Sam had tears in her eyes and so did the girls. He claimed it was just dust but his wife gave him a knowing glance and rolled her eyes.
"You're a complete fraud General O'Neill", she whispered.
"Am not!" he whispered back. "I'm just – "
" - as proud as can be and a few tears are to be expected. There's no one here that's going to blame you for them."
"But I'm a general", he said. "Generals aren't supposed to cry!"
"Since when?" she turned and looked at him.
"Well – I think it's in the general's rule book somewhere."
She snorted. "Right. I expect it's more in the 'chest-thumping, macho-man, big tough soldier's rule book."
"I do not thump!"
"Daddy, when's it going to start?"
He looked down at his seven year old daughter who was seated on his right side. "In just a minute pumpkin."
"Kay. Is Matt gonna wear that funny hat?" she asked him.
"Yup – all of the graduates will."
"Can I have one when I graduate too?"
"Of course you can." He reached over and put his arm around her. "And Mommy and I will be just as proud of you as we are of Matt."
Lily smiled at him and leaned into his side. He smiled down at her and squeezed her gently. He then glanced over at the wiggling boy on the other side of Sam. He watched as his wife tried to get the boy to settle although he knew it was pretty much a losing battle. As Sam pointed out regularly, Zach was the spitting image of his father. He couldn't sit still for a moment and was constantly on the go. They had him involved in all kinds of sports, just to try to expend some of his energy.
Chloe and Ali were whispering to each other and giggling. He was pretty sure they were checking out all the boys. He was okay with that – what he hated is when he caught one of the boys checking them out. He grinned. That's when he pulled out his fierce general face and scared the pants right off of them. His daughters frequently complained that he scared off all the boys – but he still remembered what it was like to be a teenage boy himself – and he knew exactly what they were after.
Just then the music started and he watched as the graduates marched in. He felt an incredible sense of pride as Matt walked down the aisle, standing tall and looking handsome in his gown. As he walked by the row with his family he turned his head slightly and winked. Zach and Lilly both waved.
Okay, this time he admitted it. When Matt was called up to get his diploma there were tears in his eyes. So sue him – he couldn't help it. Graduating high school was a big deal and he couldn't be more proud of the fine young man Matt had turned out to be.
He thought back ten years, to the day he'd found out about his cousin's death and the sudden advent of three young children in his life. He'd been terrified that he'd screw up – that he wouldn't be a good father, that he'd do something to destroy their young lives like he'd done with his own son. Instead, he'd gotten a life he'd only ever dreamed about.
He glanced at his wife – Sam – the woman he'd known now for over eighteen years. She'd been at his side through all of those years, the last ten as his wife. He still loved her passionately, although their love had settled into that warm, comfortable place of people who'd been together for a long time. They knew each other intimately – in all ways – for good and bad. She was someone he trusted totally, that he knew he could rely on, and that continued to stand by him. She was his other half – which might be a cliché but was totally true.
Chloe – she was almost sixteen now and had turned into a beautiful young woman. She was still the quiet one, although she had a confidence and a serenity that made people adore her. She was still an artist and had even had showings of her work. What made him even more proud was the fact that art wasn't just something for herself – she used it to help others. For the last few years she'd been volunteering to work with children who lost their parents – helping them use art to express and deal with their grief. Of all the people he'd known in his life, he'd never known anyone simply as good as Chloe. She was his angel.
And then there was Ali! Of all the kids, she was the most challenging. Oh, she was loving and happy and kind-hearted – she was also the one to most easily fall into trouble. Ali acted before she thought and often ended up in situations from which she had to be rescued. Fortunately none of them – to date – had been anything too serious, although he worried what would happen when she grew a bit older. She was thirteen and he dreaded the next few years. He'd been very tempted to have a locater chip imbedded in her arm, although Sam had nixed that idea. Still – he had to keep an eye on her constantly. The one advantage they had was Teal'c. He and Ali had always been close and she would listen to him. Jack suspected that she was a bit afraid of him and didn't want his wrath, or disappointment directed at her.
Still – she was loving and funny and sweet – and he adored her as much as his other children. Of all his kids he figured she was the one who should go into the military. The discipline might help her – and she'd probably be the secret weapon to end all weapons.
And then there were his youngest, Zach and Lily. When he and Sam first got married they'd decided that if they could have kids it would be great – if not, well they had a wonderful family already and they'd accept it. She hadn't known whether or not she could even have children – not after Jolinar and all the other things she'd been through. So, when she'd found out she was pregnant it had been a matter for quiet rejoicing - quiet because they didn't want to get their hopes up. They both knew how chancy the pregnancy was, so it was only once she'd gotten farther along that they'd been able to breathe a sigh of relief and allow themselves to be totally happy.
Sam had made the decision, as soon as she found out she was pregnant, to stop going through the gate. It had been hard for her and there was grief there, but she smiled and told him that it was her decision and one she didn't regret. Once Zach had been born and he'd seen the light in her eyes, he believed her.
Lily came along just a year and a half later. Jack had been worried – he figured it was just too much for Sam and they already had four kids. But Sam had insisted she wanted to try again.
"Jack, I know this may not work out and I know I'm getting older but I want to try. If it doesn't happen – that's okay, but I would like to have just one more."
Five kids? He shook his head, wondering what they were possibly thinking. He was an older father to begin with and he couldn't imagine having two babies at the same time. Still, when he looked at his other kids he couldn't help the grin. He liked having them and hell – what was one more? It was simply more love, more fun – and damn, more diapers!
So, along had come Lily. When he'd seen the tiny girl, and the midwife had handed her to him he'd cried. He couldn't believe that this tiny, fuzzy haired little girl was actually his. He'd felt the same when Zach had been born but for some reason he'd expected a son – he hadn't expected to have a little girl.
So here he was – a man who had gone through hell, literally and figuratively, a man who had lost so much in life – and yet now had been given so much. He had a wife he adored, two sons and three daughters who were the light of his life – oh, and he couldn't forget two dogs, three cats and various other living creatures. He might be a four star general, medals from here to eternity, the respect and admiration of men and women – and aliens – throughout the galaxy, but what meant more, much more – was that he was Sam's husband – and he was 'Dad'.
The graduates threw their hats in the air and there was cheering and shouting – and a whole host of grinning, clapping O'Neills. He stood up and, along with his family, made his way to the front. Matt turned and grinned at his family.
"Hi", he said.
His father held out his arms and pulled him in for a huge hug. "I'm proud of you son", he said softly.
"Thanks Dad. I couldn't have done it without you."
"No Matt, you cannot take the car. Because I don't want you in little pieces all over the road. Call me and we'll pick you up."
"Ali, there is no way you are wearing that out in public. Go change. Yes I know I'm mean, you're still not wearing it."
"Sam, the cat threw up in the kitchen. What? Me?"
"Chloe, Brad called and wants you to call back. Tell him I want to meet him first. No, I'm not going to scare him – not too much anyway."
"Zach stop teasing Thor – he's getting old and wants to sleep. I heard that mister – I do not sleep during the day!"
"Sam – the cat threw up again."
"Lily, just ignore your brother and he'll go away. Okay, so maybe he won't go away, but he won't enjoy it as much."
"Ali – take that off! No, you cannot go out like that. You're right, I don't understand, but I really don't care. You will not wear that."
"Chloe, who's Dave? Oh – tell him I want to meet him."
"No Matt, you cannot take the truck. I know it will impress her but you can take the Honda instead. Why? Because the Honda's back seat is too small."
"Zach, Mrs. Madison called and said you didn't hand in your homework. What's going on?"
"Sam – I think one of the turtles died. Either that or he's crawled out of his shell."
"Lily – it's okay. Ali is just in a bad mood. Why? Hormones."
"No Matt, I'm sure she won't even notice the zit on your nose."
"Chloe – Evan called. Tell him I want to meet him."
"Ali – do not talk to your mother that way! Tell her you're sorry."
"Zach, eat your peas. Why? Because your mother makes me eat mine."
"What Lily? Hormones? They're what gave me all these gray hairs."
"Sam – can you do pickup for ballet and piano and I'll cover hockey, soccer and clarinet?"
"Ali – I'm gonna have to tell Uncle Teal'c – or do you want to tell him? Yeah, I know he'll be disappointed, but you did it to yourself."
"Chloe – Tyler called. Yeah Tyler – I don't know – he said he's a friend of Ben's. Tell him – yeah, I know you know but I still want to meet him!"
"Matt, I know you're almost eighteen. That doesn't mean you can do what you want. You still live here – and we're paying for college!"
"Sam, where's the Pepto Bismol? I am not too old to eat anchovy pizza before bed. It was the peas!"
"Ali I do not think I know everything. I just know I know more than you do. Your mother, however, does know everything."
"Lily – yes, you'll be getting hormones too – God help us all."
"Zack, you cannot go to Liam's house until you've learned your six times table. Yes, I know I'm mean. I learned it in the Air Force – that's also where I learned my times tables!"
"Chloe – just because I'm a general does mean I can do what I want – and I want to meet him."
"Sam, we've run out of Guinness – oh - and the cat threw up in the pantry."
"Daniel, hi! Sure, we'd love to have you guys – oh, you want us to babysit? Sure, no problem. SAM, Daniel and Terry are dropping off the twins."
"DINNER EVERYONE! Your Mom's not here and we're having Dad's chili surprise. Okay, okay – you all think you're so funny – but your mother does not sleep in the guest room when I eat my chili. Okay – well not every time."
"WHO LEFT THE TOILET PLUGGED? No, the dog does not know how to use the toilet."
"Ali, you have to be home by 10:00. Because I said so – and I'm your father – and I love you."
"Matt, I know it hurts but you have lots of time to meet a girl who will want to be with just you. Look at me and your Mom. Okay, so you don't have to wait until you're old. I'm sure you'll meet someone before then."
"Lily. Here baby, it's okay. Come sit with me. Emily will feel bad tomorrow and I'm sure she still wants to be your friend."
"Hi Michael. I'm General O'Neill and I'm Chloe's Dad – Oh, and did I tell you I know fifty ways to kill a man barehanded? No? Well, just sayin' in case you're interested."
"Daniel! Can you come over and help Zach with his project – it's about Egypt and he wants to make a pyramid. No, I do not know how to build a pyramid. I know how to blow one up but Zach says Mrs. Madison wouldn't like that. I don't know why – it's a lot more fun than building one."
"Sam, Janet called and she and Paul have invited us over. Cassie's home and she's brought her new fiancé. Oh – and the dog peed on your report."
"I know Sam, c'mere. I'm gonna miss him too. Hammond was – one of the best men I ever knew."
"George – wherever you are now – thanks! You were one helluva commanding officer, and one of the best friends I ever had. Rest in peace."
"Jacob! What brings you to this part of the universe? Your grandkids? Okay – so – I'll just – go back to what I was doing. Don't mind me. I won't get in the way of you and your grandchildren. Yup – I'll just sit here quietly, watching TV all by myself. Oh - if you're sure? Yeah, that'll be fun. KIDS! Grandpa's here and he's taking us out for ice cream."
"You're going to do just fine in university Matt. You're a smart young man and your Mom and I have every confidence in you. Here's a couple of hundred bucks in case you get in trouble. And if you need anything – call us at anytime. Oh – and don't forget – okay, okay, I know you know. You just can never be too careful, especially at your age. I love you son."
"Chloe, I just got a call from your school. You're being given an award for your work with kids – and you're on the honor roll. We're so proud of you and we love you so much. Ethan – sure, you can go to a movie with him – if I can meet him first."
"Ali – you look beautiful in that dress. Did your Mom help you pick it out? C'mere and give this old man a hug. Wow, you're growing into such a lovely young lady. I love you kiddo! And don't pull the skirt up after you leave!"
"Zach, Mrs. Madison called. She told me you did a great job on the pyramid and she wants to put it in the school lobby. She also said you learned all your times tables. I'm taking you out to celebrate! Yeah – a banana split? Sounds good. I love you son."
"Hey miss Lily. Come and sit on Daddy's lap and tell me about your day. I hear you and Emily went to the mall with her Mom. You bought a new doll? Wow, she's pretty – but not as pretty as you. I love you baby."
"Happy anniversary Sam. It's been a great ten years, hasn't it? Thank you for loving me and putting up with me – and staying by my side always. I'm the luckiest man in the world. Oh – by the way – the cat threw up in our bedroom."
Thank you to all of you who have come on this long and fun journey. It's hard for me to say goodbye – I fell in love with Matt, Chloe and Ali (and now Zach and Lily) and they were my babies too. Of course I've always loved Jack and Sam, Daniel and Teal'c – and the rest of the SG family. I am putting the family O'Neill to rest for a while – although I may return later for some adventures, both large and small.
A special thanks also to you my fabulous, wonderful, sometimes funny, always encouraging reviewers. Thank you for taking the time to send me a note – it meant so much and kept me going. I love you all – and hope you'll continue to read and review some of my other stories. Again, thank you!
"Sam – I can't find the cat. What did you do with her?"