A/N: And here we are. The last chapter of this epic journey. I post it in honor of Shipsgiving over on the GateWorld forum. It's all about family and togetherness and being thankful for what you have, so I believe this chapter is the perfect offering.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed, and who have continued to read my story every week. It's been a privilege.
And now, as always... Enjoy!
Sam was almost dozing when she felt the rumble. Her eyes opened with a bleary blink, and when she shifted in her seat a cascade of data reports spilled from her lap onto the floor. She'd been studying them for days, using them as a distraction to keep her thoughts from from the lengthening span of time since Jack's departure. But now she looked to the Doorway—no, the Stargate. She'd have to get used to that.
The stone ring trembled where it stood, but remained dark and otherwise motionless. When she looked to Catherine, though, the Dr. Langford nodded. This was it. In the embarkation room itself, security teams swarmed in, ready to defend the base against whatever alien force might emerge from the event horizon instead of their team. Sam leaned forward, jumping slightly when the first lamp—chevron—thumped into a state of illumination. It was happening.
Sam's heart climbed in her throat, galloping a mile a minute. She felt the clank of every following engaged chevron down to the bone. She waited, breathing stilled and almost nonexistent as she watched each light thump into brilliance. She was so close, so tantalizingly close to seeing evidence of her work, proof her theories were correct.
With an explosion of light, a vortex of swirling molecules erupted from the Stargate. It surged towards the window of the control room, making Sam take an instinctive step back. But then she leaned against the control center once more, sucked forward by the entrancing dance of light as it settled into a smooth plane within the circumference of the stone ring.
The glimmering phenomenon stole her breath away. Her heart thundered in her ears, and her mind lured her down wondrous paths of infinite scientific possibilities. It was unlike nothing she'd ever seen, or dreamed she ever would see in her lifetime. But the alluring properties of the wormhole in front of her were washed away by the panic climbing in her throat. No one was coming through.
Had Jackson been able to find the coordinates they needed to dial home? Or had his lack of field experience gotten everyone killed? Worse yet, what if she'd been wrong? What if the devices weren't capable of reintegrated? What if there wasn't any sister device on the other end? This wormhole now might simply be an echo of the outbound wormhole they'd generated a week ago. What if the Air Force had sent a team to their deaths, all because they had believed her hypotheses and trusted that they would be able to find their way home?
The event horizon shimmered placidly in front of Sam, its uninterrupted plane pulling bile up her throat. What if whatever did come through wasn't Jack? What if some alien enemy entered through the door she'd helped open? Any illusion she might have held that humans on Earth were alone in the universe was now shattered, obliterated by the reality of the Stargate itself. Anything could come traipsing through the Gate, and they would be woefully unprepared to meet it.
But as the first silhouette slurped through the metal lamp—a form distinctly human—another, more frightening possibility crossed Sam's mind. What if Jack believed what her father had intended him to, that she had forsaken him, abandoned him in his darkest hour? What if Jack had gotten himself killed on an alien planet, to better escape from the prospect of being alone on this one?
A sob built in her chest, but she swallowed it, an action that nearly turned into a choke when a tall, familiar figure exited the wormhole. Tall, bruised, haggard—but on his feet. Alive. Breathing. Whole.
Jack's eyes tracked to hers, spying her where she stood in the control room. The wormhole snapped shut with a whim, and with it Sam's panic and worry fell away. The resulting void left room for another emotion to bubble up, dark and seething. A new sense of loss washed over her, setting her heart to racing and sending a crackling tingle across her skin.
Sam blinked, breaking the spell of Jack's gaze, and turned. She left the control room without a word.
Jack watched Kawalsky go through the active wormhole, and let relief wash over him. His team, those few who remained, were safe and back home. But he hesitated before stepping through himself, looking up at Jackson's hail.
Daniel Jackson looked at him from behind scratched glasses, his features relaxed with inner peace. Jack was glad for him—the doctor had found something of himself here on this planet. So had Jack. And looking at the archaeologist now, where he stood with his arm wrapped around the shoulders of his young wife, Jack was reminded of what he had so foolishly thrown away.
"Yeah, Doc," he replied, letting his stance relax slightly.
Jackson reached out, his fist closed around a hidden object. Jack cupped his hand to receive it, and was startled when the heavy weight of a golden amulet settled in his palm. It was the necklace Daniel had worn on his first trip through the wormhole, engraved with the Eye of Ra—the same meaningless bauble that had started this whole mess and freed an entire civilization.
"Return this to Catherine for me." It was phrased as an order, but Jackson's tone was more of a request. Jack received with an arched brow.
He looked at Daniel with a skeptic glance. "Catherine?"
Daniel blinked owlishly. "Dr. Langford? You know… Anthropologist, about yea high—" He lifted his hand to just shy of shoulder height. "Sixties?"
Jack shrugged. "I'll find her." He pocketed the charm. "Don't worry about it." He turned to leave, but paused when Jackson spoke up one last time.
"You know," he said, just hesitantly enough to imply he owned an ounce of tact. "Back in that cave I couldn't figure out how someone could be so ready to die. I couldn't believe that someone like you didn't have anyone, or anything, to go home to." Thin lips pulled into a lopsided grin. "But I can see that's changed. I'm glad."
Jack regarded the other man, debating how to respond. In the end, he didn't bother to deny it. "I'm glad too." He could only hope that Sam was would still have him. "You sure you two don't want to come back with us?"
"No," Daniel shook his head. "Our home is here."
Jack nodded, accepting his decision. He hesitated for a moment. Then he hitched his rifle higher on his shoulder, ready to leave. "I guess that's it then."
"Yeah." Daniel grinned again. "Have a good life, Captain."
"Jack," he corrected. Daniel nodded in acknowledgement.
"Have a good life, Jack."
It was the last he saw of Daniel and his new life, before Jack stepped through the Stargate to return to his own world. He emerged onto the metal ramp of the embarkation room, shivering and frosty from the nauseating trip. By the security teams had relaxed, reassured that the team had returned and didn't herald an alien invasion. But Jack's gaze was drawn instinctively to the panes of glass set high in the concrete wall in front of him, and instantly recognized the slender silhouette staring back at him.
Jack froze, unable to choose between smiling, waving, calling to her… She was so beautiful, and there she was, waiting. Waiting for him. Hope dared creep over him, lifting his spirits for a tantalizing moment before her shadow stepped back into the light, and he could clearly see her as she turned away from him.
She was pale in the dim light of the room looking out over the Stargate, and her steps were shaky as she moved away. He saw an elderly woman reach out to her in concern—Dr. Langford, if Jackson's description was accurate—but her touch on Sam's shoulder went unnoticed. With a swirl of blonde hair she was gone.
Shit. Jack fumbled at the clasps of his gear, desperation turning his fingers fat and clumsy. A lanky airman with sergeant's stripes stepped up to him, ready to begin post-mission protocol. Jack didn't have time for that. Protocol meant isolation and decontamination, and a long debrief that could take days or weeks. Sam would be gone in a matter of moments, and if he let her go now, he'd never be able to get her back.
His pack hit the ramp with a clang, but wasn't in time to escape the impending Sergeant. Despair washed over him just as a hand gripped the barrel of his rifle, pulling it firmly from his grasp as a bulky body planted itself between Jack and the closing airman.
"Here you go," Kawalsky said to the Sergeant, presenting the weapon for turnover. "Help me with this damn pack, will you? One of the clasps got jammed…"
Jack saw the save for what it was. He melted into the milling bodies of his surviving team members, and then pelted headlong towards the door that would take him to the corridor. A shout acknowledged his unauthorized dash, but he'd already spotted Sam moving swiftly away from him. Jack quickened his pace, barely aware of Charlie covering for him yet again.
"Sam!" Jack called out. She kept moving, head bowed. "Sam, wait, please—"
He reached for her, his fingers barely brushing her elbow before she rounded on him, eyes flashing as she yanked her arm away. Her gaze was damp, tears on the verge of spilling over her cheeks—cheeks that were pale and bruised.
A blaze of guilt flashed through Jack's awareness, nearly making him stumble back at the sight of the deep laceration still healing at her chin, and the mottled bruise that painted her temple a mottled purple. He'd done that to her.
He was reminded of why he'd left in the first place, and only her dark gaze of betrayal kept him from turning tail yet again. "Sam…" He reached out to her once more, his fingers twitching in hesitation. "I'm so—"
"Don't touch me," she said, low and warning. Her eyes refused to meet his, instead focusing somewhere below his collarbone.
"Sam, I'm sorry. I'm so sorr—"
"Don't! Don't say—Don't even…" Her lips twisted, and finally she looked up at him, tears spilling down her cheeks. "You don't even know what you're apologizing for…"
"I hurt you." He wasn't an idiot. He knew what he did, and he wasn't about to deny it.
But Sam's eyes hardened, blazing with sudden, quick anger. "You don't get it, do you!"
"I get that I nearly killed you, Sam! Goddammit—"
"I don't care!" she cried, cutting him off. She gestured towards her face. "This doesn't matter! It doesn't even hurt, compared to—" She halted abruptly, swallowing. Jack stared, and when he didn't dare speak, she continued. "You left," Sam whispered. She took a menacing step towards him. "You left!"
Her hand snaked out to smack against his chest, and when Jack caught her palm, her angry tug against his hold was half-hearted. "I'm sorry…"
"You left! You were going to throw away everything you had, everything we had!" Tears were pouring down her cheeks now, her lips quivering as she tried and failed to keep her emotions in check. "You selfish bastard—"
"No! Don't! I don't want to hear it, Jack! You ran! You were going to leave me here, alone." Her voice rose in pitch, ringing sharply through the corridor. "You were—And I…" Her breath caught in her chest. "I can't—"
Her wrist twisted in Jack's hand, her fingers curling awkwardly to reach his, seeking his touch. Jack instantly shifted his hold, gripping her hand tightly. When Sam faltered on her feet, rocked by a sob that shook her entire frame, he caught her, pulling her against his chest.
Sam melted into him, relinquishing her struggle to resist his embrace. She began to sob in earnest, the dam broken to release a flood of tears that conveyed the depth of her fear. Tears burned at his own eyes, and he cursed himself for his idiocy. He'd done more than hurt her, more than struck her.
He'd threatened her with the prospect of living her life alone, of dying alone. Jack knew more than anyone how much such a concept terrified her. She'd already lost so much, so many people, and not only had he nearly made her lose two more—himself and Kawalsky both—but he'd disregarded the one thing that had made the losses bearable.
For her mother's death, and in the horrendous accident that had stolen the life of Geordie, who'd been her friend and protector for years, Sam had been present. Her memories of each might be hazy, or forgotten in the effects of her own injuries at the time, but Jack knew that being there had made their passing easier for her. She'd whispered to him one night that she was in fact lucky, that she'd been present, and luckier still that she'd found someone who would never let her die alone. It was something she'd assumed of him, and something he'd silently agreed to without ever having to say it. And yet, when push came to shove, he'd left to die alone himself, and that was what was truly selfish. By damning himself, he'd conspired to rob her of that comfort, threatened to leave her to face an inevitable death alone.
"You—you can't make that kind of decision," Sam gasped, hands gripping his shirt tightly. "It's not just you. It—It's us. It's not your decision anymore. It's mine too. You don't—don't get to decide that fate for me. Not now. Not—not ever…"
"I'm sorry," He whispered. "I'm so sorry."
"When you—you came back… I thought everything would be fixed. But it isn't." Sam sucked in a winded breath, still shaking. "It never was fixed."
Suddenly, Jack realized she wasn't talking about his nightmares, or his consequent flight through the Stargate. "Sam…"
"Iraq didn't just happen to you," she said, her voice calming. Tears still dampened his shirt, and her voice rumbled against his chest. But her breaths evened out, and her trembling eased somewhat, as though the tense burden of secrecy was lifting from her shoulders. "You weren't the only one who was lost for four months, Jack. I left my work here, because I couldn't focus. I was out of my mind while you were out there, not knowing where you were."
Charlie had told him a little about her single-minded focus in helping to find him, but the details remained scarce. Jack had certainly never fully realized just how much he'd terrified her by being captured. He'd been too wrapped up in his own trauma, his own pain, to see hers.
"I never—I didn't think about what would happen past getting you home. And then you were there and I didn't know what to do. I'm so sorry, Jack."
"No," Jack returned. His voice was hard, unwilling to accept the apology she shouldn't have to give. "It wasn't your fault, I should have—"
"I should have too," she countered. "I wasn't there like you needed me to be."
"I was ready for you to be there. I didn't know how to let you help." He'd wanted to protect her, spare her from knowing the horrors he'd lived. Sam was pure, clean and good. To have her know—it had seemed like a betrayal, but Jack could see now that the true betrayal was in keeping her at a distance.
He pressed his hand against the back of her head, reveling in the soft touch of her hair beneath his sandy fingers. Her body bled warmth into his, sharing a heat missed even in the scorching sun of an alien desert. She shifted in his embrace, her arms snaking around his chest. They tightened, pulling Sam closer against him. He sighed, and she followed suit.
"I'm angry at you," she murmured. "I don't think I'll stop being angry at you for a long time."
There was still heartbreak evident in her voice, but Jack detected something else as well, something that shifted her tone from despair to resignation. She accepted her anger, and he did too. They could work with anger, and despite her acknowledgement of its persistence, Sam had simultaneously informed him that, eventually, it would indeed fade.
"I'm not fixed," he said softly, barely a murmur. Her head lifted, bringing damp blue eyes up to meet his. "Something happened out there…" He didn't dare say what, until they were alone in the privacy of their own home. "I got a wakeup call, and I'm better… but I'm not fixed. Sam—I don't know if I can do this on my own."
His confession was met with silence. Jack watched Sam digest the information, read the plea that huddled beneath the veneer of resilience. In his heart lurked the possibility that she might still tell him good bye and good luck, to find his own way home. But a moment later her features firmed, returning to her natural state of resolute defiance he'd come to love so completely.
"You don't have to do it alone," Sam uttered softly, leaning in to embrace him fully. Her chin rested atop his shoulder, and her lips tickled his ear as she whispered her solemn vow. "I'm here. Always."