This follows Beauty and Nothing More and Such Moments We Steal.
"For the love, Iʼd fallen on,
in the swampy August dawn
what a mischief you would bring young darling!
When the onus is not all your own,
when you're up for it before you've grown."
Bon Iver - Towers
It's the worst fight of their marriage. They've only been married a couple years and so Sam thinks back and decides, no, this is the worst fight of their entire relationship. It's going on three days, now, and in the morning they're supposed to head up to the cabin and the only thing that sounds worse than fighting with Jack is fighting with Jack while trapped in the cabin.
"Do you even remember how it started?" Daniel asks. He's sitting on the floor with Ellie, playing blocks while Sam packs for the kids.
"It doesn't matter, what matters is he continues to be a jerk about it," Sam says. She puts a pile of tiny sweaters into a pink suitcase with a picture of a blonde princess on it. Ellie looks up at her mother, curious at her tone but Sam smiles down at her and Ellie goes back to building her tower.
"He obviously did something," Daniel says, handing Ellie a red block that sits just out of her reach. "You don't fly off the handle for nothing."
"He said," she says, her voice already wobbling in anger. "He told me that my children were not a science experiment."
Daniel doesn't say anything right away and Sam shoves some little socks into the suitcase. Ellie's tower topples and she surveys the wreckage calmly before gathering the blocks back toward her and starting again.
"I suspect there is some context I don't know about," Daniel says finally.
"It's just... Simon is so... you know how he is, so intentional and solemn and focused and now, with this one, I mean she's almost four and not a single word and I just... Thor offered and I just mentioned to Jack, maybe the Asgard should really take a look at the kids and he basically dressed me down."
"He's not your boss anymore," Daniel says.
"Well if he'd thought of a way to demote me from wife back to girlfriend, I think he might have done it," she mutters.
"So let me see if I've got this," Daniel says. "Because if I'm about to embark on a week of tension-filled, bickering hell, I'd like to at least know the reason."
"You're mad because Jack accused you of being more interested in the scientific results than your children and then treated you like you are still his subordinate, and Jack is upset because you implied there's something wrong with his kids."
"I know," he says quickly. "There's nothing wrong with them, Sam."
"Simon is just... you know, he's like you. He's off the charts intelligent and it's just going to be a little different with him and different is fine, you both know that." Daniel's voice is doing that patient, soothing thing that she hates because it works so well.
"Okay," she says.
"And as for number two," he says, nodding his head once at Ellie who isn't paying either of the adults in the room any mind, "She'll talk when she's ready."
"She's perfect," Daniel says. "Everyone says so. Every doctor, every specialist, every little gray man. She's absolutely perfect. She just won't be rushed."
Sam closes the suitcase and zips it.
"She understands fine," Daniel reminds her. Sam stares down at her daughter, playing so calmly. "Eleanor," Daniel says.
Ellie looks up.
"Can I have two green blocks and one yellow block, please?" Daniel says. Ellie glances up at her mother and Sam gives her an encouraging nod. With that approval, she reaches for the yellow block by her foot and carefully removes two green blocks from the top of her tower and extends them to Daniel. "Thank you," he says, and looks up at Sam. "See?"
"I know all of this," Sam says. "I just... I don't think my life is an experiment."
"Yeah, that was mean," Daniel says. "But Jack just wants everything to be normal."
"When has anything ever been normal for us?" she asks.
"Beats me," he says, adding a green block back to the top of the tower.
Thanksgiving at the cabin had sounded so fun back in July when they had planned it. At first it had been everyone, Cam and Teal'c, Daniel and Vala, the kids and Sam and Jack all piled into the little cabin. Northern Minnesota in late November is reckless but not unachievable. Sam had insisted they fly and rent a car instead of driving over icy interstates with the kids in the back. It would take forever.
But now Teal'c is off-world and Cam and Vala have gone with him. Sam feels disconnected from the entire situation. While she knows enough about the Jaffa political climate to understand why Teal'c had to go and take most of SG-1 as back-up, it's not enough to make her stop missing Teal'c achingly, like phantom pains of a missing limb. Daniel had opted to stay and for this she is grateful. He still goes off-world, is still a member of SG-1 but with the Ori gone, he seems less eager to jump back in with both feet. He's been a little more subdued for a while now, ever since Jack went and retrieved him and found him to be a prior, ever since he died and came back again.
She is starting to lose count of how many times he has done that, now.
But he'd come home to them and she'd kissed him on the mouth and punched him on the arm and had looked at him sternly and it her best mom voice had said, "Stop it!"
Daniel stays at the house as much as he goes home or goes on base. Sam keeps a comforter and a pillow folded up in the downstairs closet and when he stays, he pulls them out and sleeps on the couch.
"Just like old times, huh?" Jack had said the first time he'd decided just to stay and Daniel had offered him a small grin. Sam doesn't know exactly what that means, but sometimes she forgets that Jack and Daniel are friends from long before she ever showed up. Or maybe Jack just meant from when Daniel stayed with him after they lost Sha're.
She comes downstairs early to start a pot of coffee. Daniel is on the couch, one foot hanging off the end and she pats it affectionately as she walks by. It doesn't wake him. It never does.
Sam's always up early, but today they are headed to the airport, weather willing, to spend a week at the cabin. She pours the coffee into filter and the water into the back of the machine and pushes the button to start it. Back upstairs, she checks on the kids. Simon is asleep on the top bunk, Ellie still crashed out on the bottom. She and Jack have been talking about finally getting around to cleaning out the little room downstairs and giving it to Simon but it's a big project and they're certainly not going to start it in the winter.
The bedroom door is open like how she left it, but she pushes it closed with her foot to keep the warmth from drifting down the hall. The vent is on the floor under the window and the curtains ripple as the hot air rises. Jack is on his stomach, his face between their two pillows like he'd tried to scoot closer to her only to find her missing. Even though, technically, they are still fighting, Jack doesn't sleep mad.
She's still pissed off at him but she slides back into bed and presses against him because she misses him more than she's angry.
"Hey," he rumbles, hooking an arm over her waist and holding her tight. She presses her nose against his cheek and he opens his eyes, probably because the tip of it is cold. Outside there is snow on the ground, but they haven't gotten fresh powder in a few days.
"Everyone is asleep," she whispers. "It's early."
It's an invitation, but she's not going to spell it out for him. Still, she's hopeful. But he's tired too. He's mad too.
His mouth on hers is a sweet relief. She doesn't even mind the morning breath.
Simon is better on the plane than Ellie, but it's more than just him being older. He wants to sit with Sam and so they split up three and two. She sits Simon in the window seat and behind them sit Jack, Daniel, and Ellie. Sam takes the middle seat and apologizes to the young woman who ends up the aisle.
"It's fine," she says, glancing at Simon warily. It's not Simon she's worried about, it's the fact that she's going to be leaning forward and turning around the whole flight keeping an eye on Jack and Daniel. Sam pushes the arm up between her and Simon and sets him up with crayons and a coloring book as soon as the plane levels out. The coloring book is holiday themed and Simon opens it to a page he's been working on for a couple days now. Each Easter egg, nestled in bright green grass, is meticulously colored. Simon pulls out a purple crayon and inspects the tip of it carefully. It's a little worn down but he must deem it acceptable, because he runs his little thumb over it and then puts it to paper.
Jack's voice behind her, just loud enough to be heard over the general hum of air travel. He only calls her honey in public, because it is the type of things other husbands do with their wives. At home he calls her Carter, or sometimes Sam in bed, or sometimes 'babe' if he's feeling particularly affectionate, but never baby. She hasn't heard 'babe' in a long time.
She looks over the top of her seat.
"Do you have a snack or something for her?" he asks. He knows she does, knows she keeps a whole arsenal of things in her shoulder bag. Ellie stares at her, her little face melting into a smile when they make eye contact.
"Sure," she says. She turns to Simon.
"Are you hungry, buddy?" she asks. "You want a snack?"
He looks at her, a small crease between his eyes as he thinks and Jesus, he looks just like Jack.
"In forty-five minutes, I'll be hungry," he says and goes back to his coloring.
She winces and busies herself rummaging through her bag for the carrot sticks she knows are in there. When she pulls them up, the woman on her left is looking past her, at Simon.
"How old is he?" she asks.
"Five," Sam says.
"Wow," she says. "He's very... calm."
"Sometimes," Sam says. He's particular is what he is, and smart, and has a weirdly accurate concept of time already. He's calm when he's happy. When he's unhappy, he's dark and moody and doesn't communicate at all.
"Too smart for your own good," her dad used to say to her. She understands that better, now.
She hands the bag of carrots over her head and she feels fingers brush hers in the exchange. Daniel - she can tell.
"If she gets antsy, she can sit on my lap," Sam says and hears Jack grunt in response. Ellie isn't much of a crier, though she does get bored and squirmy. Sam suspects she's as smart as Simon, she just doesn't have the language to convey it yet. Or maybe she does, but either way, she's quiet as the proverbial mouse. She's not mute. She whimpers in her sleep sometimes; she laughs. When Sam sits her between her legs and braids her hair, Ellie sighs audibly with pleasure at the sensation of her mother's fingers against her scalp.
Simon seems to understand her just fine. Sam can't begrudge her children any form of silent communication since she and Jack do it all the time, but Sam isn't sure how they'd figured it out so fast. Ellie will just look at Simon and somehow, Simon knows.
Simon twists his little body so he can peer through the small gap between seats and then straightens out again.
"She's okay, Mom," he says.
"Thanks," Sam says, smiling down at him.
It's not the longest flight ever, but about halfway through, Sam and Daniel swap seats so Daniel can read to Simon. They're about halfway through Treasure Island and the woman sharing their row has ear buds in anyway. Jack stands in the aisle to let her pass, to cram her into the window seat with Ellie in the middle. The jostling doesn't wake Ellie up and they're both glad. She settles in and buckles her seat and then she and Jack look at each other.
She's so tired of being upset but she doesn't just want to give in without him at least apologizing for being such a gigantic ass. He looks a little worn down, too, and his eyes crinkle like he might be smiling, though his mouth never quite gets there.
"We'll have a good time," he says.
"Yeah," she agrees. "You think it's going to be a hard drive?"
"Roads should be clear most of the way," he says. They don't use the cabin in winter a lot, but Jack had really wanted to spend Thanksgiving there, had wanted to get up at least one more time this year to check on it. Most of the heavy snow comes in January and so she thinks, just maybe, it will be fine.
"Good," she says. And then she pauses, looking down at Ellie, her little chin tucked into her chest. "Jack, I..."
"I know," he says. "Me too."
"Oh," she says. He stretches his arm across Ellie's seat, above her head, and touches Sam's shoulder. She leans into it, a little.
"We're doing the best we can, right?" he says.
"Right," she agrees.
"It's not supposed to be easy." This is her apology, this is what she's gonna get. She decides to just take it. She tilts her head and kisses the fingers on her shoulder.
Ellie wakes up as the plane starts to descend and crawls onto Jack's lap, her little arms tight around his neck. He rubs her back and whispers something in her ear that Sam can't hear, but it makes her relax slightly. Ellie doesn't mind when Jack transfers her to Sam's arms so he can wrestle their carry-on bags from the overhead bin and get them off the plane. She settles Ellie on one hip so she can carry her shoulder bag. Daniel goes first, then Simon, then Sam and Ellie, and then Jack, all in a row down the narrow aisle.
"Aww," says the flight attendant by the hatch. "She looks just like you."
Sam smiles, nods once, and steps off the plane.
She hates flying commercial.
"I hate flying commercial," Jack grumbles, falling into step next to her.
Sam upsets the whole flow of people getting off the plane, just so she can lean over and kiss him.
Sam thinks about how she used to destroy things for a living, how she used to create something out of nothing, how she could shoot better than Jack and Teal'c combined, though neither of them would ever admit it. She thinks about going off-world a lot more now that the kids are a little older.
She is crouched down by the sofa, easing Ellie's snow boots off of her feet. Ellie allows this, not fighting, but not exactly helping.
"Come on, baby, give me a hand," Sam says, feeling her frustration welling up. Ellie sighs, and holds her foot up a little higher. Sam's a bit on edge - the drive was long and tedious and they'd gotten stuck twice, wheels spinning in the snow and mud for long moments before the truck lurched forward once more. The second time Jack had muttered "Shit," and Simon had leaned into Daniel with his brown eyes wide.
"He's not supposed to say that," Simon had said.
"You're not supposed to say it," Daniel had corrected absently.
Ellie had slept almost the whole way, but now she's wide awake when all the adults are exhausted and frazzled. Sam has spent hours trying to fix something damaged beyond repair under threat of torture and not felt so on-edge.
"Carter!" Jack's voice. Sam yanks hard and the boot finally comes off. Ellie wiggles her toes in her striped pink socks.
"What?" she calls back.
"Come look at this generator," he barks. "I can't... you need to do this."
She looks at Ellie and bites her lip. "Dad would be lost without us, huh?"
Ellie doesn't respond but when Sam rises and heads for the front door, she pads along.
"No way, Miss Thing," Sam says. "We just got those boots off. You're staying inside."
Daniel comes down the dark hallway with Simon hanging onto his back like a monkey.
"I'm going outside," she says.
"Go," he nods. "We'll be fine."
She tromps through the snow, slipping a little when she gets too far away from the edge of the house and has nothing solid with which to steady herself. They've barely just gotten there - what does Jack need the generator running for anyway? They have power and there are no expected storms and by the time she gets to where he's standing, still brushing ice off the monster machine, she's worked herself up into quite the little huff.
"What," she says. He glances up at her, his gaze turning wary at the picture she must make.
"It's not starting," he says.
"It's frozen," she points out.
"That's never stopped it before," he says. "Can't you just... work your Carter magic and get it going?"
"We don't need it going," she says.
"No, but if something happens, I'd like to know that power is, you know, an option," he says.
"In the first ten minutes we're here?"
"Yeah," he says. "In the first ten minutes so in two days when everything flickers off into absolute darkness, we're not out here doing it with a damn flashlight!"
She presses her mouth together and sighs. It isn't that he's wrong, per se, it's that every memory she has of him telling her to fix something is an order.
"All right," she relents. She's so tired of bickering with him and snapping at him now will only upset their fragile truce. "Will you unpack the cooler? Maybe you and Daniel can start on dinner. I bet the kids are hungry."
"Yeah," he says. "Of course, we can do that. Thanks."
The generator isn't really broken. Once she chips some of the ice away, it's not a difficult fix, but by the time she gets back into the cabin, she's frozen and miserable and her nose is running and she just wants something hot to drink, preferably heavily spiked.
Daniel takes one look at her when she walks in and ushers the kids off to wash their hands for dinner and then, in a fit of self-preservation, follows them into the bathroom.
"How'd it go?" Jack calls from the kitchen.
"Oh, swell," she mutters, peeling off layers with achy fingers. He either hears her and stays quiet or doesn't hear her and doesn't care if she answers or not. Sam wouldn't have come back in if that generator wasn't running and Jack knows it.
When she walks into the kitchen, Jack hands her a glass of red wine before she can say anything. It's his attempt at peace, if not quite an apology. She gives him a long look and then takes it.
"You're very smart and pretty and good in bed," he says.
Her lips twitch.
"Go on," she says.
"Also, um, you're really good at saving my butt and I like that you're tall and you're great at growing my kids in your body and that thing you do with your mouth that I like is really, really hot and..."
"All right, all right," she relents, taking a sip of wine so he can't see her full smile. "You're forgiven."
"For now?" he asks, his tone slightly more serious. She shifts her weight back and forth on her feet.
"Jack, I just wish you weren't so good at saying the thing that will hurt me the most," she says. He looks actually pained at her words and his mouth opens, but then Ellie runs in and Daniel and Simon follow. Daniel's shirt is a little damp down the front but she doesn't ask. She knows how hand washing can go.
They eat cold sandwiches and left over macaroni salad - things that traveled well in the ice chest. Simon picks water and tells Jack that Ellie wants milk, which apparently she does, because she drinks it down.
Jack and Daniel stay up for a while playing chess after the kids are down and Sam reads for a while and then keeps nodding off, so she puts herself to bed. She's been asleep for a while when Jack comes in, quiet but not tiptoeing. Everything in the cabin creaks and she still sleeps like a soldier.
"Sorry," he says, his voice a little warm with beer.
"It's all right," she says. "Come to bed."
When he crawls in, in his boxers and t-shirt, she scoots into him even though his skin is cool against hers, already warmed up by the down comforter. He tries to kiss her cheek and gets mostly ear but it's okay.
"I love you," he murmurs.
"I love you, too, Jack," she says. He nuzzles her shoulder with his chin and his whiskers scratch her. She makes a noise more out of surprise than pain. "Sorry, mama," he says and kisses it better.
Jack always sleeps so well at the cabin. Soon, he's out like a light.
She listens hard to the wind outside, to the noises of the old house settling, to Daniel's distant snoring, for sounds of the children waking up. Jack's inhale and noisy exhale - not quite a snore. She wants to roll onto her back, but she doesn't because to do so would be to dislodge his hold on her.
She wants a lot of things lately - action, a challenge, some answers - but pushing Jack away will never be something she wants.
Sam and Simon take the truck into town. First it had been her and Daniel, but then Daniel and hemmed and hawed about the weather and she'd let him off the hook easily enough. She's perfectly happy going alone, but then Simon wants to go too, so she thinks she'll just take both the kids but Simon touches her hip, his little hand cozy in his red mitten and shakes his head.
"She doesn't wanna, mom," he says.
"We haven't even asked her yet, buddy," Sam says dismissively but Simon manages to get one finger into her pocket through the wool and it catches her attention again.
"I don't have to ask her," Simon says.
Sam studies his little face, his brown hair peeking out from his woolen cap and then steps into the other room where Ellie is in Jack's recliner in front of the television. The Little Mermaid. Again.
"Eleanor," Sam says. She waits for Ellie to drag her eyes away from the screen. "Do you want to go to the store with your brother and me?"
Ellie looks at Simon and cants her head.
"See?" Simon says.
Sam doesn't see, not really.
"Yes or no," Sam says.
Ellie shakes her head no and pulls her fingers out of her mouth to point at the screen.
"All right," Sam sighs. In the other room, she crouches to zip up Simon's parka. "Jack, don't let her rot there in front of the TV the whole time we're gone."
"It's educational," he murmurs, most of his attention still on the open tackle box spread out across the coffee table.
"It's Disney," she says.
"So?" Jack says.
"Daniel, go crazy," Sam says, and picks Simon up.
Jack groans at the very start of Daniel's lecture on the evils of Disney and she shuts the door firmly against it.
"I can walk," Simon says, squirming.
"Soon you'll be too big for me to carry and then you'll miss it," Sam warns, holding him tighter. "You'll get tall like daddy."
"Taller than you?" Simon asks.
"Taller than Teal'c?" he says, his voice rising in excitement.
She chuckles. "You never know!"
He climbs into his seat and she lets him buckle himself in under her watchful eye. Satisfied, she closes the door and sits in the driver's seat for a moment, banging her heels together to get the excess snow off of them.
"Like Dorothy," Simon comments. Daniel had read him the The Wizard of Oz before Treasure Island.
"If only it were so easy to get home," she says.
"Thor could just beam us," Simon says. "With his sky light."
She suppresses a smile and starts the car - backing out easy.
"You know that's a secret."
"I know, but you already know the secret," Simon says. "So it's okay to talk about. Daddy said so."
"Oh did he?" she says. "What else did Daddy say about Thor?"
"That they don't make babies right," Simon says and Sam nearly slams on the breaks. Jack. She takes a couple breaths and drives carefully until they reach the end of the gravel and get onto the salted pavement.
"You don't need to worry about babies," Sam comments.
"I know," he says. "Daddy said me and Ellie are the only babies that matter to Thor."
"Hey buddy?" Sam says. "Do you remember when Ellie was born?"
"No," he says. "I was too little."
"Do you remember visiting Thor on his ship?" she asks. Thor checks in rarely these days but he always comes to Earth, now, that Simon is old enough to remember and talk and spill national secrets.
"In Space?" he asks. "No. Can I go there?"
"To space? Maybe someday," she says.
"No, to Thor's ship!"
"It's far away right now," Sam says. "Sorry."
"But the Stargate could take us there," Simon says.
She has to stop and breathe again.
"Did Daddy tell you about the Stargate, too?" she demands.
"No," Simon says, sounding a little less sure of himself. "I heard him and Uncle Daniel talk about it."
Such a smart child. So well spoken for his age which somehow makes Ellie's silence even more peculiar. She bites her lip and tries to push down the feeling that she's in over her head.
"Okay, well that's a word we can't say," she says. "Stargate."
"Like a bad word?" he says.
"No, like a secret," she corrects. He sighs.
"There are so many of those," he says, a little whiny.
Welcome to Earth, kid she thinks but it feels so unkind. He is her eldest, her firstborn, her only son.
"I know, buddy," she says. At the very least she can commiserate.
Jack realizes he can hear the menu music of the mermaid movie playing in a loop so he gets up to check on Ellie. She isn't in his chair anymore so he does a sweep of the room, looking for her golden hair amid the dark, wooden furniture but she isn't there.
"Ell?" he calls out. She doesn't answer, either can't or won't.
He goes down the hallway and checks the bedroom but she's not in her or her brother's bed or Daniel's room or the bathroom. He finds her in the master bedroom, sitting quietly on the bed with her stuffed dog and Sam's make-up bag. It seems like little Rover is getting quite the make-over.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Jack says, rushing over to snatch the mascara out of her hand. The black wand is covered in tan fuzz. "Oh boy."
She looks up at him and has the nerve not even to look guilty.
"You and I both know this isn't good, sister," he says. "This is mommy's make-up, not a toy."
There's lipstick and powdery eyeshadow all over the dog, the comforter, and Ellie. Jack sighs.
"Now we have to clean this up." He scowls at her. "And when Mommy gets home, she's not going to be happy."
Ellie's bottom lip sticks out and her eyebrows scrunch up and he picks her up just as she starts to cry.
"I know," he says. "It's all right, we'll fix it."
He strips her and the bed and shoves everything, along with the dog, into the ancient washing machine in the back of the house. When the O'Neill family had first built the cabin, it had been a small, three room structure without electricity. Jack still remembers every upgrade made in his life time, how his father had grumbled and muttered and scowled but had finally left early one morning and came back with the old washer and dryer bumping around in the back of his pick up. Jack and his father had carefully unloaded them and shoved them into the back of the house and Jack had spent the rest of the week installing hook-ups for them. He and his dad.
He doesn't start the wash - Sam will have some rule about what can go where for how long, but he does carry Ellie on his hip in nothing but her underwear back to where Daniel sits.
"What happened?" Daniel asks. "Jack, she's gonna freeze."
"She got into Carter's make-up," he says. "All over the bed."
"Eleanor!" Daniel says. She squirms and pushes her face into Jack's neck.
"Yes, well," he says. "She watches Carter put the stuff on every morning so can you blame her or... whatever. She needs a bath anyway."
"All right," Daniel says.
"Hey," Jack says. Ellie is still hiding, her little arms around his neck. He squeeze one pudgy thigh where he holds her. She looks up. "I love you," he says to her.
Her little face relaxes and she smiles at him and leans in. He kisses her on the mouth.
"Do you love me?" he asks. She nods. "Can you say, Daddy, I love you?" She nods but doesn't say anything.
He helps her squirm out of her pink panties and sits her on the toilet while the water runs. She's done fine with the potty training, especially during the day. With Simon it had been more of a struggle. Way more accidents and bribery, but Ellie just tugs on one of them and points, usually. Sam still puts her in those overnight diapers that don't quite look like diapers, but most the time they're still dry in the morning.
He helps her wipe and then hefts her up and lowers her slowly into the shallow tub.
It's strange how she's so little, barely a little girl instead of a baby, but he can already see how her body looks just like Sam's. Her arms, her fingers, her little knees. Her eyebrows arch in the same way, her lips, her blue, blue eyes. Jack's mother had blue eyes.
"Daniel!" Jack calls. "Come here."
"Please," Daniel says, appearing a couple moments later. "Would be the word you forgot."
"Uh huh," Jack says. "I think their shampoo is our suitcase, will you sit with her?"
"Sure," Daniel says.
"If she drowns, I'll kill you," he says. Daniel rolls his eyes and kneels by the tub. When Jack comes back, Daniel is singing to Ellie softly. Jack doesn't understand the language but he does recognize it from all the time he spent on Abydos. Jack thinks about Daniel's wife more than he probably ought to after all this time. Thinks about how he dragged Daniel back into the war with the Goa'uld and how it cost him his happiness. Jack has spent every day since then trying to give it back to him in whatever way he could.
Well. Almost every day.
Daniel has a decent singing voice. Better than his own and better than Sam's - poor tone deaf Sam. It's comforting, though, that she's not good at everything.
Jack touches the back of Daniel's neck for balance as he crouches down, hissing as his knees bear his weight on the tile. Daniel raises an eyebrow.
"Thought Thor took care of that," he murmurs.
"Thor is the reason I'll be able to get up again," Jack says.
In his absence, Daniel has coaxed Ellie down into the water and back up again so her blond curls are dark and wet against her head. Daniel takes the shampoo from Jack and squirts a little into his hand. Ellie plays with a washcloth while Daniel washes her hair.
"Ellie?" Jack says. She looks up. "Is the water warm enough?"
"She's fine," Daniel says.
"I wish she'd tell me so," Jack says.
"Hey," Daniel says, working hard to keep his voice soft and even. "You are the one who jumped down Sam's neck for suggesting otherwise."
But there's no point in trying to spin things. Sam always tells the truth and he knows that Daniel already probably knows everything there is to know about their arguments, about their disagreement in regards to the kids, hell, about their entire marriage.
"It's not that I don't get worried," Jack says. "I just... want so much for 'em."
Daniel cradles Ellie's head so carefully when he leans her back to wash the shampoo and then the conditioner out of her hair. She closes her eyes tightly but Daniel never lets the water or soap near her eyes and when she flutters her eyes back open, her eyelashes so long and dark, she lets out a dreamy sigh.
Jack would move mountains to know what she is thinking.
Ellie sits up and looks to the door.
Sam must be back. Jack has his boots on already and he leaves Ellie and Daniel to help Sam unload.
The rental car looks fine, if a little more covered in snow and salt from the roads. Sam gets out of the driver's seat and looks at him. He walks out to her and she opens her arms and he leans in to kiss her. Her face is warm from the heater and he lets his cheek slide across hers.
"You okay?" she asks softly.
"I just missed you," he says. "I just... Carter."
"Yeah?" she says.
"Thanks for coming up here with me."
She chuckles, her arms tightening around him before she lets go.
"You nut," she says.
"Oh, I sold him for gas money," she says. He raises his eyebrows. "He's sacked out. Will you carry him in?"
Jack unbuckles his son carefully and Simon allows himself to be hefted and carried against Jack's shoulder. Sam trails with a few bags of groceries and once Jack deposits Simon in the recliner closest to the door, he goes back to help her with the rest.
She bought a lot. A lot. He understands thanksgiving is a big meal, but this seems like the same amount of food she usually buys for a month. She watches him, glancing sideways as they set all the bags on the kitchen floor. She's waiting for him to make some comment but he sure as hell isn't gonna.
"Damn," Daniel says, walking in. "You expecting to feed the Jaffa Free Nation?"
"Look," she says, clearly ready for the fight whether it comes from Jack or not.
"It looks like the perfect amount, babe," he assures her and then when she turns back to the bags, Jack looks at Daniel and drags a finger across his throat.
This is gonna be a good week if it kills him.
Simon wakes up from his nap to find his sister curled against him. More often then not, she climbs out of her bed and into his. There is a pleasant hum when they touch. His mother had explained to him about naquadah, about the element present in their blood that isn't in most people, and more about secrets.
Ellie is unusually quiet. Even in her sleep, he usually gets something from her, a hint of what she's thinking about, a wisp of a dream, but she is quiet, sleeping hard, her mouth open. It's easy to untangle himself from her - she doesn't even shift. He makes sure she's covered by the old quilt on his bed and pads out of the room.
He stops in the bathroom and doesn't bother to flush. By the time his mom realizes that he has used the toilet, it will be too late for punishment.
Uncle Daniel is asleep in his dad's recliner chair. His glasses are askew on his face and there is a book across his chest, but the lamp isn't even on and Simon knows the book was just for show. That this nap was his plan all along. Simon is glad Daniel has come with them for the holiday. He plays the kind of games that Simon likes to play - puzzles and epic imaginary battles. Dad likes to go outside and throw something. Mom always makes them let Ellie play.
The cabin is darker now that the sun has started to set. Simon can hear the wind pick up. The fire is going in the living room but it is a little neglected. It's a good fire for roasting marshmallows. There are embers, hot and orange. They roast a lot of marshmallows in the summer on the deck over the grill. Maybe Simon will ask about it later. It is a holiday, after all.
The only real source of light is coming from the kitchen and as he approaches the little room, it gets warmer. The oven is on - Mom is making them dinner but Simon can't hear the normal noises of his mother attempting to craft their meal. The sink is not running, there are no clanging pots and pans, no dull sound of the knife hitting the cutting board, or his mother repeating a recipe to herself again and again under her breath in reassurance that she is doing it right.
He quietly approaches the door and sticks his head in. Both of his parents are in the kitchen, standing right against each other.
They are kissing.
It's not the way they kiss him, sweetly and swiftly, puckered lips against his or some part of him. His dad likes to wake him up in the morning by lifting the t-shirt to his pajamas and kissing his belly. His mom likes to pick him up and kiss him and nuzzle him and he's seen them do it to Ellie, too.
But this kiss seems to last forever and Simon wonders how it is they can keep at it so long without needing to breathe. He wonders why his father holds his mother's head with both of his hands. It doesn't look like she's trying to escape. In fact, he can see his mother's hands holding tightly to his father's sweater, like he is the one who might try to flee.
Something happens, something so small that Simon can't see it, and his mother makes a low noise and seems to press more solidly against his father.
But his father seems to know he is there and steps back.
"We have an audience."
His mother looks dazed - her cheeks are red and she blinks a few times.
Jack turns and looks right at Simon, like he knew all along. He probably did.
"You have a good nap, slugger?" his dad asks, his face red. His mother seems to snap out of it and she clears her throat and turns back to the stove to check on whatever is in the large pot there. It smells like stew.
"Yeah," Simon says.
"You want some juice?" Mom says, and Simon does, so he climbs into his chair at the table. His mom pours him some apple juice into his cup and screws on the lid. He takes it, inspects the mouth piece to make sure it's clean, and takes a drink. His dad pats his head.
"Is your sister still asleep?" his dad asks.
"She'll be up soon," his mom says.
"No," Simon says. "She's really asleep."
His Mom looks at him, that same look she gets when he says something she doesn't understand. She had it in the car today too, her eyebrows low over her eyes in the rear view mirror.
"She's been sleeping a lot lately," Mom says.
"Maybe she's going through another growth spurt," his dad replies, sitting down in the chair adjacent to Simon's.
"Should we wake her up for dinner?" his mom wonders. "She'll probably wake up on her own if we're loud enough."
Simon pauses, reaching out. "No," he says. "She's still quiet."
His dad laughs and makes a funny face. "She's always quiet, kiddo," he says.
"You guys never listen right," Simon says. He takes his juice and hops off the chair, hoping that if he turns on the TV low enough, it won't wake Uncle Daniel.
"What does that mean?" he hears his mom ask but he doesn't stick around to hear his dad's answer.
Sam sets Ellie up with a ball of leftover dough from the pie crust, some flour, and keeps an eye on her as she does prep work. Thanksgiving isn't just getting up early and slapping a turkey in the oven. There's so much chopping and baking to be done when the Turkey is occupying the oven and the kitchen in the cabin isn't exactly state of the art. Daniel will help her when he wakes up, but he's slow to rise and fussy if woken. Jack and Simon are working on a puzzle in the other room. Simon was the first up - he always is - and Jack is scruffy and drinking coffee, only half awake.
He comes in with an empty mug and leans over to kiss Ellie's head. He replenishes his coffee and stands and watches Sam cut up long, pale green stalks of celery.
"Need help?" he asks.
"Maybe later," she promises. Jack shuffles away again and pauses behind Ellie's chair.
"Carter, what's she making?" he asks.
"She's just playing," Sam says.
"Well, it kinda... come look at this," Jack says. There's something odd in his voice.
Sam wipes her hands on her apron and comes over. Ellie has rolled a piece of dough out and made a circle. The kids play with play-doh all the time, rolling it out with both hands to make long, snake-like pieces.
"It's a circle," Sam says.
"Yeah, but what's that look like?" Jack asks, pointing to a piece of dough that Ellie has already finished and set aside.
"Oh, my god," she says.
It looks like a DHD.
They sit down to the meal like a normal family, but nothing feels right to Jack. Daniel is pretending too hard that everything is perfectly fine, talking in this weird, loud voice that he only uses for alien cultures who speak an unrecognizable language, like shouting is going to make everyone understand and behave. Carter is quiet, skittish like a rabbit, giving Simon too much food and forgetting to give Ellie any gravy. She is solemn in her booster seat and her little brown and pink bib, watching her parents with Carter's big, blue eyes.
"Looks good," Jack says, because someone has to do something. "Doesn't it look good, guys?"
"So good," Daniel says, even though Jack was mostly talking to the kids.
"Yummy," Simon offers.
Ellie just picks up her fork with her fist and stares at her plate.
"Mom," Simon says. Sam is scooping stuffing onto her own plate and says nothing. "Mama."
"Hmm?" she says absently.
"Mama, stop it," Simon says, his little voice high-pitched and worried. "You're scaring her."
"What?" Jack asks, leaning forward and peering at Simon first, then Ellie.
"She's scared," Simon says again.
"I'm just... I'm not doing anything," Sam says glancing between Jack and Daniel. Daniel looks at Ellie but she won't look back. "What am I doing?"
"I don't know," Simon says. "But she doesn't like it, Mom."
"Sam?" Daniel says. "What...?"
"She made a DHD, Daniel," Sam says, and stands up. "I don't know. Maybe she's scared because I'm scared!"
Everyone falls silent - the food cooling rapidly on the table. Simon sticks his finger in his gravy and puts the finger in his mouth, sucking for comfort.
Sam kneels before Ellie, strapped into her chair.
"You can tell me," Sam says, an edge of desperation in her voice. "You can tell me what's wrong."
Ellie says nothing.
"Tell me," Sam says. "Tell me what's wrong, baby, just say it, tell me what's wrong. Say it. Say it! Goddamn it, Eleanor, say something!"
"Okay," Daniel says. He stands up and grabs Sam by the bicep and hauls her unkindly to her feet. "Mom and I are going for a little walk."
Jack rises too. Ellie is crying and he unbuckles her and lifts her calmly, her long legs latching around his waist.
"Shh," he says, holding her head against him. "Shh, she didn't mean it." He looks at Simon, who has most of his fist in his mouth, even though he knows he's not supposed to. "Go ahead and eat, bud."
Simon picks up his fork, but doesn't take his hand out of his mouth. Ellie's cries turn into wails and Jack sighs, tired and a little afraid. He's seen Sam at her best and at her worst and he knows it takes a lot to get her agitated to such a state. She's been keeping things from him, that much is clear, and whatever dark little secret she's been nurturing within herself is starting to seep out.
Jack rubs Ellie's back and sits in Sam's empty chair, closer to Simon.
"We'll all eat," Jack says, picking up Sam's fork. Ellie doesn't let go, just stays tucked on his lap, plastered against his chest, but she calms down a little.
Nothing is hot anymore, but Jack matches Simon bite for bite. Thanksgiving is about family and Jack doesn't know any other way to make sure his kids know that they're not alone.
Sam is shivering. They've been standing on the dock to the frozen pond for a long time.
"Jack wants to teach the kids to skate, but I'm not convinced it's entirely safe."
Daniel has been waiting for her to say something, anything, and he's cold enough that this will do just fine.
"There's always some risk," he says evenly.
"They're so little."
"Sam," Daniel says. "What if you started at the beginning?"
"The beginning?" she says and chuckles, but it lacks mirth and makes him feel, though he didn't think it possible, even colder. "I guess the beginning was when Jack and I couldn't stop touching each other."
Daniel no longer flinches at the idea of Jack and Sam together. At first, the transition had been interesting. They'd always worked so hard to follow the rules and then, suddenly they were Jack-and-Sam, this cohesive unit that was somehow separate from SG-1 and it had been odd and a little unsettling, but Daniel got used to it like so many odd and unsettling things before. Throughout the years, he's learned that he likes Sam as a confident and sexy woman, and then mother, and then wife. And Sam softens Jack's edges a little and Daniel certainly prefers Jack when he's not being a colossal ass.
Jack and Sam and sex is something Daniel has gotten used to as well. Jack tends to go to Teal'c for the masculine bonding, wink-wink, elbow to the ribs bedroom talk, but Jack opens up to Daniel now too. And Sam isn't shy about showing affection. About slipping onto Jack's lap, about kissing him in a room full of people. And Daniel isn't just a friend, he's family. He's welcome at any hour, he knows that, and drops by enough that he doesn't knock any longer, he just walks in the front door and if that door is locked, it's all right, because he has a key. He learned a lesson about Jack and Sam and sex by doing just that, by dropping by unannounced once in the afternoon. He'd left his cellphone on their kitchen counter the night before when he'd come by for dinner and he should have known that finding the door unlocked in the middle of the day was unusual, but he'd just walked in, turned the sharp corner from the hallway to the kitchen, and found Sam on the tiled counter, her knees open wide and Jack between them, his pants down around his ankles.
He'll never forget the look on Sam's face. She'd been so close; Daniel didn't know how he knew that except for that he'd known her for ten years and he just could tell. When she saw him, she'd sucked in a little surprised breath and her nose had scrunched up and she'd let out this low moan so sexual that Daniel still flushed if he thought about it to this day.
He'd held up a hand in apology and backed out quietly.
He'd stopped by later that night and Jack hadn't acted like anything was weird, just tossed him his phone. Sam hadn't quite looked at him.
"You and Jack have always had chemistry," Daniel says now, trying not to think of that day in the kitchen - Sam's lean calves around Jack's narrow, pumping hips.
"Yeah," she says. "He transferred and that same day we went to dinner and he dropped me off on my front porch and kissed my cheek and got back in his truck."
"Well," Daniel says. Jack had been trying to be a gentleman about it, Daniel thinks, in his own, old-fashioned Jack way.
"He came back twenty minutes later and we had sex in the hallway against the wall," Sam says. "And from that point on it's been like... accommodating my life around him."
That's not fair, Daniel thinks. Jack has given up plenty. Hell, his whole transfer to Washington was a sacrifice and coming back to the Springs to start the training program when Sam got pregnant with Simon wasn't exactly Jack's dream job either. Plus, Daniel gives him credit for starting a family after what happened with Charlie. He glances at Sam, the end of her nose red and her lips chapped.
"Jack works hard for you guys," Daniel says.
"I know he does," she says miserably. "And I... I love Jack. I love my children. I would do anything for them."
"We all know that."
"I have done it," she says. "I... I..."
She doesn't know how to get it out.
"Sam," Daniel says. "It's just me."
"I want to go back through the Gate, Daniel," she says. "I want my life back."
When she says it, her shoulders slump a little, like she's been carrying it around for too long. Daniel rolls his eyes. This is what she's been worried about?
"Of course you want that," he says.
Her eyes snap up, wide and surprised and he can see Captain Carter in there, still, after all these years. So young, so smart, so naive.
"Sam, choosing to stay home with your kids doesn't mean that giving up what you love isn't going to be difficult."
"But Cam asked me to come back and when I told him no, I really... I meant no, I did," she says.
"That was like five years ago," he says.
"Have you told Jack?" Daniel asks. She glances at her boots, the snow stuck to the toes, the icy wood of the dock beneath their feet, the dull gray of the frozen pond.
"No," she says. "But I think he knows."
Of course he knows, and Sam knows that he knows because while she's misguided, at times, she's never an idiot.
"You should tell him," Daniel says.
They head back toward the cabin, careful not to slip, holding onto one another like they always have on treacherous terrain. She stops him outside the door.
"Daniel, how did she know how to make a DHD?" Sam asks quickly, that desperate note back in her voice.
"I don't know," he says. Sam swallows, a flicker of guilt across her face. "What is it?"
"I was thinking about it," she says. "I was thinking about the Gate and the DHD when she was playing with the dough."
"Chopping vegetables is boring," she sighs. "And when I do mindless tasks like that, I think about complex machinery so I don't go crazy with boredom. I was chopping carrots but in my mind, I was taking the DHD apart piece by piece."
"Daniel!" she says. "Does she know what we're thinking? Can she... can she... I can't even say it, it's too ridiculous."
"Well your children are supposed to be the next evolutionary step," Daniel says. "I mean, is it really so far out of the realm of possibility to think that something like that might be... possible?"
"I don't know, I don't... what if they're different? Jack isn't..." she frets
"Jack is fine," he cuts her off. Frankly, it's not Jack he's worried about. "Sam, if they're gifted, we'll figure it out, but when have we ever had a problem with someone being different?"
She looks a little ashamed.
"I don't want her to think that I don't love her because I was thinking about the Stargate," she says.
He stares at her and then, slowly, leans in and kisses her softly, his chapped lips cool against hers. She allows this, stands still, offers a little pressure in return. When he pulls back, he smiles at her.
"No one thinks that, dummy," he says. "You and Jack are my best friends. I'm not going to let you screw up our kids."
"Promise?" she asks.
"I promise," he says. He opens the door, the warmth from inside hitting their exposed skin and making it sting.
"Carter?" Jack's voice from across the cabin. "We saved you some food. Come on and eat."
They step in and close the door against the wind.
The kids don't get to go to the SGC, so it's a pretty big deal when Sam takes them both to work with her on a Sunday afternoon. It's the least active day of the week on base and she has scheduled some time with Dr. Lam. It's not just Sam and Jack who keep their families away from base - but Sam and Jack are one of only two couples who both have clearance to come on base who have children.
Sam holds Simon's hand and carries Ellie on her other hip. She's in her green BDUs and Simon can't keep his thumb out of his mouth. She's tired of pulling it out and just lets him.
"Colonel Carter," the airman manning the gate greets her. "Bringing some visitors today?"
"Yep," she says, sounding far calmer than she feels. They're not going to see the Stargate. They're not even going to go down to that level. It's going to be just fine. "Has General O'Neill signed in yet?"
"Yes, Ma'am," the airman says. "He left these for you."
He holds out two visitor badges. She hands one to Simon.
"This goes on your shirt," she says. She sets Ellie down long enough to fasten the badge to her white shirt, just above the row of pink flowers and then Ellie puts her arms out and Sam lifts her back up, awkwardly signing her name on the sign in sheet. "Thank you," she says to the airman and takes Simon's hand again.
She has to let him go to swipe her card and call the elevator and he hangs onto her pocket instead.
"Okay," she says. "One more time. What are the rules?"
"Stay with you," Simon says promptly.
"No matter what," she says.
"Can I stay with Dad if I don't stay with you?" Simon asks.
"The first rule is to stay with me!" she says. The elevator doors open and they all step in. Ellie is heavy and Sam wants to put her down, but can't seem to make herself try.
"Dad will keep us safe," Simon says.
"Daddy isn't going to try to take you somewhere that I'm not," Sam says, hoping that doesn't turn out to be a blatant lie. "Rule two: Behave."
Simon is watching the numbers change on the display.
"I know," he says.
"And what happens if there is an emergency?" she asks.
"Remember rule one," he says. "Mama, we know."
"Good," she says. Ellie huffs out a sigh and squirms a little in her arms and Sam is grateful. She sets her down, smooths the rumpled back of her pink skirt down over her little butt. And, since she's smoothing, she tries to get Simon's cowlick to lie flat, but, as with Jack, it's a losing battle. Jack keeps his hair military short all year round, but Sam let's Simon's get a little longer in the winter. It's turning shaggy now, curling over the tops of his ears.
"Mom," he says. "Stop."
"Sorry," she sighs, taking his hand again. When the elevator doors part, she has Ellie's hand in hers too, and Jack is waiting in the hallway, a yo-yo dangling from one hand.
"General," she says.
"Colonel," he greets.
"Is Carolyn ready for us?" she asks.
"Yep," he says. "You kids ready?"
"Mom says it isn't going to hurt," Simon says, sounding unsure once more.
"Nope," Jack says. "Just like taking a picture."
Ellie tries to pull her hand away from her mom but Sam doesn't let go, so she points at Jack.
"Rule one," Sam says. Ellie scrunches up her nose.
"I'm not going anywhere," he says and picks her up.
"She's too big for that," Sam says. And though her legs dangle low, Jack carries her with ease and it's fine. Sam is just nervous, jumpy about her children being on the base, about what the tests might show, about the other personnel watching them and seeing them as something less than good military officers for falling in love and making it work all these years.
"Relax," Jack says.
In the lab, Carolyn greets them with a smile. She's met the children before but only a handful of times and informal functions and Simon remains quiet, his face moody. His finger slips back in his mouth.
"Ah," Jack says. "Hands."
It slips out again.
"Don't worry," Carolyn says. "We're going to do your mom and dad first."
Jack goes first. Sam sits on one of the beds, her children both vying for her lap.
Daniel takes them home. Sam presses her car keys into his hands and a kiss to his cheek. She kisses her son and her daughter, holding Ellie a little bit longer. Ellie tolerates it and hugs her back, as if she knows her mother needs it. Sam holds her little face, kisses the tip of her nose.
"I love you," Sam says. "I love you, daughter."
"She knows, Mom," Simon says. He is impatient to leave as they have been promised ice cream on the way home.
"We'll be home in time to make you guys dinner," Jack promises.
When they're gone, they move into Carolyn's office. She calls up the scans on the computer.
"Well, I think we ought to send them to the Asgard," she says and as a starting statement, it doesn't exactly fill Sam with confidence.
"What's wrong with them?" she demands.
"Nothing," Carolyn says. "But there are things here I don't know how to interpret. Simon's brain activity is at least ten percent above an average humans and Eleanor is... significantly beyond that. But I don't know what that means. Higher intelligence? Probably. Abilities we don't know about? Maybe."
"Like mind reading?" Jack asks.
Carolyn doesn't even look surprised. Sam wishes she would look surprised. Instead she says, "I wouldn't be surprised, considering the most active region of her brain."
"She doesn't talk," Sam says. "Why... why won't she talk?"
"Maybe she doesn't feel like she has to," Jack says.
Both women stare at him.
"What?" he says. "I can be insightful."
"What do you mean?" Carolyn presses.
"Just... if she can hear everything we're thinking, then why bother with words?" he says. "Simon interprets her all the time. Where's the motivation for her to talk?"
"That's a fair point," Sam says.
"Well you don't have to sound surprised about it," he says, but he smirks and she rolls her eyes.
"I'm going to find you a speech therapist with some clearance," Carolyn says. "And, with your permission, transmit our findings to the Asgard."
"I'll do it," Sam says. "I'll contact them."
"Maybe this isn't his fault," Jack says. "I don't think Thor did this on purpose."
"Maybe not, but he still did it," Sam says. And she has some words for him and his manipulative little ways.
Jack frowns, the line between his eyes getting deeper.
"Well," Carolyn says. "I'll just leave you two to that, then."
Sam wakes up to Ellie crawling over her, trying to insulate herself between her mother and father in their big bed. Her little feet are freezing when she finally worms them beneath the covers. It's been snowing a lot and Sam thinks maybe they'll just all stay home today. It's a Friday. There's no way Simon is going into Kindergarten in this weather and if she has to stay home with him, there's no point in taking Ellie to daycare and there's nothing she needs to do at the mountain that she can't do from home. Convincing Jack to stay will be the challenge.
"What's wrong baby?" Jack murmurs, rolling over to pull Ellie in closer. "D'you have a bad dream?"
Sam rolls too, facing them. Jack is still mostly asleep, his face scratchy with whiskers and his old academy shirt fraying at the collar. Ellie blinks at her mother, their eyes meeting in the low light. The sun will rise within the hour. Ellie is not usually an early riser, though, so something must have happened.
"I dreamed of snakes," she says.
Ellie has been in her speech therapy for just over two weeks now.
This is the first time Sam has ever heard her daughter speak.
"Oh, honey," Jack says. "Mommy and Daddy are right here. There are no snakes."
And this is why she is convinced that Jack is a greater parent than she will ever be. Her first reaction is to panic, to cheer, to scream, to hold Ellie tightly and weep but Jack knows that overreacting is just gonna scare her back into silence. The only reason Sam even knows Jack is aware of what a massive breakthrough this is, is because his eyes snap open and meet hers over the top of Ellie's head.
"Thanks for telling us, though," he says, and kisses the crown of her head. "Now we can keep you extra safe."
Ellie sighs and closes her eyes, already drowsy and content in her father's arms.
Neither Jack or Sam go back to sleep. They lie in bed watching one another, their eyes flicking back and forth to their little girl who sleeps with one finger hooked over her bottom lip. Jack only shifts slightly, just enough to free one arm. He reaches for Sam, his thumb brushing the tears off her face.
Cam is helping her put together a bicycle.
"This seems cruel," Cam says. "There's half a foot of snow on the ground. He can't ride it for months."
"So what do we do?" she says, sipping her beer. "Say Merry Christmas, Simon, here's a picture of a toy you can have in the spring?"
"I dunno," he says. "Get him something he can play with now."
"Jack says it'll be exciting to wake up to it," Sam says. "He can ride it around the living room."
"Whee!" Cam says, sarcastically.
"I thought you were here to help."
"Please, you could put this thing together by yourself one-handed and drunk," Cam says. She grins.
"So why are you here?" she asks. "Because I miss you guys."
Everyone will come tomorrow. Vala is on the base for the night, as is Teal'c. Daniel is uncharacteristically at home. He has a little head cold and had wanted to try to sleep it off and not pass it to the kids. Sam had invited Cam to come, to take Daniel's couch. She knows how important family is to him and how sad he is that he couldn't get enough leave to go home for Christmas this year.
"We miss you, too," he says. She looks at him, the words clawing their way up her throat. It should be so easy to say them, she should just do it. Cam, I want to come back.
She opens her mouth. "Cam, I..."
But then she hears it. The bleep, a noise that could come from any electronic in any American home, but in this home, the sound is as foreign as it is familiar.
"What?" Cam asks.
"Did you hear that?" Sam asks, standing, wiping her hands on her jeans.
"Hear what?" Cam says. He is convinced that bearing children has given her some super human hearing power.
"From the office," she says. When she strides quickly toward the stairs, he pops up and follows. Their feet are quiet on the stairs and they pass the open door of the children. Jack is wedged next to Simon on the bottom bunk, asleep with a book on his stomach but Sam doesn't pause to admire the picture. She goes into the office where her desk is meticulously neat and Jack's is covered with files and papers.
She hears it again.
"Yeah, okay," Cam relents. "What is it?"
"The Asgard," she says, starting to shuffle through the paperwork on her husband's desk. Thank God the stone lights up, or she might have never found it. She tracks the glow and pulls it out, holds it in the open palm of her hand.
"This is Colonel Carter," she says, softly.
"Colonel Carter," replies the voice. She doesn't recognize it. "The high commander of the Asgard fleet has received your message and requests permission to beam you aboard."
She glances at Cam and hands him the stone.
"Go ahead," she says.
"But what about..." Cam starts, but Sam doesn't hear the end of it because she's already on the ship.
The Asgard at the communication station nods at her.
"Commander Thor is on his way. He has brought someone for you to meet."
"All right," she says. "What about General O'Neill?"
"I was instructed not to ask for you both in deference to not leaving your off-spring unattended," says the unfamiliar Asgard.
It took years, but it seems that the Asgard are finally getting the hang of manners.
"Oh," she says. "Well, Colonel Mitchell is there, so do you think you could bring General O'Neill up as well?"
Surely Cam has had enough time to wake him up.
But when Jack appears, it's sprawled out on the ground. It takes him only a second to wake up and look around, panicked until he spots his wife.
"Come on," he grumbles. She walks over and helps him to his feet.
"Cam didn't wake you?" she asks.
"I don't..." he rubs his face. "What?"
"Never mind," she says. "Thor is coming."
"It's Christmas," Jack grumbles.
"We called him," she reminds him.
"We really have to get him an Earth calendar," Jack says anyway.
When Thor comes in, riding in his chair, the other Asgard slips quietly away. But Thor is not alone - in his arms is a small, sleeping baby.
"Oh, my God!" Sam says. "Thor!"
"Hello Colonel Carter. Hello, O'Neill," he says. "I was pleased to receive your communication because it is time for you to meet my child."
"Thor," Jack says. "Buddy. You guys did it!"
"Tola is the fourteenth child we have procreated," Thor says. "And this child has been deemed mine to raise."
"A girl?" Sam asks. Thor cocks his head, his owlish eyes shining.
"We will not know for certain until the child begins its adolescence. If it is a male, his name will be Thor, like mine."
"Congratulations," Jack says. "Way to go."
"It is I who must thank you," Thor says. "The Carter-O'Neills are saviors to our race."
Sam swallows. "Thor, about that..."
"I have reviewed your findings," he says. "Your children are fine. They are simply advanced."
Sam is tired of hearing this. Advanced is one thing, but nothing about being advanced is going to make life any easier for her children and it certainly hasn't made being their mother any easier. She knows being smart is a gift, she has first hand experience with that, but her intelligence gave her a bumpy road to travel. It was isolating and a hard to burden to carry alone and it wasn't until she found SG-1 that she really ever could feel like herself.
She doesn't want her children to go through their life feeling as lonely as she did.
"Carter," Jack says, softly. "We'll figure it out."
He slips his hand into hers.
She hadn't realized how much she'd been relying on the Asgard to show up with some easy fix. But it isn't to be so. She squeezes his fingers back hard.
Vala and Ellie are having a tea party with the tea set Santa has brought her. Jack is keeping an eye on them. It's not that he doesn't trust Vala to keep her safe, it's that Vala is unpredictable and it's Christmas and Jack doesn't feel like cleaning up any spectacular messes today.
But the two of them are fairly subdued, nibbling on sugar cookies and drinking water from the small pink cups. Sam had offered to make them real tea, but Vala had said half the point of having a tea party like this was the pretending.
Vala is wearing gold ribbon in her hair, filched from some abandoned Christmas wrapping and Ellie's blonde curls are pulled back into a little bun, something done hastily early in the morning by Carter. But the bun is droopy now and a little off-center and it gives her a sort of jaunty, playful look that his serious daughter does not usually have. Jack likes it. His little beautiful tea party having, alien saving miracle.
"Daniel's drunk," Carter says, coming up to him and pressing her side to his.
"Mitchell, too," Jack says.
"Harder to tell on him," she comments, tilting her head. He and Daniel are outside building a snowman with Simon in the yard. "Should I bring them in?"
"Nah, let them have their fun," Jack says. "Where's Teal'c?"
"He's still kind of on Chulak time," Carter says. "He's asleep in our bed."
"You know, there are couples who don't let anyone and everyone into their beds like it's a bed and breakfast," Jack says.
"The kids are in there with us half the time anyway," she sighs. "What's a few more now and then? If it's family?"
"I'm not complaining," Jack says. "Except for when you and Daniel have your little snacks and then there are crumbs on the sheets."
"We like watching the history channel in bed!" she whines, leaning in to nip at his shoulder.
"Well last time I woke up with a popcorn kernel practically up my butt," he mutters.
"Oh you did not, you big baby," she says.
In the living room, Vala's laughter draws their attention, airy and genuine and surprised. Vala looks up and grins at them.
"She's funny!" Vala says.
"Like her dad," Jack calls back. When he glances down at Carter, her eyes are glassy. "Hey now."
"Sorry," she says, wiping her hand across her face. "I just... I wasn't sure she'd ever..."
"We gotta send Lam a fruit basket for that therapy referral," Jack says.
"Yeah," Carter says, still sounding teary.
"She could always do it," Jack says. "She just needed some tools to figure out how."
"I know," she sighs.
Jack tugs her elbow. "Come with me."
They climb the stairs while everyone is distracted and slip into the office - the least destroyed, least occupied room of the house. Jack clicks the door shut.
"What are we doing in here?" she asks.
"Necking," he says, pulling her close.
"Honey, I have to start dinner," she protests, but not very hard because when he kisses her, her mouth opens right up and she presses her tongue against his. Her arms wind around his neck and when he gropes her butt, she doesn't complain one bit.
He navigates her back, back until she bumps into her desk.
"Oh sure," she says breaking away. He doesn't waste the time and starts kissing her neck. "Destroy my desk."
"Shut up," he says, and catches her mouth again.
She murmurs something he doesn't quite get as his own mouth is in the way.
"What?" he says, sliding his hand up her shirt.
"I said we are not having sex in here," she says.
"Define 'sex' for me exactly," he says and licks a hot line up her neck. "So I know what I have to work with."
"Jack," she sighs. "We can't."
"No," he says, sliding his lips back across her jaw to her mouth. "We shouldn't. That's different."
She kisses him, her hands holding his head against hers. He feels her snap, feels her start to spiral away from control. She kisses him hard, intensely, spreads her legs so he can slip a thigh in, so she has something to grind against.
He can hear the boys come in from the snow, can hear excited voices, can hear feet on the stairs but if she wants to keep kissing him, he certainly isn't going to stop her.
"I think they're in here." Daniel's voice and then the door opening. Sam is still kissing him.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa," says Cam. "Sorry, General."
Finally, she breaks away.
"Oh, you two," Daniel says and grins when Jack looks at him. Sam presses her face into his neck. She feels warm. "You wanna come up for air for a while?"
"No," Sam says.
"Oh really?" Jack smirks. "Because two minutes ago..."
"Shut up," she says, still muffled and hidden.
"Simon wants cocoa," Daniel says. "And apparently mommy makes it the best."
Finally, Sam turns to look at them.
"He has a point," she says. "I do."
"Can I sleep in your bed?" Daniel asks, scratching the back of his head in a hauntingly Jack-like manner. "My throat hurts."
"T is in there," Jack says.
"I don't care," Daniel mutters and heads down the hall toward the master.
"You know," Cam says. "None of my other teams have ever been so... cuddly before."
"What are you saying, Mitchell," Jack snaps. "You got a problem with it?"
"No, no sir, no way," Cam says. Sam sighs, rolls her eyes.
"He's screwing with you, Cam," Sam says. "I'm gonna go make cocoa and start dinner."
"Carter!" Jack says. "You could have at least let me scare him a little!"
"I like it," Cam says once Sam is gone. "I don't know how it happened, but it's nice. Like family."
"It's not like family, Mitchell," Jack says, clapping him on the shoulder. "It is family. That's the difference."
Hank talks to Jack about taking over his post at the training facility and Jack talks to the president about retiring and those things happen fairly quickly.
Sam receives her orders to take over as interim commander of the SGC the next day.
"Give it a while," Jack says. "When they see you're doing a good job, they'll promote you to general and make it yours."
"I thought... I thought I was going to get orders for SG-1," Sam says. "I never thought this."
"This is better," Jack says, sounding sure.
"Yeah, but I wanted..."
"You always want to go back to the gate," Jack says. "But it's not like... it wouldn't feel like before. It'd be like going backwards."
"Shouldn't I have the chance to learn that for myself?" she asks.
"They need you, Carter. They need your experience and your leadership and your know-how. This is a compliment."
Sam sighs, looks at him hard. It's not that she doesn't believe him, it's not that she doesn't trust him to tell her the truth, it's just that her heart yearns for the gate and learning to living with the yearning is never going to get any easier, it seems.
"I've always wanted to make General," she says. "My dad would have been proud."
"Your dad was always proud," Jack says.
Outside, a car door slams and then the front door flies open. The carpool has dropped off the kids. It's the end of May and they're both itching for summer. Simon has shot up a couple inches in the last few weeks and Sam frowns at the bottom of his jeans where she can see a line of white socks.
"Gotta pee!" he says and drops his back pack on the floor as he runs toward the bathroom. He hates peeing at school for some reason, because he's odd and far too knowledgeable about germs but it makes every day a gamble and Jack has brought changes of clothes to the school more than once.
Ellie is less of a tornado. She drops her pink back pack next to Simon's and toes off her sneakers and pads into the living room where her parents are sitting, looking at Sam's orders spread out across the coffee table. She doesn't say anything. She hardly ever talks after school. School is exhausting for her, any place with a large number of people, and she uses all up her words during the day, it seems.
"C'mere," Sam says, and allows her to crawl onto her lap. "How was school?"
She makes a tiny little noise in her throat and presses her face into her mother's chest.
"Maybe if you make general, we can afford St. Mary's Academy," Jack says. Putting both the kids in private school is going to be tight, but while Simon will benefit from it greatly, Ellie needs it desperately. Public school is making her miserable.
"That settles that, then," Sam says, petting Ellie's hair.
Simon comes out.
"Go flush that toilet," Jack says.
Simon spins and goes back to the bathroom.
"It's like, he knows and we know it's gonna happen, why doesn't he just do it?" Jack asks.
"He doesn't like to touch the handle," Sam says.
"We should have never taught him to read," Jack says.
"We didn't," Sam says. "For the most part he taught himself."
"Well your freaky brain can just take all the responsibility for that," Jack says.
"Oh right, like the Ancients have nothing to do with this," Sam says.
Jack glares at her.
"Daddy," Ellie says, her little eyes wide.
"What?" he says.
"He thought a bad word," she says.
"Did he now?" Sam says.
"No fair," Jack says. "Doesn't count."
"Watch your thoughts," Sam says. "She doesn't need to be hearing that."
"I swear other dads don't have to do the things I have to do," he grumbles.
Simon appears again.
"I'm hungry," he says. "She is too."
"You hungry, little girl?" Sam asks. Ellie nods. "I'll make a snack."
"So," Jack says. "You guys, guess what?"
Simon sits next to Sam and glances at Ellie before answering. "You're retiring and Mom is going to the mountain more?"
"I don't think he totally gets the concept of 'guess what'," Jack says, making finger quotes.
"Is that okay?" Sam asks. "If daddy is home with you after school instead of me?"
"And Daniel?" Simon asks.
"Sometimes," Jack says.
"And Cam and Vala and Teal'c?" Simon asks.
"Oh probably," Jack says. "We can't shake those guys, can we honey?"
"Nope," Sam says, standing up and setting Ellie down. "Haven't been able to yet."
"Who wants peanut butter?" Sam asks.
Ellie knows a lot of things. She knows about the Stargate, what's under the big mountain that is supposed to be a secret. She knows which aliens are real and which are pretend ones made up for the television and which were real but aren't, anymore, like the snakes that she dreams of late at night.
She knows that her brother is very smart and it is because of this that he is sometimes afraid of things. Of invisible germs, of swiftly changing weather patterns erupting into dark storms, of the older kids at school who torment him for having answers at all, especially the right ones. She also knows that along with his fear comes a great deal of bravery. He wakes up every morning afraid of what the day might bring and every morning he gets out of bed and faces it, no questions asked.
She knows that her Uncle Daniel loves her, that her Uncle Teal'c feels something beyond love for her, something that she doesn't quite understand. He thinks in words that are different, words that she recognizes but doesn't yet know the meaning of. But they mean love plus something more. Love plus strength. Love plus joy. Love plus honor.
She knows that her parents are doing the best that they can and that while on the outside, her mom looks confident, sometimes she is just making it up as she goes along.
Right now, Ellie is sitting on the edge of the bed and her mom is behind her, cross-legged, braiding her hair and trying not to cry.
"It's okay," Ellie says. "I won't tell if you do."
Her mother doesn't lecture her about hearing the thoughts of other people. Ellie knows sometimes she wishes Ellie couldn't understand so clearly what was going on in her mother's head, but her mother also knows that Ellie cannot help it and that mothers should not punish their daughters for simply being how they are, even if how they are is different.
Her mother sniffles a little, but does not break. She is in her nylons and her slip. Soon she will put on her dress uniform, a star on each shoulder. Her father will as well and Simon will wear his gray suit and blue tie. Ellie is in a black skirt and a gray sweater - it is the outfit her mother had laid out for her the night before.
Ellie hears the snap of the elastic against her mother's fingers as she ties off the last braid. She kisses the crown of her head, as she does every morning, and pushes her gently to her feet.
"Shoes, please," her mother says.
"Your school ones are fine," her mother says. She wears black, shiny shoes with straps with her school uniform. They are in the basket by the door so she doesn't rush away just yet. Instead she lingers in the bedroom and watches her mother pull the uniform from her closet and tear the thin plastic surrounding it away.
Her mother steps into the skirt and fastens it around her waist. The blouse next and then into the bathroom to finish her make-up. When her mother puts on a dusky pink lipstick, Ellie cannot help herself.
"Can I have some?" she asks. Her mother looks down at Ellie's reflection in the mirror for a moment.
"Come here," she says. She leans down and kisses Ellie firmly. Ellie kisses her back, eager for the transfer. When her mother pulls back, she uses her thumb to spread the faint color more evenly. "Now, little one, please do as I say and go put your shoes on. And tell your father to come get dressed and make sure your brother isn't messing up his suit."
"Okay," she says.
"Okay," her mother repeats.
Downstairs, Simon, suit and all, is on her father's lap. They are in the recliner watching a hockey game.
Jack glances at her and doesn't make her ask.
"Okay, okay, I'm going," he says, sliding out from under Simon who seems to ignore the interruption all together though she knows he's secretly glad to have the big chair to himself. Ellie digs her shoes out and straps them to her feet and then sits on the couch.
Simon looks at her.
"No," he says. "You know I haven't."
She does know. There is little that Simon has done that she hasn't and everything that Simon lived in the time before Ellie was born he can only know as stories. He was too young to remember it for himself.
When Uncle Daniel and Uncle Teal'c arrive, Ellie lets them in. Uncle Daniel has been crying, she doesn't have to read minds to interpret his red eyes ringed with blue, tender skin. To Teal'c, she raises her arms. She is too big to be picked up anymore, but Teal'c is strong and gives in so easily, swooping her into his arms. He carries her to the kitchen where the early winter light is warmest.
"I don't remember him," Ellie whispers.
"It is not required of you," Teal'c says. "You may attend the funeral nonetheless."
"All right," Ellie says, and then for a moment they are quiet. "Hammond of Texas," she repeats.
"General George Hammond, of Texas," he repeats. "A warrior and a friend."
Her mom and dad come down the stairs.
"Oh good, you're here," she says. "Where is Cassie?"
"Cassandra Frasier will meet us at the church," Teal'c says. "She was running late."
"Aren't we all," Sam sighs. "All right, let's go. Daniel!" She shouts the last part. "We're going!"
Her dad appears and the same color that is on her mom's mouth and on her very own lips is lingering right at the corner of his mouth. She keeps this observation to herself. It's another thing Eleanor Carter-O'Neill is sure of - that no matter what is happening, what has happened, or what will happen, her parents are in love. She has never met any two people - not at school or at daycare or at the grocery store or the playground or the movie theater or the bottom of the mountain, nowhere - who love each other like how her parents are in love.
"Come on, Princess," Jack says, flicking the lights off as they leave the kitchen. "Time to go."
Her father and Teal'c sit in the front of the van and Uncle Daniel and Simon sit in the middle. Her mother climbs in the back and then pulls her in, settling her into her car seat. Ellie can buckle herself in but allows her mother to do it for her. She seems to need to have something to do. Her father starts the engine.
Simon rides with his head on Uncle Daniel's shoulder. In the very front, her father and Teal'c are silent. The radio isn't even on.
Ellie looks over at her mother who rides with her hands on her lap, her fingers curled together. Her face is serene and beautiful and betraying nothing, but inside she's thinking about the man who died. She's having a memory. Ellie can see it clearly, the bald man holding a baby. It might be her, it might be Simon, it's hard to tell. It doesn't matter. To her mother, it feels like losing a father all over again.
"Hammond, of Texas," Ellie says, her little voice carrying clearly in the car.
Finally, her mother starts to cry.