Never Alone: Arrival
Jack, Sam, Cassie and Chris gawped at each other on either side of the door to the small apartment the younger couple had moved into together. It was Cassie who animated the frozen tableau by pulling Sam, who she hadn't seen for what seemed to be way too long, into a close hug, followed by Jack, who was also the delighted recipient of a sloppy kiss. The grin on Cassie's face dominated the compact hallway, helping to break the ice, and both Jack and Sam beamed happily in response.
This was a huge improvement on the initially icy greeting that had awaited them on arrival at Mark's house, and the pair were thrilled to feel so immediately made welcome by this way closer part of the family. They say blood is thicker than water but Jack was pondering the truth of that statement. Bullshit!
Sam glanced over at Chris, who was trying to overcome a severe bout of nerves brought on by this first meeting with Cassie's adopted mom, and arched an eyebrow at Cassie, expectant of an introduction. So what she knew who he was? There were certain formalities to fulfil.
Jack noticed Chris's awkwardness and empathised, giving him a sympathetic and knowing smile, patting him on the back and inclining his head in an attempt to indicate that everything would be fine. Chris was grateful, a slight smile appearing on his lips as Jack winked when Cassie formally introduced him to Sam.
"Cassie's told me so much about you," Chris said, his charming smile and demeanour, plus youthful good looks, causing Sam to take an immediate liking to young man. She could see what Cassie saw in the hunk, but what about his brains? Jack had told her Chris seemed to have those in abundance, and that should probably be good enough for Sam Carter, but she was a woman who made up her own mind.
"Eek!" Sam exclaimed in response, grinning nervously. Why nervously, she asked herself? Because she wanted to like the man for Cassie's sake, and she wanted him to like her too. But having adopted the role of surrogate mother to this twice-orphaned young woman, Sam thought it was her responsibility to shoulder many of its duties.
She had to take a mom's eye view, protective of Cassie just as Janet would have been. Would Janet have liked him? Jack thought so, and his opinion of people was not to be ignored. Sam had learned that lesson well over the years, despite that she believed his naturally suspicious and cautious nature could verge on excessive.
Jack laughed at Sam's reaction and patted her hand. "Don't worry, she told him a lot about me too but we got along just fine anyway, didn't we Chris?" he quipped, eyes dancing with merriment. "Good to see you again," he added, shaking the young man's hand in a more formal salutation than his earlier pat, smile and wink.
"You too, sir."
"Call me Jack, for crying out loud! Sheesh, I get enough sirs back at the office."
"Yes, sir," Chris replied, a mocking smile on his face and, once again, Jack was struck by the cheeky humor possessed by the young man. 'Who does that remind me of?' he thought good-naturedly, and his eyes glinted even brighter than before.
Noting Jack's response, Sam linked her arm with his and kissed him affectionately on the cheek. "What's that for?" he asked, surprised and turning his head to capture her eyes.
"I need a reason?" Sam responded, meeting his gaze lovingly.
"Um, well, I guess not. Just curious." He replied, arching an eyebrow, his expression bashful and boyish.
Cassie and Chris looked on, both thinking it suddenly seemed as if the pair were alone in the room, eyes only for each other, and they were mere observers who weren't meant to be intruding. Cassie had seen this before with the couple, but Chris hadn't. It made him very happy for Jack because he had taken a liking to the old general. Sam's face was filled to overflowing with love for her fiance and no observer with any heart could fail to be moved by the small moment.
"Because you're Jack O'Neill," Sam replied.
"Ah!" he exclaimed in response, his lips pursing with amusement, "that explains everything." His tone held a hint of self-deprecating sarcasm.
"I think she means you're simply divine and she's crazy about you, Uncle Jack," Cassie said, linking with his other arm and pecking the opposite cheek.
"Ya think?" he retorted with a broad grin, "and stop it with the Uncle Jack already. Oy!" Jack rolled his eyes in a mocking manner.
"Let me take your bags," Chris offered, moving to pick them up from the hallway outside the apartment. Neither Jack nor Sam protested as he brought them inside, following as Cassie propelled them towards their living room.
Cassie has warned them the apartment was small and she hadn't been exaggerating as a very brief guided tour confirmed. The apartment boasted an opulently generous living room with large picture windows and was bright and airy, so Sam could see why they had taken the place - that and the relatively low rent, no doubt. The rest of it, however, might be have been considered a little pokey and cramped.
On reflection, she realised the solitary bedroom wasn't really that small, just overly crammed with furniture, but the bathroom and kitchen area were hardly big enough to swing a cat in. Neutral shades of nothingness adorned the walls and the couple had strewn them with various pictures and posters to make it more cheery, along with bright cushions and coverings strewn over the otherwise dreary furniture.
Sam "ummed" and "ahhed" in what she hoped was an appropriate motherly manner. If she was going to play mom, she didn't want to be one of those ghastly women who run their fingers over surfaces and "tut, tut" about a layer of dust, or complain about every minor flaw. No crabby mom stuff, she vowed. So she tried to wear an air of approval and content, smiling and nodding, especially when Cassie declared how much she adored the "simply divine" living room. That was one thing they could definitely agree on.
Jack and Chris, meanwhile, kept their mouths firmly shut, as they didn't believe any comment was required of them. This was so a mother, daughter thing and they both knew better than to offer an opinion.
"So where are we sleeping?" Sam asked, thinking of the lone bedroom.
"The couch is a bed. We'll sleep there and you two can have our room," Chris replied, a slightly awkward and embarrassed look on his face, as if ashamed they couldn't offer more luxurious accommodations to their guests.
When Jack commented that they could put up in a hotel, it fell on deaf ears just as it had when he'd made that offer on the phone weeks before. Cassie was insistent they stay, and have the bedroom, so stay they would. It sure was gonna be interesting to be living on top of each other for a few days, Jack ruminated, wondering how he would come by any intimate moments with his fiancee in such close quarters. There was that not in front of the children thing to consider, after all, and it could get plain embarrassing. He reflected on that for a while, concocting a cunning plan he hoped to bring to fruition while they were there.
Chris urged the couple to sit next to each other on the comfortable couch, while he took one of the two large armchairs. Then Cassie pottered around making coffee, and opening a beer for Jack, while the others made small talk, Sam feeling slightly discomforted by Jack's total ease with Chris. She felt like the outsider in this otherwise cosy scenario and figured she had to make an effort to become an insider instead. Jack appeared to get an inkling of her feelings - who knew how? - and he reached for her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze, for which she was very grateful.
"So, have you guys thought about what you want to do while you're in LA?" Chris asked.
"It's a big place," commented Sam, "we must be spoiled for choice. But we came here to see you and Cassie so I guess we aren't too bothered."
"Speak for yourself," Jack inserted and she turned to look at him with surprise, "I have some plans."
"Oh?" Sam and Chris queried simultaneously but as Jack opened his mouth to respond, Cassie returned baring gifts of liquid refreshment. Jack took the beer from her hand and sipped, a satisfied sigh crossing his lips as he placed it down on the coffee table.
"Refreshing!" he exclaimed with a grin and Cassie wrinkled her nose. She wasn’t a great fan of beer, or any alcohol, although she indulged from time to time. "Well for starters, how about recommending a good restaurant I can take you all to tonight?"
"We were going to cook," objected Cassie.
"That is if we'd actually gotten around to doing any shopping," Chris added sheepishly.
"You want to refuse my offer of a slap-up meal?"
Cassie and Chris grinned at each other. "As if we could refuse such a generous offer," Chris said charmingly. "What kind of food did you have in mind?"
"What kind do you like?"
As they relaxed and drank their coffee, there followed a long discussion about food ranging from favourite Chinese to pizza toppings, Jack's special omelette, which he promised to make for everyone while there, and preferred eating establishments.
"I am so not taking you for a Kentucky," he objected at one point. "Let's aim a little higher, huh?"
"You want highbrow food?" Cassie asked with a quizzically arched eyebrow.
"Who said anything about highbrow? Something resembling food will do just fine," Jack retorted with a teasing glint in his eye.
"There's nothing wrong with Kentucky," she responded defensively, pouting.
"If you say so, but I had in mind something just a tad more upmarket."
They discussed the merits of various eateries and concluded that somewhere relaxed would be good. Cassie was insistent she didn't want "posh nosh" and Jack was quick to assure her that this had never been his intention, briefly wondering what she would think if he took them to the restaurant where his friend Jimmy worked in DC. She'd probably be horrified; terrified she made a fool of herself or didn't have the right clothes to wear. Jack figured there was no way she'd look in the least out of place.
After a lot of debate, they decided on a local Italian that, apparently, had a certain ambience, served very good food and was somewhere Cassie considered to be in a reasonable price bracket. By that she meant something more than her and Chris would normally spend on eating out, so a special treat. Perfect! This was exactly what Jack wanted. After all, if he couldn't spoil Cassie while on vacation what the heck was he earning his over inflated salary for anyway?
"I've got another beer but we're low on coffee," Cassie piped up, looking pained. "You arrived a little earlier than we thought and we didn't get the shopping done. Not that I mind!" she hastened to add in case her words made them feel unwelcome.
"Point me to a store and I'll go get some stuff for you," Sam volunteered.
"No, you're a guest," Chris intervened quickly. "I promised Cassie I'd go. Sorry baby." He rose to his feet, leaning over to kiss her hair. "I was meant to go out ages ago," he said by way of explanation to their guests, "so it's all my fault. I'll go now." He jangled his car keys and stepped towards the door.
"But shopping's my favourite," Sam replied with a smile. "Why don't I come and keep you company?" She suggested, thinking this was a good opportunity to get Chris alone for a while for a 'get to know you better' type chat. Besides, she was determined the young couple shouldn't have to pay for anything while they were there, not if she could help it.
"Um, sure," Chris agreed nervously, guessing her intentions for the chat and hoping it wouldn't be too painful. 'This is Cassie's mom we're talking about here,' he thought, 'or as good as'. Moms will be moms. But he'd already had the dad thing with Jack so was hopeful he'd cope with it, filled to overflowing with youthful confidence.
"Great! I get Cassie to myself for a while," Jack exclaimed happily.
"We could take the rental," Sam suggested and Chris decided to give way to that demand and let her do the driving if it would make her happy. Why argue? As the pair got ready to go, Cassie slipped onto the couch to sit with Jack and he placed an arm around her shoulder, giving her a fatherly squeeze.
"Be gentle with him Sam," she teased as they were leaving.
"Don't worry, Cassie, she won't eat him alive," Jack reassured her.
"I wouldn't count on it," Sam replied in jest and Chris' nerves started to take a real hold, knocking all the youthful confidence right out of him. He so wanted to make the right impression.
The pair trundled around the supermarket feeling slightly awkward with each other. Sam had wanted these moments alone to try and get to know Chris a little better but it seemed he wasn’t talking much, and neither was she except for the occasional hint about cereal preferences and the like, and a sporadic ongoing disagreement about who was paying for the trolley full of goods. The contents of the trolley grew as Sam stuffed it with the food and household items she thought would be useful for a young couple of limited means.
Chris noted there was enough stuff to last a lot longer than the few days Jack and Sam were staying with them and, realising what she was up to, reviewed the shopping again. Sam hadn't chosen nearly as much in the way of perishables as she had of other things, which ranged from cleaning products to cans of tomatoes and packets of pasta and rice with meat, vegetables and dairy produce nestling comfortably amongst them. She was stocking up for him and Cassie. Nice thought. No doubt she could afford it and he and Cassie were penniless students, so his objections to her paying became half-hearted. It was a generous and thoughtful gesture.
After Sam had paid they silently made their way to the car and loaded it up with the plentiful bags of goodies. "Wanna go for a coffee?" Chris asked out of the blue and Sam smiled amiably hoping this might be her chance to make up for the lost time.
"Sure," she agreed. "Jack and Cassie are probably deeply involved with their mutual admiration society," Chris grinned and laughed at that probably very true jest, "so let's give 'em more time to worship the ground they both walk on."
"Well Cassie sure is smitten with Jack," Chris said as they got into the car to drive to a decent little place not far away that he swore served the best coffee in LA.
"He's pretty smitten with her too. Always was. He was so great with her when she was a kid and she adored him then too. They have a special bond. But Jack is just so great with kids."
"Cassie told me he lost his son years ago. That must have been hard. Probably still is."
He noticed a small shadow pass over her face, and wondered about old wounds, but it dissipated rapidly. "I didn't know him back when that happened," she responded, feeling slightly uncomfortable about the subject matter, "but, yeah, I know it still troubles him sometimes. A parent never really gets over that loss. They just learn to live with it. He doesn't talk about it much."
"He's not the kind of guy who wears his heart on his sleeve is he?"
Sam glanced at him, turning where he indicated and pulling in to where he suggested they park the car. "He can be surprising, but on the whole he keeps that kind of thing tightly locked up."
"And what about you? You're military too. I guess you have to learn to keep it in."
"I was trained by the best of them, my dad, but emotion can conquer the best of any of us."
"Hey, that's profound," he said with a huge smile, quickly leaping out of the car in an effort to be gentlemanly and open her car door, and then leading her to a local cafe. It was hardly a luxuriant place, but the smell of coffee as they walked through the door was heavenly and the atmosphere relaxed and friendly. Sam eyed the delicious looking muffins and other sweet morsels enviously, but didn't want to spoil their dinner.
Chris waved at someone sitting at the back and, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man wink, make a rude gesture and nod his head towards her with what was obviously intended as sexual innuendo. Chris gesticulated dismissively, steering Sam to the opposite side of the room.
"Excuse my friend. He's a jerk," he said as they sat down, "a UCLA pal. The kind you probably don't stay in touch with once you graduate."
"I know that kind. Never mind him. It'll be all over UCLA that you're having an affair with an older woman, you know that don't you?"
"Well that's kind of cool, as long as Cassie doesn’t believe it." His smile was mirthful.
"Let's play up to it, shall we?" she suggested, taking Chris by the hand, and waving at the UCLA friend, pouting and smiling flirtatiously. "We'll just have to confess our sins to Cassie when we get back." She gave Chris a long lingering look and kissed the hand she held in hers. His young UCLA friend looked slightly embarrassed and turned away.
"Now why was that so embarrassing?" she wondered aloud, a hint of sarcasm in her tone.
"He probably wouldn't know what to do with it if you presented it to him on a plate." Sam laughed and the ice between them was broken at last.
While they waited for their coffee, Sam called Jack's cell to tell him they might be out for a little while and he said if she was taking a younger lover he would too, suggesting a partner swap and making both Sam and Cassie giggle with glee. When the coffee came, it was every bit as good as Chris claimed and they both visibly relaxed.
Jack was sipping on the last beer in the apartment, an arm draped around Cassie while they talked.
"I guess we should have gone somewhere this afternoon," she mooted and he shrugged.
"Here to see you, kiddo, not the California sunshine. Although it sure is great that we don't have to live in fear of rain. That's one of the cool things about California at this time of year. Washington can be so gloomy, and I'm not just talking about the weather," Jack responded, his tone turning slightly acerbic towards the end.
"Job getting you down, Uncle Jack?"
He bit back the usual knee-jerk response to Cassie's use of that honorific thinking that if that was what made her happy, so be it. She'd already grown up way too quickly because she'd had to. Who was he to push that envelope even further?
"Ack! Politics and paperwork!" was his only response and Cassie turned and kissed his cheek, eliciting a big smile.
"What's that for?" he asked.
"Because I love you," she answered with a grin, "and I for one am pleased I don't have to worry about whether or not you'll be coming home every time you go off adventuring."
He regarded her seriously, never having considered that she might feel that way about his previously dangerous job, but figuring it wasn't surprising in the circumstances. She'd lost too much already in her short life and needed some stability. It certainly put a different slant on things.
"I love you too, Cass. Always," he whispered, cuddling her closely as reassurance.
"I know," she replied and Jack thought he detected a hint of a sniffle, but when she pulled back to look into his eyes she was beaming. Clearly she had fought back those threatening tears pretty quickly. She could be a tough cookie, another thing she'd needed to learn way too young. "And it's so cool to have an uncle like you."
"Like me? Ummm… not sure I should question that statement too closely." He winked good-humouredly. Cool? Sweet!
"I'm a Jack O'Neill fan so you know I mean only good things when I say 'like you', right?"
"A Jack O'Neill fan? I'm flattered. Want my autograph?" he teased and she slapped his chest playfully.
"Oh, you…" and then after some consideration she added, "Only if you happen to have some signed blank cheques you want to leave lying around." Instead of chuckling as she had intended him to do, Jack looked quite serious.
"You and Chris are okay aren't you? Financially I mean?" he asked.
"I'm only kidding around. We're fine. We get by."
"You're sure?" he queried, wanting to assure himself of the young woman's well-being.
"We're okay. I promise."
"You just need to call…"
"I know. You're so sweet."
"Sweet?" He puckered up his nose with distaste.
"A huge huggable teddy bear, that's what you are Uncle Jack," she reiterated, kissing his cheek again and resting her head in the crook of his neck.
Jack smiled in a wistful manner, gently grasping her hand affectionately. "You are so good for my ego…"
"Not that you're perfect or anything…" she started.
"Ack! Stop already. You'll spoil all my illusions." He rolled his eyes, although Cassie couldn't see it. She knew anyway, able to picture that expression on his face as he gestured for her to stop. So she stopped.
"Sooo cute!" she exclaimed and Jack sighed.
"Sheesh! Sweet and cute? I have a reputation to consider don't ya know?"
He started tickling her, which turned into a giggly tickling contest. Cassie knew all the tricks, and they ended up heaped on top of each other laughing hysterically.
"Naughty Uncle Jack, tickling his little girl so mercilessly. Now, what would Sam say?" Cassie mocked in a childlike voice.
"Ummm… she'd probably say move over and let me in?" he replied with a chuckle.
Cassie pursed her lips and then smiled. "Yeah, you could be right at that."
Alongside its luxurious aroma, the coffee shop was a cosy, friendly place and Sam could see why Chris and Cassie might like it there. The chatter was low and there was no loud music blaring from speakers, meaning you could talk to your companion without having to raise your voice and listen without straining your ears.
It was surprising, as Sam had thought he'd opt for the sort of place she imagined a younger set would go for and started to think she should revise her opinion of what younger people might actually like instead of making so many assumptions.
Was she so out of touch? Probably. That's what came of being stuck inside a mountain all day, or living in a cloud cuckoo land that science fiction fans would give their right arms for.
The decor was simple but homely rather than chic and modern and, although they hadn't sat in one of them, there were a couple of low, comfy and frequently used looking couches as well as the real wooden tables and chairs that appeared to be well worn, but much loved.
She liked it there and determined they should bring Jack for coffee and cake before they left LA. He would so love it and would probably gorge himself sick on the different cakes and delectable sweet treats. It occurred to her that Daniel would also love this place because the coffee was superb and Sam briefly wondered how he was getting along with the fabulous Francine Butler while they were away.
The extraordinary woman seemed unexpectedly and strangely good medicine for their friend and was spending a few days with Daniel in Colorado Springs while SG-1 were on vacation time. Daniel had been freaking out about the pending visit before she'd left, fussing about his apartment and what he should do to entertain her.
Sam figured if he didn't know that by now then it wasn't for her to explain the facts of life. Francine seemed to know exactly what she wanted and it appeared that hitting the sack and having a good old-fashioned sexual romp would keep her more than happy. Of course Daniel had to intellectualise and analyse it all, just like he did almost everything. Sam thought he should just relax and enjoy it while it was on offer. He seemed happy, though, and that pleased her. Daniel deserved some joy in his life, and lots of fun.
Despite appearances, it seemed in reality there was more to the relationship than merely a roll in the hay, however, and she wished him luck with it, hoping he didn't end up broken-hearted and alone again. She still hadn’t made up her mind about Francine, who was so flirtatious and over-loud one minute, and loving and kind the next. It was a conundrum. Jack agreed, also unable to fathom the woman, although he knew her better than Sam. They didn't mix a lot, Jack was generally way too busy with one thing or another, but they were neighbours after all.
"How was San Diego with your family?" Chris asked, interrupting her thoughts and playing with his coffee mug slightly apprehensively as he pondered his next words "Um, Cassie told me your brother has some issues with Jack."
Sam eyed him with surprise at his forwardness. But if he was part of the family…? Who knew for sure if he was or not? At least it was something to talk about. It bothered her that Chris seemed better at trying to get into the family act than she was at making him feel a part of it. People skills never had been her area of expertise and even now she could frequently feel like the geeky teen who had been teased about her big brain in High School.
It brought back some bad memories but also some good ones. Betsy had been one of the saviours of her life. A true friend. She pulled her thoughts together to respond to Chris' question.
"Jack won him over I think. It was pretty awkward at first but Jack can be a witty and intelligent charmer when he wants to be."
Not having known how she would react to the question, Chris appreciated her candour. "Otherwise he's a boring curmudgeon?" he quipped with a grin and Sam laughed.
"No, that he isn't," Chris agreed.
"Although he has his moments," she admitted, munching on the muffin Chris had persuaded her to have, against her better judgment. It was as delicious as it looked.
"Don't we all?"
"He seems to like you."
"Maybe that's because I like him."
"Maybe. In his head, Jack has a whole private cemetery populated by the people he doesn’t like, so I guess you're one of the lucky ones," she teased.
"I figured that. What about you?" The question took her aback. Once again, Chris was displaying a forwardness she hadn't expected. It was refreshing and Sam liked it.
"Do I have a private cemetery?" she retorted but he could see by the expression on her face that she was kidding around, pleased that she felt able to.
"That too. But I…"
"I know." She smiled reassuringly. "I think I like you, so far. I hardly know you yet."
"Well, at least I seem to have made a good first impression."
Sam nodded and said nothing, taking another bite of the muffin and luxuriating in its flavour as she allowed it to melt in her mouth.
"You enjoying that?" Chris asked.
"Mmmm… it's delicious," she mumbled with her mouth still full.
"I'm glad we're getting this chance to talk."
"Well, that was your intention, wasn't it? That and to buy us enough groceries to last us a month!"
"Anything I can do to help a couple of impoverished students… Chris, I want you to know that if you and Cassie have any problems… money, you know… Jack and I are there."
He nodded, his smile enhancing the pleasant ambience of the cafe. "Thanks. We'll bear it in mind."
She passed him a card with all her contact numbers on it, feeling way better about leaving her adopted daughter in the seemingly capable hands of this young man.
Jack was delighted to have some time alone with Cassie and, as they mercilessly teased each other chattering about this and then that, he noticed the light dancing in her hair as her head bobbed up and down animatedly. Not for the first time, he realised what an attractive young woman she was, and marvelled at how well adjusted she seemed.
Janet had done a great job of raising her and teaching her how to respond to a world that was so utterly different to the one from which Cassie had come. It must have been extremely hard on Cassie to be suddenly thrown into such a teaming mass of apparent chaos and noise after the tranquillity of a mainly agriculturally based society.
He found it hard to imagine what a culture shock it might have been, particularly while mourning the heavy losses she had suffered, although he'd had a couple of similar, while also dissimilar, experiences in reverse, albeit for a limited period and not a lifetime. He hadn't known that for sure at the time though. But Jack had known solitude and was country wise even before he'd become stranded on Edora for three months, whereas Cassie hadn't had any concept of city. He was proud of her and so would Janet be if she'd been there to see her daughter now.
During a lull in the light-hearted conversation he noticed Cassie pucker her lips, suddenly looking quite serious, and sensed she had something on her mind. About to ask, she forestalled his question by posing one of her own.
"What do I do about Chris?"
"What do you mean?"
"If this… well… one day I might have to tell him the truth about me."
"Oh!" Crap! He had tried not to think about that day coming. "I don't know Cassie."
"Sam could tell Pete."
She saw a dark cloud momentarily mar his expression and realised this was still a sore point in his heart. That surprised her. Sure, she understood his heartache, but now he was engaged to Sam and they were getting married… Did he doubt Sam's feelings?
Cassie decided she'd need to mull that one over in her head for a while. Jack seemed such a confident man but could also be excessively self-effacing. She'd never understood why because, in her opinion, he was a great man. Not faultless, of course, but great nonetheless, so his self-doubt worried her just a little.
"Yeah, that's true," he replied. "I'll look into it, okay?" She nodded silently.
"You know we'd have to run a security check on him?" he asked.
"You mean you haven't checked him out already?" she joked with a smirk.
"Would I?" Jack responded, way too much the picture of innocence.
"Yes you would, you naughty man." Jack was relieved to see the smile remained on Cassie's face, as he didn't want her berating him for being his usual cautious self. "I know you want to protect me, but I have to live my life the way I want to."
"I know, Cassie, but it doesn't hurt to be careful."
"You are way too suspicious for your own good," she teased, wondering what Jack had dug up about the man she loved.
"Not really. It's kept me and my team alive more than once."
"I don't recall anything about that in the Jack O'Neill handbook."
"You mean I missed that one?" he said with a small chuckle.
"You most surely did."
"I guess I thought it was implicit in all of 'em."
"You're incorrigible Uncle Jack," Cassie responded with a giggle.
"I try." Jack waggled his eyebrows teasingly, his mouth scrunched up in a smirky pout.
Turning serious again, Cassie knew she had to ask. "So if you dug up something bad about Chris you'd tell me?"
Jack's smile disappeared as he replied, gently clutching her hand and looking her straight in the eye. "You've got nothing to worry about except for the fact he's a man." Cassie considered that response for a while, initially uncertain whether the 'man' comment was intended as a joke.
"You mean that reputation with women thing?" she queried eventually and Jack didn't reply. "I trust him." Jack nodded and smiled affectionately.
"You love him. Love is blind. If it wasn't so obvious he's crazy about you I might thump him on the nose for taking advantage of my best girl. But I guess I kind of trust him too. Question is, do you trust him with your most secret, secret?" He was more than curious about her viewpoint on that.
She shrugged but her reply belied the carelessness. "I don't know how he might react. It's one heck of a big secret."
"It worries you how he'll react?"
"Wouldn't it scare you off if you found out your girlfriend was an alien?"
"If I didn't know about the Stargate? Maybe. But you're no more alien than I am. You just come from another planet is all. You're still Cassie Frasier."
"What if he didn't see it like that?"
"If he loves you he'll see it like that. It might be different if you pulled off your skin to reveal the lizard underneath and then ate live rats." He pulled a scary face, dropping her hand to use both of his to gesticulate taloned digits, and Cassie laughed at his clowning reference to that seminal science fiction premise. Jack had a way of making her feel better about things.
"I guess it's a bridge to cross one day, maybe, not now," she said happily, having perked up again.
"Just live your life. Enjoy! Life's too short."
"Yadda, yadda, yadda…"
"Are you making fun of me?"
"Ack!" he huffed but then his eyes glistened with laughter and he opened his arms to her. "C'mere," he said, and she snuggled up to him, letting him enfold her in his soothing arms and squeeze her tenderly. "Sheesh, where's Sam with that damned beer?"
Sam was having fun people watching. There were some interesting customers in the cafe and it felt great to relax and take a good look around. At the other side of the room, Chris' university buddy kept glancing up from his corner to cast his eyes over theirs, trying to look surreptitious but failing miserably. She thought he looked both lonely and alone and fingered her pendant, thinking of Jack and those words "never alone", and how lucky and happy she was to be loved by an incredible man, never to be lonely again.
Meanwhile, two tables away from him, a skinny young girl with purple hair and an eclectic taste in clothing talked animatedly with a slightly older, smarter, short-haired man dressed in a suit and tie. It seemed incongruous and Sam wondered what the relationship between them was, trying to guess from body language. A passionate kiss between the pair settled that question, and she suppressed a titter at the sight of two such apparently incompatible people in a romantic relationship. Can't judge a book…
On the comfy couches, a cluster of friends chatted merrily, wild gestures interspersed with laughter. She figured they were probably all in their mid to late twenties, three women and two men, too old to be a group of students; perhaps locals who had been friends for years. Their playful and relaxed interactions made her smile, bringing joy to her heart.
Behind the counter, the couple who ran the place bickered amongst themselves about something, although she couldn't hear what. He was a large, florid amiable looking man with a winning smile, who tried to use that easy charm to his advantage with his partner. She was a petite brunette who grinned and blushed when he reached up his hand to briefly stroke her cheek, kissing the top of her head and then stepping away. The obviously friendly bickering continued unabated after that short pause.
Then there was the bookish woman with glasses and fair hair piled on top of her head in a knot, who sipped her coffee and nibbled on her cake without missing a beat with her reading, obviously deeply engrossed in the book and totally oblivious to her surroundings. Her table was encircled by bags of shopping and she'd obviously popped in to read and relax after a long hard day spending her probably hard earned cash.
Closer to Sam and Chris was the old scruffy but clean looking woman who mumbled to herself, grey haired head bobbing up and down as she spoke, gnarled fingers shaking as she lifted her coffee mug to her lips for a small sip before placing it back on the table and started her muttering all over again.
Briefly, Sam wondered what a total stranger would make of her and Chris as they people watched and couldn't decide if they might appear as mother and son together for a short reunion, or as older woman meeting up with her toy boy lover. She brought her thoughts and vision closer to home and eyed Chris speculatively. "So, you and Cassie… it's serious, right?"
"Is this Momma Carter coming out to play?"
"It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it," she joked to ease any tension her question might have caused.
"I've passed the Jack O'Neill test but now I have to pass yours, right?"
"I like to make up my own mind about things."
"So you should, " he replied, pausing to consider his next words. "It would be a pointless waste of time to be ashamed or regretful of my past. I've been pretty damned mean to a lot of women and I know it, but I have nothing but good intentions towards Cassie. Yes it's serious or we wouldn't be living together. It's a commitment, isn't it? But we're both young so who knows?
Sam was taken aback by this disarming response and started to feel way more at ease in Chris' company.
"Yes, you're both young. I guess that kind of bothers me a little, along with that reputation I hear you have. You don't feel like you have a noose tied around your neck?"
Chris chuckled. "A noose? No way. Do I have to spell it out for you? I love her. It's that simple. If there is a noose I'm happy to wear it." A shy and boyish expression appeared on his face, reminding Sam of Jack and the way he could disarm her so quickly with that look. Another one of Cassie's reasons for being attracted to and loving Chris became starkly apparent in that brief moment. "I've never felt this way about anyone before. It can be pretty scary sometimes."
"Oh, I so know that feeling," Sam admitted, it being precisely how she could feel about her love for Jack - wholehearted and forever. It was scary, exhilarating, warming and reassuring all at the same time. If Cassie and Chris felt even a fraction of that they were very lucky indeed to have found each other and their age was totally irrelevant. She understood that extremely well. When the lightening bolt hit, the opportunity should be grasped with both hands because it might never strike again.
"I'm blessed," Chris said, "She chose me and she could do way better." Sam smiled, suddenly feeling a good deal of affection for the younger man.
"That's what my brother used to think about Jack," she replied.
"You could do better than a general in the US Air Force? What, he wanted you to aim for First Lady?"
Sam laughed at that notion. "Mark's never been entirely unbiased about the armed forces."
"But your dad was a general, right?" He grinned and answered his own question, "I guess that's why, huh?"
"You got that right," Sam responded, rolling her eyes in mock frustration.
"Why are families so complicated?" Chris seemed to ruminate aloud.
"Is yours?" she asked inquisitively, "you don't have to answer that."
"Isn't everyone's?" he countered and Sam realised she knew nothing about his family. Cassie had never discussed it and she wondered what she knew, allowing herself to be diverted from the subject as Chris seemed to want, but remaining curious.
She quizzed him about his UCLA courses and what he might do for a career, realising during the conversation that Chris had an acutely intelligent mind, probably as sharp as Cassie's, and this discovery pleased her. Perhaps the couple were well matched, but they were so young and it still nagged at her that they might tie themselves to each other too early in life. Dismissing the thoughts as way too speculative, she told herself they should cross that bridge… Both of them had a whole lifetime to live and it was too soon to worry about such things.
Cassie had to live that life as she saw fit and, having decided she liked Chris a lot, Sam knew she should support the decisions Cassie had made and would make in the future, and be a shoulder to cry on if she required it, or a friend she could confide in and laugh with if she needed that. As long as Jack and her were there for the young woman as surrogate parents, Cassie would be okay. She'd always have people to turn to and a place to come home to, and that was the most important thing they could provide for her.
Sam's eyes drifted to her watch and she widened her eyes with surprise. "Holy Hannah! We should go!" she exclaimed, realising they'd been sitting there talking for a lot longer than she thought. "Cassie and Jack will be getting thirsty," she joked.
Chris grinned boyishly, nodding his head in acquiescence, happy with the notion of returning to the woman he adored. A few minutes later they were back in the car and on their way home.
"Gee, a man could die of thirst in this place," Jack jested, playing with his long empty beer bottle.
"I'm sure they'll be home soon. I've got orange juice, or water," Cassie responded with a smile, thinking Jack probably wasn't so much thirsty and wishing his fiancee was there with them. She wanted Chris home too.
"Orange juice or water? Sheesh!" Jack declared, puckering his nose up with evident distaste and causing Cassie to grin inanely.
"Missing Sam?" she queried, noting the small smile on Jack's face at the mention of her name.
"Missing? No. Wanting? Yes," he replied without meeting her eyes.
"I guess you and Sam spend way too much time apart, huh?"
"Way too much. But it's necessary." His expression was slightly wistful and Cassie wondered what he was thinking.
"Ever thought about retiring?"
He looked up at her sharply. "Many, many times. Sam won't let me. She has this crazy notion that I'm still needed." He grinned shyly and Cassie reached for his hand.
"Then you probably are," she commented, adding, "Sam loves you, she always did. Pete was just a foolish aberration. Never doubt that Uncle Jack." He looked at her askance, eyebrows knitting together with surprise and what appeared to be slight consternation.
"What made you say that?"
"Just an impression." When he said nothing, simply staring at her with a faintly flabbergasted expression, she continued. "When I mentioned his name earlier you seemed… I dunno; something flittered across your face is all."
"I am so not going to discuss this with a teenager," he replied, withdrawing his hand from hers and finding somewhere else for his eyes to focus.
"Does my age really matter that much?" she asked, her eyes opening wide as if a penny had just dropped. "Does the age difference between you two bother you?"
"Don't be ridiculous!" he exclaimed too quickly and vehemently for the intelligent and way too worldly-wise for her age Cassie not to pick up on his underlying concern about that issue.
"That reaction says it all, Uncle Jack."
He looked up again, surprised that such a young girl could be that astute. Jack knew he was pretty good at hiding, but obviously not from Cassie.
"You know me too well. It's kind of irritating," he said, but she noticed the gleam in his eye. "Okay, you want a confession? Of course I'm too old for her but we love each other and want to be together. If we get a few special years… that's good enough for me."
"And me. But that being too old for her stuff is nonsense anyway."
"Perhaps. I just want to make her happy," he asserted.
"And you will, you do." All Cassie had to do was picture the look in Sam's eyes when she watched Jack. It was so obvious and always had been. "She was never as happy with him as she is with you."
"Let's not talk about him." Jack still didn't really like to remember how wretched he had felt inside about Sam and Pete, despite that it had been over for a long time and all that had happened since. He had wanted to be happy because he thought she was. As it turned out, she wasn't and that had turned out being what made him happy. He couldn't have asked for a better twist of fate and no way in hell was he missing his chance, even with some of his misgivings bubbling beneath the surface.
"You probably didn't know she had a crush on me when she was a teenager, did you? Kind of makes a guy feel old."
Taken aback by that revelation, Cassie gasped, eyes widened in shock. "She did? You knew each other?"
"Not really. We hung out at the same base for a while."
"But she had a crush?" Cassie was agog with wonderment.
"You tell her I told and… don't tell her."
"I promise." She considered what he'd just said, tossing it around in her head for a while before continuing. "But that just means it's kismet with you two. Don't you get it? Oh, it's so romantic!" She faked a swoon but Jack knew she really did think it romantic. She was a girl. Go figure!
He was saved from more 'true confessions' by the return of the missing pair and breathed a sigh of relief when Cassie got distracted by Chris, and the numerous shopping bags. He loved her dearly, and liked spending time alone with her, but her directness and ability to see into his heart and make him open up could be unnerving to such a private, guarded man as Jack.
The arrival the others prompted some kissing and cuddling before they relaxed with more drinks and then got ready to go eat. As ever, Sam looked totally stunning, dressed as she was in a casual light brown suit with a soft blue blouse that seemed the perfect combination. And, also as ever, Jack's doubts faded when in her company because her feelings for him were so clearly written in her face and reactions.
He so loved that about her - that and many other things. It was a certainty that she made him happy and it unquestionably appeared this feeling was mutual.
"Excuse me Chris," said Jack, placing an arm around the shoulders of each woman, "both these young women are mine. You're on your own kiddo."
"Ack! That's just plain greedy," Chris replied with a joking pout and Jack grinned, letting go of Cassie and allowing her to be swallowed up in her paramour's arms.
"Okay, let's go eat!" Jack declared, a shit eating grin lighting up his handsome features. He was looking forward to spending these next few days in the company of this delightful couple, but even more than that, he eagerly anticipated spending more time with Sam. Every minute of every day for the rest of his life.