A/N: Written for Devilish Me - Dee at GateWorld for the GW Family (2.0) thread annual Shipmas festivities. Dee, I hope you like it. Happy Christmas/Shipmas. Thanks, as always, to Leiasky for an on-demand beta. Insightful as always.
The events that follow fit with my own canon as established in the After series and ties in with The Once and Future Thing, both of which can be found on my ff-dot-net site. Unabashedly S/J, so flee if that unnerves you. Then come back when you've come to your senses!
SGC, Colorado Springs
December 22, 2013
"General, incoming data packet for you." The Chief paused, his head cocked to one side in what had become a common position for those listening on their ever-present ear pieces. "It's a data burst from Captain Velasquez and it's coded."
"Which means if I want to see it immediately, I get a break from this." General O'Neill stood and stretched, grateful for the excuse to leave the unending piles of paperwork, even for just a moment. She automatically locked her computer and straightened the paper on her desk as she stood to follow Walter into the control room. As she pivoted around the corner of the desk, her gaze landed on a photo of her boys and she couldn't help the smile that slid across her lips. It was amazing how that sun-drenched photo of Jack and Finn up at the cabin could calm her, just as much as the adjacent picture did. Beside Jack and Finn, mounted in a similar frame, sat another photo from the cabin, this one including the next best thing that had ever happened to Sam, after Jack and Finn, and taken just last summer.
Janet Grace O'Neill lay on her stomach on the old wooden pier, her chin propped in her hands and her little legs bent so that her crossed feet could be seen hovering above her sunlit auburn hair. Eyes as golden-brown and depthless as Jack's gazed at her, merriment sparkling in their depths, her dusky skin liberally laced with freckles. Beside Jan lay the furriest member of their family, Molly the Mutt, her own bright blue eyes lit with doggie humor as she leaned her head against her beloved Girl.
Sam looked up and saw Walter waiting for her and she gave him a small, somewhat sheepish smile. "Busted."
"Understandable," said Walter with a small smile of his own as he turned and led the way to his console.
All business now, Sam stepped behind him to watch as the last of the transmission filtered through their system. Without conscious thought she checked the system status, noting the power readings and energy levels; her check such an automatic thing that had she been asked just a moment later, she couldn't have sworn she'd taken any readings.
"It's all here, General." Walter stood and waved her into his chair, then stepped over to man the secondary gate controls while she read the coded burst.
Sam entered the decryption key necessary and sat back to read René's report. She skimmed through, then frowned and went back to carefully read through the first half again. Damn. Another one. She got to the end of the file and then opened the attached images Captain Velasquez had included and felt her heart stop. Among the seventy images, some obviously taken hastily, one tiny face caught her eye. Bright blue eyes stared out at her and Sam felt a sharp, almost painful wrench in her gut. She sucked in a surprised breath that echoed around the silent control room.
Leaning back in her chair, Sam thought for a long moment, her eyes locked on the image on the screen, and then glanced over at Walter. "What's the lag?" she asked, referring to the time differential between the SGC and the Hammond. While wormhole travel and communication was nearly instantaneous, the actual sending and receiving of messages could be delayed while the ship was between transit points.
"None, Hammond is on-site, awaiting orders. Captain Velasquez felt that they should remain."
"What's the word from Fleet?" The newest arm of Stargate Command was the Stargate Command Fleet. When Sam became commanding General of the SGC three years ago, one of her first decisions had been to split command operations. It was a sound military decision, she'd argued. A unified command with a decentralized structure made more operational sense and was harder to kill. She'd also pushed for Fleet Ops to be housed at the then-new Alpha site, a decision wholeheartedly backed by Homeworld Security. In fact, the commissioning of SGCF had been Jack's last official act before his third—and hopefully final—retirement.
"General Jacobsen agreed with Captain Velasquez, General. He said to let him know what you recommend, since the last two times we've encountered this problem you were involved."
Sam nodded, thinking furiously. "Okay. Tell . . . wait. What's the nearest–"
"24-hours, sub-light." Walter checked his notes briefly. "And the moon's well into the secured green zone."
God, I love an efficient staff, she thought, appreciating the skill of her command team. Standing, Sam slapped her hands along the legs of her ABU's. Like Jack when he'd commanded here, she'd adopted the more comfortable uniform as her duty uniform, leaving the more decorative service dress—and variations—for more formal occasions. "Okay. Walter, shoot a burst back to Velasquez. Tell him that pending Jacobsen's sign-off he's to head to M4C-297 and wait for contact. Contact Jacobsen and route that open line to my office." Sam waited for Walter's nod before she turned to return to her office. She took two steps before she turned and caught the Chief's eye. "Walter?"
"Pull image number 57 off for me, will you? Shoot it to my private server."
"Thank you." Sam gave him a small smile and turned away. She entered her office and closed the door behind her, the image of those bright blue eyes burned into her brain.
"Finn! If you let Molly chew this pair of sneakers, you'll be in gym class in your dress shoes!"
Sam bit back a smile as she entered her house. She paused, waiting for the inevitable, "Yes, Dad," before closing the door behind her. The kitchen was warm and bright, and showed every indication of having been recently cleaned.
Well, perhaps "cleaned" was too strong a word, but in a house with an eight-year-old boy, a seven-year-old girl, a three-year-old golden mutt . . . and one ageless Jack O'Neill, the kitchen, she decided, looked pretty good.
"Anybody home?" she called as she shed her jacket and shoes near the door. Several pairs of pounding feet answered her call and Sam braced herself. A streak of bright red competed with the four-footed blonde hurtling toward her, and it was a wash as to who reached her first. Sam wrapped an arm around Finn and nudged Molly with a knee while she reached out and grabbed Jan to her other side. She leaned down and pulled both kids in close, inhaling that wonderful "kid" smell that she loved so much. It didn't matter what they did, or what they got into. Deep down, both kids had that indefinable scent that meant they were hers.
"Mom! You're late! Dad ended up helping me–"
"Momma, Finn ate my–"
"Hey! I did not, you left it–"
"Aah!" Jack's sharp voice interrupted the kids' greeting-slash-venting as effectively as he used to cut Sam off when she'd go too far in her technical explanations and Sam grinned up at him. "How 'bout we let Mom get all the way into the house before we attack?"
Sam dropped a kiss on first Jan's forehead and then Finn's before releasing them. "Go on back to what you were doing. Finn, have you rescued your sneakers from Molly?"
"D'oh!" Finn flashed her a bright grin before running off, Jan close on his heels.
Sam straightened with a tiny groan and stepped into Jack's embrace. "Hi," she whispered into his chest.
Jack's arms tightened around her and Sam wrapped her arms more firmly around him in response.
"Long day?" His voice rumbled against her ear where it lay pressed against his chest.
Shrugging as much as she was able, Sam wondered how to bring up the latest . . . event. She let Jack shepherd her into the living room and smiled up at him as he sat down beside her. The best part of her day was this . . . right when she came home.
It had become their custom to spend a few minutes alone—or as alone as was possible with two under-ten-year-olds—talking about their day.
Tucking herself into his side, Sam's gaze wandered the living room. The Christmas tree—real, of course, Jack would have nothing else—stood in the corner furthest from the fireplace, it's haphazard decorations further evidence that two children had supervised it's adornment. Sneakers, books, toys, and the odd scientific journal were scattered on various surfaces, competing for space with forgotten Lego's, blocks, and the occasional action figure. While not messy, it certainly bore the signs of a home that had that "lived-in" look. Occasionally it was closer to the "recent disaster" look, but those times were few and far between. And that was due to Jack's full-time presence. She wondered if she had any right to ask him to . . . no, she was jumping the gun. She didn't have all the facts yet, and until she did—
"I can hear you, you know."
"Thinking. What's up, Sam?"
Sam leaned away slightly, only far enough so that she could see his eyes. "We, ah, we had a data burst from the Hammond today."
Jack just lifted an eyebrow.
"It was early. Two days. Velasquez dropped the ship out early because they found a beacon." Her speech was uncharacteristically short, choppy, reflecting her inner agitation.
Sam waited, wondering if he'd figure it out and he didn't disappoint. Jack's brown eyes flicked away from her to the steps leading upstairs, then back to her. She knew what he was thinking. The first time a team had found a beacon she'd still been in command of the Hammond. That beacon had led them to a ship filled with children in pods left to drift in space.
Left to die.
Finn had been one of those children.
Finn who had become their bright, shining boy.
The second beacon had been the same. Sam had been a newly-made General in command of the SGC when the Hammond reported a feeble signal from an apparently derelict ship.
Another group of children. A larger group, this time, but still . . . a pool of lost little souls left alone to die.
From that second rescue had come Jan. Neither she nor Jack had been looking to adopt another child; it had been Finn that spotted the little girl huddled in the far corner of the room. Finn who'd brought her forward, who'd selflessly pulled her into his own new little family.
And now . . . another beacon.
"Seems to be the same thing. The Hammond's med team reports seventy . . . survivors."
Jack shifted and pulled Sam closer against his chest. Sam wanted to bring up the blue-eyed baby who'd captured her attention earlier, but again wondered if she had the right. She was still working full-time at the SGC, but had recently been thinking of other options. Of finally realizing her longtime dream of teaching at the Academy. Doing so would allow her to . . . but, was it fair to ask Jack to take on another? She had everything she really needed, didn't she? Life with a man she'd loved for more years than was sensible, two wonderful, loving children, a dog.
Even a yellow kitchen.
She didn't need anything more, did she?
Again, the memory of those vivid blue eyes pierced her heart and Sam sighed softly as she deliberately pushed away the ache that came with the vision.
Jack only ever called her "Carter" these days when . . . well, during times when he was caught up—or they both were—in the throes of celebrating their love. Or when he was worried. And since they definitely weren't doing the former, Sam felt immediately guilty that she'd stressed him. She gave his middle a quick squeeze and buried her nose in the wash-softened cotton of his old plaid shirt. "I'm fine."
The only response he gave was a snort she felt all the way through her upper body.
"I'm good, Jack. Really. I just . . ."
"Spill." He tightened his hold on her and shook her slightly, as if to jar loose her deep thoughts. When she didn't speak, he leaned close, his lips brushing her ear, and whispered, "Carrrrterrrr. C'mon. What's up?" He pressed a warm, moist kiss to her ear and waited as they both listened to the muffled thumps and footsteps of the two kids upstairs.
Even as her body thrilled to his gentle kiss, Sam knew that it was useless to try to keep anything from him. He'd wait forever until she caved and, in the long run, she'd be better for his having pushed. She always was. Still . . . she nuzzled again into his shirt before pulling back and giving him a quick kiss on the cheek, enjoying the stubble that scraped her lips as she tasted him. Freeing one hand from its hold on his still-firm abdomen, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a small data pad. With one arm still tucked around him, she activated the screen and then scrolled through the images she had there until she found what she was looking for. With a single tap she enlarged the image and set in on his lap.
She found herself holding her breath.
After a long, silent moment, Jack worked one arm free from where he held her and dropped his hand to the screen resting on his knees. His fingers traced the rounded features of the face on the screen, following the baby-blurred lines of the chin and then up to the tiny nose. He blew out a long, slow breath, then lifted the pad closer. Sam followed his gaze as Jack stared into the mesmerizing blue eyes of the baby.
"Boy or girl?"
"Don't know. I'm guessing . . . well, I have no idea. My . . . my gut says he's a boy."
"You want him."
"Jack," Sam leaned away, ignoring the blooming ache again in her chest. "I . . . we . . . it's not that. It's just . . . you know. He's so small, and, and . . . well, those eyes. They just–"
"Samantha O'Neill. Look me in the eye and tell me that's not the first thing that hit you when you saw this little man. You. Want. Him."
Sam turned to face him and lost herself in his eyes. He always did that. Those eyes. Those damned, delicious, tawny gold-flecked eyes had bewitched her from day one. Decorated with lashes that made women weep, those eyes always did it. They, more than anything else—even his hands, and she loved his hands—they did it. Sam's own eyes filled with tears and she nodded, biting hard on her lower lip to control herself.
She was never like this. Never weepy. Never weak. But . . . she looked again at the picture Jack still held in his long, supple fingers. Something about this baby pulled her.
Called to her.
And, damn everything else, Sam wanted . . . needed . . . to answer.
"Yes," she said finally. "I want him."
Jack nodded and carefully set the data pad aside, the photo still bright on the screen. He wrapped both arms around her again and pulled her close, leaning them both back into the soft couch cushions. "Then," he said, sounding every bit the Colonel she had fallen for so long ago, "let's go get him."
Early Morning Local
22:41 SGC Time
December 24, 2013
"Hammond to ground team, we have established geo-sync orbit. Will be able to transport in ten."
Sam nodded to Mitchell who keyed his mic and spoke, "Copy that, Hammond, please transport Generals O'Neill, Dr. Melchior, me, and Colonel Taylor when you're ready."
Cam Mitchell smiled over at Sam. "So, I hear you're stepping down, Sam."
Sam flashed a smile at Jack before responding. "Wow, the rumor mill moves even faster than I remember."
"Rumor mill? Puh-leeze. I don't need no stinkin' rumor mill," Cam said in his best movie-quoting voice. "I went to the source." He smirked at her. "I asked Daniel."
"Figures," snorted Jack.
"It's time, Cam. I've been wanting to teach at the Academy for . . . well, forever, really. And now," Sam waved a hand skyward. "Now's as good a time as any."
"What if . . . well, what if it, ah, doesn't work–"
Jack cuffed Cam lightly on the shoulder. Sam could see that he appreciated Cam's concern for her, and truly, she too was touched by it. "It's still time, Cam. I hardly ever see my kids and I'm tired of that. Let someone else have the headaches."
"Ground team, prepare for beam up."
Cam acknowledged the Hammond's notice and then looked at Jack. "So, any idea who they're gonna stick us with?"
Sam caught Jack's smirk just as the beam engulfed them. She'd recommended Cam for the position; he'd served as her second for the last three years and was more than qualified. The trouble was, Jacobsen wanted Cam for Fleet, so, unbeknownst to the Colonel, he was the rope in a very serious game of tug-of-war.
Blinking back tears at the remnants of the bright white Asgard beam, Sam nodded to the personnel manning the transport platform. "Thank you, Sergeant."
"Ma'am. Captain Velasquez sends his compliments and asks that you join him in sickbay."
Sam's heart jumped and she glanced at Jack who spoke, his voice low, soft. "Is anything wrong, Sergeant?"
The young Tech Sergeant glanced from Sam to Jack and back again before shaking his head. "I–I don't know, General. He just said–"
Sam took off down the familiar corridors. "Let's go, Jack."
The very short walk to sickbay was silent as Sam tried not to imagine the worst. It had been just over twenty-four hours since she'd gotten Velasquez' message. Just over twenty-four hours since she'd been captured by that intense blue-eyed stare.
Just over one day.
It felt like so much longer.
Sam strode through the doors of sickbay, automatically heading for the ICU area. A low voice called to her and Sam stopped, then turned slowly toward the opposite end of the room. The lights had been lowered in that section and make-shift cribs and beds had been improvised. Most of the beds were occupied. Sam suddenly realized that it was ship's night. Very late at night and that she was barging in.
Then she realized she didn't care.
René Velasquez stepped out of the shadows, his arms full of a wiggling toddler. Jack raised an eyebrow as the captain of the Hammond murmured softly to the child and then turned to hand it off to a nurse.
"Giving up your day job, Captain?" Jack quirked a smile in the man's direction.
"No, General. Just lending a hand. I come from a large family."
"René . . ." Sam tried to keep her voice even, but she wasn't at all sure she'd succeeded.
Velasquez smiled at Sam and waved her to one side of the room. "It's good to see you, General." He then nodded to Jack and Cam in turn, "General, Colonel."
Sam ignored the men's greetings as René stopped near a smaller crib tucked up against the wall. She had eyes only for the small body in the crib, swathed in a US Air Force stamped blue blanket. She could see his chest rising and falling rapidly, his eyelids fluttering as he dreamed whatever it was babies dreamed. Sam looked up at the monitor positioned nearest his bed and tried to make sense of what she was seeing. She looked over at the Hammond's doctor and lifted her chin toward the monitor.
Dr. Devlin stepped closer and said quietly, "He's fine, General."
"He?" Sam looked over at Jack and smiled before turning her attention back to the monitors. "What is all that, Dee?" she asked the doctor. Dee Devlin had been the ship's doctor under Sam, and Sam knew that Dee would tell her what she needed to know. No prevarication, no bullshit . . . no matter how it felt.
"He really is fine. We're just monitoring his vitals. He's eating well, seems to be okay. He's one of the youngest, if not the youngest, that were . . . recovered."
"There were eight-nine pods in all, General," Velasquez said. "We were able to, ah, salv– um, save only seventy." René's voice was heavy and Sam knew he was sick over those they were unable to rescue. That's why he was such a good commander.
She ached for those they were unable to save as well.
She ached for those she'd lost over the years.
Sometimes being in command sucked.
"General?" Doctor Devlin's soft voice interrupted her musings and Sam looked back at the doctor. She was looking into the crib and smiling. Devlin waved Sam closer. "He's waking up."
Sam hesitated. She realized suddenly that her knees were shaking and briefly wondered if she took that step forward, would her legs hold her? She looked over at Jack and his warm gaze darkened . . . deepened. Held her.
Sam felt his hand settle into the small of her back and, with a tiny push reminiscent of another so long ago, he nudged her forward.
Into another pool of blue.
Or, more accurately, two tiny pools of blue.
As she had just twenty-four hours earlier, she felt that zing fly through her as her gaze connected with the baby's. Something deep down inside pulled at her and she could do nothing but answer its call. Sam bent carefully over the baby blinking sleepily up at her, careful not to move too fast and startle him. "Hey there," she whispered, her attention wholly focused upon the boy in the crib. "How are you, little one?"
Sam looked at Devlin who gave a tiny nod of encouragement before stepping back to give Sam more room. Sam was vaguely aware of Cam, Velasquez, and Dr. Melchior moving away from them. She leaned in and carefully slipped her hands under the deliciously warm body. She raised him clear of the make-shift rails and settled him comfortably into the crook of her arm.
Jack leaned over her shoulder to peer down at the now wide-awake child. "How old is he, do you think?" he asked softly.
Doctor Devlin spoke up. "Best guess is a year or a little younger. If he's older than a year, he's small for his age. Linguistics is puzzling over the notations on the . . . pods. They might give us a better estimate, but for now we've placed this little guy at about eleven months."
"You're kidding." Sam looked up at the doctor, noting that Dee's anger matched her own. "How could anyone–"
"Is he human?" Jack interrupted, his voice gruff in her ear. Sam stiffened in response, biting down on the fear that suddenly filled her.
"Yes," Devlin assured them both. "Yes. And, as far as we can tell, not a clone."
"Thank God," Sam murmured as she unconsciously began to sway, rocking the baby in her arms. His bright blue eyes were locked on her face and Sam found herself unable to look away. She drank in his rounded features, her fingers playing with the tiny hand he'd worked free and waved at her.
"So," Doctor Devlin cleared her throat softly. "I take it you are going to add this little guy to your family?"
Sam felt Jack's nod as he leaned against her shoulder. "Looks like it." He glanced at his watch and then at Sam before leaning in and giving her a quick kiss. "Merry Christmas, Sam."
"Merry Christmas, Jack." She kissed him again, realizing it was another mark of separation for them. Where once both would have never made even the slightest personal gesture while on duty, now . . . Jack was long retired and Sam wasn't CO of this ship. Nor, in a few days, of the SGC.
It was . . . nice.
They stared in silence at the boy nestled so comfortably in Sam's arms. His blue eyes were darting from Sam to Jack, then flitting around the room. He seemed content where he was, not distressed in any way to find himself being held by strangers.
Jack ran his fingertip along the boy's cheek and then looked around the room, chuckling softly. "I'm thinkin' we're gonna have to rename this ship."
"Hmm?" Sam didn't look up, she was mesmerized by the unblinking gaze holding her own.
"The way this ship keeps finding strays, we shoulda called it the Pied Piper."
"Don't even think it, General," Velasquez's voice carried across sickbay. Still low, but firm, and Sam chuckled at his indignant tone.
Cam rejoined them and peeked over Sam's other shoulder. "Huh. Cute little guy." He quickly looked at Sam. "It is, uh, a guy, right?"
Sam nudged Cam's shoulder gently, careful not to disturb the baby. "Yes."
"Cool. Guess Finn and Jan get a little brother." Cam grinned at Sam and settled into a nearby chair, crossing his feet at the ankle. "So, what're you gonna call him?"
Sam looked up at Jack only to find his eyes on her, a small smile playing across his lips. She raised an eyebrow and he crinkled his eyes in response. She blushed slightly and ducked her head low to brush the baby's cheek with a kiss.
"Are you kidding, Mitchell?" Jack reached around Sam to lift the baby higher, keeping him in her arms, but supporting them both so they were wrapped in his embrace. "With eyes like that, he can only be . . . a Carter."
Afterword: So. Now we know how Carter James came to be a part of the family. I hinted at Jan's story in this piece but I'm pretty sure she'll get her own story soon.