"So you're staying for another two weeks?" Jack Carter asked later that night.
"Yes." Sam nodded. "Do you know a nice place I could stay at?"
"But Samantha! I thought you loved staying here!" SARAH asked, disappointment and surprise evident in her voice.
"SARAH," Jack said while rolling his eyes, "Sam was just teasing me."
"He's right, SARAH. I'm sorry. Why would I even want to move somewhere else when I can stay here?" Sam apologized. "With whom would I discuss astrophysics in the middle of the night when I can't sleep?"
"Besides," Cassie said, "Moving somewhere else would mean cooking."
"Hey!" Sam playfully slapped Cassie's arm. "I can cook!"
Zoe came over from the kitchen, handing Cassie a glass of juice before unceremoniously flopping down onto the couch. "But you aren't exactly sorry if you don't have to."
Sam glared at Cassie who didn't even bother to hide her grin. "Tattletale," she grumbled.
"But you love me anyway." Cassie even went as far as batting her eyelashes at Sam.
"Fine." Sam just about refrained from poking out her tongue. "SARAH? Cassie just volunteered to learn the recipe for your fantastic lasagne by heart. Do you think you could teach her?"
"It will be my pleasure," SARAH answered, pleased her favourite visitor was staying a little longer. "How about the desserts you love so much?"
"Ha!" The grin on Sam's face grew even more. "How could I've forgotten about the desserts? Cassie would love to learn them too."
"And Zoe too!" Jack piped up. "For when she decides to move out in many, many years. Can't have her starve, can we?"
"Of course, Sheriff Carter," SARAH readily agreed. "I will schedule the lessons immediately."
"Goody." Jack rubbed his hands together and grinned. "Now we can plan how to make Stark's life miserable for the next two weeks." He grinned at Sam and Cassie. "Gotta keep you two entertained after all, right?"
It was another couple of days until Allison decided Sam was fit enough to go back to work and come to GD. As this was official, Sam was wearing her dress uniform. Checking herself in the mirror for a final time, she went downstairs for breakfast.
"Morning," Jack said when he heard her coming closer. He was sitting at the breakfast bar, eyes closed as he took a long, long sniff of his coffee. His eyes still closed he finally took a sip and sighed in deep appreciation. "Now that's what I call coffee."
Sam chuckled. "Do you want me to leave you two alone?"
Jack frowned for a moment, then shook his head. "Naw. The moment is gone now." He finally opened his eyes and grinned at Sam. He grabbed his toast and was about to take a big bite out of it when his brain registered Sam's outfit.
The smile on Sam's face grew bigger and bigger while she watched his eyes almost pop out. Eventually, she took pity on Jack - or his toast - and pulled his hand back before closing his mouth. Then, as Jack did a nice fish on dry land impression, Sam shrugged her shoulders and stole Jack's toast.
"Thanks for the toast."
Jack blinked, then shook his head to clear it. "Yeah. Well. You're welcome."
Sam grinned at his resigned tone and patted his hand in commiseration. "Sleep well?"
"Yes. I- ... nice try!" Jack took a fresh toast and shook his head at her. He pointed at her uniform. "You didn't mention you were going to wear this."
"I'm on official Air Force business," Sam said before stealing his second toast as well. And laughed out loud when Jack fumbled around his empty plate.
"What? It's a complement to your toast making skills." Sam said, smiling innocently. Waiting half a second, she winked and added. "Think you could make me another one?"
Jack, just having finished his third attempt of getting a proper breakfast, sighed and placed the toast on her plate.
Sam leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Thanks. You're my favourite third cousin."
He snorted. "That's because I'm the only third cousin that you know of."
"True. Maybe I should go and find myself another one? One that I like even better?"
Jack shook his head and before finally taking the first bite of his breakfast. "So," he said after a few minutes of companionable silence, "are you going to tell me what all the nice little ribbons mean or do I have to find out for myself?"
"Ask SARAH, you mean?" Sam deadpanned.
Jack opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it. "Yeah."
Chuckling, Sam refilled her coffee before explaining the meanings for of her ribbons to Jack.
Nathan Stark looked up from his laptop and stole a glance at Sam across the conference table. They were sitting in one of the smaller conference rooms at GD, taking a closer look at the first project on Sam's list. Nathan still mentally rolled his eyes at his reaction of seeing her enter the room.
He hadn't expected her to wear a uniform. Nor that it had plenty of ribbons to speak of her multiple achievements in her job. Judging by the smirk he'd seen on her face when she'd noticed his staring, she knew exactly how surprised he'd been. It hadn't helped that Sheriff Carter had been standing right next to her, witnessing his embarrassing reaction as well. And, unlike Sam, the Sheriff had gloated openly.
Sam had chuckled at the two of them before shoving her cousin out of the door and sending him off to his own job. Once the door was closed, he had seen her change in front of his eyes. Her posture had become more straight - he hadn't even noticed her slouching before - and her face a tad more serious. In short, she had suddenly looked like she actually belonged at GD.
Even while she had set up her equipment, she had gone through the schedule with him. She hadn't changed her business like behaviour once since then.
"Stop staring. It's creepy," Sam said without looking up, interrupting Nathan from his musings.
"Wha- I wasn't staring," he protested.
Sam looked up and gave him a knowing smirk - the first time he saw the mirth back in her eyes. "Sure."
"I wasn't," he repeated, his voice full of confidence again. "I was just wondering what you thought about lunch."
"It's one of the three main meals."
"Ha ha," Nathan said with an eye-roll. He had to admit that he preferred the more playful Sam to the full on Colonel. "Very funny."
"Not really." Sam gave him a grin. "But I sure could eat. My stomach seems to be still on vacation, demanding regular meals and all that jazz."
"What? And it doesn't demand food while you work?"
Sam shrugged her shoulder. "It does. Just not very loudly, making it easy to ignore it, especially when I'm working on the really cool stuff."
"Let me guess, the really cool and classified stuff."
Sam gave him a knowing grin. "I knew there was a reason Allison kept you around. You're catching on quickly."
A few days later, Nathan was working with Sam once again. She'd spent the last few days with diverse project managers and was now back to going over the results with him.
"... and then I blew up a sun and the Smurfs lived happily ever after," Sam finished, managing to keep her amusement out of her voice. She waited a couple of seconds until Nathan literally shook his head and focused on her again. "Correct?"
Nathan searched her face for any sign of mirth or amusement; any sign telling him she knew his thoughts had drifted off topic. When he found none, he nodded. "Yes."
There was a snort coming from the door and upon looking in the right direction, they found Allison leaning against the now open door, with her arms crossed in front of her chest and a huge grin on her face.
Nathan sighed and rubbed his face. "What did I agree on now," he asked in a resigned voice.
Allison smirked but shook her head. "Looks like it's time for a break."
He narrowed his eyes at her but she only continued to smirk. He glanced over to Sam but knew it would be futile. She wouldn't tell him either. He rolled his eyes. "Fine. You win. I wasn't paying attention for a couple of seconds."
Sam coughed, then gave him an innocent smile.
Nathan wasn't fooled, though. Especially as her cough had suspiciously sounded like 'minutes'. "Lunch at Café Diem anyone? I'm buying."
"He's embarrassed," Allison stage-whispered after they'd nodded in agreement.
"I know," Sam replied. "Do you think he knows Jack, Cassie and Zoe will be meeting us there?"
"I can still hear you, you know?" Nathan asked. "And come to think I was starting to like you."
"Aww." Sam linked arms with Nathan and batted her eyelashes at him. "That's so sweet."
Allison laughed out loud while Nathan rolled his eyes again and pulled his arm away. "That's funny, ha ha. Guess that's the bad Carter genes coming through. I keep forgetting you're actually related to the Sheriff."
Sam opened her eyes wide in mock-surprise. "Nathan Stark. Was there a hidden compliment in there?"
He glared at her half-heartedly. "Fine. You're fairly smart."
Sam and Allison raised an eyebrow each.
"Okay. You're almost as smart as I am. And you almost had me fooled when we first met."
"Almost. Twice," Sam was back to stage whispering to Allison. Naturally Nathan chose to ignore her and he continued unperturbed, "And you're most certainly the most useful military liaison we've seen here so far. It's refreshing to meet someone who actually understands what I'm talking about."
"Now you're making me cry," Sam said with a mock-sniffle as she buckled herself in. But then she gave him a genuine smile. "And I appreciate you telling me this." He might have waited until they were in his car and therefore unable to be accidentally overheard, but all three of them took it for what it was. A rare and genuine praise by one Dr Nathan Stark.
He made a non-committed sound in his throat and stared straight out the window. He didn't want to crash his car, after all. The rest of the short drive was spent in silence and as soon as the car stopped, Sam and Allison got out.
"Thanks again," Sam said while leaning back in. "I'll even forgive you the Smurfs."
"Wha-?" Nathan shook his head and hurried after the women. "Smurfs?"
He was so naming his first grey hairs The Carters.
A/N: Sorry about yet another delay! Looks like my muses love watching me struggle without their input. Also, thanks for the poking to continue, that really annoyed the muses but helped me a lot. The story is finished, though it took a lot of weekends of a couple of sentences here and there. Hence the delay in posting, I needed to finish the whole thing to see if all the bits and bobs were fitting. There's a final chapter after this (and they actually get to leave Eureka too) which should be up in the next few days…