Walking had never been so difficult before. It felt like she was dragging two rocks, each weighing a tonne, one strapped to each leg.
Who knew fear could be so heavy?
Dragging her feet, Sam forced herself to keep her eyes staring straight ahead. She wouldn't allow herself to see the pity on the faces of the passing SFs, wouldn't let herself acknowledge the sadness she knew would be there lingering in the depths of their eyes.
The SGC wouldn't end at his death but something inside it would.
Something inside her.
The small crowd gathered outside the infirmary sickened her although she knew on some level that they were grieving, too. Even the sight of her friends and her father sent the coils of disgust into a new frenzy. They were standing there, just *standing there*. Not doing anything but looking at her.
She wanted to shout, to scream, to tell them to do something, to save him.
Tell them to go away and leave her alone. Them alone.
But she knew they wouldn't leave. They wouldn't intrude, either, but she knew she wouldn't be left entirely on her own with him. They didn't trust her. Didn't know what she'd do. Knew what she'd say and probably wanted to hear it themselves.
It would be the only time she said it, after all.
The opportunity to say it under more pleasant circumstances hadn't passed them by. It hadn't had the chance to come.
She took a deep breath before walking into the room though her lungs strained and still felt empty.
Catching your breath wasn't easy when your heart was breaking.
The bright light offered no comfort; the sounds of the multiple machines beeping offered no distraction.
This was it. The end.
Even the sight of the clean, seemingly sleeping man covered by the thin infirmary sheets couldn't lift the haze she felt surround her.
To anyone who didn't know him, he looked well. Someone had taken care of him, one part of her mind dimly noticed. The beads of sweat that had formed during the night had been washed away and the cloth used had seemingly soothed him as his brow was no longer furrowed in pain or anguish.
The hallucinations had driven her from his side and she regretted that now.
They hadn't been only a temporary occurrence while his body fought the poison invading it. She knew now what they were: the beginning of the end.
He looked peaceful now. She supposed that was something to be grateful for although being grateful was the last thing on her mind.
He was dying. Soon to be dead.
Leaving them all. Forever.
"I don't understand," she mumbled mostly to herself as she approached the bed. "You were doing better.. Janet said you were going to be okay.. I don't understand how you can be dying now."
The seat beside the bed went ignored.
The majority of her night had been spent in it and she refused to sit any longer.
Sitting meant doing nothing. Sitting meant waiting. Sitting meant accepting what was going to happen.
"How can you do this to us?" She muttered, her movements becoming all the more erratic as she paced by his bed, never going too far but needing to put some distance between them. "How can you just give up?"
The words coming out of her mouth weren't the words her friends had been expecting. They weren't the ones she'd expected to say. But still they tumbled out of her mouth, increasing in anger though never increasing in volume.
"I don't understand how you can be so selfish. How you can leave us now after we've come so far. I don't know how you can turn your back on everything and just let go."
She wanted to despise him, wanted to hate him.
Pity, fear and grief did strange things to a person.
"Why aren't you fighting anymore? That's what you'd be telling me or Daniel or Teal'c to do. Fight. Never let go, never give in. Never let it win."
Her pacing came to an abrupt halt, her eyes wide as she gazed down at him.
She felt frozen, she felt numb.
"You're already gone, aren't you?" She whispered the realisation even as her hand crept away from her side and came to rest on the bed beside his. She could feel the warmth of his hand but knew it was residual warmth and nothing more. "That's why you're not fighting anymore. You left sometime in the night.. It's only the machines keeping your body alive now."
Her chest rose and fell. She inhaled and exhaled, never having known it to hurt so much.
"I'm sorry for everything I said and didn't say." Her voice was louder than a whisper but softer than a sigh. "I should have learnt my lesson when we lost Daniel but I was still afraid. Were you? I guess I didn't want to risk losing everything, didn't want to make a mistake. You felt that way, too, didn't you?"
Shaking her head, Sam found herself being grateful for the chair she'd wanted so much to avoid, sinking into it as her legs gave way.
"I don't know why I'm asking you questions. You barely replied when you were here, you're not going to answer me now, are you?" She pulled her hand back, folding them in her lap.
It was intriguing, feeling so completely numb. Feeling cut off from the world around her, feeling like a witness instead of a participant.
Her shoulders slumped dejectedly and her eyes stung but she kept the tears at bay.
She wouldn't cry over him, not yet. Not with witnesses and not so near to him.
He would've hated to see her cry.
"I wish things had been different but now I know they never will be. I wish I'd had the strength to tell you how I felt and the courage to go with you to your cabin. I'm sorry I didn't. I let us both down, just like you have now by leaving me behind."
The muffled whispers behind her of her team, the Doctor and her father grew fainter.
The machines stopped beeping.
The room started to fade away into nothingness.
'Strange,' was her last coherent thought, 'I thought this was what was supposed to happen to you.'
"Major Carter?" General George Hammond stared at her from at the top of the briefing room table. His expression was one of mild concern, his eyes questioning. "Are you okay?"
Sam stared at him for a moment, her breathing uneven, her pulse irregular. Her hands were clammy, her eyes wide and slightly wild, her mouth slightly agape.
Why was he asking her that? Why was she sitting in the briefing room?
Didn't he realise Colonel O'Neill was..
"Hey, Carter. You feeling alright?"
.. Sitting right beside her? Looking as concerned as the General?
"What.. I.. What?" Glancing from the Colonel to her teammates in turn, Sam noticed the identically concerned expressions on their faces. She shifted uneasily, grasping together her trembling hands. "What's going on?"
"You stopped in the middle of your sentence," Daniel Jackson explained from where he sat across the table. "Are you okay, Sam?"
'Asides from everyone asking me if I'm okay and somehow.. seeing.. my CO's death.. Sure! I'm peachy!' Shaking herself mentally, Sam bit her lip to keep herself from blurting out the words.
She'd been talking about her hopes for finding a substantial supply of naquada on P8X973. She remembered that. But then.. what? She'd walked to the infirmary with Doctor Janet Fraiser after having been told that despite all of the attempts made by the pretty doctor and the Tok'ra Selmac, the poison from the arrow the Colonel had been hit with was winning the war.. She remembered having spent days at his bedside with her teammates, remembered going to it one more time.. Talking to him.. And then.. it all faded away and she found herself..
"How long was I out of it?" She asked quietly, fixing her gaze on the General. She knew the Colonel was staring at her in an attempt at getting her attention but she couldn't look at him. Not yet. Not with the memories of losing him still fresh in her mind.
"About five minutes," Jack answered, hovering a little closer than usual. He managed to keep his voice from reflecting the worried state of his mind but couldn't stop unease from coiling itself in his stomach. "You want to go see Doc?"
Her head turned then, her distant eyes locking momentarily with his. She gave a small nod and wordlessly pushed her chair back from the table. "With your permission, General..?" She added as an afterthought, getting to her feet at Hammond's acknowledgment and acquiescence of her request. "Thank you."
Avoiding the questions she knew they wanted to ask, Sam swiftly left the room before they had a chance. She didn't slow her pace until she was enclosed in the elevator, protected by the thick metal doors.
'What's going on?' She wondered, leaning heavily against the back wall.
The elevator slowly made its way from floor to floor, lights flashing in turn. The dim mechanical sound the only answer to her silent plea.
How do you tell your doctor, who happens to be a really good friend, that you think you might be going crazy?
'You don't,' Sam thought wryly to herself as she sat as instructed on one of the infirmary beds as Doctor Janet Fraiser hovered over her. 'You let her come to that conclusion for you.'
"You're working too hard," Doctor Fraiser advised finally, scowling down at her friend. "You need more sleep and you need to remember to eat regularly. I'm serious, Sam," Janet continued when she caught her patient rolling her eyes. "If you don't start taking care of yourself, you're going to work yourself into an early grave."
Barely managing to suppress a shudder, Sam glanced over furtively at the other bed in the infirmary. The one she'd avoided sitting on, the one she so vividly recalled sitting beside.
"Now, are you going to tell me what your daydream was about?" Standing with her hands on her hips, Janet stared down at her, an eyebrow raised in her no-nonsense manner.
'It wasn't a dream,' she wanted to say. It was anything but.
Squirming, Sam found she had to break eye contact and glanced around the room. "It wasn't about anything in particular," she eventually lied. "I just faded out.. Thought I was somewhere else.. Then I heard my name being called and was back in the briefing room." Forcing herself to meet the doctor's scrutinising gaze, she smiled a little too brightly. "It's no big deal, Janet. I'll just make sure I get more sleep tonight and won't skip anymore meals, I promise."
"It wasn't a big deal but you still came to see me without someone having to twist your arm?" Unconvinced, Janet refused to back down and stood her ground. "You looked terrible, Sam. Like death warmed over. Your pulse was racing, your breathing irregular and you looked scared. I'm not going to buy the 'it was nothing' routine so cut the crap and don't try it."
Raising an eyebrow of her own, it was Sam's turn to stare quizzically at the doctor. "Are *you* okay, Janet? You seem.. tense."
"Tense?" Janet snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. "You'd be tense too if you knew where Cassandra was last night."
Relieved at the change of subject, Sam felt her body relax. Talking about Cassandra Fraiser, maybe even ranting about her, Sam could handle. Having to relive what she hoped was a one-off experience was something she didn't want to try handling. "I thought last night was the big slumber party at Louisa's house? Though I'm not supposed to call it a slumber party, am I? That's too immature."
"There was no slumber party, childish or otherwise. Cassandra lied." Janet's eyes narrowed in the way Sam had come to recognise meant she was seriously annoyed. "Do you want to know where my daughter was last night? Are you ready for this?"
"Probably not but you obviously need to talk about it." Sam made herself comfortable and tried to keep the smile off her face. She hated to admit it - well, not really - but she enjoyed seeing her friend get flustered over the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Not only did it give them something non-work related to talk about but it also made her feel in the smallest of measures relieved that she'd been looked over in the search for a guardian for Cassandra. "Go on, where was she?"
Janet's eyes darkened, her scowl deepening as she hugged the clipboard closer to her chest. "She was at her boyfriends," she replied, her eyes narrowing. "Not Dominic, he's apparently 'so last month.' This is a college guy, a mature young man. A creep who no doubt loiters around schools trying to pick up impressionable young girls and have his way with them."
"His way or his *wicked* way?" Sam couldn't resist asking, suppressing an amused grin. Part of her wanted to be as outraged as Janet, wanted to have words with Cassandra about the dangers of the opposite sex but.. The biggest part of her remembered that wasn't her job. Her job was to be Cassandra's coolest, calmest and most collected favourite aunt-type-person so that, in the event something bad should happen, Cassandra would always have at least one person she could depend on and talk to. Then, of course, Sam could tell Janet and act as the go-between between mother and daughter if necessary.
Besides, she told herself rationally, if she could keep Janet talking about her problems with Cassandra for a little longer, the good natured Doctor would - hopefully - forget all about the real reason behind Sam's visit to the infirmary.
Glaring at her, the petite Doctor's cheeks flushed. "I'm being serious, Sam," she retorted sharply, her hands resting on her hips. "He's a *college* guy. He has no right sniffing about my teenage daughter."
Biting her lip, Sam resisted the urge to point out Cassandra would still be a teenage when she started college and gave her friend a lopsided smile. "You could always tell the Colonel and Daniel," she suggested helpfully. "I'm sure they'd talk to the guy for you.."
"Hmm.." Her eyes momentarily lighting up, Janet paused as if to consider the idea.
"It was a joke, Janet." Sam spoke up after a few moments of silence, pushing herself up off the bed. "If you want, I'll talk to Cassie," she offered seriously. "I'll find out what's going on."
"Would you?" Her features arranging themselves in a grateful expression, Janet smiled brightly. "Thanks, Sam. I'd really appreciate it."
Returning the smile with a genuine one of her own, Sam let one shoulder rise and fall in a casual shrug. "I was thinking I'll leave now and take a few hours to relax so I'll call her when I get home."
"That's a good idea," Janet nodded approvingly. "I'll tell General Hammond I recommended you go home and have an early night."
"Thanks, Janet." Heading for the door, Sam let her shoulders slump in relief, her collected expression giving way to one of exhaustion and concern when she was sure her friend couldn't see her. "See you tomorrow."
Keeping her head down, she walked as quickly as she dared from the infirmary to the locker room, gathering her things together before making a swift detour to her lab to make sure everything was as it should be, heading for the surface keeping up the same hasty pace.
The drive home had calmed her nerves somewhat. She would have felt better if she'd ridden her bike for a few hours but the relatively slower journey in her Volvo had almost the same effect.
Curled up in the corner of the couch, having changed her BDUs for a pair of the oldest, comfiest sweats she could find, Sam held a glass of red wine in one hand and the telephone in the other.
"Hi Cass," she greeted the teenager warmly when Cassandra Fraiser answered the receiver on the other end.
"Sam!" Her tone brightening considerably, Sam could easily picture the teenager sitting cross-legged on her couch at home, her face lit up with a smile. "Did Mom tell you how unreasonable she's being? I mean, grounding me for a month! A whole *month!* Is that not the most unreasonable thing you've ever heard?"
Grinning, Sam closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the sofa, taking a leisurely sip of wine as she listened to the teenager rant about her mother. This was the side of motherhood she didn't wish for, the side she could do without. "She didn't tell me you were grounded," she said softly when Cassandra paused to breathe. "She did tell me you're seeing a college guy, though. And you spent the night with him?"
"It wasn't like *that*," Cassandra protested, the roll of her eyes easily detected in her tone. "We didn't sleep together. Well, we *slept* but that's it. You know I'm not ready for anything else."
Relief spreading through her from her stomach upwards, Sam smiled into the receiver. She sighed softly, her mind wandering as she started to get comfortable on the couch. "I'm glad to hear that, Cass. Very glad. But you're a smart kid and that's one of the things I love about you."
Cassandra snorted down the phone. "I'm *not* a kid, thank you very much. I'm almost a grown woman."
There was silence on the other end.
"Sam? You still there?"
The receiver slipped from Sam's fingers, bouncing off the couch to land on the floor. The glass of wine she was holding followed suit, falling from fingers that were numb.
She felt like she was there though she knew she couldn't be. She felt like a voyeur, watching something she had no right to witness but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't turn away.
She couldn't look away.
She couldn't wake up.
Through the pouring rain, she could see Cassandra arguing on the pavement with a young man she somehow knew was the teenager's boyfriend. She watched him reach out to her, saw Cassandra pull her arm away, an expression of hurt distrust on her face.
She wanted to move, wanted to help.
She couldn't do anything.
Cassie and her boyfriend kept arguing, their motions becoming more frantic, more jagged. Then it happened.
Cassandra turned away, the rain blinding her. She stepped off the path and into the road without checking first.
Sam saw the headlights and tried to shout, tried to scream. No sound came out. She watched in horror as the driver spotted the teenager and slammed their breaks, heard the screech of tires against the damp road and closed her eyes just seconds before hearing the telltale thud of something being hit.
"No," Sam murmured, her eyes screwed shut, her hands clenched into fists at her side. The scene replayed itself over and over in her head. "No, no, no, no, no. Not Cassie. Not Cassie."
Opening her eyes, she saw the driver and Cassandra's boyfriend knelt beside the prone form of the girl she loved like a daughter. The driver was on his cell phone, shouting to be heard over the rain. Cassandra's boyfriend held the teenager in his arms, sobbing, his hands rapidly turning red.
Praying to whoever would listen to make her come back. Praying that it wasn't too late.
Sam sank to her knees, her head buried in her hands, wishing she could wake up.
"Is she okay?"
"Is she breathing?"
"She doesn't look good, Mom. Is she going to be okay?"
"Shh. She's waking up. Stand back and give her some space to breathe."
A slight moan escaping her lips, Sam lifted a hand to her face, covering her eyes before she opened them. Parting her fingers slightly, she peered between them and looked up, startled to find three anxious faces looking back at her, one of which she recognised only vaguely.
Him. Cassandra's boyfriend. The one she hadn't met yet.
Cassandra pushed her boyfriend to the side and moved closer, her young eyes troubled, twisting her hands in front of her. "Are you okay, Sam?"
Wordlessly, Sam nodded and moved her hand from her face, pushing herself up as she did so. Glancing around, she was relieved to find she was still at home, half-lying, half-sitting on her couch. The glass of wine she had been hold lay on its side on the floor, the remainder of the drink standing out in stark contrast, a blood red smear on the pale cream carpet.
~ ~ ~ Blood. Pooling underneath her head, the golden blond hair rapidly changing colour.~ ~ ~
Blinking, Sam suppressed a shudder and made herself to look away, forcing the memories to the dark recess at the back of her mind where she would try to keep them held prisoner. 'What's going on? What's happening to me? First the Colonel, now Cassandra.. Who's next?'
"Sam? Sam, honey, can you hear me?" Janet was gazing at her with concerned eyes, her tone implying the question had been asked more than once. The doctor reached out and gave Sam's hand a reassuring squeeze, subconsciously providing her with a tangible link to the real world. The colour of her friends skin - pale, almost translucent - and the wild, haunted look in her eyes worried her more and more with every passing second of silence. "Sam? Talk to me."
"I'm fine, Janet." The reply was automatic and also a lie, a lie they both acknowledged.
Turning to her daughter, keeping her hand clasped tightly around Sam's, Janet managed a reassuring smile she was sure her daughter could see through. "Cassandra, why don't you and James go and get Sam a glass of cold water from the kitchen?"
'And take your time about it.'
Cassandra opened her mouth to protest but closed it again before any words could come out. The expression on her mother's face was one she knew well - and one she knew she shouldn't argue with.
Grumbling, Cassandra led her boyfriend from the living room through to the kitchen, dragging her feet as she went.
Wise to her daughters actions, Janet waited until the sound of footsteps faded and the tap in the kitchen was turned on before turning once again to her friend, her expression one of troubled concern. "What happened, Sam? I'm not buying the lack of sleep and stress excuse this time?"
Squirming, Sam debated whether to come clean and admit she was seeing things or whether running the risk of having her friends think she was crazy again was too big - and too real a possibility. "I don't know what's going on," she decided eventually, settling for a safer version of the truth. "I keep.. seeing things."
Janet stared unblinkingly. "Seeing things? Like what? Things that aren't here? Aliens..?"
"No," shaking her head, Sam chewed anxiously on her bottom lip. "More like events.. Things that haven't happened yet.. Things that hopefully won't happen."
"What kind of events?" Janet unconsciously leaned closer, her grip on Sam's hand tightening instinctively as her mind recalled the last time someone close to her claimed they were experiencing visions. "Tell me what you saw."
Lowering her gaze to their joint hands, Sam kept her voice low so Cassandra and her boyfriend couldn't eavesdrop. "I've only had two so far. One was in the briefing room this afternoon. I saw the Colonel die, Janet. He'd been hit with a poisoned arrow on a mission. I have all the memories of going on the mission, of being ambushed. I remember you telling us he was going to be okay and then having to call my Dad because the poison was fighting back.. There was nothing we could do. He died, Janet, and then I seemed to wake up and found myself in the briefing room with the guys waiting at me to finish what I was saying."
Swallowing the lump that rose in her throat, Janet could only give her friend's hand a sympathetic squeeze as the ramifications of what she'd seen sank in. Clearing her throat, she, too lowered her gaze. "What was the other vision, Sam? The other event?"
"It.. It was Cassie." It hurt to think about it, hurt to remember. "One minute we were talking on the phone.. The next I was standing in the rain, watching her have an argument with her boyfriend.. She walked out in front of a car.. I wasn't supposed to be there, Janet, it wasn't like the time before when I was saying goodbye to the Colonel, when I was actually *there*. I couldn't do anything for Cassie, I could only watch as the car hit her and she.. she.. I think she died. I felt her go and I don't ever want to feel that again."
Her voice slightly hysterical, her body trembling, Sam forced her eyes shut and did her best to block out the onslaught of memories that threatened to overtake her.
"I don't want to remember it, I don't want to see anything else." She lifted her head, her eyes just as wild as before. "I don't want to lose either of them, Janet. I don't want to be able to see whatever it is I'm seeing. I don't want to know if something bad's going to happen, not if I can't do anything to change it."
Janet took a deep breath and willed her own hands not to shake. "If.. If they're real 'visions' of future events and not something else, we'll do all we can to stop them, okay? I promise you that. But now I think we should both get back to base and get you checked out. I want to make sure you're okay. That there's nothing.. physical.. that can account for what's going on."
Her head shot up, her eyes wide as comprehension dawned. "You think I could have a tumour? Like when Jonas..?"
"I don't want to assume anything." She was careful to keep her voice gentle, doing her best to keep the worry plaguing her from being heard. "But you were the only one asides from Jonas who Nirrti.. experimented on.. I know we checked you out when you got home but there's a small chance whatever she did wasn't fixed entirely so has taken a while to assert itself." Pausing to calm herself down, Janet somehow managed a small smile of encouragement. "It's probably got nothing to do with a tumour but I just want to check it out. Humour me?"
"On one condition, Janet." Her face was still too pale but Sam's expression was one of determination. "We don't tell General Hammond or any of the guys until we know what's going on." She silenced whatever protests came to her friend's lips with a single look. "I don't want them thinking I'm crazy, I don't want them doubting me again. And I don't want them to worry unnecessarily if this is just a fluke and there's nothing wrong with me."
Her lips tightening into a thin white line, Janet reluctantly nodded, understanding the reasons behind the request but not liking it one bit. "Okay. We should know what's going on by tomorrow morning when your next briefing is scheduled."
"Okay." Her breath slipped between her lips in a deep sigh, her blue eyes troubled. "Let's go see what's going on."
Getting to her feet, Sam wasn't surprised to find her legs were still shaky so clutched onto her friend's arm for support as Cassandra and James re-entered the room. She listened half-heartedly as Janet wove a clever cover story for Cassandra and her boyfriend's sake, her mind spinning, her heart pounding in her chest.
She wanted to know what was happening to her but was afraid of what the answer could be.
The night was a long one for both doctor and patient. Janet wanted to be sure she had all the information she could possibly have on what was wrong with Sam so ordered a CAT scan and EEG to try and get to the bottom of it.
Pouring over the results of the tests, she was relieved to find no evidence of a brain tumour, cancerous or otherwise, but was less than happy with what the results revealed.
Holding her notes close to her chest, Janet slowly made her way over to the bed Sam was lying on, forcing a smile when her friend looked up from the white infirmary gown she was dressed in, her eyes round with hope and anticipation.
"It's not a tumour," Janet answered the unspoken question immediately, wishing she could feel as relieved as Sam when the Major's shoulders slumped. "I did find something unusual, though, Sam. You know the normal human brain usually acts at between five and ten percent of it's capacity?" Janet bit down on her lip until her friend nodded slowly, the relief she'd seen on Sam's face fade rapidly fade away. "Your brain seems to be operating at double that rate, at least twenty percent." She opened the folder she was carrying and showed her friend a print out of the EEG scan. "This section of the brain is usually associated with physic phenomena, Sam. In most people, it's dormant. Inactive. In a few rare cases, it has appeared to be active.. as it does in your case."
"Why?" Her hands kept busy by fidgeting with the thin sheet on the bed, Sam tilted her head to one side, schooling her features into a calm, thoughtful expression. "Why has it suddenly become active and how do we make it go back to normal?"
The doctor bit down on her bottom lip and clutched the folder back to her chest. "My best guess is that something Nirrti did to you wasn't corrected. Maybe something so small it went unnoticed by Eggar and by me when you come back. It's possible this has been building for a while or that this.. ability.. has been there for the last few months, lying dormant, waiting for something to trigger it."
"What could trigger it, though? Recently, what could've caused it to suddenly happen.." Her voice trailed off, her eyes growing wide as she thought back, searching her mind and settling uneasily on an answer. "The electric shock from the Talthus ship.. Ever since then, I've been having moments of déjà vu.. Nothing big. I just thought it was a sign I needed a break because everything was getting a little too predictable.."
"Predictable?" Janet found she had to fight back a small smile at Sam's choice of words. "I never thought I'd hear anyone who works here say the job was getting predictable."
Correcting herself, Sam returned the smile somewhat sheepishly. "The on-world routines," she clarified, "when the world or even the base aren't in jeopardy. I still love it but I was getting a little.. concerned.. when I could know instinctively who's going to come into my lab and what they're going to ask.." The smile slipped from her lips. "Guess it wasn't so much instinct as being able to foresee it, was it?"
"Maybe in part." All the humour she'd seen in the situation disappeared as the seriousness returned. "There's no way that I know of to reverse it, Sam. The only thing I can suggest as your doctor is that you try and control it.."
"..And that we hope it doesn't get worse," Sam finished grimly for her. She forced a somewhat weak smile. "I know you hate it, Janet. I know you hate not being able think of something to make it go away but that's okay. You can't fix everything."
Reassured in part but still wishing she could do more to help, Janet swallowed the lump in her throat and hung her head a little. "I seem to remember telling you that before and it not doing any good."
"Can we keep this to ourselves till after the next mission?" Her eyes slightly glazed, the sudden shift in conversation took them both by surprise. "There's something.. I can't explain it but I need to be there. I have to go with them."
Her medical conscience warred with the need to ease the growing desperation on her friends face. Eventually, she signed and tightened her hold on the folder. "Okay, but after this mission, we both tell General Hammond and the rest of SG-1. You agree to let me run more tests and you bear with me while we figure out how you can control it, even if it means no more missions for a while." She fixed Sam with the sternest look she could muster. "No arguments, Sam. Letting you go on this mission is one thing. I'm not prepared as your doctor or as your friend to put you or anyone else at any further risk."
"Okay." Resisting the natural urge to argue and demand to stay on active duty, Sam signed and nodded. "It's a deal. You let me go o the mission today, I agree to take it easy and let the others know afterwards."
As satisfied as she was going to get, Janet left the infirmary for her office, leaving Sam with instructions to get some sleep. Sam lay awake for a long time afterwards, struggling to put her finger on why she felt a driving need to accompany the other members of SG-1 to P8X973, finding it impossible to rest so close to the gurney where one of her best friends had seemingly died just hours before.
Her teammates were pleased to see her at the briefing, eve more so when Doctor Fraiser announced she was fit for Gate travel. They saw the bags under both women's eyes, noted how pale they seemed to be but none of them thought too much of it. After all, surely Doctor Fraiser wouldn't let Sam go with them if she was ill or suffering in any way.
Doubt weight heavily on her mind as she watched from the briefing room as SG-1 geared up and stood waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Janet stared down at the foursome, noticing with a heavy heart that Sam was keeping her distance, looking every bit on edge and uneasy as the doctor herself felt.
"Doctor Fraiser?" General Hammond left his office when he noticed her hovering by the window. "Is something wrong?"
Startled by his sudden appearance and by the sound of his voice, Janet gave a small jolt, her gaze flickering briefly to him before flicking back to the woman slowly making her way up the ramp, apprehension apparently making her drag her feet.
Once she reached the top of the ramp, Sam paused beside her teammates, turning to stare up at the window, her gaze locking with Janet's through the thick pane of glass.
The two women exchanged a knowing look and Sam gave her a grateful smile before stepping through the gate after her teammates.
The Stargate shut down and the voice in her head fell silent. It was too late for regrets now. Too late to change her mind.
"I hope not, General," she murmured softly in reply, her gaze still focused on the now dormant Stargate. "I certainly hope so."
Something in her stomach fluttered.
Something that felt eerily like dread.
She knew the moment she arrived through the Stargate that it was going to happen. She recognised the trees, the boulders scattered around the Stargate, the purple-red sky..
Her shoulders tensed and her knuckles grew white as recognised the vantage points the natives had used, knew where the attack would come from.
Knew she had to do something to stop it.
The ambush was a surprise, the attack one they were unprepared for. Neither were what surprised him the most.
He noticed her tense, noticed her glance around, her eyes scanning the horizon, every nerve in her body on alert. He'd just opened his mouth to ask what was wrong when the first arrow sliced through the air and whizzed between them, missing him by no more and no less than an inch.
Jack called out a warning and his teammates reacted instantly. Taking cover wherever possible, SG-1 returned fire as more and more arrows filled the air, coming from every direction.
They were surrounded.
He yelled to be heard above the sounds of gun fire and staff fire, to be heard above the shouts and calls coming from behind trees and boulders that were too close for comfort. He watched, providing cover, as Daniel darted from rock to rock, eventually reaching the DHD and dialling home. He watched as Carter sent keyed in their code on her GDO and gave the signal that they were okay to travel home.
He watched as Daniel dived through the gate and motioned for Teal'c and Carter to follow. He watched as his teammates edged closer, pausing behind two boulders, one on either side, to provide cover for him as he left his sanctuary to join them.
He watched in slow motion as Carter moved from behind the safety of the boulder and ran towards him in the opposite direction to the Stargate.
He felt her body connect with his, the two of them slamming painfully to the ground. He saw the arrow that was meant for him fly past them, saw it skim the material of her jacket and hoped it had missed her arm.
He watched her eyes roll back into her head as she moved onto her side a few inches away from him, her eyes closed.
Silence seemed to fall all around them. The sound of arrows faded, all weapons fire stopped.
Jack didn't know and didn't care why the natives had stopped firing at them. He pushed himself up and grabbed Carter, hoisting her up onto her feet. Teal'c joined him and slung her other arm over his shoulder and the two men backed through the Stargate and took their fallen teammate home.
The moment they stepped through the Gate, Janet was with them, making them lower her to the ramp and kneeling over Sam, her hands frantic as they searched through the material of the torn jacket.
She sighed with relief when ripping the sleeve off revealed the arrow hadn't pierced the skin and only then noticed the silence around her. Hoping to cover for her distracted state of mind, she snapped out several orders, insisting all members of SG-1 be taken to the infirmary immediately, staying on her knees beside her friend as the rest of her team prepared the stretcher.
"Wake up for me, Sam," she whispered when the other members of SG-1 had been ushered away, speaking so quietly that only the unconscious woman beside her would have been able to hear. "Don't make me regret letting you go."
She walked quickly beside the gurney after Sam was lifted onto it, her hand wrapped around her friend's wrist as she continued to call out orders, mentally keeping track of her friend's rapid pulse, praying she hadn't made a big mistake.
It was the second time in two days Sam had woken up to find several concerned faces staring down at her. She closed her eyes quickly, the blurred images only helping to increase the nausea she felt. She tried lifting a hand to her head but found she couldn't, not without the needle attached to the back of her hand tugging painfully on her skin.
"It's okay, Sam," Janet's voice was soft and more than a little relieved. "Everyone move back, okay? Give her some space."
She tried opening her eyes again when she sensed them follow the doctor's orders, blinking a couple of times till the blurred image cleared and she was able to focus on Janet's face. "What happened?"
"You passed out," Janet answered quietly, jotting down notes on her clipboard. "I ran some more tests but it doesn't look like your brain capacity's increased at all. The EEG was almost identical to the one we ran yesterday so I'm assuming you passed out when the adrenaline rush wore off." She bit her lip at the way Sam's eyes darted from her face to those of her lingering teammates. "I had to tell them, Sam." Her voice was barely louder than a whisper. "I'm sorry."
"I asked her not to tell anyone, Sir." Her gaze locked on Janet's, Sam addressed General Hammond in the strongest, clearest voice she could muster, even if it did shake a little. "If anyone should be blamed or reprimanded, it should be me."
"No one is going to be reprimanded, Major," General Hammond took a step closer to the bed, his face grave even though his words were gentle. "No one was hurt. I am curious, however, as to why you felt you had to go on this mission. Doctor Fraiser mentioned you've been experiencing visions.. Did you have one about this mission?"
Janet lowered her gaze knowingly. Sam fought back the warm flush that threatened to spread from her neck up to her hairline.
"I had a vision of sorts, Sir," she replied eventually. "I didn't know for sure it was the right mission but when we got there, I recognised the planet and knew the attack was coming. I had to be there, Sir. I had to stop something from happening." And the fact that she'd only just succeeded sent shivers down her spine. "Janet, you need to call Cassandra. Tell her to be careful.."
"I already have." Janet gave into the urge to give her hand a light squeeze before stepping away from the bed. "She promised she'd be careful."
"Good." A small nod was all Sam could manage before her eyes demanded to be closed again.
"We've contacted Jonas Quinn," Teal'c spoke up for the first time, his gaze lingering on the exhausted face of his teammate and friend. He remembered the burden the responsibility of seeing things had been on their former Kelownan teammate and didn't envy his human friend for carrying it. "We are hopeful that he will return shortly to aid you in controlling your new abilities. He studied the phenomena a great deal when he experienced something similar."
"There's still no sign of a tumour, though, right?" One eye opened a crack, staring at Janet as she waited for a response. "It's still caused by something different?"
The doctor gave her a reassuring nod. "There's no tumour, no sign of one forming. I think it's pretty safe to say what you're going through is caused by something entirely different to what Jonas went through. I'd like to start running some more tests, maybe see if you can control it at all and then we'll go from there. First of all, I'd like you to get some more rest. Do you want something to help you sleep..?"
"Yeah," the answer when it came was full of reluctance. "I think that'd be a good idea."
She listened with half an ear as Janet ushered her teammates out of the room, insisting they had to leave and could return for a visit once they'd all got some sleep. She heard General Hammond agree with the doctor and listened to the shuffling footsteps of her friends as they reluctantly left her alone.
She didn't want their company or their pity or even their concern. Sam didn't want to know what was going through their minds, she didn't want to think about how this new development would affect her relationships with the other members of her team.
As if she didn't have enough to contend with.
She'd been host to a number of different alien creatures, entities and viruses. Almost died more times than she could count on one hand, had actually died more than once..
Part of her almost wished for a tumour like Jonas Quinn had had. At least then they would know for sure what had caused her ability and how they could reverse it. At least then there'd be a chance it would be over soon.
The last thing she wanted was for something else to make her different. The last thing she wanted was to take another step away from the normal life she hadn't known she wanted until it was too far out of her grasp.
Curling up on her side, she closed her eyes tightly and prayed for a solution to come to her while she slept.
There were people all around her, people she didn't know but who seemed to know her. Occasionally, someone would stop her and ask a question she couldn't hear. She'd answer, too, apparently as they all seemed to leave satisfied with her response.
She just wished she knew what she said.
Her feet moved her automatically, taking her outside the dark building and into the light.
Into a dusty street, more like a dirt track really, where there was even more people only these people were different. They ones inside wore dark clothes, some wore uniforms. These people were civilians, dressed in white and tan coloured tunics and loose pants. They weren't American civilians but then she was pretty sure she wasn't in America.
There were children clinging to their mothers' hands, their faces streaked with dirt, some with dried blood. There were men limping, leaning on one another, their clothes stained with blood and sweat both old and new. Buildings were crumbling and those that weren't didn't look too stable.
She recognised the cause of the destruction in a heartbeat: war.
Someone tapped her on the shoulder and she turned on her heel, weapon at the ready.
It was a good thing she seemed to be watching from someone else's body - at a distance at that - because she was sure the surprise she felt would've shown on her face if that'd been possible.
Kawalsky. Charles Kawalsky. Looking younger than she'd ever known him - and wearing the insignia of lieutenant to boot. Not to mention the contrite expression on his face at startling her.
Ore words were exchanged. Something serious was said as she felt the atmosphere grow tense.
Then she heard the sound of the explosion, followed by the sound of walls crumbling as the ground shook beneath her feet. Her hearing returned although after hearing the shouts and screams for help, hearing the children cry for their mothers out of fear and pain she wished for the silence again.
The cloud of dust was almost suffocating, filling her lungs and making her choke.
When it settled, she saw there were no buildings left standing and the facility she'd just left moments before was in ruins, smoke and flames rising above the charred remains of the walls, letting her know with sickening clarity just where the explosion had originated.
"Carter, wake up." The persistent hand on her shoulder kept shaking her but for once she didn't mind. She actually wanted to wake up, wanted to break free from the grip her dreams had on her. "That's it, open your eyes."
She did what the voice ordered her to do and found herself gazing up into the Colonel's concerned face, his brown eyes troubled even as he moved his hand and retook the seat by her bed. "Colonel. Sir, what are you doing here?"
"Waiting for you to wake up." He shrugged noncommittally as though the admission didn't cost him a lot. It did, though. She knew him well enough to know he'd prefer to be anywhere other than her bedside, away from anyone who could witness and misinterpret his presence and spread rumours that would start off harmless but that could turn into vicious gossip that could damage both of their careers. "I had a question for you. Have a question, but it can wait. You weren't sleeping well.. Didn't Doc give you something to help with that?"
Sam nodded and spoke only when she thought she'd regained her composure. "Yeah, she did. But I guess it's worn off." Unwilling to dwell on the images that were thankfully fading from her memory as all nightmares should, she fixed him with a smile. "What did you want to ask me?"
If it was possible for him to look even more uncomfortable, he did. The Colonel squirmed in his seat, his fingers joint together in his lap to keep them from fidgeting. "The.. vision.. you had. About the missions.. What was it?"
His discomfort was contagious, passing onto her and spreading upwards from the pit of her stomach. "Does it really matter, Colonel?" She chose to use his title as much for security as for distance. "We all made it back in one piece. That's the only thing that should mat-"
"Was it about me?" His eyes locked with hers, the heat in them surprising her. "Did I get hit by that arrow? Was I supposed to get hit?"
"It's irrelevant, Sir." Unable to maintain eye contact, she glanced away and picked imaginary lint from the infirmary blankets. "Dwelling on what should've been, on what could've been is what drove Jonas to despair. I won't go down that path."
"If it was meant for me, you should've let me take it." His voice was as cold and hard as his gaze was when she looked up in shock. "You have no right changing that. You had no.."
"I had no right to save your life?" Her own temper snapped and flared, the heat in his gaze fuelling the heat in hers. "That's what should've happened, *Sir*, and I won't apologise for stopping it," she practically spat the words at him, sparks shooting from her eyes. "The arrow was poisonous. It wasn't a poison we could stop. Janet tried and almost succeeded but it fought back. Dad came and did everything he could short of offering you another symbiote but you still died. I sat with Daniel and Teal'c as you left us behind. You didn't even give us the chance to say goodbye and I can't put into words how angry that made me feel, how helpless.."
She allowed her voice to trail off, her hands going to her head. For several long moments, nothing was said. She held her head in her hands and tried to calm herself. He sat beside her digesting all that she'd told him.
"You still had no right." He sounded calmer but the edge was still there. He waited until she glanced up at him before continuing, holding her eyes with his. "You had no right risking your life in exchange for mine. You could've been hit just as easily, Carter. Promise me you won't do something like that again. It's not a risk worth taking."
"I can't make that promise and know I won't break it. I.. I appreciate your concern, Colonel, but it's not up to you to decide whether the risks I choose to take are worth it or not." She held her head high, determination shining on her face and almost masking how his declaration had affected her. Almost. "It's my life and my choice. I'll live the way I choose to."
"As long as you live." The air momentarily seemed to crackle, the tension filling it heavy and hard to breathe. Eventually, he had to look away. Eventually Jack had to reassert himself and file their conversation away with so many others that couldn't be recalled without repercussions they weren't ready to deal with. "So you had a bad dream? Want to talk about it?"
She wasn't surprised by the chance in subject. In fact, she welcomed it. "I don't remember it all," she started to explain quietly, shifting the focus of her mind onto safer though no less disturbing territory. "I was there but I wasn't. It was like I was seeing everything through someone else's eyes. People were talking to me and I could feel myself talk back but I couldn't hear anything, not until after.." Her eyes widened as image upon image cascaded through her mind, like a waterfall of violent tears. "Oh."
"Oh what?" Concern once again taking control of him, Jack leaned forward in his seat, his hand itching to take hers no matter how hard he clamped down on the urge. "Until what, Carter?"
"Until the explosion," she answered slowly. "I don't think we should continue this conversation, Colonel. I don't think it was just a bad dream."
"You think it was another vision?" He leaned even further forward, wanting - no, needing - to know what she'd seen. To help her get through it, prevent it, without it casting her life. "What did you see, Carter? What happened?"
She shook her head to dispel the images, once again picking imaginary link from the blankets covering her. "It wasn't of something that's going to happen. I think it was something that already did happen" Her gaze briefly moved up to his and lingered there until she finished. "To you."
As he sat back in his chair, a look of confused surprise on his face, Sam slid the few remaining pieces of the puzzle into place.
She'd known he and Kawalsky had served together before the Stargate program entered their lives. She knew he'd seen so many terrible things over the course of his career, that he'd had more experience with war and the destruction it caused than he liked to admit event o himself. He had his demons and she had the strangest feeling she'd witnessed one of them.
"Tell me about it." It was an order but not one issued in his usual cool and controlled manner. His voice seemed to shake for a second, his expression showing his uncertainty at whether he wanted her to answer.
Slowly, quietly, Sam told him what he'd seen, watching his face, studying and storing in her mind his every reaction. Her heart broke for him at the horror and pain he wasn't quite quick enough to hide from her.
"So it did happen," she concluded softly, wanting to touch him and offer some comfort. Resisting because she knew it would be rejected, it wouldn't be welcome. "I'm sorry, Sir. I really am."
She was, too. He could see it briefly on her face when he dared to look at her again. Jack nodded in acknowledgement of her sympathy, her empathy and took a few moments to get the barrage of emotions surging through him under control. Guilt at surviving when so many didn't, guilt at her having seen it herself.
"I'm sorry you had to see that, Carter." He spoke stiffly, coolly, but he knew she understood. Even as it hurt her, she understood. "Do you think it was because I was here? Sitting here while you slept?"
"You're being here might have influenced what I saw," she began, choosing her word carefully. She didn't want him to start avoiding her out of fear she'd see something else he wanted to keep hidden. "But I probably would've seen something else if you hadn't been here. Maybe something bad that hasn't happened yet. I'd rather see things that have happened than things that haven't. Although I wish I could change the past as well as try to change the future," she added softly, her eyes bright when he looked back at her. "I am truly sorry, Colonel, but whatever you're feeling right now you have to know that it wasn't your fault. You couldn't have changed it or stopped it fro happening."
He gave a short nod in reply and took his leave several minutes of uncomfortable silence later, making his excuses and leaving her alone with her troubled thoughts.
Whatever demons he had should stay his and his alone. That was the decision he came to after a restless hour trying to get to sleep. And he'd do whatever he had to to spare her from sharing anymore of them.
When she woke the following morning, there was another concerned though smiling face looking down on her. "Morning, Sam. The guys told me what's going on so I came as soon as I could."
"Jonas!" Sitting up, she returned the hug he bestowed upon her, unable to keep herself from smiling back. "How are you?"
"I'm good." The grin was a constant but then she was hard pressed to remember a time when it wasn't. "Things are settling down on Kelowna, war's been averted again and everyone's working peacefully on our own version of the Stargate program."
She smiled at his obvious enthusiasm, pleased to see him again. "I'm glad it's working out for you. Do you have much to do with the Stargate?"
"Not as much as I'd like to. I'm kept pretty busy with other things but it's okay, I get to use it when I want. Like now." He sat down on the edge of her bed, the grin fading just a little. "So you've been having visions? What are they like?"
Shaking her head, she inhaled deeply and exhaled slowly. "I don't know how to describe them. I've had three definite ones so far and they've all been different. The first one I was me, I was there as me. The second one.. I wasn't supposed to be there at all but I was watching as me from the sidelines so to speak. In the one I had last night.." She broke off and shrugged, unsure of how much she should say. "Last night's was one of the past instead of the future like the others. And I was there but I was someone else. It was something someone else had been through."
"Really?" Intrigued as always, Jonas frowned in thought. "What about the first two? Are you sure they're future events and not past or even present events?"
"The first was a future event but it's now a past one.. I.. changed it. A little." She shrugged a shoulder uncomfortably and forced herself to concentrate on the second. "The second one hasn't happened and I hope it never does. The person involved, Cassie, has already been warned of what happened so hopefully that'll be enough to change it."
"Are they all bad visions?" His intrigue changed to concern, his grin loosing some of the excitement at being able to ask her questions and share knowledge of what she was experiencing. "Have you had any visions you'd say were positive?"
She shook her head and sighed again, wishing she could answer in the affirmative. At least then it might be worthwhile. "Not yet. They've all pretty much been ones I could live without which is why I need your help to control them."
"Then we better get started." Shifting slightly to get in a more comfortable position, Jonas gave her a slow, encouraging grin. "Try and concentrate. Focus on searching your mind for something good. Think about something - a birthday, some sort of celebration that's happening soon - and try and see what's going to happen on that day. Just one thing, don't overtax yourself by trying to see too much too soon."
Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and willed herself to concentrate. She tried to picture a day that was traditionally happy in her mind, settling on Christmas Eve, and breathed out slowly, focusing all her energy on that one day willing something good to spring to mind.
She was a child again, her eyes lit with joy as she tore the decorative paper to shreds, eager to reach what was inside. Her brother sat beside her, trying to act more grown up and mature but it was obvious he was just as determined to uncover his presents. Her parents sat together on the couch a few feet away, leaning into each other, watching their children with identical smiles on their faces.
As she stood there, a spectator in her own memory, the vision faded and was replaced by another. A more sombre Christmas Eve, one where she was alone beside the tree she'd decorated herself, wrapping presents for her father and brother, the occasional tear sliding down her cheek as she tried not to think of who was missing.
Closing her eyes, she shut the memory of her first Christmas without her mother out of her mind and tried to focus on something else. She pushed herself forward; passed all the Christmases she'd had, trying to see one that hadn't yet happened.
An excited squeal had her eyes opening again. She blinked to make sure she was seeing what she was really *seeing* and couldn't stop a small smile spreading across her face at the scene that played out before her.
One little boy sat beside a huge Christmas tree, flanked by two younger, identical little girls with wild, curly blond hair. He gazed at them proudly, dishing out there presents much in the same way she remembered her brother doing when she was a child.
A content sign escaped her as two arms wrapped themselves around her middle, the warmth of the body behind hers comforting and oddly familiar.
It started to fade before she could turn and see anymore. She could hear her name being called, her mind being summoned back to the present.
A question lingered in her mind as she opened her eyes and found herself back in the infirmary with not only Jonas Quinn but Daniel Jackson as well.
Was the vision truly one of her future or was her imagination playing tricks on her? If it was her future, could she risk changing anything else in case it affected the vision of the future she wanted now more than anything else?
"What if I can see what I want to see? If, when I'm trying to control it, I only see good things because that's all I want to see? They might not be at all real or accurate.." She shrugged her shoulders, deftly avoiding Daniel's original question of what she'd seen. "There's nothing to prove I really had a vision about my future. It could've easily been my imagination."
"That's true but it could have been a vision of a future that's possible right now at this very minute." Jonas responded calmly, a notebook and pen in his hand so he could jot down notes on what was said. "That's not to say what happens next week or even tomorrow won't change it."
Daniel nodded, his arms crossed where he say beside the bed in an extra chair dragged over from the other side of the infirmary. "The future isn't a constant. It changes all the time as a result of what we do in the now. Like.. when we went back to 1969 and then to the future and saw Cassandra. That was one possible future and one that's still possible now. But, if the other future we know a little bit about, the one our older selves changed by warning us about the Aschen.. If that one had gone ahead, the one with Cassandra might not have been possible anymore."
"Because the one with the Aschen was avoided, it's possible things have gone back to how they were so the future with Cassandra is more likely to happen than the one with the Aschen," Jonas finished, exchanging a grin with Daniel.
They both looked at her, waiting for a reply. "I have a headache," Sam answered slowly. "But I think I get where you're going with this. It's a bit like alternate realities, the fork in the road decisions that alter our lives therefore our futures and ultimately creates another reality different to ours where the decision was made differently."
Both men looked at her and blinked, going over her words in their minds and then nodding in unison when they apparently agreed the comparison made sense. "I wonder if using a mild form of hypnosis would help you control it more easily," Daniel mused aloud, his eyes flittering from her face to Jonas. "Do you think it's worth a try?"
"If we're careful and it's under controlled circumstances." The Kelownan gave him a small nod in answer. "We're here with Doctor Fraiser close by.. This could count as a controlled situation.."
"Hold on." Holding her hand up, Sam arched an eyebrow. "You want to hypnotise me?"
The two men looked at each other and grinned. "Not properly," Daniel assured her. "We won't put you under completely, we'll just get you to go into a trance like you were in before.."
".. And then guide you by making suggestions," Jonas continued softly. "We won't make you, what was it Colonel O'Neill calls it? Bark like a chicken, cluck like a dog?"
"That's reassuring to know," she commented with a wryly smile. Taking a deep breath, she let her hands rest on her folded legs and glanced between them expectantly. "So how do we do this?"
"Close your eyes and concentrate again," Jonas said quietly, his attention focused solely on her. "Last time we tried this, when you had those other visions, you went into a sort of trance. If you can get into that again, we should be able to guide you towards what we want you to see."
"Focus on.." Daniel searched his mind briefly before coming up with something he thought she'd have a chance at seeing. "Focus on Teal'c. Try and see where he is right now. What he's doing, who he's with. We know you can see the past and the future. Let's try going for the present."
They continued to talk to her, to guide her, their voices soothing and calm. She felt herself start to drift away, focusing on a mental image of the Jaffa, a small part of her mind briefly thinking that it would be embarrassing if she saw him doing something that it would be inappropriate for her to witness.
She smiled when the Jaffa finally came into focus. Her friend was in the gym and he wasn't alone. She felt as though she was floating, looking down on them much in the same way she imagined the Ancients would look down on less evolved beings.
It was a pleasant surprise that she could hear what was being said, as well as being able to see it.
The Colonel dodged, missing a blow from Teal'c's covered hand, biting off a sly comment about the Jaffa not being on top of his game. She wanted to giggle when Teal'c lifted an eyebrow and successfully avoided an answering blow, managing to catch the Colonel off-guard and send him sprawling on the floor.
"What can you see, Sam?" It was Jonas who spoke to her, reminding her that although she felt like she was somewhere else, she was in actual fact in the infirmary with two of her friends. "Can you see Teal'c?"
"I can." Her voice sounded distant, disjointed. "He's boxing with Colonel O'Neill. In the gym." To her ears, her words sounded slurred, as though she'd been drinking too much or hadn't had enough sleep.
"Can you hear what they're saying?" That was Daniel, the excitement he was feeling palatable. "Are they talking?"
Her concentration lapsing momentarily, Sam found she had to fight to stay focused and stay with her two teammates in the gym rather than return to those in the infirmary. "They're sparring. Or Colonel O'Neill is. Teal'c keeps ignoring him, pretending he doesn't know what the Colonel's saying but he obviously does." She smiled again as the Colonel only just managed to duck in time. "He keeps waiting till the Colonel's distracted then hitting back."
She smiled, going silent for a few minutes and then winced. She felt Daniel move to stand in front of her and Jonas started shaking her arm so she knew they were both worried she'd moved on to somewhere - something - else.
"I'm okay, guys." She opened her eyes and gave them a bright smiling, nodding at Janet when she noticed the Doctor had joined them. "You might want to prepare yourself, Janet. Colonel O'Neill's on his way."
Shaking her head, Janet let a hand rest on her hip, her expression one of exasperation. "Do I want to know why?"
"He got a little distracted," Sam replied, smiling impishly. "Teal'c returned the snide comments with one of his own and when the Colonel was trying to recover, Teal'c landed him with a pretty hard blow. You might want to get some ice ready."
Rolling her eyes, Janet turned on her heel and left the three snickering friends, muttering under her breath about Colonel's who didn't know when to quit.
"So it was a success," Jonas beamed, frantically scribbling notes on his pad. "This is so cool, we'll have to try doing it again."
"Sure." Sitting cross-legged, her mood having lifted slightly by having seen something that wasn't as serious or as deadly as the other things she'd witnessed, Sam smiled and looked between the two men. "What should we try doing next?"
By the end of the day, Sam was exhausted but still found herself wishing everyone could be s supportive if not as enthusiastic as Jonas and Daniel. They were more anxious and interested in her abilities than she was but at least they'd sat with her for most of the day, at least they were doing something to help instead of avoiding her.
The Colonel and Teal'c hadn't been pleased that she'd been able to see what they were doing fro a complete different level of the SGC and she got the impression that if Colonel O'Neill had shared details of their conversation with anyone it would have been Teal'c. Neither man nor Jaffa lingered in the infirmary any longer than necessary and that made her feel worse than she had done the night before.
She wanted to shout at them. Wanted to tell them she was the same person and make them realise she didn't want to be able to do what she could do. She wanted to curl up in her quarters and refuse to come out till someone had found a cure. But because she wasn't allowed to leave the infirmary, she had to make do with curling up under the thing sheets in the infirmary after Janet kicked everyone out and went off duty for the night.
Alone with her thoughts, Sam willed unconsciousness to come, willed her active mind to shut itself off so se could have at least one long peaceful nights sleep so she could do whatever Jonas and Daniel had in mind for her the following day. At first she'd enjoyed learning about how to control and focus her visions. Now she felt like she belonged in the circus for being even more abnormal than she was before.
Her eyes slowly began to droop, her thoughts becoming less and less confused as sleepiness began to set in.
"Is there nothing we can do to help Major Carter?" Teal'c broached the subject first as he sat with General Hammond, Doctor Fraiser and the rest of SG-1, both past and present. "You have determined there is no cure, Doctor Fraiser?"
Both Jonas and Daniel frowned, trading unhappy looks. "We are helping her, Teal'c. At least Doctor Jackson, Doctor Fraiser and myself are trying to."
"There is no cure because it isn't an illness," Janet jumped in before Daniel or Jack could take sides. "I didn't ask for this meeting to discuss Major Carter's physical health or physical abilities. General, please. We're here to discuss Sam's well-being, not ague with each other."
Almost a week had passed since Jonas and Daniel had first started to help Sam control her abilities. In that week, Janet had watched her friend become increasingly withdrawn, her behaviour worrying both Janet and the only two friends who visited her at least once a day.
General Hammond nodded and silenced the ongoing disagreement with a single look. "I've read your report, Doctor, but for the benefit of everyone else, perhaps you'll explain briefly why you wanted to see us all."
Taking her cue from the General, Janet folded her arms on top of the file she'd placed on the table and began to explain in a voice that belayed her true concern. "Over the course of the last week, Major Carter has made good progress with Doctor Jackson and Mr. Quinn in controlling her ability to see things. She hasn't had a spontaneous vision in three days and has been able to selectively choose these that she has seen."
Doctor Fraiser took a deep breath before continuing. "However, I'm concerned about her emotional and mental well-being. I don't think being confined to the infirmary is helping improve things but I'm concerned what'll happen if we let her leave. I'm afraid she'll become even more distant, maybe even go so far as to leave the SGC."
She held up a hand to still the responses she knew were coming, glaring once around the table to make sure she had their full attention. "I'm not saying she wants to leave because I know she doesn't. I do however think she might believe she has no choice. To be completely blunt, the reason for her distancing herself is because of the attitude of some of the people in this room. We decided not to let anyone outside of this room know about her abilities because we were afraid it would put her in further danger with the NID and other similar organisations. That means the only support she has comes from us and, well, to be honest, only three of us are giving her any support at all. The rest of us are fuelling her fears and giving her reason to believe we don't want to be around her therefore don't want her be here."
A stunned silence followed her outburst as three members of the room stared down at the tabletop guiltily.
"By 'we' she means 'you'," Daniel supplied after a few minutes had passed, glancing accusingly at Jack, Teal'c and even General Hammond. "How many times have you guys been to see her in the last week? How many hours have you sat with her, helping her and comforting her when she sees something she didn't want to see? I'm guessing the only reason you haven't been to see her is because you're finding it hard to deal with what's happened. If that's true, then try imaging what it's like for Sam."
Teal'c and Jack remained quiet, both semi-lost in their own thoughts and their own guilt. Feeling suitably chastised himself, General Hammond cleared his through and looked expectantly to Doctor Fraiser. "What are your recommendations, Doctor? I agree we can't keep Major Carter confined to the infirmary or even the base. She isn't a threat to security, to herself or to anyone else."
"No, Sir, she's not. She's the same Sam Carter she's always been," Janet added pointedly. She sighed and let her shoulders fall. "I'm recommending that she be released from the infirmary with immediate effect and that she returns to active duty. The sooner everything goes back to normal, the better for us all. Personally, I'd like to recommend you all get over whatever it is making you keep your distance or you cit all ties with her and reassign her to another team. You're not helping her at the moment."
"Very well, Doctor. Thank you for bringing this to my attention." General Hammond gave another brisk nod and stood. He waited until Janet stood before walking around the table to join her. "Doctor Fraiser.. Would it be okay if I joined you in the infirmary to break the good news to Major Carter?"
At the Doctor's nod, he let a small relieved smile grace his lips as he followed her out of the room. Her agreement meant she thought he still had a chance to make amends so with a hopeful heart, he made his first trip in four days to see the Major and apologise for his initial reaction to her current condition.
"Major Carter." Teal'c stood with his hands behind his back, his eyes fixed on her as she took item after item from her locker and shoved them into a duffle bag. "I wish to apologise for my recent behaviour towards you. I treated you unfairly and hope you will accept my apology."
"It's the women's locker room right now, Teal'c. If you want to wait outside, I'll listen to you then." 'Or pretend to, anyway,' she added silently. It was a little late for apologies from her teammates, even if she had accepted the Generals only a few hours ago. She'd had a lot of time to herself to think about her relationships and friendships and had decided that if her so-called friends couldn't make the effort to talk to her, she wasn't going to go out of her way to listen.
Determined to be heard, Teal'c remained where he stood. "You and I are the only ones here, Major Carter. I see no reason why we should not complete our discussion now."
"Is the fact I don't want to complete it enough of a reason for you?" She slammed the locker door shut, refusing to turn and look at him. "There was plenty of time for you to talk to me when I was in the infirmary. I've been released now so I don't have to stay here and listen to what you have to say."
In two quick strides, he was stood behind her, only just resisting the urge to hold her in place and force her to listen. Had she been a Jaffa woman, he would have had no qualms about pinning her arms to her body and forcing her to listen. Since she wasn't, he kept his hands and his anger to himself, respecting her too much to lay them on her.
"I wish to apologise and explain, Major Carter." He fixed his eyes on the back of her head, willing her to turn around. "O'Neill explained to me that you were able to glimpse an incident from his past because of his close proximity to you. I have been through many terrible things, been witness to many dark times among my people. O'Neill was concerned inflicting these moments on you would disturb you further so I kept my distance to spare you."
"To spare me or spare yourself?" Her shoulders were squared, her hands trembling slightly as she finished packing and tried to draw the bag closed. "I can't read minds if that's what you're afraid of. I didn't want to see Colonel O'Neill's past, I couldn't concentrate and control it. I can now. I would never violate your privacy or Colonel O'Neill's and I'd like to think you both respected me and trusted me enough to know that."
"We did not know how much progress you had made. We thought it was best to keep our distance.."
"You didn't know because you didn't bother to find out." She finally managed to get the bag closed, tossing the strap over her shoulder and turning to face him. She saw the moment he recognised the hurt in his eyes for she saw the guilt reflected back in his. "Your apology is not accepted, Teal'c. You can tell that to the Colonel, too, when you're next deciding what's best for me."
Without giving him a chance to explain himself further, Sam stalked from the locker room and to the elevators, the expression on her face enough to keep everyone passed at bay.
On reaching the surface, the first thing she did was take a deep breath of fresh air, calming her nerves before heading to her car and beginning her journey home.
Two days passed without anyone hearing from her other than the two emails Janet and Daniel had received from a free web-based account, telling them she was okay and not to worry. Jonas, disheartened and worried about his friend, reluctantly went back to Kelowna after having made Daniel promise to let him know when she turned up again.
Daniel and Janet had forgiven both the Colonel and Teal'c. One look at their fallen faces was enough for the two doctors to know they were punishing themselves more than their friends ever could.
By the end of the second day, Jack had insisted on them contacting Jacob Carter to find out if he knew where his daughter would've gone. General Hammond authorised the request to try and contact the Tok'ra by radio transmission only although it had proved to be an unhelpful decision. After having the situation explained to him, Jacob had merely sighed heavily, cursed the mission he was on that prevented him from leaving for Earth and told them his daughter would be found only when she wanted to be. As long as she was safe and had disappeared of her own accord, there was nothing he could do or say to help them.
"This is ridiculous," Jack protested after the transmission from Jacob was replayed for the benefit of those who hadn't been in the control room at the time of the call. "All we've got to prove Carter's disappeared willingly are two emails that could've been sent from anywhere from anyone."
"That's not all we've got, Colonel." Janet sat staring at him with sympathetic eyes. "Sam was upset when she left. It stands to reason that she'd take a few days to get herself together, decide what she wants to do next. Jacob's right, Sir. When she's ready to come back, she will."
"And what if she doesn't come back?" He let his fist hit the table with a loud thump that echoed through the room. "If she's gone of her own free-will, what's to say she's not going to decide not to come back? Don't you think we should try and find her just to make sure she's alright?"
"And how do you suggest we do that, Colonel?" General Hammond managed to get a warning across in the casual question, his tone letting Jack know he was treading too close to the line he and Sam had gone to great pains in the past to avoid stepping over. "Jacob was our last resort in trying to track her down."
Understanding the warning but refusing to heed it, Jack got up and stormed from the room without waiting for permission to leave.
"He.. ah.. He's taking it badly, General," Daniel apologised on his friend's behalf, casting what he hoped was a reassuring grin in the General's direction. "He didn't get the chance to say sorry so he kinda feels guilty about it.. Oh, and Sam apparently had a vision of something in his past, too, so he feels bad she had to go through that, as well." He smiled again, hoping he could cover up for the Colonel's short temper.
"It's okay, Doctor Jackson, I'm aware of the reasons Colonel O'Neill is acting the way he is." It wasn't a lie although the news about Sam's vision did come as a small surprise. "Just do what you can to make him see reason. Major Carter will return to us when she's good and ready. The sooner we all accept that, the sooner she'll probably come home."
"Yes, Sir. Thanks." Daniel got to his feet, her nervousness evident. "We'll just go and find him. Calm him down. Come on, Teal'c."
The two hurriedly made their way out of the room after the Colonel, missing the bemused glance shared by the CO and CMO of the SGC. Shaking her head, Janet gathered her things together and left once the General departed for his own office, wondering how long it would be before the line became too thin and the General couldn't continue turning a blind eye to the situation. Wondering if he'd even need to ignore it.
After all, if she didn't come back, there'd be nothing for him to ignore.
The phone rang once. She picked up the receiver almost instantly, having expected the phone to ring.
"Hi Mark," she smiled into the phone, easily imaging her brother's surprised expression that she'd been able to guess who was calling her.
"You're never going to tell me how you can do that, are you?" His smile was detectable in his voice, though the underlying concern was what caught her attention the most.
Laughing lightly, she closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wicker chair, revelling in the feeling of the sun's warmth on her face. "Are you going to tell me why you're calling or do I have to guess that as well?"
"No.. I'll tell you." He sounded nervous, afraid of her reaction. "I had a phone call a few hours ago. From a Colonel O'Neill? He said he's your Commanding Officer and wanted to know if I'd heard from you recently."
She waited for the flare of surprise to well up inside of her but it never came. With a sigh, she wondered why she half-expected her teammates to check up on her even though she hadn't tried to 'see' them doing it. "Yes, I work with him. What did you tell him?"
"I.. ah.. I told him you were okay and you were staying at the family's summerhouse at Lake Tahoe," the words came out in a guilty rush. "I said you'd contact them when you wanted to but.. Sam, are you AWOL? You know you can tell me the truth.."
"I'm not AWOL, I mentioned to General Hammond I was thinking of going away for a few days.. I'm officially on downtime so there's nothing anyone can do about me leaving the state." Sam smiled vaguely, amusement flooding through her at the thought that her brother, who had been anti-military for most of his life, was suddenly concerned about her career. "And it's okay you told him. I should've expected someone to call you. Would've put my money on it being Janet or Daniel, though."
"Oh." Sounding thoroughly confused, Mark Carter nodded on the other end of the phone even though his sister couldn't see him. "So.. You're not angry with me for letting them know where you are?"
She gave a small laugh, opening one eye when she heard the crunch of gravel beneath tires approach the small cabin. "Not at all.. How long ago was it they called, Mark? How many hours?"
"Erm.. About four." She heard the puzzlement in his voice and smiled again. "Why?"
"Well, I'll say this for them. They certainly don't waste any time." Closing her eyes again, she settled comfortably into the chair. "I'll give you a call soon, Mark, okay? And don't worry, I'm fine."
Her brother said goodbye and hung up, sounding unconvinced that she was telling the truth. Sighing softly, Sam stayed where she was, listening to the sound of footsteps make their way around the cabin to the front porch, waiting for her companion to speak.
In all the years they'd know her, they hadn't seen her look as relaxed as she did then. Nor had they seen her looking quite so forlorn.
Jack and Daniel traded glances and then both looked to Janet, motioning for her to say something. The Doctor stared back at them, folding her arms over her chest.
"Is someone going to say hello or are we going to wait all night?" With a lazy drawl, Sam opened one eye a crack and smiled sardonically at them. "They managed to talk you into coming, Jan? I wasn't expecting all three of you. Teal'c couldn't get clearance to leave, I presume? Or he's still bitter that I refused his apology."
"You, ah, you knew we were coming?" Shuffling from one foot to the other, the Colonel looked at her briefly then glanced back at the ground.
Smiling, Sam fought the urge to roll her eyes. "I didn't foresee your visit, if that's what you're afraid of, Colonel. My brother called a few minutes ago to warn me he'd let it slip where I was staying." She opened both eyes when silence was their only response, sighing audibly at the expressions of discomfort on their faces. "Well, you're here now and I'm guessing you'd like to stay overnight unless you're so fond of camping you want to do it on-world as well as off. You might as well bring your things in. You can fight amongst yourselves over who gets which room. The one at the top of the stairs to the right is mine, the others are yours for the taking."
Getting to her feet, she stretched languidly, the loose cotton top she was wearing rising with her arms. "When you remember how to talk, I'll be by the lake."
In hindsight, Sam wished she'd paused in her dramatic exist to grab a jacket before hading for the shore. The air had cooled considerably and the light top she wore offered little to no protection.
Sitting on the sand, the small waves lapping over her bare feet, Sam allowed her shoulders to slump and the collected mask to fall fro her face. Somehow, something had changed and it scared her that she didn't know exactly what.
She had tried to focus on the happy vision she'd seen in the infirmary, hoping a glimpse of what could be would ease the pain building around her heart. It hadn't. The vision wouldn't come; she could no longer see the future she wanted to believe was possible.
She could see futures for some of her friends, for Daniel, Teal'c, Jonas and General Hammond. She could see two futures for the Colonel, both at his cabin. He was smiling and waiting for someone in one, surrounded by empty bottles with emotionless eyes in the other. Just remembering the second one made her shiver. She could see two futures for Janet, too, one of which wasn't very nice either. In on she'd been celebrating Christmas with Cassandra and two small children Sam assumed were Cassie's. In the other, Cassandra had been visiting her mother's grave, only a little older than the teenager now was.
It scared her how easily everything could change. It worried her that her friend's futures could be so uncertain, that something was going to happen that would make the difference between a happy ending for her friends and a considerably darker one.
A light but cool breeze wrapped itself around her, sending a shiver down her spine. She wrapped her arms around herself and closed her eyes. Focusing, Sam tried to picture in her minds eye what her next visit to the lake would be like and whether or not she'd be alone.
All she saw was darkness. All she heard were the sounds of the water meeting the shore and the sound of branches cracking and meeting as the trees swayed gently in rhythm with the breeze.
"Carter? Mind if I sit down?" She nodded her consent, opening her eyes but refusing to look at him. "Doc said I should bring you this." Awkwardly, he handed her a jacket, sitting down with a wince as his sore knee protested.
"Thanks." She shrugged the jacket on, grateful for some protection against the cold but not so grateful that she'd forgive him for the way he'd treated her. "You came a long way if all you're going to do is sit there. You could start by telling me exactly what you said to my brother. He wouldn't have told you where I was if he wasn't seriously worried about me."
She felt rather than see him shrug. "I just told him the truth. That we were worried about and wondered if he could shed some light on where you'd be." He cast her a sidelong glance when it became obvious she wasn't going to break the silence again. "I'm sorry for avoiding you, Carter. You know I don't deal well with stuff like this.. I didn't know what to say or do so.."
"So you chose to do nothing and thought that if you ignored it, it'd all go away." She gave a derisive snort and fixed her gaze on a boat in the middle of he lake. "Your plan worked, Colonel. I did go away. Question is, why did you guys come after me?"
"I didn't want you to leave, Carter. None of us did." He turned his head to look at her, waiting for the moment she'd glance at him so he could catch her eye. "You know the kinds of things I've been through, you've seen one of them already. I don't want you seeing anything else. For your sake as well as mine."
"It's not your job or your responsibility to protect me." Her voice, although cold, trembled a little. "I've been looking after myself since I was fifteen, Colonel. And I fully intend on looking after myself until whatever happens happens."
There was something in the way she spoke that disturbed him, that alerted him to the fact she was hiding something from him. "Have you.. Do you know something, Carter? Is something going to happen?"
She pushed herself up and stood, picking up her sandals and holding them loosely at her side. "Something's always going to happen, Sir." The words were accompanied by a humourless smile, the moonlight glinting in her eyes and casting an ethereal glow over her entire being. "The when and the how, I don't know. I don't *want* to know. Now if you'll excuse me, I'd like to take one last walk around the lake. Alone."
Jack wanted to go after her but something held him back. He watched her disappear into the night, wondering when it got so dark, wondering if it was just the drop in temperature that was responsible for the chill that wrapped itself around his spine.
The cabin was dark and quiet when she returned. Assuming they'd all gone to bed, Sam lit a fire and curled up in the chair beside it, wanting to savour every moment she could spend there.
She let the flickering of the flames calm her and starred into the fire, willing the vision she'd been trying to fight to come forth and let her see. She wanted to know what it was that had or would cause the differences she could see. She wanted to know so she could prepare herself for the worst if it was something she couldn't change.
Her breathing deepened, her eyes loosing their focus on the fire. She was dimly aware of something entering the room but ignored them, letting her mind get swept away by the images that ran through it.
The mission was one she hadn't heard of but somehow recognised. She stood behind the shelter of some trees, watching in what was apparently slow motion as SG-1, 3 and 4, the medical team and the reporters that had accompanied them came under fire. She watched herself and her friends, waiting for the moment when everything would change.
Then it happened.
A cry was torn from her lips as Janet went down, the look of horrified surprised on the pretty doctor's face filling her with dread. It was an expression and indeed a moment she wouldn't forget in a hurry.
Knowing she was safe because she wasn't really there, Sam left her sheltered position and knelt beside Janet as Daniel reached the Doctors side, falling to his knees on the dirt beside her.
"Hold on, Janet," he ordered, his voice hoarse as Janet struggled to breath, her eyes fluttering as blood oozed from the wound on her chest. The wound that was too close to her heart. "It's going to be okay." His hands shook and fumbled with his radio as he held it to his mouth. "We need a medic over here urgently. Doctor Fraiser's down."
Standing, Sam glanced towards she and the Colonel were, her heart aching her chest. She saw the colour draw from her own face and knew this was it; the moment that could change everything.
Kneeling beside Janet again, she watched as Daniel tried in vain to stem the flow of blood and save the Doctor's life. It was too late, though. She could see with painful clarity the moment Janet gave up and let the inevitable happen, too shocked to speak, too stunned to fight.
She wasn't supposed to get hurt. She wasn't supposed to die.
Sam reached out and laid a hand on top of her friends, pulling it back when her mind registered the sticky warmth that clung to her fingertips.
Blood. Janet's blood.
Staining her hands.
"No." Shaking her head, wiping her fingers clean on the ground, Sam closed her eyes and prayed for another outcome to the scenario. "This isn't allowed to happen. I can't let Janet die."
In an instant, as though by remote control, the scene rewound itself and she found she was standing back behind the trees, watching as the fighting began again. She caught sight of herself, shivering when the Major Carter she was watching seemed to pause momentarily and glance in her direction.
The battle played out as it had done before, right down to the moment before Janet was struck.
She watched, holding her breath, as her counterpart yelled a warning to Janet. The breath left her lungs in one go as Janet managed to avoid the hit meant for her by mere millimetres only to catch in her throat again as another member of her team cried out.
She and her counterpart froze, staring in horror as he went down, distracted by her shout to Janet.
His body hit the ground with a sickening thud. He didn't move. Not even an inch.
She didn't have to leave her place behind the trees to know he was dead.
Again, the scene rewound itself and replayed. Again, Janet narrowly avoided confronting her death and this time, the Colonel did, too, because of another warning shouted by someone else.
Teal'c wasn't so lucky.
Sam fell to her knees where she had stood watching, burying her head in her hands. Silent tears of frustration ran down her cheeks, her circling thoughts making her feel dizzy and nauseous.
"Someone has to die," she whispered, the realisation making her blood run cold. "Someone has to die."
Even the heat of the fire couldn't stop the shudder that ran down her back. She wrapped her arms around herself tightly, refusing to let the tears that wanted to fall run free.
"Sam?" Janet sat on the arm of the chair, her expression concerned but her tone uncertain. "Are you okay, honey? You're shaking."
"I'm fine." Sam kept her gaze averted, sure she wouldn't be able to see her friend without picturing the blood. All the blood. "I'll be fine."
"You sure?" Unconvinced, Janet let her hand rest on Sam's shoulder in a soothing gesture. "If you need to talk about anything.."
"Thanks for the offer but it's okay. Talking won't help." Her hands clenched into fists, her eyes hardening with determination. "I know what I have to do to make everything alright."
Janet let the moment pass, accepting that there were some things Sam wouldn't share with her and that they were probably best left alone.
Six days later, sitting alone in her office with her head in her hands as dry sobs wracked her thin frame, Janet wished she'd pressed for more details. That she'd found out what Sam had meant at the time.
Before it was too late.
No one reacted when the Stargate activated. SG-1 remained in their seats in the briefing room, trusting Sam when she said it was her father and another Tok'ra representative and that they wouldn't be staying for long.
General Hammond cast a worried glance at the Major before heading down to the gateroom to meet his old friend. She didn't seem too pleased to see her father if it was indeed Jacob who was visiting.
He fixed a smile on his face as the Iris opened. It faded marginally when Jacob came through, a scowl on his face. The Tok'ra that accompanied him looked just as solemn.
"Jacob. It's good to see you." He forced a smile and motioned for his old friend to join him. "You'll be pleased to know Major Carter is back. She came back a few days ago.."
The look on Jacob's face made him stop. "That's good, George, that's really good." The fists he had clenched at his side seemed to suggest otherwise. "Where is she? This matter concerns her as much as anyone else."
"Major Carter and the other members of SG-1 are waiting for us in the briefing room." Certain he wouldn't like where the conversation was going, George ushered Jacob up to the control room, the other Tok'ra lagging behind. When they were all seated, he glanced between father and daughter, noticing that the tension had risen whereas the temperature had severely dropped. "Jacob, perhaps you'd like to start by explaining why you're here."
Lowering his head, Jacob's eyes flashed as his symbiote Selmac took over. "Jacob does not wish to be the one to explain to you why we are here." Selmac spoke clearly, staring straight ahead across the table at Sam. "He feels most uncomfortable at the Tok'ra request but would rather you heard it from us than anyone else."
"I'd rather hear it from my father, thank you Selmac," Sam said in a cool voice that echoed around the room and gave no outwardly hint of the knot of tension that tightened uneasily in the pit of her stomach. "Dad. If anyone should make the request, it should be you."
"Your father does not wish to do so, Samantha," Selmac spoke imploringly. "Please allow me to voice the Tok'ra's suggestion.."
"No." She met Selmac's gaze evenly, her eyes sparkling with something that wasn't humour. "I want to hear it from my father or I won't hear it at all."
Jacob's eyes flashed again as the host retook control. He stared at his daughter in a way that could only be described as pleadingly. "Sam, honey, you know I don't want to ask this. You know what I'm going to ask so you must know I don't want to.."
"I know." Sam managed a small smile and motioned to her teammates with the hand that wasn't holding the arm of her chair in a death grip. "But I'm sure everyone else is intrigued. The sooner you ask, the sooner you can get your answer and take it back to the Tok'ra."
"Alright but I don't need to be able to see the future to know what you're answer will be." Jacob gave a heavy sign and plunged headlong into the question he was dreading. "The Tok'ra want to utilise Sam's new ability and use it to gain an advantage over the Goa'uld in battle. They want her to come back with us and agree to stay for the foreseeable future. No pun intended."
Silence reigned for a matter of seconds before the room exploded with replies.
"No way. Sam's not doing that, she's just learning to control them.."
"It would be most unwise for Major Carter to agree to those plans, Jacob Carter. I have observed that summoning these visions often leaves her tired and shaken."
"Doctor Fraiser wouldn't authorise it. She wouldn't let Carter go even if she wanted to. How can you ask your own daughter. How can you user her..?"
"The decision," General Hammond spoke loud enough to be heard over the protesting members of SG-1, "is of course Major Carter's to make. I wouldn't forbid you from going, Major, in the interests of Tok'ra-human relations but nor would I be able in good conscience to give you my full approval."
Six pairs of expectant eyes turned to focus on her and she got the vaguely amusing impression that they were holding their breaths in anticipation.
"The answer, of course, is no." Sam locked her gaze on her father. "Thank you for asking, Dad, I know how hard it was for you. Please tell the Tok'ra High Council that I've carefully considered their request but that my place is here and I have no intention of using my abilities to further their attempts by the Goa'uld unless the vision comes to me of its own accord."
The other Tok'ra who had until that moment remained silent slapped the table, his eyes flashing with anger. "This is unacceptable," he ground out, speaking with the voice of his symbiote. "You will return with us and aid us in our conquest. A rejection of our offer will result in the Tok'ra severing all ties with the Tau'ri."
"What a loss that would be," Jack muttered darkly, not caring who heard. "No offence, Jacob."
"None taken." Glaring at his companion, Jacob appeared to be just as put out as the rest of SG-1 at his colleague's ultimatum. "Mai'lan, you are way out of line.."
He would have continued berating the younger Tok'ra if Sam hadn't interrupted, fixing her baby blues onto Mai'lan. "Let me reply, Dad, it's my right." When he and the others fell silent, she continued. "Mai'lan, I appreciate that it's hard for you to understand my decision but please know I have no intention of changing my mind no matter what you threaten us with. I will not willingly look into the future and see how many people will die before this war is over. If I could, I would let you see what it's like to watch everyone around you die, knowing there's nothing you can do to stop it. Since acquiring this 'ability', I have seen almost everyone I love die. Do you know what that's like? To know how they're going to go but not the when? To know when you yourself are going to die? To have to face your own death and countless others, living constantly in the shadow of knowing that today could be that day."
Both of her hands came to rest on the table, supporting her as she pushed herself up, all the while never breaking the contact between the Tok'ra and herself. "Try imagining what it's like living with that and you'll understand why not only am I not going to help you but I'm going to fight with all that I am to stop myself from seeing anything else. It isn't fair, it isn't natural and it isn't right."
Her piece said, Sam stepped away from the table, pausing to glance at her father with a sad smile gracing her lips. "It was good seeing you again, Dad. I.. I hope we get to speak again under better circumstances."
Before she could say anything she'd regret, before her father could say anything that would cause her carefully constructed damn to break, Sam fled the briefing room for the quiet sanctuary of her lab.
Instinct screamed at her from the moment she woke up to the moment she stepped through the Stargate. Then the voice in her head fell silent and her nightmare began.
It started off on a good note. Her teammates seemed to have taken her words to Mai'lan to heart, treating her as they normally would, making no mention of the visions she'd been having or the ones she'd hinted at seeing.
It was nice, it was normal.
It was incredibly bittersweet because she knew how it would end.
She kept close to Janet for most of the morning, subtly dropping hints that the planet seemed too quiet, too peaceful. Daniel seemed to take them on board as he stuck close to the Doctor when she left to walk in between the Colonel and Teal'c.
When it started, she was the only one who wasn't taken by surprise.
She returned fire with the rest of her team, refusing to take note of any bodies that fell around her. Most of them were the enemy.
She saw out of the corner of her eye as Daniel and Janet leapt to side, narrowly avoiding the weapons fire aimed at them. Escaping with little more than a few scratches and bruises.
She yelled out a warning in time to the Colonel, watching as he pivoted and missed the hit aimed at him, taking out his would be assailant at the same time.
She watched as Teal'c dived to safely, covering himself and another member of Janet's team by hiding behind a boulder.
She didn't see the energy blast from the alien's weapon heading her way but she knew it was coming.
At first, there was no pain. No shock. Just acceptance that this was it, this was the way it had to be.
Then her body hit the ground, her head hitting something hard and round, a stinging sensation spread through her body from the wound, paralysing her as it felt like her body was engulfed in flames.
She could feel the blood leaving her body through the wound in her stomach, could taste the metallic flavour in her mouth as she coughed. Staring up at the sky, she lay there and waited for the darkness to descend.
'At least they're safe,' she told herself softly, her vision beginning to fail her as someone - probably the Colonel - hovered over her, his mouth moving but no words coming out. None she could hear anyway. 'At least they're all alive.'
Darkness consumed her and she gave in willingly, taking comfort in knowing the end of her nightmare was near.
Composing herself before walking into the room, Janet clutched the file to her chest, the knuckles of her hands turning white. She took a deep, steadying breath and forced herself to hold her head up high as she knocked on the door and stepped into the room.
General Hammond sat behind his desk, his expression grave. Colonel O'Neill sat on the other side, his eyes red from lack of sleep, rimmed with dark smudges. Teal'c stood upright to one side, Daniel sat slumped in his chair, his hair sticking up in all directions the result of having ran his hands through it too many times.
"Doctor," the General greeted her with a nod, no hint of a smile on his face. "I take it you have the most recent test results back on Major Carter's condition."
"Yes.." The word came out too croakily at first so she had to clear her throat before trying again. "I'm afraid it doesn't look good, Sir. There's been no positive improvement in Sam's condition overnight. She's still in a stable condition but I think.. I think it's time we looked at the possibility that she might not wake up this time." The words came out in a rush on a long breath. "The machines are helping her breathe, Sir. I don't think she'd manage on her own. Her latest EEG shows a drop in brain activity. Her brain is now operating at 15% of its capacity but before the mission, it was operating at between 20 and 25%."
"Doesn't the human brain usually only operate at between 5 and 10% of its capacity?" Daniel asked, looking at the Doctor as though seeing her for the first time. He sat up straighter in his chair when she nodded. "Then there's nothing to be alarmed about yet.. Sam's brain is still operating at above normal levels.. We can't let her go yet.."
Janet sighed and gazed at him in understanding sympathy. "I know how you feel, Daniel, but it's not a good sign. I'm not ready to give up on her just yet but I think it's time we all accept the possibility that we might lose her. And I think it's time we accepted the fact she knew this was going to happen. That she chose to die herself than to let one of us go."
"She's not dead yet." His voice harsh, his words sharp, Jack fixed her with cold eyes. "And if she did chose this over losing one of us, she deserves better than us giving up on her after only a few days. There's still time.."
"Time for what, O'Neill?" Teal'c straightened, letting his arms drop to his sides. "The Tok'ra are unable or perhaps unwilling to offer us any assistance other than a symbiote."
"And we all know why they offered us that." Jack's eyes narrowed, his fists clenched.
General Hammond cast him a warning glance although he perfectly understood and personally agreed with the Colonel's suspicions. "Colonel, the Tok'ra are still our allies.."
"Maybe not for long if they don't get what they want," Daniel chimed in, a scowl arranging his features. "It's obvious they only offered us a symbiote because it would mean they had a way of getting Sam to go live with them. God knows what they'd have done if we'd accepted it."
"Do you believe Jacob Carter would allow a Tok'ra symbiote to force his daughter to use her ability?" Teal'c stared at the archaeologist with a shocked expression on his face.
"I'm saying he might not have a choice, Teal'c," Daniel answered carefully. "He's very outnumbered at the Tok'ra base, I'm sure. We know from past experience that they're not all fond of us.. Most of them would probably have aborted our alliance a long time ago if it wasn't for Jacob."
Teal'c inclined his head in what could be interpreted as a thoughtful gesture. "Then perhaps Jacob Carter should be careful. It would be easy for an accident to be arranged that would conveniently dispose of him."
"Jacob told me he suspected something was being planned," General Hammond contributed reluctantly. "I wouldn't be surprised if he and Selmac arrive in the future asking for asylum."
"It's not going to help Carter, is it?" Jack ground out, bringing the conversation full circle and back on to its original subject. "Is there anything you can do, Doc? Anything at all?"
Shaking her head, Janet let her gaze drop to the floor. "I'm afraid not, Colonel. The most I can do for her right now is make sure she's comfortable and remind her she has something to come back to."
"Then that's what we'll all do." Determination flashing in his eyes, Jack got to his feet and looked at the General for approval. "With your permission, Sir, I'd like it if we could take turns sitting with Carter in the infirmary. It's not a lot but.."
'It's all we can do.'
"Talking to coma patients has been proven to help in the past," Janet chimed in, her eyes suspiciously bright. "It might help, General. I can't think of anything else to do at this point."
"Very well." General Hammond gave a deep sigh and nodded. "SG-1 are on downtime for the next two weeks. What you choose to do with that downtime is up to you. You're all dismissed."
The three men filed out of the room, their heads lowered but their shoulders tensed. Janet sighed and exchanged a hopeful look with the General before following SG-1 back to the infirmary.
This was it. The beginning of whatever came next.
So many things reminded her of Sam. So many little, every day things it was impossible to ignore.
Ice cream. The flavours they'd try and argue over. The tubs they'd claim for themselves only to be caught pinching a spoonful of the others an hour or two later. Strawberry and vanilla swirl was Sam's favourite, Rocky Road hers.
Perfume. In all the years she'd know Sam, her perfume hadn't changed. Not even once. She'd said she liked it because it made her feel more feminine in an environment where testosterone ran so high. For every Christmas since they'd become friends, Janet would buy a small bottle of the same perfume, a token present from both her and Cassandra.
There was a bottle of it hidden at the back of Janet's closet. It would be staying there now.
The Wizard of Oz. Although she'd rolled her eyes every time the Colonel quoted it, Janet knew her friend was really just as enthusiastic about the movie as the Colonel himself. She'd been sworn to secrecy not to mention it to any of Sam's teammates, though. She'd rather roll her eyes at the comments made than admit she enjoyed the film, too.
Old black and white movies were something Janet couldn't watch in the same way anymore. They used to make Sam cry, especially when the heroine didn't get to keep the guy. Sam said it was because it reminded her too much of their lives but Janet always suspected it was just an excuse. Sam was softer at heart than she'd have anyone believe.
Cassandra. Janet closed her eyes against the tears that threatened. If it hadn't been for Sam, she wouldn't have her daughter. She wouldn't have had the pleasure of watching the uncertain little girl grow up into the mature young adult she'd become. She remembered the nights she used to call Sam to complain, the nights they'd end up running up mild high phone bills talking fondly about the teenager, reminiscing about their own childhoods.
Her daughter was grieving, too, and that made it all the harder. How could she mend Cassandra's heart when a piece of her own was missing, too?
It was a clear day, the sun shining above in the cloudless blue sky. It seemed to be mocking her, mocking them. Sam loved days like that. If she knew it was a lovely day, she was more likely to take a break from the lab, sneaking out to the surface to sit and think for a while.
Janet shook her head and wiped irritably at her cheek. She didn't know if she'd ever be able to enjoy that kind of day again, knowing Sam wasn't there to share it with them.
She thought all the tears she had had been released at the memorial service, or at the private ceremony Jacob had insisted they have for Sam's friends and family outside of the SGC.
She was wrong.
She couldn't remember a time when she'd cried so much or so hard. Or when she'd felt so alone. Sam had been the closest female friend she'd had in years, her only really female friend on base.
It was hard to accept she wouldn't be there anymore. That Janet would be there alone.
SG-1 wouldn't be the same, either. She'd watched them at the two memorial services, watched them hold themselves together in public all the while knowing they'd break down in the privacy of their own homes.
Jonas was miserable, guilty because he hadn't been there, because he hadn't had the chance to say goodbye.
Teal'c was disturbed; convinced she still hadn't forgiven him entirely.
Daniel was distraught, grieving for a sister as well as a friend.
The Colonel was the Colonel. Strong and cool in front of them all, though Janet knew he was hurting just as much if not more.
They were all angry, even herself and General Hammond. Angry that someone else they'd cared about, someone they loved, had been lost in what was beginning to feel like a never-ending war.
"I wish you were still here," Janet whispered to her friend, the crack in her heart growing wider at the lack of response. "I wish you'd been able to see this and told me about it so we could stop it from happening." Shaking her head, she glared down at the grass by her knees. "It's not right that this happened. You shouldn't have died, Sam, and it's hurts knowing you did to save one of us but not knowing who."
Chastising herself for letting her temper slip, Janet searched her mind for something positive, needing to end their conversation on a good note despite knowing her friend couldn't hear. "Cassie's been accepted into art school, you know. She's really excited but it means she'll be going to New York for a while." A trembling hand reached out to touch the cool stone, tracing the engraved writing with a fingertip. "I wish you were here to talk to about it. I don't know what I'm going to do when she leaves me, too."
A hand that wasn't hers wiped away the tears that fell from her eyes and ran down her cheeks.
Turning to him, her vision all but failing her, she stopped fighting the urge to cry and wept for all she was worth. "Why did she do it? Why did she have to die?"
His arms came around her as he drew her against his body. His hand came to rest at the back of her neck, keeping her close, offering her comfort.
"I don't know," was his cracked reply, "I really don't know."
He grieved for her more than he wanted anyone to know. A part of him had died with her though he was trying his best to live without it.
Janet hoped he would continue to fight when the rest of them eventually learnt to move on.
Lifting her head from his shoulder, she glanced at the inscription Jacob had ordered be carved into the stone, despite the fact her body wasn't beneath it.
'In loving memory of Samantha L. Carter
Dearly missed daughter, sister and friend
Died in the service of her country, a true hero
We'll never forget you, Sam.'
A shiver struck her even as she jerked awake, leaving the vision behind. Then she opened her eyes and looked up at the infirmary ceiling, frowning when it came into focus.
"I'm supposed to be dead," she whispered in a voice husky from lack of use. "This isn't right."
Catching sight of movement out of the corner of her eye, Sam turned her head slightly, wincing when her head seemed to protest by aching even more. She saw Daniel sit up, stare at her, take his glasses off and clean them before putting them back on his face.
He grinned at her when he was sure he wasn't imagining things and reached out to touch her hand. "You're awake, Sam!"
"I think I knew that," she commented wryly. "I'm not supposed to be, though." The frown was back, her gaze wandering over the quiet infirmary. A lump of cold fear rose in her chest, towards her throat and her eyes snapped back to his face. "Is everyone okay, Daniel? Janet, the Colonel, Teal'c?"
Daniel's brow furrowed at the barrage of questions, his smile when it appeared placating. "Everyone's fine, Sam," he answered slowly, deliberately, staring at her in apparent concern. "You were the only one to get so seriously injured. You've been out for a week."
"Oh." Settling her head back into the position that hurt her neck the least, Sam stared back up at the ceiling, her eyes narrowed in concentration. "That wasn't supposed to happen," she spoke mainly to herself, her mind working overtime to figure out the newest problem it was presented with. "I shouldn't be here.. I. I was dead. I'm sure I was."
"Okay." Standing up, Daniel backed away from the bed slowly, his eyes darting around him as though searching for someone to help. He obviously thought she'd hit her head harder than anyone had realised when she fell to the ground. "I'm just going to find Doctor Fraiser, okay? You stay there and.. and we'll be back soon."
"I'm not going to go anywhere, am I?" He didn't stick around to hear her sarcastic response, too focused on getting to the doctors office, almost walking straight into the doorframe in his haste. She closed her eyes and recalled the vision she'd seen before waking up.
The one where her friends said goodbye; the one where she was left alone.
Left in peace.
She'd thought she was dead. Maybe even hoped..
But she wasn't. She was alive if the pain spreading through her body was anything to go by.
"Sam!" She could hear the telltale tap of Janet's shoes against the ground several seconds before hearing and seeing the Doctor herself appear. She was surprised at the gaunt look to her friend's face, and by the bags under her eyes. Not so much by the bright smile that spread from ear to ear. "You're awake!"
"We already established that," Sam retorted before a smile graced her lips in return, only to fade when she winced. "Beginning to wish I wasn't, though."
"You're in pain." Instantly, the smile disappeared and Janet's expression became more serious. "I'll give you something for it, it's been a while since your last dose.." Bustling around the bed, she couldn't stop another, smaller smile from reappearing on her lips. "We thought you were gone, Sam," she murmured quietly, knowing she only had a few moments with her friend alone before the rest of SG-1 were informed of the change in her condition. "You really scared us."
"I thought I was gone, too," Sam admitted softly. "It didn't scare me as much as I thought it would. Not as much as the alternative."
Janet moved closer, leaning in to keep the conversation as private as possible. "Did you know what was going to happen, Sam? Did you get hit on purpose?"
Slowly, Sam blinked and shook her head. "No," she half-lied quietly, forcing herself to meet the Doctor's intense gaze. "I didn't."
She wasn't lying, not completely. That was what she told herself, anyway. She had known it was going to happen, yeah, but she hadn't got hit on purpose. She'd been pleased to get hit instead of one of her friends but she hadn't jumped in the way to take a hit meant for anyone else. She took the hit meant for herself, having helped to focus her teammates attention on the dangers they were facing.
She was saved from any further questions by the arrival of her teammates. Managing a genuine smile, she greeted them warmly, the drugs Janet had administered taking effect.
"Hi guys." She watched as they all crowded around her bed. "What've I missed?"
"Not a lot," Jack answered breezily, trading a look she couldn't decipher with the others. "So.. How you feeling, Carter? You okay?"
"I'll live," she responded lightly, her eyes flickering away momentarily. The image of the Colonel and Janet sitting beside her grave was too fresh in her mind. "Is everyone else okay? No one else was hurt?"
The urgency in her tone did not go unmissed.
"No," Janet answered with a smile that was a little too bright. "Apart from some bruises and scratches and some minor injuries an operation or two couldn't fix, everyone else made it back relatively unscathed. You were the only one to get hurt so seriously."
"So what's the diagnosis?" She asked the question casually although the agitation was present in her eyes. "Am I going to make a full recovery?"
"You are." Slipping into Doctor mode, Janet stood casually beside the bed as she reeled off the same diagnosis she'd be giving to the General in her next report. "Your wound is healing nicely, we managed to prevent infection by giving you a dose of antibiotics as a preliminary measure. It was touch and go for a while and your brain capacity has diminished but thankfully it seemed to stay at an above normal rate."
"It dropped?" Her eyes wide, Sam stared at her friend. "What's it at now? Will it stop the visions..?"
Shifting uncomfortably, Janet sighed almost imperceptibly. "It's fluctuating at between 10 and 15% at present, Sam. That's still above normal. I can't say for sure if you'll have anymore visions or if they're over."
With a resigned sigh, Sam nodded and let her head fall back against the pillows. Her gaze wandered around the room, never settling for long on any one thing in particular until Teal'c took a step forward, drawing her attention.
"I must once again ask for your forgiveness, Major Carter." The Jaffa inclined his head, his hands behind his back. It was one of those rare times when Teal'c couldn't meet her gaze.
"You're already forgiven, Teal'c." The words were accompanied by a smile that was a little strained but as genuine as she could manage. "I know it would've been hard for all of you to feel comfortable around me not knowing what I could or couldn't see. I shouldn't have been so harsh with you and for that, I'm sorry."
She was sorry and she could forgive him, but her heart told her it would take a while to forget. Her mind reminded her of all the times she'd stuck by her teammates, through thick and thin, through doubt and betrayal, and reminded her of another time, not so long ago, when they had appeared to turn their backs on her.
But, they were her friends as well as her teammates and she knew that anyone could make a mistake and that most of those that did deserved a second, third or even a fourth chance.
"Thank you." Teal'c met her gaze and bowed slightly, taking a step back to join the others.
Sam nodded and let a yawn that she was too quick to stifle escape. She looked out through hooded eyes as Janet gave everyone their marching orders, only half-aware of her teammates taking it in turn to approach her bed and bid her goodbye, expressing their pleasure at her having taken the first step on the road to recovery.
The Colonel approached her last, lingering a little. As if sensing she was intruding on what could be a private moment, Janet excused herself and went to give General Hammond the good news.
Leaning down, believing her to be asleep, Jack let his Colonel façade slip just a little, brushing his lips against her forehead. He had to stifle a shudder at the thought that it'd been too close, again, telling himself firmly that something had to be done and soon, before the opportunity fled forever.
"Get well soon, Sam," he murmured softly, his mind telling him it had known she couldn't die. They had too much left unsaid, left undone.
Her half-closed eyes focused on his back as he walked away quietly, a secret and knowing smile tugging up the corners of her mouth as an image flew unbidden to the front of her mind.
It was going to be interesting, she knew, seeing what was in store for them next.