Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

Hello faithful readers! After several months of too much work, too little time, and some writer's block, I am finally ready to work on the sequel for To Save a Life. A continuation of the story in which Jack and Sam rescue a little girl named Leorah, who shows them a secret spire that will help them conquer a formidable enemy in the future. Hope you enjoy the new adventure!

Chapter 1 – Night Light

A bright flash of lightning was quickly followed by a rolling rumble of thunder. Right on the heels of that sound came the soft patter of small, bare feet on a hardwood floor. The feet carried their young charge down the dark hallway and toward the master bedroom. The little girl slowly pushed the door open and peered inside, hesitating in the doorway as she took in the two large, blanket-covered figures on the bed. A raggedy doll, worn and well-loved, was held tightly in the child's arms. Its head lolled to the side as if it too were contemplating their next step.

A look of indecision was written clearly on the little girl's face: should she disturb the sleep of her parents, or should she be brave and return to her room. The next clap of thunder, much louder than the first, decided for her. With a sharp intake of breath, the child immediately flew across the room and launched herself on the bed. She landed with a soft thud on one of the reposing bodies. From the sound of the groan that followed, it was easy to determine that she had landed on her father.

"Augh!" was followed by a muffled oath. A gray head turned and brown eyes peered blearily back at the child lying sprawled across his waist. "Leah, what's going on?" came the sleep-laden voice.

Another clap of thunder caused the green eyes of the child to widen in alarm and the small body began to tremble. Immediately seeing what the problem was, the man's features softened. He issued a gentle, reassuring smile and pulled back the blankets. "Come 'ere," he softly invited the little girl.

Scampering quickly over his stomach, the little girl named Leorah burrowed between the covers and lay on her back, pressed warmly between the two people she had quickly come to love. When yet another flash of lightning was shortly followed by a clap of thunder, Leorah closed her eyes tightly, rolled over, and pressed herself against the softness of her mother's chest, the doll squeezed tightly between them.

Sam came instantly awake at the small pressure against her chest and stomach. Her arms automatically came around the little girl's body, holding her close, even as she raised sleepy, questioning eyes to the man lying beside her.

"Thunderstorm," he answered her silent question as he gently ran a hand over the little girl's sleep-tussled hair.

Sam nodded in understanding and bent her head to Leorah's. "Shh. It's OK sweetheart. It's just a thunderstorm." Again, her eyes met Jack's. This time however, there was a look of pain within their blue depths.

For it really wasn't the thunderstorm that the child feared, and they both knew it. It was the loud crashing noises that shook the entire house; noises that reminded the small girl of the Jaffa invasion that had taken everything from her just a few short months ago. And although she was happy and settled in her new life with Jack and Sam, Leorah still harbored several fears from her past; loud noises being one of them.

Feeling the warmth and protection surrounding her, Leorah braved the storm to raise her head slightly and meet the worried eyes of her mother. "I 'kared, mommy," she whispered into the darkened room.

Sam pulled the child even closer and bent her head to press a kiss against the little girl's head. "I know baby. I know. But there's nothing to be afraid of. It's just a thunderstorm…nothing more," she reassured the child.

Another rumble of thunder had Leorah squeezing her eyes shut tightly again, but she didn't burrow quite so far into Sam's chest this time. Jack scooted closer, continuing to rub Leorah's back in gentle motions even as he reached out and rubbed Sam's arm. While he knew that Leorah was afraid of the noise from the storm, he also knew that his wife was feeling the pain of recalling what had led Leorah to this fear in the first place. "Shh. Everything's going to be all right." His whispered words, though uttered to the back of Leorah's head, were directed at both of them. Sam's eyes met his once more and she gave a slight smile as she understood his meaning.

The three people lay quietly together, listening to the storm as it slowly receded from the area, leaving gentle rumbles of thunder that soon gave way to the sound of rain splattering against the windows. Both Sam and Jack let their thoughts wander as they held their daughter between them and waited out the storm.

It had been three months since they had married and become instant parents. And although there had certainly been adjustments to be made, both Sam and Jack were very happy with the changes that had happened because of the small girl now resting between them. Sam was still an active member of the SGC; just in a different capacity. She was head of all things scientific, as well as the foremost gate technician. Occasionally, she was called upon to go on a mission that required her particular expertise, but these were few and far between, and Sam actually preferred it that way. Her most fulfilling role came as that of mother to Leorah; something she would never have imagined just four or five months ago.

For his part, Jack remained as commander of the SGC, overseeing all operations that the title entailed. He wore many hats in his position but, like Sam, his most relished role was that of "daddy". His eyes softened as he took in the small form of the little girl lying between him. She had wrapped him around her little finger long before he officially became her father. Teasingly, Sam often bemoaned the fact that Leorah had only to blink her deep, green eyes at him and he would do anything for her; a fact that Jack was not at all ashamed to admit to. In fact, he admitted, to himself only of course, that Sam could do much the same. That was not to say that their lives together were a rosy fairy tale. No, they certainly had their moments, just like any other couple. Adjusting to their new roles of husband and wife after years of commanding officer and subordinate, as well as being parents, could be stressful at the best of times. But overall both would agree, the changes had been absolutely and undeniably worth it.

Leorah too had blossomed in the new configuration of their relationship. No longer the orphaned waif, too frightened even to speak, Leorah was now outgoing and exuberant, at least to those she knew. She continued to be rather quiet and somewhat wary in new situations but, once she had taken in her new surroundings and new people, she was as inquisitive and active as any other five year old girl. But there were still residual fears… and prolonged, loud noises were one of them. She was slowly getting over this fear, but the sound of thunder was just too close to the sound of the staff blasts that resided in the recesses of her memory.

When the little girl could no longer hear even the distant rumble of thunder, Leorah finally relaxed her body, pulled back from Sam and looked into her mother's eyes. "I doesn't like the thunder, mommy. Belle doesn't like it either," she stated emphatically, referring to the small kitten who had joined the trio in the bed.

Sam exchanged a smile with Jack, who chuckled softly at the reference to the cat who was nonchalantly kneading Sam's hip as she settled herself down. "I know the thunder can be scary, sweetheart, but there's really nothing to be afraid of," Sam explained gently. "Thunder naturally follows a flash of lightning. It is only the sound of the heat from the lightning as it expands in the air," she added, her voice taking on that particular tone when she started a scientific explanation. Jack rolled his eyes; how his wife could go all scientific at two in the morning was beyond him.

Leorah frowned up at her mother in confusion, then craned her head to look back at Jack. "But daddy tolded me that thunder is kinda like Teaw'c snoring." She looked back and forth between the two adults, wondering which one was right.

Sam narrowed her eyes at Jack, giving him a look that he was well familiar with. He just smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. Sam shook her head at him, then returned her attention to Leorah. "Daddy's wrong this time, sweetheart," she replied with another shake of her head.

"Hey," Jack protested half-heartedly. "I'm not totally wrong. You do remember how loudly Teal'c snores, right?"

Sam's lips quirked up a brief smile at the earnestness of his expression before she looked down at Leorah. "Anyway," she emphasized, "The storm is over now, sweetheart. No more thunder." She smiled at her daughter. "Are you OK to return to your room now?"

Leorah yawned widely, for she was rather sleepy, but she wasn't quite ready to return to her room. With a look of pleading in her bright green eyes, she asked, "Can me and Belle stay here with you and daddy? Please mommy? Just tonight?"

Sam looked over to Jack. They both firmly believed that children should sleep in their own beds and had made a point of making sure that Leorah understood this. However, exceptions could always be made. When Jack shrugged his shoulders non-committally at her silent question, Sam turned her attention back to Leorah. "Of course you can, sweetheart. But just this once," she smiled down at the waiting child.

Leorah smiled brightly. "Thank you mommy." She craned her head back and added, "Thank you daddy. I love you!" After they both gave assurances of their love, as well as more good-night kisses, Leorah snuggled down under the covers, holding her doll close. Her eyes closed, her long lashes resting peacefully on her cheeks, and she fell asleep within seconds. Jack raised himself up on one elbow, watching his little girl with a smile. Then, he leaned over Leorah, and kissed his wife goodnight for a second time that evening. Pulling back, he cocked his head and grinned down at Sam. "Who spoils her again, Carter?"

Sam chuckled and playfully slapped his arm. "Shut up, O'Neill, and go to sleep."

"Yes ma'am," he quipped. Jack's grin widened as he lay back down, his arm resting comfortably across both his girls. Who would have thought that he could ever be this happy again? Certainly not him, Jack admitted silently to himself.

Instead of following his wife's order to go back to sleep, he watched her unguardedly for several long moments. His feeling of peace and contentment turned to concern as he watched various emotions travel across her face.

"Sam?" he whispered. "What's wrong?"

Startled from her musings, Sam let her eyes meet his. She smiled softly at him, but her eyes held a hint of sadness. "Oh, nothing really. I was just…thinking."

Once more, Jack rose up on his arm and hovered over her. "About?"

Sam's eyes fell back to their daughter, who was breathing deeply and heavily now, a sure sign that she was fast asleep. She reached out and tenderly brushed a strand of curly hair away from her forehead before she sighed softly. "I was just thinking how much dad would have loved Leorah. And vice versa."

Jack reached across Leorah and gently caressed Sam's cheek with the back of his knuckles. "Yeah. They would have been quite the pair," he agreed. When she looked up at him, her eyes were slightly damp. "You're missing him, huh?" he asked gently.

Sam blinked back the tears that threatened to fall. Event though it had been over seven months since her father and Selmak had died, Sam often felt like it was just yesterday. She found herself missing him acutely whenever Leorah said or did something new. Sam just wished she could share her new life as a parent with her father and was saddened to know that it wasn't possible. "Yeah," she finally responded to his question. "I know I didn't get to see him much, but there are so many things know that I wish I could share with him." She turned silent again for a long moment, but Jack let her be, knowing she was gathering her thoughts. "But I think I'm more sad for what Leah is missing," she continued. "I really wish she had at least one grandparent still around, Jack. She was so close to her grandmother, I just wonder sometimes…" Sam didn't complete the thought, for she really didn't know how to put into words what had been going through her mind.

Jack lifted Sam's hand from Leorah's back and raised it to his lips. He gently and lovingly kissed her fingertips, then continued to hold her hand as he looked into her eyes. "Leorah might not have a grandparent Sam, but she certainly has more love from a lot of adults who truly care about her. I know she and Jake would have been great together, but unfortunately, we can't do anything about that. And I know she still misses her grandmother, but I think we've been doing a pretty good job of making sure this little girl knows how loved she is. Don't you?"

Sam nodded in agreement as she blinked back another round of tears that threatened to fall. Sometimes, her rather gruff husband surprised her with his eloquence. Jack grinned down at her, ready to lighten the mood. "Now, I'd really hate to tell Grandpa George that you don't think he is adequately fulfilling his role as adoptive grandfather. He might not take that so well."

Sam chuckled at the twinkle in her husband's eye and squeezed his hand. "You're right. He probably wouldn't," she agreed.

Jack smiled, leaned over, and kissed her soundly on the lips, careful not to disturb the little girl sleeping between them. "OK, now?" he asked lightly, but with concern still etched in his eyes.

Sam's smile was genuine as she replied, "I'm fine. Thank you, Jack. I love you."

He waggled his eyebrows. "I love you too, beautiful." He kissed her once more before laying back on his side of the bed. "Now get to sleep – no more thinking. We have a long day tomorrow. Or today, I guess," he grumbled as he looked at his watch.

Sam giggled softly at his comment, then snuggled closer to both her daughter and her husband. Yes, tomorrow would be a long, busy day, but one they were all looking forward to; for Daniel and Teal'c would both be back from their respective trips across the galaxy. Sam was hoping that Daniel and SG-7 just might have something new and interesting for her to look at. It had been a while since she'd gotten her hands on new technology, and Sam was eager for the opportunity. With that final thought, Sam closed her eyes and joined her family in slumber.

In the dark stillness of the night, as the rain continued to patter against the window panes, none of the three figures sleeping in the bed noticed the faint glow that suddenly began to emanate from within the belly of the stuffed, ragged doll clutched in Leorah's arms. Only the tiny gray kitten noticed the pulsating red glow. She batted one paw at the silent beacon of light that came from her mistress's toy and mewed softly in curiosity, but before she could do more, the light faded and died, leaving the room bathed once more in darkness.