Author's note: I almost forgot it was Monday! Here's the final chapter. Thanks for the interest - I'm glad you seem to be enjoying it! As always, merci beaucoup to Diane for the beta work. This is a little different from what she last saw, so if there are any errors, they're mine! Have a good week, everyone.

Falling in Stages 4/4
By: Mariel

-Stage 4-

Jack put the phone down and sighed. He'd gone straight home after seeing Samantha off at the subway station the night before, but once home had found himself unable to sleep. That hadn't surprised him. Like the wind-driven snow in the air outside, thoughts of the evening and his parting from Samantha roiled in his mind, refusing to be ignored. It wasn't long before he gave up on sleeping and rose, thinking he'd catch up on some paperwork. A look outside the window had made him decide that it might be a good idea to get in to work before the plows got too far behind the snowfall.

Now, safely ensconced in his office, the winter morning light just beginning to turn the dark sky grey, it was obvious the city wouldn't be opening for business as usual. As he'd predicted, the plows had lost their battle against the weather - even at 4 a.m., he'd found the streets impassable and had ended up leaving his car in a car park five city blocks away. Since then, heavy snow and high winds had continued to clog the streets with drifts impossible for commuters and taxis to slog their way through. Faced with the decision of trying to turn back and walk home or continuing on, he had opted to walk the rest of the way to the Bureau.

At around seven o'clock, his phone had begun to ring. Danny and Martin had both called to say they weren't sure how long it would take to get in. He'd told them not to bother trying, and given them the day off. After hanging up with Danny, he'd phoned Samantha to tell her the same, but got no reply. Next, he'd phoned Vivian and told her not to come. In the time since then, he'd paused from his work occasionally to call Samantha's number, hoping to reach her. He wondered where she was that she wasn't answering. He was lifting the receiver to try her again when a wet and bedraggled woman leaned into his doorway.

"Hey. Up for a snowball fight?"

"Sorry," he said, relief that she was safe flooding over him, "I've given them up. I always lose."

"Then I'm sorry I didn't bring a snowball or two up with me!" she grinned. "Sorry I'm late, by the way. I left the apartment an hour earlier than usual, but it's murder out there. Where is everyone?"

Glad for her explanation, he told her, "Home, where they belong - and where you'd be if I'd been smart enough to call you earlier."

She looked at him blankly. "Home?"

"Sam, how many people did you see on the way here?" His eyes glittered with amusement. "There's a blizzard happening. The city's all but shut down. This building is almost empty. Everyone's home today. Take a look at it out there. "

"I don't have to," she said, taking off her snow sodden hat and shaking it in front of her. "I was out there, remember? It's not totally impossible, though," she said in her defence. "Vivian lives farther out, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, but Danny and Martin are just wimps." Brushing wet strands of hair out of her face, she said, "I'm going to dry off a bit. I'll be right back."

Twenty minutes later, she returned, her still-damp hair pulled back into a sleek pony tail, her face still rosy from the cold.

"God, there must be four feet of snow out there," she said, slumping into a chair.

"And you walked through it just to be here? I'm impressed."

"You should be. My dedication knows no bounds."

"Obviously."

"So we're the only ones here?"

He nodded.

"Two peas in a pod," she grinned. "So what do we do? Old cases?"

"You could go home."

She crossed one long leg over the other and settled back even more. "So could you," she shot back. "But I'm here now, and I'll be damned if I'm going out in that again anytime soon. Do you have any idea what it took to get here?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. I had to leave my car in a car park and walk five blocks to get here."

"Huh," she snorted. "I woke up early, realised the weather was going to be a mess, and decided it'd be better to leave early and take a taxi here than it would be to try to walk to the subway station. I waited almost forty-five minutes for it to show up, and when it did, it was driven by a madman who drove like a maniac and barely got me a quarter of the way here before he drove himself into a snowbank. He was totally useless - you'd think he'd never driven in snow before, and I know damned well he has because his New York accent is thicker than the mayor's. Anyways," she said, waving her hands for emphasis, "I got out and tried to help him by pushing the car. That didn't work, so we tried digging the damned thing out, but as fast as we shovelled, the wind blew the snow back. I finally gave up and left him there. I'm sure he's there still. I found the subway, waited far too long for a train to come along, took it to my usual stop, and trudged through five foot drifts the rest of the way here." She stopped for breath.

Jack noted with amusement that her snow drifts had deepened by a foot since she'd arrived, but said nothing. Instead, he raised and then dropped his hands in defeat. "Okay, your story beats mine, hands down. I'm glad you could make it. And yes, you can pull out some cold cases. We've nothing new on the books today, thank God, and there's nothing we can do on the Gerald case until we can get out and interview more people."

"I suppose if there's not much to do today, it means the missing reports will come flooding in tomorrow," she observed.

He nodded. "So enjoy the quiet before the storm."

She smiled and rose. "Yes, sir."

He watched her leave. There had been no outward sign to hint of what had passed between them the night before, but it had been in the room with them, the memory of it pulsing through their veins and warming the air between them. Conscious of her presence in the room outside, he sighed and settled down to read the papers in front of him, doing his best to set thoughts of her aside. After all, they were at work.

-JS-

"It's noon. I'm hungry. Where are we going?"

Jack put down the file he was reading and looked up. "Where are we going?"

"Yes - where are we going? I'm hungry. You are, too. We've got to go out to find something to eat or we'll starve to death." Samantha placed her hands on her hips and regarded him steadily. She'd worked diligently all morning, always conscious of his warm presence only yards away. Now it was time to spend some time with him. With the weather outside what it was, though, she knew he would have to be goaded into leaving the premises."If you don't hurry, I'll have to hold you responsible for the consequences."

He shook his head and sat back to regard her with amusement. "You're going to have to do something about that tone. Some might call it downright insubordinate."

"Today there is no rank. We're marooned in an arctic world of ice and snow. Survival is our only concern, and food is an important component of that," she said flippantly. "And company," she added.

'And company' - the magic words. Jack rose and walked over to the coat tree. Picking up his coat, he said, "Then I guess we'll have to see that you get both. Explaining your death would be too much of a bother - the last thing I need is more paperwork. God knows if there's anything open, though. There's nothing here we can eat?"

"I've already tried the fridge in the staff room. There's nothing in it but science projects and one of Martin's sandwiches."

"Then we've obviously got to brave the storm. I still say there'll be nothing open. And you may still end up hungry."

Samantha smiled, sure that somewhere near a restaurant was waiting for them. Ignoring his warning, she matched his stride as they walked to where her coat was kept.

Jack watched as she removed her shoes and put on her boots, then helped her on with her coat.

Pulling her gloves and hat out of her pocket, she put them on. Looking up, she caught him watching her and joked, "Not elegant, but I'll be warm,' she said. She paused to look at him. "Where's your hat?"

"Real men don't wear hats."

"Then real men are stupid. And colder than they need to be." Wrapping a scarf around her neck and tossing the end of it over her shoulder dramatically, she strode to the elevator without looking back.

Wind gusted ferociously down canyons formed by tall buildings on each side of the street. Buffetted by a sudden blast of air that nearly took her off her feet, Samantha paused, thinking perhaps this had not been such a good idea. Jack, however, reached back and took her hand and the thought dissolved. Together, they trudged through knee-high drifts, past stores and restaurants with 'closed' signs in their windows.

After a block, Jack turned his back to the wind and yelled over the howling wind: "Are you sure you want to keep going? It looks like there's nothing open anywhere."

Samantha raised her voice and replied, "There's a Chinese restaurant just around the corner on the next block. Chinese restaurants are always open."

Jack shook his head, took her hand again, and resumed their trek.

Ten minutes later, they found themselves the only patrons of a small hole-in-the-wall Chinese food joint with an obliging red neon 'Open' sign in its window. Pulling the door closed behind them, they turned and stomped snow off their boots.

Choosing their table, they looked at the menu, made their choices, and settled in.

"Jack, your ears. They're bright red."

He held his hands over them. "It's cold out there."

"But real men don't wear hats," she snorted.

"We all have our failings," he smiled. "You look good with colour in your cheeks," he noted, feeling shy as he did so.

She smiled, her eyes sparkling. "Nice to know some good came out of our arctic adventure."

When their food came, they spoke desultorily about the cold case Samantha had worked on that morning. It had been the first case she'd been on after joining the Missing Persons Bureau, and, as was the case for most agents with their first unsolved case, she had never quite given up on solving it.

Deep in conversation, they found that time flew quickly. They enjoyed their food, and felt their senses heightened by the other's presence. Once, when their hands accidentally touched, they paused. When the jangle of the door bell announced the arrival of others willing to brave the storm in search of food, Samantha looked at her watch. While the new arrivals stomped snow from their boots, Samantha said, "It's two o'clock. I think we'd better get back."

Jack turned to look out the window. The blizzard still raged outside, gusts of wind carrying sheets of snow skittering along the street. As he watched, a bluster of wind picked up snow from the top of one drift, tossed it around in the air, and then dropped it onto the top of another.

"You should probably go home, Sam. Nothing's moving out there but the snow."

"I left my keys at the Bureau, so I have to go back. I'll decide what to do once we get there."

Jack nodded. They rose, paid the bill, and stepped out into the storm once again. Jack automatically reached out and took Samantha's hand.

-JS-

Two hours later, Samantha stood in front of a window, hands on her slender hips. Seeing Jack's approaching figure reflected in the darkened glass, she said, "It wasn't supposed to last this long. Big storms never last this long."

Jack moved up beside her to look out at a dark world filled with swirling dirvishes of wind-driven white. "Weather report says it'll end sometime tomorrow."

She turned to him. "Tomorrow?!"

His response was cut short when his phone rang. Samantha remained where she was while he strode back to his office. Watching the storm, she wondered where she'd stay the night. The subways had been closed down an hour ago.

Jack returned. "That was Maria. I told her I'm staying here or at the Baltimore, if they have a room."

Samantha turned her head slowly and met his eyes. The desire to move towards him and continue what they had begun the night before filled her again. This was their chance. No more pretense, no more trying to ignore what was happening. She could feel his presence, feel his need meet with her own. She wanted to taste him again and feel his body pressed against hers. Adultrous as she knew their feelings were, she felt overwhelmed by them, and wanted, wanted so badly to just this once let go and love him and be loved in return. She forced herself to turn away, her heart beating with laboured thuds. They had said nothing today of the night before; it hadn't seemed necessary. Or wise. Looking away, she wondered with a tremor if that had been the way to handle it. Had she misinterpreted something? Was he regretting what had happened?

For a long moment, they stood together in silence, looking out at the storm. More conscious of each other than they had ever been, the air seemed to thicken so much it felt hard to breathe. Cut off from the rest of the world, their awareness of the storm faded as their awareness of each other heightened. Finally, Jack gave in to it and touched her shoulder.

"I'm going to try for a room, if I can get one." He stopped to swallow. Then, into the electrified silence that had followed his words, he asked in a low tone, "Do you need a place to stay?"

She turned from the raging world outside and let herself fall into the sudden calm that enveloped them when their eyes met.

No one would ever know. If it were to be just this once....

Her gaze never wavering from his, she nodded.

End
Falling in Stages 4/4
Okay. Strange place to stop, maybe. I'm not sure. I'm toying around with the idea of creating two more sets of vignettes, one about the deepening relationship of the affair itself, one about the stages involved in its demise. Sound like an idea, or just a waste of words? I need some feedback for this, if anyone has the time. Thanks to everyone who reads and reviews! -Mariel