AN: Ok, guys, this is it! Thanks for being so patient with me. I've already got notes for my next story, so hopefully you guys will like that one as much!

Chapter Sixteen

Three days later, Sam was finally allowed to leave the infirmary. She'd been a terrible patient, nagging and whining and complaining until several toys from her lab were brought in for her. On the third day, Dr. Brightman couldn't take it anymore. Sam was sent home and told to stay there until she was fully healed. Jack personally saw to it that she went home and stole her car keys to make sure she stayed there. He promised to return after he finished work for the day. He knew she was mad and bored out of her skull, but he knew she wouldn't try to get back to work on one crutch. If she'd had two crutches even, Jack knew she'd try - two crutches would mean she didn't have to bear any weight on her injured leg. Luckily, the wound to her shoulder prevented the use of a second crutch.

Being the boss had its privileges. Jack smuggled several more things out of Sam's lab - things he was reasonably sure wouldn't cause any harm - and took them to Sam's house. She actually squealed with delight when she saw them, but Jack refused to turn them over.

"You haven't held up your end of the bargain." He sat on the side of her bed, finally free to kiss her without having to check if someone was watching. He took full advantage of the opportunity.

Sam's eyes remained closed after he pulled away. A soft smile played across her lips. "I thought you'd never get here."

He couldn't resist leaning in for another kiss, not with the way she enjoyed the first. "So, how'd you know?"

Her eyes snapped open. "Know what?"

Jack chuckled. As mean as it was, he almost liked Sam better on painkillers. The meds made her as easy to confuse as he normally was. "How'd you know when to give me the note?" Sam had been dodging the question for days and not knowing was driving Jack nuts.

Seeing no possible escape, Sam shrugged. "Well, you told me it was eighteen years, so that narrowed it down considerably."

"Which left only three hundred and sixty-five choices."

Sam flushed. "It's not really something I can explain."

"Try me." He crawled up onto the bed and put his arm around her shoulders, careful not to disturb her wounds.

She nestled her head against his chest. "Well, that day-"

"Which day?"

Sam hesitated, which only made Jack more curious. When she spoke, it all came out in one mumbled word. "ThedaythatyousaidIwasthemostbeautifulwomanyou'deverseen."

Jack grinned and kissed the top of her head. He could tell she was nervous to bring it up, probably wondering if it was still true. He realized that was the reason she'd been avoiding the conversation. "Sam, it was only a week ago."

"Yeah, so?" She was so anxious that she missed his point.

"So you're still the most beautiful woman I've ever seen."

She glanced up at him; her brow furrowed in thought. "Really?"

Jack nodded and kissed her again. "Really."

Apparently, it was exactly what she'd wanted to hear. "Well, when you said it, you had this look in your eyes - like you wanted me to hear something else. Something you weren't saying."

Her assessment of his stare had been dead on. It was almost frightening that she'd been able to read him so well even when she barely knew him. He knew she'd spent years analyzing it. "Don't tell me that look hasn't been there for years." He'd wanted to confess his feelings for her forever. It just hadn't ever seemed like the right time; he'd never really been sure it was worth risking their working relationship for something he'd always feared wasn't equally returned.

"It wasn't. Not like that." She snuggled into him. His arm reflexively tightened around her. "Believe me, I was looking for it." She snickered to herself. "I spent years thinking I'd imagined the whole thing. Then once I met you, I spent years thinking I'd imagined that look, even though you had that other one - that one that makes me think I'm going to melt."

"And here I thought I was being subtle." He wondered if it had always been so obvious. He hated to think all those rumors over the years had been his fault.

"It was the only thing that kept me from thinking I was completely insane." She reached up and took his hand. "I kept waiting for you to look at me the way you did back then. That night you showed up at my door, it was there. Then the next morning, it was gone."

"No wonder you were mad." Jack was surprised she hadn't inflicted serious damage on him.

"I was until we were in your office and I looked at you and saw how confused you were. You had no idea what I was talking about. Then I knew you'd gotten back too early. There were two of you running around and only one of you had your head screwed on straight."

"Yeah, it took a trip back in time for me to pry my head out of my ass."

Sam laughed. "That's such an eloquent way to put it."

"Somehow I'd expected a much more scientific answer."

"Of course, the fact that the solar flare activity was way off the charts for the first time in years helped too."

"Oh, well, that's much better." Jack was quiet for a minute while he pondered what she'd told him. "So what were you writing in that briefing? I thought you were working on that note you gave me."

She shook her head. "Nope. I was thinking of refinancing my mortgage and I was trying to figure out which would save me more money in the long run."

Jack started to laugh. There he'd been, thinking she was working on some important futuristic, fate of the world stuff. "So I guess you were right about Daniel not knowing physics equations if he tripped over them."

"You guys think you know me so well. I'm not always doing work, you know."

"Yet somehow it still looks like work. You'll have to teach me how to pull that off."

"Can I ask you something, Jack?"

"I think you just did."

"I'll take that as a yes." She grinned up at him. "What were you thinking? When you looked at me that day. It was so intense and I've been wondering for almost twenty years."

Jack smiled at her and began pressing a series of kisses everywhere on her face that he could reach. "I was thinking you shouldn't have to wait anymore."

"Well, I did wait all those years."

"Exactly." He leaned down and kissed the tip of her nose.

She smiled for a moment before her expression turned serious. "What are we going to do? This wasn't exactly well thought out."

Jack sat up, abruptly moving away from her. Sam stared at him, fear and hurt emanating from her face. He wanted to stay close and cuddle with her, but he thought it would be best if he stayed out of reach when he said what he needed to. While she'd been recovering, he'd been thinking. Unfortunately, he wasn't particularly pleased with what he'd figured out. He was hunched over, sitting on the edge of her bed with his face in his hands. He couldn't look at her.

"Jack?"

He reached for her hand, clutching it tightly in his. "I talked to Hammond."

Sam pulled her hand away, folding her arms across her chest. "And he told you to break it off. Of course he did."

"Of course he didn't. He was surprised it took as long as it did." His heart broke when he peeked over at her. She was trying as hard as she could not to cry, but she couldn't stop the tears that had begun to spill out. "Sam, stop, it's ok." He reached out again, lacing his fingers through hers. "He suggested a solution. It's just not exactly what I was hoping for."

She met his eyes, not even bothering to wipe at her tears. "What did he say?"

Letting go of her hand, he touched her face and gently wiped away her tears. "He's retiring."

"How is that supposed to help?" She pulled away from him once again, angrily rubbing at her eyes. He knew she was mad at herself for being unable to hide her emotional response, but he could hardly blame her. She thought she was going to lose him after only just getting him.

He winced at the thought of his next words. It wasn't what he wanted at all, but it would buy them some time. "When he retires in a few weeks, he's going to highly recommend that I replace him, which would mean I won't be your CO anymore."

She stared straight into his eyes and he saw the wheels turning. Unfortunately, he also saw when they ground to a halt and she closed her eyes against another wave of tears. "Which means you'll be in DC."

He leaned forward, capturing her lips in a gentle kiss. He spoke softly, wanting to reassure her even though he was the one pulling the rug out from under her. "It's not that far, baby."

"It's only two thousand miles, no big deal, right?"

"It's not going to be permanent, Sam. It's just for now."

She shook her head and met his eyes resolutely. "I can't do this. We'll never see each other." She struggled to sit up, so determined to get away from him that she momentarily forgot her injures. "It was a mistake. A huge mistake. We should have known better."

She barely made it to her feet before the pain was too strong for her muscles. Jack caught her easily as she collapsed back against him. "Sam, stop."

She shook her head again, so hard it seemed she was trying to dry her tears. "Look, you don't have to go to DC. Let's just pretend nothing happened. It won't interfere at work. It never has before."

He held her close, knowing she wasn't healed enough to fight her way free of his embrace. "It's only going to be a few months, Sam. Then I can retire and come back and we can get married and everything will be fine. A couple months, Sam. Four kids from now and you won't even remember it."

Sam stopped struggling and remained motionless in his arms for several minutes. Her head turned slightly toward him. "Married?"

"Unless you need more time to think about it."

She turned to meet his eyes again. "I've had twenty God-damned years to think about it, Jack."

He grinned and kissed her cheek. "Was that a yes?"

Her face broke into a wide smile. "We're going to have to discuss those four kids though."

"What? You want more?"

"Something tells me I'll have my hands full with you."

"So was that a yes?"

Sam grinned and kissed him on the lips. "Yes."

"To the kids or the marriage?"

"Jack?" She stopped to kiss him again.

"Yes, Sam?"

"I love you. Now shut up." Then she kissed him again.

It was all the answer he needed.