"For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return." - Leonardo Da Vinci
"Winter is coming."
John stoked the fire with more effort, his eyes trained on the coals. He tried not to let the voice slip even further beneath his skin.
"We're not ready."
A sharp gust of wind threatened to kill the fire. John shifted position so as to give it shelter. Smoke soared up as he poked the coals again. He coughed and blinked his eyes, which watered up and seemed willing to choke him.
"We have to move."
"No," said John, his voice hard. He didn't look at her. He knew what he'd find. Resignation, fear...defeat. It stared him in the eye every day. Not just from her. From everyone.
"John..." Her voice was soft, thick, and touching some core of him he didn't want to acknowledge. He kneeled down to try breathing life into the fire. "We can't stay here."
The fire wouldn't live. The winds were too goddamn strong. Only smoke whirled up and threatened to choke the life out of all of them. Just like this planet would.
The plan had failed. John didn't know how, but somehow it'd failed. Instead of taking the Asurans with their pants down, the Replicator humanoids had stood ready. Their entire armada orbited the planet and their surprise attack made it impossible to carry out McKay's plan to implode the planet's core.
It'd been a massacre. Their Wraith allies were the first to leave, taking two thirds of their ships after the rest had exploded. The Travelers were whittled down to half their strength before individual captains began to run away, their tail between their legs. Only the Apollo and the Daedalus still tried to fight.
John refused to leave them behind. His friends were out there, still alive. He could save them. But the Travelers wouldn't let him. With Larrin's gun digging into his temple, John saw how the Apollo took a hit to its engines and swerved out of control into one of the Asuran ships. The consequent chain reaction took out three more of the enemy ships.
It was only later that he learned that half the crew managed to beam over to Daedalus, but by then, two thirds of the Daedalus crew were already dead and the rest stranded on this godforsaken planet.
The Travelers booted him off their ship and John took a Jumper to rendezvous with Daedalus. Whatever reunion he'd looked forward to didn't last. No sooner had the ship come out of hyperspace than four Asuran ships turned up, somehow knowing exactly where the pre-determined fall-back point were.
Taking down two of the Asuran ships cost Daedalus too much. When they finally retreated into hyperspace, the Asgard hyperdrive failed and Daedalus came crashing out into normal space. The next thing John knew, he'd been trapped beneath a mound of debris and someone was shouting at him to stay awake.
Daedalus had lost control and wound up in an unknown system. Thanks to a short burst of the sublight engines, the ship hadn't crashed into the system's star, but instead torn into a nearby planet's atmosphere. There'd been no way to slow down the crash. By that time, John had already passed out.
A third of the crew survived, along with a quarter of the Apollo's crew and passengers. John's happy reunion with Ronon had been short-lived when he realised Rodney was dead. So was all of the bridge crew.
For a long while, he'd thought he was the highest-ranking officer alive. Then they'd found Sam in the wreckage of the engineering section. Beaten, broken, but alive. She'd made the sublight engines work one final time.
John had nearly broken down. He'd thought he'd be all alone.
"How is she?"
John stared at the pale-faced woman in the makeshift bed. One arm was in a sling after a dislocation, the other splinted due to a clean break. A bandage made out of a T-shirt was wrapped around her head. Sam's left leg was similarly wrapped in bandages and splinted on either side of her knee.
"The fever's down, so that means the infection is letting go." Dr Thomas Matthews eyed his patient from above his broken glasses. More makeshift beds with occupants spread out on his other side, filling the entire room. "Circulation's good and it looks like she's healing well. She's been lucky."
"When will she wake up?"
Dr Matthews took off his glasses and rubbed the ridge of his nose. He had deep black circles under his eyes. "Honestly, I don't know. She's got a severe concussion and the best I can hope to give her is time. Our supplies are limited, so I have to ration what's left." He looked around at the many silent makeshift beds and sighed deeply. "There's too many of them."
John didn't trust his voice to comment. Instead, he said gruffly, "Let me know if there are any changes. I'll be around."
It took Sam two weeks to wake up. Four people died in the meantime. John spent the nights by her side, silent, watchful, scared.
They lived out of the wreckage of Daedalus. 85 survivors. Both Ronon and John led hunting parties to locate food, water and firewood. Most of the survivors were military and used to roughing it, but John could see how the planet sucked the life out of all of them.
The ship's subspace homing beacon was dead. So was any power. A broken naquadah generator had been found in the wreckage, but so far no one had been able to fix it. They hadn't located a stargate within twenty miles and had no idea if the planet even had one. Their only luck so far was that the planet was at least habitable, but even that seemed about to change.
After a month, temperatures began to drop. One of the scientists had observed the weather and the position of the sun, and reasoned that the planet's summer months were over. Autumn was upon them. They discovered that this meant most of the animals began to migrate south, especially the larger game that provided most of their food, hides and furs.
"We'll have to move too," Sam told him a cold morning as they sat outside, staring at the slowly greying landscape around them. She was wrapped in numerous animal furs. It was the first day she'd been allowed outside, seeing as she still had one arm and one leg splinted.
"What about those who can't?" John asked her, his voice low. Besides Sam, only four out of the remaining nineteen serious injuries were able to hobble around these days.
"We make travois like the Plains Indians," Sam said.
John twirled a dried strip of beef in his hands. "In case you haven't noticed, there aren't any horses or oxen around. We'd have to pull these things ourselves, and our strength's not exactly up to par."
"I know," Sam said simply. "But it'd get us moving. All of us. We can't stay here if all the food is going in a different direction. Our supplies won't last long."
John couldn't argue with that. Still... "We don't know what we'll head into. At least we've got shelter here. Ronon's started to make tents out of skins and hides, but there's not enough for everyone. Besides, it could be there's game we haven't found yet that can withstand the cold temperatures."
"So you want to wait?" Sam looked him in the eye, her blue irises penetrating. She looked so thin and frail underneath the mound of furs and hides. Her face was almost as pale as the frost. John was certain that if he touched her, she'd break.
"Yes," said John, withdrawing his gaze. Even with Sam conscious, he was the one in charge. They all looked to him.
The thought terrified him.
Ronon's voice was gruff. Red and yellow light danced on his face where he sat on the other side of the fire, making his dark eyes glitter. His breath came out in white mists.
John threw another log onto the fire, watching the flames catch on and flare up. The night was cold, but at least there was no wind. High up above, the moon was waning.
"I know," John said finally. "It's just..."
He met Ronon's glittering eyes above the fire, but his friend didn't comment. He didn't need to. They knew what the two options entailed. People would die if they stayed, and people would die if they moved. It came down to the numbers.
The field around him could have been a garden. Now, it was a garden of the dead. Row upon row, frost-covered rock piles marked the position of nearly two hundred people. Most had been buried two and two or three and three due to lack of space, but each pile was marked with name, rank and date of death. They wouldn't be forgotten.
John had wanted to hold an arm around Sam's waist to support her as she addressed the crowd gathered around them, but she'd insisted to stand on her own with the rudimentary crutches he'd fashioned for her. Fire had sparked in her eyes, and the words had died in his throat.
"I didn't know Fabian," Sam said quietly, "but I know that when the Apollo's engines were hit, he risked his life to get his crewmembers to the beam-out points. If he'd had his way, he wouldn't have been among the first to beam over to the Daedalus. He would have found some way to save even more of his friends. That is the man we honour today."
Sam paused, shifted her weight, and looked up at the pale blue sky. Worn and drawn faces surrounded them, frozen like pillars in the landscape, shuddering in the cold.
The fire John had seen in her eyes was gone, replaced with a sense of profound grief and longing that rocked his core. Like she would break if he touched her.
Then Sam spoke, and her voice was clear and firm. "Leonardo Da Vinci said, 'For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.' I believe Fabian has returned. And so will we."
The crowd's eyes shifted up to stare at her, their pale faces showing mixtures of confusion, fear, hope, but Sam didn't say another word. Instead, she met their eyes in turn, and there was nothing frosty or frail about her at all. The fire was back. It made John smile, and it felt good.
The next day, they began preparations to move out.
The travois were made, supplies were collected, and Sam also insisted they bring along the broken naquadah generator and some other assorted computer things. When one of the soldiers loudly complained he wouldn't drag that dead stuff anywhere, Sam told him simply that it could very well save their lives one day.
Even with a splinted arm and a leg, no one could doubt that she was still the Colonel.
They lost twelve people during that winter trail, whittling their numbers down to 73. Some died of sickness, some of injuries, and a few went out in the middle of the night and never came back. Each death took its toll and left a pile of rocks as the only mark on the frosty, barren landscape.
Occasionally, they managed to find shelter in caves and forests, but mostly they huddled together for body warmth in the meagre makeshift tents they'd made out of skins and whatever materials they could find in the wreckage of Daedalus. There'd been complaints at first, but privacy was a luxury when life or death depended upon sharing body warmth with your neighbour, especially as temperatures continued to drop. With the shifting weather, there was also a drop in morale.
Day by day, John could see bits of life were sucked out by the temperaments of the planet and their own people, worse by far than anything the Wraith had dealt them. At least the Wraith were quick. This was agony; a slow death. He'd even heard someone call their journey the Walk of the Dead. The person responsible had been forced to do the next four night watches. On the last morning, he was gone. No one knew where.
More than once, either he, Sam or Ronon had to break up a fight. After a particularly nasty one, John slumped down next to Sam in a system of caves they'd found to wait out a snowstorm.
"What was it this time?" Despite being wrapped in thick furs and sitting close to a fire, Sam shivered as she looked sideways at him.
"Beef jerky," John said. Tiredness washed over him as he stared into the fire. Survival of the fittest. He just might have to believe that Darwin was right.
"Fall of civilization," Sam said, sounding equally tired and resigned. "Can't let people forget..." She drifted off mid-sentence, her eyes fluttering close.
John looked at her, frowning. He noticed now that Sam's lips and nose were purplish. He sat back up and gestured. "Let me see your hands."
"I'm fine," Sam mumbled, shrugging him off. Her eyes were still closed.
Not taking a 'no' for an answer, John pushed inside the folds of the furs and pulled Sam's hands out. Her fingertips were blue and icy cold.
"How long've you been sitting here?" John asked, annoyed.
Sam didn't look at him. He began to rub her hands between his, then gestured her to open the wraps. She did so reluctantly. John scooted over and pulled the furs around them both, circling his arms around her to rub her hands, arms and legs. She shivered all over, her skin cold to touch.
"I didn't bring you this far to lose you too," mumbled John, glad once he could feel a bit more warmth spreading under Sam's skin after a while. "From now on, you don't sleep alone."
"Is that a proposition, Colonel?" Sam smirked and cracked her eyes open. There was still some fire in those eyes, even if the rest was frozen to the bone.
John snorted. "My job to look after the CO. Though, if you'd rather, I could ask Ramirez to spoon up with you."
Sam chuckled and snuggled a bit closer to the crook of his neck. "That's all right, Colonel. Better to keep it at command level. Wouldn't want anyone to get any ideas."
"Right," John said, smirking.
He shifted Sam closer and continued to rub life back into her body, all the while telling himself that it was purely platonic. A friend helping out a friend, or a 2IC helping out his CO.
It didn't make it less awkward when John woke up the next few mornings to see Sam snuggled against him, peaceful in sleep, and realised that his body reacted to her bare skin. Every night afterwards, he made sure to keep some of the furs between them in the hopes that she wouldn't notice. If she did, she never mentioned it.
But she always seemed to smile in her sleep.
"It's getting warmer."
Sam stood next to him on the cliff, staring out at the rolling landscape beneath them. Even though the splints were gone and she could move again, she still walked with a cane. Everyone knew it was because her knee hadn't healed completely from the crash and she was still in pain, but it'd taken a while for Sam to accept that it didn't mean she had to prove anything. She didn't have to be the Colonel all the time and keep a brave face. She could be human, just like the rest of them.
"Levin said it'll be spring soon," John said. Far away in the distance, he thought he could see oceans. "I'd say not soon enough."
Sam looked sideways at him and smiled sadly.
This winter had claimed more than it should. They needed their humanity back. A piece of normalcy. A life.
When spring finally arrived three months after they'd left Daedalus' wreckage, they'd trailed about five hundred miles south and reached a coastline where the air was more humid, but also warmer. No one objected when John suggested they settle down, maybe even permanently. Once it became clear that their new location had a steady supply of food, water and forests, Sam gave him the stamp of approval.
The day they began to put down foundations for cabins and Sam took charge of construction, John couldn't help feel that her smiles seemed to drive away the remnants of frost.
Summer came swiftly on a monsoon-like wind from the sea. On a particular hot night, John woke up to the sound of the tent flap closing. He rolled around and saw only Ronon snoring in a corner. The third bed was empty, and Sam's cane was gone. It wasn't the first time.
Pushing away the covers, John pulled on a T-shirt and clambered outside into the hot, humid air. He stretched his back and looked around. In the bright moonlight, he could see a trail of footprints and cane marks leading towards the communal fire in the middle of the camp. It was always lit to keep animals away.
Only Sergeant Hutchinson sat by the fire, keeping a lookout with a slightly worn sidearm in his hand.
"Colonel," he greeted John as the latter came into view. Hutchinson pointed behind him. "She went that way."
John wasn't sure if he should be embarrassed that Hutchinson knew exactly why he was up, seeing as it was impossible in their close-knit community to deny that he and Sam had spent a lot of time together. Awkward, he simply nodded in thanks and moved on, trying to ignore the sensation that someone was staring him in the neck.
The trail led past dark tents and half-finished cabins, before sloping slightly towards the beach below camp. A dark shape next to a tree told him where to go. He should've figured; it was her favourite spot.
Sam sat with her good knee pulled up against her chin, face tilted up towards the black midnight sky. She looked sideways at him as John sat down next to her, leaning against the tree trunk.
"Couldn't sleep?" Sam asked, her voice soft in the darkness.
"Heard you sneak out," John said.
"Sorry," Sam said.
She shifted slightly so their shoulders were touching, then leaned her head against him. John snaked an arm around her, having grown more comfortable with the closeness she provided. If the past eight months had shown him anything, then it was that Sam wasn't just Colonel Samantha Carter. She was just as scared as he was. Just as human.
It'd been talks of Rodney that first brought them closer. They both mourned him, and the others. So many lost, and for what? They didn't know what the galaxy looked like now. Didn't know if Atlantis was all right. Didn't even know if the Asurans and the Wraith were still fighting each other at the cost of countless human lives, or if someone was looking for them after all this time.
They were isolated, and it scared the hell out of them.
"I used to do this as a kid," Sam said softly, her breath warm against the skin of his arm. "Go out at night, look at the stars. Dreaming."
"Me too," said John. "Maybe not the dreaming part, but I definitely had a healthy interest in astronomy."
"Never thought the starry sky could change, though," said Sam. She let out a small sigh. "Even after all this time, after all the planets I've been to... I still try to see if I can find the Northern star."
John pulled her closer and leaned his head against hers. It felt nice to share warmth like this, especially when he'd found a way to get his body under control again. She smelled earthy and wonderful. "What about Pyxis?"
"The ship's compass," said John. He looked up at the thousands of stars that dotted the dark sky. There were so many of them. He wondered if he'd be able to count them all. "That way, if we get the chance one day, we know where to go."
Sam's reply was a tight hug, as if he had – for once – found the perfect words to say.
"So, you together yet?"
Ronon's question came out of the blue. They were in the process of thatching the roof on one of the cabins, with John hanging rather precariously down one side. It was a blindingly hot day and gruelling work, so John's mind had been solely on the task.
"What?" John frowned, but his neck tensed at the look in Ronon's eyes.
"You and Carter," said Ronon.
"No! That's—I mean—" John felt he'd said too much judging by the grin that started to spread on Ronon's face. He focused on his work and muttered, "We're just friends."
"Huh," was all Ronon said.
But John could feel his friend's knowing eyes on him as they worked, and he wondered if there were others who thought like him.
Once the party to celebrate the fifteen small, newly finished cabins began in earnest, John noticed things he hadn't before. Such as how Hutchinson and Levin, one of the Apollo's scientists, traded wide grins and winks at each other across the crowd. Or how the doctor, Matthews, brought drinks to his nurse assistant for the past year, Freamon, and afterwards held her hand as they talked quietly together. Left and right, people seemed huddled together in pairs; some friendly, and some too close to be anything but platonic.
John couldn't help wonder when all this had happened. During the winter, they'd all shared tents to help keep warm and there hadn't exactly been room for privacy. Neither since they came here and still lived together in tents while the cabins were built. Even the cabins were first and foremost intended to be communal, at least for now, but there would eventually be enough rooms for everyone to have some measure of privacy.
Was this ... life ... finally coming back to them?
They were back beneath their tree, Sam's head on his shoulder, John's arm around her. Each had a cup of Sergeant Gregg's moonshine in their hands. Out on the sea, the moon reflected like silver in the dark waters. The air was hot, humid, but a cool wind blew from the south.
"Looks like a storm's coming," said John, eying the horizon. Since the monsoon-like wind came a month ago, several tropical storms had come and gone. Some had lasted only hours, while others had lasted days. None had looked as vicious as the one brewing on the horizon.
"We should probably head back and tell the others to get inside," Sam said, but she didn't make any signs to move.
"Probably," said John. He didn't want to move either. It felt right to sit here like this, with her. No stress, no tension, just...right.
"It's moving fast," Sam said after a while. Her hand had sunk to rest on his thigh. John felt as if it might burn through his skin. "We shouldn't be caught outside."
Back in the camp, the party was still going strong. Someone was playing what sounded mysteriously like Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" on homemade flutes. It made John grin.
"Let them have a few moments more," said John. He let the arm he held around Sam sink down to her waist. His thumb trailed the edge of her shirt. Sam's hand fluttered lightly upon his thigh. "Not every day we've got something to celebrate."
"We should," said Sam softly, her breath hot on his skin. "Celebrate more. We're still alive."
A shiver ran up John's spine. His thumb slipped underneath Sam's shirt, meeting silky, hot skin. Her hand began to trace the stitches on his pants-turned-shorts.
In the distance, the storm drifted closer, rumbling with thunder.
"Sam," said John, his voice low.
She raised her head and looked him in the eye. In the firelight from the camp, he could see her eyes and cheeks were flushed. Her hand moved higher up his thigh, then stopped, hovering inches away, not sure whether or not to continue.
Words failed him.
Sam's lips wavered. A bright sheen filled her eyes. Her voice was thick. "Tell me to stop."
John's heart skipped a beat.
The sound of the party disappeared. Thunder rolled towards them, closer now, but even that sounded muted. As if they'd been trapped inside a bubble.
Fire flickered in Sam's large, expressive eyes. Fire rose beneath his skin, hot and fierce, ready to respond.
This was life, reawakened. He needed it. They needed it.
John took her hand and guided it back. His voice was husky. "Don't stop."
Her lips were hot, like her skin. John didn't care that the tree trunk was digging into the skin on his back. All he could think about was the feel of Sam's hot skin on his, of her slick wetness as she rode him, of her soft, fleshy breasts pressed against his chest.
He made sure she came first. It didn't take long. The tension had built up for so long, they couldn't move fast enough. Sam came with a whimpered cry, clamping down on him again and again, grinding him against the tree. John groaned, pushing harder off the ground, and came with one long thrust.
It began to drizzle slightly as they slumped against the tree to catch their breaths. Sam began to shiver and John thought for a moment that she was crying.
He stiffened. Reality of what they'd just done came crashing back now that the fire had passed. John fumbled for his discarded T-shirt and draped it across Sam's shoulders, but didn't know what else to do.
Sam pulled back and looked him in the eye. He could see the worry in them. Fear that they might have done something wrong after all. Words failed him again.
Feeling clumsy and awkward, John raised a hand to caress her cheek, their eyes still locked, and Sam raised hers to trail her thumb across the beard he'd let grow since they came here. For a while, neither spoke but just looked at each other. Working out the dots in their minds. Weighing the cons and pros. John tried to will everything he felt, both good and bad, into his eyes. He could see her do the same.
In the end, Sam smiled and John relaxed.
No one seemed surprised when Sam and John began to share a room. Perhaps after living almost a year together in close, intimate proximity, boundaries that had once existed by rank and status had disappeared. It applied to everyone. They were family now. They were in this together.
In any case, it seemed they'd set an example. Once Sam and John's relationship went public, other couples appeared. Many of them went across rank as well. As summer turned to autumn and the rain season began, everyone moved inside the cabins and formed new, smaller families.
Seeing as John and Sam shared a cabin with Ronon, Dr Matthews and Freamon – who insisted they call them Thomas and Sarah – they were the first to know when the latter happily announced that their community would grow by one.
It was one of the first days after the rain season ended, and the temperatures had begun to cool. Winter was in the air, but this time they were prepared. Their little community had worked hard, not just to build proper shelter, but also making clothes, supplies, kitchenware, furniture, tools, and securing food and firewood for the winter.
After a long day of hunting and training with Ronon, the roaring fire and a full meal made John drowsy. He could hear Sam, Sarah and Matthews talk in the background, but he didn't catch the words until Sarah suddenly said:
The room fell silent at first. Everyone looked at Sarah and Matthews, who smiled at each other and held hands upon the table.
Sam was the first to find her voice. "Congratulations."
"Thank you, Colonel," Sarah said. "I know it must seem crazy with everything that's happened, but..."
"It's not," Sam said quickly, but John thought her smile seemed off. "It's great news, Sarah. When are you due?"
"Next spring," said Matthews. He pushed his still-broken glasses further up his nose, smiling in a way John recognised as awkward but happy. This was a good thing, then. Maybe even planned. Life was moving on.
John met Sam's eyes across the table. She still had a smile on her face, but now that she faced him, he could see it didn't quite meet her eyes.
The news spread fast in their little community and another celebration was called for. On the next clear night, Sergeant Greggs broke out her moonshine and everyone joined up outside to converge around the many communal fires. Food was made, music was played, songs were sung, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Even Sam, who had seemed off days earlier, dug into the food and moonshine, and relaxed among those who still insisted to address her as Colonel.
John observed her from a bench where he sat with Ronon and a group of Marines, who were currently engaged in a drinking contest. Sam laughed as one of her fellow scientists shared a theoretical physicist joke, and she sometimes wiped tears of laughter from her eyes, but John couldn't shrug off the feeling that something was off.
He suspected it might have something to do with Sarah's pregnancy, but Sam wouldn't talk about it. She'd just shrugged him off when he asked if everything was okay.
"With all due respect, sir, you're falling behind," said Sergeant Ramirez loudly, then chugged down his cup of moonshine. The other Marines laughed, hurriedly re-filling his cup and egging him on.
"Come on, Sheppard." Ronon nudged him in the shoulder. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. Then again, he'd already had a few. "Could be the last party before snowfall."
"I'm sure you'll find a way to manage," said John, rolling his eyes.
He turned reluctantly away from Sam and decided that she'd eventually talk about what was bothering her. That's what she normally did. For now, it seemed she had a good time. Maybe he shouldn't worry so much.
"So... How many was it?" John looked at the group, taking the cup Ronon handed him.
"You're up to five now, sir." Ramirez saluted him with a grin.
John smirked. "In that case... You're going down, Ramirez."
As snow began to fall, it became clear that Sam was uncomfortable with Sarah's pregnancy. Whether or not the others noticed, John didn't know, but he could see that whenever Sarah pulled her into conversations about babies and the future, Sam's eyes became dull and her answers rather monotone.
It was when Sam began to pull back from John in bed that warning bells set off at the back of his mind. At first, it was just one time or another, but as winter progressed and Sarah's belly started to show, Sam seemed to lose all desire for sex. She got to bed first and was often asleep when he came, and she was also the first to get up in the morning.
Sam also started to spend a lot of time working on the broken naquadah generator, using the sparse materials they had brought from Daedalus to construct a type of antenna. Her intentions, she said, was to find a way to broadcast their location – just in case someone was still looking for them. It often meant she didn't come to bed until John was already asleep.
They still talked and he could still make her laugh or smile, but something had changed, and John didn't like it. He'd been down this road before with Nancy, and he recognised the signs. That's why it usually took him time to trust, to open up to people and let them past his defences. And now Sam threatened to put him back at square one.
One night in the middle of winter, John woke to a dark and silent room. The spot next to him was still warm, but Sam and her cane weren't there. He pulled back the covers and dressed quickly, pulling on warm clothes once he realised Sam wasn't in the cabin at all.
Footprints and cane marks in the snow led him straight to the tree down by the beach, where Sam sat silently, staring up at the starry sky.
She didn't look at him when he sat down and spread a thick fur over them both. Even though the climate was warmer here, it could still get well below zero at night.
John settled back against the tree trunk but made otherwise no move towards snaking his arm around her as he usually did.
They sat in silence for a long while, their breaths coming out in white mists. The skies were clear, showing a multitude of stars, and the moon was crisp and silver. Down at the beach, the waves lapped against the snowy shore, breaking the silence.
"Talk to me, Sam."
It was his last attempt. John didn't want things to go the way they did with Nancy. For once, he wanted something to go right.
Sam stared at the sky. "I can't have kids."
John didn't know what to say.
Sam turned to look at him. Wet trails down her cheeks told him she'd been crying. "One of the doctors at the SGC told me that years ago. After all the things my body had gone through due to SG-1 missions, she didn't think it possible for me to have kids of my own. Not without medical assistance."
Fresh tears ran down her face, but Sam kept her eyes trained on him. She looked anxious, scared, and most of all sad. John tensed and felt incredibly awkward.
Without knowing what else to do or say, John snaked his arm around her and pulled Sam tight to his chest. He kissed the top of her head and let her cry, feeling as if there were no words in the English language to say what he felt.
"We'll have kids," John muttered into Sam's hair as they lay in bed. He held her close, not letting go. "Maybe not our own, but there'll be kids around."
Judging by the way Sam snuggled closer to him and left a trail of kisses on his chest, he guessed he'd said something right.
Rosemary Freamon Matthews was born in the middle of spring. As winter passed and people began to spend more time outside, it became clear that she wouldn't remain the only child for long.
Sam was touched when Sarah asked her to be godmother. She didn't let on how overwhelming it'd been to be asked, but John knew. He understood.
Another year passed. The colony expanded with additional ten cabins to accommodate the growing families. A wall was also erected around the colony to ward off the bigger carnivores that'd begun to sniff around in the area, especially after two of the hunters were mauled during a hunting trip.
Sam managed to repair the naquadah generator, and its sole duty became to power the homing beacon she'd constructed from what remained of the Daedalus's. For the first week, everyone seemed to listen for the whine of a Jumper or Wraith darts, but when nothing happened, life as they knew it resumed.
Over time, everyone had found their role in the community. Some were hunters, some were carvers, some were bakers, some were carpenters, and some were teachers. Although some still wanted to adhere to the old chain of command, it was decided to have a vote on who should officially be the leader of the colony.
No one was surprised when Sam received the majority of the votes. She was still respected by both the former military and civilian colonists. Even Ronon had approved.
On a warm, summer's day, John looked up from his work of thatching another cabin and saw Sam down by the communal fire. A lot of the colony's women were gathered around her, most of them with children either walking around on unsteady feet or holding them in their laps.
Sam was currently grinning down at the newest addition to the colony, the baby boy of Hutchinson and Levin. She made silly faces and blew raspberries, and John was struck with a mix of pride and sadness.
John had never thought about having kids of his own until he was faced with the possibility that he would never get them. At least not the normal way. But he realised now that he wouldn't have minded a kid that was theirs, so long as it meant it was hers.
Before they drifted off to sleep that night, John told Sam as much.
"That's good," Sam said, caressing his chest and twining her legs with his. "Because the doctor thinks I'm pregnant."
Lazy trails of smoke rose beyond the palisade walls. With a cold wind biting into his cheeks and nose, John looked upon the sight with relief. He picked up the pace.
"Eager to get home, Colonel?" Ramirez asked from behind. The tease was evident in his voice.
Someone made a whipping sound, to the amused laughs of the rest of the group. Even John smirked.
"Warm bed, Sergeant," John said without turning. He shifted the pole on his shoulder. After days of hauling dead carcasses, it tended to get stiff, especially in winter. "Not that you'd know what that's like," he added in an ironic tone.
The others laughed again. It was no secret that Ramirez had spent a lot of time on the proverbial couch lately.
A door in the palisades opened at their approach. Word had reached the colony of their return, and a dozen people showed up to help them out. John and Ramirez handed off their load of meat to Ronon and another Marine, who brought it inside the cabin that served as food storage and butchery.
As he accepted a cup of hot tea from Sarah, who always came with Dr Matthews to check for injuries, John's eyes sought one of the cabins nestled in amongst the others. Smoke rose from its chimney and light poured out of its windows onto the snow. It was like a Christmas postcard.
"Nothing's happened yet," said Sarah, noting his stare. She gave him a knowing smile. "She's missed you, though."
It was weird the way people seemed to treat him like an open book these days. Like he'd joined some special crowd of selected few, who seemed eager to offer advice about everything from nappies to dealing with odd cravings.
"Thanks for the tea," he said, handing the mug back to her. John tried not to let his uneasiness show, but felt like he'd failed when Sarah winked at him and went to hand out more drinks.
Even Ronon seemed to think John was part of a different crowd now. He raised his eyebrows when John asked if he needed help, and said, "Go home, Sheppard. See your woman."
John wouldn't admit it out loud, but he was relieved. Two weeks had been too long. He'd known her long enough to worry about which new and troubling project she'd immerse herself in when she got bored. The last time, she'd nearly put the house on fire.
He set off towards the cabin, feeling the worries that'd haunted him late at night return. Anything could've gone wrong. Even though Sarah said nothing had happened, that's what he'd expected two years ago when Sam said she couldn't get pregnant. But something had happened. Rodney would've said that meant anything could happen.
With that thought lingering in his mind, John wrenched the door open.
Sam looked up, startled. She was sitting by a roaring fireplace in a soft armchair Ronon had helped fashion for her, her cane leaning against its side. As their eyes met, a wide smile of delight spread across her face.
"John!" She put aside what looked like a knitting project and began to hoist herself out of the chair, using her hands as momentum.
John crossed the room quickly, taking her hands and helping her up before she overbalanced. He looked her up and down in scrutiny, noting the colour in her cheeks, the spark in her eyes, and the round belly bumping against him.
"Not even a kiss?" Sam grinned, her tone teasing.
Seeing that everything was as when he'd left her, John finally managed a smirk.
"Sorry," he mumbled and hugged her tightly. "Just been a while."
"Yeah, it has," said Sam softly. Her lips were hot on his cold ones. She pulled back, her eyes sparkling in the red-and-yellow light. "I hope you're not too tired, 'cause I really missed you."
John chuckled, noticing that she'd managed to sneak her hands inside his wet coat and under his shirt. Her hands were warm and soft upon his skin, but insistent. Warmth began to spread through him, all the way down to his frozen toes.
How could this be anything but right?
"I missed you too," John said, his tone dropping as Sam's hands began to drift lower on his abdomen. "You have no idea how much."
At first, he didn't know why he'd woken up. John blinked blearily into the darkness before he realised that Sam was squirming next to him. She was burning up.
"Sam," John said, shaking her. "Sam!"
She moaned, clearly in pain. Sweat covered every inch of her skin. The furs were almost soaked through. But she felt clammy to touch.
John shook her again but when she didn't wake up, he ran his hand down to her stomach. There was movement. Not like when the baby kicked. The muscles tightened for a while, then relaxed.
Cold dread washed over John. Contractions. It was too soon. She still had five weeks to go.
John's hand trailed lower, feeling the mattress beneath Sam. It was only damp from sweat. Her water hadn't broken yet.
He didn't know what that meant.
"Sam, I'm gonna get the doctor." John brushed back hair from her face and kissed her forehead. A sliver of panic was in his voice. "I'll be right back. It'll be fine. You'll be fine."
The words were for him. Sam gave no indication she'd heard him. She continued to moan as John got out of bed and pulled on pants, a shirt and his shoes. The sound followed him as he hurried into the cold, snowing winter night.
Dawn broke. John stared through the window at the grey, dull morning light. He was alone in the living room. Sarah had lit a fire before she went to help her husband, but John still felt cold, restless, and tense.
He could hear voices from the bedroom, but couldn't distinguish the words. How long they'd been there, he didn't know. It felt like an eternity.
He didn't move from his spot until the door opened. Dr Matthews stepped out, wiping his hands on a piece of cloth. A deep frown was on his face.
"Doc?" John hardly dared ask.
"It's not good," Matthews said. He pulled off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "If we don't find a way to induce this birth, it'll be too late for them." He put on his glasses again and met John's eyes. "There were some herbs that seemed to help Levin last year, but I'm not sure if it'll work for—"
"Do it," John said. His insides had gone cold. "Whatever you... Just... Please."
Matthews stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "I'll get Sarah to fetch it. In the meantime, if you'd like to say anything..."
John didn't reply. He was sure that if he did, the world would come crashing down and there'd be no bottom to catch his fall.
The doctor seemed to take his silence for an answer. With a sigh, he returned to the bedroom. Moments later, Sarah stepped outside and closed the door. She gave John a sad look.
When he was alone again, John punched the walls.
"What happened to your hands?"
Sam's voice was weak but still with that tone of curiosity that was intricately familiar. A pale hand reached up to touch the bandages on his hands.
"I had a small disagreement with the walls," John said, smirking. He reached up to brush hair away from her face, lingering to caress her cheek. "Nothing to worry about."
"Don't go tearing it all down," Sam said, trying to smile. "We'll need it next winter too."
"I'll find some way to keep him busy," Sarah said behind John. She stood next to Matthews, who was dressed in white hides and with a mask over his mouth.
"It's time," Matthews said simply. He radiated calm and confidence. Quite a change, John noticed, from the man who'd been so uncertain whether he could do this or not only days before.
"I'll see you after," John said and leaned to kiss Sam's forehead. Her eyes fluttered close. A tear ran down her cheek; John brushed it away but didn't comment. "I'm right outside the door."
"I love you," Sam said, her voice hushed. Her blue irises looked up at him, slipping familiarly under his skin where she'd claimed a spot three years ago.
"I love you too," John said.
His insides twisted.
The herbs hadn't worked. When Matthews suggested a Caesarean as the last way out, John had told him again to do anything. Sam was too weak for a normal birth. And Matthews still had some painkillers and antibiotics left, as well as equipment for a blood transfusion.
There'd been no shortage of volunteers to donate blood.
Ronon stayed with him. John appreciated it. Beyond a hushed greeting, they hadn't exchanged a word, but the silence was okay. It was a change from how they normally dealt with stuff – by kicking each other's ass – but right now, John needed this. To stay close, to listen.
The silence seemed to last forever. Then, suddenly, wails filled the cabin.
John's head snapped up. Every fibre in his being pulled him towards the second bedroom door, but Matthews had cautioned him to wait until Sarah came out due to heightened risk of infections.
He began to pace outside the door. The wails belonged to a baby. His baby. The baby he'd thought he was going to lose.
It seemed to take forever before Sarah exited the room. When she did, there was a wide smile on her face.
"It worked," Sarah said. In her arms, she held a squirming bundle. "Thomas is closing her up now."
John was speechless. He searched Sarah's eyes, frozen in place.
"Come on then, Colonel," Sarah grinned. "Say hello to your son."
Red and yellow light flickered across Sam's face. She was smiling, staring down at the little bundle wrapped in furs against her chest, holding it gently. Warmth spread through John that he suspected had nothing to do with the roaring fire.
John finished stoking the fire and got to his feet. Sam looked up at him and nudged him closer. He didn't have to be asked twice.
"He looks like you," Sam said as he settled down next to her and snaked his arm around her.
"No beard, though," John teased. Sam chuckled.
They fell into comfortable silence. John stroked his son's tiny nose and pudgy cheeks. The skin was silky soft. Women, apparently, were enthused about it. He could see why.
"He'll be one lucky kid," John said eventually. "Considering all the odds against him."
"Yeah," Sam said softly, then sighed. "And I'll worry like crazy, just like I did his dad once."
John raised an eyebrow.
"You were a real flyboy on Atlantis," Sam explained and rolled her eyes. "The crazy things you and McKay got into... Well, I wasn't bored, that's for sure."
"I could still get into some crazy things, y'know. Make the days interesting." He wriggled his eyebrows, making Sam laugh softly.
"A day with you is never boring," Sam said. Her eyes sparked knowingly. "So don't get any ideas. You've got someone who depends on you now."
John looked at his baby boy and smiled. That, he did.
Winter gave way to spring, which once again became the hot, humid summer that they had become accustomed to. The sound of children in the enclosed village was familiar now, as were the faces of people who had been brought together by the worst possible event.
On one of the hot nights, Sam and John brought David to their spot beneath the large willow-like tree down by the beach. The baby slept soundly in John's arms for a while as his parents looked at the starry sky and talked about everything and nothing.
When David woke and began to cry, Sam took the baby automatically and began to feed him. John couldn't help but stare mesmerised at them until Sam raised her eyebrows suggestively. That made him look away and think back to the time he'd forced layers of cloth between them in their first winter so that she wouldn't know the effect she had on him.
A grin spread across his face.
"I know that smile," Sam said with an equal grin. She expertly patted David's back to make him burp. "There's a baby present, John."
"He wouldn't know," John teased. Sam only rolled her eyes. David was already drifting off to sleep in her arms.
"At least wait until we're back home," Sam said in a chiding tone. Her eyes glittered in the moonlight.
Something tugged at John's insides. Feeling like he might burst, John pulled Sam closer and leaned his head against hers, falling into the old routine of staring up at the stars again. A lazy smile played on his lips as he looked at the sky, Sam and David in turn.
"Y'know..." John's voice drifted off a little. Sam's hand caressed his chest. "This feels a bit like home."
Sam snuggled closer to him. He could feel her smile against his skin. "Yes," she said. "It does."
That night, they found a star constellation they named Pyxia in honour of Pyxis, the ship's compass, and when they passed the homing beacon Sam had constructed, they stopped to listen for a moment. When nothing happened, they just smiled at each other and went back to their cabin.