You're not quite sure when it started; seems like it's been forever.

It might have been when you had to put your cat to sleep. Yeah, yeah, it's just a cat, fourteen years is a long time for an animal – but still.

You'd had him almost since before you'd left the Academy; your boyfriend at the time had shown up at the door with a scrawny little thing that looked like a drowned rat.

You kept the cat and lost the boyfriend.

You'd dragged him around the country, occasionally dumping him with friends and family when the need arose; but he always forgave you, settling in again and sleeping up against your back, staring out the windows, sitting on your desk as you worked watching the pointer on the screen and batting at it.

He didn't even care that you never named him – 'Cat' was just fine with him.

So a few months ago he was diagnosed with feline leukemia. This, combined with his age, said the vet, was not good. The vet preferred he be put down immediately.

You ask if you can take him home and do it yourself.

So, that evening, you sit on your couch with him across your lap. You stroke him gently, listening intently to every pitiful purr and speaking to him softly. Then you take out the syringe and inject him quickly and expertly, and hold him tightly while the light fades from his once bright eyes.

You tell him goodbye and you're sorry.

You don't cry.

You bury him in the backyard in a hole you've already dug, thinking, for some reason, of your mother, then you go to bed. Work tomorrow.

You don't tell anyone what's happened. As politically correct and 'sensitive' and enlightened as the Air Force is supposed to be these days, you know nobody will understand how much it hurts to lose a friend like that.

You work.

Then, for the first time in almost 12 years, you miss a day of work. Maybe that's when it started, who knows? But you remember the surprise in O'Neill's voice when you call. He teases you – "Samantha Carter missing work?" You don't think it's funny, but you pretend to, and when you put down the phone you go back to bed. You'd given him some bullshit story about the flu; the truth was you were just fucking tired. Hadn't slept well in weeks; your focus was shot.

You were not taking your team out when you felt like that.

You go back to work, still not sleeping well but determined to do the job. Daniel comments on how tired you look; so does Teal'c, so does O'Neill. This irritates you – no, it pisses you off and for some inexplicable reason you find yourself hating all three of them. Just for the briefest of moments. But the feeling was there, nonetheless.

You start missing work on a regular basis; missing or coming in late. O'Neill lets it go for a while before reminding you that you have a job to do; you promise to do better. And you do, for a while, then it starts again. This continues for several weeks; O'Neill watches you more and more closely before losing patience. He finally orders you to visit the psychiatrist and you do, grudgingly, saying all the right things and convincing her you can work, that you've just been distracted lately. O'Neill accepts this diagnosis with skepticism but allows you to stay on duty; and you don't miss any more.

The sleeplessness continues; people continue to comment on how tired you look, Daniel asks incessantly if you're all right – finally, you tell him irritably that you were fucking fine and could he please leave you alone? He stares, shocked, you assume, at your language and your tone. You go back to your work and he leaves the lab silently and you know you should feel sorry, but you don't. You just don't care.

You find yourself angry all the time – you don't know why, you just know that the burning knot of hate that has lodged in your chest will not leave. Hatred for what, you have absolutely no idea – sometimes you think you hate everyone and everything. You know you should be surprised at yourself. You're Sam Carter, strong, smart, capable, resilient, a good friend. But you haven't felt like any of those things for a very long time.

You finally break when a lab assistant stops you from performing an experiment you'd designed. You are about to dress her down when she points out the fact that if you'd performed the experiment as designed, you could have killed everyone in the lab.

You stare, stunned, then you turn on your heel and leave.

You enter O'Neill's office without knocking and demand two weeks leave. He stares at you for a moment and asks you for the hundredth time what's wrong. You sigh, tell him you're not sleeping and that you can't perform well right now.

He looks at you closely – you cringe; he's about to ask you a question you can't or don't want to answer. But instead he orders you to the infirmary, then tells you not to come back for a month.

You leave his office without saying goodbye and head down to the infirmary. Dr. Ballinger grills you incessantly but you insist that you're just not sleeping well. Finally, you think, you hope, he begins to believe you and prescribes some heavy duty tranquilizers.

"These are very strong, Col. Carter," he says. "Don't take them during the day, only at night."

He eyes you over his glasses and you can tell he thinks you won't take them at all, because that's just the kind of person you are.

He's wrong.

You take them that night just before bed, and for the first time in weeks, maybe months, you start to feel relaxed, relaxed and a little numb. It's a relief – your overheated mind finally slows down, all the bullshit fades; and you sleep.

You awake the next morning a little later then usual, feeling like you've slept but not necessarily rested. You hold the bottle in your hands. You're not planning on going anywhere that day . . .

You spend the day in a stupefied torpor, stumbling from the couch to the kitchen and back again. Daniel, O'Neill and Teal'c all call, leaving messages – you smile a bit at Teal'c's message; he loses a bit of his elegance when dealing with answering machines. Then you turn the answering machine and phone off.

Two weeks pass and you're out of pills. You look at the bottle, stunned and a little ashamed; it was supposed to last a month. But, you tell yourself, you've been under a lot of stress; it's understandable. Without further thought you head back to the base and to the infirmary, giving Ballinger some bullshit about dropping the pills down the drain. He believes you and you hate yourself for that, and he gives you more; and you manage to escape without seeing any of your teammates.

You lie on the couch every day and odd thoughts start mixing in with those that are already there. You think everything would be so much easier if. . . . At first you don't use the words 'dead' or 'suicide,' but the more you think about how much everything HURTS they come more and more easily. Not that you would ever do that – but everything would be so much easier if . . .

Pete arrives, fussing and coddling, bringing you tea you don't drink and food you don't eat. He asks if you want to talk and you tell him you just aren't feeling well, and he sits beside you on the couch while you watch TV and rubs your feet, just like you like. Except you don't like it this time; his presence is grating and you just want to be alone. You realize the only way to get rid of him is to pretend to be fine. You lie and tell him you're going back to work and he smiles, relieved, and packs up and leaves.

You collapse on the couch in relief and just lie there.

Daniel and Teal'c come by at least four times; you refuse to answer the door at first, then finally you let them in. You put on your happy Sam face; pretend that everything is normal and that you're just tired, and they leave, seemingly convinced.

You hope you never see them again.

Soon, your month of leave is up and the last thing you want to do is go back into that damn, dank cave of a base. You screw up your nerve and call O'Neill, who again grills you, and again you manage to escape unscathed, with two months leave this time. You had played on your time together; on your reputation for dependability. You know that if it had been anyone else his bullshit detector would have gone off right away. But not with you. He trusts you.

You refuse to return to Ballinger; they'll figure out something is up. Hyper-efficient, take on the day Col. Carter a pill popper? You make an appointment with a doctor in town who prescribes the same sedatives Ballinger gave you. Then, to make sure you don't run out, you run the same scam on two other doctors.

The thought crosses your mind that this is insane, but you bat it away. Two more months, lots of rest, you'll be fine.

Pete comes back; Daniel had called him, concerned. Pete demands to know what's going on; at first he cajoles, then he yells; you avoid answering and try to avoid him entirely but he won't let you, and finally you tell him to get the fuck out of your house, you didn't need his nagging, you just need rest. He looks at you, shocked and angry.

"Sam," he says. "I don't know what in the hell is going on with you, but I'm not coming back, not until you call me. Maybe not even then."

He leaves; you don't care.

Every night you keep company with a bottle of wine and your bottle of sedatives, sitting out by the cat's makeshift grave, and you make mental lists of all the shitty aspects of your life: All the people you've lost; colleagues, lovers, friends, Janet, that stupid fucking cat. And your mom. You never feel more lonely than when you're thinking about your mom.

You finally start crying. You cry for Janet and your mother, you cry for Pete, you cry because you've helped save the world over and over and they still keep coming, you cry for your father because he can't be there when you need him, you cry for O'Neill and what could have been, and you mourn the children you'll never have.

The good things still in your life have gone pale – the pain has killed them. Daniel, Teal'c; the promotion; your work. Not enough to keep you here.

You cry for three nights.

On the fourth, you get up and head for the kitchen.

It's not so hard. You keep your kitchen knives honed to an almost invisible edge; years of military training, you suppose.

So you take one, and without hesitation you feel its silken, steely whisper against your wrist.

It's nice. Nice and cold and it doesn't hurt, at least not at first. And what it's going to bring you . . .

You do both wrists, watching the blood pump with your pulse, fascinated. Then you decide it hurts a little too much, so you take four more pills with a glass of wine, hands trembling as you sip.

Blood has soaked into your jeans and onto the ground and onto the grave of your cat and you feel a weird sensation; not of death, necessarily, but of sacrifice. Giving your due.

You slump back on the ground, the smell, the feel, the very fucking existence of the planet never more real to you than at this moment.

You have but a second to savor that irony then you're gone.

Seeing and smelling the blood and dirt on his shirt, you try to shout. He's moving, carrying you, for God's sake, when anyone could see he's wounded. He ignores you and you reach out to a passing man in blue, an airman, you suppose, that you haven't met yet, and you try to tell him – "O'Neill . . ."

"Oh, God, for fuck's sake, Carter," O'Neill rasps. "Shut UP!"

Then bright lights are assaulting your eyes; unfamiliar smells frighten you and someone is yanking painfully at each wrist and your eyes water and you look for him and there he is, looking at you, bloodstained and wretched and angry.

You wonder what you did to piss him off.

Then, for some reason, an IV is punched gracelessly into your arm and soon you don't care anymore.

Your throat hurts; burning and raw, and there's a nasty, bilious taste at the back of your mouth. They'd pumped your stomach, you suppose.

You look at your bandaged wrists and wonder, absurdly, whether you'd ruined your knife.

A nurse enters, checks your IV. They're bringing you down off the sedatives slowly to avoid the DTs, and they've added two anti-depressants to the mix.

Every day an annoying woman who calls you 'Sammie' visits you; telling you all about post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression, and in a patronizing tone tries to get you to talk about your 'feelings' and why you 'did what you did.'

Apparently the word 'suicide' isn't in her vocabulary.

You refuse to cooperate, especially when she offers arts and crafts therapy, and soon she stops coming.

The doctor admonishes you; telling you that if you don't talk, you won't feel better. You ask him if your wrists will scar. He sighs and tells you yes, they probably will, but it should be minimal. He leaves, telling you that if you want to go home you've got to cooperate.

You don't answer.

After two weeks, you wake up feeling differently. Not better, but more . . . aware. You stare at your wrists and a burning humiliation overwhelms you. You groan; you'll never get your job back, what in the hell had you been thinking?

Three weeks and you're out of the hospital bed and in a plain room with a plain bed. No sharp edges, no glass mirrors – your embarrassment intensifies.

The annoying woman returns, trying to get you to participate in group therapy. Again you refuse and she leaves, frustrated, muttering to herself.

Then the visitors come.

Lying on your bed, you look up one morning to see Teal'c and Daniel at your door. Tears start and you're about to jump out of bed to greet them when Teal'c stalks toward you, pushing you none too gently back onto the bed and placing one large hand on either side of your head. Your eyes are wide, you've seen him angry, but never at YOU, and you're about to say something and he interrupts you.

"Your actions were foolish, Samantha Carter," he says fiercely. "If we are to lose you, it will be with honor on the field of battle; or in your old age surrounded by your children and grandchildren."

The hard edges of his face soften and he leans back, taking one of your hands. "I care for you a great deal," he says. "I must ask something of you." You nod, waiting.

"I ask that you swear upon your honor that this will never happen again," he says. He stares at you intently. "Never."

You nod, realizing for the first time that although you don't feel great, you don't feel as forlorn, and you promise.

He watches you a moment then nods, and then to your utter surprise kisses you briefly before stalking out of the room.

You turn to Daniel, who's shifting uncomfortably. "He . . . uh, didn't take it very well," he says, sitting on the edge of your bed. "None of us did, really."

You stare at him, taking in the familiar warmth and love in his gaze, and you wonder why you thought you could never talk to this man, and suddenly you're in his arms and both of you are weeping. You apologize over and over and he rocks you back and forth, telling you everything's okay, and for the first time in a long time you feel a little of the heaviness in your chest lift.

You ask him what happened – you don't remember much.

"Well, for whatever reason, Jack came by your house that night," Daniel says. "He hasn't talked much about it, really, just the bare bones, just said he had a hunch. Apparently, when you wouldn't answer the door, he broke in. He couldn't find you inside and almost started to leave, thinking maybe you'd gone to see Pete, when he saw you through the kitchen window."

He sighs – you can see this is hard. Of course it's hard; and it's your fault. You hate yourself.

"Anyway, he couldn't really tell what you were doing, just that you were laying there. He found that you were . . . bleeding and he saw the bottle of pills . . ." He stops for a moment. "Long story short, he called 911, wrapped your wrists and carried you to the front door to wait for the ambulance."

You sigh, feeling like the biggest asshole on the face of the earth.

He smiles, taking your hand, and turns the conversation to lighter topics and for a short while you feel almost normal

There's a noise at the door and you worry it's a nurse come to shoo Daniel away and you hold his hand tightly; but it's not a nurse, it's O'Neill, and you feel the blood drain from your face. You'd figured he'd show up eventually and you'd been dreading it, having absolutely no idea what he was going to do or say.

He stands there, hands in pockets. "Daniel, Carter," he says, sounding utterly normal.

Daniel eases his hand from your grip. "Jack," he says. He stands, then bends to kiss your cheek. "I'll be back tomorrow, okay?" You nod in response and he smiles, clapping O'Neill on the shoulder as he leaves.

O'Neill smiles that very slight smile and moves to the foot of your bed, leaning against the wall.

"So, Carter," he says. "You didn't have to do this the hard way."

You tilt your head in question.

"I mean the knife, the blood," he says. "Takes too long."

You wait, wondering where in the hell he was going with this.

"Well, if you'd asked, I could have just shot you in the head."

Your jaw drops and you stare in shock. Then you see the glint in his eyes and you realize even though this was serious it sure as hell didn't hurt to make fun of it and for the first time in months you laugh, laugh harder than you have in a very long time, so hard that tears stream down your cheeks and your sides hurts.

Finally the laughter subsides and you look at him and he's smiling fully now.

"I'm glad that went over," he said. "Not everyone would appreciate that kind of offer. And you owe me a new shirt, by the way."

You're still grinning, and he pulls up a chair. He leans forward, forearms resting on his knees.

You watch as his face becomes serious and you feel your expression mirror his and you wait. After a long moment, he speaks.

"I should have fucking known, Carter," he says softly. "I'm so sorry. I'm so fucking sorry."

And weeping replaces the laughter.

You cry, you apologize – he tries to touch you but you refuse to let him, you go on and on about how you've screwed everything up and how sorry you are that you've let him down and how you've hurt Daniel and Teal'c, not to mention your dad; and you can't believe what happened and how you let yourself get out of control like that; that you are nothing more than a coward and didn't deserve to return to the SGC . . .

He grabs your hands, holding them tightly to his chest.

"Carter," he says. You're still crying. "Sam," he says, more insistently, and you quiet, just a little.

He releases your hands and moves to the window, his back to you.

"Sam," he says. "Do you think I'm a coward?"

This shocks you. "Of course not," you say. "You're the bravest person I know."

He's quiet for a long time and you wait.

"When I was in Iraq," he begins, voice quiet. "When we were being held prisoner, after about six months, I managed to get the ropes off my wrists."

He pauses.

"I was able to wrap one end around my neck and the other around a beam in the ceiling, and I was close, SO close . . . but they caught me."

You don't have to ask who 'they' are.

"They weren't going to let me off so easily. They dragged me off for some quality time."

You don't have to ask what 'quality time' is, either.

"Finally, when I came home . . . I was free. I was hurt," he says, hand moving to his side, remembering an old injury. "But I was free. I could drive, take a shower, drink a beer. But I didn't care."

He turns to face you.

"It was like they'd taken everything out of me. Like there was just nothing left."

You nod. You know exactly what he means.

"So I grabbed my .45. I was going to go to a park near the police station, blow my brains out. I figured I'd be close enough for the cops to worry about it instead of Sara."

He smiles bitterly. "That was my only concern for Sara, that she not have to deal with the mess."

You ask what happened. He shrugs.

"I went fishing instead," he says. "Caught the biggest trout I'd ever seen. I held it up, saw the way it glinted in the sun, and I let it go. And then I went home."

He scrubs at his face with both hands.

"Then Charlie," he says. "I was really going to do it that time, I was determined to do it, but then . . . you know the end to that story."

You nod.

"Carter, did you know, after I first went through the gate with Daniel, when I saw what was out there, the first thing I did when I got home was call a therapist?"

You're surprised.

He nods. "I spent three years in intensive, hard, soul-splitting therapy. And I was on medication most of that time, before my doctor felt I'd recovered enough to take me off them. I still go see her occasionally – I saw her several times after we lost Janet."

You're worried you're going to cry again.

"I'm not the most eloquent person in the world, Carter, but what I'm trying to say is that life hands you shit sometimes. And sometimes, it's too much. Especially when you refuse to talk to anybody about it."

He looks at you pointedly. You raise your eyebrows.

"I know, I know," he says, smiling slightly. "You and I are a lot more alike than anyone might think – you cover it up with your science-y talk, I do the bad jokes."

You smile. "They're not . . . all . . . bad, sir."

"Yes, they are."

"No, they're not."

"Yes, they are! That's my thing, my trademark! It's what I do."

You snort and he smiles.

"Sam . . . what were you thinking about, the night you did it?"

And you tell him everything, about your mother, Janet, Pete, your poor old cat, how you felt you could save the earth a million times and it would never be enough. You even include the parts about him, feeling that you owed him that kind of honesty after what he'd just shared with you.

He's quiet for a while.

"You've had a heavy load to carry, Sam."

Again the tears threaten.

He sits by you again, taking your hand. "Who's your therapist?"

You tell him about the annoying woman who keeps calling you Sammie, which makes him laugh, and you punch him.

You ask if you'll get to come back to the SGC.

"I can almost guarantee it, Sam, but it's gonna be dependent upon a lot of factors, and it's gonna take a lot of time. You'll have to be patient."

You sigh and nod, slumping back on to the pillow.


"A little."

"I'll get out of your hair, then," he says, standing, and you don't want him to go but you know he's got a base to run.

"Will you come back?" you ask.

"Will I come back? Of course I'll come back! What are you, crazy?" he says, winking on the last word.

You smile.

He bends over you, holding one of your hands and propping himself above you, watching your face intently. You're about to ask if anything's wrong when he shocks you again by kissing you softly on the mouth, and the cheek, and his lips move to your ear.

"Please, Sam," he whispers hoarsely. "Please don't ever do that to me again. Promise me."

You nod fiercely and throw your arms around his neck, holding him tightly and crying into his shoulder. He's warm and strong and feels good and smells good and you're glad you're here; glad you didn't miss this.

A subtle knock comes from the door.

O'Neill straightens and you both look.

"Pete!" you say, at a loss as to what to do.

But the two of them take care of it for you. They look at one another; not with hostility or anger or jealousy, just honesty. A truth passes between them that you'll never quite understand and they smile and shake hands and O'Neill leaves, telling to get your ass out of bed, the SGC's falling apart without you.

You wave goodbye and Pete comes to you and you search his face. You're glad to see him, glad to see him smile, glad he's here to be goofy and cheer you up.

But there is something fundamentally different now in the way he looks at you; and you know it has everything to do with his unspoken communication with O'Neill. You suspect things will be much different from this point forward.

But for now, you just enjoy him for the man he is.

You're led into her office, and are surprised. It's lavishly decorated, smells good and is, very distinctly, feminine. You find it hard to imagine O'Neill in this place.

She smiles at you. Her hair is pulled back tightly but the look on her face is warm and inviting and she asks you to sit.

"Hi, Sam," she says. "I'm Dr. Young, but feel free to call me Mary."

You nod and shift uncomfortably. You know you have to do this but that doesn't make it any easier.

"Things have been tough for you lately, to put it mildly," she says. You nod, looking down at your lap.

"Sam," she says. "You're a smart woman; probably a lot smarter than I am."

You wave her off.

"So I won't bullshit you. There are no easy answers, no easy cures. This is going to take a long time."

You smile at the profanity. You begin to see why O'Neill likes her.

"We've got a lot of work to do," she says. "But before we start, I'm supposed to give you this."

She reaches behind her desk and pulls out a box, handing it to you. You open it and gasp, and are crying again, even though you don't realize it.

Two kittens, one black, one white, look up at you briefly before continuing the playfighting you'd interrupted. You pick up the white one, who hisses; then the black one, who purrs. You smile, thinking about what your mother, who loved cats, used to say: There's nothing that a good kitten can't cure.

Dr. Young hands you an envelope; it contains a cheap card, one you might get at a gas station, and you laugh because on the front is a kitten dangling from a rope and the phrase "Hang In There!"

Not exactly original, you think fondly, but appropriate. You open it and read – "They're both girls but I named them Homer and Marge. Hope you don't mind. Jack."

You laugh again through your tears and Dr. Young encourages you to let them play on her office floor and you don't know whether it's the kittens or Jack or the fact that this woman got your name right the first time, but you begin to believe, REALLY believe, that things will get better.

So you start to talk.

The End

Dedicated with joy to everyone who has made it through that tunnel to enjoy the light on the other side; and dedicated with love to the memory of all those who didn't.