Written for Devilish Me on Gateworld.
Fluff, angst, and a barest hint of gutter.
The Little Legume of Hope
Two weeks away from retirement, and Glinda Baldrich wasn't entirely certain she wanted to, after all.
And it wasn't the fear of the unknown that had her stymied—she'd carefully planned her after-work life—had built up a reliable network of friends and activities with which to entertain herself once her work career ended. She'd even signed up on various volunteer lists to help in hospitals, food banks, and as a docent at the museum.
And of course, there were the Quilting Qats, her guild of choice. It was due to her years as a tournament Scrabble player that Glinda had chosen the Qats when she'd begun looking for a quilt guild. The founder, a wonderful woman renowned not only for her meticulous attention to fabric and color but also for her dedication to saving homeless pets, had intended to name her guild a kitschy spelling of felis domesticus—her pet of choice. Instead, she'd mistakenly named her group for an African flowering shrub with amphetamine-like qualities.
There was a puckish side of Glinda that had appreciated the irony.
As far as Glinda knew, she was the only guild member aware of the mistake—'qat' being one of those words that you didn't know you needed to know until you were twenty eight points down with three tiles left and an open triple word score just begging to be played. Thirty-six points later (well, thirty-eight, if you counted where the 't' in 'qat' connected with the 'i' in 'italic'), Glinda was the tournament champion, and Muriel Leatham was left holding two 'l' tiles and a blank.
Glinda often found satisfaction in small things.
Even now, she smiled at the memory, seated there in front of her file drawers, reorganizing them yet again. She'd finally decided on a filing system, and had been spending a certain amount of time weekly retrofitting her previous files to fit into it. Now that she more fully understood General O'Neill's function at the Pentagon, her own job had grown much more complicated.
Home World Security. Home World. As in, Planet. As in, there were other people and planets out there from which to be secure.
The thought, quite frankly, had made Glinda Baldrich's silver hair curl a tidge more tightly.
And it had made her understand her boss just that much more.
Glinda had always had a high level security clearance—General Bodine had, after all, been involved with several covert projects of a highly sensitive nature. He'd been a good man—taciturn, somewhat abrupt when the situation called for it. Glinda had found his stern nature endearing in that he'd seemed more human whilst grappling with the duties with which he'd been entrusted.
General O'Neill, on the other hand, seemed to become more relaxed the more trying his job became. Especially now that his wife was back on American soil full time.
Glinda shook her head ruefully. Now that his wife was back on Planet Earth full time.
Space ships. Portals to the stars. Entire cities on other planets. Alien races.
The mind boggled.
And the more trying the enemy, the more General O'Neill seemed to enjoy it. She actually wondered at one point if he didn't miss going—off world, she believed was the terminology—and fighting the bad guys himself. As much as he thrived on the progress reports he'd received from a certain General Landry, he'd probably jump at the chance to go back through the Stargate and do battle. He'd been downright pleasant lately. It was slightly unnerving.
Glinda counted out multiple copies of a briefing report printed out that morning. She'd established hanging file folders for each briefing, and then topical files for important bullet-pointed portions within the meeting notes. Each Friday morning, she sat as she was now, cross-referencing sections by topic and date, and then filing the individual portions neatly away in color coded folders. When Glinda had first set out to organize the system, she'd intended to make it as simple as possible to hand over to her replacement. But now, the rainbow of files neatly marching in rows within her impeccable drawers, she felt a keen sense of regret.
She would miss this.
And not just the files—she would miss him.
Because the confounded man had grown on her.
She sighed and slid a drawer closed, then opened the next one.
Two weeks. She sighed again.
The door opened, and Glinda looked at it only long enough to see him enter. She flicked a glance to the corner of her desk, where his coffee sat waiting for him. The tell-tale waft of steam emerging from the top let her know that it was still hot.
"Good morning, sir," she spoke matter-of-factly from behind her cabinet.
"Your coffee is waiting."
He sounded tired. Glinda looked up at him from over the tops of her readers. His face was set in a grimace—his lips thin, his eyes brooding. He stepped sideways to the coat rack, tossing his hat onto a peg before starting to shrug out of his jacket.
"Is everything okay, sir?"
The General paused in his movements, one arm free of a sleeve, the other arm still elbow deep. He stood still for just a moment before turning and facing his secretary, his jacket flapping at his side.
"Do you think I'm old?"
"Old. Do I seem old to you?"
Glinda sat up straighter in her chair. She allowed herself a frank perusal of her boss.
She'd always thought him a handsome man. He was tall—perhaps a little heavy, although it didn't seem to take away from the overall appearance of strength. His gray hair—well, who was Glinda to judge that? He had some wrinkles—though nothing distracting—and given what he'd been through in the past ten years, she figured he deserved them.
She shook her head. "No, sir. In fact, in the past few months, I'd say you've been rejuvenated somewhat."
"Oh?" He pulled his jacket the rest of the way off his arm and stood looking at her, holding it by its collar.
"Well, sir. Since Colonel Carter returned from assignment."
His mouth opened in a silent, "Oh."
"You seem happier when she's around." Glinda ventured tentatively into an area that they had never once discussed. "She's a lovely young woman."
The General grimaced, for some odd reason. "Yes. She is. Both lovely and young." But his tone implied his thoughts were elsewhere.
"I understand that you've only been married for a few years."
"Yeah." The General turned and hung his jacket on its peg, then turned towards her desk and his coffee.
"For her." He took a sip, then peered into the cup as if it contained tea dregs and answers.
"You've been married before?"
"Once." O'Neill nodded, then poked a finger into the cup experimentally. His tone had told her that the subject was off-limits.
"Pardon my intrusion." Glinda watched as he yanked his finger out and shook it, splattering droplets of the brew about. "I didn't mean to pry. But you don't seem old to me sir, so rest assured."
She returned to her files, and for a moment, the only sounds in the room were the faint shushing of files folders and papers, and the General's periodic sips. After a moment, the sips stopped.
"What does that mean? Rest assured." The question was rhetoric, Glinda knew. More a musing than an actual query. He dipped his finger again, lowering himself to half-sit against the edge of her desk. "Who exactly is losing all this sleep for lack of being assured?"
"I think that it means that you can relax in the knowledge that things are all right."
He snorted, then cracked a grim smile just before he raised his cup again.
"Are things not all right, sir?" Glinda blurted out the question without thinking—something she would never have done to General Bodine. But then, O'Neill was a different animal. With General Bodine, even after her seventeen years as his support staff, she'd never felt the least bit—what—
Glinda brought herself fiercely upright in her chair, a file folder forgotten in her hands.
When had that happened?
When had it happened that she had started looking at this man not as a boss but as a surly, stubborn, endearing younger brother?
She knew how old he was—only a decade or so younger than herself—but still. She'd never lost the capacity to erect well guarded walls between her and the people she'd staffed for over the years.
And fleetingly, in the back of her mind, she saw the scrappy green Log Cabin blocks that she'd been piecing over the past few weeks—she'd arranged them just this past Sunday on her design wall in a rows and furrows pattern. She'd been planning on dropping by the Quilter's Bee on the way home from the Pentagon to pick up some fabric for the resting and outer borders. Her friends there had laughed at her fabric choices, because normally, she'd steered clear of green in general. She was more of a jewel tones reds and blues girl.
And it hit her that she'd been making it for the General. Because he'd mentioned once that green was his favorite color.
Subconscious quilting. If that didn't take the cake.
She glanced over to where he still leaned against her desk, quietly finishing his coffee. He still had that look about him—the one that said that things weren't quite right. She forced herself to focus on the folder in her hand, locate the right hanging folder and insert it carefully. She then slid the drawer shut and turned her body towards the General.
"Can I get you more coffee?"
He looked up—withdrawing himself from his thoughts. It took a minute for his gaze to reach her. "No—thanks. I'd better get to work."
And, as if the telephone gods were listening, the landline in his office rang, and he set his empty cup on the desk before pushing himself away and moving through his door, closing it behind him.
Lunch with Jo Louise had been pleasant—some sort of quasi Chinese food from a vendor inside the Pentagon itself. Glinda had bid her friend farewell at General Willis' outer office door, then made her way to the common lavatory just a few doors down.
She was washing her hands when she heard the noise—the tiny, muffled sound of someone in distress.
At first Glinda turned to leave, but curiosity got the better of her, and she found herself scanning the long bank of doors for an occupied stall. But all the doors stood open. She frowned, listening as fabric shifted on fabric, shoes slid softly on the tile floor. With the squeak of a chair, Glinda finally placed the sound.
Two or three years ago, another secretary had had a baby and chosen to return to work after her six-week maternity leave. She had asked, and been granted, that two of the stalls in the lavatory on this floor be removed, and a small sitting room be established in their place so that she could pump milk for her baby.
Frankly, Glinda had found the whole idea a little weird—but then, she'd never had a child, so who was she to judge? All she knew is that the woman had since left the Pentagon, and the little sitting area had been a nice place to go and sit in peace and quiet for a few minutes—and every once in a while, when her General had been out, she'd found it a convenient place to close her eyes and take the shortest of naps.
Quietly, Glinda made her way to the end of the bank, and cautiously pushed open the door.
"I don't mean to intrude, Miss, but do you need some help?"
A woman sat on one of the two chairs, hunched over, her elbows on her knees, hands covering her face.
But even if Glinda hadn't immediately recognized her form—tall and shapely, long gold hair pulled into a tight chignon, she would have recognized the eagles on her shoulders.
"Colonel Carter?" She entered the little room, closing the door behind her. "Are you all right?"
Sam peeked out from between splayed fingers, then moved her hand down to cover her mouth, and shook her head.
"Do you need me to get the General for you?"
"Oh no—please no." She shook her head violently, only to clamp her hand even more tightly over her mouth.
"You're not feeling well."
"No." Sam experimentally removed her hand, taking some deep breaths. She sat up slowly, closed her eyes and pressed her lips tightly. "I'm not."
"Did you eat something that didn't agree with you?"
"Oh, I wish." The Colonel smiled haplessly, self-deprecatingly.
Glinda moved to and sat in the other chair, swiveling it so that it faced the younger woman. She'd never experienced this before, but she'd heard other women talk about it. The green tinge, the pallor, the nausea.
Sam nodded slowly, frowning.
"I thought that was a happy event."
"Usually." Sam's fingers still flitted around her lips. "Not so much when you weren't really planning on kids at all, you're well over forty years old, and your husband is close to sixty."
"Do you think I'm old?"
The question sounded in Glinda's memory. She glanced at the ceiling, in an effort to find the right thing to say, but nothing came to her. Instead, she just returned her attention to the Colonel, trying to school her expression into one of commiseration.
The woman next to Glinda peeked at her from beneath her lashes—it was a look so tentative that it was nearly heartbreaking. "I shouldn't burden you with this."
Glinda reached over and patted the Colonel on her navy clad knee. "Burden away."
Sam took a deep breath and closed her eyes, glancing down at her lap before blurting, "Jack's not certain he's happy about it."
"Surely he knew it was a possibility." Glinda leaned forward, closer to Sam.
A long pause lingered before the Colonel spoke. "I'm not sure he even thought about it. He was pretty sure that it wouldn't happen."
"But—he's been married before." Her voice sounded incredulous, but Glinda wasn't sure she could stop that. "He knows how these things occur."
"Yes—he does." Colonel Carter grimaced. "And we were taking precautions." Her voice had risen ever so slightly at the end of her statement—she was trying to be delicate.
Glinda absorbed that before asking, "So are you sure that's what the problem is? Might you not have just picked up a bug from somewhere?"
Sam lowered a hand to her jacket pocket and withdrew a small square of glossy paper. After a brief glance at it, she handed it over to Glinda who accepted it with the efficient manner that defined her.
"Not a bug." Sam said weakly. "More like a lima bean."
"A lima bean with a heartbeat." Glinda tried to make heads or tails of the picture, but just ended up reading the informational jargon at the top, instead. "Ten weeks gestational age—that would mean—"
"It happened just after I got home." The Colonel nodded.
"Perhaps during your escapades in the office." Glinda didn't normally blurt things out that way—but for some reason these two people brought out that trait in her. She lowered her head in apology. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"No—it's true." Sam's cheeks had gone pink—a vast improvement over the green. "We weren't terribly—careful—just then."
"Well, you were thinking about other things." Glinda smiled a little at the memory. "I doubt you even realized that I was there—or knew when I left."
Sam raised her eyebrows in rue acknowledgement. She suddenly raised her hand to her mouth again, frowning.
"Lasts all day."
"They say it goes away after the first few months."
Sam closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the back of the rocker. Breathing deeply through a clenched jaw, she shook her head. "I really hope so."
"They also say that the sicker you are, the stronger the baby."
"Then this kid's going to be mini-Teal'c."
Glinda straightened, her expression brighter. "Teal'c—he's one of the General's alien friends. Used to be on your team?"
But the Colonel could only nod as another wave rushed over her.
For a while, the squeak of the rocker filled the small room, accompanied by the mixed sounds of plumbing from the floors surrounding them. From outside they could hear doors opening and closing, steps in the hallway, the high-pitched scuff of a rubber sole on cement flooring. The Colonel slowly recovered, bringing her head upright again.
Glinda looked at her, worried, concerned. Kind. With another slight touch to the Sam's knee, she asked, "Are you sure that you don't want me to get the General for you?"
But still, Sam hesitated, glaring at her skirt before turning her attention heavenward—as if in supplication.
Glinda was struck by her again—the blue of her eyes, the wisdom and pain there etched in them and on that lovely face. And she got a little glimpse into this woman—wondered how so strong a woman could fear this condition, this turn of events. "I'm sure that General O'Neill will come around. The two of you—what you've been through—didn't I read that you blew up a sun once?"
That brought a smile—weak as it was. "Somehow that always comes back and bites me in the butt." Sam ran a finger under her eyes, sweeping away whatever mascara might have run there. "Every time."
"Well, I'm just saying." Glinda rolled her own eyes, now, hearing herself use an O'Neill-ism. "What's a lima bean to a sun? Lima beans are easy when compared to saving the Universe."
But the Colonel only shrugged—half-hearted, vague.
She stood, straightened her skirt, and turned towards the door. "I'll send in the General, Colonel Carter."
General O'Neill had taken lunch in his office. When Glinda returned, he was just throwing away the packaging, and wiping off his desk. She peeped her head around the corner of his door jamb.
"I was just in the restroom."
O'Neill looked up at her, his eyes wide. "Congratulations?"
"Sir." Glinda moved more fully into the doorway. "Your wife is in there."
O'Neill sighed, leaning forward on his desk. "Yeah—she was supposed to come here after an-appointment."
"She's not feeling well."
"I know. Hence the appointment."
"I think she needs you."
But the General sat mute, uncomfortably still.
"She told me." Glinda steeled her spine and sat on the chair in front of the desk. "About the baby."
More stubborn silence. The General was staring at where his hands sat folded on top of his desk.
Glinda took a deep breath. "Sir, I know it's none of my business."
"No, it's not." He looked up at her from under heavy brows. "And yet I'm assuming that you have an opinion?"
Glinda pursed her lips. "I do."
O'Neill leaned back in his chair, threading his hands behind his head. "Fire away."
"She's scared." Glinda shook her head. "She's sick and scared and feels alone, and you're her husband."
"And you're sitting here in your chair instead of going down to that restroom and helping her."
"And? The point of this would be—"
"The point is that the two of you have faced so much together—accomplished so much together." Glinda leaned forward, earnest. "For what?"
"What are you getting at?"
"Why did you do it? Save the world so many times? Why did you put yourselves in danger if not for this? For the possibility of this event?"
The General's face hardened, his mask seemingly impenetrable.
"I would think that would be the height of hypocrisy—to turn your back on this miracle." Glinda stood. "Not when you've worked so hard to protect the world for it."
She stepped away from the desk, and turned back towards the door. Upon reaching the opening, though, she turned back. "I never had this opportunity—and quite frankly the picture she showed me looked more like a legume than a baby—but it's still miracle, and don't you think for one moment that some people wouldn't give anything to have this chance."
"General, let me finish." Glinda's voice had grown earnest—emotional. "I've come to—have a high regard for you, General O'Neill, and your wife, too. And all you've done, the two of you—you've preserved hope for people like me. For people who didn't even know we've been on the verge of destruction all these years. But right now, she's down there, in that restroom, and she needs you. Needs you to tell her that it's all going to be all right, and that you've done all that for her, too—saved everything for her, I mean. And for the lima bean in that picture."
"And you're never too old for hope, right?"
The General stood, and Glinda watched as he took a stiff step sideways, coming around his desk. He stopped at the desk edge, a strange expression on his face, his gaze avoiding his secretary's—going past her and out into the front office area.
And the secretary turned to see the Colonel standing behind her—a little wrinkled, a little peaked, a little wary. She stood hesitantly, hands folded in front of her at her waist.
The General quirked his eyebrows, letting forth a faint smile. "Oh, Miss Baldrich."
"Excuse me." He moved forward. "I believe my wife has a picture to show me. Some sort of hopeful lima bean?"
He stepped past her, towards his wife, reaching with both hands to frame her face and draw her forwards until their foreheads touched.
Glinda couldn't hear the words—so soft were they spoken, but as she slid around the pair in her office area, and retrieved her purse from the bottom desk drawer, she saw the Colonel's hands slide up to grasp her husband's biceps, and the General's right hand skimmed his wife's body to rest at her waist, his thumb lightly tracing an arc on her abdomen.
And then the embrace—hard, full bodied, faces buried in each other's shoulders, more soft words being exchanged, a kiss here or there reaching skin, hands sliding, and caressing, and feeling.
And Glinda could now count on two fingers the times she'd left work early.
But today it wasn't so much an escape as a mission—
She had green borders to buy.
And an entire new quilt to plan.
And if her gut told her anything at all, this time the fabric she'd buy would be blue.