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Chapter 13

It took several days of arguing with a group of stubborn Jaffa before SG-1, or what was left of the team, finally acquired the damaged tel'tak. Jack was nearly at the end of his rope by the time the terms were worked out. And that was the kicker of the whole issue. The tel'tak belonged to the SGC in the first place. Having to fight for something that rightfully belonged to them only added fuel to the injustice of the whole thing.

Of course, as a wise Jaffa made sure to point out, the tel'tak was already stolen property by the time the SGC acquired it, but Jack figured that was beside the point. He was taking the ship back to Earth no matter what.

The Jaffa finally gave in, but only because it would take years to rebuild the ship to the point where it would fly again. SG-1 then had to waste another day for Teal'c to bargain for the use of a working tel'tak to tow the damaged one. Jack's frustrations were worn thin by the time they actually left Chulak and headed back toward Earth.

It didn't help that he spent the majority of the time between meetings thinking about Sam and Katie. After nearly a year of being with them on a constant basis, it was hard being away for so long. He sat down next to Teal'c in the cargo bay and wondered what his ladies were up to at that moment. He and Sam had cemented their relationship when he ended up staying the night at her house their first day back. They talked for hours, making plans for the future as well as the best way to break the news to Hammond. Jack smiled as he remembered how they had put Sam's bed to good use in between making those plans. At his age, making love in a bed was way better than on the ground in a bedroll. Not that he was complaining too much.

Daniel came to join them, wiping his hands on his pants as he sat down next to Jack. "That box full of artifacts turned out to be statues of System Lords that had been made out of a substance that resembles plaster," he said with a good deal of disgust in his voice.

"Souvenirs?" It defied reason, but Jack figured he'd ask anyway. "Who'd want a statue of a System Lord?"

"They were popular with the children," Teal'c told them. "My son was told by an elder that the statue of Apophis would protect him until he was ready to show his worth in battle."

"And you believed that?"

Teal'c looked over at him for a moment, then turned to look at something in the distance. "It was not wise at the time to profess any other belief, O'Neill."

Jack had to give him that. "You do have a point there." Teal'c apparently didn't have anything to say to that and the three men sat in silence. Jack's thoughts immediately focused on the new love of his life. He was headed home for what he knew would be at least a week's worth of downtime, maybe longer. Hammond promised him the vacation so that he could take time to clean up his affairs after being away from home for so long. Jack was grateful he'd had enough in his savings to cover the automatic payments during his absence, but he still needed to take care of little things, like clean out a year's worth of dust and try to tame the yard that now looked like a jungle. But more importantly, Jack planned to spend some quality time with Sam and Katie, that is, of course, if Sam can pry herself away from the mystery of the damaged tel'tak. Jack knew her too well to think she would leave that up to someone else. No. Sam Carter would be knee deep in the middle of the diagnostics to try to figure out how the ship was sabotaged and who did it.

He sighed, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a deck of cards. "I'm bored," he announced. `"Anyone up for a game of poker?"

Teal'c raised an eyebrow at that, while Daniel showed some interest. Jack rifled the cards as he got ready to shuffle. It didn't matter who played, as long as he had something to do. They still had a long way to go and he figured he might as well make the best of it.

The sight of two tel'taks flying in formation through Earth's airspace caused an uproar that was heard loud and clear in the SGC Command Center. Hammondreceived two phone calls within minutes of each other, and Sam listened as he reminded both callers that he had already cleared this with everyone from the President to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He hung up the phone with an aggravated shake of his head.

"A classic case of the right hand not knowing what the left is up to."

Sam nodded, but didn't respond. She stood next to General Hammond in the Control Room, anxious and worried. She knew that Jack, Teal'c and Daniel should be in the lead ship, but they hadn't received any communication whatsoever and she couldn't help but worry that something had gone wrong.

Hammond apparently felt the same way. "Try to reach them again," he demanded.

"Yes sir," Sergeant Harriman said as he opened the comm in response to the order. Sam stared at the monitor, waiting impatiently and hoping to see for herself that Jack and her old teammates were alive and well.

The response, when it finally came through, brought relief. Jack's voice was music to her ears. She listened as he and Hammond made the arrangements to bring in the tel'tak, while her thoughts drifted off to the plans she'd made for Jack when he got home. Sam stared at the monitor that showed the ships flying through the Colorado skies, her mind now sorting through the diagnostic tests and work logs she and Siler would be working on over the next few days to see if her suspicions of sabotage were correct.

"We'll have a team waiting for you when you land," Hammond said. "Bring it home, Colonel."

"Yes sir," Jack said. Sam wished she could see his face, needing to see for herself that he was okay, but she'd see him up close and personal soon. She smiled at that thought. She'd missed him so much.

"General Hammond sir," she said with as much reserve as she could manage, "I'd like to be there when they arrive. Sergeant Siler and I can be ready to leave as soon as you..."

"Go ahead," the General said, He turned back to the window and seemed to be staring at the Stargate, his expression grave and intense. He looked so lost, she thought, as she wondered what he could be thinking. She didn't ask though. She gave a curt nod instead and turned to leave, her thoughts focused on the fact that she couldn't wait to see Jack again.


Sam turned back at the urgency in the Sergeant's voice. He was staring at the monitors and fear built up in Sam as she watched two American fighter jets fire on the tel'taks. "Oh my God," she said in horror. "General?"

"What the hell?" Hammond said, his voice reflecting shocked amazement. He grabbed the phone and immediately shouted orders into it while Sam joined Harriman at the controls, her fingers pushing buttons and keys trying desperately to find a way to stop the attack.

"General Hammond," Jack shouted through the radio. "What the hell's going on?"

Static came from the radio, then Daniel's voice shouting, "Call them off!"

Sam spared a glance at the monitor and saw the first tel'tak bank to the left, the damaged one trailing behind. The jets followed suit, but pulled back in formation. "We're working on it," she told her friends just as one of the jets fired on the tel'taks again. The damaged ship seemed to be the target, she noticed, which didn't make sense. Their sensors should have picked up that the second one was empty.

"What's going on, Carter," Jack asked, just as the fighter jets pulled back completely. Hammondhung up the phone and came to stand next to her chair, anger coming off him in waves.

"The President and his people have no idea who authorized the attack," he said. "But they're working on it." The last was said with a touch of sarcasm, which Sam could relate to. "The jets are going to escort you in Colonel. It should be smooth sailing the rest of the way."

Smooth sailing, Sam thought as she waited for her heart to calm down. If only things could be that simple.

She met Jack, Teal'c and Daniel at the landing pad, hugging each one although the hug she shared with Jack lasted a little longer as he whispered her name into her neck, sending shivers down her spine. She finally pulled back from the hug and smiled, so happy to see him again. They couldn't spend too much time together, but Sam knew they'd have all night to say their hellos, and for the moment she was content to let him go.

She spent the rest of the day running every test imaginable on the tel'tak. The results revealed her initial suspicions were correct, and once they compared the logs that all technicians are required to update on an hourly basis, they even had a good idea who the culprits were. She reported her findings to General Hammond, who then informed her that the attacks on the tel'taks were premeditated. The pilots followed orders based on a fake intelligence report that the damaged tel'tak was carrying a bomb set to explode overColorado Springs.

"Apparently, someone out there wanted to make sure we didn't find out what caused that tel'tak to crash land," the General said. He was silent for a moment, then said, "We're going to get them." Sam was surprised at the anger in his voice, but then understood when he added, "A good man died because of their efforts."

"Yes sir," she said sadly as memories ofBolton's death replayed in her head. His death will be avenged. She'd make sure of it. "I'm on my way back, sir. I'd like to be on the team that arrests them, if I may."

"So does Colonel O'Neill," Hammond said, his tone matter of fact. "But I think the SFs can handle this one. You can be in on the interrogations tomorrow."

"Yes sir," Sam said as she tried to hide her disappointment. She ended the call as she made preparations to head back to the SGC. At least she'll be able to spend time with Jack, she thought with a sigh. Her mood brightened a little at that thought. Steak, she decided as she walked out to the staff car, and a nice salad, and a few beers to wash it all down with. She smiled as she remembered the conversation she and Jack had when they talked about what they would do when they got back home to Earth. She got in the car and stared out the window, wondering if she still had enough of the bubble bath beads left.

Jack sat back from the table with a full stomach, and watched as Katie banged her spoon on the tray of her highchair. He took a drink of his beer then lowered the bottle slowly when his eyes met Sam's. He grinned at the desire he saw in the depths of her eyes, mainly because he was sure the desire matched his own. They stared at each other until a blob of food landed square on Jack's shirt, causing him and Sam both to jump back. Sam chuckled, while Jack grinned at the culprit, knowing she was still learning to feed herself.

"No sweetie," Sam said as she reached over to show Katie one more time how to hold the spoon. Jack smiled at his ladies as he watched Katie try a few times, then gave up and reached for the sippy cup. Sam shook her head in bemusement as she turned to smile at Jack again.

God, how he loved that smile. His heart lurched and he knew that this is what he wanted. He stared at his little family and decided right then and there that he'd move heaven and earth to make things work out between them. He stared into Sam's eyes, loving the way she made him feel.

"Will you marry me?" he said before he even realized he was going to say it. She looked at him in surprise, her expression changing to worry. Jack waited, wishing now that he had waited until they were both ready, but Sam smiled at him and reached across the table to take his hand in hers.

"Yes," she said as she rubbed her hand over his. She looked up into his eyes, love clearly shining out of hers and said, "Yes."

"Yes?" He wasn't sure what to make of her changing expressions, but it sounded like he was going to get his way, so he grinned back.

Her smile grew wider as she nodded and said, "Yes. I'll marry you."

He got up and went over to her, pulling her up until she was plastered to his chest. "We'd better do this right then," he said as he smoothed the hair above her ear and pulled her in for a kiss. He kissed her deeply then pulled back. "Yes?"

She laughed and nodded, kissing him again to answer his question. Katie babbled something, causing Jack to pull away from his beloved. He looked down at the kid who was apparently pleased with the conversation because she was back to banging her spoon on the tray and babbling happily.

"I take it you give us your blessing, don't you you little munchkin," he said as he ruffled her dark hair. Katie babbled again, while Sam took her out of the chair and set her down on the floor. Katie immediately toddled over to the other room, her stride less wobbly than it was when they lived on that planet. Jack watched her until she was out of sight, then turned to Sam and gave her an injured look.

"I suppose we'll have to wait until she goes to bed to finish this?"

Sam nodded reluctantly, but Jack grabbed her and kissed her anyway. "Let me go grab the kid and bring her in here and I'll help you clean this up."

"I'll be fine," she said. "Go spend some time with her before I put her to bed."

"Then it's our turn," Jack said with a wicked grin.

"Oh yeah," she said with another kiss. Jack left her then and went in to grab Katie, sitting on the couch while she brought him a block. He took it while she went to get another, and he played with her for awhile until Sam came in to join them.

Nice family time, he thought, as faint memories of another family flashed across his mind. He'd take care of this one, he promised himself. Nothing was going to happen to them, he'd make sure of it.

He helped Sam give Katie a bath, marveled at the tapes on the diapers and sat with them both as Sam read a story to the baby as she lay in her crib. Creature comforts they didn't have when they struggled to survive in the wilderness, and yet they had survived without those luxuries.

It was a sobering moment for Jack, a moment that was interrupted when Sam got up and led him out of the baby's room. He stopped her in the hallway and pushed her up against the wall, too eager to touch her again to wait until they made it to her bedroom. He kissed her passionately, their hands roaming over each other until he pulled away and dragged her off to her bed, deciding that the bed was another luxury he planned to take advantage of.

"I love you," she told him as they both lay panting in the aftermath.

Jack nodded then turned to look at her. "I love you too, Samantha Carter." She smiled at that and got up so that she could use his chest for a pillow. Jack ran his hand over her hair as he thought about the circumstances that brought them to this point. He hated that Bolton had to die because of it, but Jack was glad they were stranded on that place for so long. He never would have realized what Sam meant to him if they hadn't been forced to rely on each other for companionship.

He smiled in the dark. Living on the edge had always been the way of life for him. Despite the dangers, he always seemed to come out better for it. He pulled Sam up to kiss her again, holding her tightly as he realized he had won again. This was the life he wanted to live.