He dug deeply into the right hand pocket of his jeans – again. "You already checked there. Are you sure it's not..."
"No. I know it's here. I remember." He gestured broadly as he spoke, illustrating his memories. "It was sitting there, on the counter. By the phone. I picked up my bag, grabbed the key, and stuck it..." He glanced down to the child kneeling at his feet on the front porch. "Hey, short stuff, you sure it's not in there?"
Matthew looked up from where he'd been digging in the outer pocket of Jack's carry-on duffle. "No, Daddy. It's still not there."
Four-year old boys – almost five, as he was increasingly quick to remind her whenever it came up – weren't really known for their patience. Hearing the exasperation creeping into her son's tone, Sam figured it was about time to intervene. "Maybe it's time for Plan B?"
"Plan B?" Jack asked distractedly, not looking up from his examination of the handful of assorted candy wrappers, lint, and lord-knows-what-else he'd managed to collect in his search.
Come to think of it, there were a lot of things little boys never really outgrew. At least not hers. She pulled out the small cloth wrapped packet of tools stashed in her purse for just this situation. Holding it up for him to see, she observed, "Jack, you should know by now. I always have a Plan B." It wasn't, after all, the first key he'd 'misplaced.'
He grinned sheepishly at her before nodding his head in the direction of the back of the house. "We'll wait here?"
"You betcha." And, with a final smile for her two men, Sam ducked around to the relative privacy of the backyard.
It was only a few minutes from the time Sam disappeared from view around the corner of the house until the door was opening in front of them. While waiting, Jack had helped Matt close up the duffle and scramble back to his feet. Pushing through the opened door, Jack observed over his shoulder, "See, kid? One of the first things I learned. Never underestimate your-"
Matt's surprised, "Daddy!" came just as what seemed like hundreds of people stepped out of hiding around them. "Surprise!"
Jack didn't, of course, have to ask. The banner hung over Hank Landry's fireplace – or rather, his former fireplace – said it all: "Congratulations on Your Retirement!" And, handwritten across the bottom, in words he couldn't have agreed with more,"Finally!"
Though, on second thought, maybe the smile on Sam's face as she stood next to him, surrounded by their friends and former colleagues, said even more.
"And before we could even think to do anything about it, the darn thing had taken over the entire room and was threatening the rest of the base. And when I showed it to him, do you know what his brilliant solution was?"
"No, but I can imagine."
"Right. Probably pretty much what you're thinking. He turned out the lights. The lights. As if we hadn't thought of that. And then... Oh. Hi, Matt."
"Hi, Dr. Lee."
"Uhm... Where are your parents?"
"I dunno." Matthew waved vaguely in the direction of the backyard deck. "Somewhere out back, I think. Dad said something about grilling hot dogs and Mom said something about 'poor Hank's' insurance and followed him outside. Why? You want me to go get 'em?"
"No. I was just wondering."
"Oh. Okay. So, then, what happened with the plant?"
"Not much. We figured out how to get it under control and everything went back to normal. That's all. End of story."
Matthew could tell that wasn't really everything. He hated when adults did that. He wasn't stupid. "You sure?"
"Yes. Oh... And Matt?"
"You don't have to spread that story around, okay? It can be our little secret?"
"Sure, Dr. Lee. No problem." Not like he would have told anyone anything, anyway. He knew what secret meant. He was almost five, after all.
"But did he wait for a proper recon? Or call for back up? Oh no... Not Cam. He just barged in there spouting some completely preposterous story about being a trader looking for massive quantities of the stuff. Ended up almost getting us all..." Daniel stopped his story telling mid-sentence as his gaze landed on Matthew standing next to him on the deck.
Darn it. Just when it was getting good, too. "Getting you all what, Daniel?"
Daniel and Vala exchanged glances, and Matthew knew the story – at least the good part – was over. "In a lot of trouble."
"But you got out, right?"
Cam answered,"Of course, kid. We got beamed out just in the nick of time," before adding, to Daniel, "And it was not preposterous. If you guys hadn't looked quite so much like a bunch of graduate students on a field trip, I could have pulled it off."
Daniel was opening his mouth to respond when Matt, finally remembering why he'd come out to the deck, and knowing only too well he'd still be standing out there listening to them at Christmas if he didn't, interrupted him. "Hey, have you guys seen my mom and dad? I thought they were out here."
"I think they went back inside," Vala suggested. "Try the kitchen?"
"Thanks!" And turning, Matt headed back inside.
Vala'd been right. Matt found his mom and dad in the kitchen along with Hank Landry and a tall man with dark brown hair Matt only sort of recognized. He was pretty sure his name was Cowboy. Or something funny like that.
"But you should have seen this dress. It was hideous. And they just stood their smiling. And smirking. Like idiots," Mom was saying.
"We were not..." Daddy said at the same time the other guy said, looking at Daddy,"I can imagine."
Dad turned to him. "Hey, Shepherd. Watch it." Shepherd. That was his name.
But Mommy was laughing, so Matt knew Shepherd wasn't really in trouble. Though from the look she was giving him, he wasn't so sure about Daddy. "What was wrong with it, Mommy?" Matt asked.
The adults all turned to look at him. "Hey, Short Stuff. How ya doing?" Daddy asked, reaching down to pick Matt up and set him on the counter. "You're just in time for the cake," he added, pointing to the white box sitting next to him.
"Of course. What's a party without cake?" Dad asked, casting a look over Matt's head at Mommy.
Matt shrugged. "I dunno." There was always cake; he couldn't imagine a party without it. But he still wasn't gonna let it distract him. He turned to look back at Mom before repeating his question. "So, what was wrong with the dress?"
"It was..." His mom gestured with her hands, trying to find ways to describe the dress.
"There was nothing wrong with the dress, short stuff," Daddy said, interrupting. "She just didn't want to wear it."
"Why? Mommy looks good in dresses."
For some reason, Daddy and Shepherd both thought that was funny. "I think that's the point, Matt," Hank explained.
He was gonna ask Mommy what they meant, but when he turned to her, her face was all red and she was smiling strangely at Daddy and it just didn't seem like a good idea.
And they said he was silly.
Oh well. At least there was cake.
Mommy cut Matt the very first piece of cake and sat it down, along with a hot dog someone had managed to grill without burning down the house, on the kitchen table for him while she helped Daddy cut cake for everyone else. When he'd finished his food (and the extra piece of cake Teal'c snuck him but made him promise to keep a secret), Matt got up from the table and wandered back into the living room. He didn't know everyone there really well, and most of the people he did knowwhere were still in the kitchen talking to Mom and Dad. But then he saw Shepherd standing with a group of people near the fireplace.
"Hey, Matt," Shepherd said as Matt approached the group.
"I was just telling these guys about the time Beckett here almost blew your dad and I up in Antarctica."
"Really?" Finally. An interesting story.
"Not really," Beckett protested. "Or, at least, not intentionally."
"But you will admit...?" Shepherd said.
"That I almost did? On accident? Yes. But it wasn't really my fault. If you'll recall, I didn't actually want to be there in the first place."
"What happened?" Matt asked. Why did adults always seem to have trouble finishing a story?
"Well, I was trying out this... uh... old missile system and it sort of got out of my control. And one thing led to another..."
"In other words, you couldn't control your missiles. And we almost died. Except I was able to manuever the helicopter we were in and save our... butts."
"Cool! And then what happened?"
Shepherd paused for a minute before answering. "And then a lot of really cool and sometimes scary stuff happened which we probably shouldn't tell you about."
"Oh. C'mon! Please?"
"Cause I'm scared of your dad."
"Cause I'm scared of your mom?"
Matt laughed even harder.
"I'm serious. Have you ever seen her angry?"
"But you're bigger than her."
"True. But she's smarter than me."
"Mommy's smarter than everybody."
"Actually..." Matt had been so busy talking to Shepherd that he hadn't heard Rodney McKay join them. Mommy was always running into him at meetings and stuff, so Matthew knew him pretty well.
"You're not supposed to talk about that, McKay," Matthew reminded him. "We all agree you're very smart and very wonderful and that the world would be a very dull and dreary place without you, but if you keep going on about it then..."
"Then what?" Shepherd asked after a few seconds of silence.
Matthew shrugged. "I dunno. Mommy always stops him before he can finish."
"You know, Matt," Shepherd said, laughing. "I'd always wondered how your dad survived DC. Though maybe that's the other way 'round." He glanced toward the kitchen. "And now, if you promise not to tell on me, how bout we go sneak another piece of cake?"
Daddy was alone in the kitchen talking to Mr. Woolsey when Matt came back in hoping to find something to drink. "Well, you know, on a purely personal level, I thought your taking over was an excellent idea. Professionally – and no offense – I think the IOA was out of their collective minds. Either that, or they were thinking with their collective a...Hey, Matt. Speak of the devil."
Dad reached out and hoisted Matthew up into his arms. "And Reason Number Two ain't bad, either."
"Reason number two?"
"Don't worry about it, Short Stuff," Daddy told him and then, turning back to Mr. Woolsey, he continued, "As it turned out, it was probably the best thing for her career, too. So, no. No hard feelings. Besides, I happen to know you didn't exactly ask for the job."
The other man chuckled. "True. Atlantis isn't – wasn't – my favorite place. Still... it does seem to grow on one."
Daddy smiled at Woolsey over Matt's head. "Yeah, it does, doesn't it?" Then, turning toward Matt, he asked, "And now, if you promise not to tell your Mom, how 'bout you and me help ourselves to another piece of cake?"
"Yes, she was. Don't get me wrong, Sam, she was an amazing doctor. But you have to admit, she could be a bit of a tyrant."
"Who we talkin' about?" Daddy asked as he and Matt, having finished their cake, joined Mom and Cassie and the small group gathered with them outside on the deck.
"My mom," Cassie explained.
The women nodded.
"Napoleonic Power Monger. Always said so. Always will."
"See?" Cassie said, turning to Mommy.
Mommy snorted. "Don't you think that was because she had to be? Do you have any idea what kind of bull-headed patients she had to deal with?"
Cassie glanced at Daddy. "Maybe a little."
"I never-" Daddy began, but Mommy cut him off.
"We'd all just been exposed to a massive dose of lepton radiation – enough to drop a small horse – and this man," she continued, pointing to Daddy, "despite Janet's direct order to stay in bed, just had to try to stand up."
"What happened?" Matt asked.
"I couldn't do it," Daddy said quickly.
Mommy laughed. "That's not how Teal'c tells it."
Mommy arched an eyebrow at him. "Teal'c?"
"Exaggerate?" Cassie added.
"Okay. Maybe not exaggerate..."
"What happened?" Matthew repeated.
Laughing, Mommy turned to him. "Daddy fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes."
"Potatoes." Matthew giggled at the picture in his head. "Should have listened to your doctor, Daddy."
"Yes, well. I know that now," Daddy explained.
Everyone laughed. Then, remembering, Matthew asked, "Mommy?"
"What's 'lepton radiation?'"
"It's radiation caused by teeny tiny sub-microscopic particles that can go through nearly anything, even really really dense things."
It was nearly a minute before Mommy stopped laughing enough to answer, "Yes, sweetie. Just like Daddy."