A/N: And this is where I speed things along. With far less f-bombs, by the by.

Also... I know I know, everyone seems to hate babies, or at least babyfics. But it just sort of happened. Thanks so much to hopeisabluebird for the beta-ing and all the reassuring done :D.


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So this is love.


She gives birth in time for the chickadees to sing that two-toned whistle.


Two days of labor, three hours of hoarse screaming, and a baby girl is born to her. Red skin, white-blond fuzz haloed over her downy head, blue eyes peeking from scrunched lids. A little girl who will never know her father and whose mother will most likely die in the line of duty.

Nine months and three hours of cursing this baby to hell and back and all it takes is one glance at the adorably wrinkled face for her hatred and fear to completely dissolve away.

She stares around the room in blubbering shock, sobbing as Janet laughs at her.

A glimpse of blue eyes proves to her that she is no child of the shadow man, a Goa'uld virus, or an absent-minded mathematics professor.

She belongs to Samantha Carter.


When she's finally able to receive visitors she stares accusingly at the Colonel.

"Why didn't you tell me it'd be this wonderful?"

His jaw drops in blatant incredulity, wry shock rather, thinking about that conversation in her lab so many months ago.

But his eyes glint knowingly, and he fails to hide a smirk as his hands curl into hers.


It's dark in the infirmary, and the hum of monitors breathes all around her. One single white artificial light lends a glaring wash to the infant, emblazing her tiny form and reflecting her still shadow in her plastic bed. Her mother curls on her side, blinking in awe and gently tangling her fingers in the soft, fine hair. She watches, through the indent of the pink blanket, as tiny ribs imitate lungs while they compress and relax, caving in at the centre of her chest.

She's never seen anything more beautiful in her life.


The first few nights they stay with her, camping out on her living room floor. By the fourth night she's pushing them out the door, ignoring their protests and smacking them with the baby bottle whenever one of them tries to resist.

At the entrance she lets them say their goodbyes to Kate, affectionately rolling her eyes as they coo over her as she's passed between them.

The Colonel carries her with an experienced ease, his large hands dwarfing the tiny body. He hasn't spoken too much since the birth, but when he looks up at and catches her watching him, the look in his eyes speaks volumes.

She looks away as the he reluctantly returns her child to her.


The shadows mean nothing to her anymore.


She has never seen so many damn diapers in her life.


She is so so tempted to tell her dad to fuck off.

So tempted.

But the last time she did that she was 16 and was kicked out of the house for two weeks. And though she doubts her dad would do such a thing again in her own home, the man does have the entire Tok'ra database of knowledge in his head to exact some unimaginable punishment.

But does he always have to look so... disapproving?

The entire car ride is tense and quiet, and at the intersection she finally lifts her pointed glare from the steering wheel just in time to catch a glimpse of his knuckles whitening.

'Hey pops, glad to see you again. Guess what, I had a virus that made me uber horny and so I slept around while you were out saving the galaxy. Oh. And you're a grandpa again!'

Was a little bit of sympathy too much to ask for these days?

At her house he slams the car door shut, ignoring the visceral wince from the driver's seat. He stalks up to the entrance and impatiently waits for her, glowering at her from the stoop. From behind him the door swings open, revealing an intimidating Teal'c. The retired General transfers his glare to the alien, sidestepping past him into the warmth of the entryway. From the door they can see the kitchen, and in the kitchen they can see Daniel position the infant into her portable car seat.

Kate pins him with her wide blue eyes, transfixing him and stilling into place.

She walks up behind her dad, a slow smile stealing across her face.

She gives it twenty minutes before General 'Who's Ass Can I Kick Today' Carter will begin sobbing like a schoolgirl.


She's sitting there in her sweats and a grimy dishtowel slung over her shoulder, watching as her daughter's face balloon into a red puff as the howls finally ascend into a silent pitch that only dogs can hear.

She's sitting there with tear streaks drying on her face and exhaustion exuding from her body. Wishing and craving for paperwork and doohickeys...

She's sitting there wondering, (seriously, she'll remember later, grimly) if it's too late for adoption.

She's sitting there closing her eyes and imagining herself to be a mindless replicator drone. Anything other what she is now.


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She wishes it were that easy to get back into the swing of things.

She's one part humbled and three parts irritated when half of SGC wish her luck, patting her on the back and giving her encouraging thumbs up.

It reminds her of when she was 19 years old, walking down a dorm hallway to the room of the resident Adonis, a guy named Jimmy something-or-other, trying to shy away from all the goading encouragements of the passing frat boys. The hall of shame, they called it. Her embarrassment outweighed by her desire to spend the night with an equally embarrassed Jimmy.

She shrugs if off, she's hardly the first Air Force Major to have had a baby. But she can't quite shake the irritation of having the "maternity leave" title tagged to her. She straightens her back as she walks past the fresh batch of new recruits who eye her with something less than respect, young kids who know her as the 'woman who went psycho and came back with a baby'.

She knows, mentally weary, that she has to prove herself all over again.


It's hard for her to leave Kate behind; but she knows that she's in good hands. She smiles softly as the far off sound of pots clatter on the kitchen tiles; it's a rare night to have the whole house to herself these days. The kid is going to grow up to be a spoiled princess, through no fault of her own. She kisses the top of Cassie's head as the teen stretches out on the couch, resting against her favorite aunt. From the living room she can see the Colonel dangle her daughter over one hip as the little girl clutches his grey shirt. Janet teases Teal'c as they walk past him, both offering gentle pats on her tow-colored hair. It's odd to see the hardened soldier look so at peace with life at that moment, as he makes funny faces at the girl. He glances up at that moment, catching her gaze from the couch. He purses his lips and spares a few more seconds jogging the child in his arms. But as much as he loves Kate, he can't forget her mother's rejection of him, and he reluctantly passes her over to Daniel, never taking too much time.

She looks away, her heart heavy.

She took this away from him.


Having a baby was so worth the look on McKay's face.


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She passes by the community hall, cocking her head into the buzzing of the tall floodlights that wash over the skating rink. She hikes the baby higher up on her hip, and the dark blue of the evening reminds her that Kate's bedtime is near. Her child, she thinks fondly, almost a year old, can be incredibly manipulative come bedtime. It's difficult, amidst tears and diapers and soggy cheerios and naptimes, to make a regular routine and remember to keep it up. She grimaces; all her years of military precision swiftly come undone by an infant. The mountain wind whistles through dead trees, and her strides slow, her thoughts churning.

No, that was wrong. Her military precision came undone with the ingestion of a Goa'uld virus, and has never quite recovered since.

The lights glare white onto the icy pavement where they pass, turning her walk into steps on a harshly lit theatre stage. But then trees intervene and the light swiftly dims down to a deep blue – like a thought, no, a feeling that passes so quickly she's not sure what it was – only left with the sense that it was good, but over before she can process it with her nitpicky mind. She tugs the child's woolen toque back down over her head, smiling brilliantly as chubby fingers attempt to repeat the same action to her mother. She nuzzles her cheek against the scratchy material, clutching her daughter through the plushy folds of winter jackets.

It's just her and Kate. Day after day after day, the world slips away and at the end of night, at the end of everything, it's just them.

She'll miss her. She knows Kate will be in the capable hands of Janet and Cassie, and that pricey daycare she keeps shelling money out for. A weeklong excursion to a known Naquadah-rich planet is almost seductive to her scientific mentality, but even that prospect can't tempt her away from this new life. The feeling gnaws at her stomach, but then she thinks about that feeling as they turned the corner, that brief knowledge of certainty. Everything she does, every bullet shot and every step taken, is for Kate. She knows, regretfully but affirmatively, that the fight against the Goa'uld is worth her time spent away. She smiles down at her daughter's milky grin, catching the drool as it slips down. They walk home, heavy boots crunching in the winter snow.


A bullet whizzes by her ear, practically deafening her. Definitely not an alien weapon. She shakes away the ringing, looking around accusatorily.

"Who the hell gave Felger a gun?"

"Sorry sorry sorry sorry sor..." she silences him with a look.

A faint burning smell catches her attention, and she glances down at the ground where there's a clump of blonde singed hair lying at her feet. Another purple line streaks past her. Definitely an alien weapon.

"Fall back!"

She loads in another round and begins shooting, her nose crinkling at the coppery scent of blood and the distinct charring odor of burnt skin.

The Jaffa soldier is young, with pale blue eyes that stare her down. His kneecaps are broken, but she knows he's overheard their contingency plan from their makeshift camp, and she can't take the risk. So with a rigid hardness she's earned after six years, she fires a single bullet into his smooth forehead.

She walks away, regretfully, but assured in the knowledge that her daughter still has a mother.

She'll save the guilt until after her teammates are safe with their families.


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She feels the heat clamp down on her as her body ripples and shudders with another wave of... something. She had hoped, when she had stood idly by in the contraption as Niirti eyed her disdainfully from the controls, that the physical absence of an actual experiment would produce a different outcome then what the others had experienced.

But she knew better than anyone that the absences of corporeal objects don't necessarily equate to a happy ending.

The Colonel left a while ago, and there's no indication of his imminent return. The loneliness wracks through her body as sweat springs from her pores. Of all the ways she considered death knocking on the door, exploding into a pool of water ranked pretty low.

Kate.

She coughs harshly, blinking the water from her eyelashes. A hand clasps over hers, stretching across from through the bars. Teal'c's dark eyes meet her cornflower blues, clinging to her like wheat dust.

He's worried; she's surprised to admit. Teal'c rarely shows any indication of deeper emotions, and even now his face is as taut as a string. But she knows him; she can see it clear as day. He's desperate.

"Major Carter." She twines her fingers through his, tenderly caressing his thumb. He pauses, regaining his control. Some men, she knows, need that physical reassurance from women, be it as lovers or as simple comforting gestures. She suspects Jaffa males are no different.

"Yes, Teal'c?" She encourages him, knowing what he is about to say.

"Major Carter. If you have any last words, I'd be honored to carry them with me."

She suppresses a grin, gazing at him fondly through dripping lashes, 'he sounds like a trial judge.'

She realizes, though, that when she's finally forced into a cataclysm of shattering water, he'll be her last thought. And she feels truly blessed to have such a loyal friend. My Redeemer.

She shakes her head, slowly and thoughtfully. "I have no regrets, Teal'c."

He nods, holding her hand right up until they hear the clattering of running footsteps.

Yea. He was always her favorite.


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His name is Luke, and she thinks he looks like that actor who played a Russian mobster, only without the Christopher Walken-type haircut. But his accent is New Jersey, and instead of vodka and money his passions are beer and hockey.

His humor is dry and sardonic, but there's a teasing warmth in his eyes that weakens her defenses. In the night at his apartment he laughs into her skin, and her eyes trace the freckles on his tanned shoulder.

He's simple, uncomplicated, and exactly what she needs right now.

But she's horrified when she first introduces him to Kate, who stares at him curiously as though trying to place him, before assuredly yells out, "Jack!"

She is so freaking glad she breaks it off before everyone realizes she is dating a replica of her CO.


Somewhere, buried under years of military protocol, is his name.

Jack.

The word 'Sir' is so deeply entrenched in her mentality, so proscribed from the physiology of her vocals, that she surprises the both of them with the usage of his name.

Somewhere alongside the deep abyss where she holds the taboo of his name, floats the name 'Grace'. Brown eyes that mirror brown eyes.

She'll never tell him.


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The dust rises and chokes her as she sits weakly, resignedly watching as the super soldier emerges from his shroud of sand; her heart pounding as he turns her way.

Her leg burns and she can feel the grit of blood and sand line her face, and for the second time in her life she sees herself a failure.

A failure as a soldier, a mother, a scientist, and as a survivor.

She doesn't register the cacophony of bullets penetrate the stillness of this moment.

She just watches her defeated, slumped form in the reflection of black synthetic armor. Her eyes appear distorted in its spotless sheen, and she wonders for a moment if the fight is even worth it.


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Daniel stares seriously at Kate, willing her with his eyes to make the right decision.

"It's now or never Kate. The fate of the world rests on this. Trust me, 'red', is by far the superior color."

He receives a blank stare and a dribble of drool in reply. Her mother shoves him with an errant elbow. She clears her throat and looks pointedly at her child.

"Kate. I am your mother. You will listen to me and obey, or you won't be allowed to date until you're 18. So listen. You. Will. Choose. Blue."

"Red tastes like cherries."

"Blue looks like the ocean. Nemo lives in the Ocean, Kate."

"Red will make your hair smooth and silky." He ignores the weirded-out glance. "And blue just puts hair on your chest."

"Daniel, if my daughter wants hair on her chest, so be it. Kate, blue is pretty. Blue is the color of your pretty pretty eyes."

The Colonel looks down at them pityingly.

'"Corrupt her while she's young, heh?"

"Shut up Jack, I've almost got her."

"Sir, please."

He sighs, melodramatic at their pointed dismissal of him.

"Well, it's a shame that I've already beat you to the punch, then." He reaches behind him for a cup of orange Jell-O, waggling it in front of the toddler. She reaches for it, and he smiles triumphantly at his teammates shocked expressions. "Suckers."


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She watches as Kate toddles up the sidewalk, heaving herself over the first big step. She walks slowly behind her, arms folded and eyes catching everything but not comprehending anything. She can't smile, the heaviness in her heart attests to that. She knocks on the door,

When the Colonel answers the door, Kate raises her arms with her plastic magician's wand in one hand and yells "ta da"! She waits expectantly as he stares down at her in confusion, and her wide smile wobbles uncertainly.

This was a mistake.

For a moment she considers snatching up her child, running away from the disheveled man at the door and back to the car. She wonders if he'll chase after them, speaking in Ancient, or just follow their run with an amnesia-induced stare. She doesn't want her daughter's last memory of him to be that of a stranger.

But the moment her instincts begin to form the blank look in his eyes shutters itself away, and he picks the kid up and tosses her in the air.

Colonel O'Neill makes them spaghetti.

The surrealism of it makes her want to throw up.

He's due to die in hours, and instead he serves dinner, waving aside her horrified protests, a weary assurance in his tired eyes as he maneuvers around them in the kitchen.

Later the Colonel sprawls down on his living room floor bouncing her little girl on his knee as they watch the same Disney movie Kate has already watched a half a dozen times. Kate insists he learn the words to the song, and it isn't long before he's sheepishly mumbling alongside to 'R-E-S-C-U-E, Rescue Aid Society, heads held high, touch the sky, you mean everything to me...' They ignore the fear in his eyes, the constant worry that his words will shift to Ancient. She tries to lighten the mood.

She smiles teasingly at him from the door, 'You'll rue the day you let me hear that, Sir.'

But as the afternoon sun dies and spills across the floor and emblazons them in a bright light, her smile quavers, and that familiar feeling of longing and regret engulfs through her.

She loves him.


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Cassie calls her, over and over and over, expecting a comforting voice and an equal source of anger. General McDonald from Area 51 asks her for a detailed report on the ZPM from Antarctica. Doctor Lee has been waiting 15 hours for her approval on a high-velocity ammunition test through the heavy gravity field of planet P70-whatever. The newspaper hasn't been picked off of the drive and the mail juts out from the gateway.

Tomorrow, maybe.

She stares at the ceiling as Kate cries and cries and cries, her voice raspy and hoarse with the effort. She can't find the strength to go and comfort her.

Janet's gone.

The world and the people in it knock on her door, demanding and pleading and taking, always fucking taking.

Tomorrow, maybe.


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Sometimes it's hard for her to find her identity as something else than a mother.

But somewhere deep down, an embarrassing notion seeps into her conscious that this isn't necessarily bad.

For the first time in her life, as Kate wraps herself around her legs, it feels weird to finally understand that she is no longer that youthful golden girl with a chip on her shoulder sauntering in with the Pentagon at her heels. She is much closer to 40 then she's comfortable admitting, but she doesn't lament the starry-eyed girl left in her wake. She glances down at the kid, her kid, whose white-blond hair and blue eyes never changed from infancy, despite Janet's predictions.

She thinks, complacently, that this is a worthy tradeoff.


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She plasters C-4 into a jagged crack on the wall, motioning to Daniel to take cover behind the cluster of abandoned crates. An ebb of apprehension jogs at her brain, a minor worry about disappointing her CO. But as soon as she recognizes the trepidation she shoves it down. It's not her fault that they fell into the clutch-hold of Anubis' secret base. She's assured in the experienced knowledge that the C-4 will detonate exactly as planned, crevassing and splitting the wall as she had mentally designed. She knows with a sure certainty that they will survive this day.

It's only later, with the orange sun glaring at her from her rearview mirror, spilling over her tanned features as she heads home, that she realizes with the utmost confidence that she is a leader. Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter. Not once, not a single time, during their entire escape did she hear the voice of General O'Neill guiding her through her plans; it was only her voice that steered the way.

She lowers her sunglasses over her squinting eyes and smiles at the long stretch of road ahead.


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On usual days he looks about as bored as anything from behind the desk, but she usually doesn't mind, guiltily accepting his attentions as a means for distraction.

But today he's tired, and old, and in two hours he's had to write three letters of condolences and two transfer referrals from nursing staff, all of whom were employed by SGC for ten years, who served and healed and fought alongside SG-1. Here, people either leave or die. This is a type of day she recognizes, and she knows by the expression on his face he is mourning the old days and the early camaraderie of the SGC. It's funny to think that a government institution saved his life, and it saddens her to think that the Air Force is all he has left anymore.

She joins him in his office later, tossing him a saran-wrapped turkey sandwich as she slouches down in the roll-chair. He inattentively places it to the side as he proof checks the standard-issue letter. She can tell something is off, and she clasps her fingers together and waits him out.

Eventually he sighs, running a hand through his grey and white hair.

"We don't talk about the actual stuff."

She shoves away the dread that he might actually be talking about 'them', but she knows he's smarter than that.

"What do you mean?"

"I'm saying Carter, we walk around saying things like the 'greater good' and the 'fight for freedom', but you don't talk about the people you lose along the way. You have a memorial for them, hand a flag to their loved ones, and move on. What the hell's the point?"

"You answered it yourself, Sir, the greater good." 'But that's not what you're talking about, is it?'

Eventually, he glances over at a picture of Charlie wearing yellow rubber boots, for the first time with an expression entirely devoid of guilt. He speaks softly, absently as though he hadn't meant to speak aloud.

"Why do things have to change, Carter? Why can't things stay the same?" He looks warily over at the wall. "Why do people have to go?"

She sits back, considering his words. She thinks of Lieutenant Sommers and Nurse Cooney, who she knew for seven years and is sad and glad at the prospect of them moving on. She thinks of Charlie and Sara and Kowalsky. She thinks of Daniel and Janet and her mom and both Jonas' and the shadow man and her little girl. There was a time in her life where she was so absorbed by her work that the consequence proved to be the exclusion of everything and everyone else. And she knows now, after all these years, of life outside these barren walls. She looks at her tightly clasped fingers before fixing a reassuring gaze on his tired face.

"So that life is more important, Sir."

His eyes sharply turn to meet hers, and she smiles warmly at him, like a mother would a child, before calmly leaving her chair and exiting the room.


When she was 13 years old, she called her mother a bitch. Her mother dragged her out by the ear and slapped her hard across the face, clear in front of the neighbors. Three months later she was dead.

Today Samantha Carter turns the same age her mother was when she was called a bitch. She sits on the porch, drinking a celebratory birthday beer, the sun on her face, and hopes her mother knows she loves her.


Cassie has offered to babysit, and she can't be more grateful. She spares a wince at the memory of shoving the toddler into the arms of the young woman minutes before, offering a grateful grin and a quick slam of the door. She figures the apologies can come after the first night she has had to herself in a... well in a long while.

Just one damn night. That's all she wants.

It's hotter than hell though. She drags the dusty fan onto the coffee table and directs the aim towards the couch, sighing with bliss at the sudden coolness. Her whole house hangs with a heated humidity, seeping into every pore and taking up residence in a simmering sort of pleasure.

She changes into shorts and a tank top and plops on the couch, her long legs dangling over the side of the armrest. An Irma Thomas LP drifts through the room, and she stretches her body out like a cat. Her feet slide together as she sips some wine, reading Scientific American, flexing her toes and relishing the coiling of muscles in her calves. Her limbs are hot and clammy, but her face is nice and numb as the circulated air of the fan rages in her face.

The doorbell rings, and she narrows her eyes at the intrusion, glaring at the door.

Fercryingoutloud, one night!

She makes a grab for her wineglass as she swings her legs off the armrest, cocking the glass back and emptying it in one swig.

She opens the door, harder than necessary, and stops. Jack O'Neill is standing on her stoop under the wash of the porch light, staring at her with an unutterable expression on his face.

She stills, knowing what's to come.

His eyes darken with something she never thought she would ever see again, and her face pales at the prospect.

She knows at this very second, that her life is going to change in inexplicable ways, and though she's terrified shitless, she finds herself in the unusual position of being more than willing to jump in after it.

He seems to takes a single stride forward, but she realizes belatedly he in fact hasn't moved an inch but for his leather-encased arm; his face indecipherable as a long tapered hand, driven by an invisible momentum, swings from his jeans. The calluses graze her jaw as his fingers glide through her hair to clasp the back of her neck, ignoring her shocked exclamation as he gently drags her forward and draws her into his simmering mouth. One fist remains nonchalantly jammed into his pocket as his body stands taut, patiently waiting for a reaction. Eventually, far too soon, he releases her. She leans back in shock, blue eyes wide and glazed in the aftermath.

He calculatingly watches the play of emotions on her face confidently, assuredly unafraid of her reaction.

She loves him. She doesn't need to be shown that. She understands that she'll follow him like a star is swallowed by a black hole, because to her that's what he represented for so many years. He's like a black hole, systematically weakening each defense to draw her in and break her like a supernova, creating the grace in her that only her love for him could have perfected.

She inhales shakily, nodding her head imperceptibly as she acknowledges this sudden shift in her life. 'Okay Jack.' She thinks, finally allowing his name a place in her mind.

She leans forward again, barely registering the look of immense relief collapse into his face as he springs forward and crushes her hot up against him, drawing each particle of her body into him as he drops kisses along her face, trailing down to her jawbone. She hears ragged, jerky words like "love" and "Kate" and "Cassie" and "fishing" and "resignation papers" and what sounds suspiciously like "making out in her vintage car" but she isn't really listening, too intent on pouring her entire body and soul into the magnetic draw of his raw energy.

Finally, she curls her head into the slant of his neck, emitting a weak groan as he traces lazy designs on her shoulder. The noise turns into a soft laugh, and she shyly glances up at him intent on sharing a teasing glance, but caught unawares at the sheer intensity of his face. This time she places a hand at the back of his head, and cautiously pulls him into her. He takes her acquiescence with a visible gladness and pushes her against the doorjamb, crushing away every minute space in between them. Her hands tug and clench at his leather jacket, the edge of his dog tags jabbing at her until finally bending with the combined forces. The rawness and raggedness of his kisses softens into something inexplicably gentler, and after seven years she finally turns the tables and grasps his hand and leads him inside.


So this is love.


Samantha Carter wakes up to a callous hand gripping her sharp hip. She blinks, sleepily understanding that sometime between answering the door and waking up the next morning she has made love to Jack O'Neill.

She smiles, and falls back asleep.

Again she wakes up, eventually, still sweaty and sticky and her face positioned in the hollow of his neck and the swell of his Adam's apple. She studies the long, tanned column of his throat, and wonders how it is she can be so turned on by a stretch of skin. His jaw is coarse and stubbly, and she feels the reflected burn on her cheek.

He's a steady lover, she grins in remembrance, and though she admires that about him, she impishly vows to one day break that militaristic control.

She slides a hand past his ribs over his collarbone and eventually resting to cup the angle of his jaw, a tactile reassurance that he's there, she's there, that they made it out of whatever bog they had muddled through for seven years to reach this culminating point.

It's only the musky scent of his skin on hers that reminds her that this, this, is real. This is right.

She'd seen his face in so many circumstances: stony and shuttered; grim and weary; bored and restless. But the times she thought she saw more, the few times she thought she could understand the infinitesimal darkening in his whisky eyes, she dismissed it as a passing figment.

As much as she knew him, he was a stranger to her.

She had always felt, for as long as she had known him, the inextricable, unexplainable need to decipher him. He was a man of secrets and codes and a veiled past that she wanted shared to her, a knowledge that she pitiably wanted to own. But it took her 7 years to realize that Jack O'Neill is just that. A man. A man with a tragic history that occasionally gives him the illusion of complexity. And it's only now she realizes that he is a simply a man who wants a woman, specifically her, and would even distance himself romantically if that meant he would have her by his side.

He stuck by her, despite her sleeping around and being psychotic and kicking him in the balls in the motel room and having another man's baby and even being romantically rejected by her for three years.

Always.

But Jack O'Neill isn't as complex as she always perceived him to be, and she knows with the utmost certainty that he will always be there.

For years she wondered why it was that he shut her out. It was easy for him to take in Daniel and Teal'c into his confidence, but with her...

Simply put... there was a line.

And there came a point in her life where she was sick of being the one to put that foot on the line, without any indication that it was at all welcome. For years, years, she thought she was tiptoeing that thin border all by herself. Sure. The Colonel was attracted to her. So were a lot of men. But watching marriage and children slip through her fingers over the years in the dim hope of a relationship that might never occur drained on her mentality in ways that exhausted her just thinking about it.

All those years banking on tomorrow.

She thinks of all those times where she came to his doorstep wearing her nice skirts and expensive makeup, building up the courage to tell him how she felt, and how he always subtly managed to side shift the conversation. The only times she ever truly knew otherwise was the za'tarc incident and the almost kiss during her pregnancy with Kate.

But somewhere, barely palpable, somewhere behind his reserves she remembers feeling the pulse of something deeper. And that was enough.

She can't quite thank him for pulling her from the brink of insanity. To do so would be devaluing her own strengths; it took a good few years to realize that she wasn't who she was today because of him. . Somewhere along the line she noticed she no longer felt obsolete, or expendable. She couldn't thank him, or Kate, for this feeling. She likes to think, as she tangles her fingers in his chest hair, that they helped each other grow.

A faint silver scar glints on his hairline, and she scrunches up her eyebrows in confusion at it. It's so demure and meek and delicate compared to the puckered, raw scars that line his body. She strokes it softly, smiling as she feels him shift to consciousness and blink sleepily towards her. He stills for a moment, confused, before releasing his face into a relaxation she has never before observed from him. He gently lets his fingertips brush soft-ghosted trails up her back, and she shivers in the morning dawn.

She used to be jealous of the alternate reality Dr. Carter, and her marriage to another Jack. But not anymore. Her path to her own Jack is perfect. It is real and it is calm. It is, and always was, inevitable.

He nuzzles his nose into her hair, and she felt his calm exhale cool her scalp. He shrugs her forward, catching her gaze. He smiles, his face lighted with dawning understanding.

'You were right, Carter." His eyes are dark, though open, absent of shadows and secrets. "Life is too important."

Within a year of knowing Jack she had understood, through the obstructionist years of her strict upbringing and militaristic training, that she was in danger of being wholly disassembled by him.

Her response is a low murmur and an imperceptible burrowing into his neck. She breathes in the tangy scents of sweat and laundry detergent ensconced in his skin, hardly believing she was here. His body is lean and taut against hers, and the tendons in his arms bulge as he clasps her to him.

"You know Carter, for a scientist you're kinda hot."

She raises an eyebrow.

"You're telling me this now?" She feels his grin widen on her skin.

"Well you know, didn't want to put you up on a high horse or anything. I mean, geez, you're already a genius. Save some hope for us mortals, alright?"

She lightly smacks him. "But Jack," His teeth grazes her skin harder at the murmur of his name, "You already have bragging rights."

He lets out a low bark of surprised laughter. "Such a modest woman..." his murmurs trail off into the sweep of her neck.

For years she contained the guilty seed of hope, that maybe one day he'd notice, that one day he'd care to find out. She realizes now, why he distanced himself away for those three extra years. Because he trusted her more than she ever trusted herself. And he knew that she had to find her own way to him.

Because Jack O'Neill is just a man. Who's just not that complex. And he knows what he wants.

She blushes as she walks to the bathroom, moments after wiggling into her panties and tossing on a camisole. Absolutely floored. Jonathan "Jack" O'Neill, with two LLs, just smacked her ass.

Yea.

She could get used to this.


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On the walk home from preschool her daughter finds a chunk of dirty ice, shiny black, that she takes a liking too. She cradles it in the scratchy fibers of her mittens as she carefully darts over the brown snow bank that lines the sidewalk.

Kate calls out to Jack, whose lanky figure lazily rests by the mailbox as he waits for them. She reverently passes the ice block to him and demands respect for the new friend she has officially given the moniker of 'Icey'. He crouches down with popping knees, nodding seriously, and Sam rolls her eyes, just knowing it'll end up in the freezer.

He waits for Sam at the gate as Kate runs ahead, dragging her close and wrapping his arm around her. She rests her head into the strong, taut cords of his neck, smiling at the sudden rough swallow. He pulls her closer into his lean body, careful of her swollen womb, shielding her from the invisible ice driven by a biting mountain wind.


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If she knew a virus could bring her to this, she would have traveled to that desert planet years ago.


The End.