Thank you to all who read - and especially those of you who took the time to review. As always, my readers mean so much to me and are the reason I write. Happy New Year to all of you. I hope you enjoy the end of this story, and my apologies that it took so long.

And now ...

Jack woke up suddenly, disoriented and confused. He started to panic and tried to jump up, to flee, but something held him back. All he knew was that it was dark, although there was a strange glow in front of him. He again tried to move, but was stopped when he felt hands on his chest.

"Jack, it's okay – you're here, with me."

For a moment he thought he was hallucinating. He had often imagined the voices of his friends when he was stuck in his cage and was sure that that must be what was happening now.

"Just relax – you're fine." A gentle hand touched his arm. He almost swung at it, but then his vision cleared and he was looking – not at the inside of a Goa'uld cage, but at Sam.

"Oh God," he whispered, his heart hammering so loudly he could barely hear himself. "Sorry – I -"

"No need to apologize. You had a nightmare, that's all."

"No – no, it was – I didn't know where I was."

"Well, you're here, with me, at my house. You fell asleep watching the movie."

"Movie?" He frowned, still confused as to what was happening, although seeing the television screen he realized it was the strange light that illuminated the otherwise dark room.

"Vertigo," she told him. "We were watching Hitchcock movies, remember? You fell asleep."

He took a deep breath and reached up with his hand to wipe his face. He was sweating and his heart was still beating too fast, although it was starting to calm down as his memory returned.

"Sorry," he said again, trying to sit up straighter. "I guess I was over tired."

"Ya think?" she asked, sounding just like –

He turned and looked at her, catching her grin. "You've been hangin' around me too long Carter!"

"Never Jack," she said softly, her grin fading. "I think you should get to bed," she said finally, after the silence had gone on for too long. "You should probably have been in bed hours ago but I was enjoying the company."

"Yeah, me too," he said softly. Then he stretched and pulled himself to his feet. Reaching down, he pulled her up after him. "But you're right. Both of us need to get to bed. It's been a long few -"

"Days?" she said, when he stopped talking.

"Months," he breathed, staring down into her eyes. She could see him shake himself, drawing out of whatever thoughts had kept him so intent on her face. "Uh – point the way to your guest room and I'll be out of your hair."

"You sure you're going to be okay?" she asked, still concerned after the way he'd woken up.

"I'll be fine – I was just a bit disoriented waking up in a strange place."

"Here you go," she took him to his bedroom. "Everything is made up. If you need an extra blanket there's one in the closet. There are fresh towels in the bathroom closet as well. And if you get hungry or thirsty, just help yourself."

"Okay – thanks Carter." He stood for a moment, looking down at her. All of a sudden she could see him roll his eyes and then he reached for her arms. Pulling her to him slightly he bent down and softly kissed her on the mouth. It was in no way a passionate – or even very romantic – kiss – but for some reason it sent shivers through her body. "Sleep tight," he whispered. And with that he was gone into his room, the door shutting softly behind him.

Sam made her way slowly around the house, making sure everything was locked up tight and all the lights were off. She made her way to her bedroom and gently shut the door. Then she collapsed back against it.

"Now what the hell did that mean Jack?" she whispered to herself. With a shake of her head she straightened and got ready for bed. As she lay down in the darkness she was pretty sure she wasn't going to sleep a wink.

Jack knew he wasn't going to sleep. He was tired – exhausted – but all he could think about was the feel of Sam's lips on his own. He didn't know quite what had gotten into him, but couldn't honestly say he felt guilty about having kissed her. He'd seen her standing there and felt an overwhelming tenderness creep over him. He loved her so much and suddenly wondered if he'd been wrong to keep her away these past months.

He waited until he was sure that Sam was asleep and then quietly made his way out of his room and out the back door. He stood on her small porch and looked over the back yard. After a few minutes he took a deep breath, and then looked up at the stars.

He allowed his mind to wander – to think about his life and how he'd gotten to this point. He thought about the Air Force, all that it had given him and all that it had taken away. He remembered the first time he saw Sarah, and how quickly he'd fallen for her. A few months later they were married.

The years with her, and then with Charlie, had been some of the best years of his life. He'd loved having a family – a wife to come home to, a son of whom he was so proud. But all that had been taken away from him in the blink of an eye and the sound of a gun.

And then he'd had to rebuild his life – from nothing. And he'd done a pretty damn good job of it! He had helped save the world – hell, worlds and had made some amazing friends while doing so. He thought of Daniel and George, Teal'c and Janet and then, of course, there was Sam.

He leaned forward on the small fence encircling Sam's deck, and let his mind delve into the conundrum that was his relationship with Samantha Carter.

She was younger than him – way younger and really deserved someone closer to her own age, rather than a man moving into the latter part of his life. And then, of course, there was her mind. She was brilliant – there was no doubt about that. Waaaay smarter than him – and she deserved someone with her brains.

So why did she love him, he suddenly wondered? She was beautiful, young, smart and a kick-ass soldier – so why the hell would she have fallen for an old, crusty, only reasonably intelligent Colonel? He shook his head. Maybe it was because he'd been her CO and she mistook respect and loyalty for love. Yeah, that was probably it. So if he cut things off – permanently and completely this time – she'd most likely get over him in no time.

But what if he was wrong and she really did love him? I mean, who was he to presume to know her feelings? It's not like she was a sixteen-year-old girl. She was a mature woman who seemed to have a reasonably strong sense of who she was.

And you're going to drive yourself crazy Jack, he said to himself.

He took another deep breath of the crystal cold night air and tried to force himself to relax. It took a few minutes, but finally he was able to calm his mind and heart and simply be.

The answer came to him as a falling star streaked through the sky above him. He couldn't help but make a wish – although he didn't need the wish to know where his life would go if he so chose. He'd worried so hard about doing the right thing, about trying to figure out the future, rather than letting himself live in the now. He finally admitted that he had to stop worrying about what could go wrong in his world and instead work on making what he had – right.

He slowly straightened his spine and, with a small smile, said a soft goodbye to the pale, moonlit night. He turned around to enter back into the house, only to find her watching him through the door.

He slowly walked towards her and opened it and stood inches from her.

"Are you okay?" she asked softly.

He reached his hand up and cupped her face. Then he slowly leaned forward, again touching his lips to hers. But this time he didn't stop.

There was a moment of surprise and confusion on Sam's part, but then she leaned into the kiss, relaxing into his arms as they pulled her close to him.

This time the kiss was full of passion – and longing and hope and it went on for a long, long time. Finally Jack had to come up for breath, although he stayed with Sam in his arms and leaned his forehead against hers.

He waited as both of them got their breathing under control. Finally he pulled back – just slightly – and opened his eyes to see her looking at him, a quizzical expression on her face.

"Okay?" he asked, not sure how to read her although she hadn't pulled away, so it couldn't be too bad.

"Mmm hmm," she murmured. "Just wondering if you're going to change your mind and decide to leave again."

He watched her closely, realizing then that she was holding herself back – not totally – but enough to protect her heart. He'd hurt her too many times for her to accept this too readily.

"Never," he said slowly.

"You're sure?" she asked, sounding doubtful.

At that he did step back. His arms dropped to his sides but then he lifted them and took her hands in his.

"I've been an idiot many times in my life Sam," he said quietly, "but this time I'm going to do the smart thing and hold on to the best thing that's ever happened to me, if you'll have me, that is?"

Her lips began to turn up in a crooked smile. "Oh yeah. But I want you to know that I'm not going to let you go back on this. We're together now – and that's the way it's going to stay so no changing your mind."

"You know that – I'm still – damaged – Sam," he told her, his eyes showing his fear and regret.

"So – I am too – we all are, after all we've seen and done. And even "damaged" you're the best man I know. And we'll deal with your demons as they come. So none of your self-sacrificing – uh – stuff –"

"Stuff?" he grinned.

"Shit Jack – none of your self-sacrificing shit. Okay? We're in this together – forever. Are we agreed?"

"Mmm hmm," he said, still grinning. He then pulled her back into his arms and slowly lowered his head. "Your Dad's not gonna be happy."

"No?" she grinned and pulled his lips down to hers. She murmured into them. "Too bad."

Epilogue

"Come on old man, there's no way you can take me out!"

Sam watched from her lounge chair at the side of the pool. Her eyebrow went up as she watched Jack and the others play in the water.

"You'd think they'd have learned by now," Janet commented from her right side, where she sat lounging with her in the sun.

"The arrogance of young men," Sam answered. "And the pride of a middle-aged General," she went on to say.

Janet grinned. A moment later she winced as Jack came up behind Denny and dunked him under the water. As the young man came up sputtering Jack swam away, calling out to him.

"The "old man" got you good kid!"

There were screams and yells as the young people, along with Jack and Daniel tried to get the ball into their respective ends of the pool. Teal'c was sitting at the side, his feet dangling in the water, playing referee. Sam was again grateful that they'd decided to purchase this property when they got married. Having the pool was great for their extended family.

"How are you doing?" Janet asked her as the two women continued to watch the game – it was supposed to be water polo but had turned into more of a free-for-all.

"Me? I'm fine. Getting a bit more tired lately and I hate that I have to get up and go to the bathroom every twenty minutes, but other than that I'm great."

"You're certainly looking good," Janet smiled at the seven months pregnant officer. "Pregnancy is a good look on you."

"That's what Jack says, although I figure he says that out of self-preservation!"

"No – all you have to do is look at him to know that he adores you – even more now that you're having a baby together."

"It's still hard for me to believe sometimes," Sam said. "After everything he went through I didn't think he'd ever -"

"Allow himself to be happy?"

Sam leaned her head back against the chair. "Yeah."

"But he is," Janet smiled. "Happier than I've ever seen him. You've done wonders for him."

"It's not just me," Sam said softly. "Having Denny and Mali has been a real blessing. He loves those kids so much."

"And it's mutual," her friend said as she looked at Jack playing in the pool with their two foster kids. "And they adore you too."

"They're good kids," Sam said. "And Marco has been admitted into the Academy. He's so excited and Jack is so proud. We've told him he has a home with us when he's on leave."

"How are you going to fit everyone in?" Janet laughed.

"The more the merrier," Sam said, laughing as well. "We've actually applied to adopt Mali. Her mother has agreed to give up her parental rights and this way she won't be sent to another foster home. She needs stability."

"That's great Sam. She's a lovely girl. Cassie adores her."

"Cassie is a good role model. You did a great job with her Janet."

Her friend smiled and nodded, proud of her own daughter. "And how about Denny. He was – quite something – but he seems to be doing better."

"He is. His tough front is a defense mechanism – and he respects Jack's opinion so that helps."

"And yours! I've seen how he is with you. You have another fan there."

Sam shrugged in embarrassment. "He's a good kid – all he needed was someone to love him and to care about him. He asked Jack if he could use his last name rather than his own."

"Really? Why?"

"I guess his family life wasn't too stable. He says he wants to start over. He even asked Jack if we'd adopt him too."

"But – he's over eighteen!"

"I know," Sam grinned. "But I think he already thinks of Jack as a father – and yes, he kind of looks at me as a mother figure. When he asked he actually had tears in his eyes, although he would have died if he knew I'd noticed. Jack and I agreed that if it's something he really wants, we'll consider it."

"Wow, you guys are taking on a lot."

"Well, having the kids with us helped Jack as well. Denny is the same age as Charlie would have been. Not that he sees him as a replacement – but having someone of that age – I don't know – it fulfills something in him."

"Mmm – I think you're right. If there was anyone who was meant to be a father, it's Jack O'Neill. And it's made him perfect for his new position."

"He loves it," Sam said softly. She settled back and continued to watch the antics in the pool, thinking about all that had happened over the past year and a half.

After that night at her house she and Jack had begun to date. He'd insisted that they go slowly – so she knew what she was getting into, he told her. She'd resisted, but in the end she agreed that it had been wise. They'd taken the time to get to know one another outside of the Air Force and had discovered things neither of them had known about the other.

At the same time, Jack had continued with his counseling with Dr. Ibrahim, knowing that it was important that he deal with the remaining trauma from his past – especially with all that had happened to him while held captive by Raijin.

It hadn't been easy, and there were days when he would get depressed – and a couple of times he had even attempted to retreat from her. She'd refused to let him and fortunately he'd gotten over those episodes.

She knew that the trauma wasn't something that would go away completely, but at least he was learning to open up to her and to discuss things when he found himself in a dark place. Sam was aware that there were things he hadn't told her about that time – would never tell her – but he had assured her that he was speaking to his counselor and being open with him. That was all she asked.

Some of the trauma from that time seeped over into their physical relationship – which had horrified Jack and had been the cause of his first attempt at retreat. Things had gotten pretty hot and heavy – and he'd panicked and practically run out of her place before they'd gone all the way.

She had her suspicions about what had caused his anxiety attack, although she didn't ask. She just did all she could to reassure him that she was there for him, no matter what.

In the end he'd managed to overcome his fears and their relationship had progressed. She smiled when she thought of their first time together. They'd gone away for a romantic weekend, staying at a quaint little Inn in the mountains. They'd spent the day skiing and playing in the snow and then had had a lovely dinner.

After they'd eaten she could see Jack becoming more and more tense. She'd finally told him to stop – that she wasn't expecting anything but a relaxing time with him.

"Look – our room has a lovely Jacuzzi tub. Get your bathing suit on and I'll get a bottle of champagne and we'll soak in the warm water."

She didn't know if it was the warm relaxation of the tub or the bottle of champagne (the big bottle of champagne) but in the end he'd definitely relaxed.

"What are you grinning about?" Janet asked. "You look like the cat who stole the cream."

"Nothing," Sam laughed. "Just a – nice memory."

It had been a wonderful, romantic weekend, although they didn't get any more skiing in. In fact they'd barely made it out of bed. They both figured they had a lot of years to make up for.

As amazing as it had been, neither of them had expected the consequences of that weekend away. Sam had been shocked – and if truth were told, terrified – when she'd realized she was pregnant. It hadn't been planned and she was worried what Jack would say

He'd been as shocked as her – and had stood with a blank expression for long enough to leave her terrified. Once he'd realized that, he'd quickly taken her into his arms and had assured her he was happy.

She hadn't believed him. It was obvious to her that it was something he hadn't been expecting and he too was frightened. But to give him credit, he'd never waivered in his love and support for her.

They hadn't really thought that a child was in their future, at least not a child of their own. Sam had been told it was unlikely that she could carry a child, and Jack knew that. Instead, they'd decided to take in foster kids, starting with Mali and then Denny. So when she'd gotten pregnant, they had had to rethink their lives – something neither of them had been prepared for.

But things had changed the moment Jack had seen the baby on the ultrasound. From that day on she caught him, more than once, with a silly grin on his face. There were still times he grew frightened, or panicked about his age, but they were getting fewer and farther apart. Now, Jack was counting the days until their child appeared. He told her he was thrilled they were having a baby – and she knew he was telling the truth.

And then there was his job. It had been one of the most difficult decisions he'd had to make. The Air Force wanted him back – offering all kinds of incentives. George had let him make the decision, telling him he wouldn't pressure him, but it had been obvious that he wanted Jack to return to active duty.

Sam had refused to say anything to him about it, one way or another, even though he'd pleaded with her to tell him what she wanted.

"You have to make the decision for yourself, Jack," she'd told him. "I'll be happy whatever you decide."

"Aaargh!" he'd practically pulled his hair out. "But I don't know. Just give me a little idea of what you'd like."

"Nope," she'd grinned and kissed him.

In the end it was Barry Gold who'd helped him make the decision. When Jack had informed him that he was moving back to Colorado Springs, he's been disappointed but understanding.

"I just hope you continue working with young men and women," he'd said. "You're a natural at it – and you have so much to give."

That evening Jack had come to her house, looking happier than he had in a long time.

"What is it?" she'd asked.

"I know what I want to do."

"What?" she drew him inside quickly and marched him to the living room. "Sit. Now tell me." She sat down beside him and took his hands, thrilled to see the excited expression on his face.

"Well, the Air Force wanted me to take back Sg1," he said. She nodded, knowing this already. "And part of me wanted to do it – but I knew it wouldn't be the same – not without you. And honestly, I don't think I want to go on missions anymore," he admitted quietly. "After - the last time, I think I'm ready for something a little less adventurous."

She nodded, although she worried that he'd grow quickly bored with a desk job.

"But I didn't want to be stuck at a desk," he admitted, almost as if he'd read her mind. "So then I thought of something completely different."

"What?" she said, her forehead crinkling in thought.

"I approached General Schultz and asked about training – and found out that they were planning to open a training institute for the Stargate program. It will be based here but will offer specialized training. When I told him I'd be interested, he jumped at the chance."

"You're – you're going to head up this training facility?" she asked, a smile growing on her face.

"Yup. And get this Sam – they're giving me a promotion!"

"A – what? You mean -"

"You're lookin' at soon-to-be General O'Neill."

"Oh my God," she laughed. "General!"

"Hey – don't look so surprised," he told her with a frown – although she could see the laughter in his eyes.

"I'm not – I'm pleased," she told him. "It's perfect!"

"Yes, that's what I thought. It'll be the best of both worlds – and I'll still get to go off world occasionally on training sessions."

A part of Sam grieved over the fact that Jack's days as leader of Sg1 were over, although she had actually known that for a while now – ever since he'd returned from being captured. But a larger part of her rejoiced to see him so happy – and doing something he clearly enjoyed and was good at. And she was thrilled his service and skills had been recognized and he was now a General.

After a year of hell, life was finally working out for Jack O'Neill.

"Kurt is looking good," Janet commented a few seconds later.

"He is, isn't he?" Sam looked out at the young man, who was laughingly trying to protect his team's end from two advancing players, who now had the ball and were trying for a goal.

"I was surprised to see him up and walking," her friend the doctor said, a question in her voice.

"Yes – well – my Dad and Selmak were staying with us and Jack kind of talked them into –." Sam stopped and regarded her friend. "I better not say anymore."

"Probably not," agreed Janet. "He doesn't know, does he?"

"About the program? Oh, no. Uh – my Dad – did the – thing – when he was sleeping."

"Must have been a shock the next day!"

"Well, it actually healed slowly, over time, so it wasn't as if there was this dramatic miracle. He simply woke up and noticed a bit of tingling in his legs and then they slowly got better. And it didn't heal him completely – the damage was too extensive and happened too long ago for the – thing – to work 100%. But it's enough that he can walk, although slowly and with a limp. And he's got feeling back in his legs, which he says is the best thing ever."

"I'll bet," Janet nodded. They all knew that Jack – and Sam – could have gotten in big trouble if it were known that they'd had the Tokra use a healing device on someone outside the program, but she sure as hell wasn't going to say anything! The young man was obviously as happy as could be.

"What's he doing now?" she finally asked.

"He's staying with us until the end of the month and then he's going to go and visit his Aunt and Uncle. They got in touch with him a while ago and told him they wanted him to come back and live with them. He told us that they said they'd missed him and wanted him home."

"Really? I thought they didn't want him."

"It turned out that they were frightened. They had no experience with working with someone with a disability and thought he would be better off somewhere else. I think they eventually realized that Kurt thought he'd been rejected by them -"

"He had been!" Janet said, sounding fierce. "I don't know how anyone could have done that to their child – even if he was a nephew rather than a son."

"I know – I was shocked too, but we met them and they're good people – and they really love him and feel terrible for what they did. It made Kurt happy to know that, although he's decided to finish his college here. Still, knowing that they do want him has made all the difference in the world to him."

"Well then, I'm happy for him," Janet said, more quietly this time. "I think Cassie has a crush on him."

"Really?" Sam watched her goddaughter carefully for a moment, but didn't see anything in her behavior that demonstrated that she was interested in Kurt, or anyone for that matter.

"Mmm," Janet murmured. "But I doubt if it will go anywhere. She's too focused on her classes right now to let a young man get in the way."

Sam watched Cassie for a few more seconds and then spoke to her mother. "I hope she doesn't put everything into her career," she commented. "It's not good for her."

"Oh, you've learned that, have you?" her friend said with a smirk.

Sam laughed and reached for her glass of lemonade. "Yes, I have. But it took me way too long and I almost missed out on so much. Don't get me wrong – I love my career and I don't regret all that I've done – but I wish I'd left more time for a personal life before now."

"I think we all feel like that. But at least you've realized that now – and you have made time for a life outside the Air Force."

"Yes I have – and I couldn't be happier."

Sam continued to watch the kids – which included her husband – as they played in the water. Finally they'd had enough – at least Jack had had enough – and he pulled himself out of the pool, grabbed a towel and proceeded to dry off. A moment later he padded over to where she was sitting.

"Here, you can have my chair, Jack," Janet said as she pushed herself to her feet. "I'm going to go for a dip in the pool now that all you wild people are done in there."

"The water is perfect," Jack said, his voice muffled by the towel. "Just don't let any of the guys push you under the water."

"I'll watch out," she laughed and then was gone.

"Having fun?" his wife asked.

Jack finished drying off and then lay back on the lounge chair. He let out a deep breath and closed his eyes. "I am. How about you?"

"It's nice. It was fun watching the kids trying to take you out!"

"Hah," he replied. "As if they could."

"No – you've still got it alright." She watched him for a few more seconds and then grinned. "Tired you out did they?"

"God yes," he murmured. "Don't tell them, but I felt like I wanted to collapse at the end."

"Just don't go too hard Jack. You're thirty years older than they are."

"I know," he groused. "But it was fun. I wish you could have come in."

"I may go in in a moment – now that you children are finished!"

Jack just grinned and remained with his eyes closed, enjoying the afternoon.

As the warm sunlight slowly washed over him he could feel his muscles relax. He began to get drowsy and started to let his mind wander over all that had happened this last year.

He still couldn't believe that Sam had agreed to marry him – and was about to have their child. And then there was Mali and Denny, Marco and Kurt – all young people he'd come to love. His life had become so full – so full of friends and children who needed love.

How he'd gotten so lucky he'd never know. He knew he didn't deserve any of it, but had decided he was simply going to enjoy what he had.

Gone were the days of wild adventures and exploring the galaxy. It wasn't that he never got the chance to go off world – there were the odd training exercises, or diplomatic missions where he was asked to go through the Gate. But he no longer needed the adrenaline rush of travelling through the wormhole, and he didn't feel like he had to be the one to save the world. He'd leave that for the young ones – the ones like Marco, who would one day make a fine officer.

No – he was happy to stay Earth-side. He had a job he loved, the respect of his peers and, more importantly, he had a family he cared about – and who loved him. It was a strange family, which included aliens, geeky scientists, warriors, and former juvenile delinquents. A strange group indeed – and he wouldn't trade them for anyone or anything.

"Hey, what are you thinking about?" Sam asked from beside him. "You look pleased with the world."

He opened his eyes and turned his head and saw the person who was the most precious to him in his whole world. He watched her for a moment and suddenly a memory popped into his head. He remembered Raijin telling him he was nothing, he was Suberu – less than nothing.

His lips turned up – slowly – into a smile. He'd had the last laugh over the Goa'uld.

He reached his hand out and took Sam's in his own. "Oh – nothing really. Just thinkin' how lucky I am to be Jack O'Neill."

I hope you all enjoyed! I apologize for taking so long to finish this story. And now … on to the next.