Jack and Sam clung to each other, secure in the embrace and in the strength of their love, and, for the moment, mindless of the rest of the world.
CHAPTER TEN: FAMILY LIFE CONTINUES
"As much as I'd like to continue this right now, Jack, my brother is in the next room and the twins are due to come bounding down the stairs at any moment," Sam said, pulling away just enough to smile softly at her husband and catch the answering glint in his eyes.
As if on cue, Jake and Grace heralded their arrival with one of their trademark arguments. "No, it's mine, Daddy bought it for me," Jake asserted.
"Is not, it's mine."
Jack looked at Sam and rolled his eyes heavenward before looking at his wife once more.
"Don't look at me, Jack. Sounds an awful lot like you and a certain archeologist we all know," Sam suggested.
Jack winced, shrugged his shoulders and called out to the young verbal combatants. "Hey, you two…"
Jake and Grace rolled to a stop just before bowling over their father. "Daddy …" Grace began.
"Now what seems to be the matter?" Jack asked, ready to assume the role of patient father and negotiator one more time.
Langdon Park was less than one mile from the O'Neill residence and boasted beautifully landscaped picnic and recreation areas, especially tailored for young children. The O'Neills had been there so often, it seemed the twins could find the swings sets blindfolded. Since the nice weather was slowly coming to an end, this would likely be the family's last visit of the season.
As he often did, Jack invited Daniel to join in the family outing. Happily accepting the invitation, Daniel had added a guest of his own. Seems he and Janet were already planning to spend the day together, so Daniel decided they'd both join the O'Neill family at the park. Jack knew that in Daniel's place, he'd have chosen private time with Sam over a larger get together, but Daniel always did things a bit differently. The more the merrier as far as Jack was concerned.
Within an hour, a sumptuous picnic feast was packed and family and friends were off to the park. As expected, Nick and Amanda, now fourteen and twelve years of age respectively, happily assumed responsibility for their young cousins. Mark Carter's children walked slightly ahead of the adults, holding the hands of the twins and skipping merrily with them all the way to the swings.
"My Dad said Aunt Sam was very sick," twelve-year-old Amanda began, as she led Grace over to the swings, settled her on a seat and started to push her. "But she looks great. Is she all better?"
"Yup, Mommy's all better. Not sad like she was before," Grace answered with authority.
"What made her so sad?" Nick asked, genuinely concerned.
"My daddy said it was nothing we did," Jake informed his older cousin, having heard the conversation clearly from his perch on the next swing.
"Mommy says it was things called stress and 'mones," Grace supplied helpfully.
"'Mones?" You mean hormones? Like sex hormones?" Amanda clarified helpfully, the young adolescent more than happy to share her burgeoning knowledge of the topic. Of course, Grace and Jake just looked at her in a bewildered fashion, having no idea what she was talking about. And Nick, well, as usual, Nick was thoroughly embarrassed by his sister.
"And exactly what are we discussing here?" Jack asked, finally arriving at the recreation area just in time to hear the magic three letter word he hoped never to discuss with his children. Sam, fortunately, wasn't far behind.
"I'm telling Nick and Mandy that Mommy's all better now," Grace said, jumping off the swing which was still quite low to the ground and running up to her mother. "Mandy says it was sex 'mones that made you sick," she added.
Sam flashed a quick look between her sister-in-law, Mandy and Jack, who was rolling his eyes and hoping to disappear under a rock. Stifling a chuckle, especially at her husband's overblown discomfort, Sam directed everyone over to a picnic table where she hoped to explain at least enough so they could all have a basic understanding of her illness.
"Okay, you two. When I was so sick, it was because of a very fast change in what we call hormones. Can you say hormones?"
"Hormones," the twins repeated in unison.
"Hormones are special chemicals in our bodies. We all have them and they tell parts of the body what to do. Amanda was right when she said sex hormones were involved. They are called sex hormones because boys and girls have different ones."
Jack was amazed at the relief he felt as Sam easily continued her explanation. The world didn't come to an end and she explained it all very concretely in ways the twins could understand. He figured he'd better listen and learn.
"Sometimes, after women have babies, their girl hormones are completely out of balance and that makes them feel bad. Now if this happens at the same time that other scary things are happening, a mommy can become very depressed."
"Like Jon coming so early, right? Mark asked. Lisa and Sam both nodded at him, realizing this was a teachable moment for him as well as the twins.
Both twins gave their mother a knowing look, as their memories of the secret "Oz" adventure jumped to the tips of their tongues. To their credit, the meaning of the word secret was not lost on their young minds.
Half an hour later, as they began to set up the picnic, Janet and Sam found themselves with a few moments to catch up with each other.
"Janet, it's such a relief to have things almost back to normal," Sam said as she lit the charcoal in the stationary grill provided by the park. "I'm really enjoying my family again."
"Are you planning on returning full time to the SGC?" Doc Frasier asked.
"No. Actually, I've talked with General Landry about continuing on site part-time and doing some consulting work from home. Even though the twins are in all day kindergarten now, I want to be home with Jon as much as I can. At our age, we've decided Jon will be our last child; we both want to savor as much of his growing up as we can."
"Where does that leave Jack?"
"Well, as you know, Jack is now officially a consultant to the SGC and a trainer for new recruits to the program. Unofficially, he's Earth's Ambassador to the Asgard. We're both hoping he'll be able to stay in Colorado Springs a lot more now that the job's not based in Washington."
"Sounds like you two are rearranging priorities. And you're happy about it, aren't you?"
"Yes, I think we both are, Janet. This was a long time coming. Neither one of us can see our way clear to completely cut loose from our duties with the military or the SGC, but right now, we've decided to take the time we need for our family too." Sam paused and looked past Janet to the recreation area where Jack was playing with the children. "I'm a very lucky woman, Janet. A lot of men wouldn't have stuck around for what I just put him through."
"He loves you Sam. It would take a lot more than the past few months to pull him away from you. I hope you know that."
"I do Janet. I can't figure it out sometimes, but I do know it," Sam replied with a gentle, contented smile.
"No one can figure out love, Sam. Believe me, I know," Janet said, coyly holding up her left hand, so Sam couldn't help but see the stunning diamond ring she now wore.
"You and Daniel?"
Janet simply smiled and nodded. She was quickly enveloped in her friend's arms and treated to a trademark Sam Carter smile.
"I'm so happy for you! When did this happen?" Sam exclaimed with excitement.
"Last night. Daniel and I wanted you and Jack to be the first to know. That's why we wanted to come today."
"Well I'm honored. The two of you deserve so much happiness after all you've been through."
"Actually, it was all you and Jack have been through that pushed us to take the next step."
Speaking with heartfelt sincerity, Janet explained, "I guess you and Jack are my role models for a successful marriage. Watching you two come through so much and stay together, obviously as much in love as ever, well it does my aging, cynical heart good. And it gives me hope that Daniel and I could have something that special too."
Meanwhile, Jack and Daniel were sitting quietly with Jon as the Carters managed playtime just a few feet away.
"So, you and the Doc? Way to go, Space Monkey!" Jack exclaimed, genuinely happy for his long time friend.
"Thanks, Jack. Means a lot, coming from you," Daniel said. "I hope I can make a go of it the way you have with Sam." Daniel paused, clearly deep in thought, which always worried Jack.
"Did you ever think the two of you wouldn't come through this, Jack?" Daniel asked.
"I thought I might not be strong enough, yes, Daniel," Jack replied, his attention remaining on little Jon who was still finishing his bottle.
"You, what are you talking about?" Daniel queried.
"I'm not perfect, Daniel," his friend said softly.
"Damned near to it when it comes to being a husband and father, from what I've seen the past few years," Daniel said.
"Glad it looked that way, Danny boy," Jack said cryptically. "But I've had my moments, moments I'm not proud of, not just recently, but over the years. We all do. I suppose it's human. All I know is that Sam and the kids are the most important things in my life and I'd do anything to make them happy. Sometimes I'm better at it than others."
"Gentleman, the grill is ready. Who's doing the honors today?" Sam asked as she interrupted Jack's recitation.
"I think I'll volunteer," Mark said to everyone's surprise, as he led the group from the recreation area over to the picnic table. Your children have been filling me in on your grilling technique, Jack. Seems they'd actually like to taste the hot dogs today.
As Sam and Janet tried hard to stifle their laughter, Grace put in her two cents, "Please Daddy, let Uncle Mark cook. Mandy says he cooks good."
"Please…" Jake seconded the request.
"See, Daniel, that's one of those things that apparently I don't do perfectly," Jack said sotto voice to his friend. "Okay, then. I know when my cooking skills are not wanted." Turning to his brother-in-law, he said, "You're on, Mark. Be warned this is a tough crew to please."
Jack turned slightly as he felt Sam approach his side. "That might be true, but you do a great job at it – pleasing all of us, that is. You really are the best, Jack," she whispered just for him. And magically, Jack found he didn't mind the fact that charred meat was not his family's favorite treat.
As he saw it, the O'Neill family had everything that mattered – life, family, loyalty and lots and lots of love.
A/N: Thank you to all the readers and especially the reviewers who have been so supportive during the course of this story. I hope you enjoyed the read and perhaps learned a bit more about the topic of postpartum depression in the process.
Please watch for new chapters of Interludes as well as holiday one-shot, stand-alone stories during the next few months.
And yes, I am planning probably three more installments for the Alone series.
As always – reviews much appreciated!