Jack and Landry made their way to the den and locked the door. Within five minutes, there was a barely noticeable flash of light and the remaining participants had arrived.


PART 17: EPILOGUE: HAPPY ANNIVERSARY!

Jack had been home for nearlya week. After two days out of school, simply to be with their dad, Grace, Jake and Jon had returned to school, Beth still staying at home. Now it was Saturday and the last weekend before a big event – their parent's fourteenth wedding anniversary.

In the past, this celebration was limited to a family dinner, followed by "private time" for their parents (during which they were spirited off to the movies or another distraction by Aunt Janet and Uncle Daniel). Yet given the events of the past month, the children and the O'Neills' close friends had decided this anniversary merited more public fanfare.

Actually, the event that was to happen in less than a week was the brainchild of Grace.

She'd initially conspired with Cassie to simply plan a party. It had grown exponentially from there. Cassie had called Daniel and Teal'c, certain that they should be part of the planning. Conversation had touched upon how people usually had big parties for silver and golden wedding anniversaries and smaller affairs for other, less momentous years.

Jake had intervened at this juncture and asked, "What could be a more important than this year? We weren't sure there would even be an anniversary. We thought we'd never see Dad again."

Grace had answered, "That's right; I think Mom and Dad both deserve a great party this year."

"After all, Mom and Dad will never stop loving each other, right, Uncle Daniel?" Jon added.

"I luv parties!" little Beth enthused.

"Then it's settled," Daniel summarized, "I think we're having a big blow out this year." With a nod to his wife, the major planning was on. With a little help from Jack's good friend, the president (of the United States), they'd managed to book one of the loveliest reception halls in the Springs with less than a week's notice. Long time SGC staffers were invited along with close family friends and neighbors. It was unfortunate that the family's alien friends could not be included -- for security reasons, of course.

The biggest challenge to the rag tag planning committee was keeping this shindig a secret from the guests of honor. Jack who'd become accustomed to the attention he'd received when he first returned, was instantly curious as to why the kids seemed to scatter whenever he came upon them, huddled together, talking quietly. Sam was even more suspicious when she would go to work and find Janet talking on the phone in a rather conspiratorial tone with her daughter Grace.

In any case, after less than a week of planning, the big day finally arrived. Plans were in place. Janet had innocently informed Jack and Sam that their anniversary gift this year was dinner, dancing and a weekend getaway at their favorite location in the Springs, the Craftwood Inn.

The Inn was a remodeled factory complex overlooking a scenic mountain vista. A restaurant/reception hall was connected to small guesthouse on the spacious grounds. Jack and Sam had frequented the restaurant during their engagement and what Jack sweetly referred to as their formal courtship (as opposed to the informal 9 year courtship through the gate). As the children were born they'd found less time to go out alone together and usually didn't go to the trouble of anything quite so special. But Janet and Daniel knew that the Inn remained one of their favorite places; after all, it was the place Jack had finally gotten the courage to pop the question.

OoOoOo

It was a lovely calm November evening, with a softly falling snow. Jack and Sam were on their way to the Inn, a 45 minute drive from their suburban home.

"Wasn't it thoughtful of Daniel and Janet to give us this time at the Inn?"

"Absolutely; they're great friends, Sam. And I can't imagine anything better than spending time alone with you." It had been forever since they'd been away together and after the trauma of the past few weeks the promise of this time seemed sweeter still. Even so, Sam had questioned the advisability of leaving the children so soon after P3X-779; when the kids had heard her misgivings they'd been quick to assure their mother that they would be just fine and she shouldn't worry.

As they approached the Inn, it was dusk. The O'Neills noticed the parking lots were full to overflowing, something that left them a bit disappointed. They'd been hoping for a fairly quiet evening, without a lot of strangers to deal with. A nice dinner, some dancing and a night alone --- some special treats they'd missed for a long time. Well, so there were a few extra people; they were still here in a beautiful, nostalgic setting on their wedding anniversary.

After parking the car, Jack gallantly opened the door for his wife, who'd long ago learned to accept some of the traditional ways that Jack choose to treat her with special regard. She took one look at him as he extended his arm and was reminded again, what an incredible man she had married. She loved him more each day and now, after almost loosing him, the intensity of her devotion and appreciation for Jack O'Neill was greater than ever.

"Well I hope Daniel remembered to make the reservation. Looks like they're doing a booming business tonight. Is there a holiday I don't know about?" Jack commented dryly as they walked to the door.

"Just the O'Neill anniversary. They must be pretty important people." Sam answered without missing a beat.

Walking into the gracefully decorated Inn, the couple was pleasantly surprised to see their neighbors at the coat check.

"Hi coach!" Jack was greeted enthusiastically by Mike Paris, an aeronautical engineer who coached street hockey with him.

"Mike, looks like this is a pretty popular spot tonight."

"Sure does, you come here often?"

"Used to be a favorite place. Haven't been here in a long time, but tonight … tonight's our anniversary, and a very special one, right Sam?"

Sam had just joined her husband after checking their wraps. "Yes, sir," she answered with a radiant smile. Jack could feel himself blush; after all these years, that smile and the "sir" were their code signals. "Sir" the title he'd come to hate more than anything during the years she was his second in command, had become an endearment for their more playful moments and that smile … promised an interesting evening ahead.

"Really, your anniversary too?" questioned Mike's wife Beverly, with feigned innocence. "What a coincidence, we're here for an anniversary party."

As much as Jack liked Bev and Mike Paris, he was hoping this little conversation would end soon. He didn't look forward to spending this evening conversing with neighbors; he just wanted to focus on Sam and their celebration. So he was relieved as the little group, with Sam leading the way, moved towards the dining room..

Sam was surprised by the very dim light she noticed in the dining area. She remembered lots of candlelight during their last visit, but this lighting seemed extremely low. She wasn't sure she'd even be able to see Jack's face across the table (and she was planning to do a lot of lovesick gazing – the kind they'd had to avoid for so long early in their 'relationship').

Within a minute, the O'Neills were approached by a rotund, older gentleman, apparently dressed as a maitre d'. As soon as the man's face came into view, the lights came up, revealing none other that General Hammond waiting to see them to their table. At his heels, insistently tugging at the corners of his jacket, was little Beth.

"Now, Grandpa George? Can we do it now?"

"Yes, Beth. Now would be a good time."

"SURPRISE!"

At that the entire dining room erupted in cheers. With the much improved lighting, a flummoxed Jack and Sam noticed that the diners looked familiar, each and every one. As they slowly understood that they had been set up, by the best, no doubt, they saw Jake, Grace and Jon, sporting huge grins come up to join their little sister.

"Happy anniversary, Mom and Dad," they said proudly. Janet and Daniel were close behind them, also beaming, just a bit guiltily.

"Hope you're not too disappointed to have company, Jack" Daniel said softly to his friend. "I promise we'll all go home before you two 'retire' for the night".

"Ya did good, space monkey," Jack said, somewhat overwhelmed at the thought of all the people who'd come to this little gathering. Gingerly surveying the group before him, Jack recognized lots of senior SGC personnel (men and women he and Sam had served with for years), close family friends and neighbors. There had to be at least one hundred people here, clearly for their anniversary party.

General Hammond played host and showed the guests of honor to their table directly in front of the center window of the dining room. The kids were nearby, but at a separate table with the Jacksons, trying to wave discretely and failing miserably. Soft music began playing, just before the master of ceremonies, none other than Teal'c, better known to this gathering as Murray, took center stage.

"As you all know we have come here tonight at the request of the O'Neill children to honor their parents on this, the fourteenth anniversary of their marriage. I am told that traditionally large gatherings such as this wait for several more years, yet I and the children are glad you have all agreed to participate now." At that all of the over 100 guests broke into enthusiastic applause. (Most of the guests, at least those from the SGC, were well acquainted with Teal'c and his stoned face approach to public speaking and as such were able to appreciate his humor.)

After the initial welcome, a lovely dinner was served, during which friends gradually drifted over to congratulate Jack and Sam who remained somewhat stunned at what they saw as an incredible outpouring of affection.

OoOoOo

Just as they were beginning to wonder what had become of their scheming children, Beth scrambled out of nowhere and onto her mother's lap. "Hi, Mommy! Are you having a good time?" Before Sam could answer, she saw that her little angel had a roving microphone in her hand and that 'Uncle Daniel' was just a few steps behind, followed closely by 3 other sets of young eyes. Jack burst into laughter and looked accusingly at his good friend who then took the mike and began the next part of the program.

"Okay I see a smile on my good friend's face, that means he'd not planning on killing me quite yet! Actually, the fact that I'm delaying the CAKE somewhat may cause him to reconsider. (The SGC marines seemed to find this last thought absolutely hysterical and burst into fits of laughter.) Right now before we proceed with the festivities, the children have asked me to present a family photo album recapping some highlights of our favorite couple's years together." With that, the lights dimmed and very quiet classical music began to play. Jack pulled his chair even closer to Sam as a wide screen projection TV engaged.

Sam gasped at the first photo, a picture of the original SG1 suited up for their very first mission together. They were so young! This must have been the afternoon following her little introductory speech when she met Colonel O'Neill. She was still embarrassed to remember how silly she must have sounded. Yet the picture brought back memories of exciting times and the beginning of everything she now held dear. By now Sam was sitting with Jack's arm around her, her head leaning on his shoulder.

Next came a series of stills capturing the team and others from the SGC at various functions over the years, in BDUs, dress blues and a variety of street clothes.

There was a lovely picture of a very young Sam with a small, innocent Cassie. And of course, her favorite picture from that time – one of her and the Colonel together and unaware of Daniel, the sneaky photographer -- on a star filled off world night. (Fortunately, no one could tell from the shot that the couple was not on earth.)

And then there were the wedding pictures. Jack had almost forgotten how stunning Sam was that day, but right now it all came back to him in spades. He'd been frozen to the spot as he'd watched her walk up the aisle, escorted by George Hammond. Daniel had reminded him to breathe more than once and he could swear the kids had picked out the very picture where his best man jabbed him in the ribs with such a reminder. But all in all, they'd both looked incredibly happy that day, as if all was finally right with the world.

The first picture of Sam pregnant with the twins caught Jack by surprise. Sam noticed his sharp intake of breath and knew instantly that his mind had gone back to a time just slightly before that picture, a time that had nearly torn them apart. Her hand reached his on the table and held on tightly, their eyes meeting and holding each other's gaze. Their attention was drawn back to the photo presentation by the exclamations of the audience over the cuteness factor in the next set of pictures – the twins had arrived and the photos that followed featured parents and extended family in various poses with the new deliveries. Jack and Sam shot looks at their favorite pre-teens at the next table. Grace was smiling, but Jake had turned a great shade of crimson looking at what he thought were less than flattering shots.

Pictures of family vacations and the arrivals of Jon and Beth rounded out the presentation which ended with the family portrait Jack had commissioned for Sam on the occasion of last year's anniversary. After a round of applause, Grace and Jake took center stage and wrested the mike from their Uncle Daniel. Grace began, "These were wonderful pictures that Jake, Jon, Beth and I found and put together with Uncle Daniel and Aunt Janet's help. But they only begin to tell the story of our wonderful parents." Looking at her mother and father directly now, Grace continued, "Mom and Dad are always there for us kids, when things are good and when bad things happen too. Mom, Dad, we just had to have a special party this year to let you know how much we love you both." By now Sam felt tears of happiness winding their way down her cheeks and Jack's arm rubbing her back in a comforting gesture. (Jack still wasn't quite sure what to do with his wife's 'happy tears'.)

OoOoOo

After Grace's speech (Jake seemed to be there for moral support), Jon came to the mike and with a devilish grin stated that he needed to see his parents for a few moments before the dancing started. He walked over to their table with an old friend of his father's, invited and accompanied by Teal'c.

Rev. Leonard Kelly was an old fraternity brother of Jack's; they'd played varsity ice hockey together in college. When Len had entered the seminary, Jack was speechless for one of the first times in his life. He hadn't thought a guy who'd sown quite as many wild oats as he and Len had done would have been accepted to be a priest. Jack had lost touch with him over the years as their life paths had diverged and Jack became more and more estranged from organized religion.

That all changed four years ago when the twins were kidnapped. It was a hellish few days, with the stress leading to a threatened miscarriage for Sam, pregnant with Jon at the time. Jack had sought out his old friend in desperation; he'd felt he was coming undone and couldn't think where else to turn. He trusted his old friend, certainly not because he was a priest, but because he was Len. The man had guided him back from a dark place and helped him stay strong for his family. Jack had remained in touch since then, nurturing a newfound sense of solidarity with an old friend.

Jack had shared Len's story with Teal'c one night; the Jaffa had decided that Len was just the right person to officiate at a renewal of vows. (Teal'c had rapidly become the expert on Tauri tradition to the point where Jack had often wanted to strangle him and tonight would be no exception.) Fortunately, Father Len as T. had begun to call him, was wise enough to persuade the well meaning Jaffa that Jack O'Neill would not take well to a total surprise vow ceremony, no matter how good an idea T thought it was.

"Len!" Jack called out as he saw his old friend approach the table. Jack got up immediately and clapped his friend on the back, bringing him over to Sam. Len and Sam had only met a handful of times, but from the beginning, Len had sensed his old friend's complete devotion to Samantha Carter O' Neill.

"Jack, Samantha, its great to be here. Murray called and told me the kids where planning this shindig, and wow, quite the celebration. One would think you two saved the world or something." At the comment, Sam blushed slightly and looked down at her hands, while Jack simply smirked at his friend and shrugged his shoulders.

Len, Teal'c and Jon all pulled up chairs and sat down. "Okay, T., I know when an ambush is coming, what's up?" Sam had started to look at her husband with somewhat amused amazement. She couldn't believe how well he was taking to all of these surprises. He was really enjoying himself.

"Well actually, Dad, since you and Mom will always love each other, we thought you could say your promises to each other all over again, like at your wedding. You know I didn't get to hear them the first time."

Sam, who had been sipping a glass of Merlot, just about inhaled and looked at her middle child, who sat smiling at her in all innocence. "Right now? In front of all these people?"

"Why not, Mom? They're all friends."

"Yeah, Sam. I think we should."

"You are a lot of help, Jack O'Neill!"

"I aim to please, Mrs. O'Neill," he quipped, warming to the occasion and pulling her into his arms for a kiss.

"So that's a yes, Jack?" Len asked.

"That's a yes, Len, on one condition. My lovely bride and I need at least one dance before we do this."

"I think that can be arranged."

Teal'c went over to the band and requested the song he recalled from his friends' wedding – the one they'd first danced to as man and wife. As the music started, Jack stood up, offered Sam his hand and led his wife to the dance floor where they danced alone, all eyes on them. They held each other close and whispered their love to each other in private. Jack knew Sam was gradually warming to a repeat public pronouncement.

When the dance ended, Jack and Sam remained in the center of the dance floor, where Len approached them with that darned roving mike. "Well you want everyone to hear, right?"

The two simply smiled softly at each other and held hands as Len handed Jack the mike and issued the invitation. "Sam and Jack, everyone here knows that fourteen years ago today, you two made solemn promises to each other, promises that have brought you to today. This celebration bears witness that the promises have been kept and I am told by 4 very enthusiastic children that you intend to keep them 'forever'. Since that is the case, I invite you both to renew those promises in the sight of your friends, your family and your God."

Recovering briskly from the mention of the 'G' word, Jack took a deep breath, looked directly at the woman he knew he would always love and began, "Sam, I've loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you. That love has grown with each day we've been together. I promise to love, cherish and respect you for always."

Sam gazed lovingly at Jack through a haze of tears for the duration of his brief oration. Before she started, he pulled her close and placed a gentle chaste kiss on her forehead. He handed her the mike which she held in her right hand while Jack held her left between both of his. Sam found his eyes and thought she might happily drown in the warmth and adoration she found there.

"Jack, I've loved since you pushed me through 'the door' into my first assignment on your team. I could hardly believe it was real when we were able to be with each other. I can't imagine living a life without you in it. I promise to love, cherish and respect you with all my heart forever." By now, tears were streaming done her face and Jack had pulled her tightly to his chest.

The guests, initially transfixed by the moment, broke into applause led by Beth and the other children. As Sam brought her head up to capture Jack's lips in a leisurely kiss, the band began to play once more and other couples joined them on the dance floor.

Within a few minutes, the couple walked off the floor and over to their children, who eagerly greeted them with hugs and kisses.

OoOoOo

After two more dances (and cake), Sam and Jack O'Neill, feeling well and truly loved by friends, family and especially their children, said goodbye to the group and retired to the guesthouse, a short distance on the grounds.

In total exhaustion, they fell, fully dressed, side by side on the king sized bed, giggling and turning slowly to face each other.

"Wow! That was really something! I can't believe our kids were behind this."

"Hey, they are our kids, that should tell you something."

"Pretty special, aren't they?"

"Yep, Mrs. O'Neill, that they are," Jack sighed, reaching out gently to stroke Sam's face. "Speaking of special, my dear, when do you think we should break our "special" news to the kids?"

"As soon as we get back would be good, Jack. How did they take it? You never did tell me, you know."

"Well, President Kirk wasn't particularly thrilled, but I convinced him that Thor and I had come to an understanding. And it was true, Thor agreed, just a little reluctantly, that I'd train a team of SGC personnel who would be available to help the Asgard on sensitive issues. I made it clear I wouldn't be going off world anymore. I am officially retired, except for training and some advisory work."

"You sure you're okay with that?"

"More than okay, Sam. It's time." Jack silently recalled his life more than 25 years ago when he'd been so depressed, so devoid of reasons to live, that he'd actively pursued a mission guaranteed to take his life. Everything was so different now; he very much wanted to live to see his children grow up and simply to spend more time with Sam. "I can't think of anything I'd rather do than spend more time with you and the kids. I'm not going to jeopardize it – I'm not the only one who can do that job."

Sam cuddled up to her husband and smiled; "Did you tell them the part where I'm staying in the lab."

"Yeahsureyabetcha; again not thrilled, but they're going to deal with it. Kirk and Thor know that having Samantha O'Neill at the SGC or Area 51 is a lot better than having her retired.

"Have I told you I love you today, Sir?"

"Once or twice, but it would be great to hear it again."

"I think I can manage that."


Finally, the end of Alone. Hope you enjoyed it. Please review. It would help me to know what you enjoyed and what could be improved. (After a year of anonymously reading other people's stories, I've learned how important it is to take the time to review.)

I am planning a "prequel". (Hey, if the concept is good enough for George Lucas and Star Wars …) Please look for it; it will be titled Backstory, and will highlight pivotal events that brought our characters to the life circumstances we've seen in Alone.