The last place I had expected to be today was at an engagement party, least of all hers. Being sent on a last minute mission or being forced to listen to a lecture by a certain friend who has never managed to learn when I'm just not interested (but is just impossible to ignore), well these things I could have handled, hell, expected. But being given down time to attend this party, well, it's not what I would have planned.
There are at least eighty people milling in and out of her small house and, if at nothing else, I spare a smile for all the people she now has in her life, all the people there to lend her their support in this decision, even if mine has been a tad lacking. Watching all the faces swell around me – all so familiar after years of working together – I'm keenly aware of the fact that I'm standing off to the side (whether by my design or no, I'm no longer sure) still nursing the beer that Daniel had pressed into my hand with a sympathetic smile when I had first arrived.
Damn that kid, he will insist on sticking his nose in where it is not wanted. It was he who drove me in today (I think Sam just wanted to make sure I came instead of hiding away as was my plan) and though I had assured him I was fine, that I was happy for her and even (please excuse the gritted teeth) for him, he refused to let it go. He's like a dog with a damned bone at times. Oh well, if his unnecessary sympathy keeps me stocked with drinks all night then I'm not sure I should be complaining.
Just when I start to relax and think I should go and stop Siler from hooking up that sound system (he's been electrocuted enough already this week, or so I've been told) the crowd parts slightly and I get my first real glimpse of her all night.
Though it is clear to see that she has dressed up for the occasion (her hair sure is shiny tonight and there's even a gloss on those short nails of hers), I can't help but grin at the image she presents. The short blue dress she has chosen to wear is beautiful and really does suit her (so different from the olive drab I usually see her in these days), but I notice that she doesn't look entirely comfortable in those heels (much too high for her soldiers feet), and that there are at least two scrapes and a bruise that I can see peeking out from around her party attire, souvenirs from whatever tumble she took last. She looked for all the world like a child playing dress up, and if it wasn't for the very male arm currently wrapped around her waist I could almost believe it.
To make matters worse, and I'm enough of a rational man (though perhaps only barely) to realise that my somewhat tortured mind is playing a part here, the smile on her face is large and bright, one of her pure 'Sam' smiles; one of the ones that, once upon a time, only I could draw out. I mentally kick myself for being irritated at seeing her so happy, but when I see her lean back against his chest, taking up a comfortable position as they talk to whatever well wisher has managed to corner them, the feeling comes back in full force. Taking a mouthful of my beer and stepping back, literally, from the scene of burgeoning domestic bliss, I regrettably find myself running into the other person I had intended to avoid tonight.
Keeping a watchful eye on her teenage daughter and the distribution of alcohol in the room, the eagle eyes of Janet Fraiser are more than I was prepared to deal with tonight. Falling squarely in the same category as Daniel, Janet's good intentions combined with her short and quick frame meant she was likely to pop in and out unexpected, usually accompanied by her own brand of no-nonsense advice. Unlike Daniel however, the tiny doctor couldn't be so easily dismissed with a threatening look, bolstered by a confidence that came from years of gathering blackmail material and a far too intimate knowledge of others for a person with so wide an evil streak.
By the time I manage to pull myself out of those deceptively soft brown eyes (god that woman's interrogation skills are being wasted in that infirmary), the 'happy couple' have started to head in my direction. Seeing the retreating doctor grin back at me as she deftly swooped a glass of questionable contents out of poor Cassie's hands, I inwardly saluted her clever manipulation, even if I felt like lifting the woman over my shoulders just to tick her off as much as she had me.
Coming face to face with the hostess for the evening I tell myself firmly that the woman in front of me was Major Samantha Carter, that this was just another diplomatic situation that I had managed to get myself entangled in and that my approval or good cheer was neither required nor to be expected. She was not at all the woman of whom I was thinking, the one like whom she looked so much like. Even thinking of her as 'Sam' was far too dangerous for this situation … but then she smiles, that one sweet gentle smile and it's enough for me to forget all that I had tried so hard to cling to and now it can't help but be personal. She is Sam, and this is the man she's going to marry, even if I don't want to hear it.
Forcing what I hope is a believably pleasant smile on my face I simply nod along, adding to the small talk when necessary. My mind however is fixated on the way she seems to fit against him, as if her body and his were once carved out of the same stone. His arms drape around her hips, encircling her within them, but instead of feeling trapped as I thought she might, she simply smiles (is that again, or has that smile never truly left her face all night?) and snuggles, almost imperceptibly, back into him. Against my will (and trust me, I was hanging on to it pretty tight) I start to feel my anger and bitterness fade away as I watch them pick up and finish each others stories, teasingly adding details that I'm sure are bald-faced lies, just pushing each other as far as they need to do get that laugh or, my heart drops, that kiss from smiling lips.
There was a time when she was all I had in this world, when my reason for getting up in the morning was all her. It hurts, more than I ever thought it would, to see her in his arms, to see that she doesn't need me, or even want me, to protect her any more. If something happens, and I sure hope nothing does, it won't be me she calls out for, but him. Always him. But I will try to be happy for her and, even now, I know that I will succeed entirely in time. I may not be the man in her life anymore, but I will stay in my place on the fringes of her life, just waiting for her to glance my way again.
That's what a father does.