Title: The Nature of Change

Author: Ayiana

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 belongs exclusively to the people who create and produce it for us lucky fans.

Feedback: Always welcome. I'm especially fond of solid concrit that helps me improve my writing.

Spoilers: Nothing specific.

A/N: There's some debate in the fandom about whether or not Jack has a motorcycle. For the purposes of this fic, let's assume that he does. It's a minor thing. Really.

A/N2: This is probably best labeled as angsty fluff. If you're not a fan of S/J romance, best run away now, because this little story is all about the romance.

Summary: The end of something wonderful can sometimes be the beginning of something even more wonderful. Takes place between seasons 8 and 9.


The pebble dropped into the still water with the soft sound of a frog jumping off a lily-pad. Sam watched the concentric circles spread out from the point of impact until they diminished and then disappeared all together. A second pebble followed the first, and once again she watched the ripples. Ordinarily she might've counted them, or analyzed them, or compared them in her mind to various cosmological events, but today her mind wasn't on science. Instead, she was thinking about the nature of change.

Sometimes, she thought, change snuck up on you like a thief in the night, stealing away a part of yourself while you dreamed of other things. And sometimes it happened with the suddenness of an atomic explosion, mushrooming out and enveloping everybody it came into contact with. One thing it didn't do, however, was warn you. There were never any sirens or claxons, no memos or announcements on the P.A. system. On the rare occasions when any of those things did happen, it was already too late. The change was there, and there was nothing you could do to stave it off.

Jack's leaving had been of the thief in the night variety. He'd been her friend, her mentor, and her C.O. He'd taught her to take pride in her abilities, and given her the confidence to trust her intuition. And, maybe most importantly of all, he'd taught her how to laugh.

She'd known for years that what she felt for him went way beyond what she was supposed to feel. Had known also that, if the true extent of her feelings ever escaped the iron cage she'd crafted for them she, or he, or maybe even both, would be forced to leave the SGC, probably forever.

So she'd made the conscious decision that seeing him every day was worth the cost of keeping her emotions under tight control. And it had been okay. SG-1 had done some truly amazing things.

But while she'd been reveling in how great they were as a team, the thief was already sneaking up on them from behind. It had tapped her on the shoulder the day they'd talked Jack into taking the promotion to Brigadier General. It had followed her on all those missions when he'd stayed behind. And now, just when she'd gotten used to him as leader of the SGC, the thief was stealing him away altogether.

He was stepping up, they'd said. Moving on. Brigadier General Jack O'Neill was uniquely qualified to fulfill the position of Head of Homeworld Security, they'd said. She'd nodded and agreed and been proud of him. Who wouldn't be? Still, there was a part of her that secretly wished he hadn't been quite so remarkable. It was the same part that regularly insisted on reminding her of how things used to be.

She felt his presence long before she actually saw him. She'd been able to do that for years, her senses acutely attuned to the unique vibrations of his soul when it shared space with her own.

Silently, he seated himself beside her on the picnic table with his own small handful of pebbles. She tossed in one of hers, and he followed it with one of his own. The dual wave patterns spread, overlapped, and eventually joined to become a single entity. Together, they watched the ripples until they merged into the fabric of the water's surface. Then, as though by some silently agreed upon signal, they each threw in another stone.

The simple ritual continued until Sam ran out of pebbles. He held out his hand, palm up, offering one of his own, but she shook her head and wiped her hands on her slacks.

"So," he said when the water finally stilled for the last time. "Want to talk about it?"

"About what, Sir?"

He sighed. "Can I just say how much I hate that particular three letter word?"

A smile teased at the corners of her mouth. "It's the price you pay for being good at what you do."

That earned her a well-deserved roll of the eyes. "Carter, so help me..."

"Sir?" Her smile turned into a full-blown grin. She loved teasing him.

He grumbled something under his breath about cheeky scientists, and flicked a ladybug off his sleeve. "So why the sudden burst of melancholy?" he asked.

"Melancholy?" She suspected her eyebrows had just disappeared into her hairline somewhere, but still... It was hardly a word one expected to hear coming out of Jack O'Neill's mouth.

"Down in the dumps, fit of the doldrums, lost your best friend..."

She held up a hand in a plea for mercy. "I get it already."

He trailed to a stop. "So?"

"So nothing. I'm fine." Talking about the situation wasn't going to change it. He'd still be headed for the Pentagon, and she'd still be stuck here. She wondered fleetingly if absence really did make the heart grow fonder. Somehow she doubted it.

"You know, Carter," he said casually. "You're a rotten liar."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard what I said."

She sighed. "Leave it be, Jack."

"Why?"

"Because I'll get over it." She stepped down from the table and moved to the edge of the pond, turning her back on him.

They were quiet for a long time then, but she knew he hadn't left. She still felt his presence behind her.

"Thought I'd sell the house," he said finally.

She swallowed hard, remembering some of the good times they'd had there. "Yeah," she said. "Probably makes sense."

"And the bike."

She turned at that. "You're going to sell your bike?"

He shrugged. "Might raise a few eyebrows if I go tooling around D.C. in dress blues on the back of a Harley."

The mental image made her smile. "There is that."

"Probably don't need my truck, either."

"No?"

"Nope." He looked mildly abashed. "Apparently I'm to have a driver."

"Oh." And yet another change, she thought. Independent, irreverent, damn the establishment Jack O'Neill was caving to the conventions of car and driver. The mind boggled.

"So what about you?" he said.

"What about me?"

"You planning on taking them up on the offer of a transfer to Area 51?"

Her turn to shrug. "Maybe."

"Oh, for cryin' out loud," he said, exasperated. "I'll get out of your hair so you can brood."

She snapped her eyes up to his. "No!"

"No, what?"

"No, I'm not going to brood anymore? No, I don't want you to go? Take your pick."

He tilted his head to one side, observing her. "Is there a choice C?"

"All of the above. Yeah. Just... Stay."

"Well," he said, "since you put it so charmingly."

She snorted and turned back to the pond.

"Sam..."

She heard him come over, but didn't expect the graze of his fingers against her bare arm.

"Sorry," he said, when she flinched.

"No, it... It's okay." One of these days maybe she'd be able to feel his touch without her heart attempting a mad leap out of her chest cavity. "I'm just a little preoccupied, I guess."

"Ya think?" A smile flitted through his eyes. "So are you going to tell me what's going on with you?"

"Do you ever wish you could go back to the way things were?" She asked.

He blinked at the apparent subject change. "The way things were, when?"

"I don't know... two years ago, three?"

"Ahh," he said. "Back when we didn't have anything to worry about except the occasional overdressed, hyper-arrogant bad guy." He picked up a twig and threw it into the water. "Nope. Can't say I miss it."

She blew out a breath. "Not exactly what I was referring to."

He turned to look at her. "Then what?"

"The team. Us."

"Us?" He asked, eyebrow raised.

"Look," she said, frustrated, "never mind, okay?" She turned way. "I'd better head back. Things to do and all that."

"Sam. Damn it." He grabbed her arm, bringing her to a stop and swinging her back to face him. "Don't walk away from me."

She glared at him, suddenly angry. "I'm not the one walking away."

"Excuse me?"

"First you leave the team, now you're leaving the SGC..."

"It's my job!"

She pulled her arm away from him, unable to keep the bitterness out of her voice. "I know. It's always our jobs."

"Is that what this is about? You're pissed because I'm moving to Washington?" He sounded unaccountably pleased by the thought, which only made her madder.

"No!" But the heated denial was tinged with doubt, and he eyed her keenly.

"That's it, isn't it." He said the words quietly, as if the concept was foreign to him and he was testing the feel of it on his tongue.

"It doesn't matter."

He watched her for a moment. "It's only the Pentagon, Carter."

"It's only the other side of the country, Jack."

"And this bothers you."

She looked askance at him. "Are you messing with me?"

"No," and then, so softly that she almost didn't catch the words, "more's the pity."

She gaped at him. "Did you really just say what I think you said?"

He shoved a hand through his hair and looked around, confirming that they were alone. "Does it matter?"

"Yes!"

He shook his head. "But it doesn't change anything."

"I could quit."

"There's a solution," he snorted. "I can see the headline now. 'Prominent Astrophysicist Deserts Post for Love'."

Her eyes grew wide as the last word hung in the air between them, and there was a breathless moment of silence before she responded. "It isn't any worse than 'Famous Explorer Quits Job to Become House Husband'."

He grinned. "Now we know why you're a scientist and not a journalist."

She grinned back. "Shut up."

"And do what?"

"What would you like to do?" Good God. She was openly flirting with her C.O.

He took a single step in her direction, the humor in his eyes suddenly replaced by something deep, and warm, and dangerously masculine. Her breath caught in her throat as her fingers begged for the freedom to touch what was being offered, but she fisted them at her sides and sucked in a fortifying gulp of air. Self-control was a slippery thing, difficult to hold onto when they were in the same room, impossible when his breath feathered the hair at her temple.

His gaze dropped to her heaving breasts, lingered just long enough to confirm her body's betrayal, and then climbed slowly back up. Brown eyes locked on blue.

"I can think of a lot of things I'd liketo do," he murmured. "But the Air Force frowns on about 98 percent of them."

Chain of command or no, she couldn't let him leave without at least sampling the forbidden fruit. Full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes, she thought.

"I won't tell if you won't."

"God, Sam. When you look at me like that..." The rest of the words were lost as his lips descended hungrily on hers.

Nothing would have convinced her to back away from him. This moment, this kiss, was too important. It was her chance to show him how she felt, and she wasn't about to let it slip away.

So when he nibbled, she nibbled back.

When he tasted, she teased.

When he buried his hands in the softness of her hair, she responded by walking her fingers across the fabric of his shirt and beyond, dancing them restlessly against the smooth skin of his shoulder before moving on to trace his jaw, rough with a day's growth of beard. Onward then, until short strands of silver silk slipped between her fingers and she fitted her hand against the solid warmth of his head, pulling him closer, always and forever closer.

When he groaned, she caught it, swallowed it, and answered it with a low purr of her own.

Then he tasted the tender skin of her neck, cheeks and eyes, but he always returned to her mouth - as though drawn back by some irresistible force.

His hands traced her spine, tested the curve of her hip, moved on to the soft outer edges of her breast, and then it was her turn to groan as liquid heat pooled in her stomach and her legs wobbled dangerously. Sensing her weakness, he pulled her closer still, his arms supporting her weight, his kisses becoming more urgent.

Much had been left unsaid between them over the years, and much must yet remain unspoken. But this, the language of touch, and taste, and smell, could communicate so much more than mere words. His kisses told her he loved her. His hands told her he wanted her. And she listened, heard his message, and returned it a hundredfold.

Heat. Passion. Love. It was all here. And it was enough, and yet not enough. Satisfying, and yet insanely frustrating. Because this, for now, must somehow sustain them.

Jack brought them back slowly, his touch gentling against the heat of her skin, his kisses slowing and then finally ending with a series of light caresses along the edges of her swollen lips. He rested his cheek against the top of her bowed head, and they stood quietly until their breathing returned to something resembling normal.

Finally, Sam took a small step back and looked up to meet his eyes. "We probably shouldn't have done that," she said softly.

"Probably not."

"But it was nice."

He nodded, the corners of his lips quirking into a smile. "Very."

"So now what?"

The smile disappeared. "I still have to go. I can't just walk out."

"I know. I can't either."

"So..." he shrugged. "Looks like we wait a little while longer..."

"Looks that way," she sighed, hating the circumstances that kept forcing them into these types of discussions when what she really wanted to do was drag him to the nearest bed.

"But," he lifted a finger. "There's this cool little invention called an airplane. I understand it can do amazing things."

She laughed. "I think I've heard of those."

"And telephones."

"And email."

"And we can hitch a ride from Thor when he's in town." Jack looked especially pleased with this idea.

"And it won't be forever." Her words were both statement and question, and he reached for her hand.

"No," he said. "It won't be forever."

She considered that, and her smile, when it came, was brilliant. "I can live with 'not forever'."

"It won't be easy."

"When have we ever done easy?"

"Good point." They turned to go. "So," he said, looking over at her. "How about pizza?"

Behind them, the pond reflected the crystalline blue of a cloudless sky.

The End