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Here - only 5 days late! - is the birthday fic I promised draco_somnians. It has certainly been done before, diabetics need a high glucose warning, but ultimately, its something I hope is quite appropriate, all things considered. I'm sorry that Siler and Walter could not be there. No doubt they were invited, but were on the duty roster that day.

Oh, and I'd better wish a Happy Birthday! to annerbhp and petite_stars, while I am here. As you can see, I'm running a bit late on fics. I blame several of your moms (who had the temerity to chose due dates in close order) and my muse (who has always been whimsical). Now don't - please - get all up in arms in defense of moms everywhere. I like moms, I have one, I am one, but I was raised in a Freudian era, and I therefore know that everything can be traced back to and blamed on moms!

In any case I wish both of you a joyous and happy birthday, filled with youth, beauty, and joie de vivre!

Title: Practicing for Perfect
Season: In the No-Man's Land between Eight and Nine
Warnings: If you are diabetic, administer insulin now. Post-coital cuddling warning too.
Spoilers: Everything and very little up to then. In other words nothing big, but there are details pulled from episodes here and there.
Synopsis: A long car drive from Groom Lake to Colorado Springs allows Sam to reflect.

Practicing for Perfect

They were still at the beginning of a trip that would take them at least 16 hours on the road, past the traffic of Vegas and starting into the long stretch of US 15 that would take them well into Colorado, and Cassie was at the wheel, when Sam could no longer bite back the urge to speak up. At this rate they would be getting in long after dark, even with the short summer nights and a departure that had started before dawn to avoid drive time around Vegas.

“Cassie, I know for a fact that two of your driving instructors are jet pilots, and another cut his eye teeth on death gliders and even Daniel can drive up and down Saharan dunes in a way that puts the fear of God in me, so do you think we could maybe go just a little bit faster?”

“Yeah, well another of my instructors was a doctor, and she used to sit in the passenger seat of her old Subaru and tell me all about the injuries she’d treated from automobile accidents, starting way back from her years as a med student, and she had some really gross ones!”

Sam was relieved to see that this time the memories of Janet provoked a fond smile, and not watery eyes, or tight lips. Coming to this point had been a lot of hard work for both of them, and Sam was sure that her decision to transfer off of a frontline team, at least for the time being, had helped. Sam had her own reasons for the transfer, and those brought a smile to her own lips. Janet would certainly have approved those too.

If it had been Sam’s car, she would simply have insisted on her turn at the wheel, but this was Cassie’s prized possession, a high school graduation gift from her Uncle Jack. She planned to have an extended visit with various of her friends in Colorado Springs during the next few weeks, and then head off in it for her deferred freshman year of college. Both Sam and Jack felt that she was ready for the stresses and strains of a rigorous academic program at a top flight school, along with being ready to start all over in yet another new place, making a whole new set of friends. In the year immediately following Janet’s death she would have been overwhelmed.

Not wanting to discuss the gruesome details of Janet’s trauma cases, Sam tried for a lighter topic.

“So, I know what I’ve taught you about handling speed. What have the rest of SG-1 had to say?”

Cassie smiled fondly, but kept her eyes on the road.

“Teal’c told me that speed is a weapon, and that a good warrior uses his weapons with wisdom, and only when it becomes necessary. Daniel told me that people have been complaining about the reckless driving of the younger generation ever since the invention of the chariot, and then he very quietly reminded me of what it would do to Uncle Jack to have to bury another kid he cared about.”

There was silence for several minutes, as both of them contemplated that idea with some horror, or more accurately, tried not to contemplate it.

“So,” said Sam a little too brightly, “what did Uncle Jack say?”

“That he’d taught me everything he knew about driving and how to handle speed and acceleration on both manual and automatic transmissions, and that I could handle just about anything, but that if he heard so much as a whisper of the idea of a traffic ticket in the same state as my name, that he was going to send Teal’c to confiscate my keys. And then he said ‘Besides, if you ask Carter, she’ll tell ya’ that it’s all physics, and the laws of nature are gonna win every time, so don’t take ‘em on.”

That was all well and good, but this trip was going to last forever! Unable to come up with another pressing topic of conversation at the moment, Sam lapsed into silence, and began to think about the other topic that had been occupying her mind of late.

The first time she’d planned a wedding had been in Washington D.C. Precedence and protocol might not have been invented there, but they were the lifeblood of the place, and weddings were fraught with it. The moment that Sam had broken the news of her engagement to Jonas Hanson, her father had arranged for the services of one of Washington’s leading wedding planners. He’d insisted that he wanted his little girl to have the very best. Most daughters who worked as hard and as dutifully as Sam had for their father’s approval as she had would have been thrilled. Sam noted the brittleness of the smile, and the look in his eye, and wondered if her father was fully behind her choice of partner.

By the fourth meeting with the fussy little man, she was sure that this was Jacob’s way of registering his disapproval without actually having to open his mouth and go on record with it. The process was absolute torture, and Jacob had taken to calling after each session to inquire with an odd mixture of deadpan dryness and good cheer how things were going. Was his only daughter getting everything, everything she wanted? This had the flavor of the prom dress incident, when he had kept insisting that yes, yes she was lovely in it, but didn’t she think that bow emphasized her hips just a little, and didn’t the color of the one she exchanged it for wash her out just slightly? He just wanted her to look stunning. After seven dresses from four different shops, she had seen the light and bought something very simple, rather conservative, and tending to draw the eyes upwards to her face, rather than showcasing her other attributes. Jacob had beamed, patted her lightly on the shoulder, and told her that he was pleased that she was such an intelligent child, and such a quick study.

“Yeah,” Sam had muttered. “It only took me eight tries.”

Jacob had pretended not to hear, and Sam had enjoyed the prom well enough, though her dress had not had nearly the effect on Johnny O’Mara that she had been hoping it would.

This fourth meeting was all about the tables at the reception. There was yet another deep stack of the man’s seemingly endless stacks of binders to go through, one for each different type of item. There had been swatches of fabric to go through, and the thorny question of whether the color theme chosen for the wedding would be slightly altered from that of the reception (“I like to think of it as adding overtones!”) or just ported across wholesale (“Some brides prefer to make a statement at the wedding, and carry that over to the reception. And of course the venues you’ve chosen mesh so well!”). Then there was the fraught choice of whether to use many small round tables (“Good for families with divorces! Nobody has to sit next to anybody!”) or several long tables (“The only way to go with large extended families. It makes it harder to argue that this person or that person was seated at a better table!”). Now they were looking at the binder from the concern that would be renting the china service. Sam had flipped through and found six patterns that seemed reasonable, and after Jonas had hated four of them – her top four, unfortunately – she had gone for the one she liked best of the two remaining, a simple white service with a plain gold rim. The planner had made another one of his faces (“sphincter lips” Jonas had labeled that one after the previous session).

“Ooooh, I don’t know! A lieutenant colonel and a captain… Although your father is a general, so it might not be considered too ostentatious.”

Sam had rapidly declared for the other one, even though Jonas’ expression clearly indicated that he was displeased that she had chosen to do so. They were again plain white, with a simple midnight blue rim and a thin millimeter-width stripe of gold on the outside edge. He could not understand why she would not avail herself of the opportunity to get the one she preferred. Her father was a general.

“That’s precisely why,” she’d said. Somehow that argument had been the first in a series, and it was not too long after that that she had come to the realization that in agreeing to marry Jonas she had bitten off more than she could chew, sat herself down for a tactical review, and reluctantly but adamantly returned the ring. There had been no fifth meeting. Her father’s consolation came with a strong whiff of self-satisfied triumph.

Shortly after midday Cassie took an exit and made for the diner that had been visible from the highway. They’d ordered chef’s salads, and a side of fries to share. Cassie splurged on a mocha shake, but Sam had gone for an ice tea with lemon and Splenda.

“I wish I could eat like you do,” Cassie said. “But I’m like Mom, a little dumpy thing. I have to be careful or I pack on the pounds, and I’m sure that when we eat with the uncles it’ll be all burgers and pizza and steak, not to mention the cake, so I’d better save up for that.”

Sam wished she could eat like she did too, but now that she was working in the labs, she’d noticed that she wasn’t burning through the calories as effortlessly as she once did. She’d been budgeting for that cake too. She’d been busy envying Cassie her youthful metabolism that allowed her to opt for the milkshake, and still think she was cutting back.

After they got back on the road it was Sam’s turn to drive for a while, and she was pleased that they would be making a little more headway. They’d had an early start though, and between that, the affects of the midday heat, still present – though dampened by the air conditioning – in the closed interior, and the lulling effect of a full stomach, Cassie was soon asleep, her head pillowed on the car’s emergency blanket, and Sam was once again left to her own thoughts.

Planning a wedding with Pete had been like a tug of war. Pete was boisterous and exuberant, and wanted to invite the whole world. Sam had reveled in his happiness and excitement, but the wedding plans with Jonas had left a certain bad aftertaste, and she was older now, and the whole idea of the formality of a wedding had taken on less importance in the face of other issues like world annihilation and sudden violent death. She wanted something small, simple, with a few close friends and family, understated and calm. It didn’t mesh well with Pete’s desire to invite half the Denver PD, all the Colorado Springs PD, and his entire large Irish Catholic family to the Wedding of the Century. She’d been fortunate, in that Pete’s mother, a sweet and welcoming woman, surprisingly small and birdlike, with a jutting and determined chin had been Sam’s ally. He was a divorced man, she’d declared. While she appreciated her son’s desire to share his delight, it just would not be seemly.

Still there were many small details to work out, from a venue, to the cake, and the flowers, and it had not helped that Pete’s choices, when he could be coaxed into stating them (“I just want you to have what you like, Babe. This is your only wedding. I’ve had one already!”) were not the ones she would have made. The cake was going to be a vanilla monstrosity. She’d tasted the baker’s chocolate mousse cake, and it had been divine. She had been looking forward to seeing Daniel’s expression of bliss as he tasted it. She probably should have been hit by the clue bus earlier, though, because at the back of every choice was the quiet, niggling guilt about the fact that she needed to consider what the General would think about it.

Sam slowed as she spotted the vehicle in the far distance tucked into the dirt-track U-turn area ahead, and proceeded at a sedate sixty-five miles per hour past the state police cruiser. Things would be different this time. A small event in front of a Justice of the Peace, with only SG-1 and Cassie present, and a quiet meal afterwards to celebrate. It was what Sam wanted.

He’d worried about that. They’d been tangled up, arms legs, and sheets in one confused mass, her shoulder tucked under his right armpit, her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat gradually slowing in the aftermath of their lovemaking. His hand had stilled and left its soothing and repetitive stroking through the lengthening strands of her hair and he’d reached across her to the bedside table where her dog tags lay. He ran his thumb slowly over the raised lettering, lingering just beyond the ones recording her religious affiliation.

“RC,” he’d read. “I’m divorced. That means no priest, no church, and no mass. Is that going to bother you?”

His expression was nonchalant, and somewhat inquisitive, but he’d forgotten to breathe as he awaited her answer. This mattered to him. Continuing eye contact, she’d levered herself up onto an elbow, and smiled.

“With everything I’ve seen out there, all the posturing false gods I’ve come across, I doubt that that is the sort of detail that God really cares about. I don’t think I can believe in a God that would judge me by such petty rules. Not anymore. The thing that matters to me is having a chance to stand up in front of the people I love and show them that I am yours, and you are mine. I’ll take you any way I can get you, mister!”

He’d started breathing again, and his smile could have melted the iris, let alone her all-too-human heart. Then there was kissing, and it turned out he’d been holding out on her. Westley and Buttercup had nothing on them. It released such a torrent of feeling in her that she’d had to spend several minutes desperately controlling her breathing, swallowing, and sniffing to avoid letting loose the tears that she knew would just confuse and upset him. This time she was sure - so sure! - that she was doing the right thing.

Cassie was behind the wheel when they finally turned off the highway and made for the motel Sam had booked on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. It was late, and they were both tired. They’d eaten dinner a few hours back, and neither of them felt the need for anything more, so after calling all of SG-1 individually, to let them know that they were there, all checked in safe and sound, they’d opted for a quick swim in the motel pool and then bed. Tomorrow would be a busy day. Cassie had insisted that Sam was to spend her last night as a single woman out of sight of her bridegroom. Sam had protested that she was a mature and emancipated woman, and that there was no need for her to knuckle under to antiquated tradition, but Cassie had learned to play dirty pool from some of the Universe’s best, and “You know that Mom would never let you get away with spending this night with him!” had won the argument, once and for all.

Originally, Cassie had hinted at the possibility of a small two-woman bachelorette party, but neither of them had wanted to go through the motions, just for the sake of having done it. They agreed to get ready to turn in, and when Cassie returned from her turn in the bathroom and Sam put her brush down and prepared to take her own turn, Cassie stopped her.

“I just wanted to be sure to say this tonight, before things get crazy. If Mom were here…” She paused a moment to get her voice back under her command. “She would have been so pleased for you. This is what she wanted. I wanted you to know that.”

Sam had held her, and they had cried, and hugged, and smiled, and cried a bit more. It was, Sam thought, all the bachelorette party she wanted, and though not physically present, Janet had been there.

They were up by seven the next morning, and off for breakfast at a favorite coffee house nearby. The dress that Cassie would wear, and the two Sam would use (one for the actual wedding, and the other for the celebratory meal afterward) were hanging in their dress bags in the car, along with Sam’s suitcase, their dress shoes, and a surprisingly large tackle box that Cassie said was her make-up and hair supplies. She had insisted on helping Sam with her “face” and hair. Looking at the size of the box, Sam privately hoped that she would not end up looking like a clown.

If someone had asked them later what it was they had eaten, neither woman would have been able to say. Sam only knew that her anticipatory nerves would not let her feel her appetite, let alone taste her food, and Cassie, in a pelter to get going on the day, wolfed hers down so fast that it was doubtful she could have passed judgment on its quality. Well before the appointed hour of eight a.m. they were awaiting Daniel on the steps of City Hall, where he had agreed to meet them. He had a friend in the registrar’s office that could show them to a room where they could change, both before and after the ceremony. He’d be making the introductions, and then setting off to complete his own duties before the actual ceremony got underway at nine.

Sam was in her gown with her hair in a careful and glossy French twist, and Cassie was just putting the finishing touches on a subdued and subtle make-up job when Teal’c knocked on the door. He had the boxes from the florist’s that he had been tasked with bringing, and looked simply enormous in a conservative black tux, with a matching fedora hat. He smiled at the sight before him, and inclined his head to one side in approval.

“It is fitting. It was that occasion that allowed me to see for the first time that you were not just a beautiful woman, but a formidable warrior. The Jaffa call that a tradn’ash vrem’nac” he said. “A trinium bellflower.”

Cassie seized the smallest of the boxes and took out the daisies and cornflowers that were to be pinned along the back of the twist, and when she had positioned them to her satisfaction, she opened another box and removed the two wreaths of baby’s breath to go in Sam’s and her own hair. Her own was swiftly placed, and then she reached reverently in and picked up Sam’s which had the addition of gossamer ribbons, dyed to match the dress, hanging down the sides and back, tapering down as they went to stand in place of a veil. The final effect was delicate and unusual, allowing a full and unobstructed view of Sam’s face and magnificent eyes.

This done, she looked around for another box, but there was none. Teal’c raised a knowing eyebrow.

“That box is for another to deliver,” he said, and opened the door and gestured to someone in the hallway. “It is time.”

In stepped another figure, tall and slender in his tux, with a thinning head of strawberry blonde hair and a broad smile, holding the final box.

“Mark!” Sam exclaimed in delight, rising to hug him. “I…”
She stopped, not knowing what to say.

“I understand,” he said. “You weren’t sure how I’d take the news of your marriage so soon after cancelling the last wedding. That bridegroom of yours called, and he asked me to come. Begged me, actually. I think he was kind of surprised when I agreed right away. You’re family, Sam. I’m here for you. Always. The rest of them couldn’t make it. Work. Pre-season football practice. Freshman orientation. But I’m here to fly the flag for all of us...”

And he put down the box, and she hugged him.

When the box was opened, it proved to have the basket of daisies, cornflowers, and baby’s breath that they were expecting for Cassie, but for Sam there was an odd strip arrangement.

“I can get you the bouquet that you ordered, if you want,” Mark said. “I had them make it up and paid for it, just to be sure, but I thought you’d want this, to go with these,” and he held out a small prayer book, covered in white kid, and a rosary.

Sam knew them, knew them well. They had been her mother’s.

“About four years ago, Dad told me that if it ever came to this moment, I should make sure that you could carry these. A patented Dad way of signaling his blessing, I guess. I told him he should be the one, but he said that life was uncertain, and it would make him feel better to know that I knew to do it.”

“Thank you,” Sam said, when she could summon her voice, although it still came out sounding to her ears more like a trained crow than a woman. She wasn’t sure whether she was thanking Mark or her father. Mark gently took the book back from her, slipped the portion that was bare of flowers between its pages, so that flowers appeared to drip down from the book in a gentle cascade, and handed it back.

“Dad isn’t here to say it, so I will,” he said. “That fellow of yours ever hurts you, you just let me know, and I’ll give him what he’s got coming.”

While Sam was busy envisioning the ultimate futility of that, Teal’c weighed in.

“You would not be first,” he said.

He drew a small cream colored envelope out of his breast pocket and handed to Sam. She handed the prayer book and rosary to him to hold and noting that it had been sent by General Hammond in Washington, to her, care of Teal’c, she carefully levered open the back flap, and pulled out the matching sheet of notepaper.

Dear Sam – she read.

I told you earlier of my great regret that I could not be there to give you away in Jacob’s stead. Nothing less than a Presidential command has kept me here, as you know. I am sure you will be in good hands, if not better, with Teal’c. I know he is deeply honored, because he has told me as much.

I wish I could be there in person on this day to tell you that Jacob and I talked several times over the years about the possibility that this day would come. Things being as they were at the time of his death, I don’t know if he ever told you this, but this day is one of his dreams for you come true. He never spoke to me of you without enormous pride, and he so much wanted for you the deep and abiding love that he found with your mother.

My congratulations and best wishes to you both,
George Hammond

Sam read the letter over a second time, savoring it, and then replaced it in its envelope, and slipped it into the front cover of the prayer book as she took it and the rosary back.

“Your dress is beautiful, and it makes you look stunning, but it’s really unusual,” Mark said. “What made you chose it?”

“A tribe on one of our early missions had me wear it,” she said. “So I could blend in. The guys all really liked it, but when we were leaving, of course I gave it back. One of our last official missions as the original SG-1 was to revisit the area as a final follow-up to a sociological study that was being done there. They took a look at us, and I guess they saw something, because on our last night there one of the women gave this to me, and insisted I would need it soon. I thought she was nuts, but now using this just seems right.”

She thought for a moment about the stays digging into her sides.

“Especially since I won’t be wearing it long,” she said, thinking of the far more comfortable midnight blue silk mid-thigh length halter-top number, shot through with tiny glittering silver stars that she would be changing in to as soon as the ceremony was over.

Mark thought she was thinking a little further ahead than that, and was mildly shocked.

Then it was time, and they gathered in front of the door of the office of the Justice of the Peace that they had made arrangements with, and Mark slipped quietly in. They gave him a moment to greet those within, and then Cassie opened the door wide, and walked solemnly in, with Teal’c following, holding Sam’s arm. The rest of her team were already there, of course, standing before the Justice, in gorgeous dark tuxedo jackets, and Sam grinned with amusement to see both Jack and Daniel’s eyes goggle with amazing synchronicity as they caught sight of what she was wearing. Daniel’s eyes soon crinkled into gentle delight and amusement, but Sam never noticed, because the sight of Jack standing there, tall and elegant in his black tux, crisp white shirt, and solid sapphire blue tie had momentarily taken her breath away.

Within moments it was all over. Her memory of the event was not a continuous film, ordered, sequential and consistent in its focus. Instead it was a kaleidoscopic collage of moments and sensations. The anticipatory delight as she crossed the room to Jack’s side. The intensity of his eyes on her, holding nothing back, letting everyone in the room see everything he felt for her. The warmth of his hand in hers, the slight tremor she could feel in it. Cassie’s quiet sniffing and snuffling, as she tried in vain to hold back tears. Teal’c’s massive and comforting presence and the rich deep tones of his affirmation as he “gave” her to Jack. She had always thought she would hate that part of her wedding, resolving previously to tolerate it only because of the love she bore for her father, but now she found that she had enough confidence in her independence and authority that it was instead a moment she treasured to be backed by such strength and wisdom. And then there were the vows, where no one promised to obey, and Sam’s voice quavered, and Jack’s was sandpapery. For all the love in his eyes, they did tend - once she was beside him - to stray away from her eyes and wander lower, but he was her very own dirty old man, and she’d known full well what this dress would do to him, and swelled with pride in the doing. Then it was all over, and after signing the license and receiving a copy suitable for framing for themselves, and leaving a more utilitarian one to be filed in the official records, they walked out. Sam noted in passing that Mark’s eyes were suspiciously moist too.

Jack tried to persuade her to proceed to the restaurant in the Shavadai dress, but when she’d protested that it was uncomfortable, and the one she intended to change into would offer major consolation in the increased amount of visible back and leg, she’d been able to leave him at the door muttering “Mmmm…Carter skin!” in his best Homer Simpson voice.

In no time they were together again, and Sam was delighted because Jack was just as stunned and delighted as she’d hoped he’d be, and Jack was pleased beyond measure because his dearest hope, the one he hadn’t let himself even dream for so long, was now reality, and right there, where he could touch the smooth skin of her back, and feel her warmth at his side, and sniff the sweet smell of her hair intermixed with the perfume of the flowers in her hair. And now it was to be his for always!

At the restaurant there was good food, fine wine and champagne, toasting and teasing, and finally, to the delight of her new husband who proved that he could go from dirty old man to eight year old boy with blinding speed, there was cake. The wait staff brought it in as a group, accompanied by violinists playing a Bach double concerto, perhaps the most elaborate moment of the entire celebration. Sam was a little disappointed to see that it was white, but she knew that Jack preferred vanilla to chocolate, so she was happy for him, and satisfied with his choice. After all, he was the cake fiend in this marriage. Then they had carved it, and it proved to be chocolate mousse cake beneath the outer frosting in white, and Jack, knowing full well what she’d thought was beaming at the success of his ploy.

Then he’d gotten his self-deprecating almost apologetic look in his eyes, and shrugged.

“You got me, and I got… you,” he said, making frustrated circles in the air with his hands. “I figured that letting you have your favorite flavor of cake was the least I could do to balance it out.”

And then she’d looked deep into his chocolate brown eyes and given him her very finest, very broadest, very happiest smile, and then before she could tell him how wrong he was and how clearly they’d have to be eating vanilla cake for the rest of their lives instead, she burst into tears, because it came to her in a flash what she had always known. This wedding, this moment, was not perfect because it suited them, nor because it was so simple and so meaningful. It would have been just as perfect surrounded by precedence and protocol. It would have been perfect performed in front of an audience of hundreds, with an ostentatious overabundance of flowers. The things that made it perfect were not the planning or the careful choice and discernment. Indeed the things she would treasure and remember about the wedding were not, by and large the smooth moments, but the rough ones; Cassie trying not to cry, the trembling of Jack’s hand in hers, the roughness of his voice. What made it perfect was that this time – finally - she’d chosen the right man and was able to commit herself to him without hesitation or qualm, trusting him with her life as he trusted her with his. All that practicing had led her here, and it was perfect.


Mar. 7th, 2010 04:45 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it. The Sam/Jack wedding is a hughely over-written field, but I thought that it would be meaningful to draco_somnians. Nonetheless, weddings are a time when, even without words, the deep meaning in our lives and our actions is just there, without needing to be pointed out or underlined.



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A Few Words from the Wise

Speak to him, for there is none born wise.

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In mourning or rejoicing, be not far from me.

- an Ancient Egyptian Love Song


But your embraces
alone give life to my heart
may Amun give me what I have found
for all eternity.

-Love Songs of the New Kingdom, Song #2


To Know the Dark

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

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Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
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Visit to the Hermit Ts'ui

Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,
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I envy you, drunk with flowers,
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Mistress of high achievement, O lady Truth,
do not let my understanding stumble
across some jagged falsehood.



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