The Magic of Snow

By Karibou

Rating: T

Disclaimer: I own neither the fine characters described herein, nor the snow which inspired this little tale. If I did, the characters would be much happier, and the snow would shovel itself.

Classifications: Fluff in every sense of the word

Seasons/Spoilers: Up to the end of season 8, prior to the start of season 9.

Summary: The title pretty much says it all…

A/N: This one's for you, Karen of Texas. Merry Christmas!

Taking a deep breath of the crisp, Colorado air, Sam looked around the snug little neighborhood and smiled unconsciously. Though she usually prided herself on maintaining an attitude of analytical and scientific objectivity even on her down time, evenings like this were undeniably… magical. And, considering what she'd seen in her lifetime, she didn't use that word lightly, even in the privacy of her own mind.

It was hard to deny the feeling tonight, however. Sam felt like she'd just stepped into a Christmas card.

Huge, fluffy clumps of snow drifted down from a moonlit sky, covering every object on the horizon with a silver-white blanket of frosted diamond dust. Every branch on every tree was outlined in Nature's gentle icing, illuminating the splendor of her gorgeous artistry. Even the sky itself felt softer somehow, insulated from the vast heavens by a downy comforter of delicate flakes.

For a moment, the scene before her was so breathtaking, Sam forgot exactly where she was and why she'd traversed the icy roadways to get here.

As her eyes focused on the cozy ranch house nestled comfortably amidst several of the large trees she'd just been admiring, Sam's heart gave a tiny flutter. The sight of this particular home was always enough to trigger such a reaction, even though she'd been here often enough in the last eight years to hardly be counted a guest anymore. And still, even though the analytical, scientific part of her brain winced at her heart's response to this place, she'd yet to figure out a way to prevent it.

Squaring her shoulders, she grasped the bakery box in her hand a little more firmly and forced her mind back to the matter at hand. She was here visiting a friend and former colleague who'd been in an unfortunate – if somewhat humorous – work-related accident. Surely, she could deliver her well-wishes to this man with the same, standard friendliness she might extend to anyone in the same situation – even if the recipient of her offering held a decidedly non-standard place in her heart.

It had been nearly two months since she'd last seen him, and double that since she'd lounged easily on the dock of his Minnesota fishing retreat. Smiling wistfully at the memories of those peaceful days, she couldn't help feeling a little saddened at the time which had since past. Part of her knew she'd wasted a precious opportunity during those balmy, carefree days. She'd left so many important things unsaid at a critical moment of change. But, as driven and motivated as Sam was in her professional life, in personal matters, she was vastly more reserved. Her natural uncertainty combined with the total upheaval of her future had prevented her from taking risks she might have otherwise jumped into. Looking back now, she felt she'd somehow missed her cue, and the show had gone on without her. The result was a disappointingly mundane outcome to a situation she'd always believed to be destined for greatness.

Shaking off such melancholy reflections, she began carefully navigating the crunchy piles of snow already starting to accumulate in his driveway. She was here to offer cheerful holiday greetings, not to relive old hurts. With a few determined steps, she found herself staring at the familiar, planked door which was currently frosted by a light dusting of snowflakes. Before she had a chance to change her mind, she raised her hand and rapped her knuckles firmly against the cold, wooden surface.

As she waited for a response from within the cozy little house, she looked out across his wooded yard and felt an irrational sense of anticipation creep into her heart. Trying to nip such feelings in the bud, she reminded herself that nothing about the last nine years was likely to change tonight.

Even if the snow did seem remarkably magical.

Lounging on his sofa, Jack cradled a cold beer in one hand, and his remote control in the other. By his estimation, the pizza currently baking in his oven should be ready just as the second period wound to a close – unless, of course, the Avalanche scored another goal between now and then, in which case the added commercial break would likely throw off his timing.

Life had been fairly bland and unremarkable in the two weeks since he'd returned to Colorado for a brief, medical leave of absence. Flicking a glance out the panoramic windows which enclosed his living room, he felt his lips curl into a smile at the breathtaking landscape glistening just off his back deck. If nothing else, the scenery here sure beat the hell out of anything in DC, where the bitter cold only served to keep grimy slush on the ground longer. Still, in spite of the beautiful setting, he hadn't really planned on being back here for the holidays. After all, aside from his house, there was actually very little tying him to this part of the country anymore.

Especially since a certain Lieutenant Colonel had relocated to Nevada.

Shoving the wayward thought from his mind, he hefted the beer to his lips, momentarily forgetting that any swift movement of his right arm was inevitably going to result in substantial discomfort. Wincing reflexively, he slowed his action and took a timid sip. With a bitter sigh, he was once again forced to acknowledge that he wasn't as young as he used to be – not that he'd been especially young in any kind of recent memory.

Staring sightlessly out his windows, Jack felt an odd sense of loneliness creep over him. This wasn't the first holiday season he'd spent alone, nor would it likely be his last. And yet, for reasons he couldn't quite pinpoint, the next week or two seemed to stretch endlessly in front of him, wiping the cheer from what should have been a relaxing break from Washington politics.

He'd contemplated stopping back at the SGC for a visit, but aside from the gate itself, there was little familiar about the place anymore. Landry was a good sort of guy, but he ran a different kind of base than Hammond had. And, as for everyone else, Teal'c was offworld visiting Bra'tac, Daniel was in an Egyptian museum researching possible alien artifacts, and the infirmary had never been the same since Janet's death. Somehow, the thought of so many unfamiliar faces wandering the halls which had once been his second home filled him with a nearly unbearable sadness.

Trying to shake his unnaturally somber mood, Jack refocused on the hockey game and hoped that the tried-and-true combination of sports and pizza would cheer him up. Flicking a disgusted glance at his beer, he acknowledged that getting drunk wasn't really an option, since lifting the bottle hurt too damn much.

A sudden, sharp knock on his door snapped his thoughts back to the present. Looking toward the sound with some confusion, he tried to imagine who on Earth might be dropping by his house at this time of the evening during what was predicted to be one hell of a snowstorm. There weren't all that many people who even knew he was here.

Despite his utter inability to guess the identity of his caller, curiosity and boredom were powerful motivators. Lifting himself from the sofa, he set his beer and remote on the coffee table and shuffled toward his front entrance. Not bothering to check the window beside the doorway, he reached for the knob and pulled gingerly with his injured arm.

As the door swung open, any sense of discomfort he might have experienced was quickly forgotten in a haze of shock and amazement. It had been a good, long time since Jack had believed in Santa Claus, but the vision on his doorstep was almost enough to change his mind on that subject.

It was Sam.

Samantha Carter was here, at his house, in the middle of a blizzard, three days before Christmas.

He really couldn't have been more surprised if Santa himself had dropped by.

Flushed from the cold and bearing several stray snowflakes on her hair and eyelashes, Sam smiled brightly lifted a small, paper box. "I brought pie," she said simply, sounding a bit breathless.

Unsure of what had precipitated this miracle, but not stupid enough to turn his early Christmas gift away, Jack smiled and held the door open with his good arm. "I've got pizza," he replied easily. "Sounds like the perfect meal to me."

Watching her eyes sparkle as she grinned back at him, Jack suddenly realized he meant those words in more ways than one.

Injury all but forgotten, Jack pulled the front door closed in a fog of mystified happiness. Taking the pie from her, he watched silently as she pulled off her coat and scarf, shaking away the white flakes which clung stubbornly to her clothing.

Glancing down at her snow-covered shoes, Sam grimaced. "I think I'd better take these off," she said, a telltale note of nervous breathlessness sneaking into her voice. Trying to get control of her runaway nerves, she concentrated on remaining calm and balanced. "I'd hate to track slush all over your carpet."

In the silence of his own mind, Jack acknowledged that he wouldn't mind if she dumped an entire truckful of the stuff in the middle of his living room, so long as she stuck around for pizza – though he couldn't very well admit such a thing out loud. Instead, he shrugged casually and replied with his usual carefree demeanor. "Whatever makes you comfortable." And, if having her padding around his house in stocking feet made her comfortable, all the better.

Sam hung her jacket on an empty arm of his coat tree, and then turned to face him. Seeing him again after so many weeks sent a reflexive tingle of happiness rushing through her body. She knew she probably shouldn't be so giddy over an invitation for pizza, but she couldn't help it.

Part of her was simply relieved that she'd found him here alone. She had no idea what she'd have done if someone other than Jack had answered the door. Before she'd decided to drop in unannounced, it was a possibility she'd tried to contemplate. Her conscious mind, however, had simply refused to ponder it. After the small fiasco earlier in the year when she'd interrupted his cozy dinner with Kerry Johnson in nearly this very location, she found it a little hard to breathe anytime she considered Jack getting seriously involved with someone else.

Suddenly, she noticed he was still holding the bakery box which she'd brought along. Conscious of the fact that he was home on medical leave, she hurriedly reached out and took the box from him. "I should probably be carrying that, considering your injury."

Vaguely, Jack wondered how she'd managed to hear about his little mishap – it wasn't exactly something he'd been shouting from the rooftops. With a dry smile, he shook his head. "Carter, I may have dislocated my shoulder, but I think even I can still manage to carry a pie without hurting myself."

Trying to suppress her answering grin, Sam bit her lip. "Right," she said amicably – though she held onto the pie anyway.

Rolling his eyes, Jack gestured toward the kitchen. "Dinner should be just about done." He flicked an amused glance in her direction. "So, are you at least going to let me carry the pizza? I did, after all, manage to wrestle its enormous mass into the oven."

Sam felt a flush creep into her cheeks, as she realized she might be acting a bit like a mother hen at the moment. Chuckling, she preceded him into the kitchen. "Sorry," she said lightly, "I must be channeling Janet."

Smiling faintly, Jack experienced an unexpected wave of nostalgia at her words. He knew Sam was right – it was exactly what their departed friend would be doing if she were here. Looking heavenward for a moment, he felt his smile broaden into a grin. "Well, then, I suppose I should keep to the same longstanding tradition I established when she was still with us."

Putting the pie down on his kitchen table, Sam settled into a chair and focused on her former CO for a moment. Seeing the mischievous glint in his brown eyes, she sighed in amused resignation. "You're going to completely ignore my sound medical advice."

He met her stare for a long moment, lips twitching with humor. "Yup."

Shaking her head, Sam realized it would do no good to argue. "You're not even wearing a sling," she scolded.

Gently pulling an oven mitt on his right hand, he opened the oven door and pulled out the pizza pan somewhat gingerly. "Now, how could I possibly get the pizza in and out of the oven if I was wearing a sling?"

Sam hated to admit it, but his familiar teasing was a balm to her flagging spirits. She hadn't realized how much she'd craved this interaction, until she'd finally experienced it again. "Maybe if you'd been a little more careful in the first place, you wouldn't require the use of a sling at all."

Placing the pizza on the stovetop to cool, Jack leveled a dark glare at her. "Carter, I've managed to survive apocalyptic battles with the Goa'uld, the Replicators, and a few other bizarre creatures I can't even remember the names of. I think I'm capable of moving some office furniture."

Sam met his glower with a twinkle in her eye. "Apparently not." Then, seeing his brow crease with a dangerous frown, she added a belated, "Sir."

Jack was trying to pretend he was annoyed by her teasing, but the 'sir' pretty much did him in. One side of his mouth quirked into a smile, in spite of his best efforts to look affronted. "Who'd have thought moving a file cabinet could be more dangerous than facing an army of Jaffa?"

She chuckled. "Don't worry," she said soothingly, "if anyone asks, I'll tell them it was a combat-related injury."

Walking toward the refrigerator, Jack flicked a dry glance at her. "Thanks, Carter."

Leaning forward, Sam placed an elbow on his table. "So, how exactly did you manage to dislocate your shoulder moving a file cabinet?"

He met her gaze with amusement. "I'm half surprised you don't already know. You seem to be pretty in-the-loop with regards to my little mishap."

Feeling another flush creep up her neck, Sam hoped he didn't notice her self-conscious reaction. The truth was, she'd been especially diligent in monitoring the DC rumor mill since he'd left for his new job. Trying to act nonchalant, she shrugged. "I work pretty closely with a young Air Force Captain at the Pentagon named Natasha Parker. Apparently, her office is just up the hall from yours." Sam's eyes twinkled for a moment. "She said she could hear you swearing from six offices away."

Jack smiled wryly. "She's not lying," he admitted. "The airman who was carrying the other side of the damned cabinet bumped into a desk dropped his end. I, however, held on. I'm not entirely sure how my shoulder ended up as a casualty, but it wasn't pretty."

Sam cringed. "Ouch."

He smiled. "That's approximately what I said, though I might have been a bit more colorful in my delivery."

Laughing, Sam regarded him warmly. "I can imagine," she said with a smile. "I've heard your reaction to being shot."

He nodded. "On several occasions, unfortunately." Seeing the glow of happiness on her face made something tender spring up in his chest. "Do you miss it?"

Sam looked startled. "Seeing you get shot?"

He chuckled. "I was talking about being part of SG-1." Suddenly his gaze took on a suspicious cast. "Why? Do you miss watching me get shot?"

Sam laughed out loud. "Not even a little," she promised earnestly. Then, growing serious, she sighed nostalgically. "Though I do miss most of the rest of it."

Jack nodded. "Yeah. Me, too."

For a moment, the pair shared a quiet moment of wistful remembrance. There really had been some amazing moments during their eight-year career with the SGC. It was a tough act to follow.

Pushing away his melancholy reflection, Jack gently opened the refrigerator door, mindful of not overusing his injured arm, lest he get another scolding from his former second-in-command. Looking at her, he tried bringing the conversation back to something more neutral. "Can I get you something to drink? Soda? Beer?" He paused, noticing something he'd apparently forgotten. "Hell, I've even got wine."

Sam considered the question for a moment. "A glass of wine would be nice." Then, noting the careful way he held the door, she leveled a no-nonsense glare at him. "But only if you let me open the bottle."

Rolling his eyes, he reached into the fridge and pulled out a bottle of chardonnay. "Whatever you say, Carter," he agreed with exaggerated meekness.

Suddenly, Sam tilted her head in curiosity. "I'm impressed you've got a bottle of wine in there," she remarked. "You couldn't have been home for more than a few days, and wine isn't really your style." If his house in Colorado was anything like hers, the cupboards had probably been bare when he'd arrived back in town. It was odd that he'd go out and fill his refrigerator with wine, of all things.

He nodded, smiling faintly. "I'm afraid you know me too well," he admitted. "The day after I got back, General Landry sent a wine and cheese basket over. I'm not sure if it was a holiday gift or a 'get well soon' present, but, either way, it was a nice thought."

Sam relaxed marginally. For a moment, she'd wondered if he was keeping the uncharacteristic bottle in his refrigerator for another guest who might be arriving later. Silently considering her reaction, Sam felt like smacking herself on the forehead. Would she never stop thinking about this man in those terms? Why couldn't she just accept his friendship and be satisfied?

Before she could become too involved with her churning emotions, Jack walked over and gently set the bottle and a corkscrew on the table in front of her. "Have at it," he said dryly.

As he stood beside her, Sam realized this was the closest he'd been to her physically since they'd been fishing last summer. Instinctively, her eyes traced the strong, calloused line of his fingers as they slowly released the bottle. How many times had she seen those hands cradle an assault weapon with deadly accuracy? And how many times had she fantasized about the many other things he might be able to do with them?

Shoving the wayward thoughts away, Sam pushed her chair back and stood up. She'd need a little leverage to use the corkscrew, after all. Rising slowly, she anticipated that he'd move back a safe distance in order to let her open the bottle.

She was wrong.

Jack had seen her standing up, and knew that he should probably step away to give her some room. But, much to his surprise, he found his muscles unwilling to comply with that request. Instead, the urge to be close to her simply overwhelmed his nervous system and he remained firmly situated mere inches from her.

Sam's eyes skittered to his face uncertainly. Swallowing, she found herself pulled into his unfathomable, dark gaze almost against her will. He was close enough that she could see the faint stubble of a five o'clock shadow darkening his rugged cheeks; close enough that she could feel the heat radiating from his solid frame. His apparent unwillingness to back away was so contrary to the polite, professional distance they meticulously maintained, Sam wasn't sure what to make of it.

Regarding her intently, Jack observed she'd taken on the mannerisms of a startled doe. He knew he'd probably thrown her off balance, but couldn't find it in himself to regret his actions. Instead, one side of his mouth quirked into a tiny half-smile. "If I forget to tell you later, I'm really glad you stopped by, Sam."

The sound of her first name on his lips was another shock to her equilibrium. Waving a hand absently, she tried to brush aside his gratitude. "It's nothing."

As he continued to examine her intently, an unexpected thought occurred to him. "Out of curiosity," he asked, tilting his head slightly, "who are you spending the holidays with? I didn't think you had family or friends here anymore, especially since Daniel and Teal'c are both away from the base."

Sam felt her cheeks grow warm again. She sometimes forgot that, for all his assertions to the contrary, very little actually slipped by this man unnoticed. She shrugged and looked at the table. "Being a research facility, Area 51 pretty much orders non-essential personnel to go home over the holidays," she explained. "I considered going to see Mark and the kids in California, but it's a little uncomfortable being the 'extra wheel' at their family gatherings, especially since Dad's not around anymore to keep me company." The pain from her father's death was starting to fade, but this holiday would be tough. Slowly raising her eyes again, she knew her expression was bound to give away some of her distress, so she attempted to downplay her next admission. "When I heard you'd be around here on medical leave, I took a chance that you might have a day or two to catch up with an old friend before going back to DC."

Jack processed her words with something akin to unqualified astonishment. She'd come back to Colorado for Christmas because of him? He knew she'd be feeling isolated after the events of the last year – a broken engagement, the loss of a parent, and a major shift in her career path were bound to take their toll on even someone as driven as Samantha Carter during the holiday season. But knowing she'd turned to him for comfort? Suddenly, he felt a bit like he'd had another office furniture accident – only this time, the file cabinet seemed to have been dropped on his head.

Apparently, his surprise showed on his face, because he could see her turning from a delicate pink to a deep crimson. Eyes glued to the table-top, Jack saw her wince slightly. "As far as holiday plans go, I realize mine are pretty pathetic." she said self-consciously.

As soon as he realized his reaction was making her uncomfortable, Jack fell into his usual routine of self-deprecating humor. "Hell, until you showed up, my plan was to eat pizza and watch reruns of The Simpsons for the next week."

Sam's eyes hesitantly slid back to his face. "I probably should have called first," she replied, still sounding a bit embarrassed.

He rolled his eyes. "Yes, because I'm clearly inconvenienced by your presence here," he said dryly. Smiling, he gestured to the table. "You brought pie, Carter. I'd probably have welcomed Ba'al over for dinner if he'd brought pie." Glad to see a smile returning to her face, he found himself unable to resist adding another, more significant truth. "But I'd have been just as glad to see you if you'd shown up empty-handed." When her blue gaze flitted to his uncertainly, he held it steadily. "Really."

As her chest constricted with emotion, Sam felt another powerful wave of nostalgia crash into her heart. Until a few months ago, SG-1 had been more than her career – it had been her family. She hadn't realized how much she'd depended on her teammates for support and companionship until they'd no longer been around to offer it. Blinking back sudden tears, Sam reacted without thinking. "Thanks," she whispered, throwing her arms around him in an impulsive bear hug.

Jack realized that, somewhere in his brain, he was probably registering discomfort over having his still-tender shoulder jostled by her impromptu show of affection. But, with the slender arms of his former colleague wrapped around his chest, he decided that whichever part of his brain was in charge of pain reception was obviously overridden by the part in charge of Carter reception. All he could consciously focus on at that moment was the warm softness of her body nestled against his, and the familiar scent of her shampoo as it floated up from her wispy blond hair. With absolutely no regard for his injury, Jack wrapped his own arms around her and squeezed gently. As he pulled her closer, she tucked her face into the crook of his neck and inhaled shakily. It was only after the telltale sensation of wetness registered against his skin that he realized she was crying.

"Hey," he rumbled soothingly, "none of that."

Sam blinked rapidly, trying to suppress the powerful swell of emotion which had taken her hostage. "Sorry," she sniffled, "I didn't mean to get all weepy on you."

Jack smiled in spite of the situation. "Just as long as you promise not to get the pizza wet, I can live with it."

Laughing in response, Sam nodded into his shoulder. "Fair enough." Then, suddenly, she seemed to realize what she'd been doing. "Oh, god!" she gasped, jerking away from him. Eyes wide with remorse, she looked up at him frantically. "Your shoulder! I'm so sorry!"

He waved a hand at her dismissively. "We've already had this conversation, Carter. If I can take a pizza out of the oven, I think I can manage a hug without further injuring myself."

Sam didn't look completely convinced, but she did relax marginally. As her eyes wandered aimlessly over the table, she seemed to remember why she'd stood up in the first place. "How about I open the wine?"

Jack smiled. "Sounds like a plan. I'll just go cut the pizza." Seeing her mouth open in objection to his proposed use of his injured arm, he cut her off instantly. "Eh! No arguments."

Closing her mouth in resignation, Sam felt another bubble of happiness rise up in her chest. It was nice to know that, even in a world which seemed to have been turned upside-down, some things simply didn't change.

With a deep sigh of contentment, Sam leaned back in her chair and gazed at the remnants of their meal. Between the two of them, they'd managed to put quite a dent in the pizza. "Looks like I've robbed you of leftovers," she said apologetically.

Jack rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you're right. I'd much rather have cold pizza tomorrow than have decent company tonight."

Sam chuckled. "And pie," she reminded him.

His eyes brightened. "I almost forgot about the pie."

Raising her eyebrows, Sam laughed incredulously. "You must be desperate for company if you forgot about pie."

Jack shook his head. "I said 'almost.'" He shrugged. "I don't think it's possible for me to completely forget when pie is involved."

Sam suppressed an affectionate smile at his enthusiasm for dessert. "Speaking of which…" she said, pushing away her chair and collecting their plates. "You cut the pizza, which means it's my turn to cut the pie." Walking to the sink, she rinsed both dishes before reaching into the cabinet for dessert plates.

"Carter." Rising from his own chair, Jack's voice was colored with exasperation. "You don't have to clean the kitchen or serve the food. You're the guest, remember?"

She turned and leveled a steady, no-nonsense look in his direction. "And you're injured, remember?"

Seeing that she wasn't about to be dissuaded from her task, he sank resignedly back into his seat.

Nodding in satisfaction, Sam fished a knife from a nearby drawer and opened the bakery box. As she focused on the pastry, she began to realize that she was awfully comfortable in her self-appointed role as his caretaker. Part of it, she knew, stemmed from the years she'd spent watching his back in the field. How many times had he risked his own safety for the greater good, leaving her to do what she could to keep him safe? Still, she knew it was more than her military instincts which prompted her to watch over him. It was an instinctive response; she couldn't help trying to protect something that her heart clung to so tightly.

And that knowledge scared the crap out of her.

Totally oblivious to her internal struggle, Jack craned his neck expectantly, trying to get a look at the much-anticipated dessert. "What kind of pie did you bring, anyway?"

Not looking up from the box, she smiled. "Pecan." There really wasn't much in the way of dessert that Jack didn't like, but she knew he had a particular weakness for pecan pie, especially at Christmas time.

Across the kitchen, Jack was suddenly struck by the domestic picture she made, standing at his kitchen counter serving up a slice of the perfect holiday dessert. Her fuzzy, blue sweater brought out the gentle pink flush in her cheeks and highlighted the luminous sparkle in her impossibly large eyes. When she finally set two delectable pieces down on the waiting plates, Jack wasn't sure which of the visions before him set his mouth watering – the pie, or the woman serving it.

As Sam picked up the plates and began moving toward the table, Jack made an instant, unconscious decision. Pushing his chair out, he stood and approached her, taking the plates and forks from her hand. Though she responded with an admonishing glare, he ignored her non-verbal scolding and nodded toward the doorway. "Let's have our dessert in the living room," he suggested, not fully analyzing why the idea seemed so appealing.

Glancing uncertainly into the cozy space he'd just indicated, Sam finally realized that there was a hockey game flickering on his television. Suddenly understanding his desire to get out of the kitchen, she winced slightly. "I didn't mean to make you miss the game," she said contritely.

Jack blinked. Once again, she was quick to assume she'd interrupted something important by dropping in on him. "You didn't make me miss anything," he insisted firmly. Following her into the dimly-lit confines of his living room, he set both plates down on the coffee table opposite his sofa. Handing her a fork, he settled comfortably into the overstuffed piece of furniture. "I was just getting uncomfortable sitting on those wooden chairs," he explained easily. Then, with a dry smile, he inclined his head toward his right shoulder. "I am injured, you know." As if to prove his point, he reached for the remote control on the table and flicked off the TV without so much as checking the score.

In spite of her best efforts to the contrary, Sam felt something warm and fuzzy spring to life in her heart as she witnessed his efforts to put her at ease. She really wanted to believe that his actions indicated something deep and profound, but she was sensible enough to understand he was just trying to be a good friend. Smiling anyway, she shook her head at his convenient use of his injury to back his claims. "Right," she said dryly.

Apparently, he was satisfied with her reaction, because his next move was to pick up his fork and dig enthusiastically into his pie. Sam couldn't help chuckling at the look of utter bliss which transformed his face as he took the first bite.

"Good?" she asked amusedly.

His response was a nod, accompanied by a muffled "Mmph" of agreement.

Glad that she'd managed to brighten his evening, Sam began nibbling on her own portion. One bite confirmed his assessment – the pie was fantastic.

A few moments of companionable silence passed as the pair finished off their desserts. Relishing her last bite, Sam quickly realized that she'd run out of legitimate reasons to hang around. Staring accusingly at her now-empty plate, she wished she hadn't eaten quite so quickly. The evening had been delightful, and she loathed seeing it end. A brief glance out one of the windows, however, forced her to acknowledge the fact that it was time to go. "Wow," she remarked, looking out at the impressive drifts already beginning to form, "it's really coming down out there."

Following her gaze, Jack was unsurprised by the sea of whiteness which seemed to be lurking just outside his home. By all predictions, the storm tonight was going to be a monster. "Certainly looks that way," he agreed blandly. Though he knew what must be coming next, he really wished she didn't have to leave so soon.

Sam glanced at her empty plate again and sighed regretfully. "I suppose I'd probably better be going."

He nodded. "The roads are bound to be pretty bad," he agreed.

Sam opened her mouth to reply, when a familiar sound began to rumble deeply in the background. As the low, grating vibration began to register in her mind, she felt a brief flash of panic. Looking out one of his giant living room windows, she could see a yellow, flashing light zipping down the street, confirming her suspicions about what she'd just heard.

The snow-plow had come through.

Sam wasn't the only one to recognize the muffled clatter outside. As the reverberating tremors roared to life and then faded away, Jack also found himself looking into the snowy blackness outside his window. As the city plow disappeared into the storm, he turned to his companion with an ironic smile. "The good news is that my street is probably pretty clear right about now," he remarked brightly.

Sam groaned and sank back into the couch. "And the bad news is that the end of your driveway is blocked with two feet of heavy slush."

Jack shook his head, looking intently into his front yard. "Nah," he replied cheerfully, "I'd say it's blocked by at least three feet of heavy slush."

Grimacing, Sam realized it was going to be a long, cold struggle to get her car out of his driveway. "Great," she muttered. Then, as she flicked a glance in his direction, she also remembered that his right arm was injured, and that there was absolutely no way he could help her dig out. Heaving a giant sigh, she started to rise from the sofa in order to get a jump on the work ahead of her.

Much to her surprise, Jack's hand shot out and grabbed her wrist before she had a chance to move more than a few inches.

"Carter," he said patiently, "you're never going to get your car out of there. By the time you get half of that snowdrift clear, the plow will be back through, and you'll be back to square one."

Sam threw up her hands in exasperation. "So, what am I supposed to do?"

His suggestion, when it came, certainly sounded reasonable enough. Unfortunately, it seemed to reverberate through every fiber of her body in ways she dared not contemplate too closely.

"I have a spare room," he replied steadily. Meeting her frazzled gaze calmly, his words seemed to slice through the air with unbridled intensity. "Why don't you crash here for the night?"

Rationally, Sam knew she'd spent countless nights in the company of this man. How many off-world missions had she spent camped mere feet away from him? She couldn't even begin to guess. In light of those past experiences, spending one night in his guest room should be really no big deal.

Still, these were undeniably very different circumstances. There was no shield of military protocol to hide behind here; there were no teammates, no mission, no tents or bedrolls. Here, in his own private sanctuary, there was only the magnetic force of his personality – and her seeming inability to resist him.

Looking briefly out the window into the swirling currents of snow, Sam had to acknowledge the practicality of his suggestion. Even if his driveway hadn't been blocked by a mountain of ice and slush, the roadways beyond were bound to be treacherous. From a strictly strategic point-of-view, there was no question that she should take him up on his offer.

Sam, however, was wise enough to consider a less-rational perspective. Her silly heart, which refused to abandon its hopes regarding this man, was bound to get caught up in potential – if admittedly unlikely – outcomes to the scenario, daring to hope for things which were just not meant to be. Sam knew all too well that the end result of such a venture was bound to be heartache. Again. And heartache was one thing she'd had quite enough of in the last year.

Inhaling slowly, Sam mentally prepared herself to turn him down and start figuring out a way to bail her car out of his driveway. He wouldn't object too strenuously, she knew. There was still enough professional distance between them for him to respect her decision. So, turning to face him, she opened her mouth to politely decline, when she caught the full force of his steady, cocoa-colored gaze.

She wasn't sure exactly what she saw in those brown eyes of his that caused her change of heart, but after looking into his ridiculously hopeful expression, she found she just couldn't say "no."

"I suppose I don't have much of a choice," she sighed reluctantly.

Her less-than-enthusiastic response brought a wry smile to Jack's face. "I'm glad you're so enthusiastic about being a guest here," he quipped.

Suddenly mortified, Sam looked at him with wide-eyed apology. "I am!" she said quickly. She shook her head, feeling an embarrassed flush creep into her cheeks. "I'd just hate to inconvenience you, that's all."

Jack's smile shifted to a more affectionate expression. "Carter," he scolded teasingly, "will you quit acting as though your presence here is torture for me? Seriously, I had absolutely nothing interesting planned for at least the next two weeks. The fact that you showed up here – with pie, I might add – rescued me from hours of painfully boring television." He looked at the darkened screen and winced comically. "This time of year, TV is sadly limited to 'It's a Wonderful Life,' or holiday specials on the home shopping channel."

Sam smiled in spite of herself. "I watched 'It's a Wonderful Life' twice yesterday," she admitted. "Tonight I was hoping to find 'Miracle on 34th Street.'"

He chuckled and settled back onto the sofa. "See? Getting stuck here could be a good thing, if it saves either of us from yet another holiday rerun."

As his words filtered into her brain, Sam felt her heart flutter in anticipation. Apparently, it felt that getting stuck here could be a good thing for a whole host of other reasons. His presence beside her on the couch was warm and appealing, drawing her imagination toward forbidden thoughts which her more rational brain knew to be dangerous territory. Mentally resigning herself to the disappointment which was sure to follow this incident, Sam smiled weakly.

Sensing her unease, Jack found himself feeling a little guilty for pressuring her into the current situation. It was clear that she wasn't comfortable spending the night alone with him – and given his present state of mind concerning his beautiful former-teammate, he supposed he didn't blame her. Surely, by now, she had to know how he felt about her. It was more than a bit disheartening to know she was so put off by his feelings, but he was resolved to be gracious about it. Glancing at the empty plates on the table, he was struck with an idea. "Well, since you're not driving, how about a second glass of wine?" Perhaps she'd be more relaxed if she could shut of a few of her higher brain functions.

Sam considered the idea for a second, and then nodded. "Sure," she agreed gamely. It might help her ignore the way her heart was racing every time she considered curling up beneath his roof tonight. As he smiled and rose to fetch their glasses, Sam felt the urge to bury her face in her hands and scream in frustration. Why couldn't her stubborn heart get the picture that nothing was going to happen between them? The years of torture she'd already endured were more than enough evidence to convince her rational mind of that fact.

Her heart, however, whispered insistently that tonight could be the thing which changed all that. After all, tonight she had the magic of snow on her side.

"Here you go." Jack's cheerful voice broke through her reverie and brought her back to the present. As she accepted the glass he offered, she smiled thankfully.

"I really do appreciate you putting me up tonight," she said quietly.

Jack waved a hand dismissively as he settled down beside her. "It's really not a problem, Sam." Her first name slipped out of his mouth before he had a chance to stop it. A slight pause in her movement told him that she'd caught the unusual reference, though she didn't appear willing to comment on it. "I'm just glad you're smart enough to stay off the roads."

Sam smiled dryly, meeting his eyes for the first time since he'd returned from the kitchen. "It's not often that someone questions whether I'm 'smart enough' to do something."

Jack grinned in response. "Yeah, but they don't know you like I do," he teased. "Your brain might be capable of doing calculus backwards, in Latin, and under the threat of death, but that doesn't mean you can't be irrational and stubborn when the mood strikes you."

Sam's mouth dropped. "Excuse me? I can be irrational and stubborn? What about the time you made Daniel, Teal'c, and I walk forty miles through the driving rain back to the gate because you didn't like the way one of the natives 'looked' at you?"

His eyes darkened in recollection. In truth, it wasn't the way the natives looked at him which had put him ill-at-ease on that mission; it had been more about the way the natives had looked at Sam. "I stand by that decision," he said flatly. "There was trouble brewing on that planet."

Sam laughed and shook her head. "And the fact that we've since forged a peaceful trade partnership with those people doesn't make you feel like you may have overreacted just a hair?"

He rolled his eyes. "If we're going to start talking about overreactions, you might want to look in the mirror before you start accusing me."

Sam's blue eyes narrowed. "I rarely overreact. I'm a very analytical, scientific person. I tend to make decisions based on the likely outcome of a situation."

Jack snorted incredulously. "Carter, you might be scientific and analytical in your lab, but out in the field, you're almost as much of a bleeding heart as Daniel."

Sam opened her mouth to object, when she considered his words for a moment, and began giggling helplessly.

Raising his eyebrows, Jack clearly seemed to be waiting for her to explain her amusement.

In between bursts of laughter, Sam sucked in a ragged breath and grinned impulsively. "It's just that… you're right," she gasped, already starting to chuckle again.

Now looking utterly confused, Jack blinked a few times. "And that's funny?"

Sam nodded, wiping tears from her eyes. "It's funny because I was trying to portray myself exactly as that my current co-workers see me." Taking another shaky breath, she smiled ruefully. "One of the things I hate most about my job right now is that everyone sees me as a celebrity." She rolled her eyes. "I can't begin to tell you how many people walk up to me everyday and say, 'Oh! Colonel Carter! I worked on the such-and-such piece of technology that you and SG-1 brought back from planet so-and-so. I can't believe you made it out of that one alive!'" Sam cringed automatically. "I swear, everyone there thinks I'm Wonder Woman." Glancing at him, she found another amused smile flicker across her features. "I hope I never buy into that idea," she said dryly.

Her words triggered an avalanche of understanding within him. Being a two-star general in a very powerful Pentagon job meant having to put up with a lot of butt-kissing from people around him. Sometimes, it was almost more than he could take. Thinking about his current situation, he found an answering smile flicker across his lips. "Last week, I had four separate people call and offer 'get well' wishes to me." He shook his head. "Hell, I can remember recovering from near-fatal staff blasts in the infirmary without getting so much as a smile from Doc Frasier."

Sam laughed. "It's funny how other people see what we did as being so heroic and extraordinary." She shrugged. "And, I guess it was… but to me, it was just what we did in a day's work." She could see his eyes flicker in unspoken agreement. The truth was nobody outside SG-1 could possibly understand what life after SG-1 was like. It was very refreshing to be able to talk about her experience with someone who could identify with it firsthand. Smiling at him, Sam chuckled softly. "It's just really nice to be back in the presence of someone who doesn't think I'm perfect."

Perhaps it was the few drinks he'd already consumed that evening, or perhaps it was simply the spell that she'd managed to cast over him with her sparkling blue eyes and heartfelt confession; but either way, Jack found himself replying to her statement instantly and without thought. "Oh, I don't know about that. I've always thought you were pretty perfect."

As soon as the statement reached her ears, Sam jerked her gaze to his dark, expressive eyes, and felt her heart take off like a rocket in her chest. Surely, she reasoned, he couldn't mean that the way it sounded?

Seeing the look of startled disbelief which crossed her features, Jack experienced the strong urge to smack himself in the forehead. Clearing his throat, he waved awkwardly. "You know what I mean."

She didn't.

Of course, she also realized that she simply wasn't gutsy enough to admit such a thing, or bold enough to demand a better explanation. Instead, she smiled lamely and allowed the comment to pass. "So," she said, looking around the room in an effort to avoid eye-contact, "how's Washington?"

Grateful for her polite – if obvious – change of subject, Jack shrugged unenthusiastically. "It's… Washington. People never lack for something to argue about." His tone said more than his words. It's a job.

Sam nodded, familiar with the sentiment. "But, it's really good that you're there," she said with a sympathetic smile. "The SGC really needs someone important in their corner."

Smiling wryly, Jack seemed darkly amused by her choice of words. "Well, the good news is that it's the Pentagon – there are five corners on every ring, so the SGC is probably entitled to several corners, should they want them. The bad news is that I'm the 'someone important' who's supposed to be covering them all."

His familiar, light-hearted quip finally began to set Sam's nerves at ease again. Picking up her glass of chardonnay, she smiled faintly. "It can't be any worse than facing a ship full of Replicators," she commented, taking a generous sip.

Jack seemed to ponder that statement for a moment. "I don't know," he drawled. "At least the Replicators were honest about being set on universal destruction." He winced visibly. "Most of the people I see at the Pentagon have remarkably similar motives; they just try to cover it up with expensive suits and politically correct sound bites."

Sam smiled into her glass. "Plus, you got to shoot the Replicators."

Grinning, Jack nodded. "Yeah. There was that." Teammate or not, she definitely still understood him.

Sinking back into the sofa, Sam glanced at the blank TV. "Think we should try to see if there's anything worth watching tonight?"

Jack cast a quick glance in her direction and felt a pang of wistfulness at the vision she presented. Her rosy cheeks and slightly windblown hair gave the impression that she'd just stepped in from the storm outside and was now finding a comfortable spot to unwind for the night. If he let himself dwell on the idea too long, he found it wasn't difficult to imagine an entire string of evenings just like this one, with her seated snugly on his sofa – an easy, arm's reach away from him, instead of a few hundred miles.

Forcing his mind back to her question, he reached over to the coffee table and picked up the remote. Turning on the TV, he began to flip through channels until he eventually came across the Charlie Brown Christmas special on a local network affiliate.

"Oh, I haven't seen this in years!" Sam exclaimed softly. With a nostalgic sigh, she curled her legs up on the couch and settled in to watch the old favorite. Her brain, slightly fuzzy from wine, never registered anything unusual in the way her former CO was looking at her. She didn't notice the shift in his expression, or the hitch in his breathing.

In short, Sam had no idea that something monumental was occurring a few feet away.

On the other side of the couch, however, something of a sea change was taking place – and Jack was unequivocally aware of its significance. With the familiar jazz strains of the holiday special drifting lazily through his ears, a strangely foreign sense of peace crept into his heart, bringing light to dark corners which had long since been abandoned. There, in that moment of perfect tranquility, Jack experienced something he didn't think he believed in anymore.


What else, he reasoned, could possibly lift his spirit so powerfully as to make him hope for things he'd given up on years earlier? As he looked tenderly down onto her drowsy, content expression, he realized that, until now, he'd been unable to contemplate coaxing a future from her, because he'd barely been able to consider spending a future with himself. There had been too many shadows on his soul for him to think about sharing it with anyone else. Now, however, sitting there beside his own, personal Christmas angel, he found something that he'd previously thought unattainable.

He found he could forgive himself.

Suddenly, where life had been just another endless series of monotonous days, a kaleidoscope of brilliant possibilities began to emerge. For the first time, he began to accept the possibility that joy – perhaps even family – might yet be in the cards for him. Without a doubt in his mind, when he looked down on her rosy cheeks and sparkling blue eyes, he knew what his purpose was – he just needed to find a way to persuade her to give his vision a chance.

Mind awhirl with possibilities, Jack didn't even know where to begin. It had been years since they'd actually broached the topic of… whatever existed between them. He was fairly sure she'd been gearing up to discuss it when she'd interrupted his ill-fated dinner with Kerry Johnson last year, but he was also pretty certain that Jacob's death and her subsequent broken engagement had closed that conversation with deafening finality. Surely, if she'd wanted to bring the topic up again, she'd had ample opportunity later on during the time SG-1 had spent fishing at his cabin. Since she'd remained silent, he'd assumed she was no longer interested.

As he gazed down at her, he knew with powerful certainty that – were his assumptions true – he had to find a way to change her mind. He knew she'd once felt something for him. How hard could it be to breathe life back into those feelings?

Totally oblivious to the internal struggle going on beside her, Sam finished off the last few swallows of her wine and set her empty glass down on the coffee table. Her mind was totally, happily involved in the sweet, poignant message of the Charlie Brown special. As a child, watching this program had been a holiday tradition in her house. Watching it for the first time after her father's death struck a sad, sweet chord in her heart. Life, she knew, moved on whether you wanted it to or not. It was inevitable.

As bittersweet tears welled in her eyes, she found herself instinctively moving toward the wellspring of strength she'd continually drawn from over the last decade. Without conscious thought, as she sank back into the sofa, her weight shifted and allowed her head to rest gently on his left shoulder. The moment her cheek contacted the warm cotton of his shirt, his soothing presence washed over her like a gentle breeze, easing the tightness in her chest and lifting the burden of melancholy from her shoulders.

Jack, on the other hand, suddenly found it rather difficult to breathe. Hardly able to believe what she'd just done, he turned his head toward her with slow, deliberate precision, as if afraid he might startle her away. When his gaze finally did sweep over her features, he was surprised to see the unmistakable sheen of tears in her eyes. Instantly, all of his own concerns faded into the background. "Hey, what's wrong?"

His soft question rumbled beneath her ear soothingly. Glancing up to meet his gaze, Sam was about to reply when she abruptly realized she was snuggled up against him with her head on his shoulder. Picking her head up, she looked more than a little embarrassed. "I'm sorry," she replied, swiping tears from her eyes. With a watery smile, she shrugged faintly. "It's the first time I've seen this since Dad died," she admitted, nodding toward the TV.

Comprehension swept through Jack's muddled brain. Of course. Relieved to know he hadn't somehow been the cause of her tears, he reflexively used his left arm to unceremoniously drag her back up against him. "Holidays are tough," he said simply. They both knew he understood grief from an achingly personal perspective.

Finding herself pulled snugly against his warm strength once again, Sam quickly decided it was a nice place to be. Abandoning any internal struggle she might have engaged in had she been more… well… sober, she sighed softly and once again tucked her head into the crook of his neck. The spicy, familiar scent of his aftershave drifted into her consciousness and made her smile involuntarily.

Up to that moment, Jack had felt a certain amount of control over the situation. He'd been carefully planning a way to approach her about his epiphany, trying to construct a strategy which would best win her over. However, the instant she'd snuggled into his embrace with that angelic little smile, his higher brain lost any claim to his actions, and he began operating solely on instinct.

Curled into his embrace, Sam barely noticed his slight shift of position until she felt the gentle pressure of his right hand under her chin. Startled, she reflexively gave into his unspoken request and looked up.

What she saw took her breath away.

Moments ago, when she'd contentedly begun burrowing into his chest, she hadn't given any thought to how close his face was to hers. Now, however, she found it impossible to think of anything else. Heart racing violently in her chest, she realized that with his fingers still gently tucked beneath her chin, it felt an awful lot like he might be about to…

Holy Hannah.

Was he going to kiss her?

The laser-sharp heat radiating from his brown eyes was enough to send her own temperature up a few notches. Instinctively, her gaze wandered down his face to settle expectantly on the rugged, sculpted shape of his lips. Swallowing nervously, she prayed she hadn't misread his intentions, because that mouth was calling to her alcohol-clouded brain in a very visceral fashion. If he didn't lean forward and kiss her soon, she might have to take matters into her own hands.

Jack watched her response carefully. As much as he wanted to pull her into his arms with reckless disregard for anything else, he had no desire to make her uncomfortable. At first, when her startled, wide eyes darted to his face, he feared he might have stepped over the line and made a huge mistake. However, in the space of a few heartbeats, the expression on her face changed from nervous shock to something a whole lot more intense.

And that's when she shifted her attention to his mouth.

Jack felt adrenaline shoot through his bloodstream as his mind registered the hungry, wistful gleam in her gorgeous blue eyes. There was no way he could misinterpret such a blatant nonverbal cue, but before he gave into his more basic urges, he wanted to be sure she was sure of what was happening. So, with more restraint than he'd thought he'd be capable of at a time like this, he began inching toward her with the speed of molasses in January. He decided he'd give her plenty of time to object, if that's what she had a mind to–

Before the thought had a chance to finish forming, Sam sprang into action and threaded one hand in the hair at the nape of his neck, impatiently tugging his mouth down to hers.

The sensation of her soft lips pressed against his sent a blistering wave of heat crashing over him, shattering what little control he'd managed to sustain up to that point. Giving into the urge he'd been fighting for the better part of a decade, Jack wrapped both arms around her and returned the kiss soundly.

As the warm heat of his embrace surrounded her, Sam began to wonder if she might be dreaming. It seemed impossible that finally, after years of frustrated longing, she might actually be clinging to his solid strength while eagerly nibbling on his full lower lip. As the kiss deepened and his tongue swept commandingly into her mouth, she couldn't restrain a soft noise of shameless approval.

Her tiny whimper of pleasure snuck into Jack's brain and slowly triggered an awareness of reality. He could taste the wine in her kisses, and suddenly needed be sure she knew what was happening between them. Now that he was finally holding her, he had to be certain that their fevered embrace wasn't just a result of holiday loneliness on her part.

Gently pulling away, he gazed at her lovely, flushed features and waited for her eyes to flutter open. When they did, he could see confusion register in them.

"What's wrong?" she murmured. Heart pounding anxiously, Sam prayed he wasn't having a change of heart about kissing her. She didn't think she could live with a rejection from him at this point.

The worry in her voice was obvious, sending a pang of guilt echoing through his heart. Gently, he reached up and caressed her cheek reassuringly. "There is absolutely nothing wrong with this moment," he replied with a tender half-smile.

She blinked. "Then why did you stop?" she asked with a confused frown.

Jack chuckled in spite of himself. She sounded almost irritated by the interruption. "I just wanted to make sure this was okay," he said quietly.

Understanding began to register in her still slightly-fuzzy mind. She could see the question in his eyes and realized that he wanted to give her the chance to change her mind. How on earth he could even consider such a possibility was a bit beyond her. She was pretty certain she'd made her intentions crystal clear when she'd yanked him down and demanded his kiss. Still, it was Jack she was dealing with. He was known to be obstinately slow sometimes.

Looking into his eyes, she regarded him soberly. "Actually, I'm glad you asked," she replied. The flash of concern in his eyes almost made her feel bad for what she was about to do.


Taking a deep breath, she continued to gaze steadily into his brown eyes. "I've changed my mind about crashing in your guest room," she said with a note of quiet regret.

As soon as her words registered, Jack fought the urge object to her statement. It was, after all, still snowing fiercely outside, and if she really wanted him to leave her alone, he certainly would respect her wishes – even if the thought of letting go of her was physically painful at that moment.

Seeing the internal struggle waging in his troubled expression, Sam decided to put him out of his misery. Leaning forward, she brushed a seductively soft kiss on his mouth, smiling at the surprised hitch in his breathing which resulted. "I think," she said slowly, "that I'll be spending the night in your room instead."

Jack sucked in a sharp breath at the bold challenge she'd just thrown down. Feeling his heart pound crazily at her suggestion, he struggled to maintain some power over his runaway hormones. "Sam, are you sure?"

The worried uncertainty in his tone made her heart ache a little. How could he not know how she felt about him? Lord knew, everyone else in the universe did. "Of course I'm sure," she scolded gently. Then, sweeping her eyes across his rugged features, she felt her lips curl into a tender smile. "I've always been sure about you."

Her words, spoken with simple honesty, resonated through the depths of his soul. He'd always been sure about her, too. "Well then," he replied gruffly, "I suppose I could make room for you." With a definite gleam in his eye, he impulsively swooped down and placed a tiny kiss at the spot where her jaw and her earlobe met. "After all," he murmured with a smile in his voice, "it's almost Christmas, and I'm finding myself feeling especially giving this year."

Eyes fluttering shut as his mouth continued to shower her neck with teasing kisses, Sam let herself be washed away in the tide of emotions which overpowered her. "That's good," she replied with a happy sigh, "because I'm pretty sure Santa is going to skip my house this year." Grinning, she buried her fingers into his hair. "I might have been on his 'nice' list up 'til now, but I think I'm about to be very, very naughty."

Jack's chuckle tickled the sensitive skin of her throat. "Ah, to hell with Santa," he replied irreverently. Then, suddenly growing serious, he pulled away far enough to look into her eyes. "I've got everything I need right here."

Outside the cozy little house, giant, fluffy clumps of Christmas snow fell in a gentle fog of sparkling whiteness. And, while the spell cast by those pristine flakes was undeniably powerful, especially when combined with the mysterious forces of moonlight and nature; on this night even the magic of snow was dwarfed by the breathtaking magic being created in the sheltered confines of the house.

Nothing, after all, could compare to the magic of love.