Chapter 16

It had been early morning when she'd finally dragged herself out of Jack's arms and back home, where she'd tumbled into bed for a few short hours before rising to shower and dress for the barbeque. Now she smiled as she pulled up in front of his house. The last time she'd sat here she'd been a bundle of nerves. What a difference a few hours had made. She glanced at her watch. It was still a little early, but somehow she doubted he would mind. She picked up the case of beer that sat on the seat beside her, and stepped out of the car. It wasn't until she was halfway up the walk that she realized she was humming.

The door opened almost before she could knock, and Jack wasted no time in divesting her of the beer so that he could pull her close. She snuggled into his chest, soaking up his freshly showered smell and enjoying his low hum of masculine satisfaction.

"You know—" He pushed the door shut behind her. "If I'd known what I was missing…"

"We wouldn't have done this any differently, and you know it."

He was quiet for a few seconds while he considered that. Then, "Yeah. You're probably right."

"Of course I'm right." She grinned at him. "The woman is always right."

That made him laugh outright. "You may be the brains of this outfit, but I'm the brawn, and don't you forget it."

She fingered a button on his shirt. "And such lovely brawn it is, too."

"Keep that up, and we're going to be in bed when Daniel and Teal'c get here."

He grinned when she immediately dropped her hand and stepped back. "I thought that might get your attention," he said.

"Smart ass."

"Takes one to know one."

Sam had a sudden insane desire to stick her tongue out at him, but she resisted the urge, turning instead to pick up the case of beer. "Fridge?" she asked.

"There's an ice chest on the floor beside it. Just throw them in there." She heard the back door open as she stepped into the kitchen and assumed he was going out to light the grill. A quick peek in the fridge revealed a mouthwatering array of steaks marinating in what she strongly suspected was beer. Her growling stomach was interrupted by the peal of the doorbell.

Daniel and Teal'c had arrived with a sack of potatoes and more beer. Sam grinned when she saw the familiar cardboard carton. There was already enough beer in the house for a frat party. More would definitely be overkill. Oh well. She doubted it would go to waste.

"Come on in, guys. Jack's out back."

Daniel held up the case of beer. "What should I do with this?"

"Ice chest by the fridge," Sam said. "Teal'c, if you'll give me those potatoes I'll get them in the microwave."

"May I assist you, Colonel Carter?"

She smiled at him. "I can manage, thanks."

Daniel came out of the kitchen with a can of beer in one hand, and a bottle of water in the other. He tossed the water to Teal'c. "Jack's out back, you said?"

"Yep." She nodded. "Lighting the grill."

"Got the fire department on stand by?" he joked.

"You'd better believe it."

Teal'c looked puzzled. "For what reason do you require the assistance of the fire services?"

Sam laughed. "It's a joke, Teal'c."

He nodded slightly, though he didn't appear to be entirely satisfied with her answer. "If you will excuse me, I will see if O'Neill requires my assistance."

"I doubt he needs any help, but I'm sure he'd love your company."

Teal'c nodded again and left, leaving her alone with Daniel.

"So," he said, eying her critically. "You look good."

She felt the blush spread across her cheeks. Damn her fair skin anyway. "Do I?"

"Yes, you do. Radiant even, though that's a term usually reserved for…"

He trailed off, giving her a strange look.

What the hell. It wasn't as if she and Jack were still in the same chain of command. "Reserved for what, Daniel?"

"Well," he said slowly, "I was going to say it was a term normally used to describe a woman in love, but…"

Must keep a straight face. Must not blush. Yeah. Right. She might as well try to stop her heart from beating. "But what?"

"Sam, is there…?"

The door opened and Jack stuck his head inside. "Hey, Daniel." Then, with a quick smile in her direction, "Would you bring out those steaks?"

Daniel looked from her to Jack and back again. His eyes went wide in sudden comprehension. "Well, I'll be damned."

Jack stared at Daniel as if he thought his friend had lost his mind. "Something wrong?"

Daniel grinned broadly. "Not as far as I can tell."

"I'll be out in just a sec," Sam said, with a bubble of irrepressible laughter. Jack glanced at Daniel again, shook his head, and disappeared.

Daniel turned back to her. "When did this happen?"

"Last night."

"No wonder you both have that 'cat that caught the canary' look about you."

"Yeah. Well…" A sudden thought occurred to Sam. "You're okay with this, aren't you? I mean, I realize it could be a little awkward…"

"I'm fine, Sam." He pulled her into an affectionate hug. "In fact, I'm thrilled for you. You and Jack waited a long time for this. You deserve to be happy."

Wistfully, Sam remembered when her father had said something similar. She still missed him dreadfully.

The back door opened again. "Carter! Did you get lost?"

"Keep your pants on! I'm coming!" Okay, judging by the leer he sent her way, maybe that wasn't the best choice of words. Deciding a retreat was in order, she headed for the kitchen.

By the time they sat down to eat they were all in such good humor that at one point Teal'c actually laughed at one of Jack's jokes. When the others stopped eating to stare at him Teal'c looked confused.

"Have I caused offense?" he asked.

That sent them all into gales of laughter, and by the end of the meal they were feeling more relaxed than they had in a very long time.

"So Jack," Daniel said, pushing his plate away. "What are you going to do now?"

"I'm thinking cheesecake," Jack said.

Daniel snorted. "I mean, what are you going to do now that you're officially retired?"

Jack rolled his eyes. "Every time I retire I get called back. I'm going to think of this as extended leave. Maybe I'll have better luck with that."

"Okay, then. Extended leave. I still don't picture you as the type of guy who can sit around fishing for the rest of his life."

Jack looked at Sam. "I'm thinking of moving to New Mexico. At least for a while."

"New Mexico?" Daniel asked. "Why?"

It was Sam who answered. "I've been offered a research position at Area 51."

There was a heartbeat of silence while that sank in.

"You will be going together?" Teal'c asked, eyebrow raised.

Sam nodded.

His smile, when it came, spread across his face like the dawning of the sun.

"I am pleased for you," he said.

Under the table, Jack reached for her hand. "Yeah. Um. About that." He took a breath. "Part of the reason I left the way I did was because I didn't want people gossiping about Carter and I."

"Gee," Daniel said. "And we thought you just didn't want cake."

Jack gave Daniel a look of exaggerated patience. "When have you ever known that to be the case?"

"I will not divulge your secret, O'Neill," said Teal'c.

"I won't either," Daniel said. "I've had enough gossip over Sarah and Sha're. I wouldn't wish it on the two of you."

"Thanks, guys."

A firefly landed on Sam's arm, its tiny blinking light a silent call to others of its species, and under the table, Jack rubbed his thumb rhythmically back and forth against the soft skin of her hand. Somewhere nearby a dog barked.

It was Daniel who broke the silence. His tone, a strange mix of excitement and regret, brought Sam's eyes to his face. "I have some news of my own."

"Oh?" Jack prompted. "Do tell."

"Looks like I finally get my trip to Atlantis. I'll be leaving on the Daedalus next week."

"Hey! Congratulations!" Jack thumped Daniel enthusiastically on the back. "It's about time!"

Daniel shot Jack a dubious look. "You didn't know about it?"

"Are you kidding? I'm just the temp. Nobody tells me anything."

They all laughed at that.

The party didn't break up until the moon was high in the sky, and even then it was with a certain amount of reluctance. All of them knew that tonight signaled both an end and a beginning. Sam and Jack would be leaving for Area 51, Teal'c would be going back to Dakara, and Daniel was headed for Atlantis. The team would be split up, probably forever, and it was hard not to be sad about that.

Still, they'd accomplished much of what they'd set out to do eight years ago. Teal'c's people were free. Daniel's wife had died, but he'd made peace with her loss. Jack still hadn't quite forgiven himself for Charlie's death, but at least now he was able to live with it. As for Sam, she had proven her abilities, both as a scientist and as a warrior, so that now she could be content to rest on her laurels for a while. All in all, the partnership had been good for all of them.

She felt Jack's hand settle around her waist as they watched Daniel and Teal'c climb into the car. With a small sigh, she relaxed into him, resting her head on his shoulder. No, she thought, life would never be the same again, but it would still be pretty damned wonderful.

The End

A/N: Many many thanks to those who joined me on this journey, for I have truly enjoyed your company. -- Ayiana