How Deep, How High

AN: Special thanks to bohemianheart and mrspollifax for their help and suggestions

The dress she's wearing has a stay digging into the underside of her left breast and suddenly she remembers why she hates these sorts of events. She pushes the door open with the hand not carrying a glass of champagne and exits the party for the quiet that the March night offers.

"Samantha Carter."

Her head turns toward her name automatically. It originated where a man steps from the shadows and into the light cast by the event going on inside the Kennedy Center.

"Colonel O'Neill," she smiles. "It's been a while, how are you?"

"Can't complain," he says. "You?"

"Oh, you know, staying busy with this and that."

"Ah." O'Neill puts his hands in his pockets as he takes a few steps closer to her. The twinkling of cocktail party music is the only other guest on the back veranda where they are.

"Just so we're clear," he asks, "is flying a spaceship the 'this' or the 'that' part?"

Sam smiles wider. His unique wit was the second thing that she noticed about him when they first met.

On the lip of the concrete planters, she sets down the glass of champagne that she's been carrying around the last hour, only having had three sips out of it. She doesn't want to disrupt her sleep habits, put on even a scrap of weight, or do anything else that might jeopardize the mission. She also doesn't want to cloud a chance to talk with him.

"Funny you should mention it," Sam says, "I happen to have a mission coming up aboard the new Intrepid."

"This one makes…?"

"Three."

"First time as mission commander I hear. Impressive." And he does look impressed but not in the way that she's used to, where people think the adrenaline rush is enticing, or worse, the glory and fame. The Colonel looks impressed like only one other man that she knows.

Her left shoulder rises in a half-shrug. "It makes my Dad proud."

Sam watches the Colonel's eyes zero in on her bare shoulder. She's wearing a strapless black dress that shows off plenty without being inappropriate for meeting the President and First Lady. Colonel O'Neill is not the first one tonight to notice and appreciate, but she's ignored everyone else's notice.

They've met twice before, her and the Colonel, once at another event like this. The other time involved O'Neill and his team, a breach in security at NASA, and a possible terrorist. They never talk about what he does. It seems to be masked in secrecy and she's a little convinced he's a real life James Bond or something. Jack O'Neill looks equally desirable in uniform carrying a gun as he does looking like 007, in a tux with a red carnation pinned crookedly to his lapel.

The doors behind them open, but the phantom door opener must change their mind because no one appears and the door slides shut again.

"Nice date you've got," he says.

The Colonel might have been worried, but Sam's positive her date won't miss her enough to come looking. "You noticed him."

"Kind of hard not to."

"Yeah." She realizes that now free from the burden of carrying a champagne glass, her fingers seem to be enjoying twisting around each other. Of course, that's not a sign she's embarrassed to have been mistaken about anything, they're just happy to be relieved of duty finally. "I usually have a pretty good leech-dar but Brian managed to fool me. Up until tonight."

"Leech-dar?" One eyebrow rises in time with the question mark.

"I just took your standard gay-dar and did some tweaking with the power outputs and rerouted some systems and voilà, instant leech-dar. It detects those guys only interested in being seen with a celebrity and/or advancing his career through me introducing him to the President, the Joint Chiefs, or the Secretary of State."

O'Neill looks like he wants to laugh, but doesn't want to give away the secret that he's capable. "And what does your leech-dar say about me?"

"That you're the exact opposite of a guy like Brian."

"Well. That leech-dar of yours might need some more work."

She is genuinely surprised. "Really?" She was sure she'd read him right in the past.

"Yep." The Colonel leans in as if he is about to uncover the conspiracy of the Roswell crash of '47. "I hear there's this guy who works in Treasury that can juggle a peach, a cantaloupe, a banana, and a carving knife. When he's all finished, he's made a fruit salad. How does he do it, I wonder?"

She plays along, "Well in that case, I'll see what I can do."

"Seriously, do you think he ever slices a finger by accident?"

Sam's laugher, held in check up until now, escapes and he seems to like that. He reaches out, hardly brushing her arm but enough of a touch to indicate he wants to lead her somewhere. She follows without asking. They move further away from the building until they are along the edge of the veranda looking out at the Potomac, shoulders side-by-side.

Light from the moon and stars, but mostly from buildings, make parts of the water shimmer in contrast to the gaps of darkness. They stand there for a few moments and Sam begins to wonder who will break the quiet first.

Colonel O'Neill looks up at the night sky. "Did you know that only one of the constellations actually moves together, the rest only appear that way from Earth? Without this as your point of origin the night sky looks different."

"Really?"

He swings his head around her. "You already knew that."

She must not have played it right. "I already knew that."

"Serves me right for trying to impress the super smart space lady."

Something incredible goes through her. It isn't like Sam Carter to get affected much by a man, especially one openly admitting that he is trying to impress her. But this time, she wonders at the fact that he has no idea she was already impressed.

Somehow, Sam manages to sound casual. "Ursa Major was always my favorite constellation."

"Charlie's too."

And there it is, she thought. The look of a man who's seen and done things that most men can't begin to imagine, vanish at the mention of his son. How could she not be impressed?

Sam says, "I was remiss not to ask earlier, how is Charlie?"

"He's fine." O'Neill scratches at the back of his neck during a short pause. "Well, driving his old man nuts asking for the keys to the car constantly. Plus, my ex-wife thinks that Charlie's got a new girlfriend named Jenny but anytime I bring it up, Charlie rolls his eyes and says, 'Dad. I so don't want to go there with you.' So, he's… normal."

"Very normal."

His lips quirk at the corners, "He's a good kid– I mean, young man. Smart too, despite my gene pool being involved."

"I'd love to meet him sometime."

The surprise must have come too quick for O'Neill to figure out a way to hide it. Sam considers this for a moment as she turns to study the water again, trying to remember if she's ever been told how deep or shallow the Potomac is. The darkness allows for her imagination to make it whatever she wants it to be.

She says matter of fact, "That surprises you."

"You surprise me. Every time we meet you shock the hell out of me. You're not what I would've expected from…"

"From the things they say on TV."

"Among other things."

Sam figures that the Colonel is not the kind of man to push or feel confident about a woman's answer, she's sure it has to be her. But he is the one to surprise her this time.

"Why don't we get out of here," he says, "go somewhere–"

"I can't."

"Sure, I understand." The only indication of a bruised ego is shoving his hands back in his pockets.

"No," Sam says, "I don't think you do. I'd love to, but I can't."

"Can't?"

"I have exactly…" She checks her watch. "6 minutes before they whisk me away and get me back to Florida before midnight. I wouldn't have even been here tonight if it weren't by special request of head of the Senate Appropriations. I have training exercises, briefings, and… I'm sorry. It's 5 days to launch, my time really isn't my own."

"I get it."

Sam asks hopefully, "When I get back?"

"Yeah, whenever."

"Colonel." She moves closer, sliding her body against his and strategically placing one hand on the back of his neck in case this is about to go where she hopes it will. "I promise I'll bring you back some space dust."

"Oh, well, space dust... I was going to request that you wear a really short skirt so I can stare at your legs. But hey, now that you mention it, space dust is much better."

Despite the sarcastic exterior, the tenseness in him is slowly melting. But it isn't until she giggles at his comment that she feels him finally let go of the last of his insecurities.

"How about," she says, drawing it out, "both space dust and a short skirt?"

His hands move finally, and she sighs in appreciation. He slides them up the sides of her torso, but as he gets close to where the stay has been bothering her, he reroutes. His hands travel down her back until they come to rest low.

His lips whisper against hers, "Deal," and she can taste his breath already.

"Ma'am," a voice interrupts, "they have the chopper waiting."

Sam closes her eyes for a second. She tries to beat down her knee-jerk wish to take her frustrations out on the young man. But it isn't the airman's fault, he is doing his job even if he is 3 minutes early.

"Yeah," she says to the intruder, with all good graces she can rally, "just a few more minutes please."

O'Neill says, "Too bad there's no time for Brian to get his goodnight kiss."

"I'm sure he'll survive."

Sam leans in to kiss Jack and there's not an instant of hesitation on his part. 10 seconds into the kiss, Sam decides this much more exciting than lift off. More of this, and she'll quit NASA on the spot just to stay and do this longer.

Sam draws back and takes a breath to calm the party going on inside her, which is much more interesting than the party inside the Kennedy Center could've ever been. The look on his face in this moment is something Sam knows she'll picture in her dreams as she sleeps in weightlessness. It will ground her.

Jack gives her one last peck on the cheek and then disentangles. She starts to walk away.

"Hey, Sam."

"Yes?"

He speaks like a military man. "Be careful up there."

She smiles. "Yes, sir."

One last look passes between them, and then Sam turns and follows the airmen toward the waiting chopper.