A Surprise Addition To The Family
Carolyn was four years and seven months old when she set out on her campaign for a baby sister for her fifth birthday. Her best friend, Gail, had a brand new baby sister, and Carolyn didn't see why she couldn't have one too.
Her Daddy, home on leave, had laughed. He had smoothed a hand over Carolyn's sleek brown hair tied neatly in a single braid, before dropping a kiss on the top of her head and murmuring with a wink at her Mommy, "One day."
Some thirty years later, Vala sweeps into Carolyn's office with a breezy "So, what are we doing for Dad's birthday?" and Carolyn realises that 'one day' has arrived (but instead of a cute scrunched up baby in a onesie, she's been given a former Goa'uld host with a love of leather and a bright bawdy grin).
It's not that Carolyn hadn't realised that there was something going on between her father and Vala. Ever since Daniel Jackson had somehow snagged the former thief out of the clutches of the Ori, Carolyn had noticed that her father seemed to have taken a special interest in Vala that had nothing to do with his role as General Hank Landry, the commander of the Stargate programme.
She's ashamed to admit that for a few days (weeks) she might have thought that his interest was horrifyingly romantic (a mid-life crisis). Carolyn had at least been pleased (relieved beyond words) that Vala, despite her flirtatious reputation, hadn't seemed interested at all in her father (so relieved beyond words that it's worth saying again). It had taken until the day after the surprisingly successful reunion dinner between her Mom and her father, and in the wake of Vala's rather less successful reunion with Jacek, for Carolyn to understand that her father's interest in Vala was, well, fatherly.
Still, she's disconcerted by Vala's use of the word 'Dad' as Vala begins a stumbling explanation about a plan for a birthday surprise, and Daniel and Teal'c and everyone suggesting she run it by Carolyn because Carolyn may already have a plan for Dad's birthday – and there it is again. 'Dad.'
She isn't jealous of her father's paternal attitude toward Vala. (She isn't.) She doesn't understand it but she isn't jealous of it. After all, her Dad and her Mom are slowly on the way to reconciling and her Dad is as involved with Carolyn's life as much as Carolyn has ever wanted him to be; more really since if she had a choice she wouldn't choose her Dad to be her boss (she still plots revenge on Jack O'Neill occasionally).
If anything she had been more jealous of her father's paternal attitude toward Cameron Mitchell. She couldn't help but think Mitchell represented the son that Hank Landry had never had but had always wanted. Her jealousy had somewhat abated with Mitchell when she had realised that the Air Force officer already had a living father (who he clearly hero-worshipped) and always looked cutely befuddled whenever her Dad, his CO, said something paternalistic (befuddled as in totally bewildered).
OK, so sometimes she's seen her father sitting with Vala in the mess, lecturing her over her food choices, and wondered if Vala is the daughter her father has always wanted but never had because she and Vala are not at all alike. If Carolyn is a Monet, Vala is a Salvatore Dali; if Carolyn is classical music, Vala is punk rock; if Carolyn is a Californian Chardonnay, Vala is undistilled moonshine. Night and day; sun and rain; they're opposites. Is it any wonder, Carolyn doesn't understand what it is Vala has that evidently triggers her Dad's paternal instincts (and why Carolyn doesn't have it)? And when did Vala start calling him Dad?
She still doesn't understand as Vala stumbles out of her explanation and beams expectantly at Carolyn. Maybe, Carolyn decides abruptly, it's time she did.
Carolyn clears her throat. "I don't have any plans for Dad's birthday." And there's a flush of guilt low in her belly at the admission. "What did you have in mind?"
Carolyn despises shopping. (She'd never tell her Mom who organises their days out around endless traipsing through boutiques interspersed with spa treatments and afternoon tea, but Carolyn really despises shopping.) Vala loves it. Her blue eyes light up every time she spots something and Carolyn finds herself dragged in and out of a series of stores as they gather supplies for Vala's surprise (their surprise). The last place Vala drags her into is a bar where she orders two outrageously expensive cocktails; Carolyn's too tired to protest.
"These," says Vala, holding up her glass with its bright orange colour, "are the best thing ever."
Carolyn sips her own bright pink concoction and nods. (It's alcohol so she's prepared to forgive it the lurid colour.)
The gratitude is unexpected and Carolyn looks up to find Vala smiling at her but her blue eyes are serious. "Why are you thanking me?" Carolyn blurts out.
Vala tilts her head sharply, her high ponytail swinging in an arc over her left shoulder. "Your father...he's been very good to me since I came back. And my own father," she grimaces and motions with a hand in an abstracted way, "well, you met Jacek."
Met him; was propositioned by him; glad he was gone, Carolyn thinks succinctly, drinking to cover her expression.
"And I know I can be, well, difficult sometimes." Vala covers the admission with another wide smile that doesn't reach her eyes. "So I just want to thank him and his birthday seemed like a good time to do that but Daniel has pointed out that I may have railroaded you into this, so…thank you."
And Carolyn suddenly gets it. There's a vulnerability to Vala that she keeps well-hidden and it's not as though Carolyn hasn't glimpsed it before but it's not something she's ever stopped to think about or consider. She wonders how many other people don't take the time to really understand that all Vala wants is to belong (and why her own father, who has the emotional intelligence of a small rock, had noticed before Carolyn had).
"Well, Daniel's wrong; you didn't talk me into anything." Carolyn says firmly. "I'm not easily talked into things you know."
"Oh, I know." Vala's eyes twinkle. "You're very hard to manipulate. It's very impressive." She sighs though. "Cam says the General isn't going to like our surprise."
Carolyn shrugs; she has her own concerns about that. Her father is a proud man who likes things to remain orderly but she thinks he'll forgive them the disruption because of the sentiment behind the gift. "Cam doesn't know everything. Dad's going to love it." After all the effort Vala has put into it, he'd better, Carolyn thinks determinedly.
Vala brightens and props up her chin on one hand. "Really?"
"Really." Carolyn drains her glass and sets it on the table. (Vala's right about the cocktails – best thing ever). "We should get another round."
Vala's eyes widen but she gulps down her drink with speed.
On the day, it's Carolyn who is dispatched to get her father. She stands in the doorway of his office and observes him for a long moment. His brush of dark hair is turning grey; there are more wrinkles that line his face. But he's sturdy under the thin cotton of his Air Force shirt (and she knows he passed his last medical with flying colours). She feels a rush of love and affection for him.
She understands him now in a way she never had as a child. Then she'd only seen his constant departures; the long absences and missed birthdays. When her mother had been unable to take the continuing secrecy of his work, Carolyn had thought his silence a rejection of them. Now, she's only too aware of how important a secret can be; how his work is also a duty and an honour; his time away from his family a necessary sacrifice to keep them safe (Carolyn can see her father loves her).
But she continues to hold him at a distance, Carolyn realises. She tells herself she doesn't need him; that she's proud of her independence and her strength. (But she knows that's rooted in her fear that he'll leave again). Maybe it's time she started to show him that she does need him in her life; that she appreciates that he's there, Carolyn thinks wistfully.
"Carolyn." He smiles at her. "How long have you been stood there?"
"A while." She admits, slipping her hands into the deep pockets of her white medical coat. "Lunch?"
"Actually, I was thinking we could go out for dinner tonight." He says, hope written all over his face.
"Sure." She smiles at his pleased expression. "But as I'm here now and you need to eat, why don't we do both? It is your birthday."
"Can't argue with that." He quips. He gets up and heads around the desk, happily falling in beside her as they make their way to the mess.
They're barely through the door when everyone yells it.
Her father halts immediately, his eyes widening as he takes in the decorations – balloons and streamers – the large banner proclaiming "Happy Birthday, General!", the massive cake off to the side and the crush of people. Vala is right at the forefront wearing a party hat and a bright smile.
He turns and looks at Carolyn. "You knew about this?"
"Knew about it?" Vala scoffs as she gets into earshot. "It was her idea."
"Our idea." Carolyn corrects swiftly. She points her head toward her father's other side as she loops her arm through one of her Dad's, and Vala gets the message quickly to do the same. He lets them drag him off to a table where he is lauded as guest of honour.
Afterwards, her father pushes his empty cake plate away, sits back in his chair and watches his staff partying with a bemused expression.
"Vala was worried you were going to hate it." Carolyn remarks, sipping at her non-alcoholic fruit punch (and wishing it was a cocktail).
"It's good for morale if people see me as human and let their hair down once in a while." Her Dad replies with a smile. "Only once in a while though." He looks over to where Vala is flirting with a young Marine. "I didn't realise the two of you were friendly."
Carolyn catches Vala's eye; Vala winks back at her. "Well, you know I've always wanted a baby sister."
And now, Carolyn thinks with affectionate bemusement as Vala brushes past the interested Marine and hurries over to them, she has one.
She wonders if she and Vala can convince Dad into having an outrageously pink cocktail when they go for dinner later.
(She thinks they can).