It wasn't supposed to be this difficult. All over the world people did it every day. And its not like the directions weren't clearly written out on the back of the box. She was an astrophysicist, for cryin' out loud, with a PhD. Several of them, in fact. She'd figured out how to work more types of alien technology than even Isaac Asimov had dreamed of. She should be able to follow these simple directions.
She hadn't messed up the eggs. She'd spent enough time standing on a chair next to her mom, 'helping' her bake by cracking eggs into enough bowls until she'd actually managed to become helpful, that she was able to at least handle those alright. And the ¾ cups of water and stick of butter weren't too difficult, either. It was the 'uniformly moist' bit that had seemed to elude her.
She finally thought she'd had that, though, and had poured the batter into the pan and placed it in the properly preheated oven for the twenty-eight minutes necessary. She'd even remembered to let it cool in the pan for fifteen minutes before she'd upturned the layers onto the cooling rack.
So why was the finished product such a disaster? Bits of cake still clung to the inside of the pans, and of the pieces that had successfully made it out, parts were flaky, parts were gooey, and other parts seemed almost rubbery…
She was still standing there, trying to figure out what she was going to do - wondering if she should try piecing the thing back together with extra frosting or if she had time to run to the store before Jack got back from the Pentagon - when a familiar voice from the kitchen door made her turn with a start.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to startle you."
"No problem. I just didn't expect you here so early, thought you were coming for dinner."
The young lady chuckled, looking pointedly at Sam's 'cake'. "Figured you could use some help."
Now it was her turn to chuckle. "Uh… Yeah." Sam poked at the ruins of her baking attempt with one finger. "Or an intervention. I don't suppose they've taught you pastry surgery yet, have they?"
"Nope." Grinning broadly, Cassie pulled a box of cake mix out from behind her back, "But thanks to mom, I bake a mean Duncan Hines."
"I didn't think Janet could bake, either."
Cassie laughed again. "She couldn't. I just got so tired of the store bought stuff I learned out of self-defense." When Sam opened her mouth, feeling the need to apologize for both her own and Janet Fraiser's culinary shortcomings, Cassie quickly continued, "Don't worry, Sam. I learned to bake cakes, you two kept the universe safe for aspiring young household chefs everywhere. Not a bad deal, really."
Sometimes, it nearly broke Sam's heart when she realized all the sacrifices Cassie had had to make in her short life - both willingly and unwillingly. And yet, through it all, she remained one of the most cheerful and loving people Sam had ever known. She reached out and pulled the younger woman into a hug.
"Hey, it's just cake," Cassie protested.
"Ah…" Sam replied, releasing her from the embrace and smiling down at her knowingly. "But you know how Jack feels about that…"
As it turned out, between the mixing and the baking and the cooling, Sam and Cassie hadn't quite finished the cake before Jack got home. He stepped into the kitchen to find his two favorite women in the middle of frosting what looked like a perfectly perfect home-baked chocolate cake. Which was, in fact, one of the best birthday presents he'd ever received. Having Sam home on leave, even though she was no longer stationed quite so far away, was still not something to be taken for granted. Even in a pair of old jeans and a sweatshirt, her long hair pulled back in a pony-tail, she was still the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Not that he was biased, of course.
He'd been standing there for a good thirty-seconds, silently watching her, before Sam turned to look at him. Frosting knife held aloft in one hand., she asked, "Well, you gonna stand there all day staring, or you gonna say 'hello'?"
He smiled in response to the smile on her face, "Hi." Then gesturing to a spot on his own nose, he added, "You've got frosting…"
She tried to swipe at the corresponding place on herself. "Got it?"
He shook his head. "Nope."
She tried again. "How 'bout now?"
"Uh-uh. Here, let me." He stepped forward, leaning in to her as he reached for the spot. Then, at the last moment, his hand slipped around to the back of her neck as the other grasped her firmly from behind. He pulled her against him - not that it took much pulling - as his mouth found hers. Stealing a kiss hadn't grown any less exciting despite not actually being necessary any more.
After long moments, they parted.
"Trying to open your present a bit early?"
He smiled, more at the breathlessness in her voice than at the words she'd spoken, "Uh-huh," he nodded.
She chuckled, "Incorrigible." Then, turning to Cassie, who'd been ignoring them and finishing up the frosting with the resolution of one long grown accustomed to such antics, she asked, "There was never anything there, was there?"
Cassie smiled without looking up, "Nope."
And then, turning to Jack, Sam said in an undertone, "I knew that, you know."
Which he had known, or at least suspected, and which also, if he were completely honest, had only made his victory all the more sweeter. "Of course, you know everything," he said, smiling back at her. And then, "Now, if you ladies are finished, Sam and I have got to go get changed. We have dinner reservations at 8."
Jack watched from his seat by the table as Sam turned out the lights and lit the candles on the cake. Cassie, as it turned out, had not been able to return to the house with them. Which was just as well. Because as Sam sat down close to him and leaned in to sing him a 'Happy Birthday,' the soft candle glow dancing across her face and sparkling in her eyes nearly undid his resolve to wait. Her knowing smile upon realizing her effect, however, proved irresistible.
The candles burned themselves out; the cake went uneaten. Traditions be damned. This year, Jack O'Neill opened his present before cake and ice cream.
And chocolate cake makes an awfully nice breakfast, too.