The young girl's face looked up at him from around the edge of the door. "Hi, Jack!"
"Hey, Cassie. Ready to go?"
A woman's voice called out from the interior of the house. "Who's there, Cass?"
Cassie called back over her shoulder, "It's Ja… Colonel O'Neill, Mom."
"Colonel…" He heard the sound of footsteps and then the door opened more fully to reveal Janet Fraiser standing behind her daughter. "Sir. What a surprise. We weren't expecting you."
Jack looked down at Cassie in confusion. The child looked innocent. Far too innocent. It amazed him that, at only thirteen, she had already mastered that look. "Cass…?"
She grinned sheepishly. "Wanna help me make Valentine's Day Cards? Sa… I mean… Major Carter's already here…."
Samantha Carter, Jack decided some time later, looked surprisingly cute with glitter sprinkled across the bridge of her nose.
Not - of course - that he ever noticed such things about his second-in-command. Like how the glitter reminded him of the freckles he'd seen scattered across her shoulders just a few weeks earlier… Or how they'd seemed to track down her….
No. Definitely not something he'd ever notice about his second-in-command.
She leaned towards him across the table, and he tore his eyes back up to her face, hoping she hadn't noticed the direction of his gaze a moment earlier. "How about this one, sir?" she asked, holding the card she'd been working on out to him.
"Carter, I'm a guy," he protested. "I don't know hearts and doilies from…" He waved his hand vaguely.
She giggled, which made the glitter on her nose sparkle.
Not that he noticed.
"Sorry, sir." She turned to Cassie, "Cass, what do you think?
The girl glanced over at the card. "Awesome!"
"Thanks," Carter turned to glare at him briefly before setting her card down on the pile of completed cards growing steadily higher in the center of the table.
"How 'bout this one?" Jack held up his own work.
"Uh…" Cassie began, looking vaguely uncomfortable.
"What?" Jack turned it around and looked at it again. He rather liked the purple heart on the red paper, and being a bit lopsided just made it look handmade.
"Why don't you keep that one for yourself?" Carter suggested, coming to everyone's rescue.
"Or… You could give it to someone special?" Janet added. Jack suddenly knew where Cassie had learned her innocent tone.
"I… don't…" he began to protest.
"How 'bout Sam?" Cassie asked brightly.
Yes, definitely from Janet. Like mother like daughter. "Cass, that's not really appropriate…" Carter began just as Jack said, "That's not exactly the sort of 'special'…."
They both broke off at the same moment.
Cassie looked from Jack to Sam and then back again before shrugging. "Whatever," she decided, and, the issue seemingly forgotten, went back to making her cards.
It wasn't until Sam got home that evening and started to transfer her belongings back into her bag for work that she noticed it: the bright red envelope slid in amongst the makeup and breath mints and loose change.
The Colonel's card.
Rolling her eyes slightly at Cassie's naïvely hopeless attempt at matchmaking - her and the Colonel of all people, Sam was just about to throw the card directly into the garbage can by her desk when she thought better of it. After all, it's not like she was likely to get anything else for Valentine's Day. And the Colonel did go through all the trouble of making it, after all.
She carefully slit open the envelope with the opener on her desk and slipped out the card. She couldn't help smiling at the garish combination of the red of the card with the purple heart pasted on it. The purple lopsided heart…
He'd tried, bless the man.
Jack really would do anything to make that kid happy.
Still smiling, she stuck the card back into it's envelope and put it in her junk drawer where she quickly forgot about it.
A year later, shortly before Valentine's Day, she came upon it again while searching for a rubber band. At first, she couldn't even recall what it was. Why she should have a card inside her drawer…
Then, remembering, she pulled it out and opened it. The crude purple heart on the cover and, inside, the Colonel's hand-written, "Be My Valentine."
Sam held the card open, staring at the words for long minutes until the words blurred before her eyes and she had to blink quickly to clear her vision.
Because if things had been different… If they hadn't had to leave it in the room… If she had just… Or if he had…
But he hadn't. And she hadn't. And so…
She wasn't. And would almost certainly never be.
She traced the words on the paper with her finger, lingering on them for just a moment longer.
"Be My Valentine."
If only he'd really meant it…
If only he could….
She shoved the card back in its envelope and back into the drawer. No point wasting energy in imagining what could never be.
But the next year, and the year after that, whenever she did think about it… when she'd look towards him and he'd barely even catch her eye…
She didn't dare even open the drawer from Christmas until after Easter.
And then she had Pete and the day was filled with flowers and candy and the night was spent in his arms so at least she was someone's Valentine and didn't have to think about the old card and its empty invitation in her drawer at all. Well… hardly at all.
It was stuck inside her ruck, folded inside her fresh undershirt. He must have found it searching for a pen. Or a paperclip. Or one of the hundreds of other things he always seemed to be misplacing and then searching for. Still smiling at the image of him going through her drawers… their drawers… she pulled it out and slipped it safely into her cargo pocket. Later, in the only private moment of the day, after the others had fallen asleep around her, she ripped open the scotch tape he'd used to reseal the envelope and slipped out the card. The same lopsided heart greeted her on the cover and inside…
Beneath the words "Be My Valentine" she'd seen so often she could still picture them clearly with her eyes shut he'd added, "Always. Love - Jack." And under that, in parenthesis: "(And can I just say? - It's about time, Carter!)"
Laughing despite the tears in her eyes - cause it was a hell of a thing to spend their first Valentine's Day together millions of light years apart - she slipped his card back into her pocket and, feeling at least a little bit closer to him despite the distance, eventually did manage to fall asleep.