Author's Note: This story was written for Valenship Day on the Gateworld S/J Family Thread, 11 Feb 2007. If its that day and you have time, swing by...
Jack O'Neill hated meetings. The particular one he was hating at the moment was the reason he was currently running late. He had promised her he'd be home by 1800 hours, and despite her rolled eyes and disbelief – she knew him that well and for some reason had still married him – this was one promise he intended to keep. He loved Valentine's Day, and had been planning the evening for weeks. Well, months to be perfectly honest. A wrapped box of chocolates already sat on the passenger seat next to him and the florists should have his order all ready for pick up when he swung by in a minute. Then, get home, put on a little music, light the fire in the fireplace… He was just glad Air Force deployment schedules were actually allowing them to be together. He'd spent enough Valentine's Days alone and was damned if he'd waste one moment of this one. He pushed his foot down a bit on the accelerator.
He was NOT going to be late.
Half an hour later, and exactly as the clock on his car's dashboard read 6:00, Jack was pulling into his driveway. Grabbing the flowers and the chocolate, he nearly ran up to the front door. He paused at the door, though, before unlocking and opening it as quietly as possible. She would not be expecting him to actually arrive on time, and if he were careful, he could probably sneak up and surprise her with his presence and his gifts. He suppressed a thrill of excitement at the idea and adjusted his grip on the gifts. He had to go carefully if were to work. Jack grinned to himself, imagining her delighted smile as she turned to find him standing behind her. Special Ops training came in handy in so many unexpected ways. Man, did he love Valentine's Day.
He found her in the kitchen, putting the last finishing touches on dinner. She stood at the stove, her back to the door as he entered. Dirty cake pans resting in the sink told him that she had been busy working to make the night special for him, too. The knowledge that she had never baked a cake in her life until she had done so for him shortly after their marriage made what he was sure was his already fairly goofy grin even sillier. Walking as quietly as he could, which was very quietly indeed, he stepped across the floor.
Standing right behind her, not even breathing, he announced, "Hi, honey, I'm home."
She started, but recognizing his voice, relaxed immediately. Laughing, she turned to him. "Hi, Jack."
He held out her gifts. "Happy Valentine's Day!"
She laughed again. Her joy at his mere presence echoed through him, and he laughed with her. She grabbed the gifts, but instead of examining them more closely, she set them down on the kitchen table. "Hey!' he protested, "Doncha want to look at them…"
"Later…" she murmured, stepping into his now empty arms. He embraced her, pulling her still closer. As their lips met in a long, deep kiss, Jack was struck once again by the realization of just how perfect life was. He loved her, and she loved him so much in return that his mere presence could make her so happy … God he loved Valentine's Day.
Finally forced to to break off their kiss, she nestled contentedly against his chest. Whispering into her hair, he said the only words that seemed to matter, "I love you, Sara." He could feel her smile against him, and it was enough.
Daniel sat down across the table from Jack. "Hi," he said cheerfully. Jack just glared at him. After eight years, Daniel knew how much Jack hated Valentine's Day. He sometimes wondered if the younger man had any idea how close he came to dying – again – at moments like this. Probably not, Jack concluded, as Daniel continued once it became clear that Jack was not going to respond. "So... how are you doing?"
Jack carefully scooped a large glob of what were supposed to be mashed potatoes onto his spoon. The fact that since taking command of the SGC he was ultimately responsible for the crappiness of the food did nothing to improve his mood. He shoved the entire spoonful into his mouth and chewed it slowly, hoping Daniel would take the hint. He didn't.
"So," Daniel began again, clearly suicidal. "Got big plans for tonight?"
Jack shook his head and went on chewing in silence.
"Really? I'd have thought you of all people would have no problem getting a date for Valentine's Day."
Having finished his mouthful of potatoes, Jack was just wondering whether to continue the conversation or to go with his original instinct and kill Daniel, when Sam Carter appeared as if out of nowhere and sat herself and her tray of food down next to Daniel.
"Hey, Daniel. Sir," she nodded towards Jack.
Her hair was tousled. Looking at her, he could easily imagine the hours she had spent working in her lab that morning, running her fingers absent mindedly through those blonde strands and tucking them back behind her ears whenever they would fall forwards across her cheeks. She would have been chewing on her lower lip, which she invariably did when deep in thought and --
As if feeling his gaze on her, Carter glanced up sharply, brilliant blue eyes meeting his for one brief and terrifyingly wonderful moment. He dropped his gaze, feeling absurdly guilty for nothing, studying the objects on her tray instead. He noted that, in addition to the ubiquitous jello, she had actual food, including some of those questionable mashed potatoes, on her tray.
Thankful for the distraction, Jack pointed towards the potatoes. "I really wouldn't, Carter," he warned. "I must have missed a memo somewhere, 'cause I think they've started substituting cardboard for 'taters."
Carter flashed a brief half smile at his pathetic attempt to be funny, so similar to her smile earlier in her lab as she'd proudly displayed the flowers that cop had sent her for Valentine's Day. Jack couldn't help but remember how he'd used to be able to make her smile – that perfect Carter smile that seemed to light the entire room. And how much he missed that smile -- and her. And how much he shouldn't – didn't, he corrected himself sternly – really care. Not anymore. "Thanks, sir," she said.
He nodded. And then, though he most certainly didn't want to know, and he just as surely didn't want to ask, he couldn't help but ask, "So, Carter, you and… Pete got any plans for Valentine's Day?"
He had tried – really tried – to say it. To make it sound like it didn't rip a piece out of him just to say that name. But, when she turned those achingly blue eyes on him, and he could read in their depths that she knew, he suddenly felt -- unbelievably -- much, much worse. "Pete's flying in this afternoon and will be here for the weekend," she finally muttered, almost apologetically.
This was wrong. So terribly and completely wrong. Jack was one of her best friends – not to mention her mentor and her commander. He was supposed to make her feel better, not guilty over betraying some nebulous relationship that only ever really existed in his imagination. And because she deserved to be happy and because he refused to fail her again, Jack decided to start being happy for her. And a part of him really was glad she had found that cop and was going to finally have the normal family life she deserved. So he smiled for her, and she smiled back at him.
And if it was that same little hesitant half-smile instead of a full Carter smile, he could get used to it. He didn't really need her smile. He could certainly live without the way it always made him feel like he could do anything and survive anything if he could just see that smile… If he could just make her happy one more time. Because that's all he was really doing now -- letting Sam be happy. And if that meant giving up the impossibly selfish dream of maybe, someday, having something with her that even approached what other men were allowed, then he'd learn to live with that.
Jack O'Neill certainly knew better than any man ever should that you really could survive anything, even things you knew would destroy you; that the bottomless pit of despair which threatened to consume your soul, the one that made eating and sleeping and even breathing impossible, would eventually fade. You would eat, and you would sleep, and you would breathe if for no other reason than that the world and the people in it needed you. He could live for that. He had been doing so for years.
Besides, Jack really was happy for Sam. If she wasn't smiling at him anymore, at least he knew she was smiling for someone. That she had finally found someone who could give her all the things he never could. It was just that Valentine's Day reminded him all too sharply of all the things he could never have. So it was Valentine's Day he hated. And being alone on Valentine's Day. And, as he watched Sam chase the last cube of blue jello around her bowl, Jack suddenly realized that, for the rest of his life, he was going to dread Valentine's Day just this much.