Story Notes: Category - Angst, in a real bad way. Future.

Warning - I mentioned the angst right? This isn't a happy story. Read at your own risk.

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Special Thanks - To Karen T. She offered her quite dazzling services on this heap of junk. If it's even a little enjoyable, it's probably her fault. You can visit her website at

`After Love'

As you leave me, memory
by memory, the petals drop
and the dark center remains–
loves me, loves me not

-Neil Shepard

- - - -

He's never imagined the end would be like this.

Outside, the sun is shining and it burns the closed curtains that they'd bought together at a flea market a little over a year ago. The room is hot. He feels the sweat dripping down the back of his neck with acute clarity. He knows he'll remember this feeling later on when he can't sleep because her side of the bed is empty. He feels his age rear down upon him like a man dropping from a tree in the steaming depths of the jungle.

Swift. Sudden. Powerful.

Jack had always thought he would die quickly, so abruptly that he wouldn't even feel the pain before it was done and he was on the ground, his face blank. Or if not quickly, then he'd die slow and painfully, by the hand of someone who knew how to draw out the hurt until he was screaming from it.

He'd always thought she would suffer from his loss, and he'd never liked the idea of that, but he'd be dead, so he wouldn't have to deal with the loss of her.

He's always been selfish.

He's never pretended otherwise.

He imagines, even now, his blood staining the earth red. Blood so similar to his son's, on his hands even today if he looks real closely. He doesn't. He can't. But he knows it's there anyway because she is leaving and he is, as always, the one to blame. His eyes are burning a hole in their sockets from looking too long and too hard for ways to make her stay.

No, this isn't the end he's imagined for them. Sam has her suitcase out on the bed. It's made of a sinful black leather that would look great as a pair of pants except it's aging, like him. Worn from use. There's a cut beneath the side pocket, under the silver zipper. He stares at it because he can't stand to look at her face. He's spent so much time these past months staring at her face, fading like a photograph as she moved further away from him each day.

He's loved her for so long.

He's never imagined that it just wouldn't work. That she'd get tired of trying and begin packing her things with that wilted expression on her face like she's some dying flower, digging up her roots from the soil that's holding her down. His mouth is too hot to speak, so he stands in the doorway with his heart somewhere in his boots and his tongue shoved against his teeth.

Sam's shoulders are straight. A stiff defensive line that he can't cross. He remembers their rock hard strength when he would hold onto them as they made love, skin sticking together, making noises that they would laugh at later. He remembers clinging to them as she pulled him from near death too many times.

She picks up a shirt from the bed, folds it, and places it in the suitcase. He flinches, because that's one shirt less before she leaves. He can already trace her path to the door. He can already see it opening by her hand even though she's standing before him with her eyes wide and her mouth thin. Her face is a hard stone scribbled with a language he's sure even Daniel couldn't read.

There are wrinkles around her eyes. One for each time they've said goodbye.

It's been so many times now.

"I'm heading to P3X-531, Jack. I'll be back in a few days."

"Sam. I'll be at Daniel's. Call me when you care."

"Forget it, Jack. I can't take it anymore."

"Damn it, Sam. It's just a routine mission. I'll be fine. Still love me?"

"Jack, I have to go. I'm the only one who knows this stuff."

"It's like riding a bike. I'll be safer than if I flew in an airplane, Sam. Or something like that."

"I'm leaving you. Friday."

Sometime around Thursday, he realized she meant it. There wasn't any time to panic, but he did anyway. He followed her around the house with his voice booming and his knees aching. He tried to talk her down like she was about to jump from a roof. He even tried cornering her, calling her a coward, telling her he'd never known her to give up, but she never even budged.

She slept on the couch last night.

He hadn't slept at all.

Sam tosses him a look from beneath her bangs as she closes the top of her suitcase, tugging on the zipper. It hisses loudly at them both and he knows he's gonna hear it long after she's gone. Sam looks around, like she's left something behind. `Me,' he wants to say.

She looks so lost that he can't beg her to stay.

"Will you call?"

Sam nods. Terse. "When I get to Janet's. I'll be fine."

Yeah. But he won't.

Too bad they're still in love. Maybe it wouldn't hurt so much to let go of this broken boat and sink if there was a reason to hate each other. He wishes he'd cheated. He wishes she had. But no, it just hadn't worked. And loving her isn't going to change that. Not today. Not tomorrow, and she knows it, so she's leaving.

"Ten years," she says.

"And I still love you," he answers.

She looks at him, and there might even be a tear in her eye. Sam isn't one to cry, but he can tell by the swelling of her chest that she wants to in a real bad way. He swallows back a tear or two of his own and offers a smile, leaning against the wall, giving her space to exit, but not enough that she won't have to brush past him.

"You still leaving?"

Sam lifts her suitcase in answer. He stares at the rip again. It was his fault, that rip. He'd been trying to grab the bag away from her last night. When she'd jerked it back, it'd gotten caught on the sharp edge of the closet door.

As she passes, he catches the lingering scent of her shampoo and it makes his knees weak. She doesn't stop and he doesn't ask her to. They don't embrace because that isn't their way even now. Every time they've said goodbye, they've never touched and that's not going to change. Not even this last time.

He listens to her footsteps until he can't hear them anymore.

He hears the door open. Then shut.

The silence is loud and smothers his thoughts.

Jack lifts his hand, which has curled into a fist, and taps it against his mouth. He eyes the bed, and goddamn it, he's probably crying, but he's not going to touch his face to find out. No, he's just going to lean there against the wall and stares at the mattress where he's lain with her for so many years.

He's never imagined the end would be like this.

- - - -

the end

End Notes: I read the poem by Neil Shepard, and was immediately inspired. The lesson? Poetry is good for your muse.

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