Samantha Carter walked down the hall, heading for her lab. An airman walking in the opposite direction greeted her.
"Good morning, Major Carter." He halted, a look of consternation on his face. "I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm still getting used to the fact that you're no longer in the Air Force."
Sam smiled. "That's okay, Lieutenant. I'm still getting used to it myself."
The man gave her a nod. "Have a good day, Doctor."
Sam continued her journey, thinking about the encounter. It had been a month since the day she resigned her commission, since the day she refused to have anything more to do with General Bauer's plan to detonate a Naquadah-enhanced nuclear bomb on a distant planet as a test. After Hammond was reinstated as the commander of Stargate Command, he had tried to get her commission back, but too many people didn't like the fact that Sam had refused to carry out the orders of a superior officer, even if those orders had been ones that should never have been given. The best that he was able to do was to get her hired as a civilian scientist. She still had her lab, and her job at the SGC had remained pretty much the same – with one very big exception. She was no longer a member of SG-1. Though there would not have been any rules against her rejoining the team as a civilian, the people who wouldn't let her back into the Air Force also flatly stated that she was not to be placed on an SG team, worried that she'd refuse to carry out an order on a mission. Not surprisingly, Jack had been livid about the whole thing and had made more than one remark that could have gotten him court-martialed if Hammond hadn't stepped in.
It hadn't been easy for Sam to adjust to no longer being in the Air Force. True, there were some advantages to working there as a civilian, like, for instance, the bigger paycheck, but she'd loved being in the Air Force, being part of that institution. The worst part was no longer being on SG-1. She really missed going on missions, exploring worlds, discovering new things.
One thing that Sam often consoled herself with was what her resignation prevented. It had all started when Daniel, while waiting in the general's office for him to return, got curious and took a peak inside a file that he guessed was about the bomb test. What he read alarmed him, and he'd gone straight to Sam. The planet scheduled for the test had an abandoned Naquadah mine and supported planet and animal life. Though there were no signs of intelligent life within fifty miles of the gate, Sam had known that wasn't good enough since they had no idea how big the explosion would be.
Upon confronting General Bauer, the whole truth was revealed. The soil was laced with minute traces of Naquadah, and it was hoped that the explosion would cause a chain reaction. It was possible that the entire planet would be destroyed. What was worse was that, apparently, that's exact what Bauer and the people behind him were hoping for. If it did what they hoped, they were actually going to consider doing it again on other Goa'uld-controlled planets. The thought of how many billions of innocent humans might perish horrified Sam and Daniel.
But that wasn't all. In order for them to be able to gather data, the Stargate would have to be left open when the bomb was detonated, which meant that the radiation from the blast would most likely have fed back through the wormhole. Bauer said it was believed that the gate would be destroyed before there was any danger to the SGC, but Sam wasn't so sure of that. After all, they'd seen a Stargate survive a direct hit from a meteor.
After learning all this, Sam refused to complete the bomb. When Bauer threatened her with a court-martial, she tendered her resignation. Furious, the general turned to the only other scientists on base with the knowledge and expertise to finish the bomb, all of whom were civilians. When they discovered what Sam had done and why, they all refused to work on the thing, which resulted in them getting fired. There were no military scientists on base who could do it, so Bauer was forced to look outside the SGC. By the time he found one who could do the job, Jack and Maybourne had managed to get Hammond back in charge. From what she was told, Bauer was enraged at being kicked out of his new command. All the fired scientists were promptly rehired.
After Sam was brought back as a civilian, she started doing some calculations and computer models on what would have happened if the test had been conducted. She determined that, if the gate hadn't been destroyed and the wormhole hadn't immediately collapsed, the massive energy coming back through the wormhole would probably have made it impossible for them to disconnect from the planet. If the gate failed to shut off after the thirty-eight-minute limit, the radiation would have eventually entered Earth's atmosphere. Even if they'd used the self-destruct and buried the gate, it might not have saved them since it was likely that their gate would have survived the blast, meaning that the radiation would have continued pouring through the connection, possibly for months as the test planet, turned into a ball of superheated plasma, kept burning. Once the Stargate's iris failed, the radiation would have started heating and melting the soil and rock covering the gate. The melted remains would then have fallen through the open wormhole. Eventually, the radiation would have eaten a hole right through the mountain. Then nothing would have stopped all of Earth from being irradiated.
Given the choice of either keeping her job in the Air Force or being a part of such a catastrophic event, Sam would, of course, choose the former every time and had no regrets about her decision.
The astrophysicist was pulled from her thoughts by another greeting.
"Good morning, Carter," said Jack O'Neill.
"Good morning, sir."
Jack frowned. "Carter, how many times do I have to tell you to call me 'Jack'? I'm not your C.O. any longer."
"Sorry, sir . . . um, Jack. Old habit." Sam smiled slightly. "If I'm supposed to call you by your first name, shouldn't you do the same?"
Jack nodded once. "Point taken. You're right. Old habits die hard. So, Sam, what are you going to be bringing to our little pre-Labor Day picnic this weekend?"
"Green bean casserole. My mother's recipe."
"Mmm mmm. Can't wait." Jack looked at his watch. "Well, gotta hop to it. I'm late for another chewing out."
"About Lieutenant Philips. Hammond just can't understand why I found him totally unsuitable as your replacement."
Sam hid a smile. Greg Philips had been the third person put on SG-1 to take her place . . . and the third person to rather quickly lose that position. Secretly, it made her feel good that Jack kept finding the new fourth members of SG-1 lacking. It proved how much he'd valued her skills and contribution to the team. Now, if only he'd. . . .
Sam halted her train of thought before it could run away with her.
"Well, good luck, sir," she said. "I'm sure that you'll find someone soon who will work out on the team."
Jack didn't look convinced. "I'm not so sure of that. The problem is that you're just too damn good at what you do. Nobody's feet are big enough to fill your shoes . . . metaphorically speaking, that is."
Sam let her smile appear. "Thank you. That's nice of you to say."
Jack shrugged. "Just telling it like it is. The truth is that if Daniel ever got himself fired, I'd have the same problem." He held up his finger. "And don't you dare tell him I said that. I wouldn't want him to start putting on airs. He's already a pain in the ass."
Sam's smile got even bigger. "Mum's the word."
After saying goodbye to Jack, Sam covered the rest of the distance to her lab.
It was well after midnight, and Sam was still at it. Truth be told, her full attention had not been on her job today. Thoughts of Jack kept interfering with her concentration. Now that she was a civilian and no longer on SG-1, there would be no regulations against the two of them becoming a couple, yet, in all this time, Jack hadn't said one word about that, hadn't given one hint that he was even thinking about it. Yes, Sam could take the lead and be the one to broach the subject, but she was too scared to do so. Why hadn't he said anything?
"I see you're still at it, too."
The voice startled Sam. She turned to see Daniel in the doorway, a cup of coffee in his hand.
"Yes, unfortunately," she said. "So, what's got you working so late?"
Daniel came up to her. "Translations, as usual."
"You need a bigger staff, Daniel. You should talk to the general about that."
The archeologist shrugged. "I don't mind. It's not like I have anyone waiting up for me at home."
The comment made Sam think of Jack again. Daniel noticed the emotion that flickered across her face.
"Sam, are you okay?" he asked in concern. "I've noticed that something seems to be bothering you lately."
"I'm fine," she immediately responded.
The archeologist stared at her. He knew that she was lying, but he didn't want to push if she didn't want to talk about what was bothering her. As it turned out, there was no need to push.
Seeing the way her friend was looking at her, Sam suddenly blurted out, "It's about the colonel."
Daniel frowned. "Jack? What about him?"
"It's just that, now that I'm no longer in the Air Force or on SG-1, I thought that. . . ."
"That what?" Daniel asked. Then, all at once, he knew. "Oh."
It was Sam's turn to stare. "Oh?"
"You were hoping that Jack would ask you on a date."
Sam's cheeks colored in embarrassment.
Daniel smiled the tiniest bit. "Did you think I didn't know about the thing between you two? I've known for a while now."
"How did you find out?"
"Things I've seen, the way you guys act sometimes, especially after that whole incident with the Zatarcs."
Sam sighed. "We were forced to admit aloud that we had feelings for each other we really shouldn't. You see, something happened between us on that planet when we were wearing those armbands. We weren't being completely honest about everything during the first Zatarc test."
"Which is why you failed it."
The astrophysicist nodded. "Teal'c and Janet told us that they wouldn't reveal to anyone what Jack and I said. Anise agreed that it was not necessary for her to include it in her report. Since then, Jack and I have tried to act normally, but I guess we didn't do a good enough job."
"I doubt that anyone else has noticed," Daniel told her. "So, I guess this confirms that you and he never did anything about your feelings."
"No, of course not. It would have been against regulations."
"But it wouldn't be now."
"Have you talked to Jack about it?"
Sam toyed with a screwdriver on her worktable. "I'm too nervous and embarrassed. I mean, what if he doesn't feel that way about me anymore?" She smiled faintly. "Janet suggested that I try to make him jealous."
Daniel's eyebrows rose. "Jealous?"
"Yeah. She thinks I should pretend to get a boyfriend and flaunt him in the colonel's face."
That made Daniel's eyebrows go up even higher. "And where is this boyfriend supposed to come from?"
"Well, that's the problem. I can't just pull some guy off the street and ask if he can pretend to be my boyfriend. Janet asked if I had any guy friends who'd be willing to do it, but the only guy friends I have in Colorado Springs all work at the base. There's no way that I'm going to ask one of the scientists I work with to do it. It would be way too awkward afterwards."
"Yes, I should imagine it would be."
The statement was followed by a long moment of silence. Feeling uncomfortable, Sam went over to a device sitting on one of the counters and fiddled with it. She was joined by Daniel around half a minute later.
"I could do it," he said after a moment.
Sam turned to him, staring blankly. "What?"
"I could pretend to be your boyfriend."
Sam just gaped at him, unable to believe that he'd suggest such a thing. She finally shook her head.
"Thank you for offering, Daniel, but, no, that wouldn't work."
Daniel frowned. "Why? Is it that unbelievable that I could be your boyfriend?"
Sam was surprised at the slight tone of hurt in his voice. Then she realized what he must be thinking.
"No! Of course not, Daniel. That isn't what I meant at all. The truth is that I know of several people who already think we're an item."
Daniel's eyes widened in surprise. "You do?"
"Uh huh. I guess they think that, because we're so close, we must be lovers."
"Oh. Then why did you say that it wouldn't work?"
"Because it would be horribly unfair to you, Daniel. Let's say that the plan actually worked. You and I would have to 'break up', and everyone would think that I dumped you for Jack. I couldn't do that to you."
"What if we made it clear that the break up was a mutual decision on our parts, that we simply decided it wouldn't work out between us? Once everyone saw that I was happy about you and Jack, I think everything would be all right."
The frown was on Sam's face this time. "I don't know. It's an awful lot to ask of you."
"Sam, if you'll recall, you didn't ask, I offered."
She looked at him, searching his face. "Daniel, are you sure about this? If you're not, then I wouldn't want to do it."
Daniel really thought about it, about what it would mean to pretend to be Sam's boyfriend. If he was completely honest with himself, he'd have to say that, no, he wasn't sure. But he cared about Sam, and he wanted her to be happy. If this would lead to her finding happiness, then he was willing to do it.
"Yes, I'm sure," he replied with a gentle smile.
Sam studied his features for a moment longer, then, much to his surprise, pulled him into a long, tight hug.
"Thank you," she whispered. "You are such a good friend."
Daniel hugged her back.
"So, how are we going to announce this fictitious relationship?" he asked after they'd separated.
"Good questions. I suppose we could make the announcement at the picnic this weekend. We could say that we've been dating for a while, but hadn't been ready to tell anyone until now. We'll have to let Janet in on it ahead of time, of course."
Daniel gave a nod. "Okay. I just hope I can remember how a guy is supposed to act while he's dating a girl. It's, um, been a long time, not since Sarah and I broke up."
Sam gave Daniel a look of sympathy, knowing that he was still hurting over what had happened to Sarah.
"I'm sure you'll do fine," she said with a fond smile. "Besides, I'm even rustier than you are. I haven't been on a date in . . . in way more years than I care to admit." Sam grimaced. "Boy, is that ever depressing."
"Well, if this whole thing works out, that will all change."
Sam smiled. "That's the plan."
Janet was pretty shocked when Sam told her everything the next day.
"Daniel actually volunteered?" she asked.
"Uh huh. It was all his idea."
Janet thought about it. "Well, at least you wouldn't have to worry about people not believing that it's the truth. As close as you and Daniel are, it wouldn't be that much of a leap for you to make your relationship a romantic one."
Sam nodded. "And it'll be a lot easier pretending with him than with anyone else, someone I'm not as close to."
Janet looked at her closely. "So, are you and Daniel prepared to be publicly . . . affectionate with each other?"
"The truth is that we haven't talked about that part yet. But I think we'll be okay. It's not like we're going to be making out in public. We don't have to go anywhere near that far."
"No, but you are going to have to kiss."
Sam blushed a bit at the statement. Of course Janet was right. She and Daniel would have to kiss, and not just on the cheek. They'd just have to deal with it. It's not like it would be a horrible experience to kiss Daniel. He was a very handsome man, after all, and had more than his fair share of appeal to members of the opposite sex. More than one female on base would be quite happy to lock lips with him.
"We'll be fine," Sam assured the doctor.
That evening, Daniel and Sam got together at his place to "get their stories straight."
"Do I need to take notes?" the archeologist asked teasingly.
Sam smiled. "Oh, I think you'll remember."
"All right. So, first thing's first. When did we start dating exactly?"
Sam thought about it for a minute. "Two weeks ago Saturday was our first date."
"Check. How many dates since then?"
"Um . . . six."
Daniel looked at her. "Six? When would we have found the time?"
"Yeah, you're right. Make it four."
"Okay. Uh . . . how far have we gone in our relationship?"
"Um, not far, just some light making out. We've decided to take it slow."
Daniel smiled. "As opposed to my previous relationship?"
Sam laughed. "Yes, as opposed to that."
"That's good. I'm usually not the kind of guy to marry a woman the day I meet her. I'd generally like a few more days to get to know her better."
They got into more details about their fictitious relationship, where they'd gone on dates, other things they'd done together.
"So, have we got it all?" Daniel asked at the end of it.
"Yes, I think so."
"Oh, there is one more thing."
"Why we started dating in the first place."
"Yes, you're right. That's bound to come up. I guess we could say that, after I became a civilian, we got to talking and realized that we felt something more than friendship. We decided to go on a date and see how it went. We had such a good time that we kept right on dating."
Daniel nodded. "Sounds good to me. Um . . . Sam, if, uh, we've been dating for that long, we're going to have to appear to be comfortable . . . touching each other."
"We already are comfortable touching each other."
Daniel looked at her. "You know what I mean."
Sam sighed. "Yes, I do, and you're right. If we don't put on a good act, Jack will spot it."
Daniel looked at her a moment longer, then slowly scooted closer to her on the couch. Feeling nervous for some reason, Sam closed the remaining distance. She felt Daniel's arm tentatively lay across her shoulders. The first thing Sam registered was that he smelled good. He had a clean, faintly spicy scent, something that made her think of some exotic desert land. She wondered what aftershave he used.
Daniel was surprised by how good it felt to have Sam so close to him. The skin of her arm where his hand lay was soft, her hair smelling like jasmine.
"Is this okay?" he asked very softly.
"Um, yes. Yes, it's fine," Sam replied. She didn't feel nervous at all now. In fact, it felt quite nice to be like this with him. Daniel was not a very tactile person. He rarely touched unless he was touched first. Though they'd hugged more than once over these years, every one of those times had been during a moment of strong emotion, whether that emotion was joy or sorrow. It was nice to be this close to him without it being the result of some major event.
Daniel's hand had started slowly rubbing up and down her arm, almost caressing it. He suddenly became aware of what he was doing and froze. He withdrew his arm.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I wasn't thinking. Sha're used to like it when I did that. It sort of became a habit."
"It's okay, Daniel," Sam assured him. "I didn't mind. Actually, it felt kind of nice. If we're going to be convincing, we'll have to touch each other in ways that are a bit intimate."
Daniel smiled, his head ducking. "Or we could just say that neither of us is into public displays of affection."
"Now, Daniel, you know that wouldn't work. You weren't shy about PDA with Sha're."
"Oops. You're right."
"So, PDA will have to be in." Sam backed up her words by taking Daniel's arm and placing it back over her shoulders. He relaxed, but did not resume the unconscious caress, which actually disappointed Sam.
They'd been like that for around a minute when Sam took Daniel's other hand, entwining her fingers with his. Surprised by the gesture, he looked at her. Her smile was a shade on the embarrassed side.
"I always used to like holding hands with my boyfriends," she explained. "I know it's not especially intimate, but it always felt good."
Daniel gave her a little smile. "Then I'll have to remember to hold your hand often when we're in public for as long as this goes on."
Sam looked at him. "Daniel, are you really going to be okay with this? It's only been a little over a year since Sha're died. People are bound to comment about her."
Daniel didn't reply for several seconds. "I think that, if this thing was real, Sha're would be happy for me. She'd have wanted to see me find love again. That's what I'll tell anyone who asks."
Sam searched his face. "Does that mean that you'll someday start looking for someone?" When he looked away and didn't reply, Sam figured that she'd stepped over the line. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I shouldn't have asked that."
Daniel sighed. "No, it's okay. I'm not . . . I'm not ready to start thinking about finding someone. It's still too soon." He paused for several seconds. "I don't know if I'll ever be ready."
Sam's grip on his hand tightened. The thought of Daniel being alone for the rest of his life filled her with sorrow. It would be so terribly wrong for someone as wonderful and compassionate as him to never find love again.
"You'll find someone, Daniel," she said. "I know you will. And whoever that someone is, they'll be very lucky to have you."
Surprised and deeply flattered by her words, Daniel looked at her. Her gentle blue eyes were looking back at him with tenderness and deep affection, and it made him feel really good inside. He gave her a genuine smile.
They fell into a comfortable silence, neither one of them in any hurry to separate.
"Sam?" Daniel asked after a while.
"What are we going to do about the, um . . . kissing? If we have to continue this act for a few weeks, Jack will get suspicious if he never sees us kiss."
"Yeah, I know."
"So, I suppose we should. . . ." Daniel began blushing, looking embarrassed.
"We don't have to, Sam. Maybe it would be best if we just did it on the spur-of-the-moment."
Sam shook her head. "I don't think that would be smart. If the kiss looks awkward or forced, Jack will know something's up. So . . ." she glanced at him, "we should practice."
Daniel cleared his throat, suddenly feeling very nervous. "Okay." He turned to her, and their eyes locked. He could see that she was nervous as well.
Daniel drew Sam in closer, his other arm going around her. Very slowly, his lips descended toward hers. Their mouths were a mere half-inch apart when Daniel hesitated, then he closed the remaining distance.
The kiss was soft, a light, brief touch. At the touch, Daniel did not feel nervousness, or discomfort, or any of the things he might have expected to. Instead, he felt a little thrill of pleasure race right through him. He drew back to see surprise in Sam's eyes.
"Was . . . was that okay?" Daniel asked uncertainly.
Sam's throat cleared. "Yes. Yes, that was . . . was fine. But we might want to do it for a, um, a little longer."
"Yes. Right." Swallowing to wet his suddenly dry throat, Daniel brought his lips to Sam's a second time. This kiss lasted several seconds, the pleasure kindling like a slow fire inside Daniel, centered low in his belly. When the desire to deepen the kiss, to penetrate Sam's closed lips with his tongue and taste what lay beyond, grew too strong to ignore, Daniel ended it.
The color in Sam's cheeks had heightened, and she looked a little dazed. She abruptly pulled away, giving him a slightly forced smile.
"That should be good," she said. She looked at her watch. "I should get going. I need to get to the base early tomorrow."
She got to her feet and headed to the door, Daniel following her. She glanced at him briefly and wished him a good night. Then she left, hurrying away down the hall.
Daniel went to the kitchen and got some water, taking a long drink. That had felt way too good. It shouldn't have felt like that. It should have felt like friends kissing, not like . . . a whole lot more. Daniel didn't want to think about why it felt that good. It was probably just because it had been a long time since he'd kissed a woman, not since the stupidity with Ke'ra. And Sam was a beautiful woman, after all, a lovely, intelligent, passionate woman whom a lot of guys would find very desirable. Not that he found her desirable. Of course he didn't. She was his friend and former teammate. They'd known each other for years.
A lot of people would say that what happened had just been a natural physiological reaction to stimuli. That's all it was, just a natural reaction.
Deciding not to think about it anymore, Daniel went to find a book to read, already getting nervous about what the weekend would bring.