A Road Not Taken - Part Sixteen


 Sam sat in her blissfully air conditioned apartment and glanced at the calendar. It was July eighth, and she couldn't call Daniel to wish him a happy birthday. She pouted. It was that fact that had taken her to a nearby travel agent to demand a travel brochure for every European and North African country they sponsored trips to. She gotten some very strange looks at that.

Once she'd hauled her backpack full of booklets home, Sam ensconced herself in her worn but incredibly comfortable armchair and proceeded to go through them. She was hoping to have any number of ideas of where she and Daniel could go over spring break the next year, since her friend was eager to go. He called the night before he left for Egypt to talk about it. Once they'd determined they indeed had break at the same time, there was no question that they'd be going somewhere. They didn't have enough facts to come to a decision at that point, but promised to discuss it some more once he got back. It made Sam all the more sad to say goodbye.

"So I'll have things narrowed down for him, and I sent my well-wishes in a letter a couple weeks ago. It'll be fine." Sam's pout deepened at the hollow echo her lone voice made in her singularly-occupied apartment. "It'll be fine," she repeated, then resolutely turned her back on the calendar and grabbed the next brochure off the pile to the right of her chair.

About ten minutes later she frowned at the pages and dismissively tossed it over her shoulder to land on a handful of others that had been similarly manhandled. The next one from the right-hand pile had quickly taken its place before her. Soon it too was flying through the air to land in a mangled heap. "None of these are good enough!" Sam fumed.

She bit the inside of her cheek to help her keep her temper, then grabbed the next brochure. She forced herself to read the whole thing then really consider the pros and cons of the destination. It was a surprise when she realized that the place just might work. "Well, what do you know?" Sam asked with a smile as she set the brochure into a new pile carefully.

The rest of the search went much more smoothly after that. When she finished Sam was confident that she had a manageable list of choices for her to go through with Daniel, and that he would be more than pleased with the selection. She fell asleep that night and dreamed of the fun she'd have in some Mediterranean paradise with her best friend by her side.

* * * * * * * *

Daniel was in the middle of an inventory double-check when his name being called drew him out of the tent he'd been working in. He shaded his eyes with his hand in time to make out a lithe young woman running toward him waving a pair of envelopes in her hand and grinning widely. He couldn't help but chuckle when she skidded to a halt in front of him. "I take it those are for me?" he asked lightly.

"That would be why I called for you, yes," she replied impishly. "Just got back from town and figured you'd want these. But since I wasn't sure what tent you were in, I decided to make a general announcement."

"So now everyone knows I have mail."

"Weren't you listening? Everybody knows everybody who got mail. I was shouting out for the whole stack." The young woman gave him an amused quirk of the lips.

Daniel shrugged, a touch embarrassed he'd missed that. "Well, I do have a tendency to get caught up in my work," he explained.

She laughed. "That's more than obvious. Now let's go inside. The sun's especially brutal today." The girl turned him around and pushed him into the tent he'd just left, following directly behind. "Ah. Much better." She took off her sunglasses, revealing a pair of sparkling emerald green eyes. She gestured toward the letters Daniel still held. "So who are they from?"

The young man had been startled by the whole maneuver so it took a moment to respond. "Oh, um, my two best friends, Jack and Sam. I sent them the address they could reach me at with the first package out."

"That's great! It's good to see they're keeping in contact."

"Don't take this the wrong way, but... who are you?"

The young woman blinked. "I guess I'm not as famous around here as I thought I was. My name's Mel Severin." She thrust out a hand.

Daniel shook it, bemused. "Mel?" he asked.

"Fine," Mel said with a blustery sigh. "If you want to be official about it, the name's Melisande Severin. But you can call me Mel. In fact, I'd prefer it."

The man whose light brown hair had been sun-bleached back to a younger-years dark blond couldn't help but give another chuckle. "Family's French, huh?"

The woman drew herself up to her full five foot seven inch height and tossed her long brown ponytail back over her shoulder. "Oui, oui, monsieur. How could you tell?"

The outrageous French accent drew a full-blown laugh from the normally-quiet young man. "That's awful!" He sighed as he calmed down. "Why are you here? I haven't seen you with the archaeological team."

"That would be because I'm finishing up my internship for my masters in geology. I've been studying the different strata in the excavations. It helps you guys out while earning me the credits I need. I've always wanted to study abroad." Her grin was back.

"That's great," Daniel said sincerely. "I'm using this experience to help me with my doctoral thesis in archaeology. I should have that at the end of this next fall semester."

"University of Chicago?" Mel asked hopefully.

Daniel nodded. "I spent my freshman year at UCLA then transferred."

The young woman's eyebrows rose. "Interesting." She considered him for a long moment. "You know, I was hoping to find an excuse to talk to you since you got here a month ago."

"You have?" Daniel blinked in utter amazement.

"Oh yeah. You're a bit on the lean side, but you're still the best looking guy I've seen all year. And since you're with the summer graduate group, I knew there had to be some brains to go along with that body." She smiled with mock shyness. "A girl's gotta have standards, you know."

"You think I'm attractive?"

Mel laughed. "Have you looked in a mirror lately? Yes, I think you're attractive." She laughed again when she noticed a bright blush forming on his cheeks. "That is so cute!" A watch alarm started going off, making Mel scowl as she pressed the right buttons on her digital watch to turn it off. "Crap. I have to get back to the dig site. Do you think we can maybe have dinner together? Get to know one another better?"

Daniel blinked. "Um, sure, that would be fine."

The lean brunette drew herself to her full height once again. "Then goodbye until we meet again this evening," she said using the same French accent she had earlier. Then she took his head in her hands, lightly kissed both cheeks, and finished with a slightly longer one on his lips. "See you later, Daniel," she said softly, a real shy smile and lightly pink cheeks transforming her expression as she left the tent.

"Bye," Daniel whispered long after she was gone. He smiled as he remembered the flash of anxiety in the bright green eyes as she'd drawn away. He had a feeling she was worried she'd gone too far. The smile grew wider. No one had ever shown an interest in him before. And Mel was unlike anyone he'd ever met. This could prove to be quite interesting.

* * * * * * * *

Jack knew Sara was watching as he took the sixteen-month-old Charlie out to the sandbox in the back yard one afternoon in August. The more in-depth training he'd received when he'd accepted the proposal to join Black Ops had honed his senses considerably. He wished he could have told his wife about the change, but it was classified.

Pushing the thought out of his mind, he focused on his son. "Hey, Charlie! Look at all this sand! Has Mommy let you play out here a lot this summer?" The toddler smiled widely and babbled what was mostly a string of nonsense, a few words here and there understandable. "That's what I thought." Jack reached for the small bucket of water he'd brought with them and poured some of it on a patch of sand between them. "Do you want to see where Uncle Daniel is right now?"

Charlie clapped and Jack laughed. "Right. Here we go then." The young father spent the next fifteen minutes constructing a passable reproduction of the Giza plateau while his son made all sorts of odd shapes and splattered them both with wet sand and leftover water.

"Hey, Charlie," Jack whispered once he was finished. The little boy looked at him with wide eyes at the tone. "These are the pyramids, just like in Egypt. Your uncle Daniel isn't quite there, but he's a ways over here." He swooped his hand around, keeping the child's attention, and flopped it onto the sand about a foot or so to the left of the sand structures. "I betcha right now he's digging in the dirt," he took his first two fingers and quickly dug a little hole in the sand, "just like we are. Do you like the idea of digging in the dirt like Uncle Daniel?"

"Danel!" Charlie cried with a giggle, clapping his delight.

"You know, Daniel got you that blanket you like so much," Jack said as he shifted them both to the opposite corner and watched Charlie begin to dig again. "One day when you're older you'll have to thank him for that." He smiled when the little blond looked up at him with a huge grin. "Yeah, I know you will. Now, do want to see some other stuff Daddy's seen in the desert?"

Charlie giggled his assent. With one last look at the creation he'd made, Jack proceeded to build lots of different things with wet sand, thoroughly enjoying the time with his little boy.

* * * * * * * *

Sam gazed around the auditorium she sat in, her blue-grey eyes wide as she suppressed her excitement at finally making it. Nothing could have held back the grin that brightened her features, however. This wasn't just a Christmas present for Daniel, it was for herself as well.

She was hoping that Jack had been able to be there as well, but Daniel's last letter had said the Special Ops soldier wasn't confident he could do so. The young woman hoped he'd be able to make it home to spend the holidays with his family at the very least. It would be Charlie's second Christmas, she thought. A father should be around for that. She flinched at that thought. It appeared she had some leftover bitterness about her own father's absences, although she'd more than forgiven him. She was looking forward to spending that particular year's holidays with the man as a matter of fact, as soon as she called him on Monday and found out where exactly he'd be. Jacob had said something about a project he might be out of town for, but that she'd be welcome to join him.

The house lights dimmed, and the mid-year graduation ceremony began. There was a decent group of bachelor degree recipients, followed by a shorter list of those receiving their masters degrees. The smallest group of all was those being awarded their doctorates, and Sam's eyes were for only one of them. Daniel walked calmly across the stage when his name was called, a serious expression on his face that only broke for a moment when a whoop rang out from someone from the crowd that had just gotten their masters.

He looks good, Sam thought critically. His time in Egypt had given him color, some of which still barely lingered even after four months back at school, as well as more muscle tone. He was really beginning to fill out, his broad shoulders finally starting to look they belonged to that frame. He'd grown into quite a man.

Apparently Sam wasn't the only one who thought so. After the ceremony was finished, the source of the shout ran across the stage and threw herself into Daniel's arms. He grunted with the effort of keeping them both upright, but he was smiling. This must be the girlfriend he'd met on the dig over the summer that Daniel had talked about in his letters. This was someone Sam needed to meet.

She walked up to the stage just in time to have a close, personal look at her best friend having the daylights kissed out of him by said girlfriend. Long, thin fingers on one hand ran through silky brown hair that hung to his earlobes while the other hand rubbed up and down his spine even as he held her in a close embrace, each circuit bringing her closer and closer to his rear end. A flash of memory gripped Sam as she experienced the sensation once again of how that body felt beneath her fingertips followed by an even smaller flash of jealousy. She got control of herself just in time to see Daniel jump back, startled. "Mel! Not in public!"

"But it's so tempting," the brunette protested, grinning unrepentantly.

Daniel sighed. "Just... not in public." He turned his head to look out at the milling crowd and saw Sam standing next to the stage. "Sam!" he cried joyfully. "You're here! I wasn't expecting you!" He jumped down and scooped the blonde into a fierce hug. "Oh, God, Sam, it's so good to see you."

Sam smiled and returned the squeeze. She couldn't have hoped for a better reception. "It's good to see you too, Daniel. Congratulations."

"Thanks. I'm glad I put off my anthropology masters to focus on my doctoral thesis. Things were a lot easier that way." He grinned.

"I bet. So are you going to start on that in the spring?"

"That's the idea. I've announced my intention to join a joint doctorate program combining my anthropology and linguistics as soon as I've got that masters. Doctor Jordan says I'll more than likely be accepted. I only have to write one paper that way."

Sam nodded. "That's even better. A good old two-for-one sale on doctorates. How can you go wrong?"

The sound of a throat being cleared came from behind them, reminding them of the presence of the brunette who was now sitting on the edge of the stage watching them with amusement, her green eyes sparkling. "I don't mean to interrupt your reunion, but I have to admit I was hoping for an introduction," she said mildly.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mel. Sam, this is the girlfriend I told you about, Melisande Severin. Mel, this is one of my best friends, Samantha Carter."

"You have other girlfriends you didn't tell her about?" Mel asked impishly. She laughed at the look Daniel gave her and offered a hand to Sam. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Samantha. Daniel's told me a lot about you. And you can call me Mel."

Sam shook her hand. "It's a pleasure for me too, Mel. You can call me Sam. Daniel's mentioned you quite a bit in his letters."

Mel preened a bit. "Yes, good or bad, I'm always newsworthy. Talk about spice." The two women laughed.

"As entertaining as I'm sure this is for you," Daniel said, blushing, "how about we go somewhere and get something to eat?"

"I hope you weren't going to go without me," a man's voice asked from behind the trio, causing Sam and Daniel to spin around and face the source.

"Dad!" Sam cried. "What about your special project?"

Jacob grinned. "Worked out perfectly. You never suspected a thing." He looked at Daniel. "Congratulations, Danny. Or should I say, Doctor Jackson?"

Daniel chuckled. "That's weird to hear that in reference to me. But thank you, Jacob. I'm really glad you could be here."

The older man shrugged. "I missed the last two. I wasn't about to miss a third. Besides, this was for your doctorate. This is the big time."

"Before I need to be reminded again," Daniel said quickly, giving a shy glance to the brunette to his right, "let me introduce my girlfriend, Melisande Severin. Mel, this is Sam's father, General Jacob Carter."

"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Mel said respectfully, eyes a bit wide at actually meeting a general face to face. She offered her hand a touch tentatively.

Jacob accepted it with no hesitation. "Just as much a pleasure to meet you, Miss Severin. And congratulations to you, too. A masters degree in geology is pretty impressive."

Sam flinched. "Oh, that's right! I totally forgot about that. Congratulations, Mel."

To Daniel's amazement, Mel blushed. "Thank you, both of you," she said quietly. "I really appreciate it."

"Why don't we get going?" Daniel offered as he wrapped his arm around his girlfriend's shoulders. "There's a restaurant just off campus that has great authentic Thai."

"Shouldn't we wait for Mel's family?" Sam asked.

Mel smiled at her. "There's no one to wait for. We can go."

Sam blinked, now feeling like she had both feet in her mouth. "Sorry, I didn't know."

The brunette's expression turned sardonic. "I know. Not a lot of people do. But we should get going and brighten up this party. Daniel's right; that Thai restaurant is stupendous." Then she grinned, her mood returning to what it had been before. "Come on! And remember, think happy thoughts!" She began to march out of the auditorium, dragging a smiling Daniel behind her and leaving Sam and Jacob to follow laughing.

* * * * * * * *

"You know, I love how your old furniture makes your apartment feel cozy," Sam said later that night after Daniel had insisted she stay with him instead of spending the money on a hotel room. "Mine just makes my place feel... used."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Daniel replied, avoiding her eyes as he hung up their jackets on the coat rack by the front door. "I have to replace it every now and again. How can that help my place feel cozy?"

"You don't have to keep the same furniture all the time to feel cozy, Daniel. You just have to have the right furniture." She looked around the living room again. "And you have really good taste."

Daniel shrugged and gave her a half-smile. "Thanks. Did you want something to drink?" he asked as he headed for the refrigerator.

Sam watched him for a moment before answering. "Yeah, something clear if you've got it."

"Ginger ale it is." Daniel grabbed two cans and headed back to the couch.

"Daniel," Sam began after another pause filled with both of them opening their drinks, "are you sure Mel is okay with me staying here? I don't want to make any trouble for you."

The young man's brows furrowed. "Why would you think she'd have a problem? She knows you're one of my best friends."

The blonde woman shook her head. "I don't know, there was just something in her eyes when she told me to have a good time tonight. I don't know what it was, but..."

Daniel reached over and took her free hand. "Sam, she was joking, just like she'd been doing all night. Trust me, I've seen her get possessive before - that wasn't it."

"When was this?" Sam asked, deciding to put aside her worries.

"Right after Thanksgiving break. She talked me into going to a party one of her study partners was throwing. There was loud music, a table groaning with holiday leftovers from Judy and both her roommates, and enough alcohol to rival the Milwaukee breweries. People were talking and dancing, and Mel was showing me off - her words, not mine - to all her friends. Most of them were distantly friendly, having at least heard of me before. But not Erica."

Sam grinned as Daniel shuddered. "I take it Erica wasn't so distant."

Daniel looked her straight in the eye. "I could only wish. It seems she'd just transferred here at the start of the fall semester to go for her masters in geology. She joined Mel's study group as soon as she found out about it, but otherwise hadn't been too social. Pretty girl, slightly taller than you, and had long red hair and piercing grey eyes." He shuddered again. "They looked like they made you feel, like the sky during a winter storm."

Blonde brows rose. "If she had that kind of effect on people, how did she get invited to the party?"

"I think I was the only one who suffered that particular effect. Mel said she was quiet but personable in the study group." Daniel sighed. "I wish I could say it was because she'd been drinking, but as soon as Mel introduced me to her Erica stuck by my side, grabbing hold of my arm and touching me in various other places randomly whenever Mel was out of sight. I never saw Erica drink a drop of alcohol the entire time. Unfortunately, when I mentioned Erica was making me uncomfortable, Mel thought I was overreacting, since she hadn't seen any of the touching or heard the not-so-subtle come-ons. She was convinced that Erica was just being friendly, having found someone who would listen to some of her more radical theories without making fun of her."

"Radical theories?" Sam asked.

"If I remember right, it was something about finding proof that the cataclysm that caused the death of the dinosaurs was an alien attack from outer space. I think the weapon of choice was a natural-looking asteroid. The only reason I didn't say anything is that I was trying to ignore her and was absently nodding during the few pauses she'd take to breathe." The young man shrugged.

Sam snickered. "An alien attack from outer space? Are you serious?"

Daniel couldn't help but smile. "Deadly serious. She followed that up by saying it was at least fortunate that we now had weapons capable of redirecting such an attack if we could find a way to get them there in time, that is, if the aliens hadn't set things up so that doing that would make things worse."

Blonde eyebrows nearly disappeared into a matching hairline. "She goes UFO chasing, doesn't she?"

"I don't know, and I don't care."

"So when did she push things too far?"

Daniel's smile fell. "It was about eleven-thirty. I'd been staring at my watch hoping to be able to make the excuse that I couldn't stay out any longer because I had to work the next day, which I did, but not until late morning. Mel had gone to get me another soda. Erica moved in and suggested we dance because her favorite ballad had just started playing on the stereo. I turned her down gently, telling her I really didn't dance much and I wanted to make sure Mel could find me when she got back. Erica's smile got wicked at that point and said that was okay as she laid her open hand on my chest. She'd much rather spend the song kissing the most attractive guy in the room anyway."

Sam's jaw dropped. "She actually thought you'd kiss her? Are you sure she hadn't been drinking?"

"Oh yeah. She only left my side two times to go to the bathroom and came back each time with an unopened soda in her hand. Like I said, not a drop of alcohol. Anyway, as she got closer I backed away and found myself literally cornered. I never realized how close to the back corner I'd become as I took a few steps here and there throughout the night to back away from Erica's previous attempts to get too cozy. That smile became positively evil and she snaked an arm around my waist and grabbed my..." Daniel blushed and pointed at the appropriate part of his anatomy.

"Jumped, did you?" Sam said sympathetically, even as she swallowed a laugh. She could see the humor, but the situation obviously still bothered her friend.

"Even closer to her," Daniel confirmed, disgust quite apparent in his expression. "But before Erica could make any more contact she was suddenly gone and Mel was in her place. Her eyes were as hard as emeralds as she stared at Erica with a deceptively pleasant smile, and I could see the slight tremor in her body as she struggled to control her outrage. All she said was, 'That's not how you get Daniel to respond, honey. You do it like this.' And she spun around, grabbed both sides of my face, and pulled me into one of the most intense kisses we've ever shared. I couldn't help but respond. For the rest of the time we were there, Mel refused to leave my side, glaring at every female that even accidentally brushed against me as they walked by."

Sam was silent for a moment, imagining Mel's solution. She gave herself a mental shake and refocused on the subject at hand. "I guess you're right. She wasn't acting possessive at all with me."

Daniel smiled. "My point exactly."

"So things are going well between you?"

"Pretty much. Mel's a very social person, and I'm just not. It's been something we've both had to adjust to. But other than that, things are fine." Daniel shrugged.

"What about school? I know you told Dad that you were excited about next semester, but what about the paper you just finished? You look tired." Sam met his gaze and gave him an encouraging look.

Daniel felt warm at her obvious display of concern. "I am. I've been doing some extra research since it's going to be relevant to the idea I have for my masters thesis, so it's almost like I haven't stopped working. But I want to finish this up by the summer, so the more work I do now the less pressure there will be come April and May." He smiled at her. "Don't worry, Sam. With you and your dad here for the holidays, it gives me the excuse to take a break. I'll be fine."

Sam tilted her head to the side. "Hasn't Mel gotten you to take a break?"

"She had her masters thesis to finish this semester on top of her job. She dragged me out to a few parties though. I just couldn't afford to slow down much, and Mel respected that."

"It's just that you look so tired, Daniel. I don't want to see you burn out."

"I won't, Sam. I promise. I've just got a couple more things I want to check out, then I'll put it aside until spring semester starts."

Sam sighed, recognizing the drive she knew her friend had always had and was mirrored in herself. "Okay, as long as I have your word that's how things will go once I'm gone."

Daniel looked at her seriously. "You have it, Sam. And I promised never to lie to you, remember?"

She nodded. "I do."

The brown-haired man suddenly smiled shyly. "It's nice to know you still want to watch out for me though. You always did it in high school. I missed it."

"You always did it in return. I miss it, too."

The two of them shared a long, warm embrace. "So what do you want me to do with that?" Daniel asked once they'd separated, gesturing toward the suitcase that rested by the front door.

Sam shrugged. "I'll just bring it over here by the couch to get it out of the way. Can I use your bathroom to change? It's getting kind of late, and I know Dad expects us to be at the hotel at ten o'clock sharp." She grinned. "You know the kind of grief he'll give us if we're late."

"Yes, yes, I do," Daniel agreed, quickly taking care of the luggage before Sam could. "Go ahead and use the bathroom." He gestured to the door to the left of the kitchenette. "I'll change while you do."

Once they both showered, changed, and took care of their other nightly rituals - Sam was surprised to come out of the bathroom to find the couch completely made up and ready for her, having won the battle to keep Daniel in his own bed - Daniel stood in his bedroom doorway and watched as Sam climbed under the comforter that normally adorned his mattress. "Are you absolutely sure..." he started to ask.

Sam gave him a look that cut him off. "Yes, Daniel, quite sure. The couch is fine. I'm not about to kick you out of your bed."

Daniel smiled. "I guess it's for the best. The couch is a more comfortable piece of furniture anyway."

"Go to bed, Daniel. I'll see you in the morning."

"Good night, Sam." He closed his door behind him, and Sam turned off the lamp on the end table, leaving only the light from the streetlamps and the moon, muted by the drawn drapes, to fill the room as the two friends slipped into slumber.

* * * * * * * *

Sam couldn't say how long she'd been asleep when a shuffling sound near the bookshelves woke her up. Blinking furiously to try to focus her eyes and see the intruder in Daniel's apartment, she gently rolled onto her side, hoping whoever it was would think she was just moving slightly in her sleep. When her ears told her the unknown person hadn't stopped looking through the volumes on the shelves between the couch and the desk, she dared to tip her head back and subtly scoot up on her pillow. There was only muted light from the streetlamps to see by, as the moon had obviously set since she'd gone to bed, but the silhouette that could be seen was definitely male... and incredibly familiar.

When he took a book from a shelf and shuffled over to the desk, then followed the actions up by switching on the floor lamp in the corner, Sam was startled to see it was Daniel. His movements were sluggish and stuttering, and when he turned back toward the bookshelves apparently considering getting another book it became more than obvious he wasn't really awake. The blue eyes were only open a crack, and his breathing was still relatively deep and even. Sam was speechless. Daniel had mentioned he'd sleepwalked twice before, both times after extended periods of stress - like he'd just put himself through to finish his archaeology doctorate. He'd been found by his foster parents both times and dragged off to see a counselor, who said it wasn't a chronic condition, only brought on by - here Sam had to smile, however briefly - extended periods of stress.

Sam came back to the present to find Daniel had stuck with only the one book and was now sitting at the desk with a notebook in front of him and an unsharpened pencil in his hand. He opened the book to a random page, flipped to another random page, and started to write in spurts. Sam guessed on some level he was taking notes. He really had been pushing himself too hard. And it was hard to watch the results.

Having read somewhere it wasn't wise to startle a sleepwalker awake - or was it they shouldn't be woken up at all? - Sam waited until Daniel took a long pause, his head starting to droop slightly, before she gently called his name. There was no reaction. Sam held off getting up for another long moment, then when Daniel didn't return to his notes silently moved over to the desk. A quick glance over his shoulder at his face revealed a small smile and his eyes aimed in the direction of the still-open book. She swallowed nervously and lightly laid her hands on his shoulders. "Daniel, you should really go back to bed. It's late," she said softly into his ear, beginning to knead the surprisingly stiff muscles beneath her fingers.

Daniel sighed and relaxed, letting his head fall back against Sam's stomach. She looked down to see his eyes were completely shut. Thinking he'd fallen back asleep, the blonde woman started to withdraw her hands, intending to turn the office chair around and somehow maneuver her friend back into bed, but was halted when Daniel's hand shot up and grabbed her right one. "Feels good," he murmured. "Don't stop."

"Okay," Sam replied, eyes wide as she went back to her massage. "But you should really go back to bed."

"You worry too much about me," Daniel said, rubbing his cheek against the hand he had let go. She jumped slightly when he kissed it.

"You don't worry enough," Sam shot back, trying to keep things normal.

"Maybe." He rose from the chair, causing Sam to take a step back out of surprise if nothing else, then closed the distance between them. "But that's what I have you for."

Sam barely registered Daniel's eyes were still only open the small crack they had been when he'd started this late-night study session before he took her in his arms and planted his lips over hers. She gasped in shock at the sudden intimacy, and Daniel instinctually took advantage of the situation by beginning a gentle exploration of the inside of her mouth with his tongue. Sam moaned and responded in kind, her arms wrapping around his waist. When she did, his hands started to roam, the left one cupping her lower right cheek to pull her even closer and the other making its way sensually toward her left breast. She couldn't remember when she'd felt as good as she did at that moment.

Daniel's lips moved from her mouth down her jawline as his right hand reached its goal, his long, nimble fingers kneading the soft flesh. Sam's breath caught and she let her head fall backwards and to the side to allow him greater access. He groaned as he licked the sensitive spot just behind her earlobe, his fingertips finding her nipple hard and responsive to the touch even through her T-shirt.

That was the sound that brought the young lieutenant back to her senses, even as she instinctually pressed herself all the closer to the young man giving her such pleasure. Sam felt a flash of self-disgust roll over her then gently but firmly pulled away, tightly gripping Daniel's hands as they still tried to please her. "Daniel," she said breathlessly. "We can't do this."

"Why not?" he asked, obviously confused.

Sam's eyes widened as she took in Daniel's relaxed muscles and barely-open eyes. He was really still asleep! This was all part of a dream he was acting out - and she thought she knew what role she'd been cast in. Mel was an extremely lucky woman. Sam wasn't quite willing to lie to her best friend, however, and she couldn't tell him the whole truth. "We have to be up early tomorrow. Plans for breakfast, remember?"

Daniel smiled, and he stopped the tiny struggles to pull his hands from her grip. "Of course. I wouldn't want you to be yawning through breakfast." The smile grew wider. "It might give it all away."

"Go back to bed, Daniel. I'll see you in the morning." Sam was grateful that Daniel wasn't really seeing her at that moment. She couldn't have pulled off a genuine smile if her life depended on it.

"Good night," Daniel whispered and gave her a feather-light kiss. Just before he disappeared back into the bedroom, he paused and looked back over his shoulder. "Don't be too long. Your side of the bed gets cold without you." The door closed and he was gone.

Sam stumbled over and flopped onto the couch. She'd almost done it again! She knew if things had gone much further, she would have made love to Daniel, asleep or not, and it wouldn't have been nearly as awkward as it had been six years ago. Apparently Daniel had gained some experience in the meantime, not that she could say the same. She'd been too afraid of her track record not to mention the effect it could have on her reputation.

Then one word in her personal reprimand jumped out at her. Almost. She'd almost done it again. But she had stopped herself. She had wanted to - hell, she still wanted to, if her raging hormones were anything to go by - but she hadn't. Considering Daniel was acting out a dream, he might not have even realized the reality. And she controlled herself.

Sam smiled. It didn't erase what had happened in the park in El Segundo, but it was a big step toward redemption. She snuggled under her covers and drifted back to sleep, proud of herself and happy that Daniel had found someone worth fantasizing about.

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