A/N: As I start the final chapter for this story, please know how grateful I am to everyone who has taken time to read the story in the past few weeks. Special thanks to the reviewers, you've been so encouraging and successfully pointed out possible problems (special kudos there to janissima!) or possibilities for the plot. Hope you enjoy the final part.
Last time: Sam gave herself over to the power of the wormhole, trusting that when she returned to awareness they would be safe.
THE WAY THINGS ARE
Fortunately, Jack had remembered to share the gate address for P3X-907 before he'd so unceremoniously left Sam to her own devices. By the time they arrived on 907 Jack was still out cold. Sam sat by the side of gate, Jack's head nestled in her lap, attempting to summon the energy needed to move the next few feet to the DHD.
On this barren, desolate planet, claimed as a place of refuge by the Tok'ra, Selmak and Jack had boarded the cargo ship that brought them to Tartarus only a few days earlier. Knowing that Anubis would have found and confiscated anything useful they'd brought with them, Jack had wisely buried the GDO just to the side of the DHD.
Its location had been the last piece of information he'd conveyed to Sam. Now all she had to do was drag herself as far as the DHD to unbury it and dial home. Under other circumstances, piece of cake, but right now, different story. Gently tugging Jack to the side of the gate, out of harm's way, she stood on trembling legs, preparing to make her way down to the DHD. Before she could go very far, she felt something grasp her hand from behind.
"Sam, wait," Jack's voice called to her.
Turning around to see her wounded friend conscious and looking up at her, Sam sat back down by his side, her hand still held firmly in his.
"Hey, welcome back," she said, fighting off her own fatigue and flashing him a wan smile. "How are you?"
"Selmak's working on it. Pain's a lot better," Jack replied.
"Well let's get you home and have Janet give him a hand," she said.
"Wait … need to tell you now," he said haltingly, obviously still in pain. "I may be in the brig for awhile when we get back."
"No, Sir. We'll work something out," she insisted. "They'll have to understand."
Too tired to argue, Jack nodded weakly. "Want you to understand … whatever happens …it was worth it, Sam."
That's all Jack O'Neill needed to say, that and her name, the given name he so seldom used.
"I know," she answered, her eyes holding his for as long as she dared. To say more would make the next few days, years even, impossible.
Jack was the first to break eye contact, clearing his throat and taking charge in as much as he was able. "Okay then, Carter. First off, I want you to promise me something."
"What's that, Sir?" she asked, having no idea what he might ask.
"When we get home, lose the hair and the make-up," he answered teasingly.
Smiling, Sam nodded her head and awaited the real instructions she knew were coming.
"At the foot of the DHD, one to two feet down, that's where I had Teal'c bury the GDO," General O'Neill stated. "Get us home, Colonel."
"Yes, sir," Sam answered, knowing without a doubt it was time to return to the old roles. With a sadness that reminded her of their time as Jonah and Therah, she made her way to the DHD and did what was necessary to get them home.
She listened to the reassuring clinking sound of the chevrons falling into place and the familiar wooshing sound as the gate opened. She input her IDC and made her way back up the steps, where she took hold of Jack once more and finally pulled him home.
Seconds later, two bedraggled Air Force officers, dressed audaciously as Goa'uld, stumbled through the Tauri gate.
Their welcoming committee consisted of a squadron of armed airmen dispatched to defend the gate from the "unauthorized off-world activation" (Sam's codes had been locked out weeks ago) along with a team of medics anticipating the worst.
Jack and Selmak were unconscious mere seconds after exiting the gate. Sam Carter walked through shakily with her eyes open, dragging Jack O'Neill behind her. She managed a brief look at the P-90s trained on them before taking one deep breath and falling to the grill work by Jack's side. The medics were on them almost instantly, with Janet barking orders and gurneys readied to bring them both to the infirmary.
Jacob met them as they left the gate room. He hadn't been prepared for the surge of emotion he felt seeing both of them unconscious and unable to tell him what had happened. Yet from the hurried statements of the medics he realized Sam was relatively uninjured and Jack's injuries were not life threatening. There was much for which to be grateful. All manner of things were about to change for him and for those he loved.
"I know he disobeyed orders, Sir. I'm not disputing that," the interim head of the SGC asserted as he continued a high pressure phone conversation with his superior. "I'm simply trying to point out the extenuating circumstances behind General O'Neill's decision."
"George, I'm not sure knowing Jack O'Neill has 'feelings' for his second-in- command really improves my opinion of the man's actions," Henry Hayes countered in a strong, less than forgiving tone.
"Mr. President, I hope you understand that given their long term friendship and working relationship, there was no way General O'Neill could leave Colonel Carter out there, knowing she might still be alive."
"I like O'Neill, George. And I appreciate his contributions. But he's a trusted officer who abandoned a leadership position critical to the security of this nation, of this planet. I can't ignore that."
"He didn't exactly abandon it, Sir," Hammond attempted to clarify. "I was on base within five minutes of his departure. Jack set it up that way. From what I'm told he was informed that I'd entered the base before he dialed the gate."
"So you're telling me you were involved in this 'conspiracy', George?" President Hayes asked.
George Hammond didn't sweat. Cool, calm, collected, he'd managed to get through many a crisis in his military career that would have ruined lesser men. But he'd never had the President of the United States directly take him to task. No matter how good a friend Jack O'Neill had become over the years, he owed him for this one.
With a deep breath, Major General Hammond did his best to mollify his Commander-in-Chief. Eventually, his efforts were rewarded.
"How are they, George?" President Hayes asked a few moments later, showing the first sign of relenting in his initial intent of pursuing court martial charges against one AWOL Brigadier General.
Hammond breathed a sigh of relief; concern was an improvement over outrage. Henry Hayes was a reasonable man, after all.
"Colonel Carter is understandably exhausted and has been sleeping since her return. General O'Neill suffered a serious injury attempting to the reach the gate and has been in surgery for the past hour or so."
"Full recovery, Sir, aided of course by the presence of the Tok'ra symbiote, Selmak."
"I still have a hard time understanding how that works, George. For the moment, I'm just glad it does," Hayes admitted. "And you said the symbiote will be returned to its original host, retired General Carter, the Colonel's father?"
"That's right, Mr. President."
Henry Hayes knew he was in over his head. His first assessment of the Stargate program when he'd taken office over a year ago left him breathless. Still today, when faced with the stressors these officers faced on a day to day basis, he had no idea what he would do in their positions. Be that as it may, O'Neill's actions constituted dereliction of duty and could not be ignored.
Nearly six hours after their escape from Tartarus, Jack O'Neill drifted back to consciousness. He'd been out of surgery less than an hour. As he opened his eyes, he realized he was alone with his own thoughts. At first, this was a strange sensation; after nearly a week in the constant company of Selmak, the silence was … well … different …almost lonely.
Raising his eyes, he realized he was not alone after all. There was Sam, almost looking like her old self. Gone were the hair extensions, most of the make-up and a great deal of the hair coloring. Granted she wasn't exactly looking her normal, blond haired, peaches and cream complexioned self, but close. Best of all the green contacts were a thing of the past. The blue eyes he loved so much were staring back at him.
"Sorry, Sir," she began, catching him looking at the hair. "They used permanent color and its going to take awhile to wash out completely. How are you?"
Jack thought for a few moments before he could find words to describe his current situation. "I'm… sad … a little…quiet in here," he said, pointing to his head
"Strange, isn't it?" Sam acknowledged, remembering all too clearly her own feelings of loss when Jolinar died.
"Yeah, strange," Jack said wistfully. "You know, the old guy wasn't so bad. I was getting to like him," he added. "Good sense of humor, too."
"Dad said that about Selmak a lot," Sam replied. "Plus he knows biochemistry."
"There's that," Jack said with noticeable discomfort. "Is he okay, back with your dad and all?"
"Yes, while you were under anesthesia, Selmak left and returned to Dad," Sam replied, wanting to reassure him. "They both seem to be doing well."
Jack nodded silently, still overwhelmed by the mixed emotions flooding him. "Anything else I should know?"
"You're not in the brig, Sir," Sam said, informing him of the obvious.
"Yeah, what's up with that? They short on space or something? Siler and his crew raid the kitchen again?" he quipped.
"No Jack. Actually, Selmak and I just helped George talk the President out of kicking your ass," a new arrival announced.
Jack took his eyes off Sam long enough to look towards the infirmary door. There he found Jacob Carter, smiling at him in an unmistakably paternalistic fashion.
"Really, no ass-kicking?" he asked.
"Really, Jack," Jacob answered. "In fact, he's thinking of promoting you."
Both Jack and Sam looked at Jacob Carter incredulously. "Come again," Jack said.
"That's right, Jack," called George Hammond, arriving to stand alongside his old friend. "I'm retiring and President Hayes has tapped you to succeed me as Head of Homeworld Security."
"General Hammond, Sir," Jack said, "excuse me, but what's the catch?"
"No catch, Jack. Accept the promotion or face court martial," Jacob clarified.
"Jacob …," Jack began in his slow, trying to patient, tone, "I may not be the smartest guy around, but that doesn't make a lot of sense."
"It's simple really, Jack," Jacob Carter explained with a gentle smile. "If George and Sam will excuse us, Selmak and I would like to explain it to you in private."
Sam looked at her father quizzically, then at General Hammond. Though relieved Jack would escape court martial, the promotion they mentioned would take him far away from her and SG1. What was really going on here? She wondered.
"Alright, Jacob," Hammond replied, "I'll take Sam for some coffee. See you in a bit. Good luck, both of you."
George Hammond signaled the mildly confused, slightly concerned Sam Carter; they exited the infirmary together without further ado, Sam obeying the orders of a superior officer.
"So … we're alone, Jacob," Jack flippantly stated the obvious. "What's going on?"
Jacob pulled a chair up to Jack's bed, took a deep breath and began.
"I've always had an idea how I wanted my daughter to be loved. Like any father, I wanted Sam to have someone who adored her, would do anything to protect her and appreciated all of her incredible gifts. Again, like most fathers, nobody was ever good enough for my little girl. You know what I'm getting at, Jack?"
"No, Jacob. Can't say that I do," Jack answered, wondering if Selmak's presence had caused him permanent brain damage.
"When Selmak returned, I saw it in his mind, that kind of love, the love I want for Sam.
He brought me that image from his time with you." Jacob paused slightly, actually struggling to compose himself. "I like to think I loved Sam's mother like that."
"Jacob … you can't believe everything Selmak says," Jack suggested, really uncomfortable and wishing Janet would come in with one of her big needles to get him out of this.
"Jack," Jacob intoned in his best General voice. "Selmak didn't talk you to death about this because he didn't think it was his place. But it is mine. I want Sam to be happy."
"Jacob…maybe you don't understand, but … there are regulations …"
"Jack, shut up and listen to me for a minute! Can you do that?"
"Okay, listen. George and I convinced the President you should be as far away from Sam as possible, that's why the move to Washington."
"Jacob," Jack interrupted in his own assertive tone now. "Sometimes, I'm not really smart about things, but now I'm really confused. So does President Hayes trust me to do the job or not. If he does, why is he taking me away from the SGC?"
Jacob nodded slowly and when he looked at Jack once more, iSelmak had taken charge of the conversation.
"Because I told him to, General O'Neill," the sonorous Tok'ra voice answered.
"You told him to… I don't get it."
"O'Neill, it worked out this time. You and Sam both came home safely and the mission was accomplished. We may not be so fortunate the next time you choose to go off to save the woman you love."
Less than an hour after his very interesting conversation with Jacob and Selmak, Jack was in his base quarters, packing a few personal items and getting ready to leave the base for home.
He was still in shock; Jacob, Selmak and President Hayes knew about his feelings for Carter. After years of carefully pushing the feelings down, denying he felt anything more than friendship and camaraderie, that treacherous Tok'ra had betrayed him. He didn't know whether to feel mortified or relieved.
In any case, he knew he should talk with Sam. Then again, Jack O'Neill being Jack O'Neill that was easier said than done. Fortunately, Sam saved him the trouble. Her soft knock on the half-closed door to his quarters announced her opportune arrival.
"May I come in, Sir?"
"Carter, of course come on in," he said. "I was just on my way to see you," he lied.
"Really? That's good," she said, "because I was worried what might have happened after General Hammond and I left."
"Carter, I can handle myself with your father, you know."
"You know what I mean, Sir. The promotion, the move to Homeworld Security, did you find out what that was all about?"
"Yep, sure did, Carter. Your dad and Selmak left no doubt whatsoever."
Sam looked at him with the quizzical half smile and questioning eyes she had on those rare occasions she couldn't understand what was happening. Jack loved that look. Hey, he loved all her looks. After all, Selmak was right, he loved her.
"Carter, you see, Selmak is a great guy, but apparently not the most discrete when it comes to sharing what he's learned about Jack O'Neill."
"Oh? What is it that he learned, Sir?"
Jack walked over to the door and closed it securely. Then he pulled out a chair for Sam and gestured for her to sit down.
"Seems when he was poking around in my head, he got the idea I was in love," he said, taking his own seat across from Sam.
"Yes, really Carter," Jack said, preparing himself for the final announcement. "And seems he couldn't wait to tell your father and the President."
"Why would he want to do that, Sir?" Sam asked feigning total innocence. She knew she was starting to stare at him. "Who is it he thinks you're in love with, Sir?"
She was torturing him. She was going to make him say it. After all these years, she wasn't giving him a way out, he thought
"If you must know …" he stopped mid-sentence as he watched her face light up with the priceless Carter smile. Maybe it would be okay after all, he thought. "I love you, Carter. Have for a damn long time."
"I know, Jack," she said, her voice softening, her smile warm and gentle. Her voice caressed his name and she realized that it had been a long time coming. "Did you think I didn't know that you loved me?"
"Well, I haven't exactly said it out loud," he replied, daring to hope she might feel the same way.
"No need," she whispered, reaching out to take his hand in hers. Their eyes locked and there was no more doubt for either of them. For an incredible reason he couldn't fathom, Jack realized she loved him too.
"They're taking me out of your chain of command, Sam. Seems they don't think I can be objective anymore when it comes to you."
"That's good," she said softly.
"Yes, good," she affirmed. "It's time to change the way things are."
"Yes, it is," Jack replied, his face lit by a genuine smile and twinkling eyes. "So, join me for dinner?"
Final Author Notes: The last part is a little AU explanation for how Jack got moved to Homeworld. What happens next, I'll leave to your imagination.
It's been a pleasure writing this for you, looking forward to your final comments.