Chapter 11: Next Steps

While Jack cooled his heels outside Sam's cubicle, he could feel his emotions churning. She'd made it back in one piece. More than that, she'd proved beyond a shadow of a doubt she could handle herself out there. In itself that should have set his mind at ease, reassured him that things could go back to the way they'd always been. But for some reason, he remained unsettled.

Sam walked up behind him, taking him completely off guard.

"I'm finished," she said. "Dr. Keller did her worst and I passed all her tests."

Jack turned slightly and looked at her out of the corner of his eye.

"Did you hear a word I said?" Sam asked.

Jack shook himself and grimaced.

"Yeah, yeah, of course," he said, flashing an easy smile. "The dragon lady gave you a clean bill of health. Does that mean I have you all to myself for a few minutes?"

"I think I could manage that," Sam said. "Let's walk."

Hand in hand, the couple found their way to one of the outdoor balconies. It was still light, the planet's sun headed for the horizon at a slow, leisurely pace. Even now, there was nothing leisurely about the thoughts or feelings going through either of their minds. Nothing was settled. They both knew it.

"Beautiful isn't it?"

"Yep," Jack answered. "If you ask me, these balconies are the best features of this place."

Sam smiled. Jack had never taken to Atlantis, despite his intellectual understanding of the importance of the place.

"I'm proud of you, you know," he said, turning to face her, placing his hands firmly on her shoulders. The look her gave her was that of husband, friend, commanding officer, all rolled into one. Sure enough his eyes gleamed with pride. It was the look he'd given her as he'd pinned on her insignias at her last promotion. It was that look, magnified by the intimacy they now shared.

His words warmed her heart in a way only Jack was capable of doing. His approval meant a great deal, it always had. It had been her first mission since her trauma with Oscar, her first mission since she'd been changed, and she'd done well. And Jack knew it.

"Thank you," she said. "I knew I could do it; once I was there I knew I could do it. Thank you for giving me the chance."

Jack puzzled over her comment for a moment. Then he remembered. He could have stood in her way. Either as an overprotective husband, refusing to leave her on her own or as Head of Homeworld Security overstepping the normal chain of command in an effort to keep her safe. But he'd restrained both impulses. And she was grateful. He'd prayed she'd survive to be grateful and she had.

"You're amazing, Sam," Jack said. "Sometimes I take you for granted, assume you'll pull brilliant ideas out of your … head."

She grinned. "And my being out of commission so long …"

"Brought you back down among us normal humans," he said, "so I could be amazed again."

Sam reached up to stroke his cheek. She knew how worried he'd must have been about her especially after how close he'd come to losing her. He needed to let it out, but he never would. He'd let it eat at him.

"I'm alright," she said. "I'm back to normal."

Jack nodded, "Yes you are." He took her in his arms again and held her tightly.

"I don't know how much more of this I can take," he said softly into her hair.

She looked up to meet his eyes. She knew where he was going with this. Her mind was headed in the same direction. The time to settle down, go home, stay home with Jack, it was coming. It wasn't a bad thing, but it wasn't here yet.

"Not yet, Jack," she said. "I have more to do here."

"I know."

"Then come with me," she said. "I need to check on Michael."


A/N: Posted multiple chapters tonight as an apology to the small group of very loyal readers who've been waiting for the long overdue updates of this story. Hope you enjoyed. Any and all comments greatly appreciated.

I am working on another one or more chapters in the near future.