Paths Worth Exploring

Rating: NC-17

There was a grasshopper on her knee.

Sam followed it with her eyes as it crawled across the dirt-streaked denim, pausing every now and then to swivel its head from side to side. She thought it was probably disappointed that her pants weren't edible. Or were they? If a grasshopper were hungry enough, would it eat cloth? The jeans were cotton, after all, and cotton was a plant, and grasshoppers ate plants…

It didn't really matter, which was a relief. Two weeks since they'd fled Colorado Springs, and Sam was well and truly ready to think about something that didn't matter. She and Daniel together had made seventeen calls before the cellphones went out, going name by name through their stored numbers. Nine had been answered; in the end, thirteen people had gathered just west of Punkin Center, and Sam had been in charge from the beginning.

She was trained for military command; she was practiced in working with a tiny, close-knit team, where most of the interpersonal issues had been long since settled. She didn't feel prepared for the volatile combination of fear and fury she was faced with now, coming from spouses and children who had finally learned the truth about their loved one's life on the same day that they'd learned of their likely death. They wanted someone to tell them what to do, and they wanted someone to blame, and there she was, twice over.

There were fewer voices on the shortwave now, but still enough that they knew to stay away from populated areas. At first they'd gone southeast as a way to avoid the winds pushing fallout from the Mountain more to the north. As of about an hour ago, they were going southeast because Pam had an aunt in Louisiana who'd been farming corn alone since she was widowed, and hell, they had to go somewhere. It had taken most of the day for Sam to get everyone on board with the idea; once she was sure she had them, she'd formalized it with a vote, which she thought might make them feel better about the whole thing. Then she'd said she was taking a walk and left the road, going up and over the grassy rise to the east. She'd laid down on the ground, and stared at the clouds-it was a beautiful day, blue sky and a few cumulus clouds and the faintest twinge of fall in the air-and tried not to think about a damn thing.

It was terribly quiet, and she could hear the occasional voice coming up from the road, too far away to identify. She was probably far enough away to cry a little, if she kept it down. The thought was tempting, but Sam was a little worried about where it might lead, so she thought about grasshoppers instead.

A sound behind her, and the grasshopper leapt off of her leg in an explosion of hidden wings. Sam rolled enough to see Daniel coming over the top of the rise, then flopped onto her back, shifting around until the bunchgrass stopped tickling her side.

If her yard was still there, it would be dry by now, with the sprinklers not working. Poor grass.


"Afraid I was going to walk to Mexico?" Sam didn't look up, though she could see Daniel out of the corner of one eye. His shadow was a dark streak reaching eastward; the sun must be going down. It'd be behind the hill, soon, and she'd probably want a jacket.

"Just checking in. I think we're going to eat soon." He hesitated, then lowered himself to sit next to her, close enough that she imagined she could feel his presence even after she closed her eyes. They were quiet together for a while; she could hear the dry sound of Daniel running his fingers through the grass, the slight breeze, a birdcall-what kind, she wondered? Her brother would have known. Mark took her birding every time she visited him.

It was Sam who broke the silence eventually, rolling her head to the side and looking up at him. "Has Becky changed her mind yet?"

"No, not yet." Daniel's lips didn't smile, but she knew him well enough to hear the humor in his voice. "Give it a few more hours. She knows she's outnumbered, though."

"Mmm." She hesitated for a moment, but this was Daniel, so she could spit it out. "Seriously, what do you think? Is this the right thing to do?"

Daniel made a face, stretched himself out on his side next to her, pillowing his head on one arm. "How can we know? We know that for now we want to be as far from the Stargate as possible. We know something bad happened in the cities, which may mean it's not safe for us to go in, if it's contagious. We know winter's coming on. So why not Louisiana? It's somewhere to go."

"I'm a soldier," she said, looking back out at the sky. "I just don't know… if this is what I should be doing. It feels like running away. I mean, it is running away. So I don't feel… sure." She smiled a little, not meaning it. "Don't tell anyone, though."

"Cross my heart and hope to die," Daniel said. "Besides, I've been hanging around with you people for a while now, and I'm fairly certain that 'retreat' is a time-honored military strategy."

"Well, so is death with honor."

"I've never liked that one much," Daniel said promptly. "Not when it's avoidable," he corrected, as she looked over at him with raised eyebrows. "Kelowna wasn't."

"Hmm." Sam rolled over onto her side with a frown, mirroring his position. "Are you all right? You look tired."

"No more than anyone else," he said. "I'm okay."

"Okay." Sam reached and took his free hand with her own, squeezing it. "I'm really glad you're here, you know." She wanted the Colonel, she wanted Teal'c and General Hammond and a base's worth of SFs at her back, she wanted whatever had happened not to have happened. But at least she had Daniel, solid enough to stand on. There'd been a time when she wouldn't have been comforted by that, but he'd settled over the years, or she'd gotten to know him better. Both, probably. The Colonel, defying all reason, had been willing to count on him from the very beginning.

His hand was warm in hers, and he was so solid, body and presence, and she wanted to touch his face, so she did. There was the slightest rasp of stubble, grown since he'd shaved in the stream that morning, and she moved her fingertips back and forth, enjoying the way it rasped against her skin. She expected him to pull away like he had on Vis Uban, but he closed his eyes instead, face parked in neutral. So that was all right, and she explored for a while, tracing over Daniel's cheek and eyebrow, under the jaw, up to his lips. They twitched a little when she reached them, just barely hinting at a smile, and so she kissed him.

Sam had thought about it before, from time to time. He'd been married, and then her dance card for complicated attractions had been full, but she loved him and trusted him and so of course she'd held the possibility up and looked at it every now and then. The thought had always made her a little wistful before she put it away, except for the times when she dropped it after being reminded just how crazy he could drive her. Besides, she'd always kind of thought it would be weird, touching an old friend like this. As it turned out, it wasn't, so much. A little awkward, yes-she was out of practice, and she guessed he was too-but not strange, really. Just… more. Good more; Daniel's lips opening under her own, the gentle bump of his nose against hers, the hiss of his breath when they finally had to break apart. He rolled onto his back, stroking one hand up through her hair just like he'd been stroking through the grass a few minutes earlier, and she followed him, mouth less tender and more insistent. He tugged her shirt free, slid one hand up her back, and she inhaled sharply, nuzzling at his neck.

Then a voice came over the rise.

They froze, listening. A man answered, faintly, and then it was quiet again. Not looking for them, then. This is a bad idea, Sam thought, but this was supposed to be her chance not to think, and Daniel's hand had slid back down to cup her ass, and God, it was good, tiny stroking motions of his thumb right down the middle, lower and lower each time.

Sam raised up, and Daniel stopped moving, looking at her with the faintest of frowns. She was afraid he might say something, and so she laid her hand against his lips. "We have to be quiet," she murmured very low, and reached up to slip his glasses off of his face, settling them in a clump of grass farther up the hill.

She expected agreement, affirmation, argument, something, but there was none of that, just hands slipping back up her body, tugging her shirt upward. Sam sat up, straddling his waist, and pulled it off over her head. She got one arm stuck, and had to yank it free. When she could see again, he was smiling, a smile that faded as he reached up to stroke one fingertip along the underside of her breast. She reached out and tugged at his shirt, pulling him upright until she was sitting in his lap, and oh, God, still good, Daniel's mouth moving lightly across her neck and shoulders, Daniel's fingertips stroking around her breasts, smooth on the satin of the off-duty bra she'd been stuck in for weeks. He was circling in, God, slowly, and when he finally stroked across her nipples with his thumbs it was all she could do not to cry out. His hands went away, and she pressed forward, unthinking, as he hissed "Wait. Wait, give me a... let me..."

He was fumbling with the buttons on his shirt; she pushed his hands away, did it for him, pressing a kiss to his chest for each button. He fumbled the clasp of her bra, finally giving up and hooking his chin over her shoulder so he could see what he was doing, and she couldn't help it, she began to laugh soundlessly against his neck, because it was so ridiculous, Daniel clumsy with her underwear on the side of a hill in Kansas, with eleven people sitting on the road over the hill and the world suddenly half-empty.

"If you're not careful, I'll take that personally," he murmured into her ear, but he couldn't have been seriously worried, because he followed this statement up by tugging her earlobe into his mouth and worrying it with his teeth. She grinned as she shifted off of him, flying on arousal and adrenaline and the way his gaze slid down her body. He looked worried for a moment, but she didn't explain, stripping herself down without any further care for grace. She was ready, dammit, she liked foreplay as much as the next girl but it had been a very long time and she was under a lot of stress and she was damn well ready for... oh, shit.

"What?" Daniel asked, voice coming back up to a normal volume. She flinched and held up both hands, and he dropped his voice back down to a whisper, sounding a little desperate--and no surprise, she thought, looking at where his cock was jutting up into the air. It had to have been a while for him, too. "What's wrong?"

"I don't have protection," she hissed.

Daniel yanked his pants the rest of the way off and came up onto all fours, leaning over her, and actually she had wanted to be on top, and she very nearly went to flip him over on his back before getting ahold of herself. "Okay, well, I don't know about you but I haven't had sex since the last time Janet said I was clean. Trust me." He was down on his forearms now, forehead pressed to hers, erection nudging her belly, and it was all she could do not to move up a little farther, guide him in. But no, dammit. No.

"When was your vasectomy?" she snapped quietly.

"Shit," Daniel moaned, closing his eyes for a second. Then he sighed, and opened his eyes, and kissed the very tip of her nose before sliding himself back down her body. "Don't fall asleep afterwards, 'cause I get a turn too," he murmured. Sam kind of thought there might be a rock digging into her back, but his tongue was inside her and his thumb was stroking down toward her clit and somehow it didn't matter, none of it mattered, and finally, finally, she wasn't thinking anymore.

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