TITLE: Painting it Blue

AUTHOR: Little Red

RATING: PG

CATEGORY: Sam/Jack UST, post-ep ("Foothold"), fluff, little bits of angst

SUMMARY: Sam's life is weird, and her mind is complicated. Missing scenes in and around "Foothold."

SPOILERS: "In the Line of Duty," "Foothold."

DISCLAIMER: I'm actually not entirely sure who owns these people, in the final account, but it's not me.

FEEDBACK: Yes, please! Love and helpful criticism will be met with much rejoicing, as I'm very new to this fandom. Flames will crush my fragile little soul. Nobody wants that. Email: russiandeptwench@hotmail.com.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is weird, and random, and the product of "Foothold" and fever. I thought I would share.

A coat of paint.

She grinned at Colonel O'Neill's -- the real Colonel O'Neill's -- retreating form and made to go after him. A coat of paint in the 'gate-room and things would go back to normal, or what passed for normal in a job where alien incursions came and went as a matter of course.

Her life was so weird. Over the past... she stared at her watch as she trotted down the hallway after her commanding officer, and attempted to calculate how many hours it had been since she'd actually slept. The numbers fuzzed in her brain, not at all a sensation she was used to, but she figured it had to be at least two and a half days, and even then it hadn't been much of a sleep. She'd only had a few hours beyond being on watch or figuring out a way to strengthen their heavy-duty tent against the torrential freezing rainstorm outside before the Colonel had ordered them to break camp early in order to find adequate shelter from the increasingly destructive hailstorm. Even during those few hours, the rattling tent and grating sound of hail against vinyl had kept her awake, and beyond that, she had been more soaking and cold than she'd been in an awfully long time.

"You're too skinny," the Colonel had chided her when he noticed her teeth chattering embarrassingly, even as he silently fished some (miraculously) dry socks (in ziploc! so that was why he'd made Full Colonel) and handed them to her benevolently. "Got to put some meat on your bones. Then you won't freeze so easily."

"She skips meals," Daniel had immediately tattled. "Wow, Jack... putting your clothes in ziploc is a great idea. You should... circulate a memo, or something."

"You skip meals too," Sam complained to Daniel, knowing she sounded childish and too utterly cold and miserable to care. She was going to get pneumonia. She knew she was. She was, by and large, a very healthy person, but once a year she always came down with something nasty. Last year it had been a Tok'ra in the head. This year, it was definitely going to be pneumonia. "Ack! Don't touch me, you're wet!"

"We're all wet, Sam. I'm trying to share body heat."

He practically stuck his elbow up her nose. "Good God! Daniel! Are you trying to sit in my lap?"

"Children..." the Colonel smiled at them from across the tent, and even in the dim light of their portable lighting unit, something in his kindly amused eyes sent a rush of welcome warmth through her. She quirked half a smile back at him, trying to ignore the awkward way Daniel was jostling her and the way an icy trail of water that had somehow sneaked through all her protective rain gear was sliding down her back.

This was all they had. These moments, far too few and rare, where it felt like the rest of their complicated lives disappeared and, even in the company of others, they were completely alone with each other.

It was all they had, and to be honest, she wasn't even entirely sure that they really had it. More than once in her life she'd been accused of having an overactive imagination, and it was completely possible that she had invented this connection between her and her (completely off-limits) commanding officer because she was (possibly) a little bit lonely. Whole weeks would go by when she would get nothing from him, no unusual warmth or kindness or indication that there was something more than strictly appropriate between them, and, more often than not, she would get so involved in her work that she would barely notice. But those weeks of platonic professionalism had come more and more rarely over the past three years, and overactive imagination or no, she was sure that she wasn't completely making it up.

For a brief second, the small part of her brain that sometimes got away from her, the part that wasn't actively working on how to best reinforce the tent from blowing over in the wind, and what they would do if the rain somehow got through the casing of their various equipment and short-circuited something vital, and mentally cataloguing everything that had to be done and the most productive order in which to do it for the computer system maintenance overhaul scheduled for the following week... wished that he was the one who had volunteered to warm her up with body heat.

Nothing that flew in the face of decency and regulation, of course. She doubted she was even capable of thinking of something like that while she was on-duty and off-world (well, maybe once or twice, the annoying part of herself that valued honesty forced her to amend). She just... wouldn't mind it if, rain-soaked and all, he held her for awhile. Touched her, even. Getting closer to her than as far away as he could physically be while inside the same tent would be a start.

"O'Neill, I was under the impression that it was considered impolite among the Tau'ri to make unfavorable comments about the appearance of a woman."

Teal'c's voice, perhaps an honest inquiry, or perhaps a reprimand for a slight she'd already forgotten (skinny, right, he'd called her skinny) broke the moment, and suddenly it was awkward, and guilty, and wrong. All thoughts of him touching her fled right back to their rightful (after all, he was, and it bore repeating, completely off-limits) place of shame inside her mind, right alongside the fact that she had more emotionally satisfying conversations with her house plants than she did with actual warm-blooded human beings, that Janet Fraiser's thirteen year old daughter Cassie had recently decided to make her over and she'd actually learned more than a few things about how to properly put on makeup, and that, occasionally, she sang in the shower.

Badly, of course, although the acoustics of tiled bathrooms (she'd read the pertinent data that allowed her to deduce this somewhere back in graduate school, but she couldn't quite remember the occasion) tended to be more forgiving than just about anywhere else she could hope to find. Besides, it really was very occasionally. Most of the time she amused herself by solving odd physics equations in the steam on the glass doors of her shower.

And it was possible that once (just once), right on top of a refurbished algorithm for the proper light refraction index required to (theoretically) render a person invisible, she might have written his name. But most of the time it really was just equations.

At least he looked embarrassed, too. "Aww, don't worry, Teal'c. It's just Carter. She doesn't mind," the Colonel tossed her a grin, the safe, platonic kind, and the part of her that still wasn't paying attention to the ten other things she'd given herself to pay attention to felt a twinge of regret and a sigh escaped her lips before she could stop it.

Of course she didn't mind. She'd spent her entire adult life doing her gosh darned best to not mind, to never let anyone dismiss her as a card-carrying member of the weaker sex, the gender that cared about things like having her physical attributes picked apart, unfavorably or otherwise, by those around her. The first day she'd successfully become Just Carter had been a monumental achievement, a shining beacon amid her various, more publicly lauded accomplishments. And she liked being Just Carter, being one of the boys, she really did. Women were fickle, and complicated, and downright scary, and, with one or two (okay, one) exceptions, she wasn't comfortable around them.

Ninety-eight percent of the time (she was good at calculating percentages in her head. It impressed him. But then, most things she took for granted about her brain tended to either impress or annoy him, usually a bit of both), she was happy to be Just Carter around Colonel O'Neill.

It was the other two percent that caused all the problems, that made her feel like she was missing something, that made her honestly wish she could take a compliment about something as simple and transitory about the way she looked. She hated those, because she always ended up stammering or denying or unnecessarily slapping the handiest feminist doctrine she could pull from her brain across the face of her well-meaning admirer. Fortunately or unfortunately, he very rarely gave them to her. Teal'c did... in a way, if you could count an observation that she had "altered her appearance" the one time he'd seen her in a civilian sundress at a Fourth of July barbecue at General Hammond's, and Daniel occasionally made the attempt, although she suspected that even he wasn't sure if he meant it positively when he told her brightly after seeing the results of Cassie's makeover that the mile-high iridescent blue eyeshadow "brought out her eyes."

She wore makeup a lot more than she used to, and that was probably Janet's fault. Janet Fraiser, the one adult woman Sam truly considered good company, was utterly unafraid of coming off as female on-base because, after having seen every single one of the SGC men in their underwear, she felt no need to posture in front of them. Janet considered makeup war paint, and had taken it upon herself to repair her teenage daughter's efforts on Sam's face to less dramatic effect. A subtle gift of a day trip to a girlie spa for Sam's last birthday had granted Janet the opportunity to properly arm her with colors that actually would bring out her eyes without making her look like a nightclub gone awry.

Sam had avoided 'bringing out her eyes' for years, ever since she'd had that one asshole Academy instructor who was constantly telling her that "the innocent wide-eyed routine won't get you anywhere in the Air Force, Miss Carter," and ever since she'd overheard another female cadet (she hated women) refer to her as being "all eyeball and leg," whatever that meant.

So it was certainly Janet's fault that she owned the makeup, but the fact that she wore it at any time other than dress-blues occasions might (might!) have been because of that two percent of her that liked it when the Colonel stared at her, even though it made her nervous.

That two percent had taken up far more than its fair share of her thoughts on that off-world dark and stormy night, and were possibly more than two percent worth of responsible for why she hadn't slept much.

And in the nearly sixty hours since then, she'd been doped to the hilt by an alien impersonating her doctor, spared an alien medical procedure because of a -- you guessed it -- alien protein in her blood left over from her prior experience as a host to a whole different breed of alien, escaped a top-secret military installation, jet-setted across the country, killed, at 15,000 feet, an alien impersonating her commanding officer, located a device that made her look like Daniel, sneaked her way back into the supposedly impenetrable top-secret military installation, shot things, been shot at, disabled some alien technology, and successfully was party to turning away yet another attempted alien takeover. She was all but giddy with adrenaline, wanting nothing more than to run down the corridors. It would all turn out okay. Now all she had to do was figure out how to detach Janet, Daniel, General Hammond and the others and the day would be well and truly saved.

She nearly skipped into the elevator.

"23?" the Colonel asked her.

She nodded. He was alive. He was fine. Everything was okay.

"Now that the aliens have either left or..." she paused, puzzling over how best to express the sudden and violent self-destruction of those trapped on the Earth side of the stargate.

"... gone kaboom," offered O'Neill.

She smiled. Thank God he was alive. Thank God he hadn't been killed by that alien thing that had possessed his body and spoken in his voice and had scared and confused the hell out of her. It shot daggers of guilt all through her, but she couldn't help grinning.

If she had been anybody else, she might have even kissed the moving metal ground of the elevator to thank a higher power for pulling her through this with her friends alive. If she had been anybody else, she might have kissed him. But that was beyond even her current state of delirious sleep-deprived happiness.

On the plane to D.C., in the airport, pacing drunkenly around the city trying to keep conscious while waiting for Maybourne... all she could do was think of him. She hated herself for it. She had done her dizzy, nauseated best to come up with contingency plans. To contemplate how the alien incursion was possible, how it was that they had replaced or possessed their people all the way up to the commander of the base. She had thought herself in circles until her brain hurt from more than just the drugs and the Goa'uld protein battling themselves out in her bloodstream, but the part of her that wasn't thinking, that was only feeling inadequate and lost and terrified, was feeling for him.

She wanted to be actively worried about the whole world, the whole base, her whole team, even, but all she could think about as she dragged herself around D.C. and pulled her hair out to keep herself awake was him and how frighteningly unfamiliar he had looked on that security camera greeting the aliens in the 'gate-room. She was scared of him, and for him, and she hadn't known what to do about it except keep going.

The threat was over now. He was alive, and safe, and all of three feet away from her in the confined space of the elevator, and she still didn't know what to do about it.

So she kept going.

"It's likely that the rest of our people will wake up, just as you did. The holographic technology would seem to have incredible potential for covert operations, if we can figure out how to reprogram them, and the thought transmitters would have numerous apric..." she trailed off. That wasn't right. "...applications, if we can find a way to adapt them to-"

The elevator stopped and, unprepared, she stumbled. Slightly. A hand across the door, the Colonel's, propped the doors open and kept her from leaving.

"Carter, when was the last time you slept?"

Oh, come on. She messed up one word, and he complains? He messed up six words a minute, on average, and not all of them could be on purpose.

"Uh..."

"Not counting getting knocked out by the body-snatchers."

She squirmed, feeling restless and dizzy. Standing in the elevator would not do. The adrenaline of the chase was wearing off, and she got the distinct feeling that if she didn't keep moving, she would collapse right there on the floor. "Fifty five hours," she hedged, low. "Give or take."

"That's too long."

It was, and the entire time she hadn't been in control, she had been scared and alone and hadn't known if any of it would work and... God, were those tears springing to her eyes?

She ducked under his arm and kept walking, blinking herself back into line. "I'll be fine, Colonel, it's nothing I haven't done before."

"Not with alien chemicals running around inside you, I'll bet."

"Until the medical personnel have recovered, I'm the most qualified on base to ensure that the removal of our people from the alien devices goes smoothly." She spoke carefully, enunciating, not wanting to give him any reason to doubt her ability to function. Some part of her said protesting was ridiculous. He was right, and what higher brain function left to her after sixty sleepless hours agreed with him. But she couldn't help feeling like, if she turned around and fell asleep, she would be too exhausted to wake up should an emergency occur. If they had underestimated the tenacity of the alien devices' hold on their people, or perhaps not all the aliens had gone... kaboom... with the others...?

She blinked, hard. Had the wall next to her just moved?

"Carter, let the rest of us take it from here. You've done enough."

Enough... Enough was never enough, that was what her mentor in her early days in the Air Force had told her, a career Air Force woman in her forties who had known the score and had gladly imparted it to an overeager Cadet Carter. But was that... pride in his voice? Maybe enough really was...

She smiled, and then frowned, and then swallowed hard as the corridor started to go black.

She didn't realize she was falling until he caught her.

"Okay," his voice rang in her ear, rousing her from what could only have been a momentary unconsciousness. Strong, warm arms lifted her back to standing, but she felt like she had no bones left, at least none at her disposal. He picked her up smoothly, right as the hallway went dim again. "To the infirmary, then, Major."

A second later they were back in the elevator, and her feet were back on the ground, although she was all but draped over him and she knew with what few brain cells she had left to know anything at all that if he would've let his grip around her go, she would have dropped right to the floor again. He didn't.

They made it to the infirmary, her with eyes closed to ward off the dizziness, him half leading and half carrying her. She unceremoniously flopped onto the nearest bed and was only dimly, though pleasantly, aware of Colonel O'Neill lifting her legs onto the bed after the rest of her and untying her boots, all with surprising care and gentleness.

Her boots came off with tugging, and she moaned discontent as the sharp movements kept her from a much-needed coma.

There was a chuckle, from somewhere, and then something light and fluttery landed over her body. A sheet. She tried to smile, but it was possible she just ended up drooling.

God, she was exhausted. She had, quite possibly, never been this tired in her entire life. Ever. And with all the war, missions, alien possessions, and the accidental academic all-nighters that comprised her life, such as it was, that was saying something.

"You want some water?" the Colonel asked, sounding strangely but definitely too kind and... sweet... to actually be the Colonel.

What with all the recent goings-on, she should have been concerned, maybe, but she wasn't. That two percent that was more perceptive than the rest of her and liked to speculate on these sorts of things while the rest of her brain wasn't paying attention had always suspected that he would be like this if they were ever alone and without uniforms. Well, not without without uniforms but... without uniforms.

And lying on a bed in the infirmary, him holding her boots in his hands, was possibly about as out of uniform as they had been in a long long time. Since it had gotten dangerous, and perpetually threatened to make her re-evaluate her percentage calculation for how much time she actually spent considering the inconsiderable. Completely. Off. Limits.

"Carter?"

Oh. She hadn't answered him, but her eyes were still open and staring so he knew she wasn't asleep. And yeah... water sounded... necessary. With the exception of exactly two sips of coffee, she also hadn't eaten or drank anything in two days. No wonder she felt like she'd just been run over by... by... something big. And with wheels.

God, would the Colonel have a field day if he could hear her thoughts. He got a huge charge out of the fact that she was a certifiable, textbook genius and, somehow, the fact that he was okay with it made her okay with it too. Sure, she had always gratefully exploited the resources of her own brain, with all the helpful trimmings that came with being a genius -- multitasking and having the resources of every statistic you'd ever read at your immediate command among them. But she'd never openly talked about it, and she'd never had anyone else openly talk about it, either, without either awe or distaste in their voice. Like she was at once a commodity and a freak.

Her IQ was in her file, and once, back when they really had just felt like good friends and great teammates, SG-1 had been out at a bar and he'd used the individual digits of her IQ for playing Keno, saying it was his lucky number. In between trying to explain to Teal'c how the game worked, with Daniel chiming in unnecessary facts about the history of the societal acceptability of gambling and her dampening everyone's mood with the odds (she couldn't help it, the odds just popped into her head without her even thinking about it, and she felt sort of bad that he would lose his dollar a game, in some ways, on her), he lost six straight games and never stopped grinning at her.

After that, how could she help but fall in love with him?

Unsettled by her latest thought, shaken loose from somewhere in her brain by the growing insanity borne of some combination of sleep deprivation, starvation, and dehydration, she did her best to remember what it was he'd been asking her.

"Yeah... water'd be nice," she finally remembered, and replied.

She wondered how long she had felt that way.

It was scary. Not quite as scary in the immediate, perhaps, as the shape-changing aliens who had taken over her place of employ and done their best to use her friends' minds and pervert their bodies to possibly destroy her planet, but it came dangerously close.

In all likelihood, it wasn't going to string her up on Level 23 and use her physical appearance to take over the world, but she was still in a lot of trouble. An unfathomable lot.

She was deeply, deeply screwed.

'Screwed' was a Colonel O'Neill word. She never used it, because the ball-busting feminist in her considered it crude and demeaning. But she was using it now, because it was the only way to adequately express, even inside her own head, exactly how much trouble she could get in over this and exactly how much pain it was probably going to cause her, whether she got in actual Air Force trouble or not.

"Apple juice," the Colonel re-emerged, triumphant, and set the plastic foil-covered infirmary juice container down on the equipment tray next to the bed. "Sit up," he commanded, and she did her best to comply.

His hands closed around her shoulders and hauled her up until she was leaning weakly against the headboard. With a flourish, he speared the foil covering the juice with a straw and handed to her.

She didn't take it. "You have to make another hole," she explained, "or it creates a vacuum and you can't get the juice out."

She recalled saying the exact same thing to her brother when she was four years old and had first discovered that remarkable physical truth for herself. The word vacuum had been supplied by her mother, and the connection between the suction in the juice cup and the vacuum cleaner in the hall closet explained once her pestering wore the poor woman down long enough to look it up in the World Book (little did she know that the innocent young Sammie, bow-shaped plastic hair barrettes and all, already knew where her father kept his screwdriver set and would have that vacuum cleaner in pieces on the living room floor by the end of the week), but the scientific discovery had been all hers. Her brother, almost five years her senior, had told her to shut up and drink the darned juice or he'd dump it in the sink, over her very rational objections that it wouldn't dump unless he poked another hole in the top. Colonel O'Neill merely did as she asked, with a bemused expression on his face, and then held the juice cup towards her until the straw was just an inch from her lips.

He held it there the whole time while she drank, like she didn't have hands, watching her with an expression she had never seen before.

So she was in love with him. That explained a lot.

Her body started to feel like it was turning to lead again, and she pathetically slid her way down the headboard until, with his help, she was successfully horizontal again. Keep touching me! A hated, pathetic little voice inside her head, that she empathized with perhaps more than two percent of the time after all, silently begged him as he straightened the sheet over her and perched himself on the edge of her bed.

She wanted to say something. Not that, but she wanted to say something, to start a conversation. She just wanted him to talk. To make the silence of an all-but-deserted infirmary seem less eerie. To reassure her, even when she closed her eyes, that he was really there, that she had done it, that with nothing more than a coat of paint they would all be okay.

"I think we should repaint the 'gate-room a different color," she said.

It was, quite possibly, the dumbest thing ever to come out of her mouth in his presence. She knew that his crack about a coat of paint had been metaphorical -- the place was concrete and could use nothing more than a good hosing down.

"How about blue? I always thought it was neat that they paint the sides of swimming pools blue."

Trust her Colonel to say something even more inane, just to make her feel better about it. She opened her mouth to explain why they painted the sides of swimming pools blue, like it was important, but her thoughts fizzled on her tongue. "Yeah, it is. Kinda."

He smiled at her, a rare and unique smile she doubted anyone else in the SGC ever got to see. He used one like it with Cassie when she called him "Uncle Jack" or curled up practically in his lap on the couch to watch a movie -- thirteen or no, she was always a little girl around the Colonel -- but this smile was just that little bit different, and that little bit was hers alone.

"I like blue," he said.

If the senseless dialogue was meant to put her to sleep, it was working. She struggled to keep her eyes open, unwilling to relinquish this alone-time that she knew would be gone as soon as that metaphorical coat of paint had been slapped on the 'gate-room walls, but everything in the room was blurring in and out. Blue... she liked blue, too... Cassie had said something about blue once, something about how blue... "... brings out my eyes," she babbled sleepily and, although he was blurred to unrecognizable, she knew, she knew he was still smiling that smile at her.

"Yeah, it does." He wasn't, he wasn't even touching her, but right then, it felt as though he was holding her in his arms. His voice was just as rare and unique as his smile, and she felt warm and happy all over.

Maybe being in love with him wasn't going to be so bad.

"Bedtime," he commanded her, reminding her of her purpose in the infirmary bed. Not to exchange the militarily acceptable version of sweet nothings. Not to come to great revelations about her life. Just to sleep, because she'd earned it and because, if she didn't, after all the excitement and the sleeplessness and the mortal terror, she would black out.

She automatically balled herself up in a fetal position, her favorite way to sleep. Her teammates -- well, just Daniel and the Colonel -- made fun of her for it, saying that she barely needed seventy-five percent of her sleeping bag (they, unlike her, were both crap at calculating percentages in their heads) if she was just going to curl up into a little ball every night.

A warm hand landed on her... some part of her body, she'd lost track of most of it... and breath ruffled the hair nearest her ear. "You done good, Carter," his voice, that voice, the one so like the smile, told her gently, in tones meant to lull her down rather than actually communicate. He spoke right into her and made her feel good. And enough. And... loved. With a sigh, she nuzzled her face against the sheet he had laid down on her, and relaxed. "You did... really good."

*end!*