Note: This final chapter is dedicated to everyone who's stuck with the story since the beginning and those new readers picked up along the way!
Chapter Sixteen: Progress
It was hours later before Sam woke, smiling and snuggling closer to the warmth of Jack's body. He was breathing with a slow, steady rhythm, and she knew he was still asleep. Slowly dragging her left arm from his stomach, she lifted her wrist and peered blearily at the face of her watch. It was close to seventeen-hundred-hours, and her eyes widened as she suddenly remembered that everyone was supposed to be coming over for dinner. Sam had no meal prepared, and besides that, she didn't feel much like moving. She just wanted to stay on the couch with Jack for as long as possible.
Sam suddenly felt foolish for worrying how Jack would react once they'd gotten back home, and decided that he seemed more comfortable being with her when no one else was around, and more comfortable expressing the new emotions he was experiencing from memories once lost.
Hearing a knock at the door, Sam cursed under her breath and tried to quickly and carefully disentangle herself from Jack and climb off the sofa. She cursed aloud when Dorothy sprang up from the floor, running to the front door and barking, instantly waking Jack. Sam quickly put a calming hand on Jack's chest when she took in his startled expression. "It's okay, it's just the guys, Janet, and Cassie," she assured him calmly, leaving him to run and get the door.
Daniel was a little surprised at the disheveled looking Sam that answered the door, and was nearly bowled over by an excited Dorothy, who bullied her way between everyone to soak up every bit of attention she could get. "Hey Sam," he leaned over to ruffle the German Sheppard's fur. "Dorothy,"
"Hey," Sam ushered everyone inside, grabbing Dorothy by the collar and dragging her back in as well.
Teal'c was the last to come in, closing the door behind him.
"I'm sorry guys," Sam apologized, running a hand through her mussy blonde hair, "I fell asleep and completely forgot about dinner,"
Janet smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry about it, we'll just order in,"
Sam heaved a sigh and nodded gratefully. Daniel, Teal'c, and Cassie were already heading down to the lounge where Jack was, Dorothy trotting after them. "Jack just got up too, so he might be a little groggy," she warned.
Reaching for Sam's arm to get her attention before they went into the lounge with everyone, Janet pulled two bottles of pills from her purse and held them out to her. "I had to adjust Jack's medication slightly. Oh, and his blood work all checked out too,"
"Good, good," Sam nodded and took the pills, then went into the lounge with Janet.
"Okay," Janet sat down on the arm of the chair Daniel was sitting in. "What does everyone want for take-out? Pizza? Chinese? Italian?"
Cassie sat on the floor, petting Dorothy. "I could go for Chinese,"
"Yeah, sure, me too," Daniel nodded, smiling at Janet.
"I, as well," Teal'c agreed.
Sam noticed that everyone was looking expectantly at Jack. She swiftly sat beside him on the couch and laid a hand on his knee. "Is Chinese alright with you, Jack?" Suddenly, Sam realized that he hadn't eaten all day and that he must have been starving. He was still looking pretty groggy and a little confused as well. She gently rubbed at his knee, trying to get him to focus. "Jack?"
He blinked dazedly, then shook his head as if to clear it and nodded with a small smile. "Yeah, sure, Chinese."
Janet handed Daniel the phone, "Here, you order for everyone. Sam, is Mr. Chung's still on speed-dial seven?"
"Yeah," Sam answered distractedly, more focused on Jack. He had her a little concerned at the moment. "You alright?" she whispered to him privately while Daniel was busy ordering their food, and Cassie and Teal'c watched television.
"Uh-huh," Jack got up unexpectedly and walked into the kitchen with Dorothy getting up from where she laid on the floor and following, wagging her tail eagerly.
Still holding Jack's pills, Sam shared a brief look with Janet and went after him. She found him refilling Dorothy's water bowl and getting out the kibble from the kitchen closet. "Jack," she began, unsure what to say to him.
"Yeah?" Jack patted Dorothy on the head as he set her bowl of food down beside the water dish.
She went over to him where he was crouched by the dog's bowls, scratching Dorothy's neck when she came over to eat. Sam put her hand on his shoulder. Suddenly sensing that he was unsure of himself and what he'd been feeling and remembering, she boldly decided to talk to him as though he were a hundred percent back to his usual self. She decided he needed some normalcy; needed them to treat him like he was as he'd always been. "Jack... I do love you, you know,"
He lifted his head and looked up at her, a smile spreading across his face. Getting to his feet, he pulled Sam into his arms and kissed her.
Sam's eyes were wide with surprise, but she found her arms winding around his back as he held her. It hadn't been a mind-blowing, can't-catch-your-breath, sparks-are-flying type of kiss, but it was sweet and full of affection and love. Smiling back at him, she raked her fingers through his hair and reluctantly stepped out of his embrace, remembering the others were all down in the lounge. She felt a pleasant tingle as he ran a hand down her arm. "C'mon, let's go down to the living room with everyone, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Jack quirked a brief, crooked little smile. He lightly entwined their fingers, and together they walked hand in hand down to the lounge.
If any of the others noticed the cozy way Jack and Sam strolled into the lounge, hand in hand, no one said anything. They all went back to what they were doing, chatting amicably amongst themselves and watching tv.
"They said the food should be here in about forty-five minutes," Daniel announced, suddenly pulling Janet down from the armrest and into the chair beside him. He smiled when she shrieked and playfully swatted his shoulder.
Having finished off her evening meal, Dorothy trotted back down to the lounge and made her way around the room, gathering her share of attention from all of their guests before finally curling up on the rug in front of the fireplace.
Cassie turned to look at the mantle. "Hey Sam, can we light the fire?" she asked eagerly.
"Sure," Sam nodded in agreement. It was getting really cold outside, and the house had a slight chill which would be chased out by the inviting warmth of a nice fire.
Daniel and Teal'c each got up to gather the wood from the back porch while Sam went to get a lighter and the starter log in the basement.
Dorothy sat up by Jack's feet and he bent over to scratch her neck. Sitting up again, he watched his friends curiously as Daniel and Teal'c helped Sam get the fire going. Scooting toward the end of the couch closest to the fireplace, Jack leaned over to be next to the heat, the German Sheppard at his feet crawling over along the floor to do the same.
With the fire blazing and a comfortable warmth spreading throughout the house, everyone was later seated around the kitchen eating Chinese food and chatting easily with one another. Things seemed more like old times, and Sam was just glad that Jack seemed genuinely happy with everyone around now. Everything was going well tonight, even as they were all adjusting to Jack's recent changes, with him adapting more socially again, and physically doing things he hadn't been capable of months or even weeks ago.
Throughout the evening, Janet seemed to be the one most aware of the closeness of her two friends. Jack seemed more in tune with his memories and emotions, and Sam appeared to be more willing to open up to him as well. She was happy for them, trusting that Sam would be the one to know whether Jack was ready to start a real relationship with her or not, and if he was mentally capable of understanding and participating emotionally now.
As Teal'c finished cleaning up the take-out containers in the kitchen with Cassie, he returned to the lounge and gazed at all his friends relaxing on the comfortable chairs and couch. The Jaffa shared a brief smile with the teenager at his side, also looking upon their family with a heartwarming smile. There was a movie playing on the tv, but no one in the room seemed to be paying any attention.
Janet was snuggled up tightly next to Daniel on the armchair, the both of them asleep with a blanket covering them. Sam laid sprawled on her side on the couch, her head resting comfortably on a pillow in Jack's lap as she dozed, and Jack was slouched on the cushions, one hand resting on Sam's shoulder, his eyelids heavy as he looked ready to fall asleep himself. And curled up cozily in front of the fire was Dorothy, not quiet sleeping, but keeping a watchful eye on her family and their guests.
"I believe it is time to depart," Teal'c rumbled lowly, turned sideways toward Cassie again.
"Yeah, I think so too," the teen giggled softly and trotted down the steps into the lounge. "I'll go wake Mom and Daniel." She smiled and went over to them, careful not to bother Sam or Jack in the process.
Daniel and Janet slowly woke to someone shaking their shoulders, and they both yawned and stretched on the armchair, opening their eyes to find Cassie trying to nudge them awake. "What time is it?" Daniel mumbled sleepily.
Cassie briefly glanced at her watch, "Almost nine-thirty," she told them quietly.
Janet hummed softly and got up from the chair, disentangling herself from Daniel and yawning again. "Okay." She stretched and smiled over at the two on the couch. Sam was still fast asleep and Jack was getting there. "Time to go home."
The four guests said their goodbyes to Jack without waking Sam and all quietly made their way out the door. Teal'c was the last one out, casting a parting glance at the pair on the couch and allowing a smile to appear briefly on his lips. The Jaffa then locked the door behind himself and closed it quietly before leaving.
Jack had nearly dropped off to sleep when everyone had left, but his right knee was cramping, and despite his best intentions to remain still so that he wouldn't bother Sam, Jack had begun to squirm, trying to stretch his leg a little to ease the discomfort.
"Jack?" Sam questioned sleepily in a soft, groggy voice, lifting her head from the pillow against his lap and blinking tiredly up at him. Her eyes shifted to look around the dark lounge, brows furrowing briefly in confusion. "Where is everybody?"
"Went home," Jack told her with a slight shrug and a crooked little smile. "Everyone was fallin'...asleep." He cocked his head to the side for a moment, then added, "'Cept Teal'c...an' Cassie."
Sam nodded, still feeling tired like she wanted to crawl right into bed and go back to sleep. However comfy the couch could be as she laid there with her head in Jack's lap, a bed would have still been more welcoming. Sitting up and stretching with a yawn, she glanced down at the floor for a moment, seeing Dorothy curled up on the rug. Her blue eyes shifted back to Jack when she noticed he started rubbing at his right leg. "Hey, what's the matter with your leg?"
Jack blinked and looked over at Sam, sensing the concern in her tone and managing to smile in a way that he hoped was reassuring. "Just..stiff," he informed her, flexing his knee a few times and sitting a little straighter on the couch.
"C'mon." Sam smiled warmly at him, standing and gently gripping his forearms. "Let's get you to bed. Tomorrow we've got to go see Janet to get the test results from your PET scan."
Yawning with a slow nod, Jack leaned forward and let Sam help pull him to his feet. It had been a long day, and he was really tired. He hadn't had any memories from before popping up in his mind today, and he was a little grateful for that. The flashes confused him when they didn't connect, and it was hard dealing with the sudden emotions they often provoked.
Releasing Jack's arms, Sam moved to the fireplace to make sure the screen was safely closed and turned to see Jack slowly ascending the steps with Dorothy at his heels. When he paused to glance back at Sam questioningly, as if waiting for her, she sent him a reassuring smile. "Go on and get changed for bed. I'll shut off all the lights and bring your pills," she told him softly.
Sam had gone to her room and changed quickly into her own nightwear before going to Jack's room with his medicine and a glass of water. He was sitting on his bed having dressed in some sweats and a long-sleeved shirt, gently scratching Dorothy behind the ears where she laid on the mattress beside him. "Here you go." She held out the tablets and water for him, waiting patiently as he swallowed the pills.
"Thanks," Jack said quietly with a slight smile quirking on his lips.
Standing back, Sam hesitated awkwardly for a moment before finally giving in and leaning forward to wrap her arms around Jack and give him a brief kiss on the lips. "Goodnight Jack,"
Jack lifted his head and grinned as Sam slowly pulled back. "'Night," he murmured at her retreating form, feeling as though he didn't want to let her go. They'd often shared a sleeping space at some point during the night since Sam's return from her year-long absence, and as he laid down in bed with Dorothy curled up at his feet, Jack realized that he really didn't like being so far away from her.
Heaving a sigh, Jack laid down, but didn't get under the covers. He stared up at the ceiling while Dorothy shifted around on the bed by his feet.
Sam got into bed and closed her eyes, laying on her side. She found that it wasn't so easy getting back to sleep after she'd been resting so comfortably with Jack on the couch. She missed his warmth. Heaving a sigh, she opened her eyes for a moment and peered in the dark toward the baby monitor receiver on her night stand. The dot of red light on it reminded her that she hadn't turned Jack's monitor on. Blinking slowly, her brows furrowed in thought as she continued to stare at the red light, contemplating whether or not to go to Jack's room to turn the monitor on. She wasn't so sure that he would need it anymore, but was worried about taking any chances.
Disconcerting thoughts flittered across her mind as she laid there. The Tok'ra's machine had obviously been helpful already with Jack's mental faculties, but what if he had another seizure and she wasn't there because she hadn't heard him? What if he had a nightmare without her there to soothe him? What if he got one of his bad headaches and was forced to suffer alone?
Suddenly making up her mind about the monitor, Sam sat up in the dark and was about to get up when her bedroom door opened. Faint light from the hallway flooded her room, and silhouetted the tall form now standing in her doorway. She squinted, turning and letting her feet hang over the side of the bed. "Jack?"
He nodded and stepped into the room almost hesitantly.
Worried that something was wrong, Sam stood and rushed to meet him as he took another step in the room. Her hands grasped gently at his forearms. "Jack, are you okay?"
Slowly, he smiled crookedly at her and whispered, "Can I stay?"
Sam's brows furrowed for a moment, then smiled gently in understanding. This was certainly different. Usually she was the one to go to his room because of one reason or another, not the other way around. Nodding, Sam dropped a hand down to his wrist and lightly pulled him over to the bed with a nod. "Yeah, you can stay."
Jack waited until Sam got back in bed before slowly crawling under the covers and snuggling up to her back, tentatively draping an arm over her waist. This felt right to him, and he really liked it.
Closing her eyes as she felt Jack nuzzle into the back of her neck, Sam heard sudden footsteps approaching the bed before a weight made the mattress dip down behind her and Jack. It was unmistakably Dorothy. The big dog circled a few times before laying down at their feet, and Sam smiled, now completely content. Her Jack was definitely coming back to her. He wouldn't ever be the same Jack she'd always known, and she knew that, because he was now free with his feelings, and admitted that he loved her. They could be together now, and happy that way without fear of repercussions.
She loved him enough to wait as long as it took, however long he needed. For now, just having him with her was more than enough. She could've lost him a little over a year ago, and that fear of losing him was enough to make her truly realize the important things in life, things that meant more to her than anything. These were things she would forever cherish and hold on to, because that was what made all their hardships worth it.
Check out the sequel to this story, Transitions, and the ficlet series with snippets of Jack's recovery before and after: Bits and Pieces.