Story Notes: Spoilers: 100 Days (3), Ascension (5), Fragile Balance (7)

A/N: Thanks to Emry, Melly. And this is a very, VERY early birthday present for Lucy. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Lucy!


Approaching Normality


Daniel - no doubt before his first cup of morning coffee - had once said that he found the concept of Jack ever having been a kid unlikely. And that, in all actuality, Jack had hatched, fully formed, from a large, putrid egg.

Thinking back, Sam couldn't remember exactly what Jack had done to merit this exceptionally Daniel-like insult, but, knowing him, he had probably deserved it.

Still, the idea had stuck with her and recently she'd begun to wonder about the people who had brought him into the world and raised him. He had to have parents, after all. Everyone had parents, present or otherwise. He would have had a mother and a father at some point in his life - that was a biological absolute.

It was one of those things, she decided one morning as she sat outside with her cup of tea, that she should probably ask him about.

"Jack? Where *are* your parents?"

Of course, it would work better if he was actually there, she mused, lifting the cup to her mouth. Which he wasn't - he was still in bed, fast asleep. Since she'd left the bed two hours ago, he was right now probably spread, starfish-like, across the king-sized mattress. Seven weeks of living together, five months of intensive dating (with a week-long break in the middle where they'd had a minor crisis of faith) had not reversed the sleeping habits of a man who had been single for nearly a decade.

Sam didn't mind that, really. She had her revenge in the bathroom where she deliberately massacred the toothpaste tube every morning. For a man who had previously lived like a pig, he was exceptionally anal about the toothpaste.

Smiling smugly, Sam put her tea back down and pulled her legs up to her chest, resting her bare heels on the edge of the chair. She was glad they'd decided to keep this house, his house, instead of her own. It had never really been hers, after all - up until her father's blending, she'd had an apartment. A small one, half lived in. Once her father had no longer any use for the fully furnished house he'd bought to be close to her, he'd given it to her and she'd moved in and that had been that.

It had been a pretty house, an inviting house, and her neighbors had been good people. Right until the moment the special forces had swarmed around her house at night and broken in, looking for Orlin, they'd treated her just like they would any other neighbor. After that, however, they had been somewhat understandably concerned about exactly who she was. She'd noticed the children across the street avoiding her and she suspected their parents had told them to stay wall away from Ms Carter.

But she liked this house. She liked the quiet. She liked sitting outside every morning and letting her mind rest, listening to the trees rustle in the wind. When the weather was good, like it was today, she liked pushing the chair into a patch of sunlight and feeling the warmth on her scalp. She never really felt calm anywhere else but here.

Reaching for her cup once more, she realized it was now too cold to drink. She didn't particularly want to move but felt she had to when the phone started ringing. Grabbing the cup, she hurried into the kitchen and pulled the phone from the wall, reminding herself not to bark a professional, military 'Carter' into the receiver and scare off any of Jack's friends. "Hello?"

There was a long pause, which wasn't unusual. Only a couple of weeks ago, the same had happened when Sara had phoned, not expecting another woman to answer the phone. Some of Jack's more frequent-calling friends - old military buddies or the the three guys he played golf with on a bi-weekly basis - had already become used to getting her on the phone first and though she'd only met 'Stan', they all called her Sam and chatted to her like they'd known her as long as Jack.

She liked that.

"Hello?" she repeated, when no one said anything.

"Is this... I'm looking for Jack. Jack O'Neill? And unless something very interesting has happened, you are definitely not him."

Smiling automatically, Sam tried to imagine who this could be. Male voice - elderly male voice - with no discernable accent. "No, I'm not Jack. I'm Sam." She fumbled. What did you say these days? 'Girlfriend' sounded so high school, 'lover' was *out*. Partner was too politically correct and fiancée was a little bit too presumptuous considering they'd only touched on marriage once before.

Thankfully, the voice on the other end seemed to understand. "Ah, I see!"

And it certainly sounded as if he did see, Sam thought with relief. "Jack's asleep. Do you want to leave a message? I could wake him up..."

He chuckled, a warm rolling sound that immediately reminded her of Jack when he was feeling particularly laid back. "No, I'll leave a message. It's not urgent. Tell him his aged uncle called and that I'd appreciate it if he'd call me back."

"Sure." She spun around in the kitchen, looking for a pen. "Does he have your number?"

"Somewhere. No doubt on a post-it tucked away in a drawer."

Sam laughed. "No doubt."

In fact, she was standing in front of that particular drawer right now. Pulling it open, the drawer moving smoothly over the runners, she eyed the muddled contents - post-its, scraps of paper, packets of Kleenex, a multitude of pens that didn't work - affectionately.

Jack didn't believe in address books. He had one, of course, and it was a long-ago present from Cassie. Right now, it was tucked away, shiny and new, on a shelf above the kitchen phone with Cassie's phone number under 'F' and Daniel's under 'J' (Jack had crossed out Sam's address after she'd moved in). "I'll tell him."

"Thank you very much. Nice to speak to you, Sam." He hung up and Sam looked at the phone for a moment, before reaching over and hanging it back up.

So there was an uncle, never previously discussed. She filed this piece of information away like she did everything.

They had talked about Charlie, they had talked about Sara, they had talked about her mother, they had talked about her father. They had talked quietly, softly, about secret missions and old hurts and honor and duty and Earth. It seemed strange, now, that he had never mentioned this uncle, an uncle who knew him very well by all accounts.

Perhaps it was merely an oversight. They never *planned* to talk about things and it wasn't as if she had ever asked.

She poured the cold tea away and washed the cup up carefully. It was one of a pretty bone china set, painted with an intricate black design, that Jack never used (too 'fidly') but that she was particularly fond of. She suspected it had been a wedding present but she was basing that theory purely on the wedding gifts that people had sent during her brief engagement to Jonas Hansen.

For all she knew, they could have been his mother's.

"Damn," she muttered, turning off the water and turning the cup upside down on the draining board. Maybe this mattered to her more than she thought.

Damn, damn, damn.

Sam took the stairs two at a time and walked through into their bedroom. As she'd suspected, there he was, doing his best star-fish impression with the navy blue covers were bunched down at his waist and his bare feet sticking out.

Not one to mince words, not with him, she climbed on the bed and rested a knee either side of his hips, leaning down so her hair brushed his forehead and her eyes were level with his. She ignored how cute he looked asleep. "Jack? Do you have parents?"

His eyes opened straight away but he frowned at her with dopey confusion. "Carter?" he asked, as if he wasn't quite sure.

She bounced a little. "Wake up. Do you have parents?"

He cleared his throat. "What the hell brought this on? Crap, it's not before nine, is it?" He turned his head to check out the clock on her side of the bed - the clock he had refused to be in charge of - and he groaned theatrically. "Sam - it's *Sunday*. Nobody sane gets up as early as you. You need help."

She rolled her eyes, waiting for him to catch up. "Jack, come on. I want to know." "Of course I have parents." He grimaced and patted her behind. "Now I need to pee. Move."

She slumped on the other side of him and lay on the bed while he stumbled towards the bathroom, muttering to himself. He left the bathroom door open and she could hear, much to her amusement, that he continued to mutter while he peed. Charming.

A couple of minutes later, he came back to the bed and flopped down beside her. He smelled strongly of toothpaste. "What were we talking about?"


"Ah." He smiled, sleepily, snuggled into his pillow. She gave him a nudge with her knee, hoping he wasn't about to fall asleep again. The man could fall asleep no matter what - she couldn't count the number of times he'd taken a nap against a tree off-world or snored against the wall of tel'tac as if it was the most comfortable mattress in the world. "I'm awake," he told her fuzzily.

She rolled onto her side to face him and rested her head on her propped up hand. Perhaps it was time to adjust her tactics. "Your uncle just called."

His eyebrows raised, though his eyes were closed. "Oh yeah? What did he say?"

"That he'd like you to call back."

"Cool. Wonder where I put his number."

She ran a finger down the back of his head, thinking that he needed a haircut or he'd be forced to comb his hair regularly - Jack didn't like that. He was a big believer in 'finger maintenance', which essentially meant he ran his hands through it first thing in the morning and left it at that. "In the drawer with all the others, I imagine."

"Nah." He drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly, contentedly. "I put it somewhere safe." Opening one dark brown eye, he smiled at her. "I just can't remember where that safe place is."

Sam grinned. "Idiot," she said, affectionately.

"What time did you get up this morning, anyway?" He draped an arm around her waist casually and his fingers lightly traced the bare patch of skin revealed by her short T-shirt. "I didn't feel you leave."

He *knew* she got up early. He'd always known that. Why, for God's sake, did he insist on complaining about it on a nearly daily basis? "Quarter past six."

"Is that *normal*?"

She refused to answer

"But we didn't go to bed until two-ish." He hadn't complained last night, she thought wryly. In fact, he had been very vocal about just how happy he was. "Aren't you tired?"

"Nope." Would take more than a late night dinner at Daniel's and then very early morning sex to take her down. Now, three months working on a particle beam accelerator - that was the kind of thing that could take her on.

Perhaps sensing she was not amused by this conversation, he gave her his little boy smile. "I'm feeling old again."

"And creaky?"

"Very. Do you think you could cultivate some grey hairs?"

"Give me a ... " Argh! Damn him and his distractions. "Parents!" she exclaimed.

"What about them?"

She searched for a question to ask, quickly, and eventually settled for the obvious, "Where are they?"

Half sitting up, he loomed over her, giving her a curious look. One hand came up and a finger stroked down the rim of her ear. "You know this!"

Frustrated beyond belief, she threw a hand in the air, wondering if it was always going to be like this. "I do not!"

"How could you not know this?" Jack looked truly baffled for a moment, almost as confused as she was. "We've been together for months. They know all about you."

"What?" She sat up completely, nearly crashing heads with him but, for an old guy, he sure knew how to move to avoid possible concussions. "How could they know about me?"

"Because I told them." He was full out grinning now, on the verge of laughter, and though she always enjoyed it when he was in an especially good humor, she was not enjoying it now. "Come on, Sam, you can't be serious."

"When have we *ever* had a conversation about your parents?"

Jack shook his head, obviously searching for an occasion to throw in her face triumphantly. Slowly, the smile faded and was replaced with a pensive look. "Huh."

"You mean you thought you'd told me but you hadn't?"

"Well, sure. I mean," he rubbed the back of his head and gave her an amused look, "you don't think this is senility setting in early?"

"Can you be serious for one moment, please?"

His eyes actually twinkled. *Twinkled*, for God's sake. What fifty-year-old-man's eyes twinkled? "Yes, ma'am."

Apparently he couldn't be serious for one moment. She so should have known this already.

She slumped back and stared up at the ceiling, one arm draped across her forehead as she considered this possibility. "So you do have parents," she told the ceiling.

Jack's face edged into view and she felt his fingers in her hair. "Yup. A complete set. Mom and Dad. And an uncle. Two actually, though I'm basically only on Christmas-card terms with the other one. Three aunts, on my mom's side. Some cousins all over the place. Stan! Stan's a cousin. Did I tell you that?"

At least she'd met *one* relation, then. "Well, no."

"Right. Sorry." He patted her stomach lightly. "Really - it wasn't intentional. I just... assumed."

"That I could mind read?" she replied, caustically, though, to be honest, her heart wasn't really in it any more.

"Er.... sort of. We have known each other for a long time, Sam," he explained calmly, rubbing her stomach and rumpling her T-shirt up. "Sometimes I forget that we haven't really *known* each other."

She supposed that was a good explanation. As explanations go, it was actually quite... nice. Sort of. Admittedly, it was worrying he appeared to think he'd told her a bunch of things when he actually hadn't, but it hadn't been his intention to elude her.

"So, can I meet them?"


Yeah. One of these days she was gonna punch him. "Your. Parents," she said slowly. Through her teeth.

"Oh. No."

Definitely gonna punch him. A sneaky left-hook, she decided. Take him by surprise. See him explain *that* black eye to his friends. "Why not?"

"Well, they live in the south of Spain - Costa del Sol," he clarified at her incredulous look. "About fifteen years ago, a whole bunch of their friends emigrated as an alternative to retiring in the US somewhere and my parents decided to join them. My Mom speaks fluent Spanish now; it's pretty amazing."

"Wow." There really wasn't much else she could say.

"I get letters and postcards," he said cheerfully. "Do you want to see?"

She nodded and he jumped off the bed and pulled a stack of elastic-band bound postcards from one of his drawers, the one that held all his winter sweaters. He threw them on the bed next to her and she looked at the pictures on the front of the postcards, at the foreign stamps and the alien writing on the back. She didn't really take the words in.

"You don't visit them?"

"We talk on the phone sometimes. Dad got a computer last year and we've started emailing some. Mom likes the postcards, though - she writes most of them. She thinks email is impersonal." He sat back down against the headboard and picked up a bunch of cards, pulling the band off and flicking through them with a half-smile on his face. "But I haven't seen them since Charlie, since he died."

She touched his leg lightly. "Why not?"

"Well, after he died," Jack spoke softly, "I didn't want to see anyone. I was making tentative arrangements to fly over for a few weeks before I got called back to the SGC. After that, there really wasn't the time."

"What about now?" Technically he was retired - though he'd been summoned to the SGC six times in the last few months for Asgard and Jaffa-related missions. Not that the Asgard actually got the General to summon him. They just whisked him up in a flash of light and, usually, whisked him right back down so he could say goodbye to her.

Jack liked to joke that he was working part time for the universe.

"Now there's you."

Sam smiled, not understanding. "Me?"

"Well, yeah." He was giving her that look - that look that meant she was being dense.

"I don't understand."

The look magnified and he leaned towards her, eyebrows raised in a suspiciously charming manner. He kissed her mouth lightly. "I want to be here," he murmured, his breath warm on the skin around her lips.

"Oh," she said softly. "*Oh*." That was so sweet, she thought, blushing and looking down at her lap where the postcards were strewn. Damn. She would be all warm and sappy all day.

"I mean, I do want you to meet them," he continued in an ultra-casual tone of voice. He shuffled a couple of letters and set them aside, avoiding her eyes. "Maybe Christmas? We could visit for a week or something."

"Sure. I'd like that."

She couldn't believe she was being introduced to someone's parents.


"Cool," he said decisively, reading the back of one of the postcards and grinning foolishly, obviously pleased.

She cleared her throat, intentionally breaking the awkward but happy silence that had settled between them. "So, um, what do you want to do today?"

"It's a little early to really do much...."

"Oh, please," she replied in exasperation. Good God, would he always go on about this? she wondered. Five, ten, twenty years down the road?

"But, you know," he grasped the postcards, shoving them on the bedside table in a messy heap, "since we're both awake now...," he slid back onto his side next to her, "and in already handily in bed... awake... together..." Jack waggled his eyebrows and tugged at her T-shirt, smoothing a warm hand under to rest on her rib cage.

She giggled and she *never* giggled. "Oooh, chess?"

Eyes warm, he replied in as serious a voice as he could muster, "I was thinking... Monopoly."

Yes. She was *definitely* going to be warm and sappy all day. And she was just fine with that.

Grinning, she grabbed the collar of his own T-shirt and pulled his face down to hers. "I *love* Monopoly."


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