Title: Before Tomorrow
Author: jabeye
Spoilers: Set after 'Ark of Truth, and before SGA 'Reunion'
Category: Romance. S/J
Summary: As Sam prepares to leave for Atlantis, an unexpected visitor drops in.
Disclaimer: Clearly these delightful characters are not mine, I'm just taking them out for a spin. I'll bring them back in one piece.
Completed: 10 June 2010

Samantha Carter cast a critical eye over her living room, forcing herself to keep the emotions stirred up by this simple act firmly in check.

The room was spotless, not an item out of place, not a rogue speck of dirt to be seen. The stand-out feature, however, was not the cleanliness of the room, but rather the dust sheets that draped inelegantly over the furniture.

Tomorrow, Sam would be moving from Colorado Springs to a new city.

A little city called Atlantis.

In the Pegasus Galaxy.

Mentally, she ran over the distances involved. Though logically she knew that in practical terms it was little further than two short trips through the stargate and a brief transit at the Midway station, emotionally she couldn't help but be struck by the reality that it was the longest distance move she had ever made, by oh, several million light years, give or take.

Even after ten years of stepping through the 'gate and visiting countless distant planets, there was something symbolic about this journey to Atlantis. Its sense of relative permanency, perhaps. The knowledge that she wouldn't just be coming home in a couple of days time.

That was why she was simply buttoning up her house in preparation for her extended absence, rather than selling up and putting her belongings into storage. It felt important to hold onto some roots on Earth.

SG-1 always came home to Earth at the end of the mission, and Sam would come home from this mission to Atlantis, too. It was just going to take a little longer than usual this time, she reasoned.

Her SG-1 teammates had taken the news of her promotion and reassignment in mixed fashion, though all were ultimately pleased by the honour of one of their own being appointed commander of the Atlantis expedition.

Teal'c had been as stoic and practical as ever, commending Colonel Carter on the honour of being selected for such an illustrious position.

Mitchell had been visibly disappointed to lose Sam's vast wealth of off-world experience and technical expertise from his team, but she knew Cam would soon adjust to her absence and enjoy the freedom of leadership without the added complexity of a second lieutenant colonel muddying the chain of command.

Vala was the most openly upset by Sam's impending departure, the two of them having unexpectedly forged a strong female bond in the testosterone rich environment of the SGC.

Daniel's reaction was the one Sam had been the least certain of. She knew Daniel had always harboured a deep desire to explore and study the lost city of the Ancients and was still quietly disappointed that his planned move there had not eventuated after Vala's surprise reappearance.

But she needn't have worried. Daniel, naturally, had been genuinely delighted for Sam and she knew the pride in his voice as they discussed the details of her new role as leader of Atlantis wasn't merely a product of her imagination.

Which really left only one other person whose opinion Samantha Carter truly valued.

Although General O'Neill had known of her appointment even before she did, their clashing schedules had prevented them from speaking in person since the announcement had been made.

Jack had called to offer his congratulations while she was meeting with General Landry to finalise the details of her transfer.

Then, Sam had returned the call whilst he was on the telephone apprising the President of the changes taking place at Atlantis.

He had called and missed her in the middle of a medical assessment to confirm her fitness for the new assignment.

She had left a message with his assistant, who advised that the General was tied up in a lengthy meeting with the IOA.

And so on.

It was your typical game of phone tag, at the most inconvenient of times.

So now here she was, attempting to savour her last night on Earth for who knew how long, whilst trying not to dwell on the possibility that the stars might not align in time for her to speak with her former CO prior to the scheduled dial-out first thing in the morning.

Not that it mattered in the slightest, she did her best to convince herself. With the General heading up the office of Homeworld Security, there was a chance their paths would still cross from time to time once she began her work.

Sam endeavoured to ignore the annoying little voice in the back of her mind that selfishly complained about the lack of a proper goodbye.

Shaking her head at her own silliness, she grabbed a book off a nearby shelf and tossed it into a nearby box of personal effects destined for Atlantis. The corner of a framed photograph peeked out from amongst the mismatched objects in the box, a familiar face gazing out from behind the glass as a fresh reminder of that which was troubling her.

'Oh, for heavens sake Carter, get a grip,' Sam muttered, and for a moment she reached towards the picture frame to extract it from the box. What was she even thinking, taking this with her?

Ding dong!

The shrill chime of the doorbell interrupted the movement of her hand towards the box, and Sam glanced instinctively at her watch.

She wasn't expecting company tonight. Daniel had suggested the team come over for some beers and pizza to keep her company on this final evening, but she had gently discouraged them, pleading a case of last minute packing and a planned early night. She hadn't liked the sense of finality implied by having the occasion marked with an organised get together.

Much better to step through the 'gate tomorrow with the expectation that she would see her friends again soon.

Which, after all, she quite realistically might. Travel between the two galaxies was much more accessible these days than it had been three years earlier when Elizabeth Weir had bravely led her team through the wormhole without any idea of whether they would ever be able to return home at all.

Nowadays, face to face meetings between SGC and Atlantis personnel were almost commonplace.

'Which is precisely why it makes absolutely no difference whatsoever if you speak to Jack O'Neill before you leave or not,' Sam grumbled as she strode towards the front door, the rebuke directed at the nagging thread of disappointment that lingered stubbornly in the back of her mind.

Flinging the door open with more force than she really intended or was strictly necessary, Sam suddenly stopped dead.

So much for those uncooperative schedules.

To get fifteen minutes with the head of Homeworld Security, you had to go ten rounds with his secretary and schedule the date several weeks in advance. Yet here was General Jack O'Neill hovering unannounced on Samantha Carter's doorstep, pizza and beer in his hands, a quizzical look on his face.

'Uh, Carter?' he began, 'Is this a bad time?'

Realising she was still gaping at the General when it was her turn to speak, Sam did her best to regroup.

'Sir! Uh, I wasn't ... Um, no, this is a great time ... Come on in.' She stood aside and gestured towards the interior of the house. Her usually quick mind was stuck five minutes ago when it seemed like she wouldn't even manage to speak to the General ever again – never mind see him in person – and she was still struggling to catch up.

'I brought dinner,' Jack stated rather unnecessarily as he stepped through the doorway, raising the pizza box in offering. He glanced at the covered furniture in Sam's living room and smoothly carried on towards the kitchen. 'Or have you eaten already?' Suddenly his demeanour was uncertain.

'No, actually I'm starving ... Sir.'

Jack raised a speculative eyebrow at the title, tacked onto Sam's response almost as an afterthought.

'But ah ... Sir, what are you doing here? Why aren't you in Washington DC?'

'Carter, you're moving to another galaxy tomorrow. Notice must be paid.' The trademark Jack O'Neill smirk had a warm undertone as he deposited the food and drink on the countertop.

'Sir, you make it sound like I'll never see anybody on Earth ever again,' Sam scoffed. 'Atlantis is an easy trip these days thanks to Midway,' she noted archly, determined not to reveal her own irrational thoughts from earlier.

Jack narrowed his eyes in a slightly knowing fashion, as if weighing her up, then glanced away as he set about separating a pair of beers from the six pack and flipping open the lid of the pizza box. He handed one of the beers to Sam, then gathered up the rest of the meal and moved it out onto the small deck that adjoined the back of Sam's house.

Jack waited until they were comfortably settled into a pair of wooden outdoor chairs before speaking again. 'Actually, as I was on my way over here it occurred to me that you'd probably already have plans with the rest of SG-1.' He made a show of peering back into the otherwise empty house. 'Where are they, incidentally?'

Sam shrugged, twisting the glass bottle in her hands as she shifted in her chair, trying to find comfort on the hard wood. 'I wasn't really in the mood for a party. Besides, I'll probably see them all again in a week's time at the first sign of the next big crisis.' Her mouth twisted up into a half smile.

'You think it's going to be a whole week until the next big crisis?' He grinned, 'Wow, things have really slowed down around here since I left.'

The look Sam shot him was decidedly lacking the respect his silver stars usually commanded from those of Carter's rank and Jack chuckled, enjoying the now rare opportunity to tease his former 2IC. 'Well that may be the case, but it's still the end of an era.' Jack's tone was serious now, almost wistful. 'Another founding member of SG-1 hits the road. Or the wormhole, as the case may be here,' he noted with a circular wave of his hand.

Sam just smiled in silent agreement. The old team was down to just half of its former glory now, with just Daniel and Teal'c left to fly the flag. Luckily the future was still bright thanks to Cam and Vala.

Jack glanced at Sam as he reached across to pull a slice of steaming, cheesy pizza out of the cardboard box. 'Still, you got a better reassignment than me. Wanna trade?' He punctuated the question by taking an unnecessarily large bite out of the slice of pizza.

Sam couldn't stop a giggle from escaping at the thought of a lowly Colonel - albeit a newly promoted full-bird Colonel - trading places with a two-star General. 'Oh yeah, you'd just love all the political wrangling that goes on over Atlantis,' she tossed back without thinking.

Jack grunted and rolled his eyes dramatically. 'Right, there's absolutely no political wrangling involved in being the head of Homeworld Security in Washington DC at all.

Sam grimaced. 'Sorry Sir, I wasn't really thinking.'

He shook his head and chuckled, 'Nah, it's okay Carter. Just be glad you'll at least be slightly removed from it all ... Out there ... In the Pegasus Galaxy.' O'Neill raised his beer and gestured vaguely towards the star-filled sky above.

'True,' Sam pondered the Pegasus Galaxy for a brief moment. 'I wonder what it will be like, living on another planet, in another galaxy, even.'

Jack shrugged. 'Probably much like living on Earth, is my guess. Only with much better ocean views than you tend to get in Colorado.' His brown eyes twinkled.

She grinned. 'Yeah, I know. I just can't help but wonder what people do. You know, for recreation. It's not like you can just go to the mall for a mochaccino, or fly to Bermuda.' Sam knew she was starting to ramble. Damn beer.

The General's expression was amused. 'What, are you planning your first vacation already? Should I pick you up a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to the Pegasus Galaxy before you go?' The tone was all teasing now.

'I'm serious!'

'So am I! Seriously Carter, what difference does it make?'

'What's that supposed to mean?' Sam's voice was slightly indignant.

'Carter, you're the biggest workaholic I've ever met. Even when you get forced into taking time off you usually just end up spending it cooped up in your lab anyway!' Jack's tone was kind, but his expression told of a decade's worth of missed fishing opportunities.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Sam pulled her gaze away from Jack's, focusing instead on a torn corner of the label on her beer bottle.

Jack continued, seemingly oblivious to her discomfort. 'From tomorrow the mysteries of Atlantis will be yours to unravel. I highly doubt you're going to suddenly find yourself itching for some R & R any time soon.' He raised an eyebrow in subtle emphasis.

Carter at least had the good grace to look sheepish. 'Point taken.'

A few minutes passed as they enjoyed the food and drink in companionable silence. Finally Sam risked a glance towards O'Neill. His expression was thoughtful and his eyes were focused safely on his beer.

She sighed. 'Still, you're right. It's a long way from home.'

A flash of something crossed Jack's face, but it was gone before Sam could assign it a label.

'You just take care out there, you hear?' There was a gruffness in his voice now that hadn't been there before.

Sam continued to eye her companion, trying to get a read on him, but Jack kept his gaze firmly on the bottle in his hand as the light from the house reflected dully off the glass. In the end she shrugged and looked back out towards the star-studded fabric of space overhead. 'It's mainly an administrative job, I doubt I'll be going off-world much. I should be safe enough.'

This got Jack's attention, finally shifting his focus back to Sam's face and she took a sharp breath at the intensity of his gaze.

'Yeah? Tell that to Elizabeth Weir.' His voice was harsh.

Sam flinched. Jack was right, the universe was a dangerous place. She should know that as well as anyone. Better, even. Yes, she would do well to keep on her guard at all times, no matter how strong the sense of safety and security offered by the magnificent city of the Ancients.

Meeting Jack's concerned eyes, Sam forced herself to smile. Suddenly she had a glimpse of exactly why he was here, and the realisation made her feel slightly lightheaded.

'I'll be careful. I promise.'

Somewhat appeased, Jack matched her smile with one of his own, easing the tension that had built throughout their exchange. 'You'd better, 'cause I just don't have the time to come and save your ass anymore, you know...'

Beneath the light attempt at humour there was a truth. They'd always watched each others backs, and even after Jack left SG-1, he was comfortable in the knowledge that Daniel and Teal'c would be there when he couldn't. But tomorrow Sam would be taking her next steps alone.

Sam's lips twitched, 'I'll be sure to keep that in mind, Sir.'

Jack nodded primly. 'Yes, well, please do.' He glanced around awkwardly, unsure, hoping for Carter to take pity on him and direct the conversation down a different path.

Sam, however, wasn't finished with the subject of her departure just yet. She looked down at her hands for a few long moments, linking her fingers together as she tried to gather her jumbled thoughts. 'Sir ... I actually ...' she trailed off.

Jack looked over at the woman who usually knew what to say in any situation and waited patiently for her to regroup, resisting the temptation to rush her into spitting the words out.

She took a breath, the action seeming to galvanise her resolve. When she finally spoke, her voice was soft, but the hesitation was gone. 'I'm glad you came.'

Her gaze finally came up to meet his, and O'Neill was struck, not for the first time, by how bright her big blue eyes could be when she let her guard down. He sucked in a breath and shrugged, breaking the eye contact, 'Yeah, well, like I said, notice must be paid.' He glanced back at Sam, her eyes still on his. 'And you're impossible to get hold of on the phone, did you know that?'

Sam couldn't help but laugh out loud at the observation, and the disgruntled expression that accompanied it.

Her beer drained, she deposited the empty bottle on the ground beside her chair and stood up to stand by the rail, gazing out at the vast star field that filled the sky. She knew it wasn't possible to see Pegasus from here, but she still enjoyed the sensation of looking to the skies.

Several minutes passed before Sam felt the air shift, and she sensed rather than felt a warm presence at her shoulder.

'Still beautiful, isn't it?' Jack's voice was closer than she expected, his breath warming her neck as he followed her eyeline towards the heavens.

Carter nodded. 'It's funny, you know,' she began softly. 'You start out studying astronomy and astrophysics because you enjoy looking at the stars and you want to immerse yourself in them. Understand them. But before too long it becomes nothing but mathematics and equations and laws of physics, and you forget what it was that you loved that got you started on all that study in the first place.' She sighed, 'That's why I love what we do. It gives me a chance to come up with all the theories, and then put it all into practice. I get both sides of the coin, you know?'

'You mean like having your cake and eating it, too?' Jack nudged her shoulder with his.

Sam chuckled at the analogy. All they needed now was a reference to magnets and it would be just like old times. 'Yeah, just like that.' She turned her head slightly and found herself caught off guard by how little distance there was between them.

'Sam ...' O'Neill's voice was deep and gravelly, and he hesitated, torn between continuing to speak and remaining silent.

Carter started, surprised by the unexpected use of her given name. 'Sir?'

At this, Jack released a frustrated breath neither of them realised he'd been holding and pulled away from Sam's side ever so slightly. 'Jack.' At her confused look he patiently explained, 'When we're alone like this, it would be okay for you to call me Jack,'

Sam absorbed the unexpected turn the conversation had taken, her mind irrationally wondering whether her new job was going to provide them with the opportunity to be alone like this ever again. 'Okay,' she offered, rather inadequately.

She knew they were on the verge of discussing something important, but as usual neither of them were capable of just saying what they wanted to say. So instead they were stuck dancing around the real issue, their eyes and hearts trying hard to fill in the gaps that their inadequate vocabularies left behind.

Emboldened by the knowledge that in a day's time she would be millions of light years away, Sam turned towards the General, leaning an elbow against the wooden railing. 'Sir, I–'

'Ah!' Jack raised a finger in protest, his eyebrow arched in gentle rebuke.

'Sorry, Jack,' Sam smiled slightly self-consciously. It wasn't the first time she'd used his name, but this was somehow different. She'd never been expressly invited before. 'Jack, I meant what I said earlier. I'm really glad you came. I ... I thought I wasn't going to get to say goodbye.' It was more honest than she'd been all evening, even to herself, and she found she couldn't help but look away.

Jack sighed, eyeing her delicate features closely and seeing the uncertainty written across her face. 'Sam, this isn't goodbye,' he murmured softly.

As she turned her eyes back to her former CO's face, a gentle breeze blew across the garden, catching a strand of her blonde hair and pulling it across her cheek.

Almost without thought, Jack raised his hand to her face and caught the stray lengths between his fingers, pulling them back into place and enjoying the foreign sensation of the silken threads against his skin. He was still getting used to her longer hair, but he couldn't help but notice how the more feminine style emphasised her beauty.

Eyes wide, Sam stood perfectly still, watching Jack as he considered the lock of golden hair that appeared closer to silver in the moonlight. Eventually he let the strand go and ran his fingers gently over the side of her head to smooth the disturbed lengths back into place, his hand eventually coming to rest on her shoulder.

'No, I definitely didn't come to say goodbye.' His adam's apple shifted in his throat and Sam could see Jack was concealing something deeper behind the relatively innocuous words.

'What did you come here to say?' It was almost a whisper, but he was still close enough to hear.

O'Neill looked momentarily surprised to be put on the spot. It wasn't their way to be so direct with one another when it came to their feelings. He quickly settled his features back into their usual arrangement of casual indifference. 'I ... Actually, I'm not really sure.' He shrugged, rubbing his thumb over Sam's shoulder absently. 'You know me, words aren't really my strong suit. That's more Daniel's field.' An unfamiliar look appeared in his deep brown eyes, 'I guess I'm more a man of action.'

As Sam narrowed her eyes in question, the hand that had been resting gently atop her left shoulder left its perch and moved upwards. Instead of reaching for her hair once more, however, Jack's warm fingers came to rest against her neck, caressing the skin there softly.

Blue eyes met brown once more, and this time there was a charge in the air that hadn't been present earlier. Sam's heart skipped a beat as Jack's warm gaze washed over her, his emotions no longer concealed. His hand moved to cup her face, thumb grazing the fine contours of her cheekbone.

Sam opened her mouth to speak but no sound emerged, her lips moving ineffectually.

Jack smirked at this evidence of his effect on her, enjoying the sensation of having thrown the usually cool Colonel Carter so utterly off balance. Unwilling to give her the chance to regain her equilibrium, he slid the hand that had wrought such havoc on her composure around the back of her neck, coaxing her closer.

Sam's eyes widened as she realised his intention, but she didn't resist, enjoying the feeling of her body being pinned by his, the warmth of his breath on her face as the already narrow space between them disappeared entirely.

When his lips finally came to rest against hers, Sam could feel tears inexplicably welling in her eyes, such was the force of her body's response. Years of repressed emotion bubbled to the surface and she leaned into the kiss, a soft moan escaping her throat.

Sam's lips parted involuntarily, inviting a deepening of the connection. In response, Jack's free hand slipped to Carter's waist, easily breaching the defences of her shirt and caressing the soft skin it found underneath. They clung to one another, acting on pure sensation, their bodies instinctively knowing the moves of this particular dance.

Eventually, Jack reluctantly pulled away, his breaths quick and uneven. For all his smugness over Sam's initial reaction, he was far from unaffected himself and he rested his forehead against hers as they recovered from the onslaught of feelings and sensations, unwilling to sever their physical connection.

'So ... That's more or less what I came here to say,' he murmured.

Lifting her face to look at Jack properly, Sam rewarded him with one of her rare dazzling smiles. 'You're right, words are over-rated.'

As he looked into her shining blue eyes, Jack noticed the damp residue of the tears that had overflowed onto her cheeks as the emotions of their first embrace overwhelmed her.

Reaching up to her cheek once again, he gently dabbed at one of the salty droplets with the tip of his thumb, bringing it down into her field of vision. 'Everything okay?'

She examined the glistening moisture intently, embarrassed to have been caught out. Nodding, she weighed her words carefully. 'Better than okay,' she confessed.

Jack considered Sam closely, tossing up whether to press her further. Eventually deciding he was satisfied with the response, he gently wiped away the remaining dampness from her cheeks as she stared up at him. He found himself marveling yet again at the magic of her eyes as they glimmered brightly with the last of her unshed tears.

'Our timing could've been better though,' Sam noted quietly. The euphoria of the kiss was fading and the coldness of reality had started to seep in.

Jack tipped his head to the side in acknowledgement. 'True, it's not ideal,' he admitted as he leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead. 'But I'm not sorry.'

Sam's expression turned to one of mild alarm. 'Oh, no, I didn't mean I was ...' Her blonde head shook sharply. 'I just meant ...'

Jack silenced her by pulling her close and pressing his lips to hers for a brief moment. 'Shhh, I know.'

Sam relaxed slightly. This was more like how they did things. She would try to speak but be incapable of finding the words, and he would somehow manage to understand her intent anyway.

Still feeling troubled by the uncertainty created by her imminent departure, she leaned forward and tucked herself in under his chin, inhaling the warm, woody scent of his skin and trying to reassure herself that this was all real.

'So ...' Jack mumbled, sensing that all was not well in the mind of Samantha Carter, but at the same time revelling in the simple luxury of being allowed to hold her in his arms. A moment later he felt her body tense and she pulled in a deep breath. Jack mentally braced for whatever was coming, knowing instinctively that it wasn't going to be anything good.

'Jack, I'm going to Atlantis tomorrow. We don't know how long I'll be gone, We don't know how what might happen while I'm there–' her voice broke off mid-sentence.

Jack quickly pulled back so he could see her face. Her expression was troubled. 'And...?' he prompted, unsure of where she was going with a topic they had already covered in depth.

'I just ... I wouldn't want you to be unhappy, or lonely.' She wouldn't meet his eyes.

Realisation dawned, and with it came a wave of disbelief. Taking a deep breath he willed himself not to get angry. 'Sam,' bringing his hands up to cradle her face, Jack sighed. 'I know where you're going, I signed off on it, remember?'

She nodded slightly within the constraints of his grasp.

'And you know why I came to see you tonight.'

Another tiny nod of agreement.

'Alright then. So I didn't come here to mess with your head, Sam. Or to take advantage of you.' He did his best to keep his tone neutral, he didn't want her to see how much her lack of faith had actually hurt him.

Carter still wouldn't meet his gaze, so he leaned down slightly to ensure she couldn't possibly be looking anywhere but into his eyes, willing her to see his true feelings written in their brown depths. Realising that she was going to need a more tangible form of reassurance, he took a deep breath. 'Sam, I'll be waiting for you when you get back. Whenever that is.'

Jack watched her as she sucked in a deep breath, her ribs expanding to accept the extra air. He hoped it was a good sign, he was having trouble reading her now. 'I'll wait as long as it takes. I've waited ten years, I'm a patient man.'

Despite the unusually heartfelt words coming from the hardened military man, and despite her own sudden irrational crisis of confidence, Sam couldn't suppress a slightly inelegant snort, followed by a muffled giggle. 'You? Patient?' She couldn't put a figure on the number of times Jack had argued with Daniel about what constituted a reasonable length of time to remain on a planet that had no apparent redeeming features beyond some ancient ruins or artifacts. 'I think Daniel would disagree.'

Jack eyed her reproachfully. 'Yes, well,' he tipped his head to the side. 'That may be, but when the reward is actually worth the wait, I can be very patient.'

Sam flushed a rather fetching shade of pink at this implied compliment.

'I mean it, Sam. Go to Atlantis, be brilliant. I'll still be right here when you come home, I'm not going anywhere.' Jack shrugged, 'Who knows, maybe it'll be time for me to retire by then ...' He waved a hand vaguely in the air and let the thought trail off, trying to gauge her reaction to this suggestion and hoped the off the cuff comment wasn't going to seem like an offer of too much too soon.

Carter bit her lip, the impact of Jack's words finally starting to sink in and slow the sudden, irrational loss of confidence. She glanced up uncertainly, realising for the first time how her words must have been received. 'Jack ...' Her gaze softened visibly, pleading. Apologising.

Jack started, surprised by the raw emotion radiating out of her big blue eyes. He suddenly realised just how carefully she usually guarded those expressive pools, because now all the filters were gone and he felt like she'd driven a truck into his chest.

Sam's breath was shallow as they stared at one another for a long moment. In the aftermath of that kiss the force of her emotions had overwhelmed her, resulting in a sudden, unfounded terror that she might be sitting out on this limb all by herself. So she'd shut down. Pulled away and awkwardly offered Jack an easy out.

Which of course he hadn't taken.

Sam was heartily ashamed of herself, particularly in light of the declaration he had offered in response. She had always supposed herself to be the more emotionally mature one of the two of them, and yet here they were, Sam pulling away at the first sign of real intimacy and Jack doing his best to stop her running all the way to the Pegasus Galaxy.

'Forgive me?' she whispered desperately, praying she could still salvage something of this precious moment.

For his part, Jack was still being brought slowly undone by those pleading eyes, and the other emotion he hardly dared hope he saw there, tangled amongst the fear. He forced himself to nod. 'It's forgotten, Sam,' he murmured, while the deeper recesses of his mind pondered whether there was anything he could refuse her while she was staring at him like that.

Fresh tears, this time borne of relief, welled again but didn't spill over. A soft smile played at her lips and she tugged him closer. 'I'm sorry, Jack. I don't know what happened. I suddenly got scared that I was the only one who ...' Uncertainty bloomed again in her eyes and she broke the connection of their gaze, dropping her stare to the General's broad chest instead.

Unwilling to let unfounded fears get the better of her a second time, Jack squeezed her gently in what he hoped was a reassuring fashion, encouraging her to continue.

Her eyes flickered upwards again to O'Neill's face and she pulled in yet another deep, fortifying breath. '...the only one who...' the words stuck in her throat yet again and she paused, searching for a different way around the verbal roadblock that prevented her from confessing how she truly felt about the man in front of her.

Jack smirked, eventually deciding to take pity on her. He pulled Sam close until their cheeks touched, and whispered conspiratorially in her ear, 'You're definitely not the only one.'

He felt her smile against the side of his face and pulled back. She was rewarding him with another of those dazzling grins.

Unable to resist, Jack moved in to catch her smiling mouth with his own. For a few moments the kiss was almost chaste, then Sam parted her lips and leaned up into him yet again. Her sweet, warm breath erased every coherent thought in Jack's mind and he drew on every ounce of his rapidly fraying self control.

Reluctantly pulling away, Jack raised his eyebrows, 'So, now that we understand each other properly, can we get back to the fun stuff?' he pleaded.

Sam delicately arched one of her own eyebrows in a fashion that was straight out of the Teal'c book of mannerisms. 'Why, General? What did you have in mind?' she queried innocently.

One hand crept around her waist, pulling her in tightly against the General's torso, the other hand running through her dishevelled blonde hair. 'Why don't we go inside and I'll show you,' Jack's brown eyes were darker now. 'After all, who knows when we may see each other again ...'

Abandoning the remains of their pizza and the empty bottles, Sam led the way back into the warmth of the house. Jack stepped in behind her and carefully closed and locked the outer door. They stood and stared at each other for a long minute, weighing this last moment before their relationship was irrevocably altered.

Tomorrow she would leave the Milky Way for the foreseeable future, but until then Jack was determined to spend the last remaining hours strengthening Sam's ties to planet Earth.

Finally satisfied that all doubts were gone, Jack took the new commander of Atlantis by the hand and led her slowly down the darkened hallway. There was no more hesitation now, just quiet acceptance that the memories of this night would be all they would have to sustain them over the coming months of separation.

Jack smirked as they reached Sam's bedroom and he pulled her to him once more. Luckily, these were going to be some great memories ...


Author's note: I really believe Sam and Jack have been together since the end of Season 8, but for some reason this story just wouldn't leave me alone! Hope you enjoy :)