Jacob Carter held his newborn son in his arms and beamed, his heart filled with pride. He swooped him gracefully through the air as he delivered him to his mother's waiting warmth, letting the babe feel the freedom of open air on his hours old flesh.
"Trying to make a pilot of him early, I see," Marie smiled, her expression equal parts joy and exhaustion.
The next day found the young Mark nestled into his bassinet with a plush jet, its Air Force insignia clearly marked.
"Dammit!" Marie cursed, muffling the rest of her words as she reached for her foot to remove the embedded plastic. Sweeping the half dozen remaining pieces off the floor, she rained them down over her husbands head. "I swear Jake, if you buy any more of these for Mark I'm going to make you eat them."
Jacob just smiled and gathered the offending toys in one hand, "Oh they're harmless. And you know how much he loves them."
She watched as he lined them all up neatly along the edge of the coffee table. The names tumbled, unbidden, to the forefront of her mind: Thunderbolt, Spectre, Lancer, Raptor... Rolling her eyes indulgently, she ran her fingers through his hair, "I think it's you who loves them hun, but you believe what you like. Just try to keep them off the floor."
Jacob was a soldier, one who had spent years growing to rely on efficiency and order. This of course was completely undermined by the existence of his young family, but he had learned to adapt - until his two lives had decided to collide.
In stark contrast to his former superior officer, a strict, no-nonsense man who liked the job done yesterday, the commander of his new base, General Bryant, was a family man at heart who had ordered his new airman to bring his family in for a tour of the facility.
Marie, already dubious of this plan, had left him to wrestle Mark into his 'good' clothes while she tended to the youngest addition to their family, five month old Samantha. Despite his aversion to nappy time, Jacob thought she had gotten the better part of the deal by far. Still, he had eventually managed to wrangle Mark into his carefully chosen outfit, choosing to ignore the navy child-sized tie for the sake of both their sanities. It had taken Jacob an additional two hours to arrive for duty that day, but he did have a new found respect for his wife's patience - and the normally child-free zone he worked in.
Finally ushering his family through the last steps of the suddenly agonising security process, they were met by the General. He was a large, barrel-chested man, the very picture of a military officer, and yet it made Jacob proud to see the man beam over his family. He introduced himself, kissed Marie's hand and cooed over Samantha, brushing her blonde hair away from her eyes which, even at five months, had shown no signs of darkening. When he knelt, however, Jacob was floored - a three star general, kneeling on the floor of his own base, to talk to his son?
General Bryant reached out, shaking Mark's tiny hand. "Hello, young man."
Jacob mentally crossed his fingers, and was relieved to hear Mark repeat the words they had practiced this morning with his hand half through the sleeve of his shirt. "Good morning, sir, it's an honour to meet you."
The general smiled, throwing a quick glance up at his father, "What a polite young man we have here."
"Thank you," Mark said. "Dad said I had to be or I'd be in the dog house. I think that's a good thing though, I really want a dog."
Jacob felt his heart sink. So much for that. Fortunately the general truly was charmed by the honesty of children and his hearty laugh quickly followed.
"So tell me, Mark," he said, standing and taking Mark's hand to lead him on a tour. "What do you think of your daddy's base?"
Mark looked around him, considering his surroundings earnestly. "It's very big."
"It is, isn't it?" he agreed. "What do you think, would you like to work on a base like this one day?"
Mark shook his head. "No, sir."
"'No, sir'?" The general repeated. "Wouldn't you like to fly a jet one day, like your daddy?"
"Nope," Mark answered, matter of factly. "I'm going to be Superman when I grow up - he doesn't need a plane to fly and he's much faster - pteeew!" He rose his hand in Superman's typical flying stance.
The general grinned, "Well I can't argue with that."
Following along behind his son and his new friend, Jacob just looked at Marie.
"Well," she said, hitching the baby up higher in her arm. "It could have gone worse."
"Daddy," Sam lisped. "Where does grass come from?"
Jacob sighed without opening his eyes. This was his first day off in over a month and he had hoped to catch a little sleep on the lounge. This apparently was not going to happen, as Sam had simply dragged her tiny self up the arm of the chair to deposit herself high on his chest and had been asking him questions all morning.
"It comes from the ground, honey."
"Yes," she agreed, running something over his neck and behind his ears. "But how does it get THERE?"
"Munchkins," he said, swatting gently at the small hand tickling him.
"Daaaaad," Mark droned, momentarily taking his attention away from the noisy game in his hands. "Tell her the truth."
"Okay fine," he relented. "Your brother puts it there when you're asleep. He pulls leaves from the trees and plants them in the ground."
"Oh..." she said. "You know what, daddy?"
Jacob opened his eyes to see his four year old staring down at him thoughtfully with those amazingly wide blue eyes of hers, eyes already so much wiser than his own.
She cocked her head to the side gently, considering him, "I don't think I believe you."
He resisted the urge to laugh at her earnestness. "And that," he said, "is what makes you a very smart little girl."
She smiled at him, her questions silent for now, and returned her attention to tracing her hand over his face, running her hand down the length of his nose.
"What are you doing, Sammy?"
Her hand gathered speed and flew from the tip of his nose and landed back on his chest. She lifted her hand to show him the battered plastic jet she had rescued from no one knew where. "Flying."
Jacob slid into the cockpit, settling into the enclosed space with practiced ease. There were few places in the world where he felt as comfortable, as right, as this. He had spent years adjusting his long legs to the small concave of one jet or another; he could mark his life by their models.
Looking out over the open sides he realised the unforeseen dilemma in this unofficial mission: retrieving his daughter from the clutches of his best friend. He and his wife had yet to be blessed with a child of their own and it was no small secret that the man was besotted by the youngest Carter child. Not that it was a surprise, Jacob considered, his Sammy was a sweet, inquisitive child - it was hard not to fall under her charms.
Coughing gently, Jacob broke through the quiet conversation the pair were having and the large man gently (and reluctantly) transferred his precious goddaughter into her father's waiting arms.
"Here you are, sweetie," he said. "Up to daddy you go."
She gave him a dimpled, milk-toothed smile, "Thank you, Uncle George."
Settling into her father's lap, she cuddled up against his chest. It struck Jacob, suddenly, sadly, that it would not be for too much longer that this would happen. She still possessed all the snuggliness of an infant, her body still round and soft in its baby form. But even now he felt the soles of her pink sneakers (the ones she had, just this morning, so proudly picked out and put on herself) scraping against his knees as her legs grew out. He remembered this age in Mark and knew it would be short months before his baby was her own little person.
"Is this your plane, daddy?" she asked, pulling him from his melancholy.
"Yes, baby," he said. "What do you think?"
Her little face, already lit up with glee by the special outing with her father, brightened even further as she took in the knobs and dials on the dashboard surrounding her. Looking tentatively at her father for approval, she reached out and wrapped her hands around the controls, her tiny fingers barely reaching around the hard plastic. "It's very pretty, daddy," she breathed with hushed excitement.
Well that was a new consideration. "Pretty?"
"Yes," she said, her hands now tracing the lines of switches. "Look at all the colours."
Jacob ran his fingers over her hair with the same reverent joy she afforded his plane. His daughter saw the things in ways he had forgotten, but beyond that, she saw the world in a depth of detail that most people ignored. Even now how could see her scanning the dash, measuring, counting, absorbing it all. He worried about Mark, the way his keen intelligence was often overshadowed by his peer's influence. But he worried more, even now, for his daughter. He worried that the single minded focus with which she studied the world would consume her, would overcome the warm heart that she possessed, even at this young age.
"Can I fly us, daddy?" she asked. "Can I fly?"
Her fingers danced over the controls, her imitation of piloting remarkably fluid.
"Of course, honey," Jacob beamed. "Where are we going?"
"The stars, Daddy. I'm going to fly us to the stars."