Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Stargate, or any elements of the show. I did create this storyline however. Sequel to "A letter, or two".

No more

Party preparations and daughters

He could no longer do this. He was sure of it.

Jack sat behind his desk, with his head in his hands. He wanted the room to stop spinning, the hurt to go away, and the darkness to retreat. But reality does not suddenly change at the snap of your fingers. Not even at fervent prayers. And, although he could hardly believe himself capable of it, Jack found himself doing just that. Praying. He prayed to a God he hadn't been in contact with since his rebellious puberty, hoping He was still willing to listen to him.

"Dear God" he quietly murmured, "In all my years I have seen so much pain, so much hurt. And too many people, good people, dying for their country. Even die for their planet since I've been here with the SGC. But enough is enough. I can't take it anymore."

He felt tears forming behind the lids of his closed eyes.

"I know that in the last seven plus years we have tempted fate more than once. Cheated death. But please, please, let her pull through? It can't be part of your grand design to let her die. Not now, not like this, she just can't. I—"

His breath hitched in his throat. A lump the size of Kansas stuck there. He swallowed several times, but to no avail. The terror wouldn't let up. It had his heart in a vice-like grip, and it slowly squeezed the life out of him.

- ∞ -

Everyday he went down to the infirmary to see how the members SG-6 and SG-8 that were injured during the operation to PX2-574 were doing.

But mainly he was there to see how she was doing.

- ∞ -

About three weeks ago SG-1 and SG-6 were scheduled to go on an exploration mission to PX2-574. Several uninhabited ruins were spotted by the UAV, and the geological scans indicated high concentrations of a dense mineral in close proximity to the gate. In the interest of time Jack assigned two teams to the mission. As Daniel had made it blatantly clear that he was the only one that should be tasked with the translation of the texts on the ruins (Jack, these texts seemed to be in Ancient, or a derivative of Ancient which would make it even more interesting, because who would used the script used by the Ancients to integrate into their own language, or maybe they already used the Ancient script, maybe they were taught by the Ancients! Jack, do you know what kind of revelation that would be—), and Sam seemed very interested by the mineral, Jack assigned SG-1 to lead the mission. Sam would have overall command, and lead the mineral survey with half of SG-6. Daniel and the linguist from SG-6 would check out the ruins, covered by Lieutenant Ayers from SG-6 and Teal'c.

That way everybody had something to do, enough backup if needed, and the mission would be twice as efficient. Jack had padded himself on the shoulder for coming up with it. Even Sam seemed surprised at his ingenuity. Which made Jack proud indeed. In fact, he couldn't prevent himself from whistling a nameless tune all day, surprising all the airmen he passed in the hallways.

- ∞ -

SG-1 and 6 were geared up and stood ready at the bottom of the ramp. Jack came sauntering in and casually checked everybody, making sure they were ready to go.

"Hello there kids! Anxious to go are we?"

Sam looked up the minute he came strolling into the gateroom, and quietly adjusted the baseball cap she was wearing these days. In fact it was O'Neill's old cap, he had given it to her along with command of SG-1. She wore it as a sign of leadership, and not at all as a reminder of who should be leading the SGC's flagship team. Not at all. Of course not.

"Yes, sir. The FRED is packed, and SG-1 and 6 are ready to go, sir." She replied.

Jack gave her one of his patented looks, telling her he knew she had made sure that everything was in order and that she'd do fine. She was still looking for confirmation every time SG-1 was to embark on a mission. She really shouldn't doubt herself as much as she does, he thought. But he had to admit it did stroke his ego to see her still looking up to him. And he was happy to give her the confirmation she needed. Hell, he'd give her anything she wanted if he could.

"Sure you got everything? I mean there are some great leftovers from the banquet we had with the President. I picked the menu, you know."

Sam smiled. No matter what, Jack always managed to make her smile. Or laugh, snort and giggle for that matter. His humor went unappreciated by most, which she thought was a shame. He really did have quite a unique view on the world, one she found very funny.

"I'm sure the food supplies are sufficient, sir," she said, a smile gracing her features.

"Really sure? I mean, they're MRE's after all . . ." he responded, his face a little scrunched up.

Sam's smile widened a tad. "Yes, sir."

At that moment the seventh chevron locked, and the gated formed the wormhole to PX2-574.

Jack shrugged and swept his hand towards the gate.

"Fine, fine. Off you go. Have fun, campers. Don't let the bedbugs bite!"

Sam nodded and signaled Lieutenant Ayers to proceed before walking up the ramp.

Teal'c approached Jack with a dead serious look. "I do not believe that the Tau'ri sleeping bags contain insect life of any variety O'Neill."

For a minute there Jack thought Teal'c had another episode of I-am-the-alien-that-just-doesn't-get-it. But a sparkle appeared in his eyes that betrayed a well-taught sense of humor.

Jack smiled. "Good! Then we have nothing to worry about."

Teal'c nodded, then marched up the ramp and through the wormhole after his teammates. The gate deactivated, and the gateroom was back to normal. Jack gazed wistfully at the gate for a few seconds. Turning on his heels, he went back to his ever-busy schedule. Luckily, he had one very special thing to arrange in the time SG-1 was offworld. Cassie's birthday.

- ∞ -

Since Mark Gillmore left the SGC Jack had to run the place without a personal aid. Not an impossible job, although he would have like for Mark to stay. Jack had grown to like him in the days he was there, always reminding him what was next on the agenda. And reminding in a good way, he thought, walking towards his office. 'Not like that little sneak W—'

"Good morning, sir."

Afraid that if he'd say too much the man would start asking unimaginable things of him, Jack decided to keep his answer as short as possible, and as neutral in tone as he could muster.

"Walter."

Walter nodded his head, and continues on his way to the Control Room.

'Yes, score one up for O'Neill.'

In his office Jack sat down in his chair and pulled out his new out of his desk drawer. Yes, General O'Neill did have a new aid! A brand new, easy to work palmtop, courtesy of Mark Gillmore. Jack liked this little piece of technology. No real voice to complain, nice and easy to handle, and it helped him keep his schedule in order. Though it would be nice if it could zap someone with a cool laser. 'Mmm, must ask Carter to look into that.'

He checked his schedule if there was anything planned in the next hour. Finding nothing but a small reminder to get the requests on the new coffeemakers done, Jack selected the folder with the party preparations. Cassie was turning twenty-one next week, and because of SG-1's hectic mission roster Jack had volunteered to make all the arrangements. Nobody had complained, least of all Jack. Not that doing the administrative bit of a party was his forté, he wanted to make this shindig a good solid party for Cassie. They didn't see Cassie all that much, her being off to the university and living on campus and all, so every chance they had they would spoil her as much as humanly and financially possible. They all felt it was their responsibility, especially after Janet's death. Every time Jack thought about it he felt his heart give a small pang. Although Janet had died in the line of duty, it never felt like it to him. He knew she was a soldier, and was prepared to give her life for her country, but silently he cursed the Air Force for sacrificing such a wonderful person. Some soldiers deserved to survive, no matter what. 'Wonder what my old drill sergeant would say to that. He told us that giving yourself to protect and maintain your country was a soldier's duty and purpose, and in those days I believed every word of it. Maybe I am going soft.'

With a pen he ticked off the last things he needed to do for the party. He smiled to himself. This was going to be a great birthday party, one Cassie deserved. A little happiness after so much grief. 'Yep, just what the doctor —' He stopped himself before the cliché unfolded itself. 'All right, no clichés today.'

- ∞ -

SG-1 and 6 had returned from PX2-574 with good news. The ruins did have inscriptions in Ancient, and they mentioned something about a weapon the Ancients were developing there (Yeah, big honkin' spaceguns!). And the mineral proved to be a very flexible metal, able to make very strong alloys with the naquadah and trinium samples Carter had taken with her. All in all, a very successful mission. Which wasn't hard to do in Jack's opinion; find some scribbly lines on some stonewall, a useful new mineral, and not get shot at. In fact, the 'not getting shot at' factor was enough to make any mission successful in his book. By the end of the debriefing Jack reminded SG-1 that the part would be the day after tomorrow, and he gave them (and SG-6 too, to be fair) three days off to recuperate.

It was 1400 by the time the meeting ended, but Jack went back to work with a small smile on his face. This was a good day, and more was coming. 'Sometimes, things can go right around this place.'

- ∞ -

Later that day around 2000 hours, Jack pushed his key into the lock of his front door. God, he was glad to be home. He loved the SGC, but being stuck under several tons of rock a hundred and fifty feet down everyday did get a bit suffocating. He hung up his coat, slung his briefcase on top of one of the chairs and walked into his kitchen. He opened his refrigerator and began searching for a beer. Yes, searching for a beer. His refrigerator was filled up to the maximum with all kinds of snacks, foods and drinks for the party. Jack had figured a party wouldn't run just on a single jar of salsa and some beers, so he had gone out and shopped till he had dropped. Literally. Finally locating one of the beers from his personal stash he went to the living room and flopped on the coach. He lifted the bottle to his lips for the first sip when the doorbell rang. The bottle stopped midair, and Jack frowned slightly. 'Not really expecting visitors.' He went through a short checklist in his head before setting his beer on the coffee table. Danny and Teal'c were at the base, and would have called. Carter left for home at the end of the afternoon, saying something about having someone over for dinner. Probably her fiancé Pete. And George was up in Washington, and he certainly would have called if he were in the neighborhood.

His curiosity peeked Jack moved to the door. Turning the handle he opened the door, to find a very lost looking teenager standing on his porch. She smiled when she saw him.

"Hiya uncle Jack. Can I come in?"

For a moment Jack couldn't find his voice, his brain trying to catch up with the arrival of his honorary niece two days ahead of schedule. Finally his vocal cords sprang back to life.

"Yeah, hi, come on in."

"Thanks."

Cassie hauled a heavy looking suitcase up the porch steps, and made a beeline for the kitchen after setting it down in the hallway. Jack still stood there with the door handle in his hands, looking a little confused.

"Is there any chocolate in here, uncle Jack? I had a long trip, and I could definitely do with some chocolate."

Jack shook himself out of the confused daze he found himself slipping into and closed the door.

"Yeah, I think there some on the top shelve, left side."

Cassie emerged from the kitchen, a large bar of chocolate in her hands and partly in her mouth. Jack had bought it just for her, he never ate much chocolate himself. She swept past him and flopped herself on the coach in a similar manner as Jack had done just a few minutes ago. Jack walked to the couch and sat next to her. Jack noticed her eyes were a bit red and puffy, like she had been crying or was on the verge of tears. Her gaze was unfocused, and seemed to look through the TV to some very, very distant place. She was stuffing chocolate in her mouth at an alarming rate, and he was sure she was about to suffocate if she didn't swallow. Something was wrong. But what? What made twenty-year old girls break down these days? He honestly couldn't say. Maybe a breakup with her boyfriend, or a really big stain on her favorite sweater.

'Oh for crying out loud Jack, get real.'

He decided that whatever it was, she knew it best, and he'd let her tell him. So he tried to inquire what was wrong, and at the same thing convey that she could talk to him about anything, while not being too blunt. '…Riiight.' A simple phrase usually worked.

"Don't I get a welcome hug?"

Cassie stopped chewing, and swallowed hard. Then she slowly turned her head, and finally looked Jack straight in the eye. Jack was now truly convinced something was wrong by the pained and lost look in her eyes, and knew she needed release.

"C'mere"

He spread his arms, an open invitation. A single tear fell down her cheek, before she literally flung herself in his arms. He held her tight while she wept, stroking her hair with his right hand. Her quiet sobs wracked her frame, and he felt that familiar pang in his heart. He wondered when the last time was someone had held her like this, allowing her to show all her emotions. With a small shock he realized it probably was at Janet's funeral. After that she was off to college and they went back to work at Cheyenne Mountain. Too long, he thought sadly. He placed a kiss on the top of her head, and hugged her a little tighter. Her hands were gripping the front of his uniform, holding it equally tight. After a while she began to calm down, and he pushed her back a bit to look her in the eye. She still looked lost and a bit hurt, but considerably less pained than before.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Cassie looked away, unsure what to say. Jack caught the doubt in her eyes, and intercepted it quickly.

"Over a big tub of double, double fudge chocolate chip ice cream of course." He had bought it for the party, but hey, priorities change.

She looked back at him, unsure if his last comment had been a joke. Finding nothing but honesty, a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She nodded. Jack placed a kiss on her forehead, and went to the kitchen to get the ice cream and two spoons. Oh, and a box of tissues.

Back in the living room he set the ice cream on the table, and handed Cassie a few tissues. She gratefully accepted, and blew her nose with a noise Jack never expected from his niece. They both grabbed a spoon and started chipping small bits off the frozen mass. After a few mouthfuls Jack put down his spoon and looked back at Cassie.

"Now, tell me what's up."

"Euhm, the ceiling?"

Damn. These aliens just didn't understand him. If he had a penny for all of his funny comments washed down the drain because of some strange comment made by Teal'c, he'd have his own Stargate by now. But luckily he caught a glimmer of mischief in her eyes, and suddenly was proud she too had picked up a little of his sarcasm and wit over the years.

"Funny."

Cassie smiled, a little more genuinely this time.

"Now tell me what happened." he coaxed.

She held a crumpled tissue between her fingers, slightly fidgeting with it. Then she took a deep breath, and plunged into an explanation.

"I thought…a nice surprise, and I know it would have been, but then sometimes I act before I think, kinda like you uncle Jack, and—"

"Woh woh woh, calm down Honey, you keep going at this rate and I won't be able to catch up. Now, start at the beginning, and take it slow, for me, okay?"

"Okay." She took another deep breath.

"My chemistry classes were cancelled today, because Mr. Jennings is ill, so I decided to come here today. You now, surprise you guys, being a day early. I thought it'd be a nice surprise."

"It is Cass, I'm very happy to see you."

"Yeah well, not everybody is." she mumbled.

Jack frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Well, as you know, Sam invited me to come and sleep at her place. Have a nice girls night the day before the party. So I went there today, I mean she did want me to sleep at her house, but I guess it wasn't very convenient, and so can I sleep here with you uncle Jack?"

Jack's frown increased. She was dodging his question.

"What do you mean with 'not convenient', Cass?"

Cassie opened her mouth to speak, but changed her mind and looked down at the melting ice cream. She looked terribly upset by something, but Jack couldn't figure out how Carter could have hurt her so. Cassie was like a surrogate daughter to her, Carter would never hurt her! So, he needed her to elaborate. He extended his hand and lifted her chin with his fingers.

"Tell me, Cassandra."

New tears sprung to her eyes, but she ignored them and gave him the rest of the story.

"I arrived here in the Springs around seven, and I went straight to Sam's house. There were a lot of cars in her street, so I parked a bit out of the way. I walked up to her house, and since all the lights were on I figured she was at home. I tried the doorbell, but it didn't work, so I knocked and waited there till Sam came to open. But…" She paused, and tightly shut her mouth.

A little light came on in Jack's head. A dim light, but he had a sneaking suspicion Carter was not the one that did this to her. So, he ventured a guess.

"And it wasn't Sam who opened the door?" he softly asked.

She looked at him, surprised.

'Yep. Bingo. Ten points to O'Neill.'

"Then what happened?"

She looked down at the ice cream again.

"He…Pete…opened the door, and gave me a sort of confused look. This was the first official time we met, so it wasn't a real surprise that he didn't recognize me. I only did because Sam sent me a picture of them a few weeks ago. So I asked if Sam was in. He told me that Sam was in the shower, and then asked me who I was and why I was here. Okay, it was a bit silly of me to not introduce me, I'll admit, but geez, what's up with the whole cop-third-degree-kinda-thing?"

Jack had to smile inwardly when she said that. It pleased him that his niece didn't let Pete the cop intimidate her.

"So I told him that I was in town for my birthday party, and that I was sleeping over at Sam's place, I mean I was standing on the porch of her house, now isn't that weird or i—"

"I get the picture. What did he say?" Jack couldn't help but emphasize his part in this, growing more and more suspicious.

"He told me that he didn't know I was coming today, and although he was pleased to meet me at last, he had a very romantic night planned for Sam, and they didn't get to see each other for such long periods of time. He asked if I could perhaps stay at someone else's place, so he and Sam could have their romantic evening."

She wiped her nose on the tissue again, searching for the right words.

"I was a little stunned, but I did arrive a day early so technically I was intruding, so I said I'd stay at your place and Sam could call me when she got out of the shower. But now I'm here at your place and she hasn't called me yet and it's not like Sam at all to do something like this and I feel. . .I don't know what I feel."

Jack blinked a few times to take in the enormous flood of words that just came out of Cassie in very rapid succession. All right, he thought, let's get the facts straight. She arrived early and went to Carter's place. She was in the shower… 'Focus!' She was in the shower, so Pete opened the door. And he told Cassie he had a romantic evening planned, and persuaded her to leave and come to my place so he and Carter could have their night together. Didn't sound completely unreasonable. But the last thing bugged him. Carter hadn't called. And she always called immediately when Cassie was in town. Hell, in state even. So why not now?

Well that's something for later, he thought. Right now my niece is sitting here, and clearly upset because Carter hasn't called her. He could understand that much. Sam was more than just an honorary aunt to her. She and Janet were practically a double act as parents,

with the largest part for Janet because Sam had to go offworld quite often. But the connection was there. And after Janet's demise, Sam had comforted Cassie in a way only mothers could do.

'Ok, now lets fit all the pieces together. Sam, I mean Carter, hasn't called her. But it's been more than an hour, and a shower couldn't last that long could it? With Pete waiting with their romantic night and all'

A very cold and sadistic voice in the back of his head whispered that a shower could easily last longer than an hour, especially on a romantic night.

'Oh great, paint me that pretty picture please! Focus Jack, focus!'

Then his brain remembered what Cassie had said in the beginning of their conversation.

'What did she say again? Oh yeah, I said I was happy to see her, and she said "Well not everybody is". Now that could mean Pete, it did sound like he wasn't very nice to her, or…'

And then it clicked. An emotional epiphany.

"You think Carter doesn't cares about you being here, that Pete has higher priority?"

He didn't mean for it to sound scolding, but she stiffened at his remark. And that told Jack he was on the mark. Talking about feelings was still a huge minefield to him, but body language he could do like no other. And he saw that Cassie felt guilty about thinking just that.

'Right, now you know what's wrong, try and find the right things to say.'

Again the cold voice annoyed him by wishing him good luck.

He thought carefully before he lifted Cassie's chin again, and looked her straight in the eye, trying to convey everything through his gaze.

"Now you listen to me. There are any number of reasons why Carter hasn't called you yet. Maybe the phone company decided to play havoc with the phone grid, or a fuse blew at her place. You and I can't know that. But what I do know, and you should never ever forget, is that she loves you very much, and that will never change. You hear me? Carter loves you, we all do, and that will never change."

She began tearing up, but managed to speak before breaking down.

"I . . .I know."

"Good."

And with that he took her in his arms, and quietly rocked her back and forth.

This little speech actually had been one he had given to Charlie years ago, when he was unsure if his dad and mom still loved him. It had been during his black-ops days, and things had been bad between him and Sara, hurting Charlie in the process.

If Janet could see me now, he thought with a sigh. That would have taught the Napoleonic power monger a thing or two about his sensitive side. He smiled a sad smile. If only she could be here and see us. If only.

- ∞ -

After eating almost half the ice cream and watching a sappy girly movie on TV he set up Cassie in his guestroom, glad it was still a bit tidy. He helped her unpack. She'd agreed to stay here the entire visit, and when she was washed and changed, he tucked her in, like she was a little girl. His little girl.

He was about to turn when Cassie grabbed his hand, and tugged him back. He sat down next to her. She still had his hand in hers, and he slowly intertwined their fingers. The room was half dark, the only light coming from the hallway. But he could sense rather than see that she was still emotional. He just wasn't prepared for what came next.

"I love you…Dad."

Surprised was not the word. Stunned? Nah, too soft. Completely brain stopped, flat-out astonished came a bit closer. She noticed the surprised look, and tried to explain.

"You and Sam were the first people who were there for me. Janet became a wonderful mother, and I really think of her as my mom. And it's great to have you guys as honorary aunt and uncle, I couldn't wish for anybody better. But. . .you always were the closest thing to a dad I had. And since mom is—"

She took a moment to wipe the tears out of her eyes.

"­—No longer with us, you and Sam have been more than great to me. You . . .you've been my dad when I needed you to. Like tonight."

She put her second hand over their intertwined fingers.

"And I love you for that, Jack."

He was absolutely sure he had no clue what to say to this, so decided that less was best. He squeezed her hand for reassurance, bent over and placed a kiss on her forehead. He stood up and let his hand slip from her grasp. He halted in the doorway and looked over his shoulder. Cassie was snuggling under the covers, getting comfortable for the night. He couldn't help but grin.

"Goodnight sweetie." He softly whispered.

She smiled, and closed her eyes. He shut the door and switched the light off in the hallway. He went to brush his teeth, and without much ado crashed unto his bed. But tired as though he was, a thought kept going round his head. Why didn't Carter call? He knew there could be unforeseen circumstances, but as much as he liked to believe that, it nagged at him. Eventually he could only think of two things. One, Carter couldn't call due to some technical problem. Or two, Carter didn't know Cassie was here, and had asked her to call. And as likely as option number one was, he just couldn't squash the second one. His paranoid and suspicious side wouldn't let him. It told him that there was only way Carter couldn't have known about Cassie's arrival.

Pete never told her.

And with that disturbing thought he fell asleep, tossing and turning all night.

- ∞ -