Jack was pulling on his shoes when he heard it. Tiny, muffled, and two rooms away, but definitely there and even more definitely bad. With one final tug at his shoelace, he pushed himself up from the bed, crossed the short space to the door, and stuck his head out into the hallway in time to hear the soft sound drift his way once again.
He could see where this was going, and it was very, very bad. 'Harbinger of doom' type bad. And there was no room in his plans tonight for harbingers, doom-predicting or otherwise.
But as the saying went, he who hesitated did not get to take his wife out before the apocalypse took place – or at least, that was how the saying would go if he'd had the chance to say it first. So he sallied forth to confront the threat, his feet beating a military-style cadence as he stalked down the hall and past the closed bathroom door.
Which, in hindsight, probably hadn't been his best tactical decision ever.
"Is everything okay?" asked Sam's voice from behind said bathroom door.
Jack winced. Yeah, not his best tactical decision ever. Because in this case, the enemy wouldn't even notice his bravado, but now he'd alerted the United Nations.
"Fine," he called back as he crossed to the door on the opposite side of the hall, thinking hard in her direction and willing her to be stupid and inattentive just this one time. "Just fine, really," he muttered to himself as he crossed the threshold and entered boldly into his foe's lair.
His foe's overdecorated and disturbingly cute lair.
Jack paused inside the room to consider the problem before him – though he had to admit, critical thinking wasn't the sort of thing he found easy to do in a room filled with fuzzy bears and purple flowers and little bitty bees painted on the wall. But distressing décor or not, a situation assessment was in order, and he rallied himself accordingly. Most of the time, that tiny noise wouldn't be the sort of thing one worried about; then again, there'd also been that note from the daycare yesterday, not to mention the little episode this morning while Carter was stuck on a conference call trying to sort out a requisitions nightmare that Jack had been smugly gleeful wasn't his problem.
This particular state of affairs, on the other hand, was his problem. And all in all, the evidence wasn't mounting up in his favor.
But Jack O'Neill did not yield ground without a fight, hopeless cause or otherwise. A few steps took him to the side of the crib, where he stared down at his very small daughter, and his very small daughter looked back up at him, remarkably un-fussy but with eyes that were a little too bright and a lot too stubborn.
"Okay, squirt," Jack said. "You and I need to talk. This is not how tonight is going to go down."
He pointed his finger at her sternly, but the squirt in question only smiled and gurgled something sweet-sounding up at him. And when he reached down and tickled her behind the ear, it was a reflex. Really. A habitual response. She giggled at the brush of his fingertips against her neck, and he grinned, and then he rolled his eyes.
Good job, O'Neill. Way to engage the enemy. Then again, who could engage an enemy while surrounded by the Teddy Bear Army? Really, Cassie and her gaggle of twenty-something friends needed to quit decorating this room, or his brain was going to go AWOL into the Hundred Acre Wood and never come back.
Jack tried again. He folded his arms along the side of the crib and leaned down, resting his chin on the back of one wrist. "Can I pretend I didn't hear that you-know-what a few minutes ago?" he asked hopefully. "Just keep it between you and me? Because seriously, your mom and I ..."
But that foray didn't go any better than the last, because she knew exactly what he was thinking, language acquisition milestones or not. That tiny little face just scrunched up and started turning red, and before Jack really had time to think about it, he'd conceded defeat, hauling her up out of the crib and against his shoulder, bouncing her gently in a bid to fend off the almighty fit of opinionated shrieking she'd been about to hurl in his direction.
And that, of course, was when Carter walked in.
"What's up?" she asked, her hands still raised, fastening an earring in her ear.
"Besides the baby?" Jack quipped.
She raised an eyebrow at him, Teal'c-style, and Jack finally let loose the sigh he'd been repressing since the first sign of trouble this morning.
And he made sure that sigh sounded especially long-suffering.
"Can I just say, I told you not to go off-world while you were …" he waved his free hand vaguely in the direction of her midsection.
"Pregnant?" she asked, her second eyebrow climbing up to join the first.
"Yes." Jack paused to turn the baby's head so that the squalling noise that hadn't quite ceased was pointed away from his ear. Then he tried bouncing her a bit more. "That."
Sam squinted at him, wrinkling up her forehead and looking adorably confused in a way that Carter almost never looked – except when she was looking at him. "You did not," she said.
"I did too," he insisted. Bounce bounce bounce.
"You did not." Squint.
They continued in that non-verbal vein for a long moment, Jack jiggling the fussing baby and Sam furrowing her confused eyebrows in his direction, until finally, finally, the crying stopped.
Ah, blessed silence.
"I did!" he said, picking up right where they'd left off.
Sam blinked, and then their daughter commenced chewing on his collar, which Jack had to admit tickled a little. And those tiny fingernails on his neck needed trimming again. Which did not tickle, but it did sting.
"You absolutely did not ever – " Sam started in again, but just when he thought he'd pulled off a coup and distracted both of the women in his life at the same time, she broke off and huffed out a breath hard enough to disturb the hair resting on her forehead. "Jack."
"And," he continued, undeterred, "if you just had to go off-world, I'm sure I told you not to touch anything while you were there."
"I – what?"
"Touching things on alien planets never ends well. All kinds of unpleasant side effects." By now, Jack had baby drool down the neck of his shirt; meanwhile, Carter was looking confused again, so he figured, why quit while he was ahead? It might be the only fun he got to have this evening. "On the other hand," he mused, "maybe it was Thor."
Sam opened her mouth, then shut it again and scowled at him. Looking at her, he was hit with a vision of his future so clear that he was certain he could see even the smallest details – which definitely didn't include Winnie the Pooh, by the way – a picture of the little girl he was holding now, but grown up about ten years and stomping her foot while sporting the exact expression her mother wore right now.
He managed – barely – to choke back his laughter, but there wasn't any fooling Sam, and the weird noise he made only caused her to scowl even more. Which in turn made him want to laugh more, right up until that little hand on his neck reached up to tug on his hair.
His daughter had a pretty good grip. And also was clearly on her mother's side.
With a wince, he reached up to loose the strands from the tiny fingers, curling her hand around his thumb instead. "Ow," he said fondly, tapping her on the nose. "Careful with your old dad, kiddo."
When he turned back to look, Sam's expression had softened, and when she stepped closer and laid her hand on the baby's back, the moment for teasing and jibes had passed altogether. But Jack was pretty sure he liked this moment better.
Although that reminded him of the small saboteur he was holding and what he'd been annoyed about in the first place. He aimed his stern finger at Carter's nose. "There is some way that this is your fault."
"Look, I'm pretty sure I'm missing half of this conversation," she said, "but the babysitter's going to be here any minute, so maybe you could just catch me up after we –"
And then it happened again. The event that had started this all in the first place. Louder this time, still possibly pre-apocalyptic, and very, very snotty.
And everything after that happened exactly the way Jack had foreseen. Sam cocked her head sideways, considering the problem; then she slid her hand to the baby's forehead and cheek and tummy before scooping her out of Jack's arms, grabbing the last tissue from the far-too-cute box near the crib, and striding off to the bookcase on the other side of the room.
Harbinger of doom, indeed. In fact, cold viruses had a special category of bad all their own. 'Destroy your plans for the evening and any hope of conjugal bliss along with them' type bad.
"It must be your fault," he said, crossing the room to stand behind her, "because I'm telling you, that daughter of yours is telepathic."
"Hmm?" she asked absently as she rifled through a basket she'd pulled down from the top shelf.
"Otherwise how would she know to get sick every single time I'm planning to steal you away from her for a few measly hours?"
Sam breathed out a frustrated, argh-like sound, clearly not listening.
Jack reached out and captured her wrist in a light grip. Honestly, he couldn't fathom what would make her think he kept anything useful in a pink, daisy-covered basket when Cassie wasn't around to put it there. He plucked the thermometer from two shelves down and placed it into her palm.
"Oh." She stared down at her hand. "You read my mind."
This time he couldn't help laughing.
Sam rolled her eyes at him but didn't speak, distracted as she was by the struggle to get the now-squirming baby's shirt out of the way and the thermometer in position to read the temperature from under her arm, and he could only hope she realized he wasn't laughing at what she thought of as her own awkwardness. Some parts of motherhood didn't feel routine to her yet, what with being gone on the Hammond as much as she was; still, he'd learned better than to dive in and do things for her. Sam never liked to yield the time she had.
So he waited as she got baby and thermometer situated, and he watched as she stroked her fingers through the little girl's hair while the thermometer did its duty, and he decided – in the mushy sort of way that he was both vaguely embarrassed by and still getting re-acquainted with – that she had motherhood down pretty well as far as he was concerned.
Then her forehead furrowed again. "What did you say?" she asked. "Before, I mean." The crease between her eyebrows deepened as she replayed their conversation in her head, then smoothed out again when she found what she was looking for.
"Telepathic," she repeated. "Oh, ha ha." And then, "If she's a little bit contrary and likes to have things her own way, do you really want to go blaming that on me?"
"No?" he guessed.
"I always knew you were smarter than you looked."
The thermometer beeped, saving him from having to concoct a reply; Sam glanced at the display and sighed before holding it up for him to see. He didn't bother to look, just plucked it from her fingers and set it back down on the shelf. With her hand now free, she grabbed a bottle of Tylenol from the shelf and shoved it in his direction, passing the baby over with a bit more ceremony. "Here. You give her this, and I'll call the babysitter."
As Sam left the room, Jack sensed the beginnings of a new complaint from his daughter. He waved the bottle in front of her face to distract her from the sight of her mother departing. "Pink goo," he said mock-cheerfully. "Hooray."
Hooray, indeed. Cold viruses, snot, and pink goo were definitely not what he'd planned for tonight. But he supposed he really shouldn't complain. After all, Sam was on Earth, not off gallivanting around the galaxy, and anyway …
"It won't be that bad," Sam's voice drifted back in from the hallway. "She has to go to sleep eventually. And there are all kinds of interesting things we can do here that we can't do in public."
"Ha. See, munchkin, I was right." And there in that scary, overdecorated, little-girl nursery, he could talk to her in the sort of voice Jack O'Neill didn't let anyone else hear – not even the woman in the other room. "Your mommy reads minds too. I knew it was her fault."
His munchkin squirmed around in his arms, then gave him the sort of response he really should have seen coming.
He took one look at her and shook his head. "Okay," he said, setting out to search the Hundred Acre Wood for another box of tissues. "You win."