmary, plucking a folder from a stand and shrugged her lab coat on over the top of her uniform.

"Morning Janet." Suzy glanced up and fell into step with Janet.

"How's Ferretti?" She asked, flicking through the pages and clicking her tongue busily until she found the necessary page.

"He's fine, Janet. He was already teasing Davies and complaining to Warner that he's fine..."

"Sounds like he's better." Janet allowed a smile grin. "Has he had his shot yet or did you save me the honour?" She asked, turning to the first page in her folder.

"What? Why let you have all the fun when I had to put up with his complaining all night long..."

"Why's Major Carter here?" Janet frowned, skimming the blank page that just had her friend's name on it.

"General Hammond sent her down about 0330 this morning." Suzy paused.

"Oh? Why?" Janet, looked up, closing the folder.

"I'm not sure exactly. He rang down about five minutes before she arrived, saying we were to expect her and make sure she got some rest. She wasn't to leave until she'd seen you." Suzy shrugged delicately.

"Really?" Janet stopped to pick up her stethoscope and torch.

"I gave her some sedatives a little while ago..."

"Why?" Janet pounced, alert.

"She was having trouble sleeping. She wouldn't admit it, of course, but I can tell when a person doesn't sleep much, and when they do sleep they have nightmares." Suzy raised her eyebrows.

"Do you know what they were about?" Janet asked, noting it down on the paper.

"No. I'd hazard a guess that she felt guilty about something...but the little snatches she alternately screamed and mumbled out loud don't really make much sense to me." Suzy admitted. "Then again, I haven't known her all that long..."

"When should she wake up?"

"In about an hour." Suzy checked her watch.

"Great. Which room?"

"We put her in room 3, she was disrupting the others with her nightmares." Suzy explained.

"Thanks. Well, see you later Suzy. You go home and enjoy your sleep!"

"I will. See you later Jan. Oh, and Sergeant Lewis on bed four has been running a bit of a temperature so I'd watch him."

"Thanks!"

* * *

A mumbling of voices in the distance was pulling her from the comfortable, impersonal darkness of sleep. She fought against it, trying to remain in the colourless shrouds of unconsciouness, but they pulled at her unforgivably, their persistent chatter and movements slowly dragging her towards the greyness of consciousness.

"Good morning, Major." Dr. Fraiser's voice greeted her before her eyes opened to reveal the piercing brightness of the infirmary walls.

"Janet?" She frowned. Infirmary? What was she doing in the infirmary?

"How did you sleep?" Janet asked, looking down suspiciously at the woman struggling to make sense of her surroundings.

"Huh? Oh. Fine." Sam frowned, rubbing at her forehead. "Why am I here?" She asked, looking around in confusion.

"I don't know. Apparently General Hammond sent you down last night..." Janet frowned in concern as Sam's already pale face drained even further of colour, turning a pasty white colour. "Something bothering you?" She asked kindly, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"What? Oh, no. What makes you think that?" Sam asked brightly, but her hooded eyes refusing to meet Janet's.

"You haven't seemed yourself lately." Janet said gently, looking down at her.

"I haven't?" Sam asked, trying to plead innocence. She knew though. Janet could read the fear and the guilt at being caught out clearly in Sam's familiar blue eyes.

"Yes. What's wrong, Sam?" Janet asked softly.

"Nothing's wrong." Sam shook her head stubbornly. "Can I go now?"

"You sound like Colonel O'Neill." Janet suggested discreetly, studying Sam for any reaction.

"He usually gets released the minute he says that." Sam pointed out, nothing showing.

"Sam...are you sure you're okay?" Janet asked gently as Sam sat up straight, running a careless hand through her mussed up hair.

"I'm fine, Janet. Honestly." She sighed, closing her eyes briefly.

"Then what were those nightmares about?" Janet pointed out gently.

Screaming. Running. Breathing. Blood. Cold. No! No! They're going to shoot her! Do something! QUICK!

"Sam?" Janet frowned slightly.

"Huh?" Sam opened her eyes, swallowing roughly before focusing her bright eyes on Janet.

"The nightmares."

"I don't know." Sam lied. "Can I go now?"

~x0x~

We all keep secrets from one another small things like dreams and personal likes

We all hide things from one another and pretend that they don't matter that they don't bother us.

But they do

~x0x~

"Colonel." General Hammond nodded at the man as he entered the room.

"General, you wanted to see me, Sir?"

"Yes I did. Sit down please Jack." General Hammond stood up himself and fiddled with the statuette of the eagle on his desk.

"Sir?" Jack waited, watching the General look unusually ruffled and out of sorts about something.

"How are things, Jack?"

"Things, Sir?" Jack frowned. What was the man going on about? "Am I in trouble, Sir?" He asked guiltily, remembering the photos of Ferretti on the notice board.

"No." Hammond blinked, narrowing his eyes. "Should you be?"

"Uh, no Sir?" Jack tried to smile, but it fell miserable short as he realised the emotion in Hammond's eye was resignation. "What's wrong, Sir?" He asked bluntly.

"Have you noticed anything...has Major Carter said anything to you?" General Hammond asked eventually.

"Well, other than to tell me I had pen on my cheek yesterday morning...no. Sir." Jack frowned in confusion, screwing up his face in an effort to understand where the General was headed with this.

"Have you noticed anything....strange...in her behaviour lately? Her habits, anything?" General Hammond asked eventually, his gaze meeting Jack's.

"Well...she has been a bit out of it for the last few days Sir, and she *did* actually leave base *early* yesterday..." Jack admitted, his eyebrows raised. "Why?"

"She came to see me last night, Jack." General Hammond sat down on his chair, glancing over hesitantly at the file that was still mocking him.

"Oh?" Jack was worried now.

"She's having problems." Hammond said eventually. "Dr. Fraiser seems to think that they could be stress or trauma related, that Major Carter is having a nervous breakdown maybe..."

"No." Jack shook his head calmly. "No. I don't think Carter is the nervous breakdown type. She's more the type that gets angry and frustrated and rips a book to shreds to get it out."

"Do you know what's bothering her then?" General Hammond asked eventually, thinking about the truth in Jack's words.

"No." Jack sighed, licking his lips thoughtfully. "She won't talk about it though." He added as an afterthought.

"Not even to Dr. Fraiser?" General Hammond raised an eyebrow in surprise.

"No. I don't think she ever talks about anything. Sir." Jack admitted, a little embarrassed by his admittance at knowing so much about his 2IC.

"No, she doesn't, does she?" General Hammond pursed his lips. "She requested a transfer, Jack." He said softly, watching as the Colonel's eyes opened wide and gazed at him in shock. For once no smart word of wit or sarcasm fell from his lips to earn a chuckle of amusement that would lighten the situation.

"She *what*?" Jack gaped, stunned.

"Not a permanent one. She said she needed time to think." General Hammond frowned slightly. "A different pace."

"Why? We've been quiet these last couple of months..." Jack frowned, scouring his memory for any indication of why his 2IC seemed to be falling apart.

"I know that. But Dr. Fraiser is reporting that she seems to be developing strange sleeping habits. Works through all hours of the night, doesn't ever seem to eat. She's on the road to a physical breakdown, if not a mental one." General Hammond said gently.

"I don't get it though. Why Carter?" Jack looked at the eagle on the desk. "I'd have thought that Daniel maybe...but not Carter." He shook his head, trying to clear the complicated thoughts away and make room for some answers.

"I don't know. I am, however, going to grant her request." General Hammond reached over and pulled out a sheet of paper.

"You are?" Jack frowned. "I know I'm not an expert, Sir, but don't people generally need to be around *friends* at a time like this?" He asked pointedly.

"A time like what?" General Hammond sighed, glancing at the sheet he held in his hands. Grimacing slightly he pushed it towards Jack. "Major Carter was under the impression that some time away from this would do her good, and I'm inclined to agree. All of you have been working on this program for seven years, basically full time. Major Carter has been working on it for ten years, full time, given that her involvement at the pentagon began long before either you or Dr. Jackson were aware of the Stargate's existence." General Hammond pointed out.

"So you think she just needs a holiday?" Jack frowned, confused. "Why not just give her one?"

"She didn't want one. She wanted a temporary transfer."

"She doesn't want to think about it." Jack mused softly, a bitter smile playing around his lips. General Hammond looked at him, waiting for explanation. "Everyone does it, Sir. Throws themself so hard into work that they forget about their problems." He offered, glancing up at the General.

"You think this is what she's doing?"

"Yes sir. She's running from something if she's asked for the transfer."

"Running from something?"

"Yes Sir. Trust me on this one, I've done it." Jack admitted, his own lips tightening in remembrance.

"And your recommendations are?"

"Keep her here where we can keep an eye on her. We *know* Carter, Sir. All of us. We can help her with this..." Jack didn't even look at the page in his hand before placing it down on the desk.

"I'm afraid, Colonel, that I can't agree with you." General Hammond sighed, glancing over at the sheet and pushing it towards him again. "They've been wanting this for a while Jack, ever since her stint there a few years ago. I can't keep putting them off any longer."

Jack picked up the page and glanced at it quickly.

"We can't send her there, Sir." He stated, shaking his head and putting the paper firmly down on the desk between them.

"Why not?" General Hammond hardened his heart.

"It's only been a year, Sir, since PZ1 192. I don't think that it would be the wisest move if we want her to recover..."

"Do you think this has something to do with PZ1 192?" General frowned at the possibility.

"I don't know Sir. It *has* been a year, but Carter was hit hard. We all were." Jack said softly.

"She was fine after the mission though..."

"She never says anything though. We just assume." Jack pointed out. "Just like we assume with everyone until it's too late." He added as an after thought.

"I'll offer her the possibility. If she refuses then we might have something by which to help her. Otherwise...we can only hope for the best." General Hammond sighed, taking the sheet of paper again and putting into the taunting file.

"At least it's nearby." Jack sighed.

"Make sure you keep her nearby." General Hammond ordered. "Dismissed."

~x0x~

Who are we, to judge others by our own standards?

~x0x~

"Morning Carter." Jack fell into step with his 2IC. "Have a good week?" He asked her, scrutinising every inch of her as she walked along.

"Yes Sir. I repainted my living room." She agreed calmly, but there was something in her eyes. He could see it lurking there, a restlessness that surprised him, a *need* to escape.

"Oh. That's nice. What's the theme this time?" He asked amiably as they meandered along the hallway, only stopping for a coffee at the vending machine.

"It's green, Sir." She admitted, her pale face focused on the polystyrene cup clasped in her shaky, white hands.

"Green?" He blinked. "I thought you were more a warmer colour person. Reds, yellows..." He trailed off as she dropped the cup of coffee, the scalding liquid splashing angrily over the floor and their legs.

"Shit." She cursed, dropping down and scooping the battered cup up in her trembling fingers.

"You okay?" He enquired as her lips started to quiver.

"Fine Sir." Her tone was clipped, her message obvious. She didn't want to talk about *it*, what ever *it* was.

"Oh. Well, General Hammond wanted to see you." The words were like fire on his tongue. He was *giving* his 2IC away, possibly for her to never return to SG-1.

"Oh?" She looked up, and he felt a pang of fear and pain that she had such a look of hope and desperation strangely mixed on her face as she gazed up at him.

"Yeah. Something about a transfer." He said, studying the guilty look that suddenly chased the raw emotions out her eyes. "Why didn't you talk to me, Carter?" He asked, disappointment lacing his words.

"I...I don't know." She lied, her eyes focused on the now broken cup in her hands. She couldn't talk to him because he'd find out. He'd find out about her secret, her guilt. Her broken promises. He'd find out what she was trying so very hard to keep from him. If he found out then things would change between them. She'd lose respect and trust from him, and she couldn't cope with that either. She couldn't talk to him because if she did, she'd tell him *everything*, and she couldn't do that.

"Carter..." He paused, changing his words, "We're not going to let you go that easily. You're important. To all of us." His eyes met hers and locked, daring her to argue or to deny the unspoken admission of his need for her.

"I'm not leaving. I'm just taking a break." She didn't know who she was trying to convince more. Herself or him.

"Six months." he looked at her. "It's a long time."

"Not that long, Sir." She looked down again, breaking the spell as she stared at her shaky hands. "I'd best get going, Sir."

"Yes." He watched as she walked hesitantly down the hallway, her proud shoulders slumped and her head hanging low in defeat.

~x0x~

dancing in the moonlight for all the world to see are my emotions held out on display

~x0x~

The slip of paper was creased, the bold black letters on the now grubby white paper taunted her.

"So?" General Hammond waited, watching her.

"I..." Her eyes refused to look away from the coloured insignia at the top right hand corner.

"Would you like to accept the offer, or refuse it?" General Hammond studied the shaking hands, the panicked eyes and the dark circles underneath them.

"I..." No. I can't go there. Not now. Not yet. Not ever. "It's only for six months, right?" She checked, biting her lip. What was she doing?

"Yes. Are you sure you're okay, Major?" General Hammond studied her.

"I'm fine, Sir. I was just..." She looked up a little ashamed. "Hoping for something a bit further away." She admitted. Further away from home; from the memories. What was she doing? She was going straight towards the wasp nest. Setting herself up for a terrible fall.

"What? You growing tired of our company?" General Hammond smiled slightly, a hand of worry clutching over his heart. O'Neill was right. It wasn't the place to send her. But it was done now, and that was it.

"No Sir."

"Good. I have it from a very good source that a few people on base, namely SG-1 and a certain CMO aren't going to let you get away that easily." He smiled at her gently and reached over to touch the hands resting on his desk, trapping the lifeless piece of paper. "You'd better go see Colonel O'Neill and Dr. Fraiser, and then start packing. If you head out now you'll only be few weeks into the term instead of a month." General Hammond sighed slightly.

"Yes Sir." Sam stood up, still clutching the rumpled piece of paper in her sweaty hands. "And Sir? I won't let you down." She promised him. And she promised herself.

"I never doubted you for a minute, Major." General Hammond saluted her gently and watched as she returned the gesture, her movements snappy and determined. "Good luck."

"Yes Sir. Thank you, Sir." She smiled tightly, the fear in her eyes betraying the determination in her voice.

~x0x~

....No matter what happens though, Erin, I just want you to know that I love you and that I have had the most incredible privileges. So that's what this letter to you is..it's a goodbye in writing because I can't say it to you words....

~x0x~

"So that's it then." Daniel looked around the clean office. No pens lying scattered around the room, no sheets of paper piled up haphazardly. No machines pulled to pieces and no Sam looking up from behind some experiment, her face smeared with grease but her eyes bright and shining as she smiled at them.

"It is only for six months, Daniel Jackson." Teal'c reminded him, also feeling strangely lugubrious as he looked around the spotless room.

"Must say, I do think that's the cleanest I've ever seen it." Jack added, his eyes searching the room for a trace of its former occupant. "So, who's for a BBQ on the weekend?" He asked, patting his chest slightly and stretching.

"Do you think that's sensible?" Daniel blinked, glancing at Jack.

"Why wouldn't it be?" Jack asked, raising his eyebrows.

"Well, I mean, we wouldn't want it to look like we're celebrating because she's gone." He pointed out.

"That would mean it would have to be held without Carter." Jack returned smoothly.

"You mean Sam's going to be there?"

"If I have to drag her over there myself. She's only a little way away, not on the other end of the universe." He smiled slightly.

"Okay." Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Should we invite Janet and Cassie?"

"Consider it done." Jack frowned slightly. "Have you *seen* 'David'?" Jack demanded suddenly.

"David?" Daniel frowned slightly.

"As in Cassie's new boyfriend, David." Jack glared at him.

"Uh...no. What happened to Mick?"

"Don't know." Jack admitted. "I'm glad she's over him though."

"You're always glad when she's over them." Daniel sighed slightly.

"Come on Daniel, don't tell me you're happy with half of her 'boyfriends'."

"Well, no." Daniel agreed, allowing himself to be led out of the room. "But she is seventeen Jack."

"So?"

"You don't like *any* of her boyfriends."

"So?"

~x0x~

We do not really understand or appreciate what we have, until we no longer have it. - source unknown.

~x0x~

"Major Richards, I'd like you to meet Major Carter." General Kerrigan introduced the two women.

"Major *Sam* Carter?" Major Richards inquired, her brown eyes grinning mischievously as she glanced over at General Kerrigan.

"Guilty." Sam smiled tightly.

"Well now, you'd think that considering how fond this old man is of you he'd at least *tell* us you were coming here!" Major Richards grinned.

Sam realised that she already missed that easy camaraderie she'd shared with her CO's, Colonel O'Neill and General Hammond. She missed them all, and it hadn't even been a day yet. This was stupid. It was a dumb, cowardly idea that was causing more pain than healing...

"Well, it was kind of sudden." Sam admitted. Yes. Sudden. Two days ago she was still working at the SGC, and now here she was.

"Never mind. Glad to know I'm not going to have to put up with half of the young upstarts anymore." Major Richards said emphatically.

"I distinctly remember *you* being one of those 'young upstarts', Elsa." General Kerrigan raised an eyebrow, his eyes smiling slightly. "Well, Sam, now you *really* get to see what life is like for us staff here at the Academy." He leant back in his chair. "We surprised you yet?"

"Well, yes." Sam admitted, still unable to relax in their easy company. "I thought you were much more formal than this." She admitted.

"Usually, yes." General Kerrigan agreed. "But when it's just the 'staff', then no."

"Sounds like..." Sam bit her tongue, glancing at them to gauge their reactions to her near slip.

"Most commands get like that." General Kerrigan agreed.

"But not quite to this level." Major Richards leant over and grabbed a pen. "So how long are you going to be with us, Major?"

"Please, call me Sam." Sam put forward lightly. "Six months."

"Sure." General Kerrigan grinned at her. "I'm going to try and keep you here for longer, you *do* know that, don't you?"

"Yes." Sam smiled at him sadly. "But I won't stay."

"No. George will whisk you back there not even a second after your time here is up." General Kerrigan agreed good naturedly. "And from what I've heard, your Colonel O'Neill wouldn't be far behind him."

"I beg your pardon?" Sam raised her eyebrows delicately, an innocent expression set on her face.

"He's already rung my office four times..."

"I haven't even been gone a day yet." Sam laughed slightly, shaking her head.

"Yes." General Kerrigan narrowed his eyes slightly. "You've been invited to a BBQ on Saturday. On no uncertain terms are you allowed to miss it."

"Oh." Sam frowned slightly.

"Oh dear." Major Richards jumped up slightly. "I'm late for my class."

"Already?" General Kerrigan teased.

"I thought punctuality was supposed to be vital..." Sam grinned, unable to stop the words from forming as she joked with her 'new' friends.

"It is only the second week..." General Kerrigan shook his head pityngly as the woman rushed out of the door. "So." He faced Sam properly, taking the time to study her. "You okay?"

"Why wouldn't I be?" She couldn't stop her tones from sounding clipped, couldn't keep her jaw from setting in *that* stubborn angle she'd inherited from her father.

"No reason." General Kerrigan sighed. "I was sorry to hear about Airman Hayley." He said sorrowfully, his eyes clouding over.

"So was I." Sam forced the words out, refusing to let her eyes close so that the images burned onto her memory couldn't surface.

"We owed a lot to you with her..." He started out.

"No." Sam cut in harshly, her eyes glinting as she gazed at him. "No. You don't owe me *anything* concerning Jen, okay?"

"Okay." He sighed slightly. "Ah...about Jennifer Hayley's..."

"Sir, with all due respect, I'd really rather not talk about it." Sam bit her lip, hoping he'd look past her rudeness.

"Major..."

"Please Sir." She begged him, and for a second he saw the anguish in her eyes before her control was re-established and the emotions were cast away.

"We'll talk about it later." General Kerrigan agreed reluctantly.

"Thank you, Sir."

General Kerrigan sighed slightly. "Dismissed."

Sam didn't look back as she exited the room.

~x0x~

....I found what I've been looking for. I've found a family. Of sorts. They've accepted me, Erin, and now I'm a part of their family. Little sister, friend, daughter...doesn't really matter. They all see me in different ways, just like each of them has a different role in my eyes. I'm not lessening our family any less, Erin, but I'm just trying to explain to you that I finally feel as though I belong, as though I've found what I'm meant to be doing. I still love you...

~x0x~

"So, how was your first night in your new place?" Elsa popped her tray down next to Sam and proceeded to lick a finger after dipping it in her jam.

"Fine thanks." Sam lied, focusing on her toast.

"Yuck. I don't know *how* you can eat it like that..." Elsa pretended to shudder as Sam nibbled a corner on the dry slice of toast. "I for one need the thing entirely drowned in butter and jam...the more the better..." She grinned, taking a bite out of her own slice.

"I can't." Sam swallowed the food, the crumbs scratching against her dry throat as they slid downwards. "Makes me feel sick."

"Oh." Elsa looked at her pityingly. "Well, I'm going to advise you eat up *all* your breakfast."

"Why?" Sam looked up innocently as she sipped her coffee.

"Remember those training exercises?" Elsa said sympathetically. "You get to do them."

"Oh. Well, at least *I'll* be the one yelling orders." Sam tried to smile but it fell miserably short.

"Don't look so upset about it..." Elsa said apologetically. "You don't have to do half the running they have to do, or the crawling or the getting covered with mud..."

"Or keep my uniform clean." Sam said emphatically.

"Nope." Elsa agreed popping the last of her toast into her mouth. "So, has the General told you who you'll be working with?"

"No." Sam left her toast and just toyed with her coffee.

"Well, you'll be tutoring the Theoretical Astrophysics classes, obviously, and the technologies...plus a few others depending on what you know." Elsa explained. "Out in the training fields you'll have a group of six cadets that you have to train and lead."

"Oh." Sam frowned slightly.

"It's not hard, really. Usually we play war games against each other, do the tactical stuff in theory...the only time you'll really be by yourself with them out in the open is during drills."

"Great." Sam tried to muster the enthusiasm, but it wasn't there.

"Hey, are you okay?" Elsa asked, concern in her eyes. "You look a little pale. Then again, I don't know you all that well so I can't say, but you still look a little pale."

"It's nothing. Just a bug or something I had." Sam lied through her teeth, offering up a glimpse of a smile.

"I guess. You'll be right in a few days though. General Kerrigan had me under the impression that you were one of those people who talked a lot.."

"Only techno-babble." Sam felt obliged to insert.

"Pardon?"

"The Colonel said that when I got some idea or I figured something out I never stopped talking until I had explained it and everyone around me understood." Sam smiled half-heartedly.

"Oh." Elsa grinned slightly. "Never mind. I'm an incessant talker, just in case you hadn't noticed. If I annoy you then feel free to have a go at me."

"Okay." Sam stood up, following Elsa's lead.

"Come on, I'll introduce you to your kids. You're taking over from me, you know."

"I am?" Sam blinked.

"Yep. I'm going to be on maternity leave in a few months anyway, so they've taken me off the field for safety's sake."

"Oh. Congratulations." Sam smiled weakly, following the mother-to-be out of the room.

~x0x~

the music is gone from my soul

it left when you didn't come home

i don't know if it will come again

~x0x~

"Okay. Attention!" Elsa's voice bellowed across the field. Turning to Sam, she lowered her voice so that the Cadets wouldn't hear. "How good is your memory?"

"Pretty good." Sam said honestly.

"Good. I've lost the role-call sheet, so you'll just have to remember their names as best as you can. I'll go over them with you a little later, make sure you know who's who."

"Isn't there a spare sheet?" Sam frowned, unease making itself known in her stomach. Who was she kidding? She couldn't teach a bunch of kids how to survive in the field. She couldn't even keep Jennifer alive...NO. Don't go there...

"Sam?" Elsa watched her curiously.

"Hm?" Sam blinked.

"I said yes, but they're a nuisance to keep track of when you're out here because you need your hands free..."

"Oh. That's okay." Sam forced her attention to the row of young people standing in front of her.

"Great." Elsa flashed her smile and then turned her face into that of a drillmaster's as she gazed out over her 'kids'. "Anders." She bellowed.

"Yes Ma'am!" The Cadet on the left responded promptly and saluted her appropriately, his gaze never once switching from it's set point.

"Goldstein!"

"Yes Ma'am." The next Cadet in line. Sam realised, with a grin, that this girl would be easy to remember her name because her hair was jet black, an irony to her surname.

"Hayley!" A jolt ran through Sam. Hayley. Cadet Hayley. It couldn't be...could it?

"Yes Ma'am." A male saluted and Sam felt as though her heart had started working again. It wasn't. It was stupid. How could it have been her?

"Kerrie." A short, petite girl saluted gracefully, her classical chin lifted proudly and firmly.

"Lindsay."

Another female responded.

"Murray." The last cadet, a weedy male with scruffy clothes saluted sloppily. "Murray!" Elsa bellowed.

Sam stood back, memories of her own time as a Cadet washing over while Elsa corrected the young man. "You are in your last term here, Cadet, and you can't even manage a proper salute!"

Watching as Murray attempted another, crisp salute, Sam felt her insides dissolve in a rush of fear. She couldn't do this...she couldn't..

"Major Carter?" Elsa frowned at her, waiting.

"Sorry." Sam blinked, her cheeks flushing bright red as the Cadets continued to watch her.

"Major Carter will be taking my place here..." Elsa started out. "I expect you to give her the same amount of respect, if not *more* than what you give me. Understood?"

"Yes Ma'am." The Cadet's chorused together. As their voices lifted together, pummelling her senses, Sam had a vague sense of foreboding and disaster flutter through out her body.

~x0x~

We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented. - Christof in The Truman Show

~x0x~

"Carter!" O'Neill held his hands up in the air in an Italian gesture of welcome and shook his head theatrically. "Look at you!" He exclaimed loudly. "I haven't seen you for...oh, *so* long!"

"Yeah. A whole five days. How on *earth* did you manage?" Daniel sipped his beer, peering anxiously at Sam as she approached them.

"I missed you." Janet announced, gathering her friend up in a hug.

"Missed you too." The words sounded forced, just like the smile looked false.

"Sam!" Cassie grinned, appearing on the patio and running towards her. "Janet said you left!" And the teenager flung her arms around Sam, hugging her tightly.

"Just for a little while." Sam clutched desperately at Cassie, her fingers digging into the tall girl's back.

"You okay?" Cassie whispered, letting Sam hold onto her.

"I'm fine." Sam lied, but she couldn't let go. Her arms were coiled tightly around Cassie, trapping her. "I'm fine."

"Sam?" Cassie pulled back, studying the older woman.

"I'm fine." Sam repeated, letting go of Cassie and wiping at her eye. "I'm just...happy to see you all." She let go of Cassie.

Just like she let go of Jennifer. Gunfire. Screaming. The glistening of dog tags...

"Sam."

She blinked.

"Daniel." She stood like a robot in his arms, her own holding him awkwardly while he hugged her.

"Have you been eating right? You look a little thin..." Daniel pulled back and surveyed her. No. It didn't have to do with eating. It had *nothing* to do with eating. It was her eyes. They were dull. Haunted. Scared.

"What are you, my Dad?" Sam retorted, pulling back to herself aloofly.

"No, but I am." Jacob appeared.

"Dad." Sam didn't move towards him.

"Well, don't sound so thrilled to see me then." Jacob narrowed his eyes. "You okay?"

"Why does everyone insist on asking me that?" Sam snapped, glaring at them. "I *fine*. As in, *nothing* is wrong with me."

"Sure." Jacob nodded disbelievingly. "That's why you're walking around with panda eyes and a chip on your shoulder the size of Kuwait."

"Uh...food anyone?" Jack intercepted what was turning out to be an awkward moment.

"Sure. That is, if no one objects to me eating something that isn't healthy." Sam stalked over to the BBQ.

"Who said a BBQ wasn't healthy?" Jack asked lightly, giving her some food.

"No one." Sam sighed, glancing up at him quickly, but looking away when his eyes met hers worriedly. "No one at all."

~x0x~

Memories are a funny thing. They strike when you least expect them to.

~x0x~

"So." Jack groaned, stretching back against the patio chair. "Tell us about your new job." He invited casually.

"My new job?" Sam asked.

He glanced over at her, the light from inside the house reflecting off her hair cast a golden glow around her. But her face was hidden in the shadows, he couldn't see her expression.

"Yeah. The one where you get to teach kids stuff." Jack agreed.

"Nothing much to tell. I order, they obey." Sam shrugged slightly, sipping her beer again. The liquid played on her tongue, bubbling slightly as it slid down her throat and squashed the bitter bile of remembrance.

"Okay. Tell us about your kids then." Daniel inserted.

"Like I said, nothing much to tell. They're Cadets."

"Humour us." Jacob ordered lazily.

Sam sighed and rolled her eyes. "Okay. Well, the first one is Cassie's type..."

"I'm so glad that Janet has taken Cassie home. She is far too...young for these things." Jack interrupted.

"She is not, Jack. She's nearly eighteen." Daniel intervened.

"So what makes him Cassie's type?" Jacob brought the subject back on line, reminding the other three men of their concern about Sam and her new location.

"Well...he's tall. Dark haired. Got a smart comment for everything..." Sam glanced at her 'former' CO. "Smart though. He's also in the classes I lecture for Theoretical Astrophysics."

"You mean someone can be funny and smart?" Jack quipped.

"Hard to believe, isn't it Jack." Jacob grinned. "Continue."

"Okay. Then there's Goldstein...she'd be good if she got her ego under control." Sam frowned slightly.

"Like Jen?" Daniel asked bluntly.

"No. Not as good." Sam shook her head. "She's too narrow-minded I think."

Jen. Jen wasn't narrow-minded. She'd been...incredible. She'd had such a great future..until...

"Sam?"

"What?" She jerked, knocking her beer over.

"We lost you for a minute there." No. Jen. Jen was lost. For more than a minute. Jen's gone for ever...blame...shame...guilt...shouldn't have let go...

"No. I was just thinking..." Sam swallowed harshly, throwing the empty bottle right into the bin. "Anyway. We continue down the list to Hayley."

"Hayley?" Daniel blinked.

"A guy Hayley." Sam said gently. "Red haired. Butch." Sam shook her head. "Very quiet. One of the ones that will find it tough in combat." She said softly. "Anyway, then we have Kerrie..."

"Kerrie?"

"I don't know. I don't know their first names..."

"Oh?" Jack frowned slightly.

"Elsa, Major Richards, just gave me surnames. I haven't really worked with them all that much." Sam admitted somewhat shamefacedly. "But Kerrie's different."

"How?" Jack asked softly.

"She makes me think of Erin, Jen's sister..." Sam said eventually.

"I didn't know you met her..."

"No. I didn't meet her." Sam shook her head. "But sometimes Jen talked to me about her." She snitched Jack's bottle, surprised at how loose her tongue was thanks to the beer. "She's always lost in her own little world. Dreamy."

"Jen was like that."

"Yes. But Jen was passionate about stuff...about her theories..."

"Like you." Jack nudged her.

"More so than me." Sam admitted. "But with Kerrie you get the feeling that it's not where she wants to be. She wants to be out doing other stuff."

"Why isn't she?"

"I don't know." Sam admitted. "She's also in my TAP class. She's brilliant, understands most of it first time round. But she's not interested."

"So you haven't found us another candidate for the SGC?" Daniel asked without thinking.

Sam froze. Her fault. Her fault Jen was gone. Oh...the noise. Gunfire. Staff blasts. The stench of burnt skin...blood hanging in the air...dog tags...screaming...a blood soaked hand...

"No." Sam said shortly. "Lindsay might be good." She frowned slightly.

"Lindsay?"

"Mm. She's more in the medic side of things..."

"A friend for Janet." Jack quipped, taking his beer back.

"Yeah. Kind of looks like her too, actually." Sam smiled slightly. "And then there's Murray."

"Murray?" Jack snorted slightly.

"What?" Daniel asked.

"Remember when we found Marty?" Jack grinned in the dark.

"Yeah..."

"I told him Teal'c was called Murray."

"Oh. I remember that! I wondered why he kept yelling, 'Murray, Murray!'" Daniel laughed slightly.

"Oh...that guy was warped. I was *sure* he was a nut." Jack laughed slightly to himself, pleased to hear Sam chuckling.

"Like Harlan." Daniel agreed. "Oh...I have *no* idea how your robot and Harlan both managed to survive together for so long."

"I see him for 2 seconds and I feel like ripping out the wires connecting his head to his metallic little heart that doesn't beat." Jack agreed.

"And Urgo?" Daniel grinned slightly.

"Now *that* was freaky." Jack agreed.

"Do you know," Sam spoke up suddenly. "I saw some surveillance footage of me walking down the hallway arguing with him, only he didn't show up on the video tape..."

Jack and Daniel erupted with laughter. "Oh yeah. Carter going loco!" Jack snorted.

Silence suddenly as Jack and Daniel both realised what he'd said.

Sam buried her head in her arms, choking back the sobs.

"Sam...we didn't mean..." Daniel hesitated.

"You didn't mean what?" Sam grated out. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure the SGC grapevine is full of comments like that." She stood up, glaring at Teal'c, Jack and Daniel. "Don't worry about it. Everyone at the academy also thinks so." She snapped and spun on her heel, marching off.

"Jack, what the hell is wrong with my daughter?" Jacob demanded, getting up hastily.

"We don't know. It started a few weeks ago, getting worse lately..." Daniel trailed off.

"*What* started a few weeks ago?" Jacob demanded.

"We don't know." Jack admitted, rubbing his face in his hands.

"She's not talking to us, Jacob. You *saw* what she's like. The whole time around us tonight... This afternoon... It's not like her and we don't know why she is like that." Daniel explained. "We don't know what to do either."

"So you think that packing her off to the Academy is going to solve things?" Jacob demanded.

"No." Daniel shook his head.

"She requested transfer. It was the first position that General Hammond came up with... And we only realised *now* that it probably wasn't the best place for her to go."

"Why?" Jacob asked suspiciously.

"Do you remember an Airman by the name of Jennifer Hayley?" Jack asked, his voice bland.

"Yes. Reminded me a lot of Sam...but with an attitude problem. Only met her once or twice..."

"Well, General Hammond put her on SG-1 for a couple of months, to break her in so to speak." Jack rubbed at the back of his neck.

"To cut a long story short, Sam and Jen got along quite well after a pretty rocky start. Jen even moved in with Sam as a housemate for a while... Until she found her own place." Daniel took over.

"I was under the impression that she was only at the SGC for about six months." Jacob admitted.

"She was. She died." Jack said shortly.

"Oh." Jacob frowned slightly.

"I believe that Major Carter feels guilt for her involvement in Airman Hayley's death." Teal'c said softly.

"Her involvement?" Jack exploded. "For crying out loud, Teal'c, you make it sound as though she had a hand in Jen's death!"

"She believes so." Teal'c pointed out calmly.

"So when did all this take place?" Jacob frowned.

"A year and a week ago. To the day nearly." Daniel admitted.

"You keep track?" Jack asked softly.

"She was a friend, Jack. Of course I know how long ago she died." Daniel said scornfully.

"I get them all confused." Jack admitted regretfully, shoved his hands in his pockets.

"We still don't know for certain though that this is what's bugging Sam." Daniel said after a tense silence stretched between them.

"She's not going to let us help her." Jack said eventually.

"She's running." Jacob said flatly, resignation on his voice.

"Running?"

"She did it when her Mom died. Completely cuts herself off from what's happened. Ignores everything except her science." His shoulders slumped.

"Only she's not cut off." Daniel said slowly, thoughtfully.

"She's not?"

"No. General Hammond's sent her right to where it all began." Daniel pointed out.

"Will she be okay?" Jack asked, worried.

"I don't know." Daniel turned to Jacob.

"When her Mom died...I don't know. We've never spoken about it." Jacob admitted eventually. "It's easier forgetting about it...pretending..." He paused.

I feel that Jacob and Samantha both have the same character fault. Selmak surfaced for the first time. Both of them are unwilling to admit their fears and weaknesses.

"Selmak, would you shut the hell up?" Jacob snapped, irritated. "Sometime's it's really *not* worth having a snake in your head."

"Could have told you that." Jack pretended to ignore Selmak's statement.

"So what do we do?" Daniel asked eventually.

"I wish that I didn't have to go back to the Tok'ra..."

"We'll look after her Sir." Jack promised, his eyes meeting Jacob's steadily.

"You do that." Jacob swallowed, peering into the darkness in the direction Sam had disappeared in. "You look after my little girl, Jack. I trust you with her. And there's not many people I'd trust with her."

~x0x~

it's cold the air slides over my skin the goosebumps appearing like a rash

the memories pit like a cyst in my mind growing and festering

when will they be gone?

~x0x~

"Do you children think you're going to graduate at this rate?" Sam snapped, her voice cutting across the line like a whip.

"One month. That's all you have left to prove yourselves...and currently your standards are worse than first years!" She glared across at them, watching them stare determinedly at the wall behind her. Good.

"Murray!" She barked, catching his movement.

"Yes Ma'am." He saluted crisply.

"At ease." She said eventually, watching as they relaxed their positions. "You'll be happy to know that Major Richards had a healthy little girl last night..." She smiled slightly, watching the joy break across all of their faces. "She's calling it Hannah..." Sam trailed off slightly.

"Dismissed."

She watched them leave with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. A month. They all had a month left. Looking around, her eyes resting on the ever familiar landscape, she felt her doubts. Should she leave? Should she stay?

Leaving meant going back.

It was settled now, but they were still there, hiding in the shallows, lurking, waiting for her to unwittingly stir their ready tentacles so that they could once again attack her, forcing her mind, drawing her to remember...

She shook her head. Stay. She had to stay. She *couldn't* go back.

She wanted to go back..but what she wanted was irrelevant. She *couldn't* go back and live with all those memories again; all those nightmares.

Her fingers reached into her pocket and closed over the familiar metal tags, tracing the engraved letters and further wearing away at the crumpled sheet of paper.

"Excuse me, Major?" Anders' voice broke into her thought.

"Cadet?"

"I was wondering, Ma'am, if you could maybe go over the parallel universe...."

Jen had been fascinated by the parallel universes. She'd wanted to meet someone...to find a mirror...to work out what held the fabric of so many different realities together...what made them different...

"Major?"

Sam realised with a start she was crying.

"I'm sorry." She whispered, biting her lip and brushing angrily at her tears.

"No. No it's okay. Really." Anders glanced at her quickly, concerned. "Would you like me to get someone..?"

"No. I'm fine Anders. Honestly." Sam's clipped tones sounded harsh and unnecessary, even to her own ears. "I'm sorry." She whispered again before turning on her heel and walking off.

The science labs were occupied, the Cadets lost in their findings. Backing out of the lab, her eyes wide and her cheeks tear-stained, Sam backed right into General Kerrigan.

"Sam?" He caught her arms, watching as her large eyes searched around him, panicked, looking for an escape. "Are you okay?"

"I'm *fine*" She yelled, shaking him loose. "*I'm* fine. It's my fault." She turned on her heel and ran off.

~x0x~

All the great kings of the past are up there, watching over us. - Simba in The Lion King

~x0x~

She hadn't been in this part of the Academy since her second year as a Cadet. The place hadn't changed, it still smelt like wood and metal, the oils and polishes they used to keep the instruments clean.

Jen had come here, she'd said. She'd come here because it reminded her of Erin.

Involuntarily Sam's fingers clenched over the items in her pocket. They were both a source of comfort and haunting.

Sam sat down quietly at the piano, running her hands over the ivory keys. Melodies and laughter floated through her mind. Her mother had played to her and Mark. Shanties, hymns, the latest releases...

She inhaled deeply, savouring the musty scent that always clung to a piano, the smoothness of the keys beneath her fingers.

"Major?"

She jerked, startled, and her hands dropped clumsily onto the keys, jarring the notes.

"Cadet!" She laughed tightly, turning around and facing Cadet Kerrie.

"Sorry to bother you, Ma'am." Kerrie said softly, her intense blue eyes boring into Sam's. "I was just looking for my notes...I don't know where I left them." The Cadet admitted somewhat embarrassedly.

"That's okay." Sam stood up, knocking her knees against the sharp piano stool.

"Do you come here often, Ma'am?" Kerrie asked conversationally while she dug around inside the piano seat.

"No." Sam said truthfully. "I haven't been in here for years."

"You were a Cadet here?" Kerrie asked, glancing up from her search.

"Yeah. That was a long time ago though." Sam agreed, running her hands over the keys again without evoking a noise.

"You play?" Kerrie nodded towards the piano.

"No." Sam sighed, her eyes studying the piano. "You?"

It was a dumb question. Why else would the Cadet be searching in the chair for her notes?

"A bit." Kerrie agreed, smiling in triumph over the discovery of her missing notes.

"You remind me of someone." Sam blurted out before she had time to think about it.

"Oh?" Kerrie glanced up, surprised. The Major never really talked to anyone about herself. She was as closed off as the President himself, though most people knew more about the President's private life than the man himself.

"Yeah." She smiled tightly. Erin. Jen's sister. Jen's family...

"Who?"

"Erin." Sam licked her lips.

"Is she in the Airforce?" Kerrie persisted.

"No. Jen said she'd never join the force...too much of a dreamer. Only lives for her music apparently..." Sam swallowed. "I don't actually know her. I've just heard about her but you are exactly like I pictured her."

"Oh." Kerrie frowned slightly. "What's her surname?"

"Hayley." Sam didn't miss a beat.

"That's mine too..." Kerrie admitted.

"I thought it was Kerrie." Sam was surprised.

"It is. I'm Catherine Hayley..."

"Then why the 'Kerrie'?"

"It's a nickname. There are three Hayley's in our group." Kerrie frowned. "Lindsay is also a Hayley, but her first name is Lindsay." Kerrie explained.

"Oh." Sam swallowed.

"Are you okay? You've gone awfully pale..." Kerrie watched her worriedly.

"I'm fine." Sam shook her head. "So why do we call you Kerrie then?" She asked again, needing to have another line of thought.

"It's just a stupid nickname that Rob...Anders came up with." Kerrie blushed slightly.

"Oh? I'm intrigued."

"I...I got a bit carried away when I first arrived here...and I was singing a bit too loudly...they heard me. So it was 'Canary' at first, but then it slowly changed to Kerrie over the years." The girl admitted ruefully.

"Erin sings." Sam sighed, her fingers working rhythmically over the items in her pocket, seeking strength and peace.

"Do you think you'll meet her?" Kerrie asked, curious.

"No." Sam smiled slightly, ashamed to feel another tear run down her cheek. "Her sister...Jen..." she hiccupped slightly, clutching at the paper and tags in her pocket, desperation rearing its head. "I promised...." Sam staggered away, stumbling blindly over the piano stool and falling to the ground.

"Major? Major..." Kerrie's arms helped her into a sitting position.

"Carter?" A familiar voice startled Sam and she panicked again.

"Colonel! What are you doing here?" She struggled to her feet, still clutching tightly at the paper and tags, searching for a way out of the room.

"General Kerrigan called me. What's going on?" Jack demanded, reaching out and grabbing a hold of her flailing arms.

"I don't know, Sir." Kerrie stood to attention, confusion on her features. "I just came in here and started talking to the Major."

"Carter. Carter, listen to me." He shook the hysterical woman slightly, forcing her panicked eyes to meet his.

"I left her, Sir. I left her!" She cried, struggling against his hold.

"No. You didn't leave her. She was already dead, Sam. She died. You didn't leave her." Jack pulled her close, hugging. "Cadet?" He looked over at the shocked Cadet. "Go to General Kerrigan. Tell him Colonel O'Neill found her and that I said to ring General Hammond and ask for Dr. Jackson and Dr. Fraiser to be brought here immediately. Oh. And ask for Jacob Carter as well..."

"Yes Sir." the girl snapped off a salute and disappeared out of the room.

"It's my fault." Sam sobbed woodenly into his chest, heaving against him.

"No. It's not."

"I promised her I'd look after her. That it would be okay." Sam clutched at his shirt, pulling him closer as her fingers dug into the fabric.

"You did. You did look after her." Jack comforted.

"She gave me her tags...I had to promise..." The hoarse sobs wracked her frail body. "I broke it, Colonel. I didn't..."

"You didn't what?" Jack asked, rocking her against him.

"I couldn't. I couldn't do it. Not when I left her..." She hiccupped again, slumping against him, spent.

"Shh." He kissed her forehead, pulling her close against him. "You didn't leave her, Sam. None of us left her."

"I promised..." She sniffed, lacking the strength to do anything other than just stand and let him hold her. Gently he moved them until he could sink down against the wall, pulling her with him so that she was leaning against him like that time long ago in the underground slave encampment.

"We used to eat ice cream." Sam said suddenly, her eyes locked on the wall in the distance.

"Sounds like you had fun." Jack said simply to fill in the silence.

"And we'd talk. Sometimes." She frowned slightly. "Erin doesn't have anyone."

"Pardon?" Jack blinked.

"Jen's twin. Erin. She doesn't have any one now." Sam forced the tears away, not moving. "Jen was scared of that happening. I promised her I wouldn't let it happen."

"That's not the kind of promise you can make and keep, Carter." Jack said gently, hugging her close to him.

"Jen knew I couldn't keep the promise. I still made it though." Sam shuddered slightly. "She...she wrote Erin a letter." Sam licked her lips, her fingers slipping insider her pocket again and fingers the tattered folds of paper. "She gave it to me...and she wanted me to give her one."

"Did you?" Jack asked, surprised. He wouldn't have thought that's the kind of thing that she'd do.

"Yes." Sam smiled slightly. "I gave her two."

"Two?"

"One was for my Dad..the other one...it was for you." She admitted, stiffening slightly.

"Sweet." Jack smiled, resting his head on top of hers. "Please tell me it read something along the lines of, 'Dear Jack, I am actually a millionaire...I'm leaving it all to you."

"No." Sam laughed slightly, despite her despondency. "No. Nothing like that"

"Good." Jack sighed.

There was a slight jangling noise as Sam pulled her hand out of her pocket, bringing with her the folded envelope and the shining dog tags. "I couldn't. I promised her, but I couldn't." She whispered in disgust, staring down at the objects resting in her palm. "When...when she died..." The words caught up in her throat, refusing to come out. "She..."

"It's okay." He hugged her tightly as she started shaking again.

"I keep seeing her. Lying there. Dying." The tears came again, burning her eyelids. "She was scared. She was so scared." Sam cried, holding onto Jack again. "But she made me promise...there was so much blood..." Sam sobbed.

Gunfire. Screaming. Warm stickiness.

"I know." Jack whispered, closing his eyes as the picture sprang forwards, unbidden.

"She was dying...she reminded me." Sam choked out, still clutching desperately at Jack. "I made another promise...I couldn't keep it either."

Jack looked up as Cadet Kerrie and General Kerrigan appeared in the music room. A subtle shake of his head and they left just as quietly as they had come.

"I...I told her I would..." Sam gasped, trying to regain control. "I promised her..." She clenched her fist around the tags and srunched the letter up. "I've still got them though. I promised her...and I didn't."

"Sam..." Jack pressed her tightly against him, her jerking body rocking against his. "It'll be okay." He told her, brushing the hair off her hot face, trailing his fingers over her flushed cheek. "It'll be okay."

"NO." Sam shook her head. "No. No it won't be..." She shuddered slightly clasping the items close to her chest. "It won't be because I *can't* give them to her. I promised Jen I wouldn't let anything happen to her...I let her down. I let them *both* down." Sam shuddered.

"You didn't. You tried Sam."

"I keep feeling her blood on me. I keep seeing the tags still covered in blood. She was so scared, so afraid...."

"Sam, you tried your hardest. There was nothing you could do." Jack repeated, pushing her away so that he could cup her face in his hands and look into her tearfilled eyes. "I know." He whispered. "Charlie...we couldn't save him either..." Jack pulled back against him, crushing her form tightly with his own.

"How? How do I tell Erin that I let her sister die?" Sam whispered brokenly against his chest.

"I don't know." Jack pressed a kiss onto her head and held her tightly.

~x0x~

Things put off until tomorrow might not be done.

We don't know how many tomorrow there are.

~x0x~

"Have you got them?" Jack asked softly, studying her.

"Yes." She swallowed, looking down at her closed fists.

"Will you be okay?" Daniel asked from his seat behind her.

"No." Sam shook her head.

"Carter..." Jack touched her shoulder briefly.

"No. This shouldn't just be me." She shook her head again, catching Daniel's eye in the rear-view mirror. "We were all Jen's friends...I think Erin has a right to know how many people loved her sister." Sam's voice shook slightly, but her eyes were determined.

"Carter..." Jack tried again.

"Okay." Daniel agreed.

"But..." Sam hesitated. "I just have to do...the letter...I should do it..." She licked her lips.

"That's okay." Jack agreed, touching her shoulder. "We'll wait by the trees for you, okay? You just call us over when you're ready."

"Okay." Sam agreed, smiling tightly, her eyes calm though red rimmed.

"Are you sure that's her?" Daniel checked.

"No." Sam admitted. "But from what Jen told me about her...from what her boss said...Besides, I don't see anyone one else here, and he was sure she'd be here."

"You're right." Daniel agreed softly as Sam got out of the car.

They watched her steady walk towards the girl as they themselves got out of the car. The awkward way in which she held her arms by her side spoke of her tension, her fear.

The girl looked up, startled as she stopped strumming on the guitar. Sam knelt down and gingerly passed the objects over to the girl. She was crying, they could tell by the way her shoulders shook as the sun glinted off the metal dogtags when Erin took them.

"Come on." Jack hunched into his jacket as Sam looked towards them, and together they started off down the pathway to join the two women.

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