Disclaimer: Nope, still don't own anything.
Summary: After leaving her sister in a mental institution years ago, Sam Carter had thought she had gotten over Elizabeth Summers untimely death three years ago. But, when Carter's alternate self from another reality comes through the Quantum Mirror she hears that Dr. Samantha Carter's ( "I prefer Samantha, thanks") sister, though having died at a young age, had a wonderful life, a loving husband, and a supportive sister. The incident leaves Carter wondering, had she not abandoned her own sister, would the young woman still be alive? Or, at the very least, would she have died knowing that her sister had loved her? But, is her sister really as dead as she believes? Nah. After all, what would have happened if no one had informed Sam that her sister had been brought back to life a year after her death? And now with the Goa'uld inching closer and closer, secrets and misconceptions are ready to be brought into the light, whether any one wants them to be or not.
Buffy felt the sun shine down on her, bathing her in warmth, trying to chase away the chill she couldn't seem to shake. She just wanted to stay there. Pretending to sleep for a little bit longer. She was so tired.
"Buffy," called a familiar voice and Buffy struggled to open her eyelids. She knew that voice.
There was always something about Merrick that made her body want to stand at attention. A click, a comforting familiarity even though their time was short. So very short. She felt a weight settle on the couch she was laid out on and felt the thick material of Merrick's jacket settle over her. Deftly he tucked the edges in around her, and the gnawing cold that had started to creep in began to fade.
"Buffy," Merrick said again, and Buffy finally managed to blink her eyes open.
"I'm tired." Buffy winced at the pout she heard in her voice, the slight whine that tinged her words, because even to her own ears she sounded about five years old.
"You've had a very taxing day and deserve to rest," Merrick agreed, "but--" Buffy rolled her eyes. There was always a 'but' with Merrick. A choice. She could fail or succeed and he would pull out every dirty trick in the book to make sure the choice would always the latter, not the former. "--You still have many things to do. And if you don't wake up, you will not be able to do any of them. It's growing very late."
"I'm already awake," she groused and stuck her tongue out at his 'that's not what I meant' expression. "My side hurts; I think I messed it up somehow."
"You did indeed hurt it. Which, by the way, you did very well with that demon. I was quite proud."
Buffy wrinkled her brow. There hadn't been a demon, she didn't battle demons. She battled vampires. Behind Merrick, the shadows started to grow longer, the light beginning to fade away, his blue eyes regarded the setting sun gravely for a moment before settling on Buffy once more.
"Our time is short. You must make your decision."
"Buffy, you must make your decision." A tinge of urgency colored his words, and Buffy remembered him calling out her name with that very same worry only once before. She wanted to resist the tug of urgency it brought out in her, she wanted to give in to the fatigue that had settled over her and just sleep. She wanted to let Merrick watch over her once more and keep her safe one last time. "I don't want to leave you," she said finally.
A sad smile took form and Buffy felt bad for having caused it. "I am ever at your service," Merrick replied, "and whatever your decision, I will be here for you."
Buffy watched the shadows grow, filling the room until she and Merrick were almost completely cocooned.
With the last flicker of light fading away, Buffy dug one arm from beneath the heavy jacket and grabbed one of Merrick's hands. "I think it's time for me to wake up."
The skin around Merrick's eyes had always crinkled when he grinned and his eyes were so happy Buffy felt like they almost shone, battling away the dark that was enveloping them. Merrick reached forward with his free hand and tucked away an errant lock of hair from Buffy's face.
"Then I believe it is time for you to open your eyes." Merrick leaned forward and kissed Buffy gently on the forehead.
Buffy closed her eyes, soaking in the love she felt for just a moment.
When she opened her eyes, she smelled the familiar scent of dust and ink and tea that she had come to associate with Giles and felt a smile spread across her lips as he leaned back, his face wreathed in relief.
She also felt the warmth of sleeping bodies on either side of her and didn't have to look to know who was snuggled against her. "Did you just lean over Faith to kiss my forehead?"
Giles reddened slightly, a look of mock severity overcoming his face as he pointed a finger at her. "If you would stop trying to scare years of my life away, I wouldn't be driven to such drastic measures of concern."
Buffy snorted softly. "Kennedy?"
"Kennedy is well. She's already recovered and been ordered to work on how she could have prevented tonight's almost-disaster."
"Sent her to bed with no supper, huh?"
"Even worse," Giles smirked. "I asked Andrew to go over every moment of the hunt and work on various strategies she could have used to prevent the demon from taking her down so easily."
"Oh, you are a mean, mean Watcher-man."
"Quite, he was very put out when he learned you were injured and surprisingly frigid towards her when he learned of what type of demon you had been fighting and what had happened." Giles paused. The silence lasted long enough that Buffy slowly craned her neck up to look at him and Buffy was surprised by the look in his eyes. She guessed it spoke about how rough the last few years had been that she couldn't actually remember the last time Giles had looked at her just as Buffy Summers and not Slayer Buffy, possible Savior of humanity. "Come to that, I believe he was put out with me as well for good reason."
"He's turning into a good Watcher."
"Very, God help us all."
"You're a good teacher, Giles."
They let the silence fall back over them. Buffy could see the faint outline of the sunrise through the curtains.
"You should rest," Giles said finally.
Buffy didn't want to admit she was sleepy. She felt as though all she had been doing was sleeping. It was time for her to wake up. Time for her to stop pretending.
"Buffy, sleep, you still need to gather your energy." Giles stood, smoothing out the covers he had disturbed and tucking them more firmly around Buffy, Faith and Dawn. "We can talk in the morning."
"Giles, will you read to me?" Buffy could admit she felt a little ridiculous for asking. She was old enough that she should not be asking anyone for a bedtime story, but she wasn't ready to let Giles go.
It didn’t feel like she was pretending anymore. It felt, instead, like closing a chapter. One that she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to just yet though she knew she had to.
Giles grabbed the book from beside her bed and shot her a pleased smile when he read the title.
"What can I say? You and your Britishness have rubbed off me," Buffy quipped.
Giles settled himself on the other side of Faith as he opened the book. Buffy snuggled down till she was nestled between Faith and Dawn. She felt a slight twinge in her ribs from where the knife had caught her earlier, but it was a phantom ache from its earlier pain.
The soft cadence of Giles' voice filled the room and Buffy felt herself falling asleep. Safe and warm with her family around her.
Sam looked down at the Cassandra's sleeping face and tried to let go of some of the stress from the last few days. She’d arrived at the house an hour ago and hadn't done anything more than to take off her shoes before making her way towards the girl’s room.
She hadn't minded offering to watch over Cassie until Janet had been able to get out of the base. Cassandra was a wonderful child, full of life and love and an innocence that was sometimes surprising given her past, and Sam was happy to spend the next few hours just being a regular person taking care of her god-daughter. It would be nice to be normal for a little bit.
Cassie slept sprawled all over the bed. She loosely held onto a moose with one hand, a present that Sam had gotten her right after the adoption had gone through, and her other arm looped around a heart pillow, one that had been hand-stitched by Janet around the same time.
The blankets laid in ruins, tangled around the girl’s feet, her hair coming out of the braid that the sitter had probably put it into. Carter carefully tugged the blankets loose, pulling them back over Cassandra with a gentleness she was not often able to display.
She had done the same thing a million times for Buffy when they had been younger. Buffy had the same tendency to take up every inch of available space on the bed while managing to kick every bit of blanket on the floor except for the little that had always ended up tangled around her legs. Sam had become something of a pro at un-tucking and re-tucking blankets because of it.
Sam's heart felt heavy in her chest at the memory.
Sometimes, Cassandra reminded Sam so much to Buffy it hurt to look at her.
Not the Buffy Sam had last seen, all broken and alone in that hospital their father had put her in, but the Buffy from before things had gotten bad. The one that always got into everything and always slept with the stuffed pig Mark had won at a fair, the one who wore tutus and made Sam play make-up with her instead of letting her study.
She wondered, several times several times now, how her life would have been if she had never joined the Air Force. If she’d taken care of Buffy, instead, and given up on her dreams. No. Not given up, but altered them.
Changed them to fit the needs of her sister instead of her own ambition.
If she had, Cassie wouldn’t be in the picture. Sam already knew that. She had talked about it with the other Samantha and she’d never even heard of the planet they’d found Cassandra on, which meant that the young girl would have never been rescued. Would probably have died.
Sam settled into the rocking chair, one that she sat in as often as she could and read to Cassie when she was on-world and able to get away from the mountain and her lab.
Rocking back and forth, she sat and looked and wondered if she hadn’t actually traded her sister’s life for this. This slice of ‘normal’, as it were.
Eventually, the rocking lulled her into a sleep, and Sam dreamed of possibilities where her sister was alive, smiling, and laughing.
It was a familiar dream, one that had haunted him for much of the last five years.
He thought it's stubborn failure to just leave him the Hell alone was something of a testament to just how often his life tended to implode on itself.
Sometimes the scariest nightmares didn't have to about a monster waiting in the dark.
Jack found that the worst nightmares were the ones based on things he had lived through, even though he sometimes wished he hadn't.
He remembered That Day in the garden.
It was clear enough that he could recall so many details; the weather, the way the clouds floated above him and Sarah, their bodies perfect and white and fucking-fluffy for Christ’s sake, just enough that the afternoon sun was obscured ever so slightly. He could still recall how its light had made Sarah’s blonde hair look a little like a halo around her face.
She had been smiling, so happy for once-- perhaps for the first time in years, because he couldn’t have denied that things had been rough enough between them that they had both discussed the possibility of calling it quits.
There had been so much stress already on their marriage. Jack's stress had mostly stemmed from his commitment to his country, to the things he had to endure because of the oaths he had made.
For Sarah, it had been different. It was never an easy thing to be a military spouse, Jack had always known that and Sarah had accepted the responsibility when he had proposed to her so long ago. Sarah had stood beside him for most of the previous fifteen years, she had raised Charlie more or less on her own, and she had waited for nearly a year just to find out if Jack was alive or dead less than two years prior. Sarah had been with him through so much, but Jack just hadn't been able to be there for her and eventually it became too much. Too many missed dates, too many missed games and school plays, too many missed years.
When it came to a choice between his family or his country, Jack had figured that for once, he was going to put his family first and took the offer he'd been given for early retirement after he had returned from being MIA.
He’d had only two weeks left and then it was supposed to be sun-filled afternoons, lazy mornings, taking Charlie to school, and playing with him after school, helping out with homework, going to his base ball games, cheering for his son….
Jack had been so happy in that moment. That damned perfect moment when he’d smiled at Sarah and she had smiled back.
Then everything had stopped.
The crack of his gun had sounded, and Jack had felt his world crumble beneath his feet.
It was always the same, a part of him figured that he should be happy that his dream never included when he busted through that door, because no father, no parent should have to remember finding their child dead.
In his dream Jack didn’t have to go through Sarah calling the ambulance. He didn’t have to remember how Sarah had made him let go of Charlie. He didn’t have to remember the actual words he'd said to the police. Instead he could perfectly recall the pity in the officers’ eyes as they took the report and the blame he saw reflected back at him for leaving the safe unlocked.
The dream always ended the same way and no matter how much he wanted to wake himself up he never could. It always wound to a close when he was in the shower.
Even now he couldn't remember taking off the stained clothes or even actually washing Charlie's blood off of his body. Instead he remembered how cold the water from the shower had become after the hot water had been burned through and the freezing temperature of the well water poured down upon him, chilling him till he felt like he would never be able to feel again. Jack couldn't recall how long he had sat there until Sarah had turned off the water and climbed into the tub, her arms wrapping around him as though she could anchor him.
When the water had stopped was when he had realized he had been crying because his life was over.
Jack awoke with tears on his cheeks.
Not many, a trickle more than anything. Just enough, though, that he was grateful that Frasier had left them unhooked because he was pretty certain that this would probably have been enough to set something off.
Daniel stirred in his bed…and remained asleep, thankfully. Jack wasn’t prepared for a touchy-feely talk with his friend. That was one thing about the archaeologist; he always wanted to know why, to discover the root of a problem, and while Jack had probably shared more about his life with Jackson than he had any other person, he couldn’t talk about Charlie with him. Not yet. Possibly not ever. Jack wasn’t repressing. He had come to terms with his son’s death. He just didn’t want to rehash everything. Ever.
He scrubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms, wiping away any traces of tears. He was exhausted, even more than when he’d fallen asleep however long ago. He was too tired to reach for his watch, or look at the clock, or anything really. It was one reason he didn’t like sleeping on the base. It always seemed to screw up his internal clock.
There was a movement to his left, the soft rustling of sheets, and Jack cracked open eyes he hadn’t been aware had been closed.
Teal’c sat on his bed, his limbs held loosely in the silent repose of Kel’norem. Or so Jack thought until the Jaffa opened his eyes.
If Teal’c had noticed anything out of the ordinary, then the big man wasn’t saying anything about it, something that Jack was sincerely thankful for.
Teal’c took repressing to new heights of unhealthy. Not that Jack was repressing anything; damn it.
"It is some hours still till DoctorFraiser will come and wake you, O’Neill. There is still time for you to rest. I shall watch."
Jack nodded thankfully and didn’t even raise the issue that they were on the base, not off-world, and technically there wasn’t any need for watches. He wasn’t about to raise an issue because knowing that Teal’c was there and watching made everything…easier.
Jack closed his eyes, listening to the soft snuffling snores of Daniel and the calm breathing of Teal’c, and somewhere between the breaths and the snuffling Jack fell into a dreamless sleep.
Thanks for reading everyone! Please forgive all mistakes because I completely put new stuff in after I had gotten it back from the betas.
Once again, thanks you to the lovely Windeetree and RevDorothyL who beta-ed and Megan who cheers me on and forward.