The armoury is a warehouse. We manage to get inside – considering what's in there, security is pretty light. It doesn't take long to work out which crate contains the Stargate. There's only one big enough.
I dispose of the guard we see, and we all move towards the gate.
It doesn't take long to open up the crate, and once we can see it, I think the others really start to believe we're going home.
"Where're we going?" I ask Sam. We didn't get down to details like that before, just focussing on finding the gate.
"Back the way we came, via P2X-555," she answers.
"Wait a minute," interrupts Daniel. "How do you know we'll go forward in time instead of back?"
"Well, General Hammond must have chosen flares on the opposite side of the sun this time, so the Sun's rotational differential will send us forward instead of back," she answers, but I can see from her expression that she's not as confident as she's trying to be.
She must see the doubt reflected on our faces. "Look, we just have to trust General Hammond. I mean, the point is, we are fifteen minutes away from the only chance we are going to get at this, and we still haven't found a power source to …"
"How much power?" I ask.
There are various military vehicles stored in the warehouse, and we even find some with some gas in the tank. We set up to get power from the alternators fed to the gate. Sam and I get the engines revving while Daniel and Teal'c see to doing the actual dialling.
It's slower than I'd like, and we're making a hell of a lot of noise. One by one, the chevrons lock, but there's no way we're going to get all seven locked before someone comes.
Daniel and Teal'c dial the last co-ordinate and jump clear, just as I hear a voice yelling, "You! Stop!" And of course, he's pointing a gun at us. A moment after that, there're two of them.
"We have got to go," I say, to no one in particular.
I rush for cover behind some crates, firing the zat as I go, covering my team as it moves to find cover. It takes a while longer before I manage to get both guards, and I'm ready to go.
"Sir, the timing has to be exact. Just a few more seconds," Sam warns.
"It's going to have to be close enough. Go!"
We make a run for it – and I'm firing for all I'm worth at the guards who seem to have recovered from the initial hits quickly. I dive through.
It's the Gateroom, but not like I remember it. Everything's covered up like it hasn't been used in a long time.
"Auntie Em? Auntie Em?" I call, pretty sure there's no one around.
"Where is everyone?" Sam asks.
One of the doors slides open, and two women walk through. The older of the two approaches confidently, the other holds back a bit.
"Hello, Jack," the older one greets me.
I stare at her, and she just smiles back and continues to approach the base of the ramp.
As she gets closer, she laughs. "Teal'c? Daniel? I hardly recognised you with hair."
The others are obviously as confused as I am.
"Do … do we know you?" I ask.
"Sam will recognize me," the older woman says. She gestures towards Sam. "Come closer."
We walk towards the others, Sam in the lead. As she reaches them, Sam speaks. "Oh, my God." She hugs the older woman. "Cassandra!"
The woman laughs. "Dear Sam."
"Excuse me," I interrupt, tapping Sam on the shoulder. "Who is this?"
Sam steps back. "Cassandra."
"Cassie's thirteen years old," I remind her.
"Not anymore, Jack. I've been expecting you…my whole life, in fact. You entered the Stargate a few seconds too soon, so the flare threw you far into the future. I've come to send you back where you belong."
"How did you know we'd come here?" Daniel asks.
"When I was old enough to understand, Sam explained what happened, and that I'd be the one to send you home."
"Like a self-fulfilling prophecy," Sam realises.
Cassie's nodding. "Mm-hmm. As much as I would love to spend more time with you, the timing must be precise. You have to go very soon."
"Who's your friend?" I ask. The other woman – younger than Cassie but strangely familiar – has held back.
"No one you know," Cassie says aloud. Then she steps forward to hug me, and while she's close, she whispers a single word in my ear. "Yet."
While Cassie hugs the other guys, I take a closer look at the other woman. Her hair is mid-brown and her eyes dark, but then she smiles at me and I know that smile. Sam's smile. It lights up her face like only one person I know. No one else is looking at her, and she mouths two words at me. "Hi, Dad."
I'm about to go to her, but Cassie seems to realise that and steps between us. She holds my gaze for a second, and I know she's warning me not to say anything.
"It's time," she warns.
"Already?" says Sam, oblivious to the other woman. "But there's so much that you …"
"You of all people know I can't," Cassie reminds Sam.
Cassie lifts her hand, revealing some sort of device on it, and with a wave, the gate activates.
"I will tell you this - your journey's just beginning," she says.
We all turn towards the gate and walk up the ramp. The other three go through, and I turn for one last glimpse, but the other woman's gone.
"Why?" I ask Cassie.
"Because you need to hope," she tells me.
"Yours and Sam's."
"Why not tell Sam?"
"Because she hasn't lost hope yet. And if she knows, she'll worry about it and it'll end up changing something. You … need to know and to keep her hope alive."
I nod, turn, and walk through the gate.
The Gateroom we arrive in is familiar. General Hammond's waiting for us, and I can't help a delighted, "Yes!"
"We're home," I say as I salute at the General. "Thanks to one sparky young Lieutenant Hammond."
"How did you know, Sir?" Sam asks.
"When I was a young Lieutenant, I was ordered to escort four people out of Cheyenne Mountain. In the vest pocket of one I found a note with my name on it. Needless to say, I followed its instructions."
"But you couldn't have known when to give it to me."
"No. I knew the time was getting close, but I spotted the cut on your hand while you were making the adjustments, and I realised, you had to be on the mission. Remember when I took your cuffs off?"
"Then you've been waiting for this to happen," Sam realises.
"Ever since we met. I almost didn't let you go."
"But if you didn't, you would have changed your own history," she points out.
I shake my head. Sam's technobabble confuses me at the best of times. Add some time travel, and I can already feel a headache coming on.
"It's going to be a long debriefing, people," Hammond tells us. "We'll start in one hour."
"Oh, by the way, Colonel – with interest, you owe me five hundred thirty-nine dollars and fifty cents."
"Yes, Sir," I smile back at him.
Much later, when Sam and I get home, I have a chance to think about what I know. Sam's been chattering about how we must've done well not to have changed anything, and how it's just as well Cassie had the sense not to tell us anything about our future. I can't help smiling as I remember a woman with Charlie's eyes and Sam's smile. I can't tell Sam. She'll only worry about what it might change, whereas I … I can just file the information away. We're going to make it, Sam and me. And we're going to have kids … at least one. I suppose, with Cassie that old, that Sam and I're dead by that time. Our daughter as I saw her must've been older than I am now, but she was a fine looking woman. It must've been hard for her to be there. Assuming we're dead. Seeing us … seeing her mom and not being able to tell her. She's got her mom's courage too. I don't know your name, young O'Neill, but I'm looking forward to meeting you.
"What?" Sam asks me.
"What?" I ask.
"You're sitting there grinning."
"Just pleased to be home."
"It's a while since I saw you smile like that," she decides.
"I smile," I disagree.
"Yeah, but not like that. Not since … before we got back to Earth."
I shrug my shoulders.
"Maybe I should do it more often," I suggest. "Keep you off-balance."
"Maybe you should," she agrees, sitting beside me on the sofa.
She's smiling at me – that smile, and while she does, I darken the hair and eyes to see our daughter. Cassie said I needed to hope. Sam told Cassie what happened when she was old enough to understand. I need to tell our daughter, make sure she's there to give me hope.
I never was good at guessing women's ages, but I think we're talking at least another ten years before she's born. Maybe longer. Ten years. I'll be over fifty, and that's kind of late to be starting a family, but if that's how long it'll take, then that's how it'll be.
That's it, folks. It's (past) time to remind everyone that I owe a debt of gratitude to my beta, tgeyer for all her help on everything from typos to consistency to US language.
Many thanks also to everyone who has reviewed so far, and especially to those who've reviewed every chapter. It's very much appreciated. And if you've not reviewed before, now might be a good time ...