PART TWENTY TWO: EPILOGUE
"Under the proposal for the continuing work to eradicate the last of the remaining retrobugs on Earth, contractors are erecting large EM beacons in remote areas all around the country which will act to attract the creatures which haven't been destroyed yet. Our estimates are suggesting it is unlikely that we will ever truly ride of ourselves of these creatures, however by maintaining this eradication project and our beacons we hope to attract the vast majority of these creatures over time, with the result that the alien population remains as small as possible."
Sam wondered idly if Timothy was expecting a round of applause after his little speech, because if he was he certainly wasn't going to get it from her.
"The EM beacons are being placed strategically all over the country," Timothy continued. "This means that areas which have very little human habitation will also be monitored through the new system. The exact number of beacons we'll be constructing isn't known yet, but the stations will be manned and monitored constantly to stay up to date with what is happening."
None of this was new to Sam, and she found her attention wandering away from the future of pest control in America, to why on earth she'd agreed to the Colonel's suggestion. Hanging around for a few weeks seemed like a waste of time at this moment, even if it was supposedly to get together supplies, pick up their medals and public apologies before skipping off into the universe for their happily ever after.
Happily ever after. Sam glanced over at the man sitting next to her, studying him discreetly. Three weeks of sunshine, fresh air and damn good food had done him the world of good, she decided. In an attempt to 'win back their favour' so to speak, the government and Air Force had housed them in one of the most expensive hotels in DC.
Sam had endured numerous debriefings and avoided many more where officers in uniform and politicians continually tried to tell her how sorry they were she'd been so wrongfully jailed, and that they'd never for one minute believed she was guilty. She had perfected the art of smiling politely and finding an excuse to get away.
She had also, in the last three weeks, become surprisingly good at avoiding media crews who followed her around almost twenty four hours a day, each photographer or interviewer trying to get the inside scope on what it was like.
"What was what like?" Sam had asked once. "Being in prison or being betrayed by the country?"
The interviewer had responded "Yes, and also working at the SGC and having an alien for a father. And what was it like being infested by an alien?"
Sam had almost decked him, but the Colonel had been there that time and dragged her away before Sam created anther scandalous story to be plastered across the papers. She was sick of seeing her face on magazines and newspapers on the TV. She'd never asked for fame and notoriety, and to be thrust into the limelight yet again, this time as America's sweetheart, wasn't something that sat comfortably with her.
"You're doing it again," the Colonel murmured quietly, obviously paying as much attention to Timothy's speech as she was.
"What?" she snapped impatiently, just wanting to leave.
"The whole 'pissed off royally with the universe because they screwed me around' thing," he told her calmly.
She wanted to hit him when he said things like that. Jack O'Neill, the man who avoided shrinks the way cats avoided water, was trying to counsel her. Sam glared at him instead, even though he wasn't really watching her. "I want to go," she told him.
"We will," he promised. "I just want another medal and a public apology, and then we can go."
She didn't understand why the medal or the apology meant so much to him; as far as she was concerned the apology meant nothing and the medal was a way of 'buying back' her allegiance.
"Can't we just go now?" she asked impatiently.
He chuckled, and found her hand with his own. "Almost, Carter," he promised. "Timothy's almost done."
She wanted to argue with him, get rid of some of the anger still boiling inside her, but it was hard to feel angry when he held her hand in his own and the sun was so warm on her skin. Sam closed her eyes and focused on the feeling of his hand holding hers. He didn't hold her hand often, Sam thought, experimentally tightening her fingers in his. Sometimes he'd hug her, and once he'd kissed her on the cheek, but holding hands was as far as they went.
Applause broke out around them, intruding on Sam's considerations of their relationship.
"It's us now," he told her, lifting her hand to his lips and brushing a kiss across her knuckles. As the applause died down at the next speaker took his position on the podium, he asked her, "You ready?"
"Yes, sir," she responded automatically, nodding.
"Good. Let's go."
When the President called their names and sang their praises, they stood side by side on the podium and graciously received their awards and apologies.
The Colonel still hadn't let go of her hand when the ceremony ended, and Sam found she liked him holding onto her. It felt nice to be kept close to him; a sudden and swift shift in their relationship from friends to more. She smiled at him, and stepped closer, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Let's say our goodbyes and get out of here," the Colonel said, smiling down at her.
A bubble of excitement surfaced through the anger and confusion still rampant inside her, and she smiled back. "Don't forget the dog."
"As if I would forget Homer," the Colonel pointed out, grinning at the thought of his puppy. Sam rolled her eyes at the name. "I just need to make sure Cassie is happy to let go of him!"
The happiness faded a little as Sam considered Cassandra, catching sight of the young woman sprawled under a tree with the dog in her arms carefully being watched by both Janet and Bek.
"You guys heading off now?" Janet asked as Sam and Jack approached them.
Sam nodded, smiling at Janet. "I think it's about time," Sam said.
"Don't be a stranger," Janet said instructed firmly.
"We won't," Sam promised, letting go of the Colonel to give Janet a hug. "Take care of yourself, and of Cassie," Sam whispered.
Janet smiled. "You take care of the Colonel."
Sam grinned, and knelt down to say goodbye to Cassie. Cassandra showed no indication that she understood what Sam was saying, or that she even recognised Sam. Sam smiled at her, pushed a strand of red hair behind her ear, and said goodbye.
With a final good bye, Sam took her place next to the Colonel again, resting her head against his shoulder and wrapping her arm around his waist.
"You ready to blow this joint?" he asked her, dropping his cheek onto her hair.
"I'm right behind you, Colonel," she told him, smiling.
Janet, Cassandra and Bek disappeared in a golden flash of light as somewhere above them, Teal'c activated the ring transporter of his tel'tac and brought them onboard.
"Teal'c, good to see you buddy!" the Colonel grinned.
"It is good to see you too, O'Neill," Teal'c replied, nodding. "As it is to see you, Major Carter."
"Sam. Call me Sam, Teal'c."
A new home, a new life, a new start. Major Carter was still somewhere inside her, and receiving the medal from the President had made Sam realise that she would always be military, no matter what. But right now, Sam was going to live her own life.
"Sam," Teal'c said awkwardly, trying it out.
"Do I have to call you Sam?" the Colonel asked.
Sam grinned, not entirely sure where this unusual surge of happiness was coming from. "Only if I have to call you Jack," she decided.
"We'll work on that," the Colonel decided, pulling her closer. "Sam."
She smiled at him, and when he pressed a light kiss to her lips she thought maybe things would work themselves out somehow. After all, she'd never have thought to find herself in a Tel'tac again with the Colonel and Teal'c, heading out to another planet.
"Did you find me a lake with fish in it, Teal'c?" the Colonel asked, depositing Homer on the floor of the Tel'tac and dragging Sam to stand beside Teal'c at the helm.
"No," Teal'c admitted. "However, there are many planets for us to explore O'Neill."
They were missing Daniel, there was no SGC waiting for them back on Earth, and the Colonel had no cabin by a lake with fish in it. Maybe not happily ever after, but it was more than she'd ever dreamed of getting back.
Sam Carter smiled. "Well, what are waiting for, Teal'c? Let's go."
With a well-practiced nod, Teal'c acquiesced and their Tel'tac disappeared out of Earth's orbit.