Colorado Springs, CO
November 6, 1999
Jack yawned loudly and stretched his tall frame to get the kinks out of his back. It had been a long week since he'd completed his undercover mission and arrested all the Rogue NID operatives.
A dark look crossed his face at Maybourne having fled before he could be taken into custody. No one had been able to find a trace of the man and Jack figured the NID, or at least some of the highly important civilians with security clearance were responsible for his escape. But at least they'd apprehended everyone from the off-world base and from the interrogations it became clear that there were no other operatives out there.
The flash drive with a backup of the computer systems he'd brought back proved to be a gold mine, with all the details about the units' missions and the technology they'd stolen. Thor had collected everything on the base but there was still some missing tech that had apparently been brought to Earth via Makepeace.
That traitorous bastard.
After everything had gone down, Hammond had informed the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President about Jack's mission and the Rogue NID's work. They were none too pleased about being kept in the dark but were happy the mission had paid off and that Earth's allegiances with the Tollan, Nox and Asgard had been saved.
Of course, there had been the little matter of what happened with Colonel Grieves…
"Colonel O'Neill," General Hammond said as he entered the briefing room. "Thank you for waiting."
He stood, briefly glancing at Major Davis who was trailing behind Hammond. "Yes, Sir." It wasn't like he could have gone anywhere. He wasn't exactly confined to base, but was expected to stick around anyway and he had too much work to do in regards to his undercover mission to object.
Some of the brass had come down to Colorado Springs to be present during Jack's debriefing and to go over the statements made by a couple of traitors who were cooperating. Major Davis had tagged along and, after Thor had done his thing and retrieved all alien tech, Teal'c had taken Davis to the Rogue NID base to investigate.
"Major Davis and I have just concluded our meeting with the AFOSI," the General said as he sat down at the head of the table. Davis took a chair to his left.
Jack followed their example and sat back down, too. The AFOSI agents who'd investigated Sam's 'death' had been assigned Grieves' case and needed as much physical evidence and CCTV as possible, since they still didn't have the right clearance to know about the SGC and the jobs they did.
While Teal'c and Davis were collecting what the AFOSI needed, Jack had been interviewed by the agents and gave his side of the story. There had been plenty of eyewitnesses, but considering he'd just gotten them all arrested for treason they weren't very willing to cooperate…
"I am pleased to tell you you've been cleared of any wrongdoing, Colonel. The CCTV supported your version of events and Lieutenant Tobias also confirmed your statement." Hammond smiled and exchanged a look with Major Davis. "Now, we both know that it'll take a while for the paperwork to go through but as far as the AFOSI and the brass are concerned, no charges will be brought against you."
"If you hadn't acted the way you did, Colonel Grieves most likely would have killed you and possibly some of the other people present."
"Traitors," Jack reminded them.
Davis shrugged, "But American citizens and members of the military nonetheless. Colonel Grieves and some, if not all, of his Rogue NID companions might have also escaped if you had not intervened and then we may never have been able to find them or get access to the data you brought back."
Jack could tell Hammond felt the same way, so he simply nodded. Killing someone was no badge of honor and he knew every time he took a life he took one step closer to becoming like that guy from SG-9 who'd gone nuts and killed half of his team and proclaimed himself a god off-world. But it had been over a week and Jack still felt no regret or anything – it had been the right thing to do and that son of a bitch Grieves deserved what he got for what he did to Sam.
"A select group of team leaders and scientists who had been cleared have been going over the mission files and tech reports," General Hammond said, "and we have learned quite a bit already."
"Do we have an estimate of how much tech is still missing?"
"Not yet, Colonel," Davis replied. "The Rogue NID used the same binary codes we do and our technicians are still working on matching those designations with the planet coordinates Thor gave us for the technology he has returned to their rightful owners."
"Yeah, Maybourne got those coordinates from Stargate Mission Analysis and possibly from the MALP telemetry we use in the pre-mission briefings." Jack sighed and turned to Hammond, "Are we sure Makepeace and Kershaw were the only moles, Sir?"
The General shook his head, a sad expression on his face. "Unfortunately, we've found a handful of others among SGC personnel. But we are absolutely certain there are no more on the SG teams."
Grimacing, he nodded in acknowledgement. "Has Kershaw said anything at all about her motivation or do we know how long she's been involved with the Rogue NID?"
"I'm afraid she was a plant from the beginning, son. I know, I was quite surprised myself."
"She played us all along?"
"Not exactly," Davis said. "From what we gather, her role was simply to be the Rogue NID's eyes and ears. She claims to have never taken anything and denies any contact with the NID aside from Colonels Maybourne and Makepeace."
Jack couldn't believe she'd been a mole from the start. How could he – or Teal'c – have missed it?! The memory of that day he saw her and Makepeace off-world together flashed through his mind's eye and he could feel his anger rise. "What about SG-1's latest mission? I saw her and Makepeace… I mean, if I hadn't witnessed her seeing him take the Vanisher and smiling at that son of a bitch, then I never would have known she was involved."
"It's like you said, Sir, she watched Colonel Makepeace take the package; she didn't do it herself. She never even touched it."
"Major Davis is correct," Hammond said. "At this moment we can't prove anything beyond the fact that she's an accomplice."
"So… what? She just reported everything that happened on SG-1 to Maybourne?"
"That was why he recruited her in the first place," Davis said. "He and his superiors knew they could never get anyone with real black ops experience on SG-1 but a green lieutenant wouldn't arouse much suspicion. At the same time the chances of someone that inexperienced getting caught were pretty high, especially under command of someone with your record, Colonel O'Neill."
"And Teal'c would have noticed, too."
"That's precisely why Maybourne only wanted information from her. If she got caught, their whole operation could be blown out of the water, Sir."
Christ. She'd seemed so… normal. Jack found it difficult to mesh her role as a traitor with the image he'd had of her, one of a capable and promising young officer in the Air Force. Jesus, she'd been spying on him for almost four years. No wonder Maybourne always looked so smug. "I guess now at least we know of something she and Makepeace had in common," he muttered sardonically.
Hammond snorted uncharacteristically, no doubt even more infuriated about the moles under his command. "Actually, Colonel, that's one of the few things Colonel Makepeace didn't lie about to me. Apparently, he and Lieutenant Kershaw were never romantically involved. They were simply exchanging intel and when someone from the SGC saw them together, they went along with the story and used a romance as cover for their meetings."
"Well, I'm glad to know she's at least got the sense not to fall for a jarhead like Makepeace. Too bad she didn't exercise such sound judgment when Maybourne approached her with his offer."
"I think what we should focus on now is gathering as much evidence against them as possible for their trials and repair any relationships with other races that might have suffered from the thefts, Sirs," Davis said.
Jack listened with half an ear as Davis and Hammond went over their next steps, his mind already a few steps ahead. He waited until they were done to broach a more important topic. "I have one more question, Sir." He gestured to Major Davis, "Does he know about Captain Carter?"
Understanding dawned on General Hammond's face. "As a matter of fact, he does. We have discussed it earlier this week."
"Thor told me the shielding device from P3X-425, the Captain's first and only mission, was also found on the Rogue NID base. I don't know why they didn't use Makepeace to bring it to Earth," Jack said, shrugging. "Maybe they thought we could match its energy signature or something from the data Captain Carter collected if it was on Earth. Or maybe it doesn't work anywhere except on the planet it belongs and that made it useless. I'm sure Catherine and the eggheads can come up with a reason. All I know is that it's accounted for now and therefore completely contradicts Grieves' statement from over two years ago."
"I briefly discussed it with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President," Hammond said. "They agreed with me that the case needs to be revisited. Major Davis will be temporarily stationed at the SGC to conduct the investigation into the Rogue NID operation and reevaluate Captain Carter's case."
Davis nodded and took over when Hammond fell silent. "I have already reviewed the initial statements and the additional reports you made for the General's eyes only from your meetings with alien allies and Captain Carter herself. The evidence from two years ago was circumstantial at best and I don't think we'll have any difficulty disputing it and clearing the Captain's name officially, assuming I can meet with her and this… Moak and Braytac to get their official statements."
"Moac and Master Bra'tac," Jack corrected. "But yeah, I think we can arrange that. Provided that Captain Carter will be allowed to come home, no allegations or charges against her will be made and her safety will be guaranteed, of course."
"I think we can all agree on that, son," General Hammond said.
"Well, then," Jack said, clasping his hands, "let's get started."
Milky Way Galaxy
November 12, 1999
Jack blinked against the bright sunlight as he exited the wormhole and reached for the Bugaboo sunglasses hanging around his neck, while simultaneously scanning his surroundings. Disappointment washed over him when he spotted only Bra'tac near the DHD – there was no sign of Sam. "Bra'tac," he said, walking down the stone steps, "good to see you again."
"You look well, O'Neill," Bra'tac replied, clasping his forearm.
He figured that was down to the sunglasses because he hadn't had much sleep the past two weeks, too busy with wrapping up the Rogue NID operation and guaranteeing Sam's safe return. Turning back to the gate, he waited until the others came through.
Daniel still managed to look excited about setting foot on a different planet after all these years but Teal'c looked as unperturbed as always. Major Davis looked like he was trying hard not to toss his cookies, which amused Jack. He had to give the guy credit for not complaining once since they'd left to meet up with Moac, though. Moac was the last to exit the event horizon, a big smile on his face as he spotted Bra'tac.
"Tek'ma'te Tchaȧs Bra'tac," Moac said, moving over to clash his mentor's forearm in greeting.
Teal'c also walked up to Bra'tac to greet him.
Jack impatiently waited until the three Jaffa had exchanged pleasantries. "Well, now that everyone's all caught up, let's get down to business. Bra'tac, this is Major Davis. Davis, this Master Bra'tac, Teal'c and Moac's old mentor and former first Prime of Apophis and Klorel."
"Um," Daniel stepped forward, "Major Davis needs to get a statement from you about the state you found Captain Carter – Sam – in after your Jaffa captured her."
"I already told you the Tau'ri left her on that planet for the animals to feed on," Bra'tac said, narrowing his eyes at Jack. "My thesu thought she had already perished when he located her."
Major Davis hesitated for a moment before he spoke up. "It's, um, an honor to meet you, Master Bra'tac. I have heard great things about you from SG-1 and our government cannot thank you enough for all of your help. Because of the circumstances surrounding Captain Carter's disappearance and the recent death of the man responsible for leaving her behind, we need a statement from you about her injuries at the time, what she may have said upon capture and the way she was treated by… um, you and your men, and the Goa'uld."
Bra'tac eyed Jack again. "The man is dead, hm?"
"By O'Neill's hand," Teal'c said proudly, before he could respond.
"It will not take long, Tchaȧs Bra'tac," Moac said. "I have already spoken with Major Davis myself."
Jack rolled his eyes when both Daniel and Davis started talking, thanking and praising Moac for his cooperation and saying how much it would mean if Bra'tac would help out. "Look, I just have one question: where is Captain Carter? Moac here told us he'd take us to her but I don't see her."
Bra'tac smirked and clasped his shoulder. "Moac spoke the truth. However, when he contacted me two days ago he was unsure when you would arrive. I have not yet informed Sām."
"She doesn't know we're here?"
"No. I thought it prudent to wait."
"A wise decision," Teal'c said.
Moac nodded. "Indeed. Now, if I can speak to Tchaȧs Bra'tac first, I can take my leave and return to the Rebel Jaffa."
Jack threw up his hands, even though he was tempted to wring their necks. "Sure! Why not. We'll just wait right here. It's not like it's already been over two years or anything."
"She doesn't even know we're here," Daniel said softly, as the three Jaffa walked away to confer. "It won't hurt to wait a little longer."
Tapping his fingers on his MP5, Jack impatiently waited for Bra'tac to return and take them to Sam. He knew Daniel was just trying to help, but the archaeologist hadn't been waiting for two weeks to bring her back to Earth. Hell, up until this morning Daniel and Teal'c hadn't known that was the plan; Hammond had waited with telling anyone about Sam's return until everything had been cleared with the higher ups. Davis taking statements was just a formality.
He sighed and looked at this friend. "Yeah, I know, Daniel. And for what it's worth, I'm sorry about keeping you in the dark concerning my undercover mission and Captain Carter."
"Well, you were under orders, right?"
That was true, but they both knew it wasn't that simple. Jack had lied to him about Sam's decision to stay with the Rebel Jaffa and treated him like crap after his 'retirement'. He knew it would take time to repair their friendship, especially after some of the things he'd said to Daniel at his place. The fact that Kershaw turned out to be a traitor came as an additional shock and suddenly, SG-1 didn't seem that untouchable anymore.
He nodded and chanced a glance at Daniel, surprised to see understanding – but mixed with hurt – on his face. "Yeah, I was."
"And it was for the good of the planet and our allies. And Sam's safe return."
"Doesn't excuse some of the things I said to you." He wasn't the type to apologize when he was wrong, but he really did value their friendship and didn't want Daniel to think otherwise. "My place was bugged."
"I think the Jaffa are done," Major Davis said all of a sudden, reminding them of his presence. "Let's hope Master Bra'tac is willing to cooperate."
Moac walked over to them, inclining his head. "I must take my leave now and return to the Rebel Jaffa, but I hope we will see each other again soon, my friends."
"Right back atcha," Jack said, clasping his forearm.
"Tchaȧs Bra'tac will take you and Teal'c to the village now. Farewell."
Davis looked uncomfortable and confused when Moac shook his arm, but Daniel had grown used to it and returned the gesture. "Tai'ma'te, Moac."
Moac smiled and turned to the DHD, punching in symbols. "Tai'ma'te, ȧ ḥeter."
"Well, I suppose it's time to join Bra'tac and Teal'c," Jack said after Moac was swallowed up by the event horizon.
"The humans on Utcha were once slaves of Apophis," Bra'tac explained, as he led the way towards the village. "A few generations ago, his underlord did not return to Utcha and his remaining Jaffa caused much chaos, death and destruction once their prim'ta matured and required hosts. They have never fully recovered and up to this day they remain wary of visitors, especially Jaffa."
Daniel started asking questions about the Utcha culture and way of life, but Jack zoned out. Instead, he kept scanning their surroundings out of habit. He trusted Bra'tac because of Teal'c, but he wouldn't fully relax until he got to see Sam with his own two eyes.
Eventually, the waist-high grass made way for an open field with some trees here and there. In the distance, small houses were visible and the closer they got, the more signs of life became noticeable. Smoke from a fire, clothing lines, abandoned tools, trodden paths, footprints in the muddy ground, the smells of freshly baked bread and burning meat…
A few children were running around when they neared the village and a teenage boy who was chasing them stopped when he spotted them. "Sbai Bra'tac, shin tel?"
"You will wait here," Bra'tac said, "and I will speak to him."
"Sure, go do your thing." Jack watched as the old Jaffa walked up to the boy and started talking to him in Goa'uld. He exchanged looks with Major Davis, who still hadn't gotten used to gate travel if the pained expression on his face was anything to go by. Teal'c and Daniel both seemed to be eavesdropping on the conversation with the teenager.
"From what I can tell the boy is the son of… the Elders, I think," Daniel reported.
Teal'c nodded in agreement. "Indeed. Master Bra'tac is informing him of our arrival so that the youth may relay the news to the rest of the village."
"Well, let's hope that means no hostile reactions. We're here for one thing only and that's to take Captain Carter back to Earth."
"From what Master Bra'tac told us they've been living among these people for a few months now, so I doubt they'd suddenly become violent," Daniel said, shrugging.
Jack saw Major Davis relax and rolled his eyes. "Don't listen to him, Davis. Daniel's an optimist. Teal'c and I are… realists."
"Indeed," Teal'c confirmed. "However, I do not believe there is reason to be alarmed by these people."
"Let's hope so. Still, keep your eyes and ears open, people."
"Yes, Sir," Davis said, tightening his grip on his MP5.
After a few minutes, the teenager ran off and Bra'tac beckoned them over. "Come, I will take you to shesp't."
Jack hoped that Sam would be there too, whatever that was. It turned out, though, that shesp't was a polite name for a ramshackle lean-to. Or perhaps it was a half-finished cabin. Either way, it looked kinda sad and tiny. There was a sturdy picnic table in the front and Jack figured that when it was raining, the table would get soaked because there was no wall or shelter, just a small awning. Some heavy cloth was hanging behind it, probably covering doorways to a small living area and bedrooms judging from the size of it.
"Sit," Bra'tac said, gesturing at the table.
Major Davis immediately undid his pack and sat down, reaching into the pack to retrieve a notepad and recorder for the Jaffa's statement.
Daniel sat down on the opposite end, but Teal'c remained on his feet like Jack.
"So," Jack said, looking around and trying to catch a glimpse of what lay behind the curtains. Was Sam inside?
Bra'tac smirked. "You will not find Sām here, O'Neill. She is in the field. You may ask the villagers for directions and locate her, while I speak with Major Davis."
He hated that he was apparently an open book to the old coot, but was more than happy to go look for Sam himself. "Oh, well, if you insist. Daniel, I'm gonna need you to translate… unless Teal'c you want to come with?"
"I do," Teal'c said, inclining his head.
"Um, I want to come, too," Daniel said, getting up again. "I would also love to learn more about the Utcha culture."
Jack rolled his eyes. "What a shocker."
Daniel ignored him and set out to speak to the first villager he could find. There were a bunch around, most of them observing them with a mixture of curiosity and wariness. Daniel approached two people who quickly moved away, so he tried again and stepped up to two middle-aged men. "Um, hello. My name is Daniel and we're friends of Captain Carter and Master Bra'tac."
Jack exchanged amused looks with Teal'c when the villagers stared blankly at Daniel.
"Um. Sām and Sbai?" He tried again, using the name Bra'tac used for Sam and what the teenager had called Bra'tac. "Sām , gerg shesp't?"
"Nubit Sām?" One of the men asked, smiling, after Daniel gestured at the cabin.
Daniel blinked and then started nodding enthusiastically. "Uh, yes, Nubit Sām. Kel?"
Jack sighed when he and the villagers started rambling in Goa'uld. "Maybe you should step in," he said, looking at Teal'c.
"Daniel Jackson has expressed the desire to become more fluent in Goa'uld. I believe this to be a great opportunity for him."
"Fine, but if we don't have an answer about Captain Carter's whereabouts in the next ten minutes, you're going to take over."
Teal'c smirked, "Very well, O'Neill."
It took six minutes for an enthusiastic Daniel to come back. "It's fascinating! Apparently Sam and Bra'tac saved someone's child when they came here with their… um, ship wreck? I think that's what he said. He probably meant that old ship Bra'tac and Moac used on Hathor's planet. Anyway, they saved the boy and from that moment they were welcomed to the village. They, uh, call her Nubit Sām. Nubit is a title that used to be given to goddesses, but doesn't have the negative association most Goa'uld titles have. At first I thought Bra'tac and the others simply mispronounced her name, but Sām actually means gold, inlaid with blue."
"It most likely refers to Captain Carter's physical appearance," Teal'c said.
"Exactly! And, uh, together, Nubit Sām basically means Golden Lady with Blue Eyes."
Jack checked the urge to shake his friend and let out a long-suffering sigh instead. "That's indeed fascinating, Daniel. But did they also tell you where we could find Sam?"
Daniel smirked at his use of her given name and gave him a knowing look, but didn't say anything about it. "Yes, she's working on an aqueduct. Remember what Bra'tac said about the Goa'uld and Jaffa leaving these people to their own devices? Well, they apparently left all their technology behind but no one knew how to use it. Most of it is in disrepair and Sam has been working on fixing the technology to help these people. It's very impressive."
"And, pray tell, where is this aqueduct?"
"Oh!" Daniel smiled sheepishly and gestured towards the east. "That way. They gave me directions, but it shouldn't be difficult to find."
Jack clapped his hands, spirits lifted. "Let's get going then."
Teal'c and Jack wordlessly followed Daniel as he led the way through the village. Many of the natives were staring at them, but it wasn't that unusual for SG-1. They had gotten used to it over the past few years.
Jack smiled when they crossed a muddy field where a bunch of children – toddlers to teens – were playing, many of them covered in the reddish mud and having fun. Kids and dogs were his favorite people and although he hadn't seen any pets or other animals yet, he thought it was a good sign to see happy kids playing outside and being allowed to just be children.
They continued on their way and left the village behind them, entering a small wooded area. Once they'd moved beyond the trees, Daniel spoke again. "It should be about half an hour on foot this way."
He nodded and brushed some beads of sweat from his forehead. The heat was becoming uncomfortable. "Okay, good."
"I believe I can hear streaming water," Teal'c said, after a while.
"It's been about ten minutes," Jack commented after glancing at his watch.
Daniel shrugged and gestured for Teal'c to take point. "We were walking at a brisk pace."
Jack didn't say anything and simply followed the Jaffa until he, too, heard streaming water. It sounded nearby and he quickened his pace, eager to lay eyes on Sam and see for himself that she was still doing fine. "I hear it."
There was some undergrowth and rocks they had to cross, but then they were suddenly standing in front of a man-made aqueduct.
"Voices are coming from over there," Teal'c said, pointing ahead.
It didn't take them long to cross the distance and, after a bend, they found a group of young men and women digging around in the canals. The group was practically cheering, or at least that was what it sounded like to Jack. It took him a moment to realize Sam was crouched down in the canal a few feet away. Her blonde hair caught his eye and made his heart skip a beat.
"Captain Carter? Um, Sam?" Daniel yelled, as he moved among the people.
Jack saw the moment she realized he was calling out for her, a puzzled frown on her face as she got to her feet. She was wearing a stained tunic and pants, standing in about a foot of water. "Sam," he called.
The tools in her hands dropped into the water and she gasped, eyes searching for a familiar face until her gaze connected with his. "Jack."
"Hey there," he said, smirking.
Shocked, Sam stared at him. She couldn't quite believe he was there, standing just a few feet away with the same smirk on his face that had made her stomach flip that night in DC. "What are you doing here?"
He quirked an eyebrow and gestured to his right. "We came to see if maybe you wanted to come home."
"Um, hello, Sam."
"It is good to see you again, Captain Carter."
She looked to her left and realized Doctor Jackson was waving at her and the Jaffa Teal'c was standing next to him. It must have been his presence she'd sensed a few minutes ago – she'd been too absorbed in her work to realize it wasn't Bra'tac's symbiote she sensed approaching. She opened her mouth to say something, but words wouldn't come. They had come for her? For real, this time? Her eyes found Jack again. "Home?"
"Yeah, home," he repeated.
"I'm not…" Sam frowned, brushing some hair out of her face. "I don't…"
Jack must have realized she was lost for words because suddenly, he was standing in front of her and held out a hand. "C'mere."
She grabbed it and used his hold to pull herself out of the aqueduct. Then, with a small tug on her hand, he pulled her against him. His arms enveloped her and Sam simply closed her eyes, resting her cheek against his shoulder. She let him hold her for a while, until she realized everyone had stopped working and was staring at them. Feeling self-conscious, she pulled away with a shy smile. "You're sure I can go back to Earth?"
"Yeah," he said, holding her gaze. "It's safe."
"Colonel Grieves died at the hands of O'Neill," Teal'c told her, a smile on his face.
Jack was quick to explain at her shocked expression. "In self-defense. He didn't want to surrender. His accomplices weren't so eager to die, though. We took them all into custody for treason against the United States and its allies. Thor also found the device from P3X-425 on their secret off-world base."
Sam barely had the time to process any of the information before Doctor Jackson spoke.
"We brought someone with us. Uh, Major Davis is the liaison from the Pentagon and he's taken Moac's statement already. He's talking to Master Bra'tac right now. It's just a formality at this point, though."
"He's right," Jack said. "Hammond, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President of the United States have met and gone over Grieves' initial statement and the evidence we collected at the time. You were cleared of any wrongdoing and they have guaranteed you will be allowed to live your life the way you want on Earth. They won't subject you to medical experiments or anything because of what happened with Herit."
Overwhelmed, she just stared at them for a moment. "You're saying…"
"We're saying you can come home, Sam," Jack said when her voice trailed off. "It's safe, I promise."
She found herself nodding, even though she had no idea what to say. But going home had been the goal, right? She'd been so focused on pulling through and keeping Ife safe that she had no idea what to do now. "Oh."
Doctor Jackson smiled at her as he came closer. "This must be overwhelming for you. Um, maybe we should go back to the village? That way you can have some time to process everything and talk to Master Bra'tac."
"Uh, yes," she said, "I'd like that."
"Are you okay, Sam?"
She caught Jack's concerned gaze and tried to reassure him with a small smile. It probably came out more like a grimace. "Yeah. I'm just… surprised."
"Bra'tac thought it best not to tell you we were coming in case we couldn't make it," he said.
"That's… it's okay. I just need a moment."
He frowned but stepped aside anyway, gesturing for her to lead the way back to the village. "Of course."
She trusted him, she really did or she wouldn't have put all her faith in him making it possible for her to return home. But somehow, she'd never allowed herself to think beyond that. Sure, she'd told Ife all about what their lives would be like on Earth, but it had been a fantasy. Not something tangible. Frowning against the bright sun, she started walking and idly wondered how Bra'tac felt about her and Ife leaving.
Looking up at Jack's inquiry, she realized she'd stopped walking. How was she going to tell him about Ife, their daughter? "I'm fine… just, thinking."
He looked like he didn't quite believe her but let it go, giving her a gentle push in the direction of the village. "Okay. Let's keep going."
"So, um, how are we going to do this?"
"Easy, you're gonna pack up your things and say your goodbyes. Then, we'll dial Earth, send our IDC and step through the gate."
It was hard to believe that was all there was to it. After so long… God, she didn't even know precisely how long it had been, but it certainly felt like a lifetime ago since she left Earth. And now, she was just supposed to step through the gate and be welcomed with open arms on the other end?
Jack placed a hand on her arm to stop her again and waited until Doctor Jackson and Teal'c were a few feet ahead of them before he spoke. "I know it sounds crazy, but I promise you it'll be all right. No one is going to stop or arrest you. There'll be the standard medical exam to make sure you're healthy, but after you've been cleared you're free to go."
"I know," she said. "It's just… hard to believe, you know?"
"It's been so long… I-I," she sighed and tried again. "I almost gave up. I didn't think I'd ever go back."
He squeezed her shoulder, "I know."
"It's just a shock."
"Um, guys?" Doctor Jackson called out from where he was standing about fifty meters ahead. "Are you coming?"
She smiled at Jack and gave herself a mental shake. "He's a bit impatient, isn't he?"
He chuckled softly, "Oh, you have no idea. I'll bet he's just eager to hear your debrief. He was already chatting to some of the natives in the village to learn more about their culture… We're coming, Daniel!"
They joined the two of them and together, the foursome continued on their way to the village in a companionable silence. Sam didn't know what was going through the heads of the three men but she couldn't stop thinking about Ife and Jack. How would he react? Would he be able to tell she was his? She snuck a few glances at him as they walked, comparing his features to that of her – their – daughter, but had to admit Ife was starting to resemble her more lately. When she'd been a little baby, Ife looked just like Jack – perhaps that was what Bra'tac's comments had been based on – but she had Sam's face, eyes and nose now.
"Where to now? Your, um, house, Sam?" Doctor Jackson looked at her with wide eyes. "That's where we left Master Bra'tac and Major Davis."
"Sure." She didn't have a lot of belongings and the few things she did have weren't worth bringing back home. All that mattered was Ife, but she was playing with the other kids. "Oh. I have some journals," she said, "I should take those with me. I'm sure you'd like to read about some of the cultures we've encountered."
His whole face lit up at the prospect and it reminded her of the enthusiastic man she'd been in contact with back at the Pentagon. "That'd be great. I'd love to. I had no idea you were keeping a journal. I used to keep journals of our early missions too, but after I 'died' Jack told me I wasn't allowed to anymore."
Jack sighed and rolled his eyes. "No, I told you you weren't allowed to take classified material home with you anymore. All those journals with extensive details about our missions were in the bookcase in your apartment, for crying out loud!"
Sam chuckled at their banter and could tell they were good friends. "I'll go pack my things now."
"Do you need any help?"
"No," she shook her head at Jack's offer, "thanks."
He looked like he wanted to insist, but before he could say anything Bra'tac came their way, followed by a man wearing the same outfit as the men on SG-1.
"Master Bra'tac has given his statement and signed an affidavit, Sir," the man said.
"Ah, good. Sam, this is Major Davis. Davis, this is Captain Carter."
"It's an honor to meet you, Captain," the Major said.
Sam nodded in acknowledgment, but she was a bit thrown by the mention of her rank. It had been ages since she felt like an officer in the Air Force. Oh, and she hadn't once acknowledged Jack's rank and just kept calling him by his given name… "Um, yes, Sir."
"I'm sure Colonel O'Neill has already told you this, but no charges will be filed against you and you will be reinstated if you want, assuming you pass your physicals and psych eval."
"I… I should pack up my things," she said, before turning on her heel and running to her house. Reinstated? She had no idea if she wanted to remain involved in the Air Force, never mind the SGC.
Packing up only took a few minutes. She put everything of importance – her journals, the GDO, Ife's doll, her comb, the Goa'uld hand and healing devices and the fur coat and pelt Bra'tac had made for her – in her bag and still had room to spare. Instead of returning to Jack and the others though, she sat down on her bed and looked around the place that had been home for the past couple of months.
It was there that Bra'tac found her a little while later. He kneeled in front of her and tipped up her chin with his finger. "He came for you and now it is time to go home, Sām."
"No," he said curtly. "You do not belong here, Sām. You will take sefi and take her home."
Sam nodded and got to her feet, suddenly overcome with emotion when she looked at him. "What about you?"
Bra'tac smirked and cupped her cheeks. "Do not concern yourself with an old warrior like me."
"I can't just leave you here."
"Your spirit and strength convinced me it was time to renounce the false gods, Sām. You have shown me what true freedom and courage is and with your help, we built a Jaffa Rebellion. Soon, my people will learn what it means to be free, as well. For that, I am grateful."
She wiped at her teary eyes and gave him a watery smile. "I don't know how to repay you for everything you have done for me and Ife."
"There is no need. But now, you have no need for me anymore. However, it is sefi who needs you and her father. Go, it is time." He finished by pressing a kiss to her forehead and then he turned around and left.
Taking a deep breath, Sam tried to control her tumultuous emotions. She grabbed her bag, steeled herself and left the hut for the final time.
Jack was waiting for her, his teammates standing a few feet behind him with Bra'tac. "You okay, Sam?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine," she said, sniffling. There was no denying Bra'tac was right. She didn't need him anymore and had to take her daughter home, to give her the childhood she deserved. It was time to get Ife… "I'll be right back."
"Stay, O'Neill," Bra'tac said somewhere behind her.
She cast a glance over her shoulder and was relieved to see Bra'tac holding a concerned-looking Jack back. It only took her a few minutes to reach the playground where Ife was being watched by the older kids. She stopped and watched her daughter for a moment. Ife was happy or at least content, but Sam knew that was simply because she was too young to know any better. Earth would be a safer place for her to grow up, with more possibilities and challenges, and, more importantly, her father.
Ife immediately turned to her when she came closer. "Momma!"
"Hey sweetie," she said, picking her up. "It's time to go home."
"Earth," she said, hugging her tightly.
Ife blinked up at her with big blue eyes. "Sbai?"
Sam smiled sadly and shook her head. "No, Master Bra'tac won't be coming with us."
Ife probably didn't understand what it meant, because she simply wrapped her little arms around Sam's neck and rested her face in the crook of her neck.
Walking back to where she had left Jack and the others felt like one of the hardest things she'd done, but Sam knew there was no way around it. She kept telling herself it didn't matter what he thought because she and Ife had done fine on their own – with Bra'tac – so far and they didn't really need him. But she knew that although turbulent, her own relationship with her dad was one of the most important ones in her life. She wanted that for her daughter, too.
Sam knew the moment when the guys had spotted her because Doctor Jackson was gaping at her, Teal'c looked mildly perturbed, Major Davis looked nonplussed and Jack… well, he was pretty much unreadable. His face was a strange blank mask but his gaze was locked on the back of Ife's head.
The last few feet felt like an impossible distance to cross but eventually she made it. Her heart was hammering in her chest and she tried to not be too obvious about gauging Jack's reaction to the girl in her arms.
"Wow," Doctor Jackson said, "I had no idea you had a baby, Sam."
She ignored them and plastered a smile on her face. "I'm good to go, now."
Bra'tac eyed them for a moment, before breaking the sudden silence. "I will accompany you to the chaapa'ai."
His words seemed to move two of the members of SG-1 into gear as Doctor Jackson, Major Davis and Teal'c headed into the direction of the stargate, with Teal'c explaining how sa't both meant daughter and ship wreck. Jack, however, seemed frozen to the spot.
"Sām?" Bra'tac inquired after throwing a dark glare at Jack.
She moved to follow him, but a hand on her arm stopped her. She bit her lip as she looked up at Jack's dark eyes. "Yes?"
He cleared his throat uncomfortably and lifted his hand, hesitantly reaching for Ife. "What's, um, what's her name? It's a girl, right?"
"Her name is Ife," she said softly.
A smile appeared on his face as he canted his head and caressed Ife's cheek. "Hey there, munchkin. Looks like you're pretty comfortable there in your Mommy's arms." He turned his attention to Sam, the smile still in place. "You want me to carry your bag?"
Sam couldn't believe the relief she felt over his ready acceptance of Ife. Of course, he probably had no idea about her paternity… "Uh, no. It's fine. You have a heavy pack of your own."
"True, but I'd say your cargo is a bit more precious," he said. "Don't you agree, Ife?"
To Sam's surprise, Ife shyly turned her face away. "Don't take it personally," she was quick to say when she saw Jack's smile disappear. "She's not used to, um, strangers. It's…"
"Don't worry about it, Sam," Jack said. "She's just a baby, what does she know? Trust me, she'll like me when she gets to know me."
"Kids love Jack," Doctor Jackson said when they reached the DHD. "Probably because he acts their age."
Jack threw his teammate a glare but didn't reply. "So, are you ready to return home, Sam?"
She eyed the stargate and took a deep breath. "As ready as I'll ever be."
"Dial 'er up, Daniel."
Teal'c and Bra'tac quietly said their goodbyes a few feet away while Daniel dialed Earth. Jack sent the IDC after the gate activated but held up his hands to forestall anyone from stepping up. He thumbed his radio and contacted the SGC. "General Hammond, this is SG-1-niner. There's a slight change in plans… Captain Carter is bringing someone else along."
There was a bit of static before an "Understood, Colonel" came through.
"Yeah, go ahead Daniel. You too, Davis."
"Tal'ma'te, Tchaȧs Bra'tac," Teal'c said, clasping his mentor's forearm and inclining his head in respect.
"Tal'ma'te, Teal'c." Bra'tac waited until Teal'c disappeared into the event horizon before he walked over to Sam. "Tal'ma'te, Sām, sefi," he said, caressing Sam's cheek first and then leaning forward to kiss Ife's cheek.
Jack must have sensed her indecision, because he suddenly reached for Ife. "I'll take her," he said.
Sam let him and, once he'd lifted their daughter, wrapped her arms around Bra'tac and hugged him tightly, much to the Jaffa's surprise. "Thank you for everything. Don't be a stranger," she added, as she pulled back.
"Take care of yourself and sefi, Captain Samantha Carter of the United States Air Force," he said.
"I will," she promised, with a tremulous smile. Then, she turned to Jack and held out her arms for her daughter. "I'll take her."
Jack handed her over, smiling when Ife immediately reached for Sam with her little arms. "Ready?"
She took one last look at Bra'tac, who gave her an encouraging nod, and smiled. "Yes, I'm ready. Let's go home."
"Try not to get yourself killed, Bra'tac," Jack said, as he shook his forearm.
"And you, O'Neill."
Sam waited until Jack was back at her side and then they made their way up the stone steps of the stargate.
She shook her head. "We've been going through the gate since before she was born and I've wanted to go back home even longer."
They entered the wormhole and less than a second later, they exited onto the ramp in the SGC. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust but then she saw all the airmen lined up in the gate room, with General Hammond on the forefront.
"Welcome home, Captain Carter."
A/N: That was quite the journey, but our favorite ship has been reunited! I'm working on the final fic in this series and hope to be back in a few weeks with the story about Sam, Jack and Ife adjusting to life on Earth and getting to know each other. Keep an eye on my twitter (at femsuii) for teasers and such of 'Only the Chosen Survived'. Also, for those interested, make sure to check out the timeline I created for this series (link on my profile). Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the story!