One week after Leilani Charlene O'Neill was born, Jack retired, again.
The decision had been a long time coming. It signaled the end of an era, a time of dedicated, heroic self sacrifice for the greater good. Retirement would allow Jack O'Neill to be a full-time father, a dream he'd cherished for a long while. And Sam, well she'd finally come to know the security of having a family of her own.
Sam and Jack had discussed their options during the months prior to Leilani's birth. Once their little bundle of joy arrived, the choice was clear. They couldn't imagine having this precious child raised by strangers. At this time in their lives, the O'Neills were fortunate enough to have choices; it was no longer necessary for both of them to work full time. Yes, their employers wanted them, but it wasn't necessary. Yes, they were still interested, ambitious, curious and committed, but it didn't mean they needed to continue to risk their lives.
During the eight weeks it took to finalize Jack's retirement, the O'Neills bonded with Leilani and worked out the details of their immediate future. Their plans included Sam working limited hours in the labs at Stargate Command, while Jack remained on call as a civilian consultant. The agreement with the Air Force specified at least one parent would be available to their daughter at any given time.
With Sam returning to the SGC, staying in Washington was out of the question. By mid April, the O'Neills had secured a home on the outskirts of Colorado Springs. They'd commissioned renovations on the fifty-year-old building, personalized touches that included a special nursery, skylights and fireplaces. Now, in late June, they were ready to make the move.
One of the best things about being back in the Springs would be closeness to their oldest, dearest friends. Two of those friends were with them today, helping them pack. Daniel and Teal'c had arrived yesterday and stayed overnight, ostensibly to be around for early morning packing. But Jack knew they'd really come early to have more time to fuss over little Leilani.
The tiny three-month-old had been a delight from day one. Her besotted parents believed her the cutest, smartest child ever born. And their friends had encouraged them in that belief. But today, she was sharing the spotlight with another sweet and much loved child, Charles Jonathan Gilmore. Charlie had come along with Bobby and Christina to help with the final round of packing.
"O'Neill, where do I pack the MacGyver VHS collection?" Teal'c asked in the midst of the thinly disguised chaos that was now the O'Neill household.
"Right next to the Simpson DVDs," Jack replied. "There should be space if you squeeze them in, nice and tight."
Across the room, Sam rolled her eyes at Christina. She'd learned that Jack's idea of packing left a lot to be desired. In fact both women were learning a great deal about their respective partners during this little exercise. All in all, what they learned only strengthened their feelings for the men. After all, the ability to pack a neat moving crate wasn't everything.
"Ouch! Damn it!" The outburst came from one of Leilani's godfather's, Daniel Jackson. It was accompanied by a loud crash, clearly indicative of broken dishware. Turning around, Sam saw that two packing crates had bitten the dust, their shattered contents strewn over the kitchen floor.
"Are you okay, Daniel?" Sam asked with genuine concern.
"Yeah," Daniel replied. "But that's more than I can say for the dishes in that box. Sorry." Even at his now mature age of forty-something, Daniel managed to get that innocent, sheepish little boy look whenever he was in trouble. And he was still adorable, as witnessed by the bevy of beauties he continued to date.
"Don't worry about it, Danny-boy," Jack called in from the next room. "Should've seen me and Bobby yesterday. I'd say we broke our share." Then deciding to tease his wife yet again, he added, "We decided it would give Sam and Christina a good excuse to go shopping."
"Jack!" Sam exclaimed, while Christina stood off to the side chuckling.
"I'm staying out of this," Christina said, bending over to pick up little Charlie. "But I would suggest we all break for lunch before every place setting in the house is gone."
"There's always paper plates," Jack replied.
By now, everyone was laughing, even Sam. Christina was right. They were all tired and getting a bit accident prone; it was time for a break. As if to emphasize that point, Leilani started to cry, adding her little voice to the crowd demanding a lunch break.
"Alright," Jack said, "I'd say that's the final lunch bell."
"He'll never be able to say 'no' to her," Sam whispered to Christina. Of course Sam was right. Leilani had her father wrapped around her little finger from the moment of her birth. But that wasn't a bad thing. In fact, Sam wouldn't have it any other way. And as she watched Jack make his way to the nursery and Leilani, she flashed back to their daughter's birth. What could have been a nightmare had ended a pleasant dream come true. An uncomplicated home birth attended by the love of her life.
Though her husband wasn't the best packer or the neatest housekeeper, some of his packing had been done in a careful, precise fashion. Jack knew what was really important. One box Jack had insisted on packing himself contained pictures of Leilani's birth or at the least the immediate aftermath. The framed photos had graced the mantle these past few months; now they were packed snugly, wrapped in the freshly laundered baby blankets that had been used that day.
Sam remembered how, on the day of Leilani's birth, the rescue team Jack requested arrived three hours after the fact. By the time they knocked on the front door, Leilani had been fed twice and both she and Sam were fast asleep. Jack had found his camera and taken a few choice candlelit shots of mother and baby, reveling in Sam's glorious smile, something that shone brightly in spite of her exhaustion. And when the medics arrived to find all was well, he'd made sure one of them had taken two or three pictures of him and his daughter and then of the little family all together. When that was done, Jack had accompanied Sam and Leilani to the nearest hospital for the requisite postpartum exam.
"Lunch is ready, everyone," Christina announced, breaking Sam's reverie.
"That was quick," Bobby responded, putting down what he was working on and going to wash up at the kitchen sink.
"Meat trays, fresh breads, fruit, all ordered ahead," Bobby's fiancée replied. "I've learned to be prepared."
"That you have," Bobby said with a smile. Hands clean, he offered, "Anything I can do to help?"
His offer went ignored as Jack made his entrance with the baby.
"I see you took the paper plate suggestion," Jack observed, walking in, carrying Leilani in his arms.
"Only thing I could find," Christina replied. "You and the boys have packed or broken everything else." Christina flashed Sam a conspiratorial look. Sam shook her head and smiled. She gently took Leilani from Jack and began to nurse the delighted baby. At the same time, the men took their seats and began making sandwiches while Christina prepared appropriate finger foods for Charlie, now happily seated at the table on Bobby's lap.
"Never thought I'd see such a domestic scene at Jack's house," Daniel proclaimed, looking pointedly at Teal'c, a man now boasting a new family of his own.
"I have never placed anything beyond O'Neill's capabilities," Teal'c replied.
"I appreciate that, T.," Jack said. "At least one of my old friends had faith in me."
"Come on Jack," Bobby teased. "You've got to admit, this was a long time coming. Not to mention, the best kept secret."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Daniel ventured. "I think half the mountain had bets on when these two would get together. Then, holding up his hand to ward off Sam's laser gaze, he added, "Hey, I'm just saying."
"Okay, guys," Sam said. "Enough is enough. Jack and I are just where we're supposed to be right now. That's all that matters. Besides what about the new lovebirds," she asked, deftly shifting the focus to the newly engaged Bobby and Christina.
"Indeed," Teal'c said, continuing to fill his plate with meats and helpings of fruit, "Bobby Cramer and Christina Gilmore appear to be a well matched couple."
"Thank you, Teal'c," Bobby said. "We're lucky too," he said, reaching across the table to take Christina's hand. "We found each other because of Jack and this little guy on my lap." As if on cue little Charlie reached up to Bobby, ready to feed him a piece of sandwich. When the Washington lawyer didn't respond to the toddler, the little guy reached up to open the man's mouth and proceeded to stuff the food in. Bobby was caught between laughing and choking.
"Okay, Charlie," he said. "I think I'm supposed to be feeding you."
"No, Dada," Charlie said, starting to giggle. Then loosing interest, the soon to be two- year-old climbed off Bobby's lap and walked over to Sam.
Leaning in to see the baby, Charlie announced proudly, "Me feed Leilei."
Sam chuckled. "Pretty soon, Charlie, I'll bet you can do that," Sam said. "But right now Leilani is still very little. All she eats is Mommy's milk."
Charlie held his ground, continuing to look at the smiling baby in Sam's arms.
"Okay," Charlie said, finding his way back to Christina. Then with childlike innocence he asked. "Me drink Mommy's milk?"
Innocent questions of an innocent child, Christina was getting used to them. Sure they brought Jessica to mind, but now they brought pleasant memories.
"You did, Charlie," she answered. "But now you're a big boy and big boys eat sandwiches.
"'kay, Mommy," he said, hopping on her lap and taking his first sandwich square.
Christina looked up to see several sets of eyes upon her. Her friends were smiling. She'd come a long way from the elegant model, so uncomfortable with the responsibilities of motherhood.
They'd all made important transitions over the past year. Life went on, each of them growing and changing as was meant to happen. And for Jack and Sam in particular, each day had become a dear and precious thing. Each morning brought a new opportunity to live their lives together, to love each other and their little girl. And in the end that was what mattered more than anything. Friends, family, love … after all, that's why they'd saved the earth so many times, why freedom was so precious.
With that knowledge they walked freely into the next stage of their lives, ready to appreciate each and every day that would come their way.
A/N: Sooner or later, all things must come to an end. This story is no different. So there it is. I'm hoping it was a satisfying ending for you.
Once more, my sincere thanks to all the readers and reviewers who stuck with this story over the past five months, through all the plot twists, new characters and this writer's shifting moods. And welcome to everyone who's recently joined in. Your reviews have been so helpful, certainly making the time and energy devoted to writing more than worthwhile.
In days to come, I'm hoping to post some short stories. No more novel sized pieces like this, at least for awhile!