A/N: And here are the last chapter and the epilogue. Thanks for the reviews, and I hope you enjoyed reading it, as much as I enjoyed writing it. ;)
Chapter 7: Not all good things must come to an end
Sam and Elizabeth were standing in the control room, waiting for their guest to dial in. He was already ten minutes late, but they weren't worried or surprised by this; he was widely known for his lateness.
Finally, the Gate activated, and they received the IDC. Gesturing at the same time for Chuck to lower the shield, they walked down the stairs to meet him.
"Nervous?" Elizabeth asked.
"No, just impatient."
"Understandable since you haven't see your husband for the past four months. But try to resist jumping him in the middle of the Gateroom."
"I'll do my best. Though that would settle a few bets."
"Well, if you can't get any money out of it, it's not worth it," Elizabeth joked, and they chuckled.
"Uh, hello, ladies," Jack said when they didn't take note of his presence. "Want to share the funny."
"No," they replied at the same time, a huge smile on both their faces.
"Oh God, we created a monster when we put the two of you in charge, didn't we?"
"Piece of advice, Jack," Elizabeth said, lowering her voice so that only the three of them could hear. "If you don't want to sleep on the couch the night after you see your wife for the first time in four months..."
"Or if you don't want me to kick your ass in twenty different ways," Sam continued, "you'd better not use the word 'monster' when you're talking about me."
"Yes, Ma'am," he mock saluted them. "I'm in the doghouse, right?" he asked, as he saw Sam's look turning dangerously dark.
"I would take a step back, if I were you, Sir," John advised, coming up behind them. "She learned this one from Elizabeth, and it's never good when one of them uses it."
"And when both of them use it?" Jack asked, nodding towards the women.
"That's when we start to run. Let me show you your quarters, Sir."
"Thank you, Colonel. Ladies, I'll see you later. Much later," he added under his breath, and thankfully John was the only one who heard it.
"Remind me again why I love him?" Sam asked, as they watched the men leave the gateroom.
"I was wondering the exact same thing."
"You love my husband?" Sam replied, raising an eyebrow and causing Elizabeth to roll her eyes at her.
"You're as bad as him, you know that?"
"I'll take this as a compliment," she said, and they shared a smile. "Wait a minute. Did John say he was showing Jack his quarters? Does this mean he knows?"
"Sam, it's been a month since we first learned about this visit, and whenever it was mentioned in front of you, you would get this big smile on your face. Everybody knows by now. Even Rodney knows. We all know that you want to do him as soon as he arrived."
"What? I don't... Ok, maybe I wouldn't have minded that, but we have to work first. And, as he put it, he's in the doghouse."
"Come on, let's go back to our office, and wait for him there. If he finds us still in the middle of the Gateroom when he comes back, he might think we never work."
By the time they had walked into their office, Sam realised something Elizabeth said, or at the very least, implied. She stopped the other woman with a hand on her arm before she could round her desk.
"You love John?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," Elizabeth replied, blushing.
Once they were done for the day, Sam had all but dragged Jack back to her quarters, glowering at Elizabeth when she suggested that they have dinner together.
"I've missed you," she said as she rested against his chest, her fingers tracing strange signs on his naked skin.
"Missed you too. I'm thinking about retiring," he said after a beat.
"I thought that maybe it was time to settle. We could see each other every day instead of once every few weeks or months. I don't think they'd mind it if I asked to spend the first few months of my retirement here. I could even be of help with my gene."
"Yeah... I've started hinting at it with the President, and he didn't tell me that he couldn't accept it, so I take this as a good sign. And well, he knows I'll always be around. What do you think?"
"It has to be your decision, Jack. And you know that whatever you decide, I'll be there with you. Stay at Homeworld Security, go back in the field, retire, do whatever you want, because as long as you're happy, I'll be happy."
"I'll talk to the President when I'm back on Earth. Hopefully, I may be back before too long."
"How long do you think I'll stay here?"
"I don't know. The IOA seems to like you and Elizabeth working together, so I don't see you coming back to Earth any time soon. Why? Do you think Elizabeth can't wait to have you gone?"
"No, we make a good team, we work well together."
"And you seem to have fun together, too."
"We do. But I miss Earth and the team. And Cassie. And Mark and his family."
"Next time you have some downtime, we'll go back to Colorado Springs and have a huge BBQ with all of them."
"Can I ask you a question?"
"Yes, they're together."
"How do you...?"
"Jack, I could practically see it written on your face whenever they shared a look or a smile."
"How long has this been going on?"
"Around three and a half months."
"Does anyone else know?"
"If they do, they didn't say. And they didn't exactly tell me, either. I just saw it on her face the morning after that she seriously got laid."
"What? It's true. I did look the same the morning after our first night together."
"And here's your ego inflating."
"Well, anyway. I hope they're careful, because the IOA will want a say in this."
"I work with them all day long, and I can assure that they're nothing but professional when they're on duty. What they're doing after hours is none of the IOA's business."
"Should I speak to them? I will speak to them, tomorrow."
"Jack," Sam said, rising on her elbows to look down at him. "We're the last two people in all the known galaxies who could say something in a situation like this. We are in the same situation as they are right now."
"Fine. But I hope they know the risks if the IOA decides they're not acting professionally."
"They do. They wouldn't do anything that could jeopardize their position in Atlantis, believe me. But if the IOA is unfair with them at any moment, don't be surprised if they severed every tie they have with Earth with the support of everyone in this City, myself included."
"Duly noted. Now, if you don't mind, I'm hungry, as someone decided that we should skip dinner to have amazing sex. Though, I do hope for you that the kitchens are still open. I do have to go off-world tomorrow morning, after all."
Sam rolled her eyes at him as she followed him out of the bed, and put her clothes back on; she didn't seem to remind him complaining about it earlier when she took him straight back here. But if he needed rest, she wouldn't want to be held responsible for keeping an old man up half the night.
"How does it feel to be back off-world, Sir?" John asked, as they were walking towards the village.
During the briefing for this mission, the day before, Jack had requested to go with the team, and while they had all looked unsure at first, he pointed once at the stars on his shoulders, and they reluctantly accepted, provided, as Sam and Elizabeth told him twice each, that Keller okayed it.
With Jack's presence on the team, Rodney had requested to remain behind in Atlantis to continue a project he was working on with his sister, with Sam and Elizabeth's approval.
"I have to say that I've missed it. Though I haven't missed the sight, as it's just trees and more trees, no matter which galaxy you're in, it seems. How long have you known the Meskis?"
"My people have been trading with them for years, now. I introduced Colonel Sheppard and the team to them a few months after their arrival in Pegasus."
"Since then we have been allies," John continued. "We trade our medical supplies against their food."
"You didn't offer them protection?"
"We tried. But they said that the Ancestors will protect them, and that they don't need outsiders to help them."
"They have been culled twice since then, but they still refuse our help," Teyla said.
"You did everything you could to convince them, so it's not your fault they prefer to believe in ascended people who would never intervene for lower beings. Well, except some of them who are intelligent enough to understand that sometimes, they have to make up for their errors," Jack corrected, thinking of Oma Desala, Morgan Le Fey, Ayiana and at least another Ancient who decided to save Atlantis.
"There are people in the Milky Way who had refused our help, too. And you can't protect them against their own wishes."
"Sheppard!" Ronon said, as John had opened his mouth to speak.
The team stopped at once, and saw the Satedan pointed to the ground around two hundred feet away from them, under the trees. They could make out a shape lying on the floor, but they couldn't say what it was from this distance.
Without saying a word, John told the team to slowly move towards it, and the closer they got, the less they wanted to take another step. It was the body of a man, lying face down on the ground, and they didn't need to see any wounds to know that he was dead.
John gestured for Ronon to turn him on his back, and they involuntarily took a step back; his chest has been stabbed several times.
"Has anyone seen these kind of wounds before?"
"Yes. It's the Bola Kai," Ronon answered.
"If they've been here, we'll find no survivors. We might not even find bodies to bury, except for this one. There's barely any blood around the body, but there's a blood trail coming from the village," Teyla pointed at traces on the ground. "He must have not died immediately and escaped, hoping to find some help, which is why we found him here."
"Why do say that we won't find bodies?" Jack asked, already fearing the answer.
"They're suspected of being cannibals."
"Do you think they're still on the planet?" John wanted to know; he didn't want to put the team in any danger, not if he could prevent it.
"No," Ronon answered. "The village isn't far away. We would hear them if they were still here. It's safe. Though it will be of no use to continue; there's no one left."
"No, we go on," Jack said. "We have to see what happened, if only because we're here on a mission. We can't go back now."
John nodded his agreement, and Teyla followed suit, understanding what Jack meant. Ronon agreed in the end, even though part of him still thought it would bring them nothing.
They walked slowly towards the village, their weapons at the ready, just in case they weren't alone like they thought. But as they reached the outskirts of the village, they knew that they were well and truly alone; they couldn't hear any sounds coming from the houses that were usually so alive.
The only proof that the villagers didn't walk away quietly was the blood splattered on the ground and the walls. There was no more doubt in their mind; the Bola Kai had been there and the Meskis were now gone. The Ancestors hadn't protected these peaceful people as they had hoped they would.
They walked slowly through the streets, not able to leave just yet, until they finally stopped on the place in the middle of the village.
"I've seen a lot of horrors in my career but this one takes the cake."
"I'm sorry you had to come along on a mission like this one, Sir."
Jack was about to reply, when Ronon gestured for them to stop talking. He had obviously heard something, and they were careful not to make any sound that could prevent him from finding the source of the noise.
And that was when they all heard it; it was faint, but it was there. Someone was crying.
Having determined where it was coming from, Ronon led the team towards a house on the other side of the village, the crying becoming louder and louder with every step they took. It was a child; a child had been left behind and was now the lone survivor of the Meskis.
Finally they entered the house, and Ronon and John moved the bed to find the child curled underneath it.
Jack had a feeling of déjà-vu when his eyes fell upon the little girl who cowered in the closest corner. Even though she was younger than Cassie – she couldn't be more than two – was when they found her, it still reminded him of that moment on Hanka. And when Ronon tried to approach her, only for her to cry even harder, he couldn't help but think of Teal'c trying, but failing, to smile reassuringly at Cassie.
But this time, he knew deep down inside him that it wasn't a trap.
Gesturing for Ronon and the others to take a few steps back, he crouched down in front of the girl, and held out his hand, smiling at her. He didn't want to move any closer and frighten her; she had to take it on her own volition or he wouldn't be able to help her.
Finally, after a few minutes, she crawled towards him, and allowed herself to be taken in his arms. He stood up and looked at her small face; she stopped crying, but tears were still rolling down her cheeks while sobs shook her body from time to time. He dried her cheeks with the pad of his thumbs, and slowly smiled at her, hoping it would prompt her to give him one of her own. When it didn't, he wasn't surprised; if she had witnessed what happened to the rest of her people, she had a long way to go before she would be able to smile again.
"Hey baby," he said in a soft voice he hadn't used since Charlie was about her age. "What's your name?" he tried.
But she just looked at him and didn't say a word; he had known it would be a long shot, given the trauma and her age, but he still had to try.
"We should go back to Atlantis. She can't stay here any longer."
"Teyla, can you take her?"
She opened her arms to receive the little girl, but when Jack tried to hand her over to Teyla, she buried her face in his shoulder, and tightened her hold onto his BDUs.
"Looks like she already likes you, General," John said with a smile, and with the girl in his arms, Jack couldn't find it in himself to glare at him like he would have done in any other circumstances.
"Ok, fine, you can stay with me."
As they walked through the village, Jack kept his hand in the girl's hair, wanting her to keep her head buried in his shoulder, so that she wouldn't have to see the blood everywhere.
By the time they walked by the body they had found earlier, he could feel her even breathing against his neck, and was glad that she fell asleep; she must have been tired from all the crying. He didn't know if she had ever been through the Gate, but the opening didn't wake her up, and of that he was glad; it could be quite frightening for a kid.
When the Gate activated and Chuck told them that they had received John's IDC, both Elizabeth and Sam had been worried, and all but ran down the stairs. Their return wasn't scheduled for another two hours, and they couldn't help but wonder what happened.
But when they saw them returning one by one, unscathed, they released a sigh of relief at almost the same time. They didn't notice the small body in Jack's arms until he stepped closer to them, and Elizabeth questioned John with a look.
"The Bola Kai had been there before us. We've just found one body a mile away from the village, and this little girl, hidden under a bed. They somehow missed her."
"Thank god," Sam said, as she took a closer look at her. "Hey there," she whispered as she saw two round eyes opening to look at her.
"Hey, you're awake." At Jack's voice, the girl turned her face towards his. "Yeah, it's me. See, I'm still here."
"You should all go to the infirmary," Elizabeth suggested. "And we need to make sure that this little beauty is fine," she added, completely taken by the girl's eyes as she turned her head towards her when she started to speak.
Sam and Elizabeth were left behind as the team left the Gateroom, and without saying a word, they both climbed up the stairs, and walked towards the balcony doors. In the safety of the balcony, they let a few tears escape, thinking about how an entire village had been completely wiped out, save for a little girl, and they both prayed she hadn't witnessed anything of the massacre.
"It's not the first time for me, but I still wonder how it can happen," Sam said after a few long minutes of silence.
"Man is the most dangerous predator of all, we know that, but to witness it is always difficult. I never thought I'd say this one day, but the Wraith are nothing in comparison to the Bola Kai."
"This is Cassie all over again."
"Yeah. We found her on Hanka. The entire population, 1432 people, and the four members of SG-7 had been wiped out by the Goa'uld Nirrti. Cassandra was the only survivor. She was older than this little girl, but I feel like history is repeating itself. I wouldn't be surprised if Jack had been thinking along the same lines." She paused and banged on the railing with her fist. "I don't even want to think what would have happened to her if there hadn't been this mission. How long would it have been until she died of starvation?"
"Sam, you can't think along those lines," Elizabeth said, putting an arm around her shoulders. "She's here, now. You can't think about 'what ifs', you will only hurt yourself. The only people responsible for those deaths, and the fact that this little girl is now an orphan are the Bola Kai. And one day, one way or another, they will pay for what they've done."
"Is this this karma thing again?"
"Well, it does work, sometimes," Elizabeth replied, prompting a smile from Sam. "Now, let's go back inside, and wait for them in the briefing room. I'm sure they won't be long, now. They'll want this to be over as fast as possible."
Sam nodded, and together, arm in arm, they went back inside, and went to sit in the briefing room. Elizabeth served them both a glass of water, and they tried to erase any traces of their earlier tears from their faces.
It wasn't long until they were joined by the team. The girl was still in Jack's arms.
"She didn't want me to leave her there. But she was nice to Doctor Keller and let her do all the exams she wanted. As far as she can tell, she's perfectly fine. Now, she only needs to tell us her name, but she's still too shy to talk."
"If we take a picture of her, I can take it to my people, and see if anyone has seen her before. They see the Meskis more often than we do."
"You do that, Teyla. And don't forget to warn them against the Bola Kai."
"I will. But there's no telling who they'll attack next, or even when."
"Now, what happened on the planet?" Elizabeth asked.
They started to tell everything from the beginning. They spoke in turns; only Jack didn't contribute, too busy making faces at the girl to try and make her laugh. So far, he had only managed to extricate a small smile from her, but he wasn't giving up. What he didn't see but that the others noticed was that Sam was looking at him and couldn't help but smile at his antics.
John and Elizabeth shared a knowing look, before she called for everyone's attention.
"Well, for the moment, I see no other choice but for this little girl to stay with us. Can we entrust her to you for the time being, General?"
"Yes, of course. She can stay with me. And if we're done, I'm going to take her back to the infirmary, as Doctor Keller told me that she had a few toys she usually keeps for the Athosian kids when they come in for their check-ups."
One by one, they left the room, until only John and Elizabeth were left. He turned towards her, and gave her a look that conveyed everything he wanted to tell her. She returned his look with one of her own.
"I should be the one asking that. You saw it with your own eyes."
"I'll be ok. I can't say that I won't have nightmares every now and then for a while, but I will be ok."
"I'll be there if you have a nightmare," she promised.
"About this little girl..."
"I wouldn't be surprised if they decided to adopt her, either."
"They'd be great for her. If they don't, would you...?"
"Are we really having a conversation about having children in the middle of the briefing room?"
"It's as good a place as any," he replied, shrugging.
"Well, there's no need to ask ourselves that, as she'll stay with them," she said, walking towards the door. She turned back towards him just before opening it. "But just for the record, you'll make a good father, one day."
Later that night, Jack was sitting on the edge of his bed, looking at the little girl sleeping in the bed that was brought in for her. So far, she hadn't woken up with a nightmare, but he was still wary to go to bed and would rather watch her sleep.
He felt the mattress dip as Sam came closer to him, her body wrapping around his from behind. He put his hands over hers where they rested against his chest, and brought them to his mouth to kiss her knuckles. She deposited a small kiss at the base of his nape, before resting her head on his shoulder. She followed his gaze to the girl, and smiled.
"I want her to be ours," he whispered, and he could feel Sam taking a deep breath behind him.
"I know. I knew from the moment I saw you looking at her."
"Don't make me choose between the two of you, because this is the one time I can't."
"I won't. She's our daughter. I fell in love with her the moment I saw her."
"I'll stay for a few days as planned, and then I'll go back to Earth, and I'll retire. And if they don't want me to retire, I'll resign. And after that, I'll come back here."
"And we'll be a family."
"She needs a name. If she never tells us her name, she's going to need a new name."
"I want to call her Ayiana," Sam replied without even having to think about it. "She sacrificed her life for us, all those years ago, and she helped save the City."
"That would be fitting. 'Ayiana'," he tried to see how it sounded. "Yeah, I think it will suit our daughter."
"Good. Sleep now. We'll talk more, tomorrow," she said, coaxing him to lie on his back with her hands on his chest.
She lied down beside him, her head resting on his shoulder, and an arm wrapped around his waist. Both their heads were turned towards the little bed where their daughter was sleeping peacefully.
He wasn't sure he should be here, not so soon after what he had done; 'soon' being relative on his plane of existence. But still, there was no other place he wanted to be, tonight.
She joined him after a little while, and together, they looked at the City they had helped save. And it had felt good to finally do something useful after all this time, but he knew that it could not happen again.
He didn't know why, but the Others didn't punish them for their intervention. Oh, they did face them all and had to explain their actions, but they hadn't been sent back to live in their human form, as they had thought they would.
"Do you think we would have remembered everything if they had sent us back?" she asked.
"I don't see why not. But even if our memories were wiped, it would have been worth it, right?"
"Yes. It was time someone acted. It was time things changed."
"Both up here and down there, it seems. Maybe they didn't seek out the changes, but they have accepted them, and welcomed them, in the end."
"But I don't think things are going to really change, here. I think that them not punishing us had been an exception. Change isn't going to come for us for a very long time, yet."
"But one day, they will have no choice. They will understand that what Oma Desala and Ganos Lal did will have to be done again, one day. Maybe not against the same enemies, but one day, we'll have no choice but to act."
Silence fell upon them after Janus said this, and they looked at the City, its lights bright against the night sky. If they hadn't intervened, the expedition would have lost a lot more than they dared to think about, and they were glad they had been able to prevent this.