NOTES: Written for the LiveJournal community 'fanfic100' - Sam/Jack challenge, keyword 'family'.
The morning of her thirty-eighth birthday dawned bright and clear over the General's lake.
In the house, there were slight noises. The General was moving about inside, making breakfast, doing something - she hadn't asked what when she passed him on her way out. Daniel was still soundly asleep - he'd never been a morning person, and if Teal'c wasn't in deep kel no reem, he was probably faking it to get out of helping the General with whatever was being done. Never let it be said that the Jaffa didn't have their own cunning.
It was briskly cool up in Minnesota, although she could feel the onset of summer warmth permeating the air, even at seven in the morning.
Sam wondered what she was doing up at seven in the morning. It was her birthday. She should be sleeping in.
But there was something hauntingly perfect about the morning with its pale blue sky and the clouds which had been gold-touched only moments before. The world had a stillness about it, personified by the calm, reflective surface of the lake, occasionally disturbed by the buzz of an insect or the plop of a fish coming up for air.
It was probably just that the universe had lent itself to thoughtful reflection this morning.
Although she didn't know why she was thinking of Alyssa Birknam.
The summer after Sam turned fifteen was the summer of Alyssa. The other girl was also a military brat, small, with a sharp, dry wit. Like Sam, she had brains and wasn't willing to pander to the pretty, popular crowd who talked makeup and boys and giggled over rock stars.
Her mother's death had been less than a year ago, and her Dad and Mark weren't talking to each other. Sam was looking for a friend. Alyssa was looking for a friend.
They were friends within a week, best friends within a month.
And nothing was going to tear them apart.
At least not at first.
Sam and Alyssa hung out for a year at high school in Spokane while their fathers were stationed at Fairchild AFB. They read books, did their homework, laughed at the cool kids, and didn't care what the other girls thought of them. Which was just as well since the popular crowd didn't think much of Sam's brains or Alyssa's sarcasm.
Then her father got reassigned and it was goodbye, Spokane, WA; hello, Vandenburg, CA.
California had a very different feel to Washington. Everything was warmer, people were more relaxed, and the popular girls at school were more bitchily aggressive at their best than the girls in Spokane had been at their worst.
Sam's dark blonde hair paled in the sun and with the judicious application of lemon juice. The guys had begun noticing her since her growth spurt, and her father had delivered the appropriate fatherly warnings to the tune of Sam's rolled eyes.
A month into the school term, Alyssa turned up in Vandenburg. Her dad was reassigned to Vandenburg as well and Sam was esctatic to have her friend back. Alyssa seemed happy to see Sam, and for a while, it was just like old times.
Except that after a few weeks, Alyssa seemed different. She was more interested in makeup and boys, how she looked, and who she was seen with. Two months after Alyssa moved to Vandenburg, Sam called her up one weekend and discovered that Alyssa had gone to a party given by one of the popular girls - a party to which Sam's invite had been suspiciously absent.
She nursed the hurt until Monday, then asked Alyssa about it. The other girl laughed it off. "It was a stupid party. They just all stood around and talked about Hank Bradshaw. I wish I hadn't gone."
Sam wanted to point out that Alyssa had gone anyway, and hadn't mentioned that she'd been invited in the first place. But she didn't. Maybe there were reasons for Alyssa not telling her.
She made a lot of excuses for the other girl in the next few weeks, trying to hold onto the friendship that she could feel slipping away beneath her fingers. Alyssa was partnered with one of the cool girls for an assignment. Alyssa wanted to be on the cheerleading squad so she - like most of the other girls - could try to catch Hank Bradshaw's eye. Alyssa was just being friendly.
Alyssa was just being friendly to everyone except Sam - for whom she only had snide comments and criticism.
It took one whole night standing alone in a dance hall while Alyssa giggled and flirted and gossiped with the popular girls - none of whom would even mention Sam's name - for her to realise that she'd been sold out, traded in, disposed of.
Sam Carter had no place in the popular group. Alyssa Birknam did.
The price of Alyssa's popularity was her friendship with Sam. And so Sam was ruthlessly sacrificed on the altar to make way for Alyssa's social ambitions.
Alyssa had been the first really close girlfriend Sam ever had.
She was also the last.
"Dollar for your thoughts, Carter?"
Sam looked up from the lake, startled. She hadn't even heard him approaching. "Nothing, sir."
His look was distinctly skeptical as he set down a chair beside her. "That's a lot of nothing for the last fifteen minutes."
"You're always telling me not to think so much," she countered. "Maybe I'm taking your advice."
The smile on his face was wry, "The day you take that piece of advice is the day the world ends. I don't think I've ever known you to stop thinking. Not that I didn't appreciate it while we were out on a mission, but sometimes you have to relax." He leaned back in the chair and waved his hand to indicate the lake, the forest, the open sky above. "Let it all go. At least for a little while." He eyed her. "Have breakfast, go fishing, come out to dinner..."
The General gave her a look. "Well, yes. It is your birthday, isn't it?"
Dissembling was pointless. He only played stupid to reel you in like the fish he never caught. "Yes."
"Good. Because otherwise I cooked breakfast for nothing. You'd have gotten toast like all the other days."
She grinned at that and looked back out at the lake. The silence between them was comfortable, familiar, pleasant, and oddly uncharged with the tension that came and went like the ebb and flow of tides. After a moment, she asked, "What is for breakfast?"
"Oh, bacon, eggs, ham. I think Daniel remembered the mushrooms." The General grimaced. Daniel had gone shopping the previous day and come back with a history book from the local store but without other items his team-mates had requested. He'd been appropriately penitent, but Jack wasn't forgetting their friend's lapse. "I just made up some pancake batter - from scratch, so you'd better appreciate it - and it's all sitting ready."
"Oh, I will. Appreciate it, I mean," she added, smiling at his easy garrulousness. He made it easy to forget that there were ranks between them - he always had. He made it very easy to forget that they weren't friends - that they shouldn't be, and yet were.
He watched her for a moment, an old affection resting on his face. Then he quirked a smile, looked down, and said something about getting Daniel up before the day wasted away. "I'll get things started. Come inside in a few minutes, okay?"
She watched him go back to the cabin, the familiar stride with the not-quite-limp, then turned back to contemplation of the lake.
Yes, it was definitely strange that in the twenty-odd years between fifteen and thirty-eight, her mind had picked today of all days to cast up Alyssa.
Then again, maybe not so odd.
Over eight years, the General, Daniel, and Teal'c had become her friends. Four people who otherwise wouldn't have ever interacted with each other outside of the military structures - and probably shouldn't have been friends under the circumstances - had become not just friends, but family.
Her father's death left her orphaned in the emotional sense. Mark and his family might be related by blood, but they weren't family the way SG-1 was.
"Happy Birthday, Samantha."
She glanced up at him, standing beside her with one hand resting on her chair. "Thank you, Teal'c."
"O'Neill is cooking breakfast within. He requests your presence." Teal'c paused and tilted his head slightly. "There are also presents for you to open, and Daniel Jackson to awaken."
Sam didn't quite bite back the smile. Call it cruel and unusual, but they'd taken to waking Daniel with everything from tickling him, to brushing his nose with a feather every fifteen seconds.
"In a moment, Teal'c," Sam assured him, and reached up to squeeze his hand.
Teal'c inclined his head to her with a smile and went inside.
Sam stared out across the lake again.
She and Alyssa 'made up' a year later. Sort of. Sam had moved on, Alyssa wasn't the same, ties had been severed, connections couldn't be remade. Over the years, there were other girlfriends - women with whom Sam chatted and laughed, whom she worked alongside and befriended, but they were never 'best friends' the way she'd been with Alyssa for that one year.
And Sam never forgot that her friendship had counted less than Alyssa's chance at popularity.
Maybe that lesson was why Sam valued her team-mates so much: their loyalty to her was equal to her loyalty to them.
She'd found friends whose loyalty was worth having - worth keeping. No equivocations, no easy way out. You didn't give up and get out, you stuck it through and fought like hell - because some things were worth fighting for. Some things were worth keeping - and the guys of SG-1 were keepers, without a doubt.
Sam went inside to breakfast and the guys who made her world.
Thank you, sir.
For being here for me.
- fin -