Chapter 21: Returning Home
Sam opened her eyes slowly. Her head hurt. Who was she kidding? Everything hurt. She was flat on the ground, her face in the dirt. She could hear commotion around her, angry raised voices to be precise. Obviously she wasn't alone. As she slowly lifted her head, she realized she wasn't the only one who'd been knocked off their feet. Daniel was on the ground no more than five feet from her, being tended by another figure. Vala, of course, it was Vala.
With some difficulty she began to roll herself over to her side, wincing at the sudden pain in her head. As she looked around, she realized she was back on Purgatory. There was no mistaking the god-forsaken place. Desolate and lacking in anything that could be called welcoming, Jack would call it the armpit of the universe. But at least it was her universe, and hopefully her time.
Now she could see two figures in the distance, standing just behind the gate. They looked familiar. One was clearly restraining the other. What's going on?
As her head cleared, Sam remembered. Ba'al, it had worked. She'd managed to bring him back with them. She closed her eyes, briefly savoring that part of her hard fought victory. At least they wouldn't have to chase him down. God knows, left to his own devices, he'd only try the same old trick again.
Slowly, she pulled her aching body to a sitting position. She raised her eyes to see a large, burly figure looming over her. He was familiar.
"Colonel Carter, are you injured?"
It was Teal'c. She'd know that calm, reassuring voice anywhere. Thank God, he was back with them.
"I'm fine, T.," she said. "You?"
"I am well."
"Sam?" Daniel called, walking over from his position. He'd apparently collapsed where he'd been dialing the DHD before the time shift.
"You okay?" he asked Sam, the only member of the team still not on her feet.
"I am," she answered, taking Teal'c's hand and allowing him to pull her to her feet. Without realizing it, her face fell into an uncharacteristic frown.
"What is it?" Teal'c persisted. He worried Sam was injured despite her protestations to the contrary.
"He's not here," she stated, failing to even notice Teal'c's confusion at her words. Daniel, however, understood immediately.
"I'm sure he's fine," Daniel said. "He's probably waiting dinner on you." Neither one felt the need to name the one they discussed. It was obvious who would be foremost in Sam's thoughts right now.
Sam smiled softly, resisting a small chuckle at the thought of Jack cooking.
"What about him?" she said, motioning toward Ba'al.
Teal'c's eyes shot to the Goa'uld who'd surprisingly joined them. He raised his staff weapon, preparing to fire. After all, the Jaffa had no idea what had transpired on Earth in the alternate timeline.
"Hey!" Cameron called out. "Stand down, Teal'c. I've got our old buddy trussed up pretty tight here. He's not going anywhere."
"How did he come to be here?" The perplexed warrior asked, struggling to accommodate his sudden return to the team.
"It's a long story," Sam supplied.
"If it's anything like the last few days I remember, I'm sure it is," Vala added.
The team wasted no time returning to the SGC. Momentarily, Sam was concerned their codes would have been locked out, but she needn't have worried. From what she could tell, the timeline had been reestablished at the exact second of the original shift.
The Gate Room was exactly as she'd remembered it. A few more guards perhaps, ready to take Ba'al off their hands, but otherwise, not so different. Other than the tall, silver haired general standing at the end of the ramp, all was as it usually was.
Those who weren't with them on Purgatory, affected by the extraordinary magnetic fields surrounding that planet, retained no memory of their experiences during the intervening days, fourteen, by Sam's count. They had no idea of the hellish existence they'd managed to escape thanks to SG1's intervention.
All of SG1 however, retained complete memory of the time they'd spent in their respective alternate timelines. For Teal'c and Vala that meant memories of lives as they would have been had they never met the Tau'ri. Their stories would be shared in the upcoming debriefing and would haunt their nightmares for years to come.
"What are you doing here?"
"I was coming to surprise you," Jack offered. "From what I hear, you're the one with the surprise for me."
Sam suppressed a small giggle, realizing that was truer than he realized.
SG1 had returned from Purgatory a brief twenty minutes ago. The debriefing was scheduled for one hour from now. Ba'al had been carted off to an undisclosed location to finally get what was coming to him. Everyone else had retired to their quarters to get cleaned up before meeting with General Landry. Sam had returned to the VIP quarters with her husband.
Jack was still reeling from the initial greeting he received from Sam. Gone were the days of quiet, restrained public greetings, where professionalism was the order of the day. Twenty minutes ago, Colonel Samantha Carter (O'Neill) had run down the ramp, flinging herself into his arms. And she'd held on for dear life as if she hadn't seen him in an age. It wasn't that he didn't like it, mind you; he was surprised was all. He could have sworn she was crying, but by the time she'd pulled away, she had herself under control and the tears were nowhere to be seen.
More than anything he'd been surprised by how she'd leaned into him after that, staying closer to him than usual all the way to his quarters.
Sam, for her part, luxuriated in the feeling of Jack's strong, hard body pressed against her own. Seeing him in the flesh made her realize anew how much she'd missed him. Add to that the fact she was bone tired, and she easily let herself lean on him all the way to their quarters.
Halfway there, Jack realized something was up and threatened to take her to the Infirmary. He'd only relented once she'd promised to rest before the briefing.
Now that he had her in his quarters, Jack took his time looking over the tired, strained appearance of his wife. She looked as though she'd been through weeks of battle, when as far as he knew, she'd been with the clean up team on Purgatory no more than forty-eight hours. He'd heard something about an alternate timeline during the team's initial check-in just before they returned through the gate. Sam had mumbled some details as they trudged through the hallways. But now, with Sam safely seated next to him, he wanted more.
"So you're saying this prior taught Ba'al to use the super-Gate to go back in time with his mothership, Jaffa … the whole shooting match?"
"Just about," Sam replied. "Most likely he ended up taking only the Alkesh, but that was more than enough to do the trick."
"And Earth became his slave labor colony?"
"Close enough," she said. "It was pathetic. The leaders, my father among them, never told the people the truth of what had happened. And the people blindly followed their leaders, continuing that war for decades. If we hadn't been on Purgatory …"
"See, I don't get that, Sam," Jack interrupted. "What did being on that planet have to do with all this. How come the five of you remember two weeks worth of alternate events and the rest of us think nothing changed?"
Sam looked at him as if to ask, Are you sure that's all you don't get. After all, even she didn't really understand all of what had happened.
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "We'll have to get more measurements and research data now that things are settled. My best guess is it had something to do with the strange magnetic fields on the planet partially blocking the time distortion waves." Taking a deep breath, her features set in concentration, she added, "It'll make a fascinating research project." Despite her fatigue, Jack could have sworn his wife looked like a kid in the candy store at the prospect.
Convinced by her excitement that Sam would be fine, Jack pressed on. "Okay, so how'd you get Ba'al back here with you? He wasn't on Purgatory when you started out. Why didn't he end up back wherever he was?"
"You had something to do with that."
"Yes, the alternate you helped. Colonel O'Neill and I had nearly two days in the jumper before the guys got back with Ba'al. And I wanted to have plan B, in case just finding Ba'al didn't reset the timeline."
"Wonder who you learned that from?" Jack asked with a smirk.
"Wonder, indeed," she replied. "Anyway, he, Colonel O'Neill that is, was concerned Ba'al would try this again if we didn't stop him for good. Of course, he was right."
"Why not just shoot the guy? Hasn't he caused us enough headaches?"
"That was considered. But you know what I've told you about …"
"Yeah, consequences in the timeline … I know," he said. The fact that he was pulling her closer to him and nuzzling her neck didn't exactly encourage Sam to give him any further information about Ba'al.
"And …" he asked, realizing he'd been distracting her.
"Can't you wait for the debriefing?" she asked, much more interested in having her husband with her than talking about Ba'al.
"I just want to know what sort of brilliant idea you pulled out of your … head, your beautiful head, this time," he reasoned.
Sam shook her head. He was so full of it. But in the end, she gave in and told him what he wanted to know.
"I played around with the time crystals in the Ancient time shifting device. You see, each of us has our own unique spatial alignment signature in each of multiple possible alternate universes. So when the timeline reset, I would go back to Purgatory with Cam and Daniel." Sam paused and looked at Jack wondering if he'd followed her that far. When he nodded she continued. "I just readjusted Ba'al's spatial signature to match mine."
"So that little medallion he was wearing, the one that matches yours, it wasn't a good luck charm?"
"No, Jack," she said indulgently. It was a pretty brilliant idea I had for dragging him back to Purgatory with me. It wasn't particularly good luck as far as he was concerned."
By now they were both sitting on the bed, Sam's head leaning on his shoulder, Jack's arm wrapped around her.
"I'm proud of you, you know," he said.
"I know," she admitted, realizing how much those simple words meant to her, especially when they came from her husband.
After a few minutes of silence, with Jack gently stroking her hair, Sam spoke her thoughts aloud.
"You're a good man, Jack O'Neill"
He had no idea where that came from, but saw no need to argue the point. He remained silent and waited for more.
"Even in another timeline, another world, you were willing to give up everything you knew to help protect the rest of us."
"That's good," Jack said, admitting to himself how overwhelming it was to think about an alternate timeline. "I'll bet I was pretty upset to see you go."
"We weren't married anymore in that timeline," she said. "We'd gone out separate ways years ago."
Jack looked at her, sadness filling his eyes. Then he said, "Never going to happen here."
"You're right," she said. "It's not. Besides we're starting a family."
Now he really was silent. At a total loss for words, Jack O'Neill could only search his wife's eyes for more information, for confirmation of what he thought she'd said, perhaps an inkling of how she felt about it. Her smile was all he needed.
She nodded, a shy smile taking the place of the brilliant smile of a moment or two ago.
Jack's shocked demeanor quickly morphed into a full out grin. Sam had her answer. He was as delighted as she was. As if to rule out any further doubts as to how he felt, Jack stood up, pulling Sam up with him. Lifting her at the waist, heedless of the ache in his knees, he swirled her around as if she weighed nothing. When they both came to a stop, he kissed her soundly.
"I love you," he said. "Are you sure you're alright? How long have you known?"
"Found out just before Purgatory. Sorry I didn't get the chance to tell you before I left," she said. "I didn't want to do it over the phone."
"You're forgiven," he said. "So long as you're alright, I'd forgive you anything."
Sam smiled and kissed him. And then she kissed him again.
Unfortunately, their hour was up. The intercom beeped to life and Walter's voice alerted them the briefing was about to begin.
"Damn it," Jack said. "Doesn't he know we're busy?"
"I promise," Sam said, "we'll come back and take up just where we left off after the briefing. Okay with you?"
"Yeahsureyabetcha," was the only reply a very happy General O'Neill could manage.
And for Sam, that said it all. She was home.
A/N: Thank you for reading.