A/N: Final chapter! So I shall take up some space.

Thank you to everyone who is still reading this after all this time, especially since the series has finished on our favourite couple. It's been a long story and it certainly didn't start out that way -7 chapters was the plan I usually say- but the story just kept evolving and writing itself. Some of the content from this chapter was written literally years ago and can now see the light of day.

A big thank you to Mariel, my beta and friend who has supported and helped me with understanding and patience. I don't know what I'd ever have done without her, or her help. My thanks to every person who took the time to review, it means a lot to me, and if you've never reviewed before, perhaps drop me one to say hi, I usually reply.

And to my Ladies -they know who they all are- we have good taste in actors! I wish I had met Anthony LaPaglia earlier in the piece instead of just last year, it could have helped some descriptive writing a lot more. He made Jack Malone more than just some random FBI agent and shines in any role.

And for the record, I called Jack Batman a long time before they ever did in the final, dreadful episode and if any WAT scriptwriter had been reading any of the WAT J/S fic by the fine authors around here, we would have had a better ending. No -a better final series.

Disclaimer: CBS still suck and I guess we can also count Warner Brothers in that too.

I think I shall rate this chapter M, for a change.

So here we go. I shall stop rabbitting and let you read, after all, that's why you're here. Enjoy!


Chapter 25 -Beginnings

Xx--

What can you say?

A 'yes' is usually appropriate at this time. She'd had experience before in this area, as had Jack.

But not actually with Jack.

What can you do?

"Sam?"

Stop looking at her as if you can't believe what you just said.

Stop staring at him with your mouth open like an idiot.

It was Jack's expression that Samantha would remember later; fear that she might say no; that he'd made a fool of himself by asking, mixed with more than a smattering of surprise he'd even said the words aloud.

It was hopelessly endearing.

How could you not love a man like that?

How could you possibly say no?

A smile tinged her lips at the thought.

Her pause, however, gave Jack doubt.

"I'm –uh- sorry," he said, averting his gaze. "Just forget I sai-"

"You've thought about this?" she cut in, figuring he needed help and that some composure from herself was necessary.

Blinking, Jack he wasn't about to admit that he had thought of it vaguely in the past, but just then it had been a spur-of-the-moment thing. "Well, yes…" he started, but decided it was time to act more assuredly. "Yes, I'm serious -I want to marry you... I want to show you my commitment to us."

"Okay." Her heart was thumping wildly; she wondered what Jack's was like.

"And I love you… You know I need you in my life; I'd like us to have a future together."

"All right."

"And I know the girls may not like the idea right now and we shouldn't tell them just yet-"

"Jack…" When would he let her speak?

"And we'll also have to keep it a major secret from work, so I guess it's more of an unofficial thing for now, like a promise." Oh Christ, if I could just shut up. He grabbed his glass and knocked back the rest of his wine to stop his burbling.

Waiting until he'd finished, Samantha –amused- put her hand over his on the table. "Jack, I've pretty much said yes twice already."

His face was blank again, amazed. "You have?"

"Yes!"

Relief washed over him. "Oh thank God…" he breathed, squeezing her hand in return. "You're absolutely sure?"

Time to spell it out for his male brain. "Yes Jack, I'd love to marry you, whenever we're allowed to."

"I don't have a ring…"

"I'm not expecting one –not right now, at any rate," she added for clarification.

"Do I have to go down on one knee as well? Because I might never get back up."

"You could be excused for that."

Jack stood. "So, am I allowed to kiss my secret fiancée?" he asked, holding out a hand to her as he came around the table.

"You need to ask?" she asked looking up at him, taking his hand to steady herself as the implications of what this all meant sunk in.

"I just want to make sure it's not the wine talking," he whispered, pulling her tight close to him.

Samantha was glad he was holding her; the kiss they shared made her knees buckle.

Xx—

Making it to the taxi, Jack opened the door for Samantha and followed, practically throwing himself into the seat. After giving her address to the driver, he looked over at her. "What was that Jeremy said… about bowling a maiden over?"

"I have no idea, something British?" Samantha assumed she was the maiden, although that was a long time ago.

"I guess…"

There had been big hugs from Audrey and congratulatory slaps on the back from Jeremy at the news before they managed to get away. As nice as it had been to share their news, it was time to be alone again -albeit with a taxi driver watching them gaze at each other.

"You look smug," Samantha said, teasing Jack.

"You still look beautiful, maybe even more so," he said, happy at how the evening had ended up, even though it hadn't been his plan at all, "and anyway, if I'm smug, I think I have every right to be."

"You're not going to change your mind?"

"No, definitely not! Why do you ask?"

"It was just the look on your face, you surprised yourself."

"I think I did but I'm not backing out. I think all our pointless bickering has been from not knowing where we're heading."

"And now we're here."

"We certainly are."

"The night is still young…" she pointed out, her fingers running along his thigh.

"You'd like to actually offer me coffee and a nightcap this time?" he asked, thinking of the last time they'd stood on the steps to her building, after their movie date.

"And more besides."

Jack put his arm around her. "Yes, well… I hate to leave you alone tonight, but I'm going to have to get back home."

"If you must," she said, unable to hide the disappointment in her voice, while she curled her hand around his leg.

"I didn't leave things well with Hanna," he admitted, trying to ignore her temptation.

"It's okay; I've had enough excitement tonight."

One of Jack's eyebrows rose. "You're not being a martyr are you?"

"Probably, but I understand. Do you want to phone just to make sure?"

Nodding, Jack got his cell out and made the call. He was right; Stevie said Hanna had surpassed the insufferable stage and she'd really like Jack to come back as soon as humanly possible. After the call ended, he told Samantha that he was definitely needed back at the apartment.

She snuggled into Jack's side, not wishing to put on an overt display of affection for the taxi driver, and just enjoying being close to him. "It's been a wonderful evening," she sighed, watching the city lights as the taxi drove on.

Jack kissed her temple and shut his eyes. "It still is, darling," he murmured.

Xx—

After he'd seen Samantha to her door and had shared a goodnight kiss full of longing, Jack's mood dropped somewhat as he got back into the taxi, but he knew what was coming so at least he was prepared. He took his wedding ring off his neck chain and put it back on his finger, for Hanna.

Kate was asleep in their bedroom and Jack found his elder daughter in the living room. Giving Jack a sympathetic look as an indication to be careful before she left, Stevie made herself scarce.

Hanna was curled up on the sofa, looking at something in her hand as Jack sat himself down on the other end.

"What are you looking at?" he asked quietly, gauging her level.

"Kate and I found some of your wedding photos."

Ah.

Jack leaned over to see. They must have had a good ferret about as he hadn't seen any of them in years.

"She looks lovely," he said truthfully, as Maria had. As for himself, he wasn't so sure –he looked so young and gawky, but there they were, beaming and so very happy. "Your mom did her hair and make-up herself; she said it had to be the way she wanted. Grandma Joyce nearly freaked out at the mere thought."

Hanna nodded in agreement. "Mom did a good job."

Jack smiled at the memory. "She did."

Putting the pictures down, Hanna looked at Jack. "I miss her," she said, firmly.

"Me too, sweetie." At least some aspects.

"I don't think you really do."

Not wanting to rise to the sting, Jack waited a few moments. "Don't ever think that Han, because it's not true." He took a photo from her and held it. "We were happy then, and we were happy for a long time, but it came to an end."

"You stopped loving her."

Supposing he had it coming, Jack wasn't surprised at this line of questioning. "Things happen, people change, it's hard to explain, maybe you'll understand when you're older," he said, using the hackneyed phrase. "And it wasn't just me –she stopped as well."

"So I guess you can't say you still love her."

"She gave me you two –I'll always love her for that." That was quite true.

Hanna managed a small smile. "Yes."

Wanting to bring the conversation around, Jack took Hanna's hand in his. "I haven't liked the way things have been with us. You know your mom and I were apart some time before she died."

"Yes..."

"And she'll never be truly replaced by anyone for you-"

"But…"

"But… I really like Samantha, and I'm going to see more of her. I tried it your way like you asked, and it just didn't work out. You've been quite tough on me."

"It was a bit of a surprise, finding her here like that."

"Believe me, I'm sorry it happened like that. I'd go back in time if I could, but in future, things are going to have to change."

"Slowly?"

"Would that help things?"

"I guess so."

"Then slowly will be fine. You may not like her around sometimes, but I'd like you to be civil when she is… to be nice to her, okay? Like I asked before," he clarified.

"Hm," was all Hanna said, which Jack took as grudging acceptance.

"There's one more thing," he hesitantly ventured, "I'd like to stop wearing my wedding ring now."

She did not have a happy face. "Aw-"

"Please, look, it's time for me to stop as I haven't been married for some time and I don't want to wear it around Sam –it's not fair to her. I'm not throwing it away; I'll put it with your mother's jewelry for you both."

Hanna looked at another wedding photo, knowing she had no choice and it was time to reduce the hostilities. "I suppose so."

Jack put his arms around her and held her. "Thank you," he said as Hanna begrudgingly returned the hug. "Okay, time for bed," he said, letting her go after a few moments.

Standing up, Hanna remembered something. "I nearly forgot, the lady from the bed and breakfast phoned."

"What did she want?" Jack asked, hoping it wasn't her cancelling on him.

"She said she had a couple of extra nights free –Thursday and Friday if we wanted it, I said I'd tell you but I said I was sure you'd be busy –like you always are."

Ignoring the last comment, Jack knew he could arrange things. "How about we go there late tomorrow afternoon then? It'll make the weekend longer."

Hanna looked doubtful. "Are you sure?"

"Would you like that?"

She brightened. "I really would, and I'd like to go to Mom's grave before we go."

Jack nodded, it was a reasonable request and the girls hadn't been for some time. He checked his watch. "It's late but I'll phone the lady right now." As he went to find the phone number, he felt particularly relieved.

Things were definitely getting better.

Xx—

Samantha sat in her bed, unfortunately alone.

As if she were going to get any sleep.

She was surprised she hadn't burst with bliss.

A betrothed woman.

Gosh

A secret one of sorts -of course.

She needed to tell someone, however she didn't exactly have any girlfriends –a product of being on the job too much; Viv and Elena certainly were not the ones to talk to, but she knew her mother wouldn't exactly blab it around the FBI.

"Hey, it's Samantha."

"Sammie! How are you?" her mother almost yelled down the line, fighting against some racket going on in the background.

"What's going on over there?"

"Just our monthly quilting bee."

"It doesn't sound like it."

"Well, it's changed over the years, now it's just another excuse to lounge about and drink without the men around -you know, generally let our hair down with mai-tais, mojitos, things with tacky umbrellas…" Samantha was sure her mother had had several of each by the sounds of it. "Are you all right? Is anything wrong?"

"No, I'm fine; I just wanted to tell you something."

"Tell me what? I can't hear –will you women keep quiet for a moment? It's my daughter." Samantha could hear the background noise die away, except for the occasional giggle. "Thank you! ... Okay, go ahead."

Samantha took a big breath. "Jack asked me to marry him!"

"Oh Sammie, that's wonderful news! Hold it -you did say yes, didn't you?"

"Oh, Mom -yes, I definitely did."

"Good! Otherwise I know a few ladies here who'd snap him up in a heartbeat."

"I bet there are" Samantha suspected Jack would then technically have to become a toy-boy to some of her mother's older friends, if that happened. As if

"What's the ring like?"

Um. "It's all a bit unofficial at the moment -later."

"Ah, sounds like your usual complicated way of doing things, but I'm rapt for you… Did you hear that, girls? Looks like we may have to make something after all -my little Sammie's engaged!"

Samantha grinned as she heard the whooping and hollering down the line. "We haven't set a date or anything like that, but I'd really like you to make it to the wedding." Once she would have never considered such a thing, but now, things had improved.

There was a muted shriek from her mother. "Oh, that would be wonderful… To hell with the cocktails, I'm opening some champagne!"

After they'd hung up, Samantha snuggled into her bed, hugging her Jack-substitute pillow. It was nice to share the news with her mother -and her boisterous friends- and not have any gibes that she would have received from her mother a few years back.

Reaching to turn off the bedside lamp, Samantha smiled to herself happily. Her new attitude had definitely been getting her unexpected results.

My fiancé, Jack Malone.

She liked the sound of that -very, very much.

Xx—

Thursday morning.

Jack had just trudged into the kitchen, heading for morning coffee like a homing pigeon, when his home phone rang. He answered it, trying to suppress a yawn.

"Hey Jack, it's Max," a croaky voice announced.

That woke Jack up like a cold shower. "Max...? How -no, where the hell are you?"

"I'm not really sure, somewhere in the mid-west; it's still a bit dark outside to see," he said, his words slurring. "Some motel on the side of the road."

"Are you drinking?" Jack could hear the sound of tinny TV set in the background, and he wondered what kind of dive it was.

"Heh, I haven't stopped since I left Anne."

Jack rubbed his eyes, thinking it might clear his hearing. "You what?"

"I walked out on her about a week and a half ago. She really is a crazy bitch."

Recalling the last time he'd had spoken with Max, this still wasn't news to Jack. "I see…" he said impartially, waiting for more.

Max didn't disappoint. "We tried, we really did… but after my… affair thing, she just would never let it go. Things were fine for a few days after we left New York and I thought we were happy, but then she needled me with some remark, and then there was a fight, and then we made up, and then it started all over again… It's been like waiting for a perpetual bomb to go off," Max took another swig of whatever it was he was drinking, "and it just got too much to handle."

"I know how it can be," Jack commented, seating himself at the kitchen table, coffee forgotten.

Wanting to elaborate further, Max continued. "I know it's my fault; once that trust is gone, it's gone. Anyone who says otherwise is just lying to themselves, but I think we tried as best we could -I know I did."

Jack wanted to get off the adultery subject. "Where's Anne now?"

"I don't know, I don't care… With her equally demented family, I expect."

"So what are you going to do?'

Exhaling deeply, Max was thoughtful. "I thought I'd contact the Bureau, see what I can get into –that dull desk job I had is looking mighty tempting all of a sudden."

"You think you still can?"

"My supervisor said he'd leave it open for me when we left. I'll dry out and get myself back there in awhile."

"Don't take too long."

There was a pause on the line, then:

"And how are you Jack?" Max drawled. "How's it all going for you?"

The newly engaged Jack wasn't going to let on anything. "Okay, everything's coming together."

"Yeah? Well, that's great… great." Max was sounding sleepy. "Good old Jack is happy; I hope I can get some of that -maybe I can, now that stupid woman has gone, I might just manage it this time."

"Look after yourself Max, and contact me when you get back."

"Uh-huh… catch you," and with that, Max hung up.

Jack was pensive as he got his coffee organized, wondering what Max really would do next. He'd just poured himself a cup when Kate came in.

"Morning –who was that?" she asked, sleepily, coming over for a hug.

"Good morning -Uncle Max, keeping in touch.'

Kate yawned expansively on her way to the fridge to get the milk. "Is he coming back to New York?"

"Yes, just him."

"So no Aunt Anne," she stated, trying to reach for a box of cereal with the milk in her other hand.

Jack picked it out and handed it to her. "Certainly seems like it."

Kate sat down at the table. "I think that would be best for him."

Grabbing a bowl and spoon, he placed them in front of her. "I'd say you're right." He wasn't about to point out that that was also the way it had worked out for Maria and him. "I'll be at work most of the day but I'll get things organised to leave there early, so I want you two to be packed, then we can leave quickly when I get home."

She grinned as she messily shook the cereal into her bowl. "Great! I'll be onto it and make sure we're ready," Kate said, relishing the idea of bossing her sister about. "It's going to be fun!"

Xx—

Jack leaned against Samantha's desk, a composed look on his face. He'd finished everything he'd needed to do in his office and felt accomplished.

"You like sitting there," Samantha remarked, signing off some sheets.

"I think I'm finally beginning to wear the varnish off after all this time."

Putting down her pen, Samantha leaned back in her seat and looked up at him. "So, you're going to get away early?" He'd mentioned his plans to the team that morning; it was now after lunch.

Jack nodded. "Olczyk just okayed it, as if he had any choice."

"He's good at those last minute requests."

"He is, isn't he…" he said with a small smile, knowing exactly what she meant. "The girls are happy and things have begun to calm down with them where you're concerned."

Samantha nearly breathed a sigh of relief. "That's sounding hopeful."

"Definitely. I've booked a nice B and B for us in the West Hamptons-"

Samantha feigned disappointment. "Oh, not 'our place'?"

Jack snorted. "As if I would ask Martin to ask his parents to ask their friends; that could be sticky…" He traced a small pattern with his index finger on the top of her desk. "It's not too far if you want to drop by..." It wasn't quite the voice version of puppy dog eyes, but it was pretty close.

There was a pause as Samantha thought a moment before withstanding him, voice and all. "Well, firstly, I shouldn't as the girls still won't like it all that much -even though you've spoken to them, and secondly, I owe everyone at least one weekend of being on call; this weekend's for Viv."

He gave her a smoldering gaze. "You know the offer's there," he said softly, in a voice full of promises.

"Thanks," Samantha squeaked; he really was good at making it difficult for her.

Vivian came in and gave Jack a look. "Are you leaving or are you lingering with intent?"

He tore his eyes away from Samantha and stood away from her desk, giving her the chance to breathe more normally. "Both, I guess."

Vivian made shooing actions with a folder. "You should get going, because the minute you do, we'll get a case."

"I know…"

"Scat -we can find them without you."

Jack spread his hands in a gesture of hopelessness. "I know, and it's a bad boss that thinks they're indispensable, so I'm out of here and see you Monday." He gave the ladies a smile and left the bull pen.

Samantha couldn't resist watching him saunter off; she felt she was entitled.

"Stop gawking, Samantha," Vivian muttered, sitting at her own desk, "you're being way too obvious."

Chastened, Samantha got back to her work.

Half an hour after he'd gone, Vivian was proved correct; a case, involving a high-end real estate agent, came in.

Putting the picture up on the whiteboard, she turned to the team. "Let's find this guy so his family –and we- can all have a decent weekend," she pointed out before assigning tasks.

She wasn't kidding, pushing the team to find the guy in one of his company's many listings –hiding from the pimp whose hookers the agent had been using- by Friday afternoon, which was a very good result for a rather questionable character.

Xx--

Alone in the office on Saturday morning, Samantha frowned at the sudoku puzzle she was working on and grudgingly admitted Jack was right: crosswords were way more fun. After she had chewed the end off the pen in frustration and scribbled all over the puzzle in the newspaper, she gave up and leafed through the rest of the section. Then she rose and wandered around the quiet office. She'd finished her report, so really had no reason for staying around as she could be reached at home if she were needed. Still, there was nowhere else she'd rather be –aside from being with Jack. Finding her way back to her desk, she shifted things on her desk; the stone and shell were moved around a few times, her stationery things repositioned, things on her corkboard unpinned and put back up. Deciding she needed more pens, she opened her drawer to search and, having no luck, opened her handbag in case a few had wandered in there. She found three and an old bottle of emergency nail polish buried in a side pocket. It wasn't the color she was wearing now, but she stared at it a moment.

Now, there's an idea, and it'll kill two birds with one stone.

Just the excuse she needed.

She phoned Vivian. Time for yet another favor.

Vivian wasn't one hundred percent happy over being asked to cover the calls for Samantha. "You're going to see Jack, aren't you?" she bluntly asked.

By now Samantha wasn't going to start inventing stories. "I need to see him about something."

"Okay," Vivian said, knowing she might as well give in. "For the afternoon then; tell them to patch anything through to me."

Samantha did a small punch in the air. "You're a star, Viv."

"Yes, yes," Vivian sighed, "Jack says the same when I help him out so I must be. Be good… and behave," she added, as an afterthought.

Xx--

Samantha stood in front of the apartment's door after Stevie's mother had buzzed her into the building. She could hear Stevie's voice as she walked to the door and pulled it open. "Come on, give it up!" Stevie didn't seem too fazed by her arrival. "Sorry, but Mom's had Neil Diamond stuck in that hot August night for too long," she supplied by way of explanation. She then frowned. "I don't know why you're here –Jack and the girls are away."

"I know, but I need to see Jack, and I don't exactly know where they are. I was wondering if you have the address of where they're staying."

"Ye-es -in case of any problems, if we needed to reach him about Frank. Why don't you just phone Jack and ask?"

"Because…" Samantha hesitated.

Because she wanted it to be a bit of a surprise, truthfully, and perhaps if Hanna –especially- got wind that she was coming, then it wouldn't be a good thing. "That's my own business."

Clearly not impressed or convinced, Stevie narrowed her eyes. "How do I know that you're not making all this up, because you're a stalking bunny-boiler and he's hiding from you?"

"Oh, you must be kidding-"

"Now, you'll have to excuse me, I have a bass riff from The Doors to listen to for my boyfriend," Stevie announced, reaching for her earphones, dangling down her t-shirt.

Samantha had had enough, she had places to go and things to do, and because she was used to dealing with obtuse suspects, she kept her voice low. "Look, you better tell me where they've gone, or so help me I'm going to check out how much of that music downloaded onto your iPod and PC is legit –despite what you told Jack."

"Yeah sure, you wouldn't," Stevie scoffed. "Big business doesn't care about any of that stuff anymore, not the little people." Despite her bravado, there was a note of uncertainty.

Which was just what Samantha needed as leverage; she came close enough until they were practically nose to nose, giving Stevie the full-force of her FBI glare. "Would you like to find out?"

Xx—

It was a large Victorian house, not directly by the beach but not too far from it. Parking on the roadside, Samantha walked up the driveway and knocked on the front door. Looking around, it couldn't have been more different from where she and Jack had stayed further up the coast.

A minute later, a short, round, elderly lady with a dust cloth answered, presuming Samantha wanted a room. After Samantha's enquiry if Jack was in, the lady –a Mrs. Marshall- said they'd all gone to the beach about an hour and a half before, and guessed that they were still there.

"Did they drive?" asked Samantha, hoping she wasn't pushing her luck with the kindly owner.

"Oh no, it's a short walk down on the right," Mrs. Marshall said, indicating with her hand. "Now it's the end of the season the beach isn't busy at all… Such a nice man, Mr. Malone, so sweet with his daughters, even though the elder one seems to be rather snippy at times -young children these days... You work with him, you say?"

And much more besides. "Yes, I have some urgent papers for him to sign," Samantha informed her, indicating her handbag, filling out her invented reason as Mrs. Marshall seemed the type that needed more information. Thanking her for her trouble, Samantha then went off to find the beach access, wishing the weather weren't turning; it was a shame that Jack's weekend away wasn't sunnier now fall was looming.

Locating the access about a hundred yards away down the road between two properties, Samantha headed along it, taking her shoes off to walk on the sandy grass as she got nearer to the beach.

Finding herself on a higher dune, she stopped and looked around. He was easy to spot, a solitary figure sitting in the sand not far to her left. Even from this distance she could see his rolled up pants, his feet dug in the sand, forearms resting on his knees. He was watching the girls build some vague sandcastle, just past the high tide mark about 20 yards away from him.

Taking a deep breath, sure of what she was doing, she walked towards him.

Xx—

It was a bit colder than Jack had thought it would be, but the girls didn't seem to mind. Thanks to Kate insisting that all shoes were to be left behind at the B and B, he found the sand wasn't keeping his feet as warm as he would have liked. Smiling to himself while watching his daughters, he wondered –not for the first time in the last quarter hour- when they would want to head back.

But there was something else also making him restless.

Something was definitely missing.

Or, more aptly, someone.

Samantha should have been here with them.

She should have been sharing his bed, waking up with him, helping gather the girls to have a nice breakfast together in what Mrs. Marshall quaintly called the front parlor.

They should be walking up the beach with their arms around each other –like they had before- while the girls threw sand at each other and ran around, collecting things.

It would have been nice.

Ah well.

One day soon, maybe.

Lodged in the back of Jack's mind was the fact that it would have been sooner if he had dealt with the girls earlier, but it was too late for that now -what was done was done and that's how it had eventuated.

He wasn't sure what it was that made him turn his head, but he did and found Samantha about ten paces away behind him, cool and casual as anything with her bag slung over a shoulder and her shoes in one hand.

Not one to believe in mirages, he smiled at her, watching as she walked towards him. "What's this –Kenosha pay-back time?" he asked, getting up when she reached him and brushing the sand from his pants.

"I'm taking you up on your offer, but not for long –Viv's covering," she said, coming closer.

"It seems a shame since you drove all this way."

"I have something for the girls," and she held out two new bottles of nail polish. "I thought Hanna would like the black color."

"I would say so, and Kate will like the sparkly pink one for sure," he said, taking them. "That's very kind of you."

"And this is for you," Samantha said, putting something in his hand.

He looked at it and smiled. "Your key." The old liquid paper spots had been scraped off and new ones dotted on.

"My fiancé needs to be able to visit whenever he can –or wants."

He slipped it into his pants pocket. "I'll get one for you, too."

"No rush."

Jack looked over at the girls –they had noticed Samantha and were watching. Kate raised a hesitant hand in a wave while Hanna just stared, but not too vehemently. "We're getting there, and negotiations are still going well. I think I'll be able to come over more often." Especially now he had the key and carte blanche. He sidestepped so he could block the girls' view of Samantha and reached into his other pocket. "I do have something for you; it's a bit big for your finger…" He held out an O-shaped piece of shell that he'd found earlier, the broken opening of a hermit crab shell. "Will it do as a symbolic ring for a short while?"

Samantha beamed as she held it. "It will, and of course you know I am a sucker for shells." She could find some cord and wear it around her neck –however not like Jack used to with his old wedding ring. No, this would be quite different.

Casually reaching out, he curled a finger through one of Samantha's belt loops, tugging lightly. "I think kissing you is out of the question right now with the girls around…"

"And I should be getting back." She started making leaving motions.

He reluctantly unhooked his finger. "I'll come over this week," he said with certainty.

Walking backwards a few steps, she pointed at him with the hand not holding her shoes. "Yes, you definitely will."

He watched her for a few moments as she turned around and gave a last wave when she looked over her shoulder, before heading down to give the girls their gifts.

Forgetting the sandcastle, Kate squealed with excitement, wanting to paint her sandy toes right there and then, while Hanna gave a reluctant nod of approval. "She came all this way to give us these?"

Jack wasn't going to mention the key that was now burning a hole in his pocket. "Yes, as a matter of fact," he fibbed.

Another nod. "Impressive."

Jack was pleased; it was definitely a good start.

Xx—

Monday, 5.17pm

It had been a long day and Jack was over it all; he just wanted to get away and go home.

Despite his efforts at organising the girls the night before -after returning from the West Hamptons- they'd arrived for the first day of school by the skin of their teeth, then Jack had to go to the school office to sign some extra forms, check his contact details and make a payment for the fees and overpriced school-supplied stationery. He'd been late for work to find he had to go through the team's reports from the real estate agent's case, plus a dozen emails that had needed replying to. It had become worse when he found the coffee from the lunchroom tasted vile and the paper in his office printer jammed, and that had only been the morning. He'd poked his nose into the bull pen for a mere three minutes.

So much for a relaxing weekend away -this is what you get on your return.

He'd also barely grabbed some junk food from the vending machine for lunch, managing another quick hello to Samantha while he did so, before tying himself back to his desk.

Jack now picked up his ringing phone. It was Olczyk.

"Jack, could you come to my office in about…" he consulted someone, "say five minutes?"

"Of course –is something up?"

"The Director and I would like to speak to you about something." Olczyk was using a quiet yet officious tone.

"All right," said Jack, feeling a sinking feeling coming on. He didn't know Director Baines was in town, let alone in the building. "Do I need to bring anything with me?"

There was a pause. "No, just yourself."

"Five minutes then."

Jack stared at the phone a moment after Olczyk had hung up, then out to the bullpen. He could just make out Samantha's blonde head, conferring with Vivian. He decided to phone Vivian to inform her that he had a meeting and that they could all go home when they had finished up. Then he phoned Stevie to say he would probably be late, yet again.

Steeling himself as he knew in his gut that it was going be bad news about Samantha and himself, he went to the elevators. While waiting, he found his hands were clammy and that he was clenching his jaw.

It was bound to come out. It'll be OPR kicking my ass all over again and one of us will have to transfer.

Damn.

But, he reasoned to himself, we had a good run.

Of sorts.

When he'd made it to Olczyk's door, he stopped and took a couple of deep breaths, and knocked before going in. Looking around the office, he saw a couple of other faces aside from Olczyk and Baines but one -aside from the HR guy he recognized- in particular made his heart sink by its expression and pallor alone.

Oh, damn.

Xx--

With the key to Samantha's apartment secure in his fingers he let himself in. "Sam?" he called out.

Samantha started, causing the water in the bath to slop and dampen some of her pinned up hair. It was after 8pm and she'd decided on a soak, not expecting any company on this particular night -even with Jack out there with a key of his own. "In here," she called back, wondering yet again what his meeting had been about.

A few moments later, the door opened an inch. "I can wait out here…" It was a lonely voice wanting company.

"No, it's fine, come in," she said, sitting up more. He hesitantly entered.

"Sorry," he started to apologise, "I'm disturbing you..."

"No, not at all -I'm just surprised, that's all. It's been so long since you were here."

He took in her bathroom like he had her room in Kenosha, as he moved some towels on her toilet seat to sit down. "I did say I'd be over this week… This is all seriously lacking in bubbles and candles."

"Well, it is just me, and I wanted to relax and read," she tipped her head towards the forgotten chick-lit paperback on the floor. His face was drawn and tired; she could tell he needed her. "Would you like to come in here with me?"

Without even thinking twice and working on automatic, Jack started to take his jacket off. "You don't mind?"

"Not at all." She hoped she hadn't sounded too desperate.

"You'd better get rid of some of that water first," he said, expertly pulling off his tie with one hand. As she did so, she watched him undress, enjoying the pseudo strip-teasing moment.

"You're staring," he said, haphazardly folding his clothes and placing them on the toilet seat, before pulling his shoes and socks off as she put the plug back in before all the water ran out.

"I know," she replied, waiting for the last and most important item of clothing. "Sue me."

He slowly peeled off his boxers, indulging her. "Okay, scoot forward."

Shaking her head firmly. "Nope, my bath, you're in front."

Being too tired and wrung out, he wasn't going to argue. He stepped into the bath and lowered himself to fit himself between her legs, then carefully leaning himself against her, he rested his head just below her shoulder. "Is that okay?" he asked, stretching his legs up the wall; the bath may have been wide enough, but it wasn't particularly long.

It wasn't all that comfortable but Samantha wasn't going to fuss as the situation was nice to be in. Her view of Jack's body was making it all worthwhile. "It's fine, just relax."

He sighed heavily as he closed his eyes. This was just what he needed, he just hadn't known it.

Scrunching up her face cloth, Samantha soaked it in the water, before gently wringing it out over Jack's shoulders. "Tough meeting?" she asked after a few moments of silence.

As the water trickled down his chest, Jack wanted to tell her, but he couldn't. Olczyk had given him strict, glaring instructions, just as they were all leaving:

"There's a lot of paperwork involved, corners to cut and the Director has a lot of strings to pull by tomorrow and people to step on. Keep it to yourself… and I mean yourself. So don't screw it up for everyone, okay?"

"I can't say right now…" he said in a resigned tone as he wiped a dripping hand across his face. "Really, I can't." But the news wasn't all that bad when you looked at it, however it just wasn't totally what he wanted to happen.

"It's okay, I understand," she whispered, transferring her attentions to his hair, using the drenched cloth to wet it and smoothing it back. She wasn't sure what was going on but if Jack was this distracted then it would have to be something important. Putting the cloth to one side, she then gently stroked down Jack's upper arms with her hands, her cheek resting on his head.

"That's nice," he murmured, enjoying the calming attention as she moved her hands to his shoulders, feeling the tense day in him.

"Just relax," she repeated, as if he needed further instructions. "You know you never have to apologise for just dropping by."

"I suppose I'm just not used to it." Opening his eyes, he slowly raised a hand, watching the droplets fall from his fingers into the water.

"Not too long and we'll be living together, then you can have this whenever you like."

He lowered his hand back into the water. "Not too long at all…" he agreed, almost as a sigh. "Oh, that feels great," he said, as she found a knot in his neck to knead. Turning his head awkwardly for a damp kiss, Jack knew -as usual- that the day couldn't come soon enough when he wouldn't have to leave her alone to get home. "Soon, sweetheart, I promise."

But all good things must come to an end. It had been the girls first day back at school and he should have been home for their news. "Time to leave I think," Jack said reluctantly after a few more moments of unwinding. Un-stretching his legs, he slowly sat forward. "I really should get home."

Damn, that was too quick. "This isn't one of my evenings?"

"Not tonight, not after my long, shitty day -this was just… dropping by," he pulled the plug and stood up so Samantha could get up and out of the tub easily.

Taking a towel from the pile and wrapping it around herself, she watched as Jack used his hands to slough the water off his legs, arms and chest.

He noticed her doing so; it was hard not to. "You really are into the cheap thrills tonight."

"Hey, a girl's got to get it when she can," she said, grabbing another towel and holding it out for him. "Come here."

He stretched for the towel but Samantha kept it out reach. "Sam, while I appreciate the handmaiden act, you really don't have to-"

"Shut up, I want to. Come here," she commanded. He stepped out of the bath onto the mat, holding his arms a little to either side as Samantha began to pat his chest, then arms dry. "Certain parts need to be tended to," she said, as she continued down to his stomach.

"Oh, really?" Jack found he was amused. "You know this, of course."

"Mm-hm," she said, maintaining their eye contact as her hands and towel went lower.

"You're being very…blatant," Jack gasped slightly as she reached his crotch, then he zeroed in for another kiss as she caressed and dried him at the same time.

"How long did you say you could stay?" Samantha whispered in his ear, before sinking to her knees, dropping the towel she held and any pretence with it.

Despite knowing he had to get home, Jack liked where this was heading. Perhaps the blood is better being away from my brain for awhile. "Oh, I think I could stay for maybe 5 minutes…" he said as her mouth closed around the head of his cock, feeling her hands crawling up his thighs and around to grip his ass, her tongue working its magic. He lightly placed a hand on her head, the other on her shoulder, shutting his eyes. "Mmm, maybe ten…" Yes, perhaps this was what he really needed…

Samantha wasn't happy with these time limits at all, so she protested lightly.

Jack gasped again. "Ah, Sam, easy on the teeth…"

She managed to laugh, even with a mouthful.

Jack got the point as he opened his eyes to look down at her, liking what he saw –and felt. "Okay, I give in -make it half an hour."

Samantha made satisfied noises as she continued to lick and suck Jack into total hardness -and herself into slipperiness- before slowly pulling away. "That sounds better," she said, licking her lips as she got up and her own towel fell away. "Let's go make the most of the bed."

Xx—

Tuesday.

Near eleven in the morning, Jack sat himself down at the bull pen table, where Vivian, Samantha and Martin were discussing things in general. "Don't mind me," he said, putting some papers down in front of him along with his phone. He'd been busy and this was the first time they'd seen him –it was becoming a habit.

"It's okay, not much happening here," Martin said, going back to his desk, as did Vivian to hers.

Samantha stayed, watching Jack as he checked his phone every minute, any of her own work ignored.

"What's up?" she finally asked, when she could no longer bear it.

His eyes met hers a moment. "Oh, nothing..." He could tell she wanted more. "Just expecting something." He'd just finished saying it when his phone beeped and he read the text.

Right on time.

Satisfied, he put his phone in his pocket, and looked around. "Where's Danny?"

"He should be here in a moment." Vivian was starting to pay more attention, coming back over to sit next to Samantha, intrigued. "I remember that look, Jack; it's like the one you had when you announced you were going to Chicago." Her eyes were wary.

Samantha –and even Martin- shot Vivian a glance. It couldn't be anything like that, could it?

And he was strangely distant last night…

At first.

Not wanting a similar comparison, Jack stayed in his chair with his hands flat in front of him, as a gesture that he had nothing to hide and was silently stone faced while they all waited for Danny, which wasn't long. Seeing everyone at the table when he arrived, Danny silently slid into a chair.

Ready, Jack began, "There are a couple of things. I had a meeting with Olczyk and the Director yesterday evening."

"Baines is in town?" asked Martin, typically.

"'Was' is the word; he's already gone back to DC. He was here because I'm being transferred."

There it was.

The news sank in.

"Permanently, this time?" Vivian couldn't resist a dig at him.

"That text was a heads-up -it's all finalized."

"Where to?" asked Danny, brows knitted.

"Only as far as downstairs… I'm taking over Edward Campbell's unit."

This was also greeted with stunned silence.

Jack continued, "It seems he gave up smoking too late, he's got lung cancer, so he's taking an early retirement," he paused letting them absorb this, especially Samantha, "and he wants to enjoy the time he's got left –you know how it is… I wish we'd worked together more often." Campbell had been a drinking and work buddy with Baines from way back; Jack hadn't known this until the meeting had progressed. No wonder the Director was jumping through hoops for his old friend.

Danny groaned. "Damn, I thought he was one of the indestructible ones."

"I think we all did. So I've accepted -starting immediately- his position in Organized Crime. There's no-one in his team experienced enough for the position. Viv," he said, looking at her, "the team's all yours, if you want it."

"I'd be lying if I said no." She couldn't help but throw a suspicious stare back at him. "You're not going to take it back again?"

"I don't think I'd dare –no, I promise," he said smiling. It had been an accepted thing at the meeting. The Director had wanted to rush everything through for a quick transition; Jack's suggestion for Vivian to be promoted was readily agreed upon.

"Then I'll take it –if that's okay with the young upstarts here." She gave Danny, Martin and Samantha all a well-meaning glare that said she'd like to see them dissent.

"It means the team is going to be short," Martin informed Jack. "I'd like to throw Kitagawa's name into the hat, he did well on the Kirshner Smith case," he paused, "although he seemed to be very formal with me." Danny suddenly found a fingernail to be interested in, to stop himself laughing out loud.

Jack just looked at Martin with a raised eyebrow.

As smooth as anything, Martin swivelled his head in Vivian's direction. "And that's just a suggestion… boss."

Vivian nodded at the save. "Duly noted, there should be a few interested but get him to throw his name into the hat."

Jack hadn't finished. He looked specifically at Samantha this time. "And there's one more thing..."

She'd been quiet throughout all of this, listening and watching, and now, as when he'd asked her to marry him before, her heart was beating crazily and her mouth was dry.

Oh, wow

"You won't be getting rid of me yet. As we know with Ed, life is too short, so I want you to know…"

She steadfastly held his gaze, knowing what was coming and thrilled it was going to be officially announced to their colleagues -and friends.

It was like the world had disappeared and all she could see was the man she cherished.

Vivian swore later that she knew what he was going to say, just by the expression on his face alone: sheer, pure love. So much for her saying he'd treated Samantha like garbage; she may never forgive herself for that one.

"Samantha and I are engaged," Jack said, elated he could finally say it out loud, before finally tearing his eyes away from her to include the team. "Sort of… I hope that's okay too."

A confused grin was spreading across Danny's face as he looked at each of them. "Sort of?"

Jack's eyes returned to Samantha's. She decided to say something, to show them it was all true and all right by her. "We are, we just have to figure out when and how to tell Jack's daughters."

"Oh, that will be easy," Danny joked, "-not."

While Vivian's smile was totally still unsurprised, Martin had concern etched on his features. Samantha noticed, but found she didn't care in the slightest as she watched her man get to his feet. "I'm going to take my almost-fiancée out for a long lunch," Jack informed them, "a couple of hours -if there are no objections?" As if he was expecting any; he'd already told Campbell to tell his team to expect him much later.

Grabbing her bag from her desk, Samantha's mind was abuzz with dying to know where they were going; she hoped it might involve something like lunch at Tiffany's.

As they put their arms around each other and walked out -a statement to everyone on the floor- Samantha couldn't help but smile. "So that's why you were a bit subdued last night."

"Yeah, I'm sorry, it was all too much at once, and I couldn't say a thing," Jack apologized, looking into his soon-to-be-former office as they passed.

Life certainly can play with you, he reflected, knowing he would be clearing his desk out again later that day.

Maria was dead. Ed Campbell had cancer. One had allowed Jack and Samantha to finally be together; the other had made their professional lives workable. He wasn't comfortable thinking that the misfortunes of others had contributed to his happiness, but he knew he wasn't culpable –certainly not with Ed and as for Maria, he'd stopped beating himself up for that: today was truly the day of a fresh start with Samantha. He tightened his arm around her to reassure himself.

"So, where are we going?" Samantha asked, unable to contain her excitement, as they stood like a real couple waiting for the elevator. "Shopping? A restaurant? … A travel agency?" She was worried she may have jumped the gun with the last one; the honeymoon would be some way off.

Jack gave a lop-sided smile; she just couldn't help herself. "Some place you know quite well," he said mysteriously, as the elevator doors opened for them.

Xx--

Danny's grin subsided as he watched Jack and Samantha leave together.

"What's up?" Vivian enquired, delighted for the official couple and totally over the moon over her promotion.

Turning back to Viv, Danny's face was now serious. "I'm going take a few minutes myself; I think I need to talk to Elena about something."

Martin's face was a study of disbelief. "What –you too?"

"It could be; it's definitely on the cards," Danny said, getting up. "I'll use the phone in Jack's office," he said as he left the bull pen.

Martin sat looking towards Jack's office, then turned to look at Samantha's desk, suddenly wishing he still had a pill or two handy. "Am I always the last to know?" he said to the world at large, but directed more at Vivian.

As she was getting out her cell phone to call Marcus with her news, Vivian cast him a withering look. Enough is enough. "Oh, just give it a rest, Martin. Remember you're not the only one that likes to keep things secret around here. Get over yourself."

It shut him up nicely.

Xx—

Blonde hair.

Cascading around his face as she kissed him, nibbled him, teased him.

Long tresses brushing against his skin, every strand a small stroke of pleasure and torment.

Samantha stopped kissing Jack's face to look at him. "What?"

He smiled, self-conscious. "Oh, this is just like a dream I had once."

"Really?"

"A wet dream, actually," he admitted, his hands sliding down her back, pulling her hips down against him more.

"With a happy ending?"

"And very messy," he confessed. "Come on, time's running out." He was rigid and ready as he lifted his head to meet hers for a kiss.

She resisted, pulling back her head. "I'm not happy at keeping to a timetable."

"Well, if you keep talking…" His hand squeezed her butt in emphasis.

"And this isn't what I was expecting for lunch."

He'd been anticipating this. "I think it's the perfect two hour lunch. Look… half an hour here to your place, half an hour back –allowing for traffic; 15 minutes for showering and dressing; 15 minutes for a quick bite to eat before work -and half an hour for sex."

She even made a sulk look lovely. "It's as bad as it was last night."

More squeezing from him. "That was not bad -thanks to you- and neither is this."

"Can we have longer? Please?" It's okay for men, but women need time.

Unable to ignore such a plaintive request and understanding the reasoning, Jack reached out an arm to get his phone from her bed stand and hit speed dial.

"Viv? We're going to be a bit longer. The restaurant's busier than we thought-" He swallowed as Samantha specifically chose that moment to nibble on his nipple. "See you when we see you," he finished, allowing no comeback from Vivian as Samantha sat up. "So make that about an hour for us in bed, happy?" he asked, putting away the phone.

Lunchtime sex during work time was certainly an excellent idea but he doubted they'd be able to do it too often.

Still, today was a special day.

Grinding herself against his hardness, Samantha was indeed pleased. "Mmmmm, nice move…" She looked down at him, loving him and now he was all hers.

How wonderful.

He reached up to cup her breasts, thumbs brushing firmly across her nipples. "And I've got a few more nice moves that I'm happy to show you…"

"Then we'd better not waste any more precious time," she said, positioning herself to slide down him.

After a loud groan of relief as she did so, Jack pulled himself upright, holding her tightly to him, kissing her, their tongues and bodies perfectly immersed in each other.

"God Sam, I'm so happy everything's worked out after all this time," he whispered as they started to slowly move together.

"It's really all going to happen with us this time, isn't it?" she managed, enjoying the feel of his skin rubbing against hers.

Sweeping back a loose tress of hair, he kissed her neck. "It really is."

Framing his face gently with her hands, she looked deeply into his hazel eyes. "Jack, always believe me when I say I love you, don't ever doubt it."

How could he -when he was inside her, she was surrounding him and her eyes were mirroring the love in his own. "I'll never do that, Sam -I love you and I always, always will."

Because…

That's what you say.

And that's what you do.

Xx--

The End

Xx--