"Hi!" Sam breezed into Janet's office where the doctor stood stuffing papers into a briefcase. "Is she ready?"
"Ready and waiting, impatiently I might add." Janet grinned. "I had to get Colonel O'Neill to take her to the commissary so I could finish getting my things together."
Sam's face lit up with her smile. "I'm glad she's looking forward to it."
"Oh, she is." Janet snapped the briefcase closed. "Thank you for doing this. I would have cancelled my appearance, but I'm the keynote speaker."
"You don't have to thank me. I'm looking forward to it, too. It's going to be fun."
"Probably more fun than my conference." Janet made a face. "I have to get going, so can you go get her in the commissary?"
At Sam's nod Janet reached down and picked up a bright pink backpack decorated with purple and yellow flowers that she handed to Sam. "Here's her things. She picked out a special bag just for this weekend."
"Cool." Sam admired Cassandra's choice as she took hold of the bag. "Have a good weekend."
Janet snorted. "Not likely. But you two have fun."
"We will," Sam promised. "Is there anything else? Anything she doesn't like to eat?"
"Oh, just the usual. Vegetables and anything else good for her. Kids are the same all over the universe, it seems."
"Then it's a good thing I have my cupboards stocked with junk food." Sam grinned.
Janet glared at her as the two women left her office. "Sure, undo all the good I've been getting into her."
Sam waited as the doctor locked her office door. She shrugged. "Cassandra doesn't live with me, so it's my job to spoil her."
Though Sam spoke in a lighthearted tone, Janet's reply was more serious. "Yes, it is. Thank you, again."
"Anytime." Sam smiled as they left the infirmary. "See you Monday."
"Okay. Oh wait, Sam," Janet called after Sam had turned away. "You have the number for where I'll be staying? And for where the conference is?"
"Yes," Sam said. "And your pager number and your cell phone number and Dr. Warner's home number and pager number and the infirmary is programmed on my speed dial. Go, Janet. We'll be fine."
The doctor held up her hand in defeat. "Okay, okay, I'm going."
"Have a good flight." Sam turned around to again resume her course to the commissary.
"Call me tomorrow!" Janet called after her.
Sam didn't turn back but raised her hand in acknowledgment, smiling bemusedly at her friend's newfound maternal instincts.
The commissary was a sea of blue uniforms. In the midst of the chaos of the early dinner crowd, the man and girl who sat alone at a table were a deserted island unto themselves.
So intent were they on the objects before them that they didn't notice Sam's approach. She paused before announcing her presence.
"But it moves!" said Cassandra with a look of horrified fascination.
"That's the fun part." The colonel held up a spoon heaped with a quivering red gelatinous blob upon it. "It jiggles." He shook the spoon to demonstrate.
Cassandra stared at the moving substance then looked to the colonel with such a dubious expression that Sam had to stifle a laugh.
The colonel scowled with mock indignity. "Just try it."
While the mound on the colonel's spoon disappeared into his mouth, Cassandra plucked up the most miniscule amount she could. She tentatively touched the spoon to her tongue. Then in an instant her expression changed from wary trepidation to surprised delight.
"It's good!" she declared before scooping up a much more generous helping.
"Does it come in lots of colours? Can I try them all?"
"Maybe not today." The colonel paused with a spoonful before his lips. "Some people like to make it with juice or add fruit to it, but I just like it plain. I'm a jello purist."
"Well I'd like to try it those ways."
The colonel enunciated further on the intricacies of jello cuisine. "You can also make it firmer and cut it into shapes to eat with your fingers."
"Yes," Sam cut in, done with her eavesdropping. "They're called jigglers." Cassandra laughed as Sam leaned down to tickle her stomach on the final word.
"Can we make some?"
"Sure." Sam perched on the vacant chair beside Cassandra. "We can do whatever you want."
"Can Jack come over and help?"
"Oh." Sam was momentarily thrown by the little girl's request. She wasn't exactly accustomed to inviting her CO over on a Friday night. Yet she didn't want to crush the hopeful expression on Cassandra's face.
Sam nodded. "Colonel O'Neill is welcome to join us, but he probably has things he needs to do tonight."
"No, he doesn't!" Cassandra beamed. "I asked him what he was doing tonight and he said he was going home to put his feet up." She turned to the colonel. "You can put your feet up at Sam's, can't you? Please, Jack?"
"Ahhh..." The colonel's gaze flickered from Cassandra's pleading look to Sam's face. His second-in-command shrugged, her mouth turning up in a half smile.
"Okay." He agreed.
"Yay!" Cassandra cried.
"Got jello?" asked the colonel.
"I sure do," Sam replied.
The colonel quirked an eyebrow. "And cookie cutters?"
"Yes." Sam's tone held just a little smugness. "I have cookie cutters."
"Really?" The colonel smiled. "Carter, you're that domestic?"
"Well..." Sam grinned back at him. "Let's just say there was an unfortunate Christmas cookie experiment and leave it at that."
"Can we go now?" Cassandra piped up. Two sets of eyes flew back to the little girl who had been temporarily disregarded during the banter.
"Let's go!" Sam rose from her chair, the others following suit.
The colonel eyed the backpack Sam tossed over her shoulder. "Nice bag. Yours?"
"Yes it is," Sam teased. "Jealous?"
"I am. I'm thinking we should get a bunch for all SG teams to use."
Cassandra giggled. "It's *my* backpack!" Sam and the colonel exchanged grins and the colonel ruffled Cassandra's hair.
"So. See you at my place then." The words felt odd to say. Yet at the same time Sam found herself looking forward to the colonel spending the evening with her and Cassandra.
Sam started out the door with her young houseguest trailing alongside.
"Um...Carter?" The colonel's voice forestalled her and she turned back around.
"You have to tell me where you live."
The jello boxes were lined up on the counter. Cassandra sat on a stool contemplating her options.
Sam wiped at another imaginary spot by the sink. Her house was always tidy; she didn't spend time enough there to mess it up. Plus, she'd cleaned in anticipation of Cassandra's arrival. The house looked fine. It didn't matter anyway, Sam chided herself. Colonel O'Neill wasn't going to care what her house looked like. Everything was fine.
She jumped when the doorbell rang.
Ushering the colonel inside Sam noted that he'd not unexpectedly changed into civilian attire. In fact, she took quite thorough notice of the jeans and black T-shirt he was now wearing and of how he looked in them. Sure, he was her CO but he was also an attractive one, another thing Sam had noted right from the first moment they stared each other down across the conference table.
Sam wasn't blind and she didn't have a problem with using her eyesight to the best of her ability.
The colonel handed her a grocery bag he was carrying. "Here. I brought this."
Taking it from him, Sam pulled out a can of whipped cream. A sudden, unbidden image of the colonel wearing whipped cream and not much else appeared in Sam's mind.
'Whoa,' she thought. 'Where did *that* come from?'
"Thanks," Sam said. She turned quickly toward the fridge, lest her face betray her less-than-professional thoughts.
"It's to go with the jello," the colonel explained.
Sam opened the fridge door and ducked behind it to hide the colour rising on her cheeks.
"Unless you have some other use for it," the colonel added with deceptive innocence.
Sam stayed in the fridge as long as possible needlessly rearranging a shelf to make room for the colonel's contribution.
They'd ordered pizza and had dinner while the jello had set. Then the fun began.
"Okay, I want to trade cookie cutters with someone. The Santa one always looks great until you try using it, but then whatever you cut out ends up looking like a deformed amoeba." The colonel waved a misshapen jello jiggler in front of him to illustrate his point.
"Carter, want to trade me your star?" When Sam held her cookie cutter protectively to her chest, covering it with her hands the colonel turned to Cassandra.
"Oh, Cassie." His voice oozed charm as he drawled out her name. "You want to try the Santa one for a while, don't you?"
"Who's Santa?" Cassandra asked.
The colonel glanced at Sam who gave an infinitesimal shrug. "Guess we haven't gotten to that yet," she murmured.
"Santa," the colonel announced, "is a great guy who lives at the north pole and delivers presents at Christmastime - that's in the winter - to everyone who's *good*."
Cassandra nodded her understanding. "He sounds neat. Can I see the cookie cutter?"
As the colonel reached out to put it in her awaiting hand he confided, "Some people don't believe in Santa, but I do."
"Some people don't believe there's life on other planets either," said Cassandra matter-of-factly. "They have a lot to learn." She gave her head a little shake in disdain before creating a row of orange Santa amoebas. Sam's eyes met the colonel's and they shared their amused grins.
The colonel began adding dollops of whipped cream haphazardly to the Santa amoeba jigglers on his plate. He squirted a generous amount of whipped cream onto a finger and nonchalantly reached across the table to wipe the cream onto Cassandra's chin.
"Santa," he explained, "has a white beard."
"Jack!" Cassandra squealed. Giggling, she stuck out her tongue attempting to clean off her chin. The colonel sat back with a smirk on his face.
"Give me that," Sam said, trying to swipe the whipped cream from him. When he held it away from her she rolled her eyes. "I just want to put some on my stars."
The colonel handed over the can but eyed Sam warily as she dolled out the whipped cream onto her jigglers. He finally relaxed when she put down the can. Then he began regaling Cassandra with a Christmas story from his childhood involving Santa getting stuck on the roof of his grandfather's cabin.
Cassandra seemed delighted by the story but Sam was the one who listened with rapt fascination. The colonel *never* talked about his past. It was nice to hear he had some fond childhood memories.
Having cut out more jello, Sam added a few more choice dollops of whipped cream then asked, "Who wants hot chocolate?"
"Me!" cried Cassandra, already well familiar with the Earth delicacy in its many forms.
"Of course." Sam grinned and rose from the table. On her way past the colonel's chair she smacked him on the chin with the huge handful of whipped cream she'd been concealing.
Laughter erupted from Cassandra and Sam grinned as she continued on her way to the kitchen counter.
She nearly jumped out of her skin when, having finished filling the kettle and plugging it in, a soft voice whispered menacingly in her ear.
"Santa has white hair."
Whirling around Sam found the colonel looming over her with the can of whipped cream poised in his hand. He'd obviously wiped his face but a few telltale flecks of the sticky substance still clung to the stubble on his chin.
"Colonel!" Sam squeaked out. She gazed at the can hovering above her head then into the colonel's eyes. His expression was solemn but his eyes sparkled with mirth.
Looking into those eyes, Sam suddenly forgot about the whipped cream. The colonel was standing close. Very close. Definitely way into her personal space. If she swayed forward just a bit she would find herself pressed against him. Sam caught her breath that seemed to be too noisy and rapid in the sudden silence of the room.
The ghost of his smile and the humour in the colonel's eyes had disappeared. Instead his eyes regarded her with a startling intensity and Sam found she could not look away. In fact, she found herself imagining that she could wrap her arms around the colonel's shoulders and then tilt her head up just enough so they could -
"Are you going to kiss?" Cassandra asked.
"No!" Sam rocked away from the colonel so quickly she practically arched backwards over the counter.
"Maybe you should."
Glancing around the colonel, who hadn't moved, Sam saw Cassandra shrug then return to her work.
Sam found a measure of composure and hid her confused emotions behind a bemused grin.
"I'll have to have a talk with her about colleagues and friends," she told the colonel in a conspirator tone.
"Uh huh. And I'm your CO." His brows knit together as though the thought had just occurred to him.
"Right. Chain of command and all that," Sam said airily. Then she wondered why they were discussing reasons they couldn't kiss when they obviously were never going to kiss in the first place.
The colonel put the can of whipped cream down on the counter. "I still owe you, Carter," he warned before moving off into the hallway.
Sam was 99% sure he was talking about retribution for the whipped cream incident.
She was also more than one per cent wishing he wasn't.
The kettle shut off and Sam moved to get the cups for hot chocolate. She poured out the water but she still felt things were a bit steamy.
She put the last cup on the draining board just as she heard the colonel bid Cassandra a final goodnight. Cassandra had insisted the colonel read her a bedtime story before she went to sleep. It hadn't taken much cajoling.
As she'd washed the supper dishes Sam had caught snatches of the colonel using different animated tones for each character in the book. Cassandra had been giggling and Sam had smiled. In truth, at one point she'd turned off the faucet and stood stock still, dish dripping in her hands, just to enjoy the sound of the colonel's voice reading the silly children's story. Then she'd shaken her head to clear it of any whimsy or ridiculous notions and continued with her chore.
She dried off her hands and turned to the colonel who has just stepped into the kitchen. She was suddenly very aware that they were all but alone in her house. She found it odd that she would be so conscious of the situation.
'For crying out loud,' she thought, 'it's not like I don't spend almost every day with him.'
But not alone with him. Never alone with him. That was different. A bit unsettling. A bit...exciting.
"Is Cassandra comfortable?" Sam asked the colonel. "Maybe I should get her an extra blanket. I should leave the bathroom light on for her." Sam moved to go past the colonel down the hallway but he forestalled her with a hand on her arm.
"Relax, she's fine. She was barely awake at the end of the story. She thinks her room's great and she's thrilled with that pillow you got her with her name on it."
He gave her arm a small pat before dropping his hand. Sam could still feel his touch on her bare skin.
"Okay, then." She shrugged and picked up the kettle. "Want a hot chocolate for the road?"
She wasn't asking entirely out of politeness. Sam had enjoyed the evening spent with the colonel away from the SGC. It had given her some insight about him not just as her CO.
The colonel gave a vague shake of his head. "I should..." He gestured toward the door.
"Right." Sam nodded swiftly. Then she startled herself by saying, "Or there's coffee. Or beer."
She wasn't quite ready for the night to end. She was surprised at how much she wanted him to stay.
"I..." The colonel frowned. Then he nodded. "Okay."
Sam was baffled by the giddiness she felt at his acquiescence and tampered down her desire to break into a foolish grin. "Which one?"
Grabbing two of the beverages from the fridge, Sam knocked the door shut with her foot then handed the colonel his beer. She removed the cap off her own bottle and took a long, slow swallow of the cold drink, giving herself a moment to collect her thoughts.
Now that she had him alone, what would they talk about?
"Want to go sit outside?" Sam suggested. It was late autumn and cool, but a pleasant enough night.
"Sure." The colonel grabbed his jacket from where he had earlier abandoned it on the back of a chair. Sam pulled on a sweater before following him out the door.
They sat on the front steps. Sam hadn't bothered to turn on the outside light so there was only soft illumination filtering through the windows of her house and from the streetlight down the road.
The steps were small enough that they sat close together but not so tiny that they were touching. In the dimness of the night Sam found herself relax and grow comfortable.
She'd been alone with the colonel like this before, she realized. There were many times they'd been off-world overnight and she and the colonel had sat around a campfire talking about everyday things while Daniel sat in his tent scribbling in his notebook and Teal'c had been meditating. Sam smiled into the darkness. She always relished those moments with him.
He broke their companionable silence. "Cassandra seems to be adjusting nicely."
"Yes," Sam agreed. "I'm so happy she got to stay with Janet."
"Are you disappointed she couldn't come live with you?" The colonel stared out into the night rather than looking at her as he asked the question.
Sam was surprised he'd voice such a personal question, yet she didn't mind that he'd asked. She turned to him, caught his eye and offered a wan smile. "It just wasn't possible. Not with the nature of my work."
"Think you'd ever give it up? For family? To have a family of your own?" The colonel was studying her intently.
"Not right now. There's too much to do. But later...yeah, maybe. I think I'd like to, one day." Sam took a swig of beer to wash down her admission.
The colonel nodded. "You should get that chance," he said solemnly.
Sam traced the neck of her beer bottle with a finger. "That's why we do what we do, right? For the future."
Emboldened by the rather intimate nature of their discussion Sam quietly broached a topic she'd always thought was taboo.
"What about you, sir? Would you start a family again?"
She instantly regretted her rash question when the colonel stiffened. She was just about to apologize and tell him he need not answer when he blew out a forceful breath.
"You never know, Carter. Who knows what will happen in the future? I sure as hell never thought I'd walk on another planet. I never thought I'd go through the 'gate again after the original mission. And I never, ever, suspected you and I would share such a passion."
Sam fought against choking on her sip of beer so hard that her eyes watered. "I'm sorry, sir?" she asked, confused, when she regained her composure.
"Our mutual love of jello. What did you think I meant?"
Laughing more so to release her sudden tension than strictly from humour, Sam replied, "Exactly that." Then, thankful for the cover of darkness, she found herself blushing. She knew he was teasing her.
"Well, I gotta go." Leaving his empty beer bottle on the step, the colonel rose. "Thanks for the memories."
Sam kept her seat and smiled up at him. "Cassandra was so happy you came. It was fun."
"Best time I've had in ages. You ladies have a fun weekend." He jumped down the final step. "Night, Carter."
"Goodnight, sir," she called as he headed for his truck.
Just as the colonel reached his vehicle he turned back. His voice was so low that Sam wondered if he had even meant for her to hear but nevertheless the words reached her as a soft caress on the night air.
"Sweet dreams, Sam."
She gave him a wave and then gathered up the beer bottles and went inside as he drove away.
Spotting one remaining jello star she popped it into her mouth.
The colonel covered in whipped cream and not much else, she thought.
She'd have sweet dreams indeed.