A/N: Annnnd . . . we're off! Season 4, here we go! Super-duper shippy thanks to Leiasky for the on-demand beta work. We'll consider this a late Shipsgiving offering, shall we?

Set between Nemesis and Small Victories, on Chulak and afterward, on Earth. Ep. synopsis, Nemesis: SG-1, minus Daniel who's recovering from an emergency appendectomy (it really was Shanks' appendix) faces creatures of mass destruction that even the Asgard can't control, and must destroy Thor's infested vessel before the Replicator bugs reach Earth. This is the first half of the two-part season ender. Ep synopsis, Small Victories: O'Neill and Teal'c risk their lives to keep the Replicator bugs from gaining a foothold on Earth, while Carter helps the Asgard fend off a Replicator invasion.

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Testing the Waters

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Chulak
Village of the People of the Sun High Plains (Teal'c's village)
First night after they arrive from P3X-234

"Carter."

"Sir?"

O'Neill stood over her, his face in shadow as he hovered hear the edge of the firepit. "I'm going fishing tomorrow. Ry'ac and the boys are going to show me the prime spot."

Sam smiled up at him, puzzled as to why he was telling her this. "Ah, okay, Sir. Well . . . um, have fun." She watched as he scratched his head and then sat down beside her, clearly not satisfied with her response. The change in position made it possible for her to see his face, as well as the frown etched on his features. "Sir?"

"You could, I dunno. Come along?"

Sam's heart stuttered to a stop. Here they were again. He asking her to go fishing and she wanting to but unwilling to take that step. It seemed to be so much more. On the other hand, it's not like they'd be alone at his cabin, several states . . . and a world . . . away from the SGC. No, here they'd be surrounded by Jaffa, by Teal'c's family and friends. Here they'd be . . .

"You know what, Carter? Never mind."

"Sir?" Sam started, as dismayed by the withdrawal of the invitation as she'd been worried about the initial invite.

O'Neill moodily poked at the fire and shrugged. "If you don't want to–"

"No."

"'K. Fine." The Colonel shrugged and jabbed once more at the fire.

Sam shook her head and then reached out to still his increasingly violent pokes at the harmless fire. "No, I mean . . . it's not that I don't want to."

"It's not?"

He turned to face her and she got the full force of the brown-eyed puppy gaze, as Cassie so innocently called it. Sam wondered if he knew just how powerful that effect was. The firelight turned his tawny gaze to a deep, warm amber, and the dancing flames seemed to catch and highlight the gold flecks that swam within. Sam swallowed the sudden moisture in her mouth, fighting as she always did, her almost visceral reaction to his direct, open stare. "No," she whispered. "It's not."

"Oh."

The fire crackled merrily in the pit, aided by the Colonel's occasional pokes at the embers. Behind them, Sam could hear Bra'tac as he spun a tale for the younger children around the large, central village fire. She briefly wondered where Teal'c was, then realized that he was probably doing things she'd rather not consider, especially now. After a long moment, she slid her feet back up and rested her cheek on her knees, her eyes on O'Neill. She set her tea down beside her and began to idly play with the one bootlace that always seemed to come undone. "When I was a little girl, Dad was stationed at Scott for a while. There was this huge park on the edge of the base, acres and acres of land. The place was amazing, and Mark and I would disappear all day. We had a gang of friends that we hung out with–"

"Gang?" O'Neill smiled at her. "Carter, you had a gang?"

Shrugging, Sam returned his grin. "Well, you know, as exciting as a gang of eight-year-olds can be. Anyway, my best friend in our group was a guy named Gareth. Gareth was . . . wow. Cool. Amazing. Mr. Funloving himself. Gareth was usually our leader . . . and chief instigator, being the ripe old age of twelve." She glanced up to find O'Neill's eyes on hers, his face relaxed as he listened to her story. "In the park was this outdoor band shell, and behind it, this great hill. Really steep. In the winter it was an awesome sledding hill, but in the summer, well, the hill had a path that was paved with asphalt. Gareth used to challenge us to ride our skateboards down that hill, aptly named 'suicide hill.'" Sam shrugged when the Colonel' raised his eyebrow. "I know. Anyway, we, Mark and I, the Villers boys, Mary Parker and a few others, we'd sort of hop-slash-ride our skateboards halfway down that hill, then hop on and zoom down the last thirty feet or so. Gareth would always laugh and say to us, 'Someday you'll be ready to go all the way down without dragging your feet.'"

Sam took a sip of her now cold tea and grimaced. She smiled when O'Neill reached out and poured warm water into the mug without a word, clearly waiting for her to continue her story. She closed her eyes for a second, thinking of that last golden afternoon of summer when she'd stood at the top of the hill, determined to, just this once, do it.

"Well?"

"The last day of summer vacation, we stood there at the top of suicide hill. I can still see Gareth standing at the bottom, it looked like he was miles and miles away. He was waving me down and Mark was behind me, daring me to do it. Just . . . do it. I really wanted to. Really. Probably more than anything else in the world. I didn't want it because almost all the others had done it, I didn't even want it because Gareth wanted it. I wanted it because I wanted it. To know I had done it. And because . . . well, because." Sam turned her face to the fire, watching the wind chase shadows around the glowing embers. "So, I did it. I pushed off, lifted my foot, and . . . let go."

"What happened?"

Grimacing slightly at the memory, Sam lifted her right hand and tilted it toward the firelight. "I have a scar here, and here, and another on my elbow," she said, pointing at faint mark each in turn. "Broke my wrist and spent the first six weeks of the school year in a cast."

"What'd 'Mr. Fun' say?"

"He came to see me in the base hospital, even brought me flowers. I remember him signing my cast, then looking at me and saying, 'Guess you weren't ready to stop dragging your feet.'" Sam blew out a breath. "I guess he was right, and I have the scars to prove it."

O'Neill added another log to the fire, then looked over at her, his expression questioning. "Are we still talking about fishing?"

Sam shrugged. "I don't know . . . maybe."

"And?"

Another, louder breath escaped as Sam shifted. She dropped her knees and crossed her legs Indian style, and rested her elbows on her knees. Setting her mug aside, she clasped her hands together, fighting the urge to fidget. "I think . . . I know, actually," she looked up at him. "I want to . . . go fishing. I do. It's just that . . ."

"Carter, it's just fishing."

"Is it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Colonel. When you asked me back on Earth, 'just fishing' meant a long journey to an isolated cabin with just the two of us." Sam swallowed hard, then added softly, "That kind of . . . concentrated alone time opens all kind of . . . other possibilities." She gulped back a sudden wave of fear. "Or, am I completely off-base, and it really is just fishing?"

It probably took O'Neill only a second to respond, but that second felt like an eternity to Sam as she waited, her heart in her throat, for him to respond. When he did, with a sigh of his own and a tiny head shake, Sam felt her heart start to beat again. Then to pound. There it was, out in the open. The unspeakable . . . thing . . . they had.

"No," O'Neill's voice was as soft as hers had been. "You're right."

"Oh . . ." Now it was Sam's turn to sigh. It was one thing to think you knew how someone felt about you, but another to have him confirm it. "So . . ."

"So." The Colonel poked again at the fire, this time his movements were almost tired, listless. He cocked his head at her after a few moments and asked, his voice almost tentative. "But . . . you will go fishing . . . someday?"

And all at once Sam was back on that long-ago hillside, perched on the edge of madness. All she had to do was lift her foot and . . . go. She held his gaze and then slowly nodded, smiling as a rare, open smile slid across his features, matching hers. Her heart raced as she considered what it was they'd said . . . and hadn't said. And what she'd just told him. Yep. The edge of reason.

Madness.

What an amazing place to be.

The fire burned low before O'Neill spoke again. "You know, with all these people around, I'd say this could be considered a safe place to . . . drag your feet, as it were." Those brown eyes were back, deep and amber, engaging Sam's gaze and holding it. When she hesitated, he lowered his voice still more and said, softly, "No pressure, Sam. No pushing. No . . . egging you on. You don't even have to get your feet wet if you don't want to."

Sitting there, his silvering hair limned in the firelight and the stark realities of their everyday battles so far away, Sam had to stop herself from leaning into him. Instead she just nodded, shifting just a little bit closer to him. "Okay."

"Okay?"

"Okay. If the invitation is still open, Colonel, I think I'd like to tag along tomorrow."

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Earth
Jack O'Neill's Home
Two days after Sam and Thor beam O'Neill and Teal'c up from the Russian sub.

"What is your current thinking process?"

Sam, startled by the soft question, rose and turned to her tiny host. "Sorry, my mind was wandering for a second there."

"You were thinking about the humans on your planet."

"Yes."

Thor's gaze was direct, and Sam found herself fighting the urge to squirm. That urge intensified as Thor said, "Colonel O'Neill is a very capable human."

How had he known? How had he understood that at that very moment Sam wanted to be with her team, with . . . him, fighting this new threat together? How, with each mention of the new Asgard ship O'Neill, she just wanted to turn to find him standing beside her, fighting with her. Just . . . here. Or she there.

"So, they really had a ship named O'Neill?" The Colonel's question, so closely mirroring Sam's thoughts, jerked her back to the present. She looked up as he stepped into the firelight and joined them around the firepit at the bottom of the yard. Pausing to hand out warm drinks to Teal'c and Daniel before settling himself down in his customary spot beside Sam, the Colonel let out a contented sigh, and she couldn't help but smile. Teal'c sat across from them, resting easily in the large canvass chair the Colonel had bought just for him, and Daniel sat perched in the rickety old aluminum chair he'd unearthed from the back of O'Neill's garden shed. When nobody answered, O'Neill spoke again. "Carter?"

Sam looked over at him as he passed her a steaming mug of tea. "Yep. Until a week ago it was their pride and joy."

"How so?" Daniel looked up from his coffee, his expression curious.

Sam blew on her tea to cool it, then took a cautious sip. "Mmm, thanks, Sir." To Daniel she replied, "Thor said it was their most technologically advanced ship to date."

"Huh." Daniel glanced from the Colonel to Sam and back again. He scratched his head and said, a glint of humor in his eye. "Well, that's irony for you."

O'Neill looked up. "How so?"

Sam caught Daniel's eye and bit back a grin, realizing as she did so that she was more relaxed about teasing the Colonel than she'd ever been before. She leaned back against the bench behind her, appreciating the fact that they were all here. Home. Sitting in their usual places around the Colonel's firepit. Stretching her legs out, she wiggled her sneakered feet, grateful for the warmth of both the tea and the fire. And the company. Her thoughts wandered idly as Daniel and the Colonel bantered back and forth, the Colonel insisting that there certainly was no irony at all in the Asgard naming their most important ship after him. Even Teal'c almost smiled at that comment.

"It's funny, don't you think?" asked Daniel, carefully sipping his hot coffee.

"No, I don't, Daniel," O'Neill muttered, still obviously put out.

"Not that, Jack. I mean . . . well, Sam, you used the O'Neill to save both you the Asgard, and then you and the Asgard in turn saved Teal'c and Jack." He shrugged, and then sat back in his creaky lawn chair. "Well, I think that's interesting, anyway."

"Indeed, Daniel Jackson. Almost a full circle."

"Oh, now you speak? Where were you when Daniel was calling my super-smart spaceship 'ironic?'"

Sam snorted when Teal'c merely raised an eyebrow. She raised her cup to her lips again as Daniel spoke.

"Sam, I'll bet you were bored out of your mind on Chulak. I mean, Teal'c got to visit family, Jack looks as relaxed as he does when he comes back from his cabin, but what about you? You seem just as relaxed, and I just can't imagine you went fishing."

Sam leaned forward, choking as she tried to avoid inhaling her tea down her windpipe. The Colonel helpfully thumped her on the back a few times until, coughing slightly, she waved him off. She glanced from the Colonel to Teal'c and back again, noting with a blush Teal'c's gentle gaze and the suble lift of the Colonel's lips.

Easing backward once again on the cushion, she slid her feet up and tucked them under her, deliberately brushing one knee against her Colonel's leg. As she raised her mug again to her lips she allowed a tiny smile of her own to slide across her lips. "Oh, I don't know, Daniel. I might have gotten my feet wet a time or two."

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End.

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Author's note: I know I've said this before, but I really do believe that while Sam and Jack didn't dive into bed during their week-long interlude on P3X-234 (and Chulak, in my universe), they did come to some sort of understanding. In Nemesis, there's a great deal of sexual tension in that "come fishing" invitation. Sam is hesitant, unsure, and Jack immediately jumps to the "nothing wrong with that . . ." line. Contrast that with the interaction at the beginning of Small Victories, when Sam says, "Still going fishing?" and Jack replies, "Yep. Still staying here?"

It's significant that it's Sam who brings up the fishing in Small Victories and the warm, open smiles they share say a lot . . . at least to me. Neither is looking away, ducking the eye contact. They're both so . . . present. Something changed during that week. I think this is a terrific ep to kick off what is arguably the shippiest season of all.