It was not surprising that Jack O'Neill died the day after Christmas. A strong stubborn man, he loved Christmas and he loved his family. He died as he chose to die, falling asleep, safe in his beloved's arms. Despite her own angst, Sam was glad she'd been able to give him that final gift. In the end, she knew he'd been at peace.


EPILOG: TOGETHER IN PERFECT LIGHT

"You must miss him so much," Sara said, as her mind drifted to her own husband.

Sam nodded slowly. The end of her story had brought tears to her eyes and a gentle smile to her face. Remembering her life with Jack would never bring sadness alone. There'd been too much happiness to be overshadowed by grief. Besides, at most every moment of every day, Sam continued to sense Jack's presence with her in one way or another.

"I miss Jack more than I can say," she admitted, acknowledging her devoted friend's words. "But in some ways, I know he's still here with me."

The four women sat quietly for awhile. The tea they'd made an hour or so ago had cooled as the sun descended in the late autumn sky. They'd spent the better part of the afternoon with each other, spellbound as they listened to Sam's story.

"Sam, we've known you nearly two years now. We've learned more about you and your family this afternoon than we have in those two years. Why now?" Jessica asked.

"It's Jack's birthday tomorrow," Sam replied. "He's been on my mind more than usual lately. Maybe that's why," she suggested.

"I'm sure it is," Emma nodded, gathering up the tea service and other dishes.

"Thank you all for listening," Sam said, genuinely grateful to her friends for spending the afternoon with her.

"We were honored," Sara said for the three. "Look at the time," she continued. "Beth will be here any minute now; we really should be going, Sam."

Beth's late Friday afternoon arrival at Sam's home was a well known tradition in the senior citizen complex. Every week, without fail, Beth and TJ, often accompanied by Tom, would come to take Sam out for dinner. Tonight was no exception, and without fail, the doorbell rang, announcing their arrival.

As Sam opened the door, a pint-sized bundle of red-headed energy greeted her with a huge Carter-like smile.

"Grandma!" TJ shouted, hugging her legs warmly as his little head came up to her waist. "I missed you so much. It's been a whole week! I'm getting older every day you know," he said solemnly.

Sam and Beth giggled in unison at the little boy's enthusiasm as they shepherded him into the living room.

"Look who's here, everyone," Sam called to her friends, understandably proud of her grandson.

"Hi!" TJ called to his grandmother's friends, all women he'd met on previous visits. "Did you miss me? TJ asked, eliciting yet another round of laughter.

OoOoOo

Sam's friends said their goodbyes shortly after Beth and TJ arrived. Tonight was a little different that the usual Friday evening schedule. Tonight, Sam had planned to stay over at the Whitmire's. The family would be gathering for Jack's birthday on Saturday; Beth and Tom's home had become a natural destination for family reunions ever since Sam had moved to Colorado Springs.

In fact, Jon, Jake and Anya were already at the Whitmire's when Sam arrived with Beth and TJ. Tom had dinner well underway, while Jon and Jake were engaged in a not so friendly hoop shooting contest in the front driveway. From what Sam could tell Anya was serving as a referee of sorts. Even so, the O'Neill boys were having difficulty playing fair; as adults they proved to be more competitive than they'd ever been as children.

Sam's arrival put a stop to the hotly contested game as both young men came over to greet their mother.

"Mom! Great to see you," Jon called. It had been four months since Colonel O'Neill had been to Colorado Springs. Everyone had missed the irrepressible younger son, a man who seemed destined to be a consummate playboy for years to come. As Jon warmly hugged Sam, Jake followed close behind, offering his own genuinely warm greeting.

"Hi, Mom," he said, "it's been too long."

OoOoOo

Sam and her family enjoyed a lovely meal together. She couldn't help but think what a handsome group they were. This was only the second time she'd seen Jake and Anya together since their wedding six months ago. She had to admit, it seemed they were made for each other. Her only regret was that they lived so very far away. I'll have to get out to the city to see them more often, she thought to herself. As she resolved to travel more frequently to see her beloved children, the missing members of the group finally arrived.

Grace and Alyssa had lived in San Diego for the better part of a year. Both were doing exceptionally well. Alyssa had gained admirable control over her still burgeoning abilities and Grace, well Grace had met someone. To Sam's way of thinking, the man was teaching her daughter to laugh again. Now as they arrived from the airport, over two hours late, everyone was relieved to see mother and daughter. The circle was complete.

The family stayed up through the evening sharing stories and bringing everyone up to date on their latest adventures. Though they were in touch regularly, it wasn't the same as meeting face-to-face; as for many families, distance and schedules made these meetings few and far between. But this was a special occasion.

The children had resolved to come together for Jack's birthday and their parents' anniversary, especially since their father's death. They knew Sam would need their support on those days especially.

So with happy hearts and a day full of plans ahead, Sam and her children said goodnight on the eve of Jack's birthday.

OoOoOo

Sam fell asleep almost immediately that night. It was odd really. For years now she'd suffered some degree of insomnia; maybe it was the excitement of having all her children together again that helped her settle in so easily.

Whatever the case, she found herself sleeping soundly and dreaming as she'd never dreamt before. Everything was so real. People, places, sights, smells, memories… they must have been memories …they were so real. Her father was there …her brother Mark, dead now five years… she even had a glimpse of her mother, still younger than Sam's age when she'd joined the Stargate project. And baby Kayla, just a tiny infant she could barely see in her mind's eye. There was so much, and the dream seemed to come so quickly.

Sam thought for a moment she was waking up. Sounds were becoming more distinct, soft, gentle melodies actually … and a voice, just a single voice. Calling her name, the sound drew her onward. But everything was dark now, her vision was cloudy. For a moment, she felt fear. She was floating away, weightless, without anchor, without home. In the very next moment, she was substantial once more. The voice she'd heard earlier now whispered in her ear.

"You're safe, Sam. I have you," it whispered. The voice was familiar, the voice of her beloved. Surprisingly strong arms held her; her anxiety bled away, leaving only a growing certainty that everything had changed. She opened her eyes and her vision was clear once more. With unbounded joy, she gazed into the warm brown eyes she'd loved for so very long.

"Jack?"

"Yes, my darling. I'm here," the voice answered. "I've been waiting for you."

OoOoOo

Their lives were timeless now. United again, Jack and Sam were blessed with understanding beyond their wildest dreams. Once and for all they knew beyond a doubt they were truly old souls who had always been together. So much became clear. Meanings for seemingly meaningless tragedies they'd witnessed over years of military service. Connections between the worlds they'd visited, between races and species separated by light years and eons of cultural variations. Clear too was the ultimate goodness of the universe, straining always towards perfection … and the benevolence of the one who truly is God.

OoOoOo

The next morning, Beth discovered her mother had passed away in her sleep. Her sadness was tempered by the peaceful smile on Sam's face and the well worn wedding picture clutched in her hand.

THE END