When she was a kid, Sam had a map of the States on her wall, every new wall above every new bed in every new house. She circled the towns and cities they'd lived in, first with crayon, then with pencil, then with ink. For a couple of years she looked at it and imagined where they might go next: Florida, maybe, near Cape Canaveral, or D.C. and the Smithsonian. A year or two later and the map was what she turned to in anger, flinging her arm out dramatically to point out all the places where she'd been happy and had friends and why did they have to move again? After that it was mostly a memory-goad: she'd lie on her back, tossing a softball at the ceiling, and think about the places she'd been and the ones she still wanted to see.
Idaho she doesn't really remember; Michigan, all she remembers is the snow, huge solid banks of it that came down in whirlwinds and clung to the wool of her mittens when she built snowmen. She picked up a drawl in Mississippi that got her teased in Oregon, especially when she answered more questions in class than the new girl should've been able to. Nevada was the first time she remembered liking a place for itself, rather than for the people there.
She'd expected to hate it, had just gotten used to Oregon's rain, and all that water's got you growing like a weed, her grandfather had said at Christmas, measuring her against the doorframe in the only house that had always been a constant. The bright orange of Nevada's bluffs almost hurt her eyes after Oregon's grays; it was too hot; the sun was too bright. The base was out in the boonies, too far from any real cities, and the towns within bicycle distance were full of other military families. Same old, same old.
Eventually she got over herself; eventually she learned to take water, sunscreen, the big floppy hat that she hated but that kept the bridge of her nose from freckling even more than it already did. Eventually, she started exploring.
Nevada, it turned out, was amazing. From a distance, all the sandstone rock formations looked the same. Up close, though, they were all different, striped with layers that had built up over millions of years and would take millions more to wear away.
The day Sam found the first fossil she'd ever seen outside a museum – what was left of something that had been around when the dinosaurs were there – was the first day she felt it. The sheer size of the place, the openness and the scale and the sharpness of the cloudless blue sky, and – Sam touched the rough shape of the fossil again – it literally took her breath away. She was the only person in sight and she actually couldn't breathe with the weight of it all, sitting on the desert floor with the heat baking her into the sand and the petroglyphs on the rock face swimming in front of her. She fell backwards, squinting up at the blazing sun, gasped for breath, and laughed for the simple joy of the immeasurably vast universe.
The fight they had about leaving Nevada lasted for ages, made more bitter by the fact that Sam knew it was pointless. Even worse, they ended up in Massachusetts in the middle of winter, surrounded by trees that crowded too close to see between and whose branches groaned under piles of wet snow. She couldn't breathe there, sometimes, but it was because there wasn't enough space to fill her lungs, and the air was so cold she coughed when she tried.
The Academy was the same, all low ceilings and concrete blocks and crowded rooms, gray walls and gray uniform sweats. It was nothing like the painful primary colours of Nevada, but the first time Sam tumbled down from the wall at the end of the obstacle course in the middle of the pack instead of the back, she bent over, hands on her knees, laughing in shallow pants. It got her some weird looks and a little extra hazing while she was a plebe. By the time she graduated, marching around the yard in precision formation with the rest of her class, she could keep the laughter inside and the grin off her face; she smiled to herself as joy whirled within her.
She held her breath the first time she got into a cockpit on her own, but the pressure there was just physics, gravity, velocity, acceleration. It was just as amazing as she'd expected – and she had expected it, had known going in that taking her own bird up into the sky would be one of the most incredible experiences of her life. She'd been right; there had been no surprises in her love for flying.
When Jonas kissed her and pushed a ring onto her finger, Sam felt laughter bubbling up in her throat. She fought it down, though, and kissed him back instead. It wouldn't be until years in the future and halfway across the galaxy that she would feel the same urge and recognize it for incipient hysteria. At the time she only knew she didn't want to have to explain her giggles.
For a while she worried that she'd grown out of it, whatever it was. The capacity to experience wonder? An appreciation for the small joys in life? Whatever it had been, it wasn't there any longer – not even in the lab; not even in the near-impossible equations the brass had her working on. The Stargate concept was great in theory, but she wanted to put some of her ideas into practice. NASA looked more and more tempting every day. She haunted forums, watching the Hubble photos pouring in, and yearned to be up there herself.
Standing in front of the Stargate – real, not just notations on a page – and feeling the gravitational pull of a wormhole dispelled that notion pretty fast. Sam stared at the event horizon and breathed in the scent of ozone and felt her heart leap in joy. Excitement fizzed inside her and she couldn't keep her grin off her face. She stumbled through the 'gate and out the other end and took a breath that expanded not only her lungs but her horizons.
Now, she doesn't have to hide behind professionalism or duty. She flops onto her back, staring up at the ceiling, and giggles helplessly as her stomach swoops and her skin tingles. She's giddy and gleeful and grinning so hard her cheeks hurt.
"Something funny?" Janet asks, cuddling close and draping an arm over Sam's naked torso.
"Nothing," Sam says, curling into her and pressing a kiss to her hair. "Just – the universe is a pretty amazing place, isn't it?"
"Astrophysicists," Janet mutters. Her lips curve into a smile against Sam's skin and Sam tightens her hold, feeling infinity spiral outwards.