Epilogue: Growing Together

Over the last few months, Jack had developed a bit of a sixth sense to anything out of the ordinary going on in the house. Any sudden noises for instance. And likewise but equally telling, an absence of noise. He'd learned that when it got too quiet his three overly smart charges were generally up to no good. Too many giggles were also usually a sign that something was afoot. And so Jack O'Neill had learned the various noises to sense when someone or something was about. He seemed to know when someone was doing something they shouldn't, or merely not where they were supposed to be. Despite the fact that his house had now been empty for the last week, the sixth sense hadn't lessened at all. And that was why he found himself drawn to the kitchen, not long after 3:30 in the morning, long after SG-1 had gone to bed, or so he'd thought.

He stepped into the room, causing the woman seated at the table to look up, startled. "Sorry sir, I didn't mean to wake you." Her tone was apologetic, and slightly distracted as one hand stroked Billie's soft fur. The cat purred contentedly from her lap.

"S'ok Carter. I'm a light sleeper anyway." He felt a pang as her sir reminded him at the last moment not to call her Sam anymore. He'd caught himself on more than a few occasions over the past week with the name on the tip of his tongue, the easy familiarity hard to give up. But she unfortunately didn't remember anything besides some vague feelings and it would make it awkward for both of them if he continued it. At least not right now. Though perhaps… one day. One never knew what the future might bring. And then his face broke out in a grin as he noticed what she was drinking: a juice box of apple juice. "Thirsty Carter?"

She grimaced slightly and blushed. "Uh, well, I didn't think I should have anymore beer, and you didn't really have anything else."

Laughing ruefully, Jack shrugged apologetically. Wondering about a cup of coffee, Jack pulled open the top of the coffee maker and stared at the soggy grounds inside that were an indeterminate age and a filter that likely was even older. He had a vague recollection of the extra filters being donated to some school project or other. Giving up on the coffee, he pulled the fridge open and grabbed another juice box for himself, returning Carter's smile as she watched him pop the little straw into the box. It had been their first official team night together in months, and combined with the fact that none of them had realized until they caught the countdown on TV that it was New Year's Eve, they'd all overdone it a little bit. He shrugged it off. "Haven't had time to go to the store, it's been busy this last week and I haven't been home much." What he left unsaid was that he hadn't been home because the house had felt empty.

Sam looked down at her juice, fiddling with the little box. "Sir, I don't know if I've thanked you for everything you've done these last few months…"

"Hey," he interrupted, "No problem. I kinda liked it actually, you three were pretty special, and I'm glad I got to do it. Gonna miss it actually." He blinked as if startled he'd said what he said out loud and was quiet a moment. "At least I got a fridge full of drawings to remember it by!" he boasted proudly with a sweeping gesture, changing the subject in his typical fashion when it got too sensitive.

As usual, the misdirection worked. Sam groaned, cheeks flushing crimson as she looked at the drawing covered fridge. "Sir!" she protested, hands again fiddling with her drink. Jack had taken them all over the house earlier, showing off all the drawings and hand made creations the three of them had made for him, proclaiming he intended to keep each and every one, much to their chagrin. He'd particularly enjoyed their reactions to the photo albums he'd been keeping. He'd made each of them their own copy, and was quite pleased he'd already given Jacob his copy, as a memento of the past few months. Sam had been particularly embarrassed to learn her father had stopped by not once, but twice, and had kept in radio contact whenever possible.

Watching Sam's hands on her drink, Jack was possessed by a sudden idea. "Wait right here," he told her, getting to his feet.

"Sir?" she questioned. But he just waved absently in her direction with a "stay put" gesture and disappeared from the room, a man on a mission.

A minute later, he was back with a box and pulled several items from it. She watched as he poured a powder into a ziplock bag and added a measure of warm water, and then started to squeeze the bag, combining the mixture into a thick pink substance.

"Sir, what's that?" she asked. It had a vague scent of berries.

"You'll see," he said unhelpfully, a mischievous glint appearing in his eye. He mixed the concoction for another minute, before pouring it out into a round raised dish. "Here Carter, give me your hand."

"Sir?" She remained where she was, her face clearly showing her skepticism. Billie made a sound of displeasure at all the sudden activity and jumped down, heading off to a quieter location. Sam watched her go as if losing an ally.

He rolled his eyes and reached across the space between them, grabbing her wrist and giving an insistent tug when she resisted. "Oh c'mon, it won't hurt." He frowned at her and she hesitated. In her moment of hesitation he pulled her to his side and pushed her hand into the warm, thick creation before she could get away, making sure it was completely covered around the palm and fingers. Her hand was larger now, so it didn't quite go as far, but it should still work he thought.

"Oh yuck, this is gross, what is this stuff anyway?" Sam tried to pull out of his grasp, while attempting to use her free hand to poke at the stuff, her innate curiosity battling with her initial revulsion.

Tightening his grip, he swatted away her other hand. "Hold still, you'll mess it up and we'll have to start over again. And don't touch it." He looked up and noticed her face for the first time, suddenly wishing for a camera. She looked exactly like she did when they'd done this the first time and had said much the same words. Wishing for a camera, and having one was still a completely different matter however; so needless to say, he was just as startled as Carter was when a bright flash filled the room. Both of them turned toward the doorway to find Teal'c standing there, holding a camera. Jack somehow managed to keep a grip on Carter's wrist as she squirmed to confront the source of the flash.

"Teal'c, I'm so gonna h…" Carter pulled against his hold, intent on getting away and getting her hands on the incriminating evidence.

Having months of practice, Jack easily diverted the upcoming bloodshed with a well-timed interruption. "Help him make another one of these. He's next, as soon as we're done with yours." He poked a finger at the glop coating her hand, drawing her attention back to it. Easily, he fended off her other hand again, grinning at the look of mingled disgust and fascination that appeared on her face.

"What?" She narrowed her eyes at him, noticing his grin.

"It's just that your face looked exactly like that last time we did this." She blinked, frowning. "There, I think it's ready," he said, avoiding the question he knew was forming in her mind.

The stuff had thickened into a thick rubbery consistency, and peeled easily off her hand. Sam stared at it in fascination, and Jack grinned again at the similarities between grown up Carter and young Sam. He handed her a paper towel and set to work mixing up the second compound just as a sleepy voice spoke from the doorway.

"Hey guys, what's going on?" Daniel pushed his glasses up on his nose and surveyed the group in the kitchen.

"The Colonel won't tell me," Sam said, disgruntled, as she tried to wipe her hand clean of the leftover bits of whatever it was he'd stuck her hand in.

"I believe we will find out momentarily," said Teal'c with conviction and the hint of a small smile appearing at the corners of his mouth.

"Yep," said Jack, as he poured the white mixture into the bowl and rubbery thing that had been on Sam's hand. Next he turned to Teal'c. "I think we'll need two packets for you buddy." Teal'c merely nodded as Jack whipped up another batch of the pink substance.

Sam gleefully turned the tide and snapped a picture of the large Jaffa warrior, his hand coated in the pink scented mixture. The man cooperated willingly, unlike Sam had been moments before, and didn't need Jack to hold him down. It was still amusing to watch though.

Daniel on the other hand took a little convincing, since Jack still hadn't explained what he was up to, but since the others had done it, he did it too, although a bit grudgingly.

Finally, Jack revealed what the purpose of everything had been, turning the dishes upside down and peeling away the rubbery molds to show the plaster casts of each of their hands. He grinned as they all realized how the three smaller hand shapes on the mantle had been made and just whom they belonged to. He gathered the finished products up and carried them out to the fireplace, placing them by their smaller counterparts with a smile. The large white ones were a marked contrast to the three smaller painted ones, but somehow it was fitting.

"You know, I think there's one missing up there." Daniel's voice startled him; he hadn't realized they'd followed him out there.

"I think you're right Daniel." Carter's voice was smug, and he recognized the tone. She was up to something. Her sly sideways look at Daniel only confirmed it and told him his two geniuses were concocting something.

"Indeed," agreed Teal'c. Jack suppressed a groan, now he knew he was in for it.

Before he knew it, he was surrounded and being herded back to the kitchen with Teal'c and Carter on either side. Daniel quickly located the molding compound and mixed up a batch. "Whoa, hey, you guys…" Jack tried protesting unsuccessfully.

But Carter only grabbed his wrist and pressed his hand into the stuff. "Hold still, or you'll mess it up," she told him impishly. The stuff really was gross. Teal'c snapped a picture.

"Hey!" Carter's grip on his wrist tightened and he scowled. He wondered who had taught these kids their manners.

When his hand was finally free of the mess, he stood trying to wipe it off and glared at them, but they ignored him as they made the plaster cast. Several minutes later, when it was sitting on the table, Jack again glared at them. "There, happy?" he demanded, his tone severe, but he wasn't really angry.

It seemed however, that they weren't quite done with it yet. Daniel had just made a discovery in the box of craft supplies, and Carter had gotten a rather devilish gleam in her eyes when he'd brought it out. Jack just groaned, and spent the next twenty minutes watching the grown up members of his team act like children, painting a plaster cast of his hand, laughing and arguing and generally having a good time. They presented the finished product to him with a flourish, and a few poorly hidden snickers. He ignored the amusement and studied the finished product critically.

"Yanno, I kinda like the tie dye effect kids." Carter snorted. Daniel snickered, and Teal'c looked pleased. Jack picked it up and carried it carefully to the mantle so as not to smear the paint job and placed it reverently on the shelf with the others.

He stepped back with the group and surveyed the odd collection of big and small hand casts. "People will think I'm weird you know, with that collection over the fireplace."

"Colonel Jack," Sam said, using the nickname she'd been told they'd called him over the last few weeks because it somehow felt appropriate, "People already know you're weird."

"Ah well," he sighed, reaching out and pulling them near, "Can't please everybody."

---Growing Pains---

A/N: Ok, and that's it folks! I know the previous chapter was a bit short, but if you read the author's notes, you would have known this one was coming! And I didn't really definitively decide what to do with Billie, I know, but I'm kinda thinking Jack will keep her. After all, she can't stay on base, and no one besides Jack remembers her. Don't know if I should mention or not, but the other night muse gave me an idea for a sequel… At this point, the idea is rather vague and not sure if it will be worth developing, but would give me an opportunity to do a kid fic with memories intact. Something like modified tech being used to send SG-1 undercover at a school to find the NID or some Goa'uld or something. But like I said, not sure if I'll go with it or not, and as I mentioned in the last chapter, I've got a few other ideas I've been working on, as well as Eros and Moo X-treme. So we'll see.

If you enjoyed this fic, I'll likely be posting it at several other sites, such as Heliopolis, Gateworld, and The Stargate Novel Archive in its entirety. So if you are interested in a full, uninterrupted text file, keep a look out at those sites.

Anyway, glad many of you seemed to enjoy the ending despite the lack of ship. I'm still working on something shippier, though most of you that know my work know I tend to go with a cannon ending more than anything. But hey, times change, so you never know! Glad you've all enjoyed it, and looking forward to the next one!