A/N: I'm having some serious committment issues with my fics. I start them, I know where I want them to go, but I can't for the life of me finish them! Here's a one shot to tide you over while I fight with my next novel length fic.
Remember Days of Gladness When Sorrow is at Hand
The first quiet thud dragged her from the depths of REM into that hazy state where the body fights to stay asleep even as the mind begins to awaken.
The second out of place sound, this time the clatter of metal on metal, kicked her field instincts into gear. She had her side arm in hand before her feet touched the floor, and the safety off even before she'd wrestled completely free from her tangle of blankets.
Blinking furiously to clear the sleep from her eyes, Sam crept to her bedroom door. She kept her breathing slow and even, fighting against the flood of adrenaline threatening to sweep away years of training and discipline, leaving only panic in its wake. She'd been trained to handle this – well, not this, since 'this' was someone breaking into her home at the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning, but she had been trained to defend herself – and so handle it she would.
Using the tip of her weapon, she nudged the door open and swept the hallway, quick and efficient, but there was no one lying in wait. Moving as quietly as the slap-slap of bare feet on cheap laminate would allow, she slipped into the hall and made her way towards the front of the house. Despite the early hour, her mind was already racing, formulating her plan.
If she couldn't make it out the front door without encountering the intruder, she would cross her fingers, hope that she was dealing with intruder singular, not intruders plural, and start making things up as she went along.
If she could make it to the front door, she'd slip out and call the police from a neighbour's house. Not that she wanted it to come to that. She couldn't for the life of her remember if he was working this morning, and they weren't ready for serendipitous path crossing yet.
It was still way too soon. For both of them.
Sam forced another deep, purposeful breath, expelling the distracting stab of regret from her chest. Now wasn't the time to dwell on her mistakes.
She made it to the end of the hallway without incident and peeked around the corner, but the living room looked just as it had when she'd gone to bed last night.
No black clad burglars hiding behind the god-awful lamp Daniel had given her as a housewarming gift six years ago.
No baddies crouched behind the sofa Jack always insisted set off his bad back.
No clichéd ski mask-disguised henchmen tucked between the bookshelves that Teal'c of all people had complained weighed a ton that one time she'd roped him into helping with spring-cleaning.
No malevolent perversion of Santa Claus hiding in the fireplace Janet had always been so jealous of.
No NID lackeys reflecting in the glass of framed family photos, photos of her and her father…
This time it was grief, not regret, knifing through her.
The house was too full of memories. They abraded her already gaping wounds and kept them from healing. Kept her from healing. Maybe she should sell it after all…
"Focus," she muttered, chastising herself for the distraction.
Another muffled thud, this time from the kitchen, followed by a hissed shush decided her next move for her. Basic strategy, not to mention common sense, said it was a bad idea – she was definitely dealing with intruders plural – but she knew where they were and quite frankly, she wanted to avoid seeing his colleagues almost as badly as she wanted to avoid seeing him, so calling the police was entirely out of the question.
Keeping her weight on the balls of her feet, Sam slipped across the living room. Not wasting any more time, she swung around the doorframe and into the kitchen.
"Keep your hands where I can see them!"
The intruders turned at the sound of her voice, seemingly unconcerned by the weapon aimed in their general direction.
"I told you she wouldn't sleep through it."
"Well maybe if you hadn't made so much noise moving the damn stools…"
"Because you were so quiet moving the pots?"
"As I have said several times now, both of you lack the stealth necessary to accomplish this task without alerting Colonel Carter to our presence."
On autopilot, Sam put the safety on again and lowered her weapon, taking in the disarray of her usually neatly organized kitchen. "Do I even want to know what you're doing dismantling my kitchen at –" she snuck a look at the microwave clock "– six am on our first weekend off since defeating both the Replicators and the Goa'uld?"
The three men exchanged awkward looks. Teal'c raised his eyebrow, Daniel shuffled his feet and Jack moved to shove his hands in his pockets, then seemed to think twice about it and settled for clasping them behind his back.
"Guys?" she prodded.
"It was Jack's idea."
"It was indeed your idea, O'Neill."
"Thanks for the back up there, big guy."
Mustering her patience, Sam sucked a deep breath in through her nose and noticed for the first time the sharp smell of… "Paint?"
Jack plastered his most innocent expression on his face and asked, "Beg your pardon?"
Teal'c and Daniel ignored Jack's last-ditch effort to preserve the surprise. They traded a look that lasted a split second before stepping aside, giving the game away.
Right where her spice rack usually hung – the one she hardly ever used because, as her father had liked to remind her, the ability to cook wasn't in the Carter genes – was a patch of fresh paint.
Sam blinked once, twice, three times to make sure her eyes weren't playing tricks on her, but the spot of wet paint didn't go away.
"You broke into my house so you could paint my kitchen?" she asked incredulously.
Teal'c cocked his head to the side and corrected her. "It was not necessary for us to break in, Colonel Carter. Daniel Jackson used his key to gain entry to your home."
"So you could paint my kitchen?"
Daniel shrugged awkwardly. Wearing that adorably bashful expression she hadn't seen since their missions stopped being about exploring the galaxy and started being almost exclusively about winning wars, he explained, "You've always wanted a yellow kitchen."
For the thousandth time that week, Sam felt her eyes prick with tears. You wouldn't know it by looking at them, but all three of her guys could be ridiculously sweet sometimes.
Not that she would ever tell them. She'd tried it once, just as the last dregs of morphine were working their way through her system, but the trio of scowls had made her change track mid-sentence.
The guys took compliments about as well as she did.
"The paint only went on a few minutes ago," Jack said nonchalantly. Her suddenly too bright eyes hadn't escaped his notice. "If you want, we can wipe it off …"
"No!" she blurted. Then, more casually, "I mean, you've already gone to the trouble of clearing out the kitchen, so you might as well keep going. Unless you have other things to do, which I would completely understand..."
Teal'c saved her from her own awkward rambling. "We have no other plans for the weekend, Colonel Carter."
"We've, uh, sort of been planning this for a while," Daniel added sheepishly.
"How long is 'a while'?"
Rather than answering – which was, in itself, an answer of sorts – Jack clapped his paint-speckled hands together. "Enough chit chat, we don't have all day… Actually, we do, but that's not the point. If we're doing this, then you'd better go throw on some old clothes, Carter, because you're definitely not getting out of helping."
She grinned at the mock order. "Yes, sir."
"I can put on a pot of coffee," Daniel offered.
"And I have selected an assortment of donuts which I believe to be appropriate for this morning's task," Teal'c said helpfully.
Her grin softened into an affectionate smile. "Thanks guys."
All three men, even Teal'c, returned the smile to some degree.
Leaving them to it, Sam hustled back to her bedroom, their voices following her down the hall. Even after she closed the door behind her, their familiar muffled tones reached her ears, keeping her company as she slipped on the grease-stained clothes she usually wore to work on her bike.
The few minutes needed to make the bed, brush her teeth and more or less tame her bed head came in handy, giving her a chance to get her tumultuous emotions under control. The last week had been a real rollercoaster ride, and so far this morning had been no exception.
When at last Sam felt centered again and she was out of excuses to stay hidden away, she stepped into the hallway and nearly walked right into Jack.
One hasty step backwards put a respectable distance between them, not that it mattered much in the grand scheme of things, since her first words were less than respectable.
"Sir, why are you lurking outside my bedroom?"
Some of Jack's awkward hesitance fell away as a smirk took up residence on his face.
"Uh, I meant…"
His smirk grew even as he waved her quiet. "I just wanted to make sure you're really okay with this. We know you've had a rough week and we'd understand if you just want to be alone today…"
"It's fine, sir, really."
"Okay then. " He rocked back on his heels and nodded in the direction of the kitchen. "I guess we should probably get back out there before Daniel drinks all the coffee and Teal'c polishes off the last of the donuts."
"Actually, sir, I was wondering…"
"Oh, here we go…" he sighed theatrically. "Carter, it is way too early in the morning for technobabble."
Ignoring him, Sam asked the question she was sure she already knew the answer to. "It was your idea, wasn't it?"
His eyes shutter abruptly, becoming guarded, and that was all the confirmation she needed. She nodded once, smiled at him and, recognizing that the conversation was over, slipped past him to start down the hall. To her surprise, a warm hand grabbed her forearm, stopping her progress.
"If it had been my idea, would it still be all right?" Jack asked quietly. He was resolutely not looking at her, but that was fair, since she was resolutely not looking at him either.
"Why wouldn't it be?"
The hand still gripping her arm tugged gently, turning her until they faced one another. "Because in the last week you've lost your father, called off your wedding, broken up with your fiancée, and given up your dream house. And I can't bring Jacob back or get you and Pete back together, or give you a…"
He trailed off, realizing the dangerous path he was starting down.
Sam didn't know where she found the courage to finish for him, but she was grateful for the unexpected boldness. "Or give me my wedding and my dream house?"
Startled by her directness in discussing something they usually tried so hard not to discuss, Jack actually replied. "Or give you a wedding," he began pointedly. "But…"
In the next second, he changed his mind again and snapped his mouth shut.
"But?" she pressed
Jack looked at her with an intensity that felt as though it were searing her skin, and Sam had to fight not to shiver. Oblivious, he took a long, slow breath before answering. "But I can paint your kitchen yellow... If you'll let me."
Warmth exploded in Sam's chest at his words and for a moment, she forgot to breathe. She'd only ever felt this way twice before and both times, it had been because her boyfriend was offering her a ring and a promise to spend the rest of their lives together, for better or for worse.
Now here she was, feeling it all over again because her friend was offering to paint her kitchen.
But after eight years side by side in situations most people couldn't even begin to imagine, she knew Jack O'Neill well enough to read between the lines. In the only way he could, he was making her a promise that they would spend the rest of their lives together, for better or for worse and, that one day, he would offer her a ring.
He was offering her the one promise they'd never allowed themselves: the promise of someday.
Unlike the other two times she'd felt this way, she didn't need time to think the offer over. Didn't need to agonize over the decision. For the first time, her head and her heart were in complete agreement.
Her certainty brought an honest to goodness smile to his face, the kind she adored but so rarely saw. "Okay."
She smiled back at him. "Okay."
His fingers traced two light circles on her arm, squeezed once and then let her go. "I guess we should get started, then. We've got a lot of work to do."
Sam's brow furrowed in confusion. "We do?"
"We do if your dream house still has hardwood floors."
Sam's eyes widened with surprise. She'd described her dream house late one night, not long after Jolinar died, when she'd still been too terrified of the nightmares to sleep. At the time, her teammates had been running on virtually no sleep, and she'd always figured they'd made the most of the darkness and dozed, merely pretending to listen while she rambled just to stay awake.
It didn't surprise her that they'd remembered her saying she'd always wanted a yellow kitchen. That had been one of the first things she'd mentioned. But the hardwood floors? Sam knew she'd built up to that detail, working her way through her dream kitchen, living room and master bathroom before describing the flooring she'd always wanted throughout her house.
Jack held her gaze and ticked items off on his fingers, one by one. "A soaker tub to soothe aches and pains after rough missions. A skylight over the bed so you don't forget what the stars look like from home. Floor to ceiling shelves in the garage so you can keep all your tools organized and still have space to move around when you're working on your bike. A huge flowerbed in back, overflowing with sunflowers, because they're your favourite…"
She grinned again. "You remember."
"Yeah, I remember."
"I guess we should get started on the kitchen, then," Sam said, echoing his earlier words. "After all, those built-in bookshelves for my office aren't going to install themselves."
Jack groaned dramatically as he started down the hall. "Go easy on me, Carter, I'm not as young as I used to be."
"Don't worry, sir, there are some smaller jobs on the list," she assured.
"Well, I'm going to need a dog door out to the backyard."
Jack made a face. "You're a cat person."
"Under the right circumstances, I could be a dog person." And bizarrely, she realized, it was true.
When Pete had been showing her around the new house, enthusing about the backyard being perfect for a dog, she hadn't for the life of her been able to envision herself as a dog owner. But with Jack, she could imagine it so easily.
They would adopt a dog from a shelter. It would be all grown up and Jack would make endless jokes about the elderly sticking together. He'd insist on calling the dog 'Homer' and she'd resist at first, but in the end she'd start doing it too because the dog would refuse to respond to the name it had been given at the shelter. They'd take Homer with them for a run every morning and they'd fight about letting him up on the furniture and she'd forever be sweeping up dog hair and Jack would get annoyed because she was Homer's favourite, if only because he saw her less than he did Jack. The whole experience would be perfectly imperfect.
God, how she wanted a dog.
"Cool!" Jack said, pulling her from her thoughts.
Any further discussion was put on hold by Daniel's unnecessarily loud voice announcing, "Teal'c is 10 seconds out from eating the last bear claw!"
"Not if he knows what's good for him, he's not!" Jack shouted back.
Sam trailed him into the living room, grinning for the third time that day and the sun wasn't even up yet. As her friends' voices washed over her, she scanned the living room again, seeing it with fresh eyes.
There was the lamp Daniel had done a god-awful job wrapping when he'd given it to her at her housewarming party. They'd tried over the years to teach him, but to this day, they still had to take turns wrapping his gifts for him. Apparently gift-wrapping was the one thing the man couldn't learn.
Mind you, for years now, she'd been suspicious that he was simply faking his terrible gift-wrapping skills, but she hadn't called him on it. Yet.
And that was the sofa Jack used to have tickle wars on with a much younger Cassandra. The shrieks of laughter used to be so ear piercing that Sam had started to hang things on the walls just to try and dampen some of the sound.
Of course, then Daniel and Teal'c had started helping Jack tag-team Cassie and the noise level quadrupled, but it had been so good to hear them all having a good time that Sam learned to embrace the noise and Jack's complaints when the squirming and contorting aggravated his bad back.
Those were the bookshelves she'd roped Teal'c into helping her assemble after a mission went wrong and she ended up with one arm in a sling. He'd gotten so frustrated with the nonsensical assembly instructions that he'd started cursing in Goa'uld.
She, of course, had called Daniel for translations, and he'd brought Jack in on it via conference call. It was the first but definitely not the last time they'd teleconferenced so they could all take part in one of Teal'c's Earth first times.
Some of her best memories of Janet had happened while they were curled up around that fireplace, indulging in some well-deserved girl time. Cassandra's first sleep over, when they'd introduced the little girl to nail polish and patiently let her give them rainbow pedicures. Celebrating her birthday with wine glasses full of sparkling apple cider because she'd been on heavy duty painkillers at the time, and Janet had insisted it wasn't fair to drink when the birthday girl couldn't. Getting nostalgic right before Cassandra started high school and pouring over their old yearbooks together, speculating about what their old crushes were up to. Those and a thousand other memories warmed the house, whether or not she had a fire going.
And smiling down from all around her were photos of her family, reminders of happier times before cruel fate stole her mother away and her father and brother ended up at loggerheads.
There they were on her fifth birthday, when he'd surprised her by making it home and she'd surprised him by coming down with chicken pox and they'd had to cancel her party but she'd still considered it the best birthday ever simply because he'd been there.
Another photo, this time of both her parents with her and Mark, smiling and happy at a backyard barbeque while she curled up in her father's lap even though it was a scorching hot August afternoon.
And there, with her first science fair project, arms around each other grinning proudly even though she'd been disqualified by alarmed judges who hadn't considered exploring which common household products could be turned into really awesome fireworks an appropriate project for a fifth grader.
From every wall hung reminders that she'd had a father who loved her and that she'd loved him right back.
Her house was full of memories. They were like salve on the raw wounds that were only just beginning to heal, Sam realized, and she wouldn't give them up for anything.
She would, however, happily make some new ones with the family she'd been lucky enough to find.
Hurrying to catch up with Jack, she entered the kitchen just in time to see the big bad USAF general pout.
"But I always eat the bear claws!"
Teal'c, eyebrow raised and head cocked to one side, calmly replied, "The anticipative avian creature successfully hunts the bilaterally symmetrical invertebrate."
"The early bird gets the worm," Daniel translated helpfully.
"You could have had the last apple fritter," Jack retorted petulantly.
"I could not," Teal'c said and oh yes, he was definitely smirking now. "Apple fritters are Colonel Carter's favourite."
Jack turned to her, still pouting. "You know, sometimes I think you're his favourite."
"Only sometimes?" she teased.
"Sometimes I only think you're his favourite. Other times I know."
Daniel nudged her playfully with his hip and joined in. "Since we're on the topic, Sam's my favourite, too."
"Obviously," Jack said as he rolled his eyes.
Grinning again, Sam plucked an apple fritter from the box and leaned back on the counter, enjoying the warm camaraderie and sharp tang of fresh paint that filled her house.
A/N: I really have mixed feelings about this one, but I'm hoping that if I get back into posting SG-1 one shots, it will be easier to persevere with some of my longer fics.