Changes and Constants

Sam snuck around the corner, entered the locker room silently and let out a relieved sigh. Kicking off her high heels, she left the shoes where they fell and moved on to more important matters – like getting the jacket from her dress blues off immediately. Throwing the jacket in the general direction of the bench, she ignored it when it hit the floor rather than the intended target. Another sigh of relief escaped her as she curled and uncurled her toes several times. It showed how little she actually wore her dress uniform – the same shoes she'd worn into the SGC on her first day still weren't broken in yet.

Moving over to the bench, she flopped down gracelessly and savoured having a moment to herself. She had been operating in crisis mode for way too long, and the opportunity to sit and do nothing hadn't presented itself for weeks. First there had been the mission where Jack had stuck his head in that damn Ancient repository, then there had been the frantic scramble to find the Lost City. From there they'd returned to Earth knowing Anubis wasn't far behind and once again the pressure was on to save the world. Immediately after destroying Anubis, they had been forced to place Jack in an Ancient device, hopefully in order to keep him alive. The following few weeks had consisted of long days filled with meetings and sleepless nights filled with worry as they tried to come to international agreements on what to do with Antarctica and find a way to save Jack. She mentally glossed over her time with Fifth, as that wasn't something she wanted to remember. The relief at returning home with Jack alive and well had quickly given way to frantic preparations for his ceremony to take control of the SGC. Now that too was over, and she was hoping for a lull before things picked up again, as they inevitably seemed to do.

Casting a glance at the jacket lying on the floor, she smiled. Lieutenant Colonel Carter… For a man who claimed to hate surprises, he sure loved giving them, particularly to her. He'd been walking around the base with a huge grin for days; she should have known he was up to something. She smiled wider, remembering the pride she'd seen as he'd pinned her insignia on. While many people in his position would have been glowing with pride for having climbed to the rank of General, she had no doubt that every last ounce of pride he'd felt at that moment had been for her.

Hearing a gentle knock on the door, Sam resisted the urge to hide behind a row of lockers and pretend she wasn't there. The urge was particularly strong, as she couldn't hear claxons going off – a sure sign that there was no emergency requiring her attention. Instead, she sucked it up and called out a 'what?' that sounded only half as irritated as she felt.

"Whoa, I come in peace!" Jack joked, rounding the corner with his hands raised in mock surrender.

"General, sir!" Sam replied, hopping to attention. God, but it felt strange to be addressing him this way.

"Carter, I swear if you keep doing that I'm going to have you court martialled. For the last time, stop treating me like a General, that's an order" he sighed in exasperation.

"Yes sir," she replied with a smile, knowing it was an empty threat, as crazy as it was making him to have everybody treating him like 'The Man'.

"You escaped from the party pretty quickly, no one even noticed you were gone," he noted, but his real meaning was clear: I noticed.

"I just need some time to do nothing. The last few weeks have been pretty wild," she explained. "No offense, but seeing as it's our party I figured I could leave. There was still one guest of honour present."

"You've been kind of quiet all day, are you sure you're okay?" he asked suddenly, veering off to a different topic of conversation as only he could.

"I'm just trying to take it all in," she assured, knowing his concern was genuine. "A lot has happened and there hasn't been a lot of time to let everything sink in."

"Are you sleeping ok?"

"Yes sir,"

"No nightmares?"

"Some," she confessed, meeting his eyes and holding his gaze. "I'm handling them okay though. They're pretty bad, but even as I'm having them I can tell that they're only nightmares. That makes it more bearable."

"That's good," he nodded slowly, "But if you ever need to talk about it, about anything, I'm here," he added somewhat uncomfortably.

"How are you doing sir?" she asked, glad to shift attention away from her own problems.

"I'm not really sure yet," he replied. "Hammond left me some pretty big shoes to fill and there isn't likely to be a honeymoon period where I'll get to settle in before the chaos starts, but…"

"You can handle it sir," Sam said confidently. "And I know all the training says a leader can't be seen to question their own decisions, or be indecisive, but I'm here if you ever want to talk about it. You know I'd keep it between the two of us and I wouldn't think any less of you for it."

"Thanks Carter, that means a lot," he replied sincerely, a warm smile playing across his face.

"Have you given any thought to who's going to be our fourth member?" Sam asked, knowing he would be glad to get away from the touchy-feely conversations they seemed to be having lately.

"I was thinking I'd leave it at the three of you for a while. Then, if and when we decide you need a fourth team member we'll talk about it," Jack replied. "You know, it's your command. You're going to be involved in that kind of decision,"

"You're giving me command of SG-1?!?!?!" she replied incredulously.

"Ye-es," he replied with a smile. "I thought that much was obvious."

"Speaking of big shoes to fill…" she muttered.

"Carter, there isn't anyone else in the universe that I trust to keep Daniel and Teal'c safe out there. And there isn't anyone other than the two of them that I trust to watch your back. That's why you haven't been given your own team before now," Jack explained.

"I thought they'd kept us together so long because we work so well together."

"I used that as an excuse to keep us together," Jack explained sheepishly.

"Oh," Sam replied. This certainly gave her something to think about later on.

"So, I don't think I actually got the chance to say this earlier," Jack changed the subject again, "Congratulations, Lieutenant Colonel Carter," he said warmly, pride oozing from his every word once more.

"Congratulations to you too Brigadier General O'Neill," she sent back, as proud of him as he was of her.

"C'mere," he instructed, holding his arms out to her.

Smiling, Sam stepped into his arms, sighing in contentment as they wrapped tightly around her. She returned the hug, resting her head on his shoulder and savouring the simple fact that he was still alive. She felt him shift and then felt the gentle pressure of his warm lips on her temple.

"I am so proud of you," he murmured. "You've come so far and grown so much these last few years that I can't even comprehend how it happened."

"I'm proud of you too," she whispered back. "You deserve this so much more than you'll ever give yourself credit for."

"I tried to get a hold of Dad so that he could be here, but I couldn't contact any Tok'ra at all," Jack said quietly, knowing that she needed to know but not wanting to worry her. He could literally feel the concern begin coursing through her veins. "That could mean a million things, Sam, try not to fixate on the worst case scenario."

"Thank you," she murmured thickly, "For trying to get him here and for being honest with me."

He didn't say anything else, just tightened his hold on her and let her take whatever comfort she could from his presence. They stood like that for long minutes before Jack began swaying slightly; knowing she always found the slight rocking motion comforting. He knew how heavily it weighed on her, not knowing if Jacob was alive or not. He also knew that the hardest part of the whole situation was the fact that she had been given the opportunity to say goodbye to her father, but she'd had so many drugs in her system that she only vaguely remembered his visit, and she had been too battered and bruised to even hug him. Jack dropped another gentle kiss to her temple in an attempt to soothe her.

"Cassie's been asking about you," Sam said softly, burying her face in the side of his neck. "She's missed you since we went looking for the Lost City."

"I need to get over and see her," Jack admitted, feeling telltale wetness on his neck, but not calling her on her tears, knowing it would only push her to put an end to this line of conversation. "How's she been doing lately?"

"She's better," Sam assured. "She's not over it by any stretch of the imagination, but she's doing better than I'd dared to hope for. Dominic has been terrific at helping her through it, so have his parents."

"She's still seeing him?" Jack asked suspiciously, the overprotective father in him kicking in at the thought of 'his' little girl having a boyfriend.

"He's been good for her, so don't you go scaring him away," she chastised with a chuckle.

"How's Pete adjusting to Cass' constant presence at your place?" Jack asked, almost hating himself for bringing up the other man when they were standing here having a real conversation for the first time in way too long.

"He's okay with it now, although it took some getting used to for all of us," Sam replied. "He's a good guy, he really loves me," she informed him.

"I know. I'm happy for you – you deserve to have a life," Jack assured. It may not have been a glowing endorsement of her getting a life, but it was the closest he could bring himself to give.

"Thank you," she replied simply.

"Thank you," he didn't need to elaborate, they both knew exactly what the other meant. Thank you for the support, the confidence in each others' abilities, the friendship, the warmth. Thank you for letting me get past your walls and thank you for getting past mine. Thank you for always being there. Thank you for giving me everything you have and thank you for asking for nothing in return. Thank you for being you.

"Daniel and Teal'c sent me to find you. We're going to blow this pop stand and go celebrate at my place. I've got four steaks the size of your head defrosting on the counter, a fridge full of beer and, of course, cake," Jack informed her. "Given that I sent them to go wait in my truck about half an hour ago, we might want to get out there soon."

"What, no Jell-o?" Sam asked in mock anger.

"Carter, for you, there is always Jell-o. Blue, of course," he replied, squeezing her tightly once more before releasing her.

"Then I'm in," she replied with a smile.

"C'mon, let's get out of here," he stated, glancing down at her feet. "You might want to put some shoes on first, though," he smirked.

Complying, Sam reluctantly put her shoes back on and grabbed her jacket from its undignified place on the floor, squirming into it with a not-quite over-dramatic sigh. Presentable once more, Jack placed a hand on the small of her back and ushered her out of the locker room with a smile on his face at the sight of his Lieutenant Colonel. God, was it really eight years ago that she had been his Captain?

"You know sir, if you keep spending so much time in the women's locker room, people will talk," Sam teased lightly as they walked down the hall.

Jack felt a weight lift off his shoulders at her teasing. Apparently she wasn't going to treat him any differently now that he was 'The Man'. So long as he still had his team… His friends, he corrected himself, they were her team now, he could handle whatever the universe threw at him.

Even paperwork.