When Duty Calls

by Sharim

TITLE: When Duty Calls

AUTHOR: Sharim

EMAIL: misssharim@yahoo.com.au

STATUS: Completed.

CATEGORY: Angst, romance, action.

PAIRINGS: Sam/Jack, Sam/other

SPOILERS: Major ones for: Meridian (though I haven't actually *seen* the ep yet). Minor ones for: Solitudes, Upgrades, Small Victories

SEASON: Future story. About ten years after Meridian.

SEQUEL/CHAPTERS: None.

RATING: M, to be on the safe side.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Violence, angst, language.

SUMMARY: When duty called, they answered because it was their job. No matter what the cost.

YEAR COMPLETED: Wednesday 13 March, 2002

SIZE: Big, but not as big as my others!! *grins*

ARCHIVE: Sam and Jack, yes please. Heliopolis, my site (If I ever get around to either of them), fanfiction.net under 'sharim'. Others, please ask first.

DISCLAIMER: Not mine. *sniff* Probably just as well, actually. Who knows *what* would happen if I took control!!

AUTHORS NOTE: This one is a COMPLETELY different fic to what I normally do. I *swore* I'd never do one like this.. but there ya go. The idea started niggling about a week ago. And it just *grew*.

Thanx to Sandy, my absolutely awesome beta who totally ROCKS (yes, rocks.) And of course to all the ppl on the Workshop. You guys rock too!!

*hugs*

Sharim

ps the fic jumps from 'present' time which is in first person, to the past, which is told in narrative. *grins* hope I didn't confuse you!

*** *** ***

My hands itch.

They itch all the time now; they feel disgustingly dirty.

What is it that Lady MacBeth said? 'Out, out damned spot'. Something like that anyway.

I look down at my hands; they still look the same. They still have the same scars, the same lines, the same creases on them that they did so long ago. There are new scars and creases too, granted, but they are still *my* hands.

And they itch.

I glance up at the clock again, and feel my insides clamp in terrified anticipation. It's been a long time, too long. But they're late now, and I can't decide whether they are deliberately late or something has kept them.

I'm scared. It's stupid, but I'm terrified out of my mind. My insides keep quaking, and each time the second hand moves I feel like a hot knife is stabbing into my gut. I feel sick.

They've got to come.

They said they'd come.

They promised.

I scratch absently at my hands, the red marks flaring up on the now pale flesh. My hands weren't pale, they used to be tanned and 'wholesome', the outdoor life hardening them. I've softened over the years.

I'm scared...

I'm scared of what they'll think when they see me.

I'm scared that they won't recognize me.

My hands itch.

*** *** ***

They all walked into the room, nerves tightly spun and still strung high on adrenaline.

But the minute the door closed behind them it was as though everything just left them and wordlessly they all slumped together against the walls, sliding down slowly to rest on the benches.

"Shit." O'Connor banged his head roughly against the wall.

And then they laughed. The kind of laugh that was doused in amazement and disbelief, but mainly joy. Joy that they were living, that they had made it, that they'd pulled through.

"Shit is right." Walsh agreed, her cheeks flushed as tears started trekking down her cheeks.

Sam watched in amazement, and with some envy.

She would never have cried openly like that, especially not in front of her team.

But it was who Walsh was, and no one held it against her as a sign of weakness or a reason why females shouldn't join the front lines. They all respected Walsh: she was a damn good CO.

"I can't believe we just did that." someone breathed, and Sam thought it was Curtis, but she couldn't be sure.

They'd only been a unit for three days now, their first mission having started yesterday, and ending earlier today. The only people who she really was familiar with now were Walsh, O'Connor and Fellows - or, as they'd all for some completely weird reason, started calling him, Kermit.

They were the three people on her team who'd stuck out the most, and they'd formed a special sort of friendship in their short time. Probably because Kermit reminded her of Daniel, O'Connor shared the same sense of humor as Jack - she was the only one who giggled at his jokes. And Walsh because she was the only other female on the team.

No one resented it, they all understood it. But it was never really encouraged.

"Believe it my man!" Kermit grinned, his nose running. He wiped it carelessly on his grimy sleeve and looked around wildly. "That was..."

"Adrenaline junky." Walsh and Sam muttered at the same time, and then grinned at each other in surprise.

"Terrible." Curtis said with feeling, his eyes closed.

They dropped into silence.

Yes. It had been terrible. They'd killed, taken human life, destroyed property. It was war.

But there was some part of her, some part inside all of them that still felt exhilarated. Not at what they had done, but at the fact that they'd accomplished their mission and were still alive. That they had survived. That they had been better than their opponents.

It almost reminded Sam of missions through the Stargate.

Almost, but not quite, because these were their own people they were fighting against, whereas the Goa'uld were something completely different.

She shook her head and stood up, running a hand through her hair.

"Don't know about you guys, but I'm starved." She stated, and then stretched her aching back.

They looked at her, stunned.

She looked back, confused. "What?"

"You're thinking about food now, and we've just come back from a *mission*?" Curtis asked, amazement in his voice.

"Why not?" She returned calmly, realizing how it must sound. But they'd understand, soon. Give it a few missions. Her first couple of missions through the gate had resulted in her being strung up about it for a couple of hours afterwards. Once she'd 'gotten used to it', she'd followed O'Neill and Teal'c's example and had a good meal as soon as possible afterwards. It did wonders for steadying the mind.

"Listen to the lady. She knows what she's talking about." Roberts spoke up.

He was easily one of the oldest on their unit. Just why he didn't have a command of his own or have a higher ranking than Captain, with all his experience, no one knew. No one really cared either. He was on their team, and that was all that mattered.

They gazed at her curiously, wondering about her experiences, but all remaining silent for the same reason that they remained silent about Roberts' own past.

She smiled her thanks at him and grabbed her bag from the floor. "Come on Colonel, lets go hit the showers." She threw carelessly at Walsh and left the room, suddenly shaking all over but refusing to show it.

*** *** ***

It has been a lifetime.

An entire lifetime has happened since the last time I saw them, since I spoke to the people from the SGC.

It feels like a dream when I think over the last fifteen or so years of my life. Two entirely different dreams, both composed of the same bare essential: Defense.

Defense of our country.

Defense of our planet.

Defense of our freedom.

Daniel always commented that it was strange how the military seemed to think that the only way to achieve peace was through war.

And I have to agree with him sometimes.

I wonder what he is doing with himself now? I haven't spoken to any of them in years. I feel guilty about that, because I loved them all - I still do. I just couldn't face them on top of everything else.

It is cowardly, I know. But if life has taught me anything, it's that the biggest cowards are the ones who run away from their friends and relationships. And I guess, despite all my medals, all my commendations, all my awards.. that makes me one of the biggest cowards on this planet.

My hands are still itching, and as I absently scratch at the raw flesh I stand up and make my way slowly across to the window, choosing a new seat.

I should have chosen somewhere else. This restaurant is too public, too open for the kind of reunion we're going to have.

But I didn't want it to be at my house, and I certainly didn't want to be the stranger going onto their turf. So we are meeting here, on neutral territory.

At least the restaurant has a good selection of coffee.

*** *** ***

"I didn't think that this would ever happen." His words surprised her, and she turned to him with curious, almost amused eyes.

"Why not?" She asked, feeling quite ashamed that she was still able to be happy, despite the situation. "It's certainly been coming for a while..."

"No, not the war." Jack shook his head almost dismissively, and his eyes bored into hers with an intensity that surprised her.

"What then?" It was a stupid question, asked to lead up to the inevitable. With a last brilliant flare, the sun set over the horizon.

He smiled crookedly, not saying anything.

She didn't want him to say anything either. She didn't want to hear a joke then, because she didn't want to laugh. She didn't want some deep and meaningful, profound comment because that wasn't like him, and she didn't feel like thinking either.

She just felt like *feeling*. She wanted to experience this moment .

So they sat in silence, both knowing what would happen eventually, but content to savor the buildup and to anticipate what was coming.

"It's stupid, really." Sam said after a while, breaking the comfortable silence that had descended over them. He silently applauded her making the first move; having grown almost bored with the silence. He wanted to move on, to stop floating and dithering about the future. He wanted to *do* something.

"The war?" He asked hesitantly, and Sam knew that he was unsure exactly what she was referring to.

"Yeah." She nodded, swallowing as her eyes skimmed over the lights of the city in the distance. "For the last five and a half years, we've been fighting to save this. We *have* saved this from the Goa'uld every single time. And now, while the risk is at the greatest we suddenly have to drop everything to save us from ourselves."

There was silence as he mulled over her words for a while.

Sam didn't like war, but she acknowledged that it was a necessity. Daniel hadn't acknowledged that. Daniel hadn't believed that the means to achieve peace was through war. But Sam knew that Jack understood war was necessary - he was, after all, a soldier. Just like her.

"It doesn't sit right." He said eventually, agreeing with her. Neither of them wanted to be out there, killing off fellow humans who believed that *their* side was doing the right thing. It was, he concluded to himself, all a political thing. And everyone knew how he was with politics.

She sighed, and shifted on the ground.

A quiver of excitement rushed over them both as her movement stirred the still, heavy air around them and he caught a whiff of her perfume. He started talking then, not about anything in particular, just rambling on about nothing, to distract her so that she wouldn't notice him also shifting, and moving ever so subtly closer to her.

She wasn't fooled. She wasn't stupid either.

So she didn't move away from him as his shoulders and the line of his legs eventually brushed against hers. She didn't look at him as his fingers brushed against hers. Instead she smiled. He could see the curve of her lips in the pale glow of the moonlight overhead, and he smiled too.

They sat in silence again, each adjusting to the new change in their relationship as the heat between their brushing legs and shoulders grew, until Sam surprised him by shifting completely and leaning against him. He obliged her happily by wrapping his arm around her and pulling her closer, ignoring the muggy heat and holding her body close to his.

Still, nothing was said between them, but as the warmth between them grew and his breath ruffled the hair behind her ear, a million conversations were passing between them.

"Do you think it'll ever be the same again?" She asked eventually, turning her head so that it was nestled beneath his chin and intertwining her fingers with his.

"No." He said softly, shaking his head and squeezing her fingers gently with his own. "No, I don't."

She remained silent for a while, thinking. "So you don't think we'll ever get SG-1 back?"

"No."

"Why not?" She whispered, her voice strained as she felt his lips move down to brush against her neck.

"You'll be promoted..." He whispered, his breath caressing the fine hairs on her neck. "And I'm going to kiss you."

She turn her head towards him slightly, allowing his lips to cover hers gently: the briefest of kisses that was over even before it had really started.

"I'm going to miss it." She whispered against his lips, a gentle smile on her face.

"SG-1?"

"No. You kissing me." She grinned as he chuckled lightly.

"Because we always used to cuddle up on a hillside and kiss?"

"We could make it a ritual." She suggested, her eyes glinting mischievously.

"In what, a week?" It was meant to be said lightly, but the truth in the statement chased away the joviality and replaced it with utter seriousness.

"Let's make the most of it, okay?" She pulled away, looking up in the dark to try and see his eyes clearly.

"Okay. I guess we'll have something to look forward to when this is all over."

She smiled up at him and captured his lips with her own, leaning against him and sealing the unspoken pledge.

*** *** ***

We just assumed, didn't we? We just assumed our love would last all the way through, that it would be stong enough to keep us both alive and just be there, ready to pick up where we left off.

I still love you.

We didn't take all the factors into consideration though, did we? We didn't even take death into account; that one of us might die. I think we both refused to even acknowledge that possibility.

I was so scared the first time you got your assignment. I mean, I knew that you were the best, that you would get out of there alive and intact. But I was still terrified.

And I missed you.

I don't think I've ever missed anyone so much, not even my Mom. I still miss you.

I deliberately sit on my hands, the itchiness combining with a stinging sensation that I know is there because I've scratched them raw.

Did the others know? Did the others know just how quickly we crossed that line once the regulations had been removed? Did they know how much we loved each other?

Probably not. We never really spoke about it the few times we did meet up with them, but then again there were other, more pressing issues at mind then.

That was probably part of the problem, wasn't it?

My eye suddenly catches a movement through the frosty glass, and the sight of the familiar figure huddled in a coat, briskly walking across the near- deserted road quickens my heart beat. The burning sensation in my hands flares again.

What have I done? Why am I doing this?

I'm happy. I'm over it all. I've moved on; we all have.

So why am I stirring up my demons?

*** *** *** ***

Her gut was churning. Her instinct was screaming that it was wrong, that it was bad.

She caught sight of her unit, and realised she was dropping behind so she increased her pace. Afterwards, she realised that being behind was what had saved her.

They came out of nowhere, their guns blazing and the yellow flashes of light burning through the darkness as the bullets churned the dark, peaceful jungle into a ripped and tattered world, shrieks and explosions echoing around.

"Marshall!" Sam screamed, breaking her silence as the form of the big man in front of her stiffened in shock and then crumpled lifelessly to the ground. "NO! Damn it, NO!" She leapt forwards, the branches scratching at her face and the twigs tearing at her skin.

She stumbled over the roots and landed on him.

He was dead, the whites of his vacant eyes glowing slightly in the darkness, and she felt like throwing up.

"Carter!" A familiar voice whipped through the chaotic darkness, and her head jerked up to try and locate the source. "Sam, this way!"

It was O'Connor, screaming for help.

"Hold on, Sir!" She begged, terror starting to weave its spell over her and trap her.

He was lying on the ground, his ragged face glistening in the brief light of the mortars around them, the sweat running in rivulets down his cheek.

"My leg." He grunted, digging his hand into her shoulder as he fought to pull himself upright, his stifled screams of agony jarring her soul.

"Keep still, Sir." She instructed, pushing him back against the trees around them and lifting herself up cautiously onto her knees. The leaves above her head were shredded as a wall of bullets was aimed at her, and she ducked; her eyes wide with fear.

"Walsh, this is Carter." She spoke desperately into her 2-way, her eyes anxiously scanning the surroundings. She could see forms, lots of dark forms in the undergrowth. But she couldn't identify her own people: they were sitting ducks.

"We read you."

"I've got O'Connor. He's down; it's his leg." She flattened herself against the ground again, clenching her teeth as the world above her erupted with gunfire.

"Sit tight. We've got problems on this side too. Over."

"Get out of here." O'Connor ordered, his breaths coming quickly as the waves of pain washed over him.

"I'm not leaving you, Sir." She told him matter-of-factly.

"Doc..." He started to protest, but screwed his eyes up in an effort to contain his agony. "I'm not going to make it." He told her plainly.

She gazed at him in the darkness, and as the dim light from flares and mortars alike filtered down over them through the leafy canopy overhead, she knew something else was wrong.

"Where does it hurt?" She demanded, wriggling over to him and searching desperately for another injury.

"It doesn't hurt." He murmured, and she knew she was starting to lose him.

"Damn it, Sir. I won't lose you too..." She snapped, knowing that her insubordination would provoke a reaction.

He complied her, knowing what she was trying to do. But it was a pathetic attempt. "Don't use that tone with me, Major." He wheezed, and then gazed up at her. "You can't do anything, Carter."

And then she felt the warm stickiness of his blood on her hands.

"But..." She protested feebly, her body crying out it's vehement disagreement. "You said your leg..."

"And my leg hurts." O'Connor humored her, his Irish spirit living up to its reputation. "You should be happy, Carter. You'll get your promotion now..."

"Damn it, I don't want a promotion!" She snapped, and then stopped. It was true, she realised. She had stopped caring about promotions and rankings and her career the second this war had broken out.

This wasn't about getting your own unit to command, it wasn't about earning the most medals. It wasn't about *who* you were in the Air Force.

This was about your team. Your family. Your friends.

Your freedom.

"I'd rather have you for a CO." She said softly.

"You should have had your own field unit by now." He stated gently, groaning slightly as he moved to rest against her.

"No." She shook her head, hiding a smile. "I don't want that responsibility now. I don't want to have people under my command dying."

O'Connor was silent as he listened to her. "You wouldn't let them die, you'd let them get you first.." He whispered.

"Probably." She humored him, knowing that his fading words were a sign of his fading strength. "But that's why I'm only going to be 2IC. Walsh'll make sure I keep my head screwed on straight."

"You've got your head screwed on straighter than any of us out there. You're an old-hand." It was the closest that O'Connor had ever come to commenting about her obvious experience in the front lines, her obvious familiarity with the battles on the ground.

"Not as old as you." She teased him gently, accepting more of his weight as he leant heavily against her. "It sucks."

"Being old?"

"No. This war. Everything. The dying..." She stopped abruptly.

"I think I'm lucky. Getting out of it now before the worst happens." The world turned strangely silent, and the suspense hung in the air as Sam held the dying man in her arms. "You've got to go. You've got to get out of here; there's still a lot more you can give to our cause before your time is up." O'Connor whispered.

"Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Don't talk like that. I'm not leaving you." She said stubbornly, ashamed of the tears starting to slip down her cheeks.

"You won't be. I'm *ordering* you to go." O'Connor coughed, and as he coughed the world around them once again sprung to life with the sound and flashes of gunfire.

"GO!" O'Connor pushed her away with the last of his strength, and the last sight she had of him was his body jerking as the bullets impacted it, and then slipping lifelessly until he was lying on the ground.

*** *** ***

I'm so tense. This is so awkward.

I watch as the cafe door opens, and the eyes peer around the small room as the first of our party arrives. At least one person showed.

She catches sight of me, and almost of its own violation a smile forms on her lips and her hand almost raises in greeting.

Until she remembers.

I don't get up as she approaches. I don't want to have her eyes quickly run over me, checking the changes and mentally comparing my now aged body with the one that I had so many years ago.

"Hi." The words hang awkwardly, almost heavily, in the air.

"Hi." I smile up at her, and she self-consciously pulls a chair out.

She's changed, just like I have.

The years have been good to her though, the lines around her eyes are laughter lines and the new roundness to her cheeks gives her a contented look.

I envy her. I envy the peace of mind that she obviously has. Oh, she's not relaxed now, but generally her life is good to her. The stress and tension I see on her now are all thanks to me. Me, calling this reunion of sorts and reminding everyone of the past, of the hurts.

"You look the same." She says eventually, and I know she's lying. Small talk. I've always hated it, and I know she did too.

"No I don't."

She drops into an uncomfortable silence, and I hate myself for this. For my bitterness.

"How's Lucy?" I ask eventually, and a smile that can only be described as being full of pride forms on her lips.

"She's great. Wonderful. And Cassie is just slipping right into motherhood like she was made for it." She smiles at me, and then raises her eyebrows almost questioning. "You haven't been to see them?"

I shake my head no.

"Oh. She misses you." The words come gently.

Cassie misses you.

How often did the letters and the messages left on my answering machine throw those words at me? Cassie misses you.

I miss Cassie too. But none of them seemed to understand that I had to move on, that I had to make a new life for myself. And the only way to do that was to forget the life that I had before, because it was better than the one I now have. So this reunion is about me finally accepting my new life, and this meeting with my old friends is a test to see just how strong the walls of my new life are.

"She would have come today..." She continues awkwardly, some of my internal misgivings somehow translating themselves to her "... but Michael had already made the reservations months ago and.."

"It's okay, I understand." I smile to show that I do, and it's true. How can I expect Cassie to suddenly stop and drop everything because I want to suddenly see them again? Now. After all this time - I forget how long exactly, but it must be close on five years now since I last spoke to any of them.

"So... who all's coming?" Her fingers are now twisting together nervously on the table top, and I know my silent, bitter manner is the cause of the added nervousness.

"You, obviously... the General... Teal'c and..." I pause. "And Jack."

"Jack?" She raises her eyebrows, and I can see the uncertainty in her eyes.

"Don't look at me like that." I snap, knowing where her thoughts are headed.

"Sam..."

"It's over, Janet. It was over a long time ago."

"I know that... but..."

"Over." I say, the ring of finality in my voice causing several heads to turn in our direction, and I shift in my seat uncomfortably. I hate people looking at me, turning and watching me even though they don't know me.

"Okay." She agrees, but the crease on her brow and the look in her eyes tells me that she thinks it's far from over.

But it has to be over, because we've made our choices.

*** *** ***

"It still feels too good to be true." Jack sighed, shifting as he pulled her closer against him.

"I know." She agreed softly, tightening her fingers around his hand. "It's almost as if... I don't know..."

"It's something that we're still not allowed to have." He completed for her. He sighed in satisfaction, because for once he was in complete understanding with her, and could explain it better than she could.

"Do... do you know where you're going to be stationed yet?" She asked almost reluctantly, burying her head under his chin and pressing herself closer against him.

"No, not yet." He shook his head, his voice muted again the skin of her cheek. "I don't want you to go, Sam."

She shivered as his lips brushed against her ear, angling her head against him. "I have to."

"No, you don't."

She tensed slightly, and he could almost feel her hackles raising. "It's my duty, Jack..."

"I know. But... I don't want to lose you."

"You won't." She promised, brushing a kiss against his cheek. "I promise you. I'm yours for keeps."

"Good." Jack said, sounding a little more confident. "When this is over, Sam... when this is all past us... then I'm going to kidnap you and take you up to my cabin."

"Maybe when we get leave we can go there." Sam suggested lightly, trying desperately to hide her tears.

"Shh... the sun's setting." Jack hushed her, brushing her hair from her forehead.

They sat in silence on the hill top, watching the last one of their sunsets during their 'weekly' ritual, and then as the world once again dropped into darkness and the crickets started to sing, Jack pressed a kiss against her cheek. "I love you, Sam."

She tensed again, and when she turned to look at him he could see the dim glisten of tears on her cheeks.

"I love you too." She whispered, hugging him tightly and squeezing away her tears. "I don't want to leave you."

"You don't have to." He said almost hesitantly.

"Yes, I do. I have a duty, Jack, and I can't just shirk that..."

"I know..."

"But?" She paused, recognizing his tone. He was going to suggest something. Something ludicrous. Something with which she couldn't possibly agree.

"If... if you were pregnant then they couldn't send you out and..."

"And what? I stay home and bring a child into this war-riddled world while you and the rest of my friends are off saving us?" Her temper flared and she pushed him away, anger flashing desperately in her eyes.

"No!" Jack denied hastily. "Well... okay. Yeah. I guess that was the plan."

She stopped and looked at him, and then surprised him by chuckling. "If I could get *you* pregnant..."

He saw the humor in her statement and chuckled, pulling her back into his arms.

"I just... I don't want to lose you, Carter."

"I don't want to lose you either, Sir." She agreed, resting against him. "So I guess we just trust each other and come home at the end of it."

"I guess so." He agreed reluctantly.

"Well... this *is* our last night together for a long time..." She smiled against his lips, and felt his answering smile.

*** *** ***

If I thought Janet's arrival was awkward, waiting for the others is even more so. We sit, so tense and coiled up that our fingers threaten to simply crush the mugs they hold.

I let my eyes rest on her fingers.

"Are you still working?" I ask eventually, desperate to ease the tension.

"Yeah. I have an office down in Boston."

"Boston?" I gaze at Janet, trying to calculate the mileage in my head. I hadn't considered how far away she was when I coerced/arranged this reunion.

"Yeah." She nods her head, and then lifts her glass to her mouth to take a nervous mouthful. "You?"

"Oh." I shift uncomfortably on the chair. "I'm... I'm lecturing again."

"Oh." She nods her head out of habit, and I can see the unasked questions in her eyes.

"Ask it." I take a large mouthful of my now cool coffee, and feel like personally kicking myself for blurting it out as the bitter liquid clogs my throat and scrapes like sandpaper.

"Why didn't you marry him?"

"I did."

"No, not Luke. Jack."

*** *** ***

Sam was early, but there was nothing unusual in that. Punctuality should have been her middle name. She stood just in front of the gate, paused between waiting for someone and just going in by herself.

The dress she was wearing was light and summery, the bright splash of joyous color making her feel like a hypocrite.

She had no right to be here. She shouldn't be here, feeling a contradictory tingling of anticipation mixed in with the grief that came from loss. She should be out there where the action was, where her comrades were. Where her duty was.

Instead she was here. Three weeks leave for her whole unit. The official reason was they'd been serving together now for nearly a year and a half with no breaks, leave or official downtime. The real reason was to cope with their losses. At first they'd lost no one, but two months ago they'd started dropping like flies. Of the eight people that had first started off as 'Walsh's Gerry-rigging rescuers', only three original members were remaining. And the Air Force didn't want to lose them.

In the distance the sound of a car door slamming broke the muted silence. The whole world always seemed silent now, as if they were all waiting a horrified pause for the war to end and life to resume. An air of hesitancy tainted everything.

She knew it was him, she'd known it was since the car door had slammed. But the unmistakable sound of his footsteps deliberately slapping down loudly on the pavement caused the smile that was struggling to burst free to claim its rightful place on her lips, so that when he caught sight of her the joy and relief in her heart was reflected on her face.

Everything in her wanted to run into his arms, to throw her own limbs around his neck, to kiss him deeply and to hold him close forever.

But she didn't, because they were still shy and uncomfortable around each other after their long absences.

"Carter." He smiled at her, and she smiled back stepping closer to him.

"Sir."

And then they were holding each other, crushing themselves together so tightly she wondered how she could still breathe.

"I missed you." He whispered hoarsely into her hair, his fingers tangling through her newly trimmed strands and keeping her close.

"Me too." She agreed, her fingers digging into his back.

They stood like that for a few more seconds, and then almost reluctantly pulled away from each other. But they still stood close.

"Where's everyone else?" He asked, looking around.

"Don't know." She admitted, unable to keep her eyes off him. So long... it had been so long since she'd seen him, held him... tasted him.

"How long do you have this time?" He asked, catching the look in her eye and smiling almost evilly.

"Three weeks." She grinned at him.

"Wow. That's our longest time yet!" He acknowledged, nodding his head so that she'd know he had the same amount of time.

"I only have two." Janet's voice behind them startled them, and instantly they both turned around to face her with large smiles on their faces.

"JANET!" Sam yelped, launching herself into the doctor's arms. "Oh.. Oh..." She laughed, pulling back to gaze at her friend. "It's been so long..."

"Another year gone by." Janet quoted somewhat sadly, the sorrow in her eyes reminding Sam why they were all here.

"And now for General Hammond and Teal'c." Jack added, catching sight of a car pulling up. "Speaking of whom..."

The greetings were just as enthusiastic for the General and Teal'c, but the solemnity of the occasion soon reasserted itself, and the five of them dropped into a thoughtful silence.

"Sometimes... sometimes I think Daniel was lucky." Janet said after a while, her eyes gazing out over the landscape.

"Because he's missing out on the war?" Sam asked softly, her eyes swiveling to rest on Janet.

"Yes."

"I think he's also missing out on a lot of good things." Jack volunteered, and there was an almost audible rush of air as everyone turned to gaze at him.

"O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, almost tentatively.

"Well... there have been wars before..." Jack started out, shifting uncomfortably as he felt all their attention on him. "And things are going to get better."

Hammond nodded his head, but his eyes still bored into Jack's skull. Something was up, everyone knew it. "Jack?" He asked, studying the younger man.

Jack took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and then dropped smoothly (for him) to the ground on one knee. "Sam, would you marry me?"

Sam's mouth dropped open.

"Sam?"

She gazed around helplessly, her eyes flicking from all the equally stunned glances around her.

"Well, don't just leave the man dangling." Janet recovered herself, and found herself desperately trying to hide a smile.

"I... Jack?" She turned to him helpless, and Jack grabbed a hold of her hand with both of his.

"Sam? Please?" He begged, not letting his eyes slip once from hers.

"Okay." Sam stated, and then a smile broke onto her face. "Okay." And she laughed giddily as Jack jumped to his feet and pulled her close, hugging her tightly.

"Thank you." He whispered.

Janet wiped a tear from her eye, and Teal'c and Hammond smiled proudly as they watched the newly engaged couple simply hold each other.

A breath of air washed tenderly over them, and Sam felt her eyes fill with tears. "I don't think Daniel is missing out on anything." She stated matter- of-factly, and turned her head so that it was still pressed against Jack's warm chest while she looked out over the land. "He's still right here."

*** *** ***

My hands are itching more than they ever did. And my throat feels dry.

"Sam?"

Why, why did she have to ask that question out of all the millions of possibilities? "I loved Luke."

"That's not the answer I want, Sam, and you know it." She's angry, I can tell.

What do I say? What do I tell her?

I open my mouth slowly, still at a loss as to what exactly tell her, but then I catch sight of an old man and I feel a smile form on my face.

"General!" I wave him over, showing an unusual display of excitement. I can feel Janet frowning at me, feel her complete bafflement towards my behaviour. But I don't care. I *don't* care that I hurt them all. I don't care that I'm still hurting them now. I *don't* care.

Sure. I think I'm lying to myself again.

"Colonel, Dr." He greets us both with a smile that I haven't seen for a long time, and I can't help myself smiling back.

Janet gets up and gives him a hug. I simply smile at him, and he returns the gesture. It takes him a while to get seated; he's gotten old.

"Well." He rests his hands on the table, a gesture still familiar to me, and then gazes at us with a funny half-smile on his face.

I can tell what he's thinking. He thought he'd never get us all together like this again, never have the opportunity to reminisce over the old times.

I didn't think we'd ever have this opportunity either.

"Anything to drink, Sir?"

He's long since been retired, just like Janet and just like myself, but none of us can seem to drop the titles. They seem to have become more of a sort of nickname for one another, a last link to the past if you like.

"Yes. I think I'll go with a coffee." He smiles at me, and instantly a flood of memories about coffee and caffeine jokes in the SGC attack my memory.

"Still having your instant decaf?" I ask him with distaste, and he nods his head in an almost evil glee.

Janet gets up to place the order for him, and I fiddle anxiously with my empty cup.

"How's Emma?" He asks eventually, and I can feel an unwanted stab of pain shoot through me.

"She's fine." I tell him honestly, a small smile touching the corner's of my lips. "Getting big now."

"I'd imagine so. How old is she now?"

"Nearly five." I acknowledge.

He nods silently, but his concerned blue eyes bore deeply into my own. He is the only one out of the whole group of them who I've kept some form of contact with. At first it was still because of the Stargate and the fact that he had contact with my dad. But then he retired, and the brief, almost sparse phone calls between us were only done because he was taking my dad's place. I haven't seen either my dad or the General in years.

"Is she here?"

"No. She's with Luke, visiting his parents."

He remains silent until Janet arrives back, bearing not only his drink, but a new one for the two of us also. And then we start chatting about the weather.

*** *** ***

She felt like there was a weight hanging in her stomach, bolting her to the crude metal bench she was perched on and slowly stretching her out so that she was just one, long, useless length of stretched out muscle.

"You okay?"

"Fine." She forced a smile onto her face, even knowing as the word passed over her lips that the lie was falling horribly flat.

"It'll be okay, Carter."

"I know." She forced herself to agree, forced the usual inhibitions to bury themselves beneath her military training so that she could focus on the job at hand.

They dropped into silence again, and the tension in the cabin mounted. Normally they were laughing, cracking jokes and keeping the inevitable from their minds.

Not this time.

This time they sat in silence, their blackened faces peeping out from beneath their green camouflage helmets, and only the whites of their eyes seeming to glow in the darkness of their confinement.

She felt sick. Physically sick.

Her stomach went roiling as the chopper suddenly lurched, and her trembling hands clutched wildly at the straps next to her. She could feel Walsh's eyes on her, but she stubbornly gazed out of the windows down onto a black nothingness.

Slowly she felt the calmness descend on her. The empty calmness of knowledge: she was on a mission to kill.

The blackness carried on for miles, stretching further than her eyes could make out, and slowly it crept in through her wide blue orbs until even her soul was drowned in it.

She blinked, and looked around. Movement. She could make out Walsh's form, now bustling carefully in the confined area. Above the roar of the engines she could make out the jingling clinks of the buckles tinkling against straps and metal supports.

She swallowed deeply, the stuffy air thick and tar-like as it traveled down her wind pipes. And with the opening of the jump door and the icy cold blast of air that greeted her, her adrenaline suddenly skyrocketed and her stomach clenched in uncontrollable excitement.

"Let's go." Walsh's whisper was surprisingly audible, and she stood up, her legs quivering in anticipation.

She was a adrenaline junky, there was no two ways about it. She grinned in spite of herself as she thought about it. An adrenaline junky. What would Daniel have said? Then again, he probably knew all along.

She waited her turn as silently the black clad forms disappeared out of the opening, allowing the darkness to swallow them up.

First Walsh, then Davis, followed by Curtis... Kermit... Roberts... She swallowed roughly. Marshall should have been next. And what she wouldn't have given to see O'Neill's form behind her, waiting until she'd jumped before he completed final jump.

But he wasn't there, and now it was her turn to be the last man out. She'd moved up in the world, but she resented the responsibility that she would once have reveled in. She resented it because she'd gotten it through a good man's death.

*** *** ***

I wasn't really expecting him to show up. I didn't think that he would come.

In all honestly, I never believed for an instant he'd talk to me again.

When he held a grudge, he really held a grudge.

He'd gotten old; but then we all had.

His hair is gray, freshly cut but still just as messy and unruly as it had always been; spiking up where his restless fingers had roamed through it. I loved his fingers. He used to lie next to me and just let his fingers roam, no where in particular, just tracing designs over my skin and taking pleasure in the simple touch.

But his eyes are tired. A bone-shattering kind of tired.

I don't remember ever seeing him so tired before, and I feel a shiver of grief run over me.

I did this to him.

Not all of it, but most of it.

The war did the damage, and I could have healed him. But I didn't, because...

Because I'm a coward.

Our eyes meet for a second, and then he slouches down into a chair next to General Hammond, and Teal'c sits down on his other side. Almost as though they're protecting him from me.

Teal'c looks good. He hasn't changed much, but then, I supposed that five or more years out of a hundred and something isn't really going to dent a person's appearance all that much.

I scratch at my hands under the table, and swallow roughly.

What am I doing?

What was I thinking?

I know what I was doing, and I know damn well what I wanted.

I wanted to see him again. I had to see him again.

I still love him. And I shouldn't. I never should have, but I do. I always have.

And I always will.

*** *** ***

"Have you set a date yet?"

"No." She shakes her head, grinning as she gazes down at the ring on her finger. "We want to do it with everyone around."

"You do?" Janet sounded happy when she heard that, relieved that Sam wasn't going to leave her out.

"Of course. What, you thought I was going to get married without my bridesmaid?" Sam pretended to be shocked.

"What? Sam?"

"You heard me, do you want to be my bridesmaid, Janet?"

"I don't know. Depends on the date. You know how busy my schedule is..." Janet teased,

"Jan."

"Sorry. So, how's it going?" Janet asked gently.

Sam swallowed roughly, her fingers tightening on the phone receiver.

"It's O'Connor and Marshall's memorial today." She said softly.

"Oh, honey..."

"It's okay." Sam swallowed, licking her lips. "It's just... It's been over a year and we didn't lose anyone. And then, suddenly we lost both Marshall and O'Connor in the one mission, and then Curtis, Robert and Niki."

"It was like this with Daniel, hey?" Janet asked gently.

"Sort of." Sam agreed, feeling her heart twist. "But... Daniel's gone, but he's not *Dead* dead."

"I know what you mean." Janet agreed.

"You had a visit?" Sam asked interestedly.

"Yeah." Sam could almost feel Janet's smile down the phone. "It was when Cassie sent news of her engagement out..."

"He found out about that?" Sam asked, amazed.

"Yeah. Apparently Hammond told your Dad and your Dad mentioned it to someone and they just 'happened' to be on the same planet that Daniel was floating around on. So, he scared the life out of the SGC personnel when he just activated the gate - as he does - and made his merry little glowing way up here to Egypt where he paid me a visit, and then he went and saw Cassie in Washington."

"Oh. I'm jealous!" Sam was trying not to laugh at Janet's deliberately outrageous description which she knew was aimed at trying to make her laugh. "You'd think he could take a detour to Greece."

"Yeah, he's not supposed to keep in contact with us as such, as you well know, but They are turning a blind eye as long as he doesn't take advantage of it."

"So he's gone home then?"

"Yeah. He didn't really have a viable reason for coming to see you, so he said to say hi to you and Jack."

"Do you think he was there when Jack proposed?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't he..."

"The rules."

"Oh." Sam pondered for a while longer. "I've got some leave coming up... Do you think we could meet at the usual place for an anniversary?"

"With General Hammond and Teal'c and Jack?" Janet checked.

"Yeah. It's nearly four years since he left..."

"I'll see what I can do. It was great talking to you."

"You too." Sam forced herself to keep her tears at bay. "Hopefully I'll see you soon..."

"Yeah. Take care, okay? And don't do anything stupid."

*** *** ***

Hammond is the last one to stand up.

I remain sitting.

It's stupid. Completely ridiculous, but I don't want them to see me. They might find out, and I don't want them to.

"So... I guess we'll see you tonight then, Colonel." He nods at me, and I force a smile onto my cheeks in return. I don't want to go have dinner with them tonight. But I have to. I'm the one who started this reunion, so it's my obligation to go.

"Yes, Sir."

I watch them leave, Janet hugging them all before they break up into their separate ways. Jack and Teal'c together, across the road and Hammond into a cab.

I feel a tear rolling down my cheek.

What have I done? I could have had all this. I could have had their constant friendship these last few years. I could have had Jack.

But I don't have it, because I was stupid. Because of my pride. And my cowardice.

I stand up slowly, and almost reverently pick up the napkin that Jack was playing with. His fingers as are just as restless as they used to be. But once upon a time I would have held them firmly in my own, feeling their strength and warmth resting easily in my own.

I miss him.

There is nothing I want to more right now than to go running after him, to just let him hold me in his arms.

But I can't.

Because I made my choice.

I chose Emma, and I chose Luke.

And I am happy with them, I do love them both.

I just wish...

*** *** ***

There was a weariness that hung in the air. It clung to everything and everyone, until the people walked around with slumped shoulders and tired expressions on their faces.

Her unit was sprawled out under the trees, soaking up the little sunshine that made its way down through the gray clouds over head.

"Don't you think that's clean enough yet?" Kermit asked, watching as she carefully pulled apart her handgun and fussed over it.

"It can never be clean enough." She quoted, a small smile touching her lips.

"Who told you that?"

"An old CO."

"Not that old, I hope." A voice broke the stillness.

She was up on her feet quicker than a silver flash and in his arms before they'd even registered that he was a stranger.

Wolf-whistles and catcalls encouraged them, but they paid no attention to them.

"When did you get here?" She demanded as they broke apart for a breath, still standing pressed closely together.

"About five minutes ago." He told her, pulling her head down against his shoulder and just holding her. "What's this about an old CO?"

She rolled her eyes at him, and then stepped back, linking her fingers possessively through his and tugging her along behind him while she introduced him to her unit.

"Jack, this is Kermit and Colonel Walsh." She grinned insanely, and they couldn't help smiling at her joy.

"You must be the famous Jack." Kermit said, standing up.

"Famous?" Jack raised his eyebrows, pulling Sam back against him and looping an arm around her shoulders.

"She never stops talking about you. Jack this, Jack that... Jack always does this.. Jack taught me that..." Walsh shook her head in mock despairing. "And then you go and put that ring on her finger and things get ten times worse..."

Sam blushed, and tucked her head against Jack's neck. He chuckled.

"Well, Ma'am, I've come to beg your 2IC for a week."

"A week?" Walsh raised in eyebrow, pretending to think about it for a while. "You can have her. Just make sure you bring her back in one piece and not too tired."

Sam blushed again, and said nothing.

"Yes Ma'am." Jack saluted. "Come on then, Carter. Grab your bags, we're off to Hawaii for a week." He ordered.

"Hawaii?" She gaped. "Jack, how did you do that?" She demanded.

"You know me." He grinned, waved at a jealous looking Walsh and an openly grinning Kermit before turning Sam around and leading her away.

"How?" She demanded again.

"It's my next post... so I arranged to go have my week of leave there and managed to wrangle a week for you too."

She grinned up at him, kissed his cheek and then ducked into her tent.

"Nice place." He grinned, and dropped down onto a crate that served as a stool.

"Do you think it's going to be over soon?" Sam asked as she threw some clothes into a bag.

"The war?"

"Yeah."

"No." He shook his head, eyeing her. "Sam..."

"No, I'm not saying that I want to stop fighting.. well, I am.. but only when the war ends." She stumbled around.

He nodded, understanding her.

"It's just that it's been almost three years now..."

"I know."

"And we've been together for all of three months if we add it up together..." She continued. "I just..."

"Let's get married then. Now." Jack suggested.

She wanted too. She really wanted to. But they couldn't. And he knew it, so when she didn't answer him he wasn't offended.

"I'm sorry."

"About what?"

"Being so... depressing." She smiled apologetically.

"You're not." He told her, stealing a kiss. "Let's just go to Hawaii and make that time together three months and a week."

She laughed at him, and returned his kiss lovingly.

*** *** ***

Luke's going to kill me when he finds out how much this room cost.

I could have stayed somewhere cheaper, but I didn't want to. I felt like spoiling myself, and judging by the bill that is going to appear on our credit card, I've certainly done that.

So why do I feel like shit?

My skin is wrinkled, the air is hanging heavy with the scent of bath oils and salts. I can't remember the last time I did this to myself.

But I still feel dirty, and my hands still itch.

I lift them out of the lukewarm water and gaze at them critically. They're shaking. They are shaking as though I've had too much to drink. And all I've had to drink is coffee. Coffee and a cup of chamomile tea which is supposed to soothe my nerves.

Ha. I reckon I need a tank load of the damn stuff before it even makes a slight difference.

But I'm getting bored, and popping the soap suds has lost the appeal it had when I first started doing it ten minutes ago.

I'm going to have to get out soon.

But when I get out I'm going to have to get dressed, and that means I'll be ready to go the restaurant.

And I don't want to go.

Not really.

I don't want to have to sit with them again, making small talk while the air is frigid and awkward between us. It's okay for all of them when I'm not there: They haven't cut ties with everyone like I did, they don't have a shameful mistake to hide.

I sigh and sit upright, pulling myself out of the water and gaze down at the disgustingly full bath.

I slip the white toweled robe that the Hotel provided over my shoulders, and hop out of the bath, keeping my hands firmly on the rail so that I don't lose my balance.

My handbag is lying in my room, and in it are my photos.

I need them now, I need the comfort they bring me.

Emma's face gazes up at me, blissfully happy and smiling at something that I can't see on the small piece of colored card. I love my baby. I love her as much as I love Jack.

She should have been Jack's.

I choke back a sob and snap the photo away from view quickly.

She should have been Jack's.

He wanted kids with me. We both wanted kids.

Does he know? Does he know I have a daughter? Does he know I'm married. I look down at the pale marks on my ring finger. I took my rings off this morning. Why? Why did I do that?

I love Luke.

Only Hammond knows I have a daughter. Janet knows I'm married. I don't know if she knows about Emma.

My life is so screwed up.

I'm so screwed up.

I'm here, alone in my hotel room, crying because my daughter - the child of the man I'm married to - isn't Jack's.

I wish Luke was here.

I wish I could just lie in his arms while he holds me, and pretend that everything is okay.

But I'm getting tired, and the dream is starting to crack.

Luke knows it.

I know it.

It's just a matter of time now.

But what about Emma?

*** *** ***

"So... when we're married..." He kissed her neck gently, "How many kids are we going to have?"

She chuckled loudly, pushing him away from her so that she could catch her breath.

"How many do you want?" She asked him, letting him play with her hands.

"Lots."

"Then we'll have lots." She agreed amicably, cuddling against him.

"Good." He sighed, pulling her close and relaxing.

"Tell me about Charlie." She asked softly, and felt him tense beneath her.

But he didn't pull away like she thought he would, and he didn't close off or change the subject.

"He was... one of the best things that ever happened to me." Jack said honestly, squeezing her tightly. "Sara... Sara used to call him Treasure. He hated that nickname, so I never used it, but I couldn't think of a better one."

"I bet you called him Sport."

"Yeah." He chuckled. She knew him well. Too well he sometimes thought. "He loved playing. He'd play all day long if he could. And then he'd be so tired come dinner time that he'd nearly collapse into his bed, and before Sara could finish reading his story to him he'd be fast asleep."

Sam squeezed his hand gently in hers. "Thank you." She whispered, kissing him gently on the cheek.

"What for?"

"For telling me. For trusting me..." She rested her head against his shoulder again.

"I trust you with everything, Sam. You know that." He whispered into her hair. "Everything."

*** *** ***

My hands are itching, and scratching them is making it worse.

The lights from outside flicker in through the cab window.

I'm late this time.

They're all probably there already, waiting for me. Maybe they've decided that I'm not coming. Maybe they have ordered already.

I'll look like an idiot, ordering while they are all eating. And then eating while they watch. Maybe I won't eat.

My heart beat quickens as we pull up in front of the chosen place. It's classy, I know that much, but for a classy restaurant it's apparently not very expensive. Well, that's what Hammond says anyway. It opened up after we all left the SGC. It opened up after the war.

I wonder if O'Malley's is still open.

Inside music is playing softly in the background, a calming classical piece. It doesn't calm me. In fact, the gentle notes only agitate me further and wind my tension so tight I feel like snapping.

I don't want to do this. I don't want to have to look at him again because it's worse now. I feel the pain of my mistake more accurately looking at him. I feel what I missed out on, what I did to him.

There's no doubt that he's closed off and detached because of what I did to him.

Hell, sending his ring back in a while envelope with nothing else, not even a note... I'm surprised he's let himself be in the same room as me.

He tried to contact me.. my phone.. my e-mail... he even found my new address...

But I hid.

Just like I've been hiding these last five years.

And now he's sitting at that table, right ahead of me, laughing at something Janet said... and he's being civil.

I never thought he would be civil. Hatred, I could handle. Anger, even resentment. But this civility? It hurts because it shows he's moved on.

Oh, sure, he's wary with me. Detached, careful about what he says and when he looks at me there's a certain sorrow in his eyes that I never used to see before. But he is civil, and he treats me nicely.

He's over me.

And I'm not over him. I don't think I'll ever be.

They've caught sight of me now, and they watch me as I approach. There's concern in Janet's eyes. They didn't know I walked with a limp now, did they? They didn't know that...

"Sam, didn't think you were coming!" Janet blurts out, standing up to greet me.

"Lost track of time." I offer absently, smiling around at them hesitantly. "So, have you guys ordered yet?"

"No, we were waiting for you." Hammond shakes his head, and I can't help the smile crossing my face.

They still know me. They know I'd never stand anyone up, no matter how tempting it is. They know they can count on me to arrive.

They used to be able to count on me for everything, from saving the world to lending my shampoo. Now all they count on is my stubbornness.

"Great. I'm starved." I sit down next to Jack, and pretend.

Pretend that I'm okay, pretend that I've moved on. Pretend that I'm over him.

And none of them ask why I abandoned them.

*** *** ***

It was cold. It was so cold.

She twisted nervously in the sand, her numb fingers stinging on the icy coldness of the gunmetal. If Jack was here, he would have made some smart- assed comment about his ass freezing to the ground again, just the way he had those long years ago in Antarctica. It was what now, nearly ten years ago? Not quite, but almost.

She missed him. She missed him so badly that she was getting ready to take up his early idea of getting herself pregnant with him just so that she'd have an excuse to be with him. She wondered how he was doing. The last she'd heard he'd taken a bullet in the shoulder and was still recovering from that. They didn't know if he'd be okay for active service again.

Walsh moved restlessly beside her, and on her other side she was aware of Kermit pushing his small frame close to hers for warmth. Kermit reminded her of Daniel, with his big eyes and peaceful nature. It seemed strange and slightly unnatural to her that he made such a good soldier, that he fought so desperately for his country.

She missed Daniel.

She risked moving her fingers, trying to ease the blood back into them, but they ached and complained bitterly, refusing to feel the smoothness of the gun beneath them.

They'd heard rumors, all of them had. Whispers that the end was drawing near. Soon the war would be over, and they could go home. To what was left of their homes.

"Three o'clock." Walsh whispered roughly, and Sam twisted her neck awkwardly, the stiff muscles taking a while to get warmed up. And then she saw what Walsh was talking about.

The tanks were creeping slowly across the dunes, like giant mechanical beetles. A whole row of them: black, biting ants.

It was one of the things that still gave her cause for a bitter amusement. After all this time, all the possible technological advancements earth could have made by now, they were still using tanks and jeeps, just like they did so many years ago in the older wars. They should have colonized space by now, according to Daniel. But mans greed and drive for power had continually caused them to shoot themselves in the foot, and it halted that inevitable advancement.

She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, the cold air splintering her lungs and waking her while her breath condensed into little crystals in front of her face, glinting for a brief second in the moonlight.

It was beautiful at night, when the moon rose so high and bright that it was like a silver version of the sun, lighting up the world with an almost ethereal light.

The war was anything but ethereal though, and she had to stop distracting herself. They were on a mission. Hopefully one of their last, but a mission none the less.

Kermit tensed next to her, and she knew that the moment of attack would be soon.

They'd made a name for themselves, the three of them. Walsh's gerry-rigging rescuers. It was unusual to have such a small unit, but they were unusual in themselves.

Just like SG-1 had been.

Jack teased her, saying that she was the good luck charm on the teams in both cases.

He'd been unlucky with this teams, having lost so many of his men and women, being reassigned and yanked from country to country without a moment's notice.

She missed him.

Soon. She'd see him again soon.

And that thought warmed her heart.

She hadn't seen him for nearly six months now, and they last time they'd been together was only for twenty minutes at a temporary base camp where they'd come across each other by complete fluke. But she'd had a mission, and by the time they'd gotten back he'd already been shipped to Brazil.

"Ready..." Walsh's voice interrupted her reverie, and Sam cursed herself for daydreaming again.

"NOW!" Walsh hissed, and the three of them burst from their cover behind their dune and ran silently across the vast dunes, black shadows drifting gracefully and almost formlessly over the silvery sands.

The watch didn't even see them: they hadn't been expecting an attack this far from the main activity centers. Sam disposed of her target quickly and efficiently, and then fell into stride next to the tank. It was dangerous; a risky task. But she'd done it a number of times now, and experience was the one thing she had plenty of. The explosives were tacked onto the side of the tank in no time, and just as quickly and unobtrusively as she had arrived, she melted back into a shadowed dip of the dunes and waited for Walsh to join her.

Her heart rate quickened even more as her breath sounded loudly in the noisy air. Where were they?

And then her fears were realised as a shout sounded over the droning roar of the engines and the sickening familiarity of gunshots hung in the air. She saw the small bursts of light as rounds after rounds were fired. She heard shouting, warnings being called in Arabic. She heard Walsh screaming something.

And then a tank exploded. A giant fireball that swept up two other tanks around it and heated her with an intensity that left the taste of fire in her mouth.

Sam was up and running before the wreckage had even fallen to the ground. She had to get out of there, away from the danger and radio to be picked up. That was the plan.

Where was Walsh? And Kermit?

A shout sounded behind her, and she heard the remainder of the tanks grind to a sickening halt. She risked a look over her shoulder, and stifled a scream of terror: they were after her.

Around her the sand became alive with the bullets tearing into it, the fine, silvery grains leaping around and stinging her while the cold air tore into her eyes and threatened to blind her.

She fumbled with her beacon as she raced along; half falling, half running down the dune towards the arranged pickup spot. The chopper was there, ready, it's blades creating a massive wall of sand.

But they were closing in on her, their shouts ringing clearly across the barren landscape. And again the bullets rained down around her. She was nearly there, she was so close...

She could see the medics in the chopper, their white faces illuminated by emergency lighting, urging her on. She was crying in fear and desperation: grief for her lost comrades...

And then her leg was on fire.

She crashed to the ground, a scream of agony tearing through her parted lips, but she didn't stop.

Dementedly she crawled forwards, hacking sobs torn from her throat, her eyes focused on the slowly dimming lights of the chopper and her leg leaking a trail of deep red into the powdery sands that coated her pale hands and stuck to her hair.

And she was so cold but her leg was so hot and the world started spinning and it just hurt so much and then there were hands grabbing hold of her, yanking her forwards and she screamed in a feral agony as the pain seared through her legs.

But she was safe. She'd made it.

There was faces looking down over her, voices babbling excitedly as the world lurched and the chopper took off.

And then it was black.

*** *** ***

I didn't want to come. I didn't want to be here and try to explain myself to them.

But they didn't ask me to explain myself; none of them did.

They just accepted me, and seemed happy to have me back.

What did I do to deserve friends like them?

"I'm so full I think the fish in my pond are safe for a month." Jack comments, leaning back and patting his stomach satisfactorily.

I flinch mentally.

I still haven't been to his cabin. We were going to go their for our honeymoon, but I never ended up going for the simple reason that we didn't end up getting married.

I wonder what his cabin looks like.

"There are no fish in your pond, O'Neill." Teal'c states calmly, bringing up the usual argument, and no one can keep the smiles from their faces.

"There are so." Jack argues defiantly, looking around for support.

"Well, fish or no fish, I really have to get going." General Hammond says reluctantly.

"Me too." Janet agrees, slowly standing up and picking up her bag.

"It has been wonderful, though." General Hammond continues, smiling at all of us. When his eyes rest on me I feel no judgment, no harshness. I just find an understanding there. He's the one who has the most knowledge about what happened and why I ran like I did, but even he doesn't know everything. No one does.

"I have to get going. I have an early flight tomorrow." I agree, and also stand up slowly.

I know they're watching me as I stand, and I know they're curious about my life now, because out of all the things we talked about, out of everyone's new and old anecdotes that had been recited, nothing has been said about my last five years. Janet, Teal'c and Hammond all shared theirs freely; Jack offered some information about his.

And I said nothing.

"I believe that in two months it will be the time when Daniel Jackson left us." Teal'c speaks up suddenly, and we gaze at him in surprise.

I knew that, I knew what the date was. I just didn't think it was that close to the eleven year anniversary.

"Would... Do you want to get together?" Janet asked almost hesitantly, and I can feel her eyes resting on me.

That date has more significance than just when Daniel moved on. It was also when Jack proposed and I said yes...

Do I really want to see him again on that day?

No.

"Yes, if everyone else wants to." I find myself saying.

It isn't for me. If it was about me, I would have run for miles at the suggestion, limp or no limp. But it's about Daniel, and a sign of respect and remembrance that I owe to him.

"Okay."

And everyone agrees.

"The usual place?" Jack's voice is slightly strained, and I look at him sharply before I can control myself.

Maybe he isn't as over it as he pretends.

"Yes."

Oh. What have I just let myself in for?

*** *** ***

She sat on the bed, glaring at the crutches in her hands.

Crutches.

A cripple.

She gazed around the full room, and knew she should be grateful that she was at least in a real hospital. But...

She glared down at the crutches again, and then at the blanket covering her legs. And a pang of grief and rage shot through her.

It wasn't fair.

"Lieutenant Colonel Carter?"

She looked up, her eyes blank as she gazed at the man in front of her. She hated him. It was his decision... his hands... She hated him.

"Would you like to go somewhere else?" He asked, almost kindly.

She would have loved to see him fidget in a nervous way, to see his eyes afraid to meet hers because he felt so ashamed of what he'd done to her.

But he did none of those things, because he was the doctor, he was the expert, and he knew that he'd done the right thing.

She still hated him.

"Yeah. I want to go home."

He sighed, almost as though he were a teacher being faced with an obstinate child that refused to see reason.

"You can't. Not yet."

"Why not?" She knew she was being petulant, she knew she was being completely unreasonable...

"There aren't any means to get you across the ocean, that's why." He stated curtly. "Now, are you going to sit here and sulk for the rest of the day, or are you going to show us why you are a Colonel and get on with your life?"

His words cut. She hated sulkers. She hated people who pitied themselves and the situations they found themselves in.

But that was before this...

And she was making excuses for herself again.

Sam glared at him defiantly and positioned the crutches harshly next to the bed. With a clumsy, uncontrolled jerk she slid off the bed and landed, jarring her knee terribly.

"And I was beginning to think that you had no backbone." He commented briefly before spinning smartly on his heel and marching out of the room.

She felt like yelling something after him, something extremely obscene and rude.

But she didn't. Because there were other patients and even though most of them probably didn't speak English, they'd all probably understand exactly what filth she was hurling after him.

So she gritted her teeth, swung the crutches forwards and laboriously pulled herself after them.

*** *** ***

"Hi." I smile into the phone as he answers it.

"Sam! Hi!" He greets enthusiastically. "How are you?"

"I'm good. You?"

"No, I'm great. So's Emma."

"Isn't she in bed yet?" I ask, a little concerned.

"No." He sounds slightly apologetic.

"Luke..."

"Just this once, Sam."

I sigh, there's not really much I can do.

"So, how are your parents?" I ask, settling back onto the bed.

"They're great. Mom's been baking and Dad's been..." I stop listening to his words; it's all irrelevant really. But I love the sound of his voice. I always have. It soothes me, makes me feel relaxed.

Maybe it's wrong simply phoning him because I need to hear his voice to relax me, but... I don't know what's right anymore.

"What about you? How was your meeting?" He sounds almost hesitant, as if he's aware of just how difficult it is. Even Luke doesn't know all the circumstances.

"No, it was okay."

"Really? You sound... upset."

"I'm fine, Luke." Okay, so that tone of voice *completely* contradicted what I just said.

"Sam..."

"It was just a tiring day, okay?"

"Okay." He wants to say something, but he knows better than that.

And then we drop silent.

And it's an uncomfortable silence.

"Do you... do you want to come down here for a few days after you finish up there?" He asks tentatively.

"No, I can't. I have lectures to give." I'm lying. I want to be by myself. "Is Emma around?"

"Yeah, I'll grab her for you."

I think he feels just as guilty as I do for being happy that he's found an excuse to not talk to me anymore.

I still love him... I just...

"'Lo."

"Emma?"

"Yeah."

"It's Mommy, sweetheart."

"Mommy!" She squeals in excitement, and I can't help laughing at her enthusiasm.

"What are you up to, sweetie?"

"I went horse-riding with Grandpa! And them Grandma and I baked some cookies... Daddy's favorite cookies... and then I played with the kittens and Grandma gave me all Aunty Niki's dolls to play with..."

"Sounds like you've been having fun, sweetie." I whisper. Why am I crying suddenly?

"Mommy, are you okay?"

"I'm fine, honey." I sniffle.

"You sound sad."

"I just miss you. That's all." I lie through my teeth. Yes, I do miss her. But my emotional state is so completely out of whack at the moment that anything will make me cry.

"Oh. Are you coming to visit us here?"

"No, honey. I've got lots of work to do, but I'll speak to you everyday, okay?"

"Okay." She sounds upset, and I feel terrible. It's my own, personal fault.

But I need to be by myself for a while, just to sort things out, to clear my mind.

So that I can be a good wife to Luke.

"I love you sweetie, more than anything in the whole world."

"Me too." She echoes.

And it's true. Because I gave up Jack O'Neill for her.

*** *** ***

"NO! You did this to me!" She screamed, flinging the crutch across the room, her voice breaking under the strain. "You were supposed to save me, make it better! But you didn't!"

"Sam..."

"That's Lieutenant Colonel to you! You're only a Major!" She snapped, sending the other crutch towards him. She missed, but not by much, and the wooden frame crashed into the wall and cracked, a black line appearing down the one side.

He stood calmly and observed her, a certain sympathy in his eyes. "You've been discharged." He reminded her politely, and she froze for a second, staring at him in shock.

And then she slid to the ground, hugging herself.

He stood by, awkwardly, and watched her cry.

For the last month he'd seen her lose her temper. He'd seen her irritated. He'd seen her annoyed, sullen, unresponsive... but he'd never seen her cry. Not even when they told her.

"I..." He cleared his throat, and stepped closer to her almost apologetically.

There was a time a few weeks ago when she would have given anything to see him walking like that towards her, not knowing where to look because he was aware of what he'd done to her. But now... now it didn't matter anymore because what was done was done, and her life was as good as over.

"I... You've got some mail." He paused in front of her, holding out the white envelopes tentatively.

She raised her eyes to meet his, the tears still spilling down over her cheeks and landing salty droplets on her mis-fitted garment.

"Who... who's it from?" She asked almost hesitantly, and he saw something akin to fear in her eyes.

"From... Janet Fraiser... Mark Carter... Cassandra Fraiser...." He looked up.

"Oh." She sounded disappointed.

"You're lucky you got these, you know. They'd been sent to your last base down in Egypt..."

"So they don't know what happened to me?"

"I don't know." He admitted truthfully. "They might know that you got taken down, but other than that they wouldn't know anything. Doctor-patient confidentiality."

She frowned as she looked up at the envelopes, treasures she been craving for so long. But now that they were here, they were within grasp, she couldn't bring herself to take them.

"Aren't you going to take them?" He asked, concern playing through his eyes.

Wordlessly she reached up and closed her fingers over the wrinkled paper, and then pulled them close against her body.

"Aren't you going to read them?" He asked almost curiously.

"Don't you have any other patients?" She snapped rudely, and he couldn't help the smile on his face. This was the woman he was used to dealing with. Angry, resentful, grief-stricken and stubborn as a mule. She carried a chip the size of Texas on her shoulder. And she had every right too.

"I do." He acknowledged.

"Shouldn't you be out doctoring them?"

"Maybe." He sat down next to her.

"Go away." She told him. "I don't feel like reading these with you peering over my shoulder."

He sat for a minute longer, studying her. And then he surprised her, because he reached over and gave her a hug.

She stiffened in his arms, and he let go as quickly as he took a hold of her.

"See you tomorrow, Sam."

"Maybe, Dr. Stephens."

And she watched him leave the room.

*** *** ***

I'm insane.

Definitely nuts.

Luke thinks so too, when I talk to thin air sometimes. But I know I'm not talking to thin air because I only do it when Daniel's around.

He's not happy with me. Downright disgusted actually. He hasn't spoken to me since one visit while I was in hospital in Paris, but he's definitely not a happy camper.

And the fact that an angry breeze started blowing *in* my hotel room with *no* windows open a few minutes after I got off the phone tells me that he's around again, and he's madder than ever now.

He was there today. He was there all along when I met with Hammond and the rest. He was there when I chickened out again, and didn't tell them what happened, why I turned tail and ran without a word.

And he's *not* happy with me.

So I'm running again.

I'm running from Daniel because I'm terrified of what he knows. Of what he's going to tell me. And of the fact that he's right.

Yes, I'm definitely insane.

The air is frigid outside, and my hands are hot and sweaty in my jacket pockets, itching more than they've ever itched.

The more I run, the more things run after me, chasing me and growing in size. It's like a snowball, and right now I'm so tangled in my feelings of guilt, regret and sorrow that I'm completely letting my emotions guide me.

Janet. I need to talk to Janet. I need to ask her something.

*** *** ***

The letters lay on the floor in front of her, turned over so that she could see the names of the three senders.

Cassie. Mark. Janet.

Mark. Janet. Cassie.

Janet. Cassie. Mark.

She reached for Cassie's envelope, and fingered the seal. But then put it down and reached for Mark's one. Her fingers brushed the softened, creased paper and then pulled away quickly.

Janet's envelope watched her silently, just lying there on the ground, waiting to be opened.

She brushed angrily at her hair, rubbing at her eyes and then took a deep breath to calm herself.

They can't see her like this. They can't know her like this.

"Are you going open them or what?"

Her head jerked up, the blood draining from her face as she gazed around the empty room.

"GO AWAY!" She yelled, curling up into a ball and pressing herself together.

"Sam... don't be an ass." And the room filled with light.

She closed her eyes, hiding from him.

But she felt the coolness on her forehead, felt his light fingers running through her hair with the softness of a breeze.

"Go away." She begged. "You can't see me like this, Daniel. It's not right."

"No, it's not right." He agreed softly, settling into his solid form and sitting down next to her. "It's not right because you're forgetting something."

"What?" She demanded, sniffing.

"You're forgetting that they won't mind..."

"*I* mind, Daniel."

He was silent, studying her.

"Aren't you going to get in trouble for this?" She asked eventually.

"Probably." He agreed amiably, and she couldn't help the smile at his usual display of deliberate ignorance. "They are all worried about you, Jack's frantic..." He continued, wishing he could hug her but knowing that he wasn't capable of physical contact anymore than she was capable of flying.

She looked up at him almost fearfully. "Do they know?"

"Do they know what?" He was playing dumb deliberately.

"About... about this." And she waved down at her leg, refusing to look down at something that repulsed her.

"No." Daniel shook his head. "They know you were hurt, but they're not sure where you are and they don't know exactly what's wrong. Things are a bit hectic at the moment..."

"Is the war going to end soon?" She asked almost hopefully.

"I think so." Daniel nodded, watching her carefully. "Sam... when this is over you're going to have to face them..."

"I know." She whispered. "I just... I need more time, Daniel."

"The more time it takes the harder it is. It's not going to go away." He added *helpfully*.

"I know that." She sighed, reaching for an envelope. "I just..."

"He'll still love you, and you know that." Daniel chastised her firmly. "This won't make him hate you or love you any less."

"I know. But he wanted me to stop. He didn't want me to fight. He offered me a solution."

"But you didn't want that, and you both know that if you had taken up that offer that it would have been the cowards way out. Sam..."

Sam licked her lips.

"I will tell them, Daniel."

"Good. And I *have* to go now because someone's coming."

"Daniel?"

"Yes?" He was disappearing again, his face fading rapidly from his vision.

"Don't leave, okay?"

"I have to. I'm not supposed to be here in the first place. I'm sorry, Sam. But you have to tell them."

"Okay. Promise that *you* won't tell them." She called desperately.

"I promise." The voice floated to her on the breeze, and then the room was empty as Dr. Stephens opened the door and stepped into the room, a look of curiosity on his face.

"Who were you talking to?"

"A ghost." She returned shortly, eyeing him determinedly.

He sighed, shook his head in amusement and presented her with a new pair of crutches.

*** *** ***

I think Janet is just as shocked and surprised as I am at my request.

What on earth possessed me to do that? Phone her and demand that she answer my request. I had no right to demand anything, and yet I did.

So now I have no choice. I have to go through with what my emotional mind wanted to do, even though I'm feeling a lot saner now and more reluctant to do it. I have to do it now, because if I don't she'll tell him that I rang her up in the middle of the night asking where he was staying.

I should have thought of checking motels. I know he preferred staying in them to hotels, but I was to confused to think straight. Obviously.

And so here I am, standing on his doorstep, staring at the golden number on the red door, loudly proclaiming '3' to the world.

I hate the number 3. Bad things always happen in threes.

I want to go away. I want to turn and leave.

I'm turning... I'm leaving...

A breeze washes over me, and I'm not stupid. I *know* it's Daniel.

"Go away." I hiss.

"Do it." He whispers softly, the words only meant for my ears.

"If you go."

As much as I love Daniel, I don't want him hanging around while I do this.

If I do this.

I turn to the door again. Number three.

I knock three times.

And then I wait.

It takes a few seconds, and I almost turn away in relief, thinking he's not there. But then I hear the unmistakable sound of a footfall clunking down heavily. His steps sound annoyed. I'm not surprised, it's nearly 1am.

I'm insane. Definitely insane.

The door swings open. I was expecting it to, but until it actually did swing open I didn't really believe that he would be standing there, clad only in his boxers and gazing at me with a stupefied expression of shock on his face.

"Hi." I say almost hesitantly.

For a second, the briefest second imaginable, his faces twists to a mask of anger. Incredible rage is present, but then it's gone. Once again hidden by that mask of indifference.

But something inside me snaps, and I can only feel elation bubbling up inside of me.

That second of anger showed me that he hasn't forgiven me. And if he hasn't forgiven me, then the pretense of moving on is just that: a pretense.

"Well, this is a cliché." He almost drawls, and then he leans against the door frame so innocently, gazing at me with those distant brown eyes, as if he's challenging me to doubt that he really has moved on. That me standing on his doorstep at nearly 1am in the morning isn't affecting him.

"Yeah.. well..." A cliché. I know how he feels about clichés: He hates them.

"What do you want?" He demands, almost rudely.

"I... I wanted to talk to you."

Jack almost snorts in laughter, and I can understand why. He wanted to talk. For nearly two months he kept badgering me, trying to find me to talk... but I didn't want to. I didn't want to talk to any of them.

And now, when he's 'moved on', I finally want to talk.

Of course I can understand this. I just don't know what to do about it.

"Can I come inside?" I ask timidly.

He's going to make me beg.

"No." It's not said rudely, not said horribly. Just simply.

No.

And with that single word all the hopes and dreams my crazed little brain has dreamt up in these last few seconds about him not really having moved on are dashed to pieces.

There is someone else inside. There has to be.

Why else won't he let me inside?

Talk about clichéd.

"I... I'm sorry." I stutter, and before he can say another word to hurt me even more I turn on my heel and flee.

So what.

I tried, Daniel, I did. I knocked on that door, and you *know* how damn hard that was.

So now, as I hobble unevenly, the truth hits me with the force of a sledgehammer.

All this time I was kidding myself, hoping against hope that I somehow *would* end up with Jack. I don't know how, I don't know when or where or just how exactly I'd do that without hurting Luke...

But that's not going to happen.

I've been kidding to myself. Telling myself that I'd moved on, created a new life.

I'm still clinging to the one from before. From before I got shot. Before I met Luke. Before the bottom fell out of the world as I knew it and popped my bubble of bliss.

And, God help me, I've fooled no one but myself.

*** *** ***

The therapy was working, she was the first to grudgingly admit that.

And Stephens had become used to ducking flying crutches when she lost her temper. That's why she was now in possession of a stainless steel pair; they tended not to break when flung at the concrete walls.

"You're going to have to read them sometime." Stephens' voice reached her.

She glanced up, dismissing him disdainfully as he entered the room, bearing a tray of food.

"I got you some curry and rice..."

"Rice?" she asked in disbelief. It was odd, but out of all the possibilities, rice was one of the things that the Western world was now running short on.

"Yep. So be grateful and eat up like a good girl." He set the tray down on the floor next to her and dropped down so that he was seated next to her.

"Why are you so nice to me?" She asked eventually, eyeing him.

Something had happened to her, he realised. And it had happened a week ago, when he was sure he'd heard a conversation between her and someone else. But she'd denied talking to anyone, and there had been no one in the room with her.

"Because I think you're a nice person." He said amicably.

"I am?" She asked him doubtfully, raising her eyebrows. "Maybe. Once. A while ago though."

"So? If you were nice once then you can be nice again."

She sighed and chewed on her rice slowly, thinking about it.

"I hate being so horrible all the time." She said eventually.

"I thought so."

"But I can't help it. I'm so angry at you.. so mad..." Sam stopped eyeing him. "But it wasn't really you. And it wasn't really the person who shot me. It was the war." She sighed. "Want a bite?" She offered him some food, and he almost laughed.

"What?" She demanded.

"You kept telling me what a horrible person you are... you've been doing it for weeks now. But every time you say that, even when you don't say that and are in the middle of your worst temper tantrums you're always generous, offering people stuff..."

She stopped, mulling over what he said. And then she laughed. "I'm so screwed up." She choked on her rice and was ashamed to feel the tears leaking down her cheeks again.

"No, you're not." He said gently, rubbing her back.

"Yes I am. I'm here, blubbering like a baby because I can't make up my mind if I'm nice or not... if I'm happy or not..."

"That's okay. Everyone's like that..."

"You're not." She allowed him to hug her this time, resting her body against his. It had been so long since she'd allowed herself to be comforted by someone.

"Maybe you should let them know that you're okay..." He motioned to the letters lying scattered on the floor, covered in droplets of saliva mixed with curry and rice.

She sniffed, and didn't move from his hold. "I... How do I tell them?" She asked, trying not to cry again.

"I don't know." He admitted honestly. "But you shouldn't just leave them in the dark like that. Sooner or later they will find you..."

She knew they would. Jack especially. He wouldn't rest until he'd tracked her down.

"I'm just so tired." She whispered, wrapping her own arms around him and drawing comfort from him.

His hand stroked her hair gently, soothing her.

"Sing something." She asked him hopefully.

"Why?" He sounded surprised, slightly amused even.

"I like your voice."

He smiled again, kissed her forehead and then obediently started singing to her.

*** *** ***

I find them exactly where I left them: crammed into a small cardboard box covered with a garish yellow and green contact paper. I settle myself on the hotel bed, rubbing my aching leg, and unceremoniously dump the whole lot on the bedspread.

And then I sift through them.

I know exactly which letter I'm looking for.

The letter I read that night when I betrayed him. The one I read right before pulling his ring off my finger and kissing Luke Stephens for the first - and definitely not the last time.

I don't know why I did that now, why I let Luke kiss me and hold me like that. Maybe I just needed someone to remind me that I was still okay, that I was still a woman even though... I still shudder thinking about it.

Jack wasn't around.

And that was my own fault.

So I made my bed - literally - with Luke Stephens. My doctor and friend. And now my husband.

I'm insane.

I'm sincerely beginning to believe I'm insane.

The letter is the most creased out of them all, because it is the happiest one out of them all. When I read it I'm reminded of our plans, our dreams, our hope... our love even. Our love that I threw away.

I let my eyes skim over the faded lines, the blurred ink, and feel tears blurring my vision even more.

I miss Jack. I miss our planning. I miss everything about him, even his temper and moods.

But I'm betraying Luke.

My hand reaches for the black wallet, lying almost abandoned on the other side of the bed. Inside is a picture of Luke, myself and Emma. A family. A happy family.

Luke and I are friends. We're close. We love each other.

But the more I think about it, the more I realise that it's wrong. A wrong kind of love. Luke is like my brother, Mark. Someone I'm close too, someone I adore... someone I love.

But Jack...

Nothing can ever compare with Jack simply because I won't let it. I keep nurturing the love and caring in my heart for him, keeping it strong and burning because I refuse to let anything dampen, dim or belittle my times with him.

I'm startled out of my reverie when the phone rings.

"Sam, it's me."

"Janet?" I'm surprised, it's nearly 2am in the morning now. Then again, I shouldn't be surprised. I rang her at about 12:30, and of course her curiosity is going to be aroused.

"How did it go?"

"How did what go?" I play stupid, knowing full well what she means but ignoring it all the same.

"Don't be stupid, Sam. What happened?"

"I left."

"What?" She's confused.

"He had someone else, Janet. So I left." And I'm ashamed to hear my voice catch on a sob that arose out of no where.

"What?! No, I don't believe that..."

"He did, Janet." I swallow, composing myself again. "So I left. End of story."

"No, it's not..."

"Yes it is. I'm flying home tomorrow, Janet. Home. To Luke and Emma."

"Emma?" She sounds curious. Uh oh.

"My daughter." I almost whisper.

"You have a *what*?" She exclaims, shock on her voice. "Oh.. Sam... why didn't you *tell* me..." And then she stops. "Can I come over?"

"What? Now?"

"Yes, now." She says firmly. "You and I are going to have a LONG talk, honey. No buts. Besides, I want to see photos..."

"I only have two with me..."

"That's okay. That's good. I still want to see them."

"Okay." I sigh. "You have my hotel?"

"Yeah. Be over soon."

We hang up, and I gaze with dismay at the letters spread out over my bed. I'm getting myself tangled deeper and deeper into a past I had finally decided to cut away from me. This is stupid.

But I want to see Janet. I want to talk to her again. I want to be friends with her like I used to be. Even if that means talking about Jack.

I miss Janet.

So I sit, gazing down at the photo of my daughter, and wondering why, even though I've screwed my life up so badly, I would *never* want to get rid of Emma. Never change the fact that I had her.

Janet knocking on the door brings me out of the reverie, and I hastily stuff my letters back into their box, shoving it in my bag as I hop up and yell out, "Just a second."

I nearly trip over my dressing gown in my rush to the door, so when I fling the door open, still clutching it for balance, I fall over for real when I see Jack standing there.

"Carter." He looks down at me, almost amused by my clumsiness.

And then his eyes travel over me, and I try so desperately to hide it from him. But his face pales and he gapes at me, stunned as his eyes rest on the stump where my leg once was.

*** *** ***

"You shouldn't be here." His gentle voice wasn't rebuking, it wasn't scolding. It was simply stating the fact.

"I know." She agreed softly, and then turned to look at him. "Luke..."

"What?" He asked her, crossing over to stand next to her at the window.

"They say the war is going to end soon." She said eventually.

"Yes."

Neither of them spoke. They both knew that when it was over, she was going to have to return home and face what she had been putting off for so long.

"I... I read them." She said eventually.

"And?" He asked, eyeing her.

Her eyes are red and puffy; she had been crying. Silently she thrust a letter at him.

.... Soon, Sam. Soon. The rumors are becoming more than rumors... you've just got to hold on. When this is all over then it's just going to be you, and me, our cabin, the pond with no pesky fish in it and the world around us. And of course babies. Lots of babies. We can spend all day just walking around, hiking, fishing, swimming... whatever.

I miss you...

He stopped reading and gazed at her, seeing the grief in her eyes, and he was confused.

"What... I don't understand?" He asked almost tentatively.

"I can't... I can't do that." She whispered hoarsely, her breath shuddering through her frail body.

"Why not? It sounds good..." Luke said pointedly.

"I know. But..." She trailed off, and he watched her. "Luke... have you ever loved someone so much that it hurts?"

"Yes." He said simply, nodding at her. "But she died. A long time ago."

Sam swallowed harshly as she looked at him. "I love Jack. I really do love him..."

"But?"

She sighed, dropping into silence.

He watched her as she stood gazing out into the darkness, her hair and face illuminated by the moon and city lights.

She was beautiful.

And then she lifted her hands, tears on her cheeks sparkling like the diamond in the ring on her finger as she pulled it off and let it rest in the palm of her hand.

"Sam..." He said gently, frowning as he gazed at her. "I think that..."

"No." She shook her head. "You don't understand, Luke. You don't know Jack, you don't know what my history with him is."

"No, I guess I don't." He acknowledged. "So what are you going to do now?"

She smiled a sad smile and quipped, "Remain single for the rest of my life."

"No, I doubt that." He shook his head firmly.

"Who'd want a cripple?" She demanded disdainfully.

"Say this had happened to Jack. Would you still love him?"

"Of course."

"Would you still want to marry him?" He asked gently.

"Yes." She nodded her head firmly.

"Well then?"

She sighed, closing her eyes. He didn't understand. He didn't understand that Jack respected her because of her physical capabilities. And her mind. Just having the scientist part of her left... he couldn't be happy just loving that.

"Do you think I'm pretty?" She asked, her voice a whisper.

"Yes." He stated calmly. "You're beautiful."

"I'm serious, Luke." She glared at him, and he saw the uncertainty in her eyes.

"Yes, you are beautiful Sam. And you're a beautiful person as well. I think you're being stupid."

"Why?"

"You're throwing him away, and he obviously cares about you." Luke thrust the letter in front of her face.

He wouldn't understand though. He was refusing to let himself understand her point of view.

"Sam..." He started out, but she was gazing up at him so helplessly, so completely trusting that it seemed completely natural to let his head bow and to touch his lips to hers briefly.

She gazed at him, stunned for a second, but she didn't move away.

Maybe, his heart whispered to him, maybe she was breaking off her engagement because of *him*. Because she loved *him*, and not Jack.

And he kissed her again.

*** *** ***

"Get out!" I hiss.

"No." His hand snatches out and yanks me off the floor, nearly wrenching my arm out of its socket as I'm lifted to my foot. "Why didn't you tell me?" He demands harshly, and I'm terrified of the anger I see in his eyes.

I've never been scared of Jack before. Never.

"I... I don't know!" I yell at him. "Get out!" I point out to the hallway. If I had two feet I'd stamp one of them on the ground for emphasis. Unfortunately, over the years I've learnt that hopping doesn't have the same effect.

"Is this why you left me?" He hisses.

"No." I shake my head. I don't want to tell him. I *really* don't want to tell him. I'd rather lose my other leg as well as the one I've lost already than tell him the truth.

"Then *why*? Damn it, Sam, WHY?" He slams the door shut, and advances towards me. His eyes are seething.

I automatically shove my hands behind my back and hop backwards, searching desperately for something to hold onto for balance. I can see my prosthetic limb lying on the floor next to the bed where I'd dumped it, ready to show Janet what happened all those years ago.

"I... I was scared, Jack."

"Of what?" He demands, stopping inches from me, his faces suddenly calming itself again as he physically collects his anger and hides it away.

"Of... of what you'd say." I whisper, colour flooding my cheeks.

It's a lie. It never was about what he'd think. I knew he'd love me until the ends of the earth, no matter what happened to my body. He'd proved that to me a long time before.

It was about what I thought.

And then it was about Emma.

His face turns from forced blandness to a look of complete disbelief. "You thought... you thought... Bullshit, Sam. Don't you *dare* try and say that. You *knew* it wouldn't matter.. You *knew* it." He yells, and I can see his whole body shaking with barely controlled rage. "Tell me the fucking truth!" He demands, stepping closer and clamping his hands over my upper arms.

"I... shit.. Jack..." I try to push him away, try to break his hold on me. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." And then I'm crying; sobbing like I haven't sobbed since the night after I first betrayed him and conceived Emma.

"What? Tell me, Sam, damn you!" He shakes me slightly, barely constraining his temper.

"For fuck's sake, Jack. I'm *married*!" I push at him.

He lets go of me, jumping away from me as though I physically punched him in the gut. And then his face pales, his mouth drops open and he gazes at me. He's completely lost. I've just crushed what was left of his hope.

And I feel like shit.

"I'm married." I repeat softly, my shoulders slumping into myself. In a futile gesture of hiding myself from his hurt, I close my eyes and bow my head. "I'm sorry."

A strangled noise escapes him, and my eyes fly open. But he's stepping backwards, gazing at me as though I had suddenly been infested by a Goa'uld. The enormity of what I'd done five years ago comes right back and slugs me one in the gut.

He turns then, and grabs hold of the door handle, ready to sprint out of the hotel and keep running, never to return again. There is nothing I can do.

But Janet's standing there, one hand raised to knock on a door that has suddenly been opened, and the other clutching a paper bag obviously containing a bottle of wine and chocolate. I hope it's red wine - strong, red wine.

A strangled sound escapes from me this time, and I crumple to the floor, half-laughing even though I'm still crying.

Could things possibly get any worse?

*** *** ***

"Sam, I know you're there. Sam, come on. Pick up the damn phone. Sam. SAM!"

She sniffed stubbornly, refusing to let the tears trickle down her cheeks.

"Please.. Sam..." He was begging. She could tell by the tone of desperation to his voice.

She would have picked up the phone. She would have given anything to have him tell her it was okay and that it didn't matter and that he still loved her no matter what.

But she didn't deserve it now. She didn't deserve it because of what she'd done.

Her foot ached painfully, and she reached down to scratch it almost before remembering it wasn't there. The knowledge stung: Phantom pains.

But Luke had said that the prosthetics would start being produced again in a week or so, simply because so many limbs had been lost and so many people were cueing up for them.

Luke.

She shivered, her skin coming up in goose bumps.

The phone rang again.

"Sam... please. Why won't you talk to me? Please. I... what have I done?" There was a silence as he waited for her to pick up.

But she didn't.

She couldn't.

She wanted too.

But she couldn't.

"I... I love you, Sam."

He hung up, and the tears ran over her lids.

Her hand trembled as she picked up the phone, and scrabbled next to the receiver for the piece of paper. Her fingers were shaking and her sight blurred so badly by tears as she punched in the digits that she was worried she'd dialed the wrong number.

"Hello."

"Hi. It's Sam." She whispered, sniffing and rubbing her nose with a sleeve.

"Sam!" The expression of relief and hesitancy was obvious. "How are you?"

"I'm okay." She lied, closing her eyes and gritting her teeth. "Luke... I'm pregnant."

*** *** ***

"What is going on here?" Janet demands, not budging as Jack tries to press past her.

"I'm sorry... I'm so sorry." I mumble, rocking myself and making a pathetic attempt to hide my gruesome stump from view.

"Sam, what... Oh..." Her voice trails off. She must have caught sight of the stump, and I shudder pathetically.

"I..."

"No." Janet's voice cuts over Jack. I hear the door close and then somewhere behind me the paper bag rustles as she places it on a table. "I know this is probably none of my business... but *what* exactly is going on here?"

I swallow roughly, pressing my sobs down and wiping my raw eyes on the rough toweling of the robe.

I look up at Jack, and I catch him looking back at me with a similar expression. For some absurd reason, I feel like Jack and I had been up to some or other mischief, and Janet had caught us and now, like a principle, she was demanding to know what had been happening.

But as quickly as the feeling of being in cahoots with him comes, it goes.

"I..."

"I just found out." Jack states calmly, and it takes Janet a minute to register what he's talking about.

"What did he just find out?" Janet asks suspiciously.

"Luke." I say simply, and I'm aware of Jack flinching next to me.

"And Emma?" Janet asks. If looks could kill, I would have fried Janet to the floor.

"He just did then." I sigh.

Jack knows who Emma is. He would know that she's my daughter, without me having to spell it out for him.

He holds his hands up.

"This... it's over. It has been for a long time. Thank you for finally having the decency to tell me." he snaps.

"Jack!" I call, begging.

He doesn't have the whole story yet, and I want him to have it now. It's to late to do anything, I know that. But I still want him to have it because I owe him the truth. I don't want him to assume things, or get the wrong idea about how faithful I was to him.

"What?" He sounds exasperated.

"I... I haven't told you what happened." I whisper.

"I don't need to know what happened." He snaps angrily. "You left me for someone else and had a baby with him. What more needs to be said?"

"No!" I snap angrily. "No. That's not what happened."

"Oh? It's not?" He demands.

"I... Luke was...."

"Oh please." He snorts, his hand resting on the door knob.

"Jack, I love *you*." I throw at him.

"You do?" He's nearly laughing now, but it's not a happy laugh. It's bitter. "So why the *hell* did you fuck another guy?"

"Shit, I don't know, damn it!" I scream at him, searching around for something to throw.

It's a terrible habit I've had since I lost my leg. When I lose my temper (which happens all too often) I throw things. Usually my crutches. And usually at Luke.

But now I want to throw something Jack.

"Sam!" Janet's voice snaps between us, and we both turn to her again, startled. I'd forgotten she was there. "Now, we are all going to sit down and have a nice, long, *civilised* discussion, okay?" She raises an eyebrow.

I shift uncomfortably. As much as I like Janet, as much as we were best friends and I'd like to get that friendship back, I'd much rather *not* have this conversation with Jack while she's present. There are some details she *really* doesn't need to have.

She seems, luckily, to realize my reluctance, because she shifts her weight onto her other foot, gazes defiantly at Jack before sighing. "Okay. This isn't *really* my business, so I'm going to sit outside and wait until you guys have discussed this. And neither of you are going anywhere until this has been sorted out. Understood?" She snaps, and I remember why she was CMO at the SGC.

"Yes Ma'am." Jack agrees, and I nod very reluctantly.

"Good."

And she waltzes out of the door, slamming it behind her.

A thought strikes me as the two of us stand uncomfortably in the room: I hope these walls are soundproof because Jack and I have sure been doing a lot of screaming. It's only 2:15am, and by the looks of things, that screaming isn't going to stop any time soon.

*** *** ***

"Sam..." She looked up as Luke entered the room. His face was serious, and she could feel something in her gut doing somersaults.

"Luke... what colour do you think?" She asked cheerily, trying to cut him off before he could say what he's about to say.

"Sam... Can we talk?"

She sighed and dropped the squares of fabric onto the chair, turning to face him. "Okay."

He sat down on the chair, his dark eyes gazing intensely into hers. "Are you sure about this?"

"Of course I'm sure." She said lightly, averting her gaze.

"Sam..."

"I've thought about it, Luke. And I'm sure."

"What if Jack arrives tomorrow? What then?" He demanded.

She frowned in thought. If Jack arrived tomorrow then he'd leave the instant he saw her. So it wasn't really an issue anyway.

"Then he arrives. So what." She shrugged, and hid her misgivings far better than she thought.

"Are you sure?"

"Yes." She snapped, growing irritated with his questioning. "Are *you* okay about this?" She demanded, eyeing him.

"Of course I'm okay about... it's just you... I... I took advantage of you, Sam. And I don't want you to be marrying me just because of the baby." He said eventually, and she knew what it had cost him to say it.

"I'm not." She said. And it was only half true. "I love you."

He gazed at her, studying her eyes. And then he seemed to resolve something within himself because he nodded his head, leant over and kissed her forehead, resting a hand on her swollen stomach. "I love you too." He whispered, and stood up.

"And tomorrow I'll prove it." She whispered, almost defiantly. "I'm marrying *you* tomorrow, Luke. Not Jack. I'm having a baby with *you*." She stated.

And he gazed at her. He wanted to ask her if that was really what she wanted. He wanted to make sure.

But he knew that if did ask those questions she'd either lie to him and herself, or see the truth and leave him.

And he didn't want her to leave.

So he was satisfied with the love she was prepared to give him.

*** *** ***

My throat's dry.

I need a drink.

I need him to say something. Anything.

I want to look at him. But I can't. I don't want to see what he's thinking. But I do want to see what he's thinking.

"You should have trusted me." He says eventually, and I jerk my eyes towards him.

"I know."

"Why didn't you?" He asks softly.

He looks tired. Completely drained. Shaken. He looks old.

We've been yelling at each other. Screaming. Swearing. And then we talked. We still screamed. We still yelled, but we talked too.

"I couldn't even trust myself anymore." I say eventually, looking at my hands. They're still itching. I still want to scratch them.

"You could always trust me."

"I know." I whisper, feeling the tears coming again.

"I love you, Sam." He whispers, crossing the floor to where I'm perched on the edge of my bed. "I always have."

"Even after what I did?" I manage, not daring to look at him.

He touches my chin, forcing me to look up in his eyes.

"I told you it was forever."

"But..."

"It hurts, I'm not going to lie. But... I love you. I can't help that."

"I love you too." I admit, and his forehead rests against mine. "But we're back where we're started now, thanks to me."

"That's okay then." He whispers, brushing a whisper soft kiss against my brow. "We're friends then. I'd rather have you in my life as a friend than not at all."

I cry then, putting my arms around his shoulders and holding him close while I bury my head in against his neck. "I'm so stupid."

"I'm not going to deny that." He says, and I can almost feel him chuckle against me.

What have I done to deserve his love? Why is he so understanding, so patient with me? So loving? Why the hell doesn't he hate me? I hate me.

"Jack..." He lowers himself to his knees as we hold each other. "I'm sorry."

"I know. So am I." He agrees gently.

And then I realize why he's so accepting: he understands. He understands what I've lost because it's what he lost. We lost each other.

"Thank you."

"It's okay." He whispers, and then his lips cover my own.

I don't protest as he kisses me gently, and I open my mouth beneath his gentle insistence and return the kiss gently. It's so bittersweet that I can feel tears running down my cheeks, because we're saying good-bye all over again.

*** *** ***

"Hey."

"Hey yourself." She smiled up at him, but he wasn't stupid. He saw the tear traces down her cheeks.

"What's wrong?" He pressed a steaming mug of coffee into her hands.

"Nothing." She sniffed, delicately pressing away the tears. "Is Emma sleeping?"

"Like a log."

"I never thought babies cried that much." Sam said with feeling, changing the subject with relief. "I have a new respect for my parents."

"Yeah." Luke grinned in agreement. "Sam... do you still hate me?" He asked tentatively.

"What?" She gaped at him, completely surprised. "Hate you? Of course not. Why would I hate you?"

"I... I did this to you." He motioned to her leg - to what was left of it.

"No, I don't hate you. You did what you had to." She said simply, refusing to look down at the stump hanging over the chair. It was ugly.

"Thank you." He sighed, sipping his coffee.

He watched her discreetly as the scalding liquid slid down his throat. He wanted to ask her... he wanted to ask her why she'd married him. But he knew. He knew the truth.

She'd married him because of Emma.

"Sam..." He said hesitantly, eyeing her.

"Mmm?" She raised her eyes absently, obviously focused on something internal.

"I... nothing." He smiled awkwardly, and then he stood up roughly. "I'm going to have a shower now."

"Okay."

She sipped her coffee as he left, and then was ashamed to feel the tears trickling down her cheeks.

"Where are you?" She whispered, gazing around. Grief seared through her as the world remained silent. "Daniel? Please Daniel. I'm sorry."

But not a leaf stirred.

And a salty tear trickled down her cheek into her coffee as she closed her eyes in regret. He wasn't going to come. He wasn't going to 'visit' her on his 'memorial' day.

Because he was probably with the others, and it was her fault that she was by herself.

*** *** ***

I'm drunk. Pleasantly buzzed. Tipsy. Sloshed. Inebriated. Zonked. Out of it. Merry.

Drunk.

And I don't care.

I haven't been drunk for years. Since the war. Since my last night out with Walsh and Kermit.

I wonder how Kermit's doing. I haven't spoken to him since after the memorial service for all the lost members of our team. And I was shocked to find out he'd survived, having been taken POW.

I should ring him sometime.

"Chocolate?"

Janet sounds drunker than I do. That's probably because she drank more than I did.

The mini bar is empty, wrappers and empty bottles strewn haphazardly around the room. Luke is going to kill me when he gets this bill.

But I don't care, because I feel relaxed. Free. Unburdened.

For the first time in too long, I feel at peace with myself.

So stuff the stupid bills.

Mind you, I'm probably only feeling this way because I'm so sloshed that right now *everything* seems all nice and rosy and fuzzy and I'm just floating along in a nice little daze.

Something kicks my ankle. Hard.

"Why are you smiling?" A slurred voice next to my ear asks curiously.

"Don't kick me." I kick him back equally hard, and relax against him again.

He kicks me again. And then I kick him. And he kicks me.

"Stop it." Janet complains, rolling over and crushing my foot beneath her heavy form.

And then I start giggling.

This is ridiculous. I'm lying in a bed, completely drunk at nearly 4am in the morning, with two people who I haven't seen in over five years because I've been an idiot, they're *just* as drunk as I am, and I have a flight to catch in little over three hours, and we're having a slumber party.

"Shut up." Janet prods at my leg, and I kick her annoyingly. "SAM!"

With a thunk she rolls onto the floor, and from long ago experience I know she's fast asleep.

Which leaves me lying alone on a bed with Jack.

And he knows it.

Suddenly I don't feel so drunk anymore.

"Sam..." He whispers, lowering his head to mine. I can smell the alcohol on his breath, see the slight fuzziness in his eyes. And I know this is wrong.

I turn my head so that his lips graze my cheek, and beg that he'll understand why I'm doing it.

I won't be unfaithful to Luke.

I was never unfaithful to Jack. I didn't kiss Luke until the rings were off my finger and the was decision made.

I won't be unfaithful to Luke.

His lips meet mine and I think that I've finally gone to heaven.

"Oh..." He groans, leaning over me and resting more of his weight on me.

The kiss deepens quickly; I'd thought I'd forgotten how easily we lost ourselves in one another.

But even though his weight is a welcome burden on top of me, and his tongue a enjoyable intruder, it's wrong.

"Jack..." I whisper, pushing him off.

And he stops, pulling away. Just like I knew he would.

We separate, instinctively shuffling across the bed and away from each other.

"I'm sorry." He apologizes after a while, knowing that he crossed the line.

"It's okay." I accept it. "I'm sorry too."

There's silence, only broken by Janet's snores.

"She sounds like a tractor." Jack states, grinning at me.

And once again we both burst into laughter, trying to stifle it beneath our hands. Hiding our sadness beneath laughter.

*** *** ***

Her heart raced as she saw caught sight of them, one by one.

Hammond was sitting near the front. Teal'c was seated next to him, the tilt of his head showing his intrigue and curiosity at the cultural experience.

Janet and Jack were in the same row, seated near each other.

By rights, she should have been up there. Her chair was there, she could see its empty glare from where she was almost hiding underneath the trees with Emma possessively crushed in her arms.

Luke thought she was insane, refusing to go up and receive her medals from the President.

But he didn't argue.

Maybe he knew Jack would be there. Maybe he realised.

He probably did.

She stiffened her resolve. Luke was her husband, she loved him.

Emma moved restlessly in her arms, and all her doubts about her decision fled. This was right. She was doing it for her daughter.

"Colonel Jack O'Neill."

He hadn't been promoted then, she realised with a sorrow filled pang. By rights, he should have been a general. But he'd stepped on to many toes, hurt to many egos and bent to many rules to ever go higher than Colonel.

She watched as he marched over stiffly to add another pin to his collection. She bet that the whole lot weighed more than him put together. He was literally glittering in the sun.

Her heart swelled with pride.

She watched him take his place again, the detached mask still in place.

He'd lost weight, there was gauntness to him she hadn't been expecting. It had been a year, after all, since the war ended.

"Dr. Lieutenant Colonel Luke Stephens." She smiled as he accepted his medals, his gaze landing on her proudly before he took his place again.

A warm glow filled her heart, and she smiled through her misty eyes. He deserved it. He deserved his medals and promotions.

He deserved better than her.

"Dr. Colonel Janet Fraiser."

Janet had moved up in the world too, obviously. She shifted, her tail bone growing numb with the prolonged sitting period.

Soon her name would be called, and no one would step forward to the gather her medal. They'd keep it for her, mail it out later perhaps. Whatever.

She didn't really care about the medals. Not anymore.

She saw Jack flinch as her name came up, saw him look around with a poorly disguised eagerness that was quickly replaced with indifference when he realised she wasn't there.

He was a lousy actor.

So was she.

That's why she had to hide here, under the trees, with her hair died a disgusting red colour and green contacts in her eyes.

Luke thought she was crazy.

And he was disappointed in her too, that much was obvious.

She could live with his disappointment though.

She could never live with Jacks'.

*** *** ***

"My head." Janet groans.

I turn my head slowly to Janet, barely breaking the motion of stuffing the last of my items into my bag.

"Don't be so noisy." Jack mumbles.

"What time is it?" Janet asks in turn.

"Just after seven." I whisper, putting my dark glasses on.

"What are you doing up?" Jack demands, half raising himself from the tangle of blankets at the foot of the bed, but failing miserably.

"Packing. My flight leaves in... twenty minutes." I whisper.

I'm late.

My head hurts.

And my hands are itching again.

"Do you have to?" Jack complains.

I stiffen slightly.

"Yes. I've got to go home."

The rooms drops into an uncomfortable silence.

It's not better yet. Not by far.

Last night I talked more deeply and personally than I've ever done in my whole life.

And if I want these friendships to work, to get back as close as possible to what the were, then I'm going to have to be prepared to work for them.

But I'm happy.

I'm happy knowing that I still have all of them, that I still have Jack, even if it is only as a friend. And the almost hesitant, genuine smile he's sending me tells me that however reluctantly he's admitting it, he's grateful for that too.

"Next time bring Emma along." Janet orders, not moving.

"Okay." I agree, relieved that there is going to be a next time.

"And make sure you don't forget the Anniversary." Jack orders.

As if I'd forget that.

I stand awkwardly in the doorway, holding my bag.

Silently they watch as I put it on the ground, pull up my trouser leg and carefully fit on my plastic leg.

I look up and meet their eyes, hesitant.

"And for crying out loud, next time you lose a limb, *tell* someone. We might just find it for you."

And my mascara smudges as another tear trickles down my cheek. I've just been crying waaay too much lately. But they did find and return something to me: my soul.

"Don't miss your flight." Janet shoos as I as scurry over to her awkwardly and bestow a quick peck on the cheek.

"Call when you get there." Jack orders as I offer him the same token of affection.

His hand touches my cheek briefly, a look of regret in his eyes that's quickly hidden beneath his usual, Jack-O'Neill-veneer.

"Yes Dad." I sigh, pick up my bag and head out the door.

I'm going home now.

My hands still itch.

I haven't just been granted the life I've always dreamed of.

But I've decided that I'm going to make the most of the one I've got. That I'm going to be happy and enjoy the one I've chosen, and that I'm going give my little girl everything I can.

Even if I have to love another man for her sake.

*** *** ***

FINISH WED 13 MARCH 2002.

Some reviews would be absolutely LOVED. I really to want to know what ppl think about this fic.

Thanx for reading it

sharim