This is just pretty much just Jack and Sam flirting to wrap it up. And a mystery is solved.
Thanks to everyone for reading my story! PLEASE leave a review. (I mean, if you suffered through the whole thing then a couple more minutes isn't too much to ask, is it?)
Also, thanks to those who have posted a link in their different forums. I appreciate it very much and hope these last couple of chapters did not disappoint.
O'Neill's driver drops him off at the end of the day, or maybe the start of a new one because Jack quit wearing a watch after Carter came to Washington just to keep from checking it every ten minutes. He opens the door to his townhouse with a quiet sigh, because he's sure she's been asleep for hours. Much to his surprise, however, there's a light on in the corner of the front room and the fireplace is on, too, with Carter sitting on the floor in front of it, reading. If he squints it's not too hard to believe they're still on P3X-124. Unlike their stint on that planet, however, she smiles and gets to her feet and then comes over and kisses him gently, just a little kiss of appreciation, and he thinks maybe being here on earth isn't so bad after all. Except of course, she's leaving in the morning. "Is it terrible of me to like coming home to find you waiting with dinner..."
"...still in the fridge?" she smiles. "Is it terrible of me to like seeing you all dressed up every day?"
"Depends on if it's because you like me in blue or if you just have a thing for higher-ranking officers," he says as she loosens his tie and unbuttons the top button of his shirt and he decides service dress does have a serious advantage over a t-shirt and BDUs after all.
"I used to fantasize about you like that, you know."
"Really?" He's very entertained by that thought. "Dr. Major Samantha Carter PhD?" He slips his hands up under her sweatshirt, up along her bare back, because he can.
She smiles sheepishly. "Captain Carter."
"That far back?" It'll be a cold day in hell before he ever admits that he'd have liked to have his way with her on the briefing room table the first day they met. She doesn't need to know how hopeless he really is.
He smiles and nuzzles her hair. "If I'd known it turned you on I'd have bucked for a promotion a lot sooner." He runs his index finger down her spine, slowly so she doesn't chill. "But I'm glad you're over that because I never want you to call me 'Sir' in bed. "
"Because when you call me that at work, I'll be the one standing at attention."
She laughs and kisses his neck. "Then I suggest you wear your jacket, sir."
They decide to have supper at an all-night diner within walking distance because neither one of them feel like much else. The moon is high in the clear sky as they stroll down the sidewalk, and Sam regards the familiar disc with a smile. "I missed it while we were gone."
"Yeah," Jack concurs, "and I've always liked the moon better than the sun, anyway."
"It shines when you really need it."
She gives him a sidelong glance as he holds the door open for her and then she picks a little booth by the window and slips into it with a sigh, causing Jack to raise an eyebrow.
"Not looking forward to tomorrow," she replies to his unspoken question.
"Duty calls," he says, suddenly finding the menu makes very interesting reading. He can feel her eyes on his face but he doesn't look up until she turns to stare out the window at the few cars passing by.
"Yes," she says, almost absentmindedly, "I guess it does, for now."
"It can be for always. I'll survive."
"Aren't you tired of just surviving?"
"I've always been very fond of surviving."
She turns with a small, wry smile and this time he manages to hold her gaze. "Look, Carter, if I have to pick between normal and you, I'll take you any day."
Sam isn't offended because they both know that sometimes the only deep conversation he's capable of having is one in which he digs himself a hole. That doesn't stop him from being a little frustrated with himself, though, and he sits back against the padded booth with a sigh.
She catches his hand before he's able to slip it off of the table and complete his retreat. And it's not just from stupid semantics and bad jokes- he doesn't want to talk about her leaving. The truth is, he doesn't give a shit if they've already blown a few million on her new lab or if she's the only one who can figure out this doodad or that data. And as sure as the sun will rise someone somewhere is going to have a problem only Carter can solve and she'll go, and maybe never come back again. "I can't protect you," he says abruptly.
"That's why you're here, Jack," she runs her fingers over his hand. "You shouldn't have to. I never thought you'd be happier with paperwork and politicians, but you are."
"It's not the paperwork and politicians that make me happy, Carter," he points out.
"Right," she acknowledges with a smile. "but you're not sending people through the gate anymore, either."
He can't deny that. He misses the SGC, but he doesn't miss the job. It's still not clear what that's got to do with the situation at hand. "So?"
"So worrying about my job is not your boat to row."
"That sounds like something I'd say."
"Does it, now?" she cocks her head in a perfect O'Neill imitation.
He smiles. "Where's that polite officer who won't smart off to her superiors?"
"She's around. Just not here."
"Yes. Point taken." It's going to be a little weird switching from Jack and Carter to General and... Carter, but he thinks he can probably handle that. The waitress arrives to take their order and after that he's feeling a little more optimistic. "So what's the plan?"
She shrugs. "I don't know."
He's taken aback. "Wow. Colonel Carter really is MIA."
"I have what I want. The rest is just details."
Some details, he thinks. Twenty-five hundred miles apart, the constant threat of off-world travel and earthly disasters and God only knows what else. And then he feels like there's one of those mind-reading thingies on his head as he sees a series of images- Carter hurt, frozen, bound, possessed, dying, imprisoned, unconscious, lost.
She's right. The rest is just details.
There's just one detail he wants nailed down right now. "Wanna go fishing?"
"Name the date," she smiles.
He's been waiting for that answer for nearly six years. "As soon as Landry gives the boys some time off."
Sam nods enthusiastically and then her expression becomes more pensive. "Did they know?"
"Carter, they knew before we did. And so did everybody else."
"Then who blew the whistle?"
"The ship's nurse." He has to admit he never saw that one coming.
"What? I don't even remember the ship!"
Jack shrugs. "She was part of the medevac team and got a look at the house and the way I acted and put two and two together."
"And literally made a federal case out of it?" Sam gasps.
"She was just an 0-1. Thought she was doing her job." He shrugs. "And then there were those marks I left on your..."
"Would you like some coffee?" the waitress interrupts with impeccable timing.
"Two cups. Decaf."
"You're kidding!" Sam whispers sharply.
"Oh, I'm sorry. A diet soda for her, please." The waitress leaves and he turns to her with a smug smile. "Of course I'm kidding." But she doesn't really believe him and he can't blame her for that.
"I'm going to get a look at those charges," she says, sitting back with a determined air.
"You can't. They're against me, not you." His smile gets even more smug."Besides, she was right, wasn't she?"
Sam grins about as evilly as she can, which is not very much. "I'm not sure I remember."
"Then this can jog your memory." He smiles and takes out his wallet and removes the crossword puzzle. It's almost falling apart from the folding and refolding that it's been subjected to for the last four months but she can see that every single answer is correct, perfectly written with no erasures.
"You kept this."
It wasn't his intention to make her cry and for a moment he just wants to take it back. "It was all I had."
"I never forgot anything, Jack. And I wasn't going to stay away."
He studies her face for a long moment. "I know." He takes it gently out of her hands, refolds it and puts it away. "So make me another one of these in eight years."
"No problem." her face brightens at the prospect.
"No problem? I'm giving you the answers first- then you write the questions." He can just see her mind working at the pleasant thought of a puzzle to solve. "The first answer is 'Any time you're ready,' and the second is, 'Tahiti.'"
She smiles and he knows she's already got him figured out.