Sam Carter felt her mind wander for the third time that morning. She sighed, took a sip of coffee and tried to refocus her attention on her computer. Maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to stay at home after all. Of course, the thought of someone finding her in her lab and staring off into space wasn't very appealing.
It was always like this for her after...
She shook her head. Usually she was better about keeping herself in check.
But this time had been closer than others. She had actually started to feel her life slipping...
She pushed it aside again.
Dwelling on her mortality and her job did not go hand in hand. If she thought about it too much, she'd never be able to go through the gate again.
Focus on the positives.
Well, a people had been freed from a fate worse than death. And death.
Nurrti was finally gone.
And then there was the Colonel...
Sam absently pecked at her keyboard.
She had drawn so much strength from him. More than he would probably ever know. And as much as she had tried to avoid it...just how long had she tried to avoid it? She kept coming back to one word.
But that word was wholly inadequate. Useless. It meant so many things. One could love pizza. Or a child. A flower. A smell. A friend.
Yes, she loved the Colonel. But she also loved Teal'c. She loved Jonas. She had loved Daniel, and in most ways she still did. She loved her city. Her country. Earth.
But he was special. Apart, above and beyond everyone and everything else. She wouldn't kid herself about that. Not anymore.
It still didn't mean she could do anything about it.
Sam growled at herself. Reports! Computer! How had she gotten on this maudlin track again? Well, if near-death didn't cause some sort of reflection, what would?
She was reaching for her coffee cup when she heard the doorbell. It actually made her jump a bit; it was such an unusual noise.
Probably the neighbor kids wanting to go in the backyard to get their ball again, she thought as she walked down the hall.
Sam stared out the peephole in the door. She almost didn't open it - it was just such a shock. Fortunately reason kicked in and she did.
"Hey, Carter." He fidgeted, giving her a small, somewhat goofy smile.
She thought it was cute for a fraction of a second before remembering all that was just beneath the surface and why it had to stay there.
"Something wrong?" she asked with wide eyes.
"No, no," he said, putting his hands in his pockets.
"I'm sorry, come in."
Sam led him into her living room. She really should have expected this. This time had been particularly bad, and instead of working herself into the ground at the SGC right after getting back, she had opted to take a few days at home. He was here because she wasn't there.
"Thought you might need to get some fresh air or something."
Sam almost sighed out loud. How many times had he asked her to do something, followed by her making up some lame excuse? Right now it all seemed amazingly pathetic. But she couldn't say yes...
She looked at him, hoping that he would pick up on her meaning. "Sir, I suppose that if I was ordered to take part in an activity because of concern over my mental health and well-being, I couldn't say no."
He smiled a bit. "Yes, Major. You are being ordered to get some fresh air."
Of course he would pick up on her meaning. Sam sighed internally again. It was oh so flimsy, but it set the ground rules. They were going out as commander and subordinate. Co-workers. Nice, friendly. But nothing more.
"I just need a few minutes."
Sam closed up the computer program she was working on, taking a glance at her CO. He was slowly moving around her living room, looking at everything. Almost as if he was memorizing things. For some reason Sam really liked the thought of him knowing her place. Of course, maybe it was just the thought of someone besides her knowing her place.
"So, what did you have in mind?"
He quickly stepped back from her bookshelf as if he had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. "What?"
"What are we going to do?"
"Well, we could go see a movie. I hear nothing but good things about...okay, so I have no idea what's even playing right now."
Sam grinned. "A movie. That definitely falls under the category of fresh air."
"Hey!" He grinned back. "I didn't really have a plan. Can you blame me?"
*That* was better left alone. "Okay. So...what?"
"The zoo? Furry little critters running around? Throwing food at ducks?"
"Mmm, I don't know." She wrinkled her nose.
"Got it!" He clapped his hands together. "It's not far and it'll be great for a little fresh air. Haven't been there in a while either," he said.
She raised her eyebrows questioningly at him, but he just smiled.
It was perfect. Absolutely perfect. And she hadn't been there in a while either. They could do some hiking and maybe in the process she could clear her head a bit.
The Colonel maneuvered his truck into a space at the Garden of the Gods Visitor Center.
"Great idea, Sir."
"Hey, it happens occasionally."
As they walked into the building, he turned to her with a scowl on his face but a twinkle in his eyes. "I suppose you're gonna have to go look in the gift shop or something."
Well, since he put it that way. "I suppose so," she said with a grin and turned towards the store, leaving him to play catch-up.
It was the typical tourist gift shop. Sam walked around looking at all the I LOVE Colorado merchandise. Mugs. Keychains. Hey - fudge.
The Colonel walked up and held out something in front of her. Sam stared at the little Roswell-type alien keychain. Leave it to him to find the most outlandish thing in the store! What it was doing in a place like this, she couldn't imagine.
"Think Thor would like this?" he asked.
Sam almost choked down a grin before remembering that they were outside of work.
"Carter, I can't remember the last time I heard you laugh."
Hmm, guess it *had* been a while. She took the keychain from him. "This has 'intergalactic incident' written all over it," she said in a low voice.
He smiled broadly. "Next treaty negotiation." He grabbed it back and took it up to the counter to pay for it.
Sam shook her head and laughed again as she walked up to him.
He turned to her with a pleased expression on his face, having pocketed his new toy. "Okay, enough of this shopping crap. Time for the fresh air!"
"Yes, Sir!" she said enthusiastically.
They picked up a map, bought a couple of bottles of water and headed for the trail, deciding to take the longest one. The weather for it was perfect. Not too warm with a slight cool breeze, and the sky couldn't have been any bluer. Occasionally they would pass another party on the trail, nodding and saying a quick "hi" to them.
At a high point on the path they stopped and sat on a large rock, taking in their surroundings.
It was really beautiful. The rugged landscape punctuated with the big red rocks. The snow-capped mountains in the background.
"You know, I never get out in nature anymore." She looked around and lowered her voice a bit. "I mean here. We're always outdoors on other...places. I just forget how beautiful it is here."
"Yeah. I know."
They sat there for a while, the wind every so often brushing against their faces.
Rumbling in the distance brought Sam out of her introspection.
"Looks like rain," the Colonel said, looking up at the clouds on the horizon.
"Suppose we better get going," he said, standing up. He offered her his hand.
She took it and stood up.
It could have been a moment between them that might have led to something else, but Sam quickly and gently took her hand back and started moving down the path. She didn't look at his face. She didn't want to see any disappointment. It was just that they were having such a nice time.
And at that exact moment that's all she wanted. And knew they should have.
Before she knew it they were back on the highway heading to her place, the outing having gone by way too quickly. They hadn't said much once they got back in the truck, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence.
Sam gazed out the window watching the world stream past her when something caught her attention. She didn't know why she said it, and if she had known it would have caused a near accident, she would have kept her mouth shut.
"Hey, ice cream."
Her CO, obviously on some sort of bent to try and please her in whatever way he possibly could, yanked the steering wheel over and pointed the truck in the direction of the offramp. Unfortunately, the offramp was three lanes over.
"Yeah, you too buddy," he muttered at the outraged honks they were getting.
For some reason Sam found it all hysterical. She started laughing and she didn't know if she would be able to stop.
"I didn't know I was riding with an insane person!"
He grinned at her. "Insane? Carter...I'm hurt."
"Okay, maybe not insane. How about lunatic?" The tears were coming now. "Nuts? Crackers?"
"Mmm...crackers," he barely got out before starting to laugh himself.
Now it was her turn to try and figure out the last time she had heard that. It felt so good to hear him laugh, and to be the one that caused it. She would have to remember that.
The quick ice cream detour lengthened their time together a bit, but not by much, and soon they were parked in front of her house.
"Thanks for this, Sir."
"Anytime, Carter." They smiled at each other as she got out of his truck.
He didn't try to get out and walk her to her door. And she was glad.
Whether she liked it or not, her life was made up of balance and compromise. Give a little here. Take a little there.
She turned to give him a small wave at her door. And as she closed the front door behind her, she heard him drive away.
Sam pulled up to her house. She quickly grabbed the bags of groceries out of her car while trying to stay as dry as she could in the light sprinkle.
Yesterday was nice. More than nice.
She smiled a bit. It was kind of funny - here she spent a good portion of her working days with him, and more than that when they were in the field, but yet found herself wanting to spend even more time with him. It had felt so good to just hang out and enjoy his company. They had never done anything casually like that before. And she liked it. Probably too much.
Sam sighed. The line was so blurred now that there really wasn't one anymore. It was all just a wide, gray area.
She dropped her keys by the front door and carried the bags into the kitchen where her answering machine was blinking. Sam quickly looked at her pager to make sure she hadn't missed something from the SGC. Nope. She pushed play.
**Carter, I got a couple of tickets to a basketball game Friday night. Hey it's not hockey, but what is? Wondering if you wanted to go. Come on. Beer? Nachos? Beer? Give me a call when you get in.**
She put her groceries away before moving back to the machine.
Sam played the message again and tapped her fingers on the counter.
And that scale had been leaning in one direction for a really long time now.
She smiled as she picked up the phone.