Vala held the two glasses in her hands up high, just managing to sidestep away from the teenage girl barreling through the sliding glass door.

"Easy Cassie!" She called after the retreating bikini clad back, watching the two dogs trailing after her. Cassie waved a dismissive hand, obviously intent on adding more to the plate in the other.

Shaking her head, Vala continued out the door and over to the shaded table just a few feet from the pool. She set one glass down in front of Carolyn, taking a sip from the other while looking out over the undulating blue pool water.

"Cassie about took you out, huh?" The girl's mother, Janet, smiled up from where she was lounging in the chaise just off to the side of the table. Vala rolled her eyes and smiled. As she took up the seat she'd vacated to get the drinks, the other woman shook her head.

"I swear, that girl has been nothing but hungry for the past two weeks." Janet dropped her voice so none of the other listen and repeat children would hear. "I'm beginning to wonder if she's pregnant." The casual, gossipy tone of her voice was a clear indication that such a thing wouldn't be out of Cassie's ballpark.

From the chair across from Carolyn, Sam leaned forward and snagged a chip. "Or maybe she's just P-M-Sing, Jan." She sighed while dunking the chip in the bowl of dip. "Just because Cassie's a rebel…" She mumbled around her food. "Doesn't mean she'll do everything you did."

Janet relaxed back in her chair, pulling the ball cap she was wearing farther down over her eyes. "I'm just saying…" Her finger came up to point in the general direction of Sam's spot. "It's a possibility."

While Sam and Vala nodded in possible agreement, Carolyn frowned. "How can you be so calm about something like that?" She whispered, leaning in closer to the other women. "I mean, I haven't even had mine yet and I'm scared of all the possible things they'll come home telling me!"

"That'll never change." Vala informed the latest addition to their little group. Snagging a chip for herself, she let her gaze drift to the young woman. She chewed slowly and reached out her right hand to rest on Carolyn's semi-swollen belly. "They'll drive you batty straight from the womb."

Carolyn rolled her eyes, batting away Vala's hand as she and the others laughed. "Well, that makes me feel much better!"

Vala shrugged, settling back into her chair and letting her laughter taper off. She fell out of the normal banter and gossip for a bit, taking a few moments to appreciate everything around her. She'd never imagined herself the type of woman who would spend her days doing nothing but hanging out with other women in the same situation she was. She'd never thought she'd be an army wife.

Okay, well, she wasn't technically an army wife in the truest sense of the term. First, it was the air force, not the army. Then Sam and Carolyn's other halves were soldiers, as were their most immediate family members. Janet was connected through the hospital. But Vala's own husband was a civilian who'd been contracted by the military for his prowess in languages and cultures. She figured it would've made her the odd woman out in the social standings on the base where they all lived.

But it seemed when it came down to the core of everything, they all shared the same fate. Raising children for men who sacrificed their personal time for the sake of the country. Waiting for said men to come home and hold them and pretend for just an hour that they were normal, even though they'd never be.

Vala had never imagined such a life for herself, but she'd never give back a moment of it for anything different. She loved her Daniel, even if he was gone more often than not. She loved her friends, even if they were all crazy and a little bitchy.

A delighted squeal came from the pool, and her attention drifted in the direction of her daughter. The beautiful three year old creature she shared with Daniel. Hayden Lynn Jackson was the small living piece of him that he'd left behind for her to nurture and love in his absence.

And Vala did – she loved her daughter more than anything humanly possible. Which meant she worried often about her, especially considering the toddler had begun to show an adventure streak that rivaled her father's.

"Charlie." Vala called out to Sam's sixteen year old stepson. The boy looked at her past Hayden, who he was holding tight against his side. "Please be careful with her – she thinks she can swim when she can't."

Hayden pouted her direction. "Tan twim mama!"

Vala opened her mouth to say something, but Charlie maneuvered Hayden to his other side and grinned. "Don't worry, Aunt V. She's not going anywhere."

"Tarlie!" Hayden protested.

"Hey, you gotta listen to your mama, kid." Charlie told his favorite niece, splashing her with some water.

Sam chucked a nerf ball from the table at his head. "You don't listen to me!"

He swam to the far edge of the pool, Hayden now giggling once more. "You're not my mama!" His tone let them all know it was nothing more than a harmless joke. Charlie loved Sam like she was his mother.

Standing up with faux menace, Sam glared at the grinning young man. "Boy!"

A dripping wet eight year old came to stand between them. "Stop picking on mommy, Charlie!" Grace was Sam's daughter with Jack, and didn't have any qualms about showing it to everyone. She hugged Sam tightly, soaking the front of her mother's clothes. "I love you mommy."

"Love you too, Gracie." Sam hugged back despite the wetness. Then both gasped at the large wave of water that attacked from the pool. Janet bitched at Charlie for it, and Grace had jumped in the pool after him. In fact, she nearly landed on top of him.

"Hey!" It was Vala's turn to bitch. "Watch out for the baby!"

Hayden's indignant voice carried loudly over the sounds of splashing water. "Nodda baby!"

Cassie chose that moment to make her reappearance, plate laden with food and dogs still trailing behind hoping to get a few bites. Her mother reached out to snag her wrist as she passed.

"Are you pregnant?" Janet questioned, not bothering to be quiet since the other children were occupied. Vala, Sam, and Carolyn all laughed at Janet's blatant disregard of discretion.

Yanking her arm free, Cassie rolled her eyes. "Geeze, mom!" She muttered before slinking over to the chaise farthest from the entire group. At fourteen, the girl was going through her detachment phase.

"That wasn't a 'no'!" Janet called to her. Cassie merely rolled her eyes, put her ear buds in and turned her iPod on. Turning to look at the other women, Janet gave them an 'I told you' glance. "See?"

Sam, who hadn't sat back down but was leaning on the back of her chair, gave Janet an incredulous look. "See what? She didn't say 'yes' either!"

Sipping from her glass again, Vala shrugged. "I don't know, Sam." She gave her longest running friend a playful stare. "Did you see the things on that plate? Looked a lot like craving food to me…"

"It certainly did." Carolyn added, playing along too. She hadn't been with them for too long, but it hadn't taken her long to pick up on their sense of humor. "And speaking of craving food, if you'll excuse me…" She slowly pushed herself up, maneuvering her pregnant belly around the chairs and table.

Janet called after her. "Grab me some of those cookies on the counter – I'm craving them!" Both she and Vala reduced to giggling at the unbelieving look Sam gave to her.

"You guys are horrible!" She finally sighed with a laugh of her own, retaking her seat. "We could have a pregnant fourteen year old on our hands, and we're joking?" Sam shook her head. "What am I saying, we're all horrible!"

She got nods from both Vala and Janet. Sam grinned, reaching for a handful of chips. "You know, Jan, you're lucky." When Janet gave her a curious look, Sam continued. "Cassie's father isn't in the equation anymore, and he was never a military man." She passed a significant look to Vala. "Can you imagine how our guys would react if she was either of theirs?"

Vala laughed. "If she was theirs? I can imagine their reactions as is…" She looked at Janet. "You might want to look into witness protection because if she is knocked up and the guys find out, they'll want to put her in a convent for sure."

"Yes, because your two wonderful husbands are shining examples of men who should've lived in the middle ages." Janet pointed between the two women. "You know, when men still controlled their women."

"Oh, don't argue history Janet." Sam sighed, relaxing back against the seat cushion. "Or you'll get Mrs. 'My genius husband reads to me every night he's home and teaches me all about the past' started."

Raising her eyebrows, Vala laughed. "The joke's on me now, huh?" When the two women before her nodded, she did as well. "Well, at least my husband doesn't force me to watch sports…" She directed to Sam, who gave her an 'oh really?' look. "Normally."

Sam pointed at her. "See, you're worse off. At least I don't get the history lectures!"

Now Vala got defensive. "Hey, I like my history lectures! Any excuse hearing Daniel just talk to me, to fall asleep to his voice filled with passion for something seemingly so mundane…" She sighed, willing her friends to understand. "It's like a day doing nothing but watching romantic movies and special nights out rolled into one. Daniel is very close to his history, and the fact that he shares it with me is…" Vala shrugged. "Romantic."

There was silence for a long time, then…

"Damn girl." Janet looked and sounded like she was almost in tears. "You really do love that man."

Vala nodded. "Very much." She looked at Sam and smiled. "And I'm sure Sam has her own special reasons for loving her husband too."

The woman now under the spotlight nodded. "Oh, yes – many, many reasons." She smiled secretively. "Though I think the best is when he's leaving, and he makes sure to promise all of us – me, Grace, Charlie, and even the dogs – that he'll be back." Her blue eyes shined as she looked at her friends. "And the way he does it, I believe him…"

The dogs Sam had just mentioned started barking and made for the gate that led into the backyard. All the women stood, Carolyn finally making her way back out to them. The kids had quieted down at the dogs' barking, and were also watching the gate. Sam frowned.

"…Every time." She finished as she headed for the gate. She didn't even make it halfway before it opened, revealing Major Paul Davis. A hush fell over the backyard at the sight of him. Even the dogs had shut up.

There was only one reason Davis would show up at one of their houses unannounced. They all knew women who been visited by him in such a manner. He was known as the 'Angel of Death' around the base. And each account of his appearance was always heartbreaking, of course.

But never had it been like this – never had it been one of their own.

"Paul." Sam's voice was steady as she greeted the man. They all knew him personally – he was good friends with their husbands, and often would show up for barbeques or holiday parties.

Davis gave a slow nod. "Mrs. O'Neill." His response chilled the air several degrees, or so it felt. No casual greeting, no first name hello. This was a business call, and Paul's business was in the dealing of death. Vala felt her heart begin to race as he stopped in front of Sam. God, this couldn't be happening.

Brave as ever, the toughest of their group, Sam sighed. "So I take it you've got something for one of us." There was no telling who he was there for. It was common knowledge they all spent time at each other's houses quite frequently.

The look Paul gave Sam was regretful. "Yes ma'am." He held open his air force jacket and extracted a folded piece of paper. He gave all of them a look, and Vala felt she could throttle him for prolonging it. She just wanted to get it over with. If her Daniel was gone, why would a friend of his be so cruel to make her wait for the news? She had to know…

"I'm sorry, Sam." Paul whispered, handing her the paper. The brave façade faltered as she took it, and the relief Vala felt was suddenly overshadowed when Sam glanced at whose name was on the innocent white sheet.

"No…no…" She whispered desperately, shaking her head. "No…this can't be right." Sam thrust the paper back at Davis, but he nodded and held up his hands. "Don't just stand there doing nothing!" She screamed at him. "Tell me this is wrong! Tell me this isn't real!"

Sam began to advance on him like a predator about to take her prey. The other women sprung into action, racing forward to take hold of the obviously upset woman. Vala got to her first, wrapping tight arms around Sam's.

She struggled, of course. "No! Let me go!" Her blue eyes were murderous as they glared at Davis. "You bastard! Why did you bring this? Why do you enjoy ruining people's lives?"

"Sam, stop honey. It's not his fault." Vala whispered in her ear while Janet stepped between Sam and the Major. Sam fought weakly, but was losing the anger. It was quickly being replaced by grief. As she began to cry outright, Vala helped lower her to the ground.

"Mom!" Charlie was making his way out of the pool, having gotten over the initial shock of watching her react in such a way. He deposited Hayden at the edge of the concrete, taking the remaining steps out into the grass where Vala held Sam. "Mom?"

Vala let Charlie take her place, stepping back. She watched Janet ushering Davis out the gate, reassuring him as best she could. Turning, she noted Cassie and Carolyn were keeping Grace from rushing to her mother's side. The eight year old was staring with wide eyed concern at Sam and Charlie.

A tug on her jeans brought her attention downwards. The grey-blue eyes of her daughter were scared and unsure. Vala knelt down and scooped her into her arms, not caring that Hayden's bathing suit would soak her clothes through.

"Happen, mama?" The toddler whispered in her ear.

Laying a kiss against her dark brown hair, Vala hugged her baby close. "Auntie Sam just got some bad news, sweetie." She looked up to see Janet step up to Sam and Charlie.

"Charlie…" The young man looked up at her. "What does the paper say?" It was painfully obvious whose name would be there, but they needed the confirmation.

Charlie went to pry the paper from his stepmom's tight grasp. She kept whispering 'no' between her tears. "Mom, let me see." He coaxed gently, running his free hand through her hair like he'd seen his father do. It was enough to get her to release the paper. He read it to himself first.

Seeing the well of tears building in his eyes, Vala stepped forward. "Charlie?"

He lifted his head, a painful look on his face. "We regret to inform you…" Charlie began to read straight from the notice, but faltered and had to take a deep breath. "We regret to inform you that Colonel Jack O'Neill…" The rest was swallowed by Sam's renewed sobbing and a distraught wail from Grace.

Hayden clung tight to Vala at all the noise. "Mama?" She whispered, sounding so terrified and confused.

Turning her away from the sadness, Vala placed a hand over her head and squeezed her as close as she could. "Uncle Jack died, baby girl."

Not knowing any better, Hayden made the connection and pulled back. "Daddy?"

"I don't know, Hayden." Vala admitted. She looked at Sam and Charlie, taken down so fast by such a tragedy. And guilt assailed her because, like her daughter, all she could think about was Daniel right then.

-----

"Mama?" Hayden questioned softly, staring down at her mother's hands buttoning up the front of her dress.

Vala concentrated on the buttons. Of course the one dress Hayden had that was funeral attire was the hardest damn thing to get together. Ironic how a dress her Uncle Jack had bought her for Christmas would be worn by her at his burial. "Yeah?"

Looking from the dress she was wearing, to the shoes Vala had yet to put on her, Hayden frowned. "Why bwat?"

"Because…" Vala struggled with the last little button. She let out a huge breath when it finally snapped into place. "Black is what people wear to mourn the death of a friend or family member." She picked up one shoe and slipped it on Hayden's foot, fastening it closed.

Hayden tilted her head. "Oh." She watched her mother slip the other shoe on. "So bwat tuz Untle Jat tome home?"

Her mother was slow to nod. "Yeah, you could put it that way." Vala gave her daughter a once over, straightening the white bow in Hayden's hair. It complimented the white tights covering her little legs. "Okay, munchkin, I think we're ready."

She stood, taking Hayden into her arms. Walking out of the toddler's room, Vala stopped at the end of the hall, just at the section where it met the kitchen and living room, for a moment. From the mantle across the room, a picture of Jack and Daniel smiled out to her. It had made her stop in her tracks ever since the day they'd found out about Jack's death.

The two had always done everything together. The night she'd met Daniel, both he and Jack had been out drinking and stumbled into the diner she'd worked at. Jack had encouraged Daniel to get her number. Jack had gotten Daniel the consulting job for the Air Force, and ultimately pushed to have him on his team. They were the best of friends.

Yet since Jack's death, Vala had heard no news of her husband. As it was, the details of what had brought Jack to his untimely departure were locked so tight even her skills as a former juvenile delinquent wouldn't be able to unearth them. He was simply shipped home, ready to be buried per his family's wishes. Secrets were a part of the world they lived in. Vala knew Daniel kept things from top secret missions from her. That she could live with.

What she was finding it hard to cope with was knowing nothing about his condition. Why had Jack ended up dead, and where was the man she loved? The Colonel was a well-trained field officer who knew what he was doing out there. He'd trained Daniel to be as efficient in the field. Vala knew whatever had gotten Jack killed had involved her husband. There were only so many things Jack O'Neill would sacrifice his life for, and she knew Daniel was high on that short list.

And she was angry because at least Sam got something. But then Vala felt guilty for thinking that way. This was where being friends with fellow army wives got complicated. Sure, they were friends, family even. But when it came down to it, she was selfish and wanted her husband – news at the very least.

"Mama?" Hayden's soft voice pulled her from the thoughts that had been plaguing her for weeks. Vala looked at her little girl and sighed. Hayden had done nothing but ask questions since the fateful day in the backyard. She understood her daughter was young and didn't understand it all, but it was tiring. She needed Daniel around to help shoulder some of the burden, and now she was really feeling his absence.

"Yes sweetie?" She finally replied, trying her best not to look exhausted for her child.

Hayden frowned, fiddling with the costume jewelry Vala had thrown on. "We wear bwat when daddy tome home?"

The look on the toddlers face showed that she understood the implications of the action. It made Vala's heart ache knowing the little angel in her arms was so much like her daddy, so smart and quick to understand. And though Vala never believed in lying to her daughter, she felt a little white lie wouldn't hurt just this once. She couldn't bear to break Hayden's heart.

"No, we won't." She whispered, putting as much conviction in her voice as she could muster. "Because daddy's not coming home like Jack did."

Vala wished she could just believe it.

----

Grip tight on the sleeping three year old against her shoulder, Vala maneuvered her way through the front door. It was hard when her other hand was laden with bags of food from the wake. Still, she managed like she'd always had, and finally got the bags to the kitchen without turning a single light on or waking her daughter.

She let Hayden continue to sleep against her as she busied herself with putting the stuff away. Vala wished she could think the wake was a good one, but she'd be lying to herself if she did. Things hadn't turned out to be quite too good at all, actually.

Tossing the Tupperware filled with mash potatoes into the fridge, Vala thought back on the day's events. The funeral had been tough enough. Not only had she had to watch a dear friend be buried, never to see him again, but she'd also had to endure the pain of seeing another alive and well and happy with his wife.

Carolyn's husband, Cameron, had made it home in time for the funeral. It had stung Vala deeply because he was a member of Jack's team alongside Daniel. And it'd taken all the restraint she'd had to not get angry at him. She was happy to see him – he deserved to be home. He had a baby on the way, and Carolyn had been almost sick with worry for him.

Still, it'd hurt. Daniel had been Jack's friend longer. Why didn't he get to come to the funeral? Was he even able to? Cameron's appearance had brought up all the things she'd been trying to bury so she'd be there for Sam on such a sad day.

And was she there – she was there to be yelled at and criticized. It was at the wake, in front of all their friends and family, when Sam had ripped into her. Of course her friend had been drinking and it was inevitable that she blow up on someone. But the things Sam had drunkenly brought up, even as Charlie was trying to drag her away, had hit hard.

Like how Vala hadn't cried yet. Not a single tear for the loss of her husband's best friend, her daughter's favorite uncle. It was true she hadn't cried at all, and she'd felt bad enough about it as it was. Vala wanted to cry, to properly mourn Jack for the friend that he was. He was a hero and a warrior and a defender of her and their country. He deserved a few tears, at the least.

But she couldn't find it in her to do it. Not when she had to care for Hayden, and make sure Charlie and Grace were getting by okay while their mother was out of sorts. She had to worry about Carolyn and her pregnancy, and now Cameron with his sudden return. There was Janet and Cassie, and the still ongoing debate if she was pregnant or not. Vala barely had time for herself, let alone the things she should do in the emotional wake of Jack's death.

Any free thought she had was for Daniel. How could anyone expect her to cry when her husband could be anywhere, dead himself even? She was lost in a maze of what if's and if only's. Didn't she have a right to be upset about him, worry about him? Wasn't she in the same circumstances as all the rest of them?

She'd gotten angry and frustrated, but still no signs of sorrow. So sue her. It was hard enough to make it through the day without her husband when there wasn't an issue with his wellbeing.

Feeling bitter over the whole thing, Vala ripped the last thing from the bag without really caring what it was. When she realized what she had in her hand, some of the bitterness faded. The unopened bottle of wine was her favorite kind. She hadn't even seen Janet slip it into the bag.

At least there was someone among them who understood her enough in such a trying time.

----

The picture from the mantle rested on her knees, the bottle of wine almost empty between her thighs. Slouching on the couch, Vala glared at the smiling faces of the two men who had promised her everything and then broken them all.

She'd never wanted this, this struggle of a life. But he'd wriggled his way through her defenses (and he wriggled nicely into a tight pair of Wranglers too) and she'd fallen so hard. Before Vala had even known what she'd really gotten herself into, she was married and living on an air force base with a bunch of other women expected to wait for their husbands.

But she'd endured, adapted, and adjusted. And Daniel had given her the most precious gift any woman could ask for. Hayden was the shining star of her life, and was the main reason Vala had made it six years in such a life without too much of a hassle.

And she'd keep going strong, for the sake of her baby at least. Hayden loved her father beyond all belief, and Vala would never dream of ripping them apart. It would kill Daniel, she knew.

And she couldn't do that because she was caught up just like her daughter. Vala loved Daniel to the point of it almost being illegal. There wasn't anything she wouldn't do for him if he asked. He didn't know that and would never ask everything of her, but it was true. She was as bound to him now as he was to their daughter. Tearing her from him would surely end her.

But that's what he did every time he went away. Vala was sure the next time he did it, she would simply stop existing. But she didn't. She endured. Her Hayden needed her to endure and be the one constant thing in her young life. Still, it hurt like hell when Daniel left. And it made her angry because he'd promised never to hurt her like she'd been hurt before him.

"And you…" Vala spoke out loud like she'd been doing it all along; pointing at Jack's smiling face. "You promised me you'd always protect him. Well how do you expect to protect him if you're dead?!"

This was when the tears should've come. Vala had gotten herself drunk enough to cry, and yet nothing came. Nothing but the anger and frustration from before. She grabbed a throw pillow from the couch and yelled into it, then tossed it across the room.

Her heated, hazy, grey-eyed gaze turned on the picture once more. "Where is he, huh?! You told me you'd always bring him back, and I believed you!" Vala shook her head. "Just like Sam believe you'd always come home! You've broken her with your lies and now you're breaking me!"

Overwhelmed with frustration, Vala chucked the picture at the nearest wall. It slammed against it hard, the glass shattering with an audible collection of cracks. She stared at its lopsided landing place on the carpet with a dull expression.

This was what loving a hero got a girl – a life of lonely, drunken nights, and screaming babies to be cared for all by herself. The bed was almost always cold, and meals were either kid friendly or shared with an unrealistic romance movie that would anger more than cheer up. Friends who knew, but didn't. Kids who never knew if daddy was ever coming home again.

This was her life. This was what she'd chosen. Her husband fought for the country, and she fought for her sanity. That's the way it went.

Standing, Vala placed one hand on the couch arm to keep her balance. She drained the rest of the bottle, wiping at the few droplets that dribbled past her mouth and onto Daniel's shirt she was wearing. It was his nicest dress shirt. She hoped it stained.

Discarding the empty bottle on the coffee table, Vala made her way out the room. She didn't bother to send another glance to the broken picture. It'd told her everything it was supposed to. She'd made the choice that'd brought her to where she was, and now there was no way out.

She stumbled down the hall to her room, the wall her support the whole way. Normal wives had husbands to support them when they'd had too much. She got a wall.

Vala made straight (or some semblance of straight) for the bed, pouring herself onto the mattress. She didn't bother with the sheets or comforter, but simply pulled Daniel's pillow close (it still smelled like him after almost a year) and willed the wine to take her to unconsciousness.

And still the tears didn't come.

-----

She took a dip sip from the warm mug between her hands, the bitter burn of coffee working magic on the headache hammering behind her eyes. Vala was hesitant to open them again. The sunlight pouring in from the kitchen window was annoying on good days. Good days didn't start out like hers had.

Not that she'd expected anything less – it's what she got for drinking a whole bottle of wine by herself. She'd have to thank Janet for the fun she'd had in the bathroom just a few hours before. That'd be after she killed the woman, of course.

With regret, she knew she'd have to open her eyes. There were things to get done. The living room, for one, needed some attention. With a wince, Vala pushed off the counter she was leaning on and moved until she was standing behind the couch. The pillow and the picture hadn't been the only things she'd thrown the night before. In fact, she'd had quite a temper tantrum – one that would surely beat any her daughter had ever thrown.

Hayden, thankfully, was still blissfully passed out in her bedroom. That had been the first thing Vala had done that morning. There would've been nothing she could've done if the kid had wanted to get up. But she hadn't and Vala was grateful. Toddlers and hangovers did not mix.

"Well, Vala…" She spoke to herself, scanning the minor mess. "This is what throwing a fit will get you." Her scan of the room stopped on the picture still resting aside the wall. Vala stared at the back of it, resting her cup down on the back of the couch.

She'd been unfair the night before, to Daniel and Jack. To all who lived the life she lived, herself included. They'd all made the choice to live like they did, and they toughed through everything. It took a special kind of person to have such a life. Patience, courage, determination – they all defined those who fought, and those who waited for the fighters' returns.

Moving towards the picture, depositing her cup down on the table next to the couch as she passed, Vala bent down and carefully picked it up. She gingerly turned it over and brushed the stray bits of glass from the image. It seemed intact, just a few minute scratches that could easily be looked over.

Grey eyes lingered over the grinning face of her husband. "Daniel…please." She whispered to it, running an index finger over his face. "I need your strength right now."

The same smiling face was all she got in return, and Vala sighed. Standing up, she stepped over to the table and placed the picture down and traded it for her mug. She'd just managed to take a sip when a knock came at the door. Her eyes whipped to the wooden barrier several feet from where she stood.

Vala could practically feel her heart beginning to freeze. She could only think of one reason why someone would be knocking on her door so early in the morning. Wondering if she could stand there and pretend she wasn't home or still asleep or something, she flinched when the knock came again.

She knew she couldn't do that. Daniel wouldn't want her to hide or run. He'd expect her to face the challenge before her, even if that challenge would mean he wouldn't be with her anymore. Gripping the coffee cup between both hands again, Vala reluctantly made for the door.

A million things rushed through her head in the short walk. Things about Hayden's future and her own wellbeing. Without Daniel, she couldn't stay in her house on base. Where would they go? What about her friends? Would they even care if she was just kicked out, left to fend for herself and her daughter?

Stopping just before the door that she knew would change everything, Vala closed her eyes. She could've looked through the view hole, but didn't have enough courage for that. She didn't want to confirm Davis was on the other side, delivering the letter that would shatter her world.

So instead, she quickly unlocked the door and yanked it open. Better she just faced it and got it over with. Whatever came after would have to be dealt with when it came.

Vala drew in a shallow gasp, her coffee mug tumbling to the floor when her hands flew up to her mouth. She shook her head slightly, something that sounded like 'no' coming out without conscious thought. Her eyes began to sting…

"Hey." He smiled at her, looking almost nothing like the man she'd seen off a year before. His jaw was covered in a decent layer of hair, his skin tanner then she remembered. He was leaner then she'd ever seen him before, and there was a haunted look in his shadowed blue eyes. His hair was longer too, the edges curling around the end of his baseball hat.

But none if mattered right then because he was there. Daniel was standing right there on their front porch, bag at his feet and a smile on his face just for her. He had told her 'hey' like he always did, like they had seen each other the night before.

Vala continued to shake her head, hands still covering her mouth. She felt like she was numb, and then not at the same time. This couldn't be real…there was no way. After all the time and the loss, he couldn't be standing there.

"You're not real." She whispered through her hands to him.

His eyes were shining bright as he nodded. "Yes, baby, I am."

Shaking her head, Vala let a sob free. "No…" As the tears broke the surface, she found herself crushed in a tight embrace. The feel of him holding her hit it home, and all her bound up emotions were let loose against his chest. She wrapped an arm around his neck, burying her face in his chest.

Daniel held her tight, rubbing one hand up and down her back while the other stroked through her hair. "I'm here…I'm really here." He whispered to her soothingly. "It's okay, Vala. I'm right here."

Wrapped up in his strong arms, his words like cool raindrops on a hot summer day falling all around her, Vala cried.