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A Curve of His Own

by Linda Bindner

A/N: A tag to the third season episode 'Learning Curve.'

Colonel O'Neill slowly sauntered into Carter's lab, the beginnings of a smile on his face. “Oh, Carter....” he called in a sing song voice, as if he was calling a Carter of the canine variety. “I have something for you,” he continued to sing, all the while looking for Carter in the shadows of the room, around the desk, under her workbench... He was of the experience that one never knew just where Carter might be next. When he didn't find her somehow prone on the floor, working on the underbelly of some obscure doohickey, his gaze slid towards the bank of computers along the east wall. She sometimes got caught up in doing something impressive with all those blinking lights, and he found her there. But this again proved to be empty of human components. Stumped, he was just thinking that he would have to try the Control Room next in order to find her when a scraping sound coming from the far corner of her lab arrested him.

O'Neill shifted the papers in his hand to the top of her scarred worktable, then followed the noise. He rounded some new monstrosity sitting in the corner, and his eyes finally lighted on some blonde hair. The head it was attached to sat abnormally still as she studied what looked like some kind of enlarged power outlet stuck into the wall. Since she was still bent on ignoring any noise he made, O'Neill carefully bent down to be at her level so that he could talk to her.

“Carter!” he barked in her ear, and had the extreme satisfaction of watching her jump at the sudden increase in noise. She immediately lost her tenuous balance, and fell back against him in an undignified heap of Carter, wires, tools, and electrical tape. Jack caught her before she ended up as a puddle on the lab floor.

Oh, yeah, Jack instantly thought in delight before O'Neill had the chance to set her on her feet again. This is soooooo going in the memory books! It had been so long since he'd been handed a reason to touch Major Carter that he wasn't about to waste the opportunity when it literally fell into his lap like this!

Jack let his hands touch her shoulders for just a minute longer than absolutely necessary before allowing Colonel O'Neill to push her upright again. “Carter,” O'Neill said now that Jack had had his fun and turned things back over to him. “Whatchadoin?”

Sam was initially a bit fazed to find herself so intimately staring into the brown eyes of Jack O'Neill. She didn't know what to say to Jack! She didn't know what to do with him, either. But before she had the chance to even wonder what was going on, the man who had starred in all of her erotic dreams for years took on the more familiar expression of her commanding officer a mere blink later. Him she (unfortunately) knew how to handle. “Sir! she exclaimed. “When did you get back?”

“Just now,” he told her as his arms fell away. He instantly missed touching her, of course, but as they were on base, it was the most he could get away with. Not that there was anything going on that would necessitate the idea of getting away with anything in particular (more's the pity), but even if there were, the security cameras were always around to keep things on an extremely bland professional plane. The odd touch was to be expected when he had crept up on her like that, but too much touching was just... too much. O'Neill gave a mournful sigh as Jack was once again buried under protocol, as was expected. “I didn't mean to scare you like that,” he again insisted, and helped her to stand. “Whatcha working on so hard that you ignore something like your CO showing up in your lab?” He teased, “That doesn't do nice things to your CO's ego, ya know.”

Ironically, Sam snorted in amusement. “Forgive me for saying so, Sir, but I think your ego's going to be just fine in spite of anything I do to it.”

O'Neill's eyebrow rose in a curve showing his own amusement. “So what you're saying is that my ego is big enough already.”

Sam's second snort echoed her first. “I would predict that you're safe from any future ego bruisings, Sir.”

“Yeah,” O'Neill lamented, particularly thinking over her last word. “You're probably right.”

When he didn't add anything of an explanatory nature to his agreement, she asked, “Can I do something for you, Sir?”

Yeah, Jack tauntingly thought. And it doesn't end with 'Sir.' After a moment, he added, 'It doesn't start with it, either.'

Obviously, Jack wasn't as far buried as O'Neill had thought he was. O'Neill was fast to cover those Jack-thoughts, but knew that Carter was quick enough to catch even the hint of naughtiness that crossed his eyes. However, the blush that instantly suffused her facial skin was worth the slight slip in his concentration. He wanted to keep Jack under wraps while he was at work or around other people, and especially when he was spending time with her, but he couldn't help reveling in that slip nontheless. If it made her blush like this, he would have to 'let it slip' again when the opportunity arose. Such as when they were alone... or alone... or... of course, when were they ever alone? One of them always made sure they weren't - just for this reason.

“Sir?” Carter repeated when he did nothing but stare at her.

“Uh, sorry,” O'Neill quickly said, jerking out of his frozen pose. “I was just thinking... about a Jaffa problem,” and he twirled his index finger next to his temple to indicate hurried thought.

Sam smirked, but attempted to cover it with her ultra-serious expression. “Haven't we been having Jaffa problems for years, Sir? What could we possibly do differently with them?” Then her eyes twinkled, in spite of her serious expression. “Should we send them pets?”

“Hey,” O'Neill instantly intoned, the thought of pet-friendly Jaffa superseding Jack's need to come out and play. “That's not a bad idea...” His voice trailed off as he lost himself in that idea, too.

Sam cleared her throat as a way to hurry him passed this second need for furious thought.

Successfully hurried, he interrupted her. “Oh, no, so not goin' there.”

There? “I thought you went to Orban?”

“I did,” O'Neill abruptly told her, grabbing onto this new topic as a way to distract her - any topic would do.

Carter mercifully allowed herself to be distracted. “So, how's..?”

He didn't even give her the chance to finish her sentence. “Merrin says hello, by the way.” His grin eclipsed anything she might add to that. “She sent back that book you lent her.” His hands widened with the memory of Merrin's enthusiasm. “She said it was just what she wanted, and to send more on the same topic.” There he paused. “Next time, though, try sending her something thinner.” His grimace marred his features. “I could barely lift it in order to take it through the Gate.”

Sam's smirk didn't lessen even if she suspected he was joking. “I'll keep that in mind, Sir, though books on wormhole physics are so few that only the really thick ones are any good.” She bobbed her head once. “But I'll keep in mind for next time.”

“You do that,” O'Neill invited, though suspected that she was just humoring him. He then crossed back to the pile he'd left on her bench. “Here's your book she sent back.” He hefted a tome at least two inches thick into the air. “She said 'Thanks for the light reading.'”

Taking his comment at face value, Carter instantly grew surprised that Merrin was learning so quickly. “She said that?” she ascertained.

“That and more,” O'Neill assured, then ruefully added, “Much more.”

Sam brightened. “Then she's talking better?”

O'Neill scoffed. “Are you kidding? I couldn't shut her up.” Yeah, especially about something called 'the Schwarzschild metric.' he internally groused, thinking that science was once again luring off a perfectly respectable person into its dubious realms. If Merrin became a scientist again, the universe was sure to lose a talented artist.

To that end, Sam picked up the paper just under her book. “What's this? It looks like... is that Daniel?”

The picture was sort of boxy, done in watercolors, of some kind of blob with glasses, surrounded by what looked like the ruins of some ancient culture that the artist had named 'the Astercs.' The person delving through the ruins was surrounded by cups and saucers and pots and plates and pictographs - he... or 'it'... slightly resembled their archaeological friend.

“Tomin gave that to me just before I left. Here's one of Teal'c that he did. He didn't quite know what a Goa'uld looks like, but he said that he gave it his best shot.”

The picture was more obviously of Teal'c this time, or at least was a Jaffa in full warrior regalia. What looked like a tiny dragon protruded from the region near where the warrior's stomach was located. Though the young boy knew that Teal'c no longer relied on a symbiote for life, the look on the warrior's face was something like alarm that the dragon was leaving him. “He said something about a Jaffa dying when a host can't be found for a Goa'uld - said that Teal'c and him had talked about it before his 'O' thing.”

“Ovarium, Sir,” Sam patiently reminded him.

“I knew that,” O'Neill pointed out in a petulant tone.

Sam grinned. “I'm sure Teal'c will love this.” She tilted the picture so that it pointed one way, then turned it back so that it faced the other, eyeing it critically. “You know, he got that look of fear on Teal'c's face just right this time.”

O'Neill joined her in eyeballing the picture. “Ya think? I don't know. Thought he did a bit better on that picture a few months ago. You know, that one with the snake biting Teal'c.”

Sam frowned. “I thought it was Teal'c biting the snake that time.”

O'Neill shrugged. It was hard to tell what was going on in Tomin's pictures some of the time. “At any rate, I know where this picture is going. Right up there on his wall next to all the others.”

Sam's smile blossomed. “Pretty soon Teal'c's going to be able to wallpaper his entire quarters with this same picture. How many does he have, anyway?”

O'Neill wasn't any more immune to that smile of hers than Jack, though he tried hard to convince himself that he was. “This is Teal'c's second set of wallpaper,” he informed her. Then he dug through the pictures to pull up one more sheet. “Merrin also sent this along to you. She said she'll do better next time - she needs to come visit you for a bit more accuracy - she wasn't sure she got your lab just right.” He rolled his eyes in wry affection. “You know artists,” and he gave his eyes another roll, the wryness growing. “Real artists, I mean,” he added, eyeing Tomin's picture. Tomin tried hard, but there was really no comparison between his attempt at art and Merrin's.

Actually, Sam didn't know much of anything about artists. She was much more comfortable talking with Merrin-the-scientist rather than Merrin-the-artist, but even she had an eye trained well enough to note the amount of raw talent she was staring at.

This picture of Merrin's was far and away the best she had seen so far. Done in colored pencils, Merrin had rendered Sam standing in her lab, a bank of blinking lights behind her, the table stretching away into the corner of the picture. Sam briefly wondered how the Orbanian had managed to depict blinking lights on a still page, but was quickly arrested by the object in the center of the picture.

Clearly the focus, Merrin had captured Sam at her most intimate best. The Sam in the picture was dressed in shapeless blue BDUs, but was still able to somehow give definition to the generic clothing. Ignoring the lights and doohickeys arranged on the table behind her, she was instead staring at a pot of purple flowers set on a file cabinet in the corner of the lab. As she stared, an idea must have come to the depicted person, for her blue eyes winked a cadence to the lights blinking behind her.

But it was the expression on the face of picture-Sam that really captured the attention. Besides her eyes lighting up, the look of wonder on her face was extremely deep for have been drawn by such a young artist.

“Wow,” Sam whispered.

“Yeah,” grinned O'Neill. “That's what I thought.”

“What that girl can do with simple old colored pencils.” Sam shook her head, amazed. “How old is she now?”

“15,” O'Neill instantly answered. “Unbelievable.”

“That a 15 year old can't do better?”

O'Neill's forehead furrowed. “Better?! No! I meant that she draws like she's a heck of a lot older! She asked me to get her some drawing books for next time, something a bit more existential than the ones I brought. Seems she's already beyond the horses and kitty cats from that children's drawing guide I gave her last year.”

Sam nodded her head in awe. “She's a fast learner... even without her nanites.”

O'Neill then drew out another piece of paper. “And look at this one of Daniel she drew. She hasn't even met him that I know of. Tomin told me that she did it one night when he was just describing Daniel to her.” The picture was in pencil, of a man wearing geeky glasses, staring at the pages of one of the thickest books that Sam had ever seen - and she'd seen some pretty thick books by now! He was so intent on the volume in front of him that he missed the fact that an entire series of other books were in the process of falling off the shelf behind him to lay in scattered heaps on the floor. The rain of books didn't even mar the concentration apparent in the man. It was as if the world didn't exist outside himself and the single book he was staring at.

Sam's fond smile did weird things to O'Neill's stomach. It gave a flip, righted itself, then flipped the other way. Jack reveled in the out-of-control sensation. “Yep,” Sam was saying. “She caught Daniel perfectly.”

O'Neill sighed, trying to set his stomach to rights without her noticing. “I'm gonna show this to Daniel next.” His grin grew. “But I wanted to give this one to you first. Look, it even says...”

Sam giggled. “To Major Karter.”

He ignored the obvious misspelling, and instead pointed at a figure painted into the right hand corner of the picture.

“Yep, it's me!” Sam said, noting the typical Merrin-mark-of-artistry that graced all her pictures. The mark was a stick figure with blonde, spiky hair. The figure's left stick hand ended in a letter 'M' that trailed off and out of the picture. “She's used that same mark for every picture I have.”

And O'Neill knew just how many pictures that was. He copied every picture Merrin gave to him, especially those of Sam, shrinking the copy, then storing it in a box that he kept in the boxsprings under his bed. Jack had already copied this particular Merrin special, and it was even now waiting inside a folder marked 'confidential' in his office just prior to a trip home. There was no way that he couldn't positively treasure a Carter rendition that sparkled so. He secretly wondered if Merrin hadn't drawn it with him in mind. She was getting much too prescient for his comfort level as she got older. But that was another topic that he wouldn't bother Carter with just now.

Instead, he admired the picture in Carter's hands. “One for the portfolio that you're saving, eh, Carter?”

“I'd say.” Sam sighed to show how she agreed with his assessment of the picture. “By the time she's twenty, I'll be saying 'I knew her when...'”

“We all will.” O'Neill gave a proud smile, then gathered up the other pictures in his pile and prepared to leave the lab in search of Daniel and Teal'c to give them their pictures. “Well, I'll leave that in your capable hands, Carter. Gotta go find Danny next.” He was about to leave the lab when he turned back to give her what was definitely the special O'Neill smirk. “Oh, and Carter?”

She glanced up as he said her name. “Yes?”

His grin widened as he gestured towards her picture. “If I had known that talking to your plants like that always helps you in figuring out your doohickeys faster, I'd have bought you an entire garden for your lab a long time ago.” His forehead wrinkled in mock curiosity. “Do you think I could get away with charging that to the Air Force? Where would a charge like that go, do you reckon? Under 'miscellaneous admin?'

Sam sent him her own look of mock teasing. “Maybe 'idea generator' would be better.”

His grin grew decidedly evil. “Think I'll tell McKay about this. He'll get such a kick out of his hero talking to her plants.”

O'Neill escaped the lab, smirking all the while, but absently wondered what she would say to the dozen roses he'd ordered for her the minute he got back from Orban. After all, 'a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.' Maybe Merrin could paint them for him...

But right now, he smelled victory as well as roses. Carter hadn't called him 'Sir' for at least the last five minutes. That was a victory in his book any day!

And it was all thanks to one Orbanian 15 year old girl/artist/scientist/geek extraordinaire. With that kind of help, Carter wouldn't know what hit her!

The End

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