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Linger

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Sam. She was Sam. She knew who she was, she knew what her job was, and everything else was immaterial. She'd stuffed all that shit down so deep and so fast. She'd had to. Survival. Thera was dead, had never existed. What hadn't even been real was all gone.

But maybe in her haste she hadn't been careful enough. Too desperate to cleanse herself of feelings. It was the equivalent of sweeping dirt under the rug, or shoving armfuls of clutter into an overly small closet, it was going to come bite you in the ass later. You were going to run out of room under the rug that was now bulging or the closet door would burst open on you. If she'd had the luxury, she would have taken a careful amount of time packing everything away where it belonged. Before locking it up and throwing away the key. Or keeping it somewhere really safe? She didn't want to make that decision right now.

They'd both done such a great job pretending everything was fine that they'd been sent out on another mission with only a couple of days break. They spent a day exploring the abandoned village, half consumed by sand. They found the well had dried up, and without water the people had been forced to move on. With only enough water for a day, SG1 would spend the night and return home in the morning.

Maybe it was the heat, or the orange tint to the sky. Maybe it was the oh so familiar smell of his sweat. Or maybe they were just hot and tired and not thinking when tents were erected and gear was stowed and Sam found her stuff sharing a space with his. She had first watch and sat looking at the sky as if she'd never seen it before. When he came to relive her and send her to bed he brushed a hand lightly on her arm and his face changed and he was Jonah, just for a moment. She wasn't sure if he was aware of it. But it shook her down to her core. She went to bed terrified of the way Thera had bubbled up without any warning or say so from her. That wasn't supposed to happen.

She desperately wished sleep on herself, and of course it didn't happen because life doesn't work like that. She lay looking up at the roof of the tent, slightly illuminated by the dusky orange alien sky. She wasn't going to think about Jonah's eyes looking out from the Colonel's face. She wasn't going to think about loosing not only Thera, but him. She wasn't going to think about the person he was without all the baggage... softer, calmer, more at peace but a little lost. She wasn't going to think about his attentions and how quickly he'd worked out the extent to which he affected her. She wasn't going to think about how addicted he'd got to finding her in private spaces and learning how to touch her. She wasn't going to think about any of it. She refused. She refused her feelings, as if strength of will alone could prevent them. She set her jaw firm and determined, closed her eyes and attempted to sleep, shouting a silent 'no' at every stray, unwanted, intruding memory.

In half sleep she was aware of him coming to bed, undressing from the heat, the scent of him curling around her and tugging at her nerve endings. She was aware enough of who she was not to seek out his body, but not quite enough to prevent her from turning to face him and reaching out a hand. She fell back to sleep touching his arm.

Jonah was tracing gentle circles on her wrist. In a sleepy fuzz she stirred and pulled closer to him. She was momentarily confused by the sleeping bags between them, and not the rough blankets she was used to. His fingers moved a practiced route up her arm, over sensitive spots and towards her neck. She followed his touch and his scent where they lured her, until she'd found her usual spot curled against his body. His fingertips dancing just underneath her earlobe was the signal for her to tilt her head, giving his lips better access to her neck. She luxuriated in his slow soft mouth, playing their habitual game of holding out as long as possible before the need to find his lips with hers would overwhelm her.

He stopped.
"Oh shit," he grunted, pushing away from her, breaking her from her half-awake absorption.
That wasn't Jonah. That was Jack. No... Colonel O'Neill. She could only whimper and turn her back, desperately fighting against her body which was already half way down a path she wasn't allowed down. Not with this version of him anyway.
"Sorry Carter," his voice came, sounding so similar to Jonah it was almost indistinguishable, aside from the words used. Thera wanted Jonah badly, wanted to go to him, to say something to him, anything to make things right, and to finish what they started. It was so ironic that the threatening pain was making her instinctively crave her usual place of comfort in his arms. But his arms didn't exist anymore. Jonah didn't exist anymore. It was just Jack, and Sam shouldn't and couldn't want Jack.
"Sam?"
"Let's just go back to sleep, sir."
She squished her eyes tight shut and tensed, waiting for his response, which took longer than she was expecting.
"Fine," he said with a terse business-like tone that stung more than she liked.
The only way of getting back to sleep was to embrace denial with an intense commitment and occupy her mind with the most unrelated thing she could think of. Childhood memories were dragged up to replace recent memories of a different life and block invading emotions.

She woke in his arms. For a perfect few moments she was Thera, relishing the stolen moment and the reassuring sound of his heart beating in the broad chest under her head. He was breathing softly into her hair. Nothing had ever felt safer. Nothing had ever come close to this feeling of contentment. She breathed in the familiar scent of him and ran her hand up his body. There was something unexpected around his neck. He stirred and kissed her forehead with an unintelligible murmur. She closed fingers around metal tags. Her fingers recognised them before her brain had caught up. Then that moment of the bottom of the world falling away with a sickening lurch. It was automatic to want to desperately cling onto something, and for a moment somewhere between a micro-second and a lifetime, she wondered if she couldn't just have this anyway. She pressed her face into his body and took one more long but ragged breath, then wrenched herself away. She told herself how strong she was, how brave, how noble, how dedicated an officer she was. It felt hollow and phoney and bitter.
"Hmm?" he said, wondering where she'd gone, and why probably.
She fled. She grabbed her stuff and left the tent before any of her emotions could really take hold. She wasn't going to go there. She knew if she did it would get dark fast and she couldn't allow that. She greeted Daniel brightly and grabbed some coffee, trying not to care that the colonel hadn't followed her and not to notice the slight tremble to her hands.

Daniel was the perfect distraction, happily answering her questions about the history of the long gone local inhabitants with useful verbosity. She barely looked at Colonel O'Neill when he joined them later, not willing to risk what might happen if she met his eyes, and a little bit afraid of what she might find in them if she did.

She persuaded herself this life was better. She didn't have him, but she had everything else. A life. Freedom. Not just the sky but many skies, spread across a galaxy. How could she give that up? It was immaterial anyway. She had dedicated herself to the Air Force and that meant something. Even without the whole saving the world thing, it meant something. She couldn't give herself to him because she'd already given herself to her country.

"Carter?" he said casually, as he fell in step with her on the short hike back to the gate.
"Sir?"
"Do we need to have a conversation?"
"About?"
She was hoping he'd get the message that she clearly didn't want to talk about it. He either didn't get the message or was determined enough to plough on.
"Last night. And this morning. And er..."
She waited for him to finish, and when he didn't she sighed. If he was hoping for her help, he wasn't going to get it. As far as she was concerned there was nothing to say.

For a while they marched in silence, Sam focusing entirely on her boots treading on gritty sand and the way it gave way slightly under her sole, making every step slightly harder work than it would have been otherwise.
"This isn't easy for me either you know?" he said.
The idea that he might be struggling, broke through her defences and she turned to look at him. Concern for him trumped everything else. Didn't it always? That was something she wasn't going to be able to bury. He shrugged and gave her a wry smile, one of those ones that might hide pain or might not, sometimes you just couldn't tell.
"Sucks doesn't it?" he said, with a lift of his chin, a tiny gesture that felt like he was having to pull some inner strength from somewhere. Probably that infinite well he seemed to have inside him. She nodded mutely.

Her breath puffed as they trudged up a small but steep rise, and the Stargate came into view on the plain below.

"I meant it all," he said quietly, without looking at her. "I don't know if you need to know that or... um..."
"Me too."
"It doesn't go away just because we... hmm."
He wasn't very good at finishing his sentences, but he didn't need to. She understood more than she was comfortable with, and wasn't sure if what he was saying, or not saying, made her feel better or worse.

They took the small steep descent at a fast pace, feet slipping through the sand, and started across the firmer plain towards the gate.

"I guess we should avoid sharing a tent from now on," he said, with a military clip to his voice that she greatly appreciated.
"Um. Yes."
"Are you..."
"We can handle this. Sir," she spoke over him so she wouldn't have to side-step whatever it was he was going to ask her.
"Of course we can Major."
"Thank you sir."

She knew he was looking at her, watching her, waiting to see if she would turn and meet his gaze and allow that connection she was so afraid of. For some reason, these few seconds of time felt significant in some way she might understand at a later point. It suddenly felt like a huge decision. A choice between shutting that door safely and completely, or risk whatever might come from leaving it ajar slightly.

She turned her head to find a soft gaze she couldn't distinguish between Jonah or Jack, and an almost imperceptible smile, that unless you knew Jack O'Neill really well, you wouldn't notice. She reciprocated with warmth and sincerity and decided that everything in his gaze was better than nothing and worth the way it ached.