Disclaimer: I don't own anything, I'm just borrowing things for a while and I promise I'll put everything back exactly how I found it when I've finished. Well, almost exactly how I found it. ;)
"Where *are* you?" Sam demanded to know. "You were supposed to be here hours ago, Daniel!"
Jack risked a sideways glance at his second and winced. He recognised the tone almost as well as the stance; one hand holding her cell to her ear, the other perched on her hip. He was glad he wasn't on the other end of the phone; from the looks of it, when Daniel and Teal'c *did* eventually arrive, one of them - or possibly both - was going to be in big trouble.
"That's the lamest excuse I've ever heard, Daniel!" Sam shouted, throwing her hand up in the air. "Even the Colonel wouldn't believe that."
"Hey!" Jack protested.
Sam glanced at him and shrugged as if to say 'well, you wouldn't' before returning her attention to her conversation with a soon-to-be dead Space Monkey. "Daniel, I don't care! Just for this, you can bring the beer and pizza, and make sure there's plenty of everything. Some of us'll be hungry after doing all this work!" She took the phone away from her ear, jammed a finger onto the keypad to end the call, and then threw the cell viciously onto the couch.
Jack raised an eyebrow and paused in his work efforts. "Problem?" he asked mildly.
Sam blinked and seemed surprised, as if she'd forgotten he was still there. "Sorry, sir. Yes, a slight problem. It seems Daniel and Teal'c have been…how did he put it? 'Waylaid'." She shook her head and padded over to Jack. "Anyone would like I was asking them to go and fight the Goa'uld in their underwear."
"Actually, Carter, if I remember rightly, we volunteered for this," Jack replied.
Sam smiled at that. "Yeah, I remember, sir. I'm still trying to work out why."
Jack gave a half shrug. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."
"You mean, sir," Sam said as she picked a paintbrush up, "If you hadn't volunteered, you'd be stuck at home being bored. Daniel would be annoying whoever happened to be around, since you wouldn't be there, and Teal'c…."
"Would be doing whatever the hell Teal'c does," Jack finished. "If you're complaining, Carter…."
"No, sir, not complaining at all," she said quickly. "It's nice of you to help. Thank you."
"And the comment to Daniel?"
Sam blushed and looked away. "Ah. That. Well, sir…."
"The excuse was so lame even I wouldn't have believed it. I get it, Carter." Jack's expression was sombre, his tone bordering on stern, but Sam could see the mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Well, Colonel," Sam replied, deciding to bait him, "Would you really believe that little green men had taken over the SGC?"
Jack looked at her carefully. "Well, Major, it *is* possible. How little are the men?"
Sam held her finger and thumb close together. "That big, sir."
"And how are *they* gonna cause any damage?"
"Apparently they're crawling up people's noses, sir, and any other orifice…."
"AH!" Jack exclaimed, holding his hands up quickly and splattering paint on the wall.
Sam laughed. "It's a good job I want the wall that colour, sir."
"Carter," he growled warningly.
"Daniel said he had a flat tyre."
"And you didn't believe him because…?"
"I could hear the people eating in the background, sir," Sam replied, starting to paint. "It sounded suspiciously like the mess, so unless Daniel accidentally drove into a restaurant…."
"He was lying. Gotcha." Jack stood up. "Alright, Carter, point me in the right direction."
"There, please, sir," Sam said, gesturing to the corner.
It was the first down time SG1 had been granted in months, and Sam had decided to use the holiday to decorate her house, or at least part of it. When she had mentioned this to the rest of the team, when they were discussing their plans, they had surprised her by volunteering to help. It had been going great; they all turned up to help her move furniture and throw dust sheets down, but that day they were starting painting, and Daniel and Teal'c were suddenly nowhere to be seen.
Jack, on the other hand, had been there since eight that morning, turning up on Sam's doorstep with a flask of strong coffee and some doughnuts, wearing old clothes that were so faded and paint splattered, Sam was hard pressed to say what their original colour had been.
It was now late afternoon, and after several attempts, Sam had finally gotten through to Daniel to find out where he was and why he wasn't at her house.
"Maybe something's come up," Jack suggested.
"Hell, Carter, I don't know, do I? Anything else going on today that would've kept 'em at the base?"
Sam frowned in thought. "Not that I…." She stopped suddenly. "I'm going to kill him!"
Jack looked a little uncertain. "Major? Carter? Heellloooo? No killing, okay?" When he received no reply, he took a step towards her. "Sam?" Her head snapped towards him, and a quick look in her eyes persuaded him to step back again rather quickly.
"A shipment was arriving today, I think, of books, and there's one in particular Daniel's been waiting for," Sam replied through clenched teeth.
*'Uhoh.'* "Daniel wouldn't put a book above helping you, Carter." Even as Jack spoke the words, he knew they weren't true.
"Yes, he would, sir, and you damn well know it."
Jack put the paintbrush down and walked up to her. He didn't reach out for her, but held her with his eyes. "Look, Sam, you know Daniel. He probably forgot and then didn't want to say anything because he knew it'd upset up. And he ended upsetting you anyway, so it looks like he's learnt something from me after all."
Sam smiled. "Yes, sir, I know, it's just…."
"Come on, Doctor-Major Sam-Samantha Carter, let's make coffee and you can spill the beans."
Sam groaned. "Really, sir, that was bad."
"So?" Jack replied with a shrug. "Did the trick, didn't it?"
"Yes, sir, it did. Thank you."
Jack made Sam sit at the counter while he bustled around the kitchen looking for everything he needed to make coffee. "So, what's goin' on?"
"Just…a promise is a promise, sir, no matter how small."
Jack sat down slowly next to her. He didn't know exactly what she was talking about, but for some reason he took that comment to heart. "I know, Carter."
Sam's eyes widened. "No, sir, I didn't mean…. I wasn't talking about you, Colonel. I know your promises, when you can."
"'Course you do, Carter," Jack replied gruffly. "So."
Sam nodded. "So. It's really stupid, sir," she told him.
"Can we quit with all the 'sirs' and 'Colonels' for a while? It's givin' me a headache."
"I'll try, Mr O'Neill," Sam replied.
Sam looked at him askance. "What were you saying…Jack?"
Jack held his hands up in surrender. "Alright, alright. Now stop stalling and talk."
"Yes, sir," Sam said, and he rolled his eyes. "It's just…growing up…sometimes promises were made and never kept."
"Sometimes?" Jack asked softly, looking at her over his coffee cup.
Sam shrugged roughly. "Sometimes more than others. It wasn't exactly…tough, and I'm not saying I had a bad childhood, but some things tend to stick with you. So whenever someone makes a promise to me, no matter what it's over, and then they break it, I get…."
"Upset? Angry?" Jack guessed, trying not to be mad himself at Daniel. The look on Sam's face, the unguarded expression that allowed him to see her soul it seemed, made Jack wish all kinds of painful things on the archaeologist.
"Yeah, something like that."
Jack noted she had dropped the use of 'sir' or 'Colonel', for now at least, but he didn't pay too much attention. He was too busy trying to shove his feelings forcibly back into the box where he kept them. After all, he knew Daniel hadn't deliberately set out to upset Sam, but even so it made the protective side of Jack appear wearing boxing gloves and waiting to be pointed in the right direction.
"Tell you what…Sam, we'll save all the really crappy jobs for Daniel to do when he gets here," Jack suggested. "You know, like paintin' round the damn doorways and then if he makes a mess, which he probably will, you can shout 'til your heart's content. How's that sound?"
"Like a plan, Jack," Sam replied, flashing the grin she reserved for only for him. At that point, probably luckily, her cell rang and she grabbed it. "What, Daniel? You'd better…. Oh, hi, Janet. Sorry, thought you were…. Yeah…. Yeah, I know…. Really? Is everything okay?… Sure…. No, it's no problem…. Of course she can stay here until you get off the base…. Decorating…. Probably!…. Okay, Janet, see you later."
Jack raised his eyebrows. "Problem?"
"Not exactly," Sam replied, draining her cup and leaving the kitchen in search of shoes. Jack dutifully followed, waiting for her to expand a little on the conversation. "Janet's caught up at the base with work. She's not going get off for another few hours at least and Cassie needs to be picked up from school, so she asked if I'd do it."
Jack grinned. "I'll drive."
Sam suddenly looked at him in surprise. "Sir?"
Jack's face fell. "I thought…. Never mind, Major. So I guess I'll see you later."
Sam surprised him by putting her hand on his arm. "I didn't think you'd want to come to the school with me, si-Jack," she said quietly. "But I didn't expect you to leave. I know you love Cassie as much as the rest of us, and I'm going to need a little help with her anyway."
"Oh?" Jack replied, acutely aware Sam hadn't moved her hand.
"Yeah. When I told Janet I was painting, she said Cassie would definitely want to join in. I figured with you being a big kid and all, the two of you would be perfectly suited." Sam let go of his arm, grabbed a jacket and started out of the house, silently counting how long it would take him to work out what she'd just said.
"Oh, right, well, sure thing, Sam, I'd be glad to…." Jack stopped suddenly. "Hey, Carter, waddya mean I'm a big kid?"
They arrived at the school just in time to see all the children rushing madly out to their waiting parents. Jack got out of the car first, but turned back to see Sam hadn't moved.
"Come on, Cart- I mean, Sam. Cass's waitin' for us."
"You go, sir," Sam said.
Jack shook his head. "No can do." He opened the door and held his hand out to her, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "Madam."
"You are *so* going to be in trouble for this, Colonel," Sam muttered as she allowed him to help her out of the car.
They walked over to the fence, their eyes scanning the quickly thinning sea of kids for Cassie. As soon as Jack spotted her, he strode across the yard wearing a huge grin. "Hey, Cass!"
Cassie grinned back. "Jack!"
Jack knelt down so Cassie could give him a hug. "How you doin'?"
Sam smiled as she watched the two of them interacting. He was so natural with her; Sam could imagine what he had been like with Charlie. Then she noticed the appraising some of the other mothers were giving Jack, and she felt an irrational surge of jealousy.
*'How dare they look at my man!'* Sam froze, even though she knew no one could hear her. 'Your *man, Sam? Care to rephrase that, PDQ?'*
In the yard, Cassie was gesturing wildly, obviously explaining something to Jack with great enthusiasm. For his part, Jack was solemn in places and laughing out loud at others, the corners of his eyes crinkling in that adorable way Sam loved to see.
"You are so lucky," someone said, and Sam turned to see three women stood just behind her.
"Sorry?" Sam replied.
The first woman gestured to Jack. "I wish my husband was so enthusiastic about picking the kids up."
A second woman nodded. "Mine's the same. Sometimes I wonder why we bothered having kids. Hell, sometimes I wondered why I bothered marrying him!"
The women laughed while Sam blushed, unsure how to defuse the situation. *'Come on, Sam, you're one of the smartest people on the planet who can solve little problems like this standing on your head while reading quantum physics'.* Sam glared at her inner voice. *'This is different. This is…well, normal. I don't have a normal life.'*
Her musings were interrupted by the third woman speaking to her. "Trust me, honey, don't let that one go." The woman looked over to Jack and Cassie and smiled. "Your daughter is beautiful. You both must be proud of her, and of him."
*'Damage control!'* Sam's inner voice screamed. *'Like now!'* And why, she wondered, did it sound like Jack? "We're not married," Sam blurted out. *'Well one. Yeah, that ought to solve the problem. Now they're going to think….'*
As Sam suspected, the women's faces all darkened. "Not married? I see," the first one said, as though having a child out of wedlock was some heinous crime.
Then Jack stood up and turned around, and the women got a good look at him for the first time. "He's a little…old, isn't he?" the second woman noted.
Sam grimaced, and wondered how the hell these women didn't know Cassie was Janet's. "She's isn't our daughter," Sam announced. "Her mother's a friend and she asked us to pick her up."
At that point, another woman caught Sam's eye and waved. "Janet caught up at work?" she shouted.
Thankful for the distraction, Sam nodded. "Yeah."
The woman smiled. "The Air Force works her too hard, you know." Then her smile grew. "Though looking at you I'd say that you *do* know. Let me guess, Air Force as well? Both of you?" She gestured to Jack, and seemed to have nothing but approval for the way he was walking across the yard holding Cassie's hand, giving her his undivided attention.
"Is it that obvious?" Sam asked, smiling back.
The woman pretended to think about it. "Only a little. So, is this the first holiday you've had this decade?"
At that Sam laughed loudly. "Something like that, yeah."
"Well, I'm sure you're doing a wonderful job, whatever it is that you do," the woman replied. "I've got to go. Tell Janet I said hi!"
"I will. Wait, what's your name?"
"Just tell her Tommy's mum said hi." The woman grinned. "We don't actually have name, we're all just 'so and so's mum or dad'."
Sam laughed again. "I got it." She waved and turned her attention back to Cassie and Jack, but the whisperings of the women behind her caught her attention.
"Of course they're not her parents," one of them muttered. "It's obvious, isn't it? No idea what to do, either of them."
"He's far too old for one, and she's much too young," another said in agreement. "The only marriage they probably know is being married to their job."
"These career women are all the same," the third one scoffed. "No sense of propriety or duty."
Sam didn't hear what else was said because Cassie chose that moment to try and bowl her over. "Sam!"
Sam forced a smile on her face. "Hey, Cass. How are you?"
"I'm fine. I was just telling Uncle Jack…."
But Sam had zoned out, wanting nothing more than to grab Jack and snog him senseless in front of the women just to prove a point. She was starting to get herself worked up when she felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped.
"Car- Sam? You okay?" Jack asked quietly.
Sam nodded. "Yes, sir."
Jack frowned. "You know you've upset Cassie," he stated. "You didn't pay any attention to her story about home ec at all."
"I'm sorry, sir. Is she…?"
Jack waved her comment aside. "You know better than that, Sam. This is Cassie. She's more worried something's wrong with you."
Sam forced the smile back in place. "I'm fine, sir. Come on, Cassie, let's see if Daniel and Teal'c have shown up yet."
Jack kept Cassie entertained on the drive back to Sam's house, but his mind was on his second's mood. Something had happened in the few minutes he'd been with Cassie, but he didn't know what, and he knew Sam wasn't likely to just blurt it out.
As they pulled into the driveway, they saw Daniel and Teal'c waiting for them. "We've been here for ages!" Daniel shouted, frowning at them. "Where've you been?"
"Daniel!" Cassie shouted and dove out of the car.
"Uhoh. Brace yourself, Teal'c," Daniel said, swinging Cassie into his arms.
Teal'c frowned. "I do not understand…."
"Means 'watch out', 'be careful or Cass'll knock you on your ass'," Jack supplied, getting out of the care. "And I know that's about as likely as ever seeing Hammond in a dress. It's just a phrase, T."
Teal'c tilted his head on one side. "I understand, O'Neill."
When Daniel put Cassie down, she threw herself as hard as she could at Teal'c. The big Jaffa pretended to stumble and the next thing anyone knew, he was on his back with Cassie sprawled on his chest laughing with delight.
"Where's the camera when you need it, eh?" Daniel asked, smiling at the sight, and Jack nodded in agreement. "Hey, Sam, we brought beer and pizza as ordered."
Jack snuck a look inside the car. "Enough to sink a ship, Danny Boy. Sweet."
But Daniel was frowning. "Sam? Look, I'm sorry we're so late, but…."
"It doesn't matter," Sam replied, her smile frozen on her face. She unlocked the front door and walked into her house.
"O-kay. What's that all about?" Daniel asked, looking at Jack, who looked thoughtful.
"Let's just carry on as normal. She might loosen up later." Then he fixed Daniel with a glare. "I'm only gonna say this once; never break a promise to Sam again, no matter how small it is. Got it?"
"I do not believe Major Carter would be so upset over our late arrival, DanielJackson," Teal'c said, standing up carefully, still holding Cassie to him. Cassie looked delighted and quickly moved around to Teal'c's back, looking for all intents and purposes like a monkey scaling a tree. "It seems there is something else at work her, an issue Major Carter perhaps does not wish to discuss."
Daniel nodded. "I get that, but…."
"I am in agreement with Colonel O'Neill," Teal'c continued. "We will help Major Carter to…decorate, and then eat pizza and hope that our presence will help alleviate her bleak mood."
Jack clapped a hand briefly on the Jaffa's shoulder. "In other words, all hands on deck! Right, Daniel, since you're the one in trouble, you can bring the supplies in. Come on, T, let's show you the fine art of paintin'."
At which point Cassie squealed, right next to Teal'c's ear, and slid off his back. "We're decorating? Sweet!" She shot in the house before anyone registered what had happened.
"You might want to get after her," Daniel suggested. "Because if she starts on a room Sam doesn't want painting…."
"We're on it!" Jack replied, running into the house as well, Teal'c close on his heels.
As it was, they needn't have worried. Cassie had found an old T-shirt's of Sam's and pulled it over her clothes so she didn't ruin them. Then she stood in the living room, bouncing happily on her heels as she waited for instructions. When Sam appeared a minute later, her melancholy seemed to have lifted as she went about issuing orders, which everyone accept, even Jack and Teal'c, with a mock salute.
But Jack, who probably knew Sam better than he knew himself, could see whatever was bothering her was still there, and that she was putting on a good show so they wouldn't worry. Cassie, Daniel and Teal'c seemed to be convinced, but Jack certainly wasn't. For the moment, however, he was content to play along.
As darkness fell, Cassie told Daniel to order more pizza. When asked why he had to do it, she told him since he'd skipped out doing most of the work, the least he could do was spring for pizza. Neither Sam nor Jack dared look at each other as they listened to Cassie putting the archaeologist in his place. They could see a little of themselves in Cassie, and they wondered how Janet managed to cope at home.
Daniel tried to argue and reason with Cassie, finally pulling out the ace card of 'I'm a grown up'. Cassie response made Sam choke: 'and?' Jack couldn't help grinning at that. When Daniel had stormed out of the room, grumbling about the injustice of it all, Jack winked at Cassie.
"Nice work, kiddo."
Cassie grinned back, then winked at Sam. "Learnt that off Sam actually, Uncle Jack, but thanks."
Sam didn't bother to stifle her laughter that time at the look on Jack's face, and when he glared at her, she just stared back innocently and said, "What?"
By the end of the evening, the living room looked more of less finished, although the furniture was still in a pile in the middle of the room. At some point, Daniel had uncovered the TV and the couch, and had collapsed claiming exhaustion. The coffee table was littered with bottles, plates and pizza boxes, and Sam shook her head.
"Some things never change," she murmured, pausing to look at Cassie.
The young girl was curled up on the couch with Daniel, her head on his lap, her fingers curled into his trousers. Daniel, also asleep, had one hand resting on her head, the other on her shoulder, his face illuminated by the TV, which had been left playing Scooby Doo.
Teal'c was upstairs in Sam's spare room, practicing kel'no'reem, and Sam had lost track of Jack a while ago. At first she thought he had left, and continued staring at Cassie.
"She's a good kid," Jack murmured, very close to Sam's ear, causing her to jump.
"Yes, sir, she is. Janet's done an excellent job with her."
"I'd like to think we had a hand too, Carter," Jack replied. "I mean, we haven't done too badly with our little family, have we?"
Sam turned to look at him, her eyes wide. "Sir?" she squeaked.
Jack smiled and nodded towards Daniel. "He's like an annoying little brother at times, or a smart assed son. What d'you reckon? Parents or siblings? I'd have said parents; we always seem to be cleaning up the mess. Although we've made our fair share of mess at times…ain't that right, Carter?"
Jack had expected Sam to smile and join in the banter, but instead she ducked her head and stormed through the house. A minute later, he heard her back door slam shut. Staring at the spot that had, until very recently, been occupied by his tough second, Jack felt himself frown in confusion. Obviously something major had happened to his Major to make her act like she was doing, but how was he going to coax it out of her? Putting the plates and glasses in the sink, and throwing the empty boxes in the garbage, Jack first went into the hallway to grab Sam's jacket before snagging to bottles of beer from the kitchen.
Once outside, it took him only a second to spot Sam's blonde head. Walking over to her, he thrust the two beers at her. "Hold these."
Sam took them without looking at him, and then started when he put her jacket around her shoulders. "What the…?"
"Can't have you being ill," Jack replied, not moving his hands from her upper arms.
"Sir?" Sam asked, obviously confused as she glanced at him.
"Oh, right. Beer. I'll open them on one condition."
Sam rolled her eyes and looked away again. "You want me to talk, sir."
"You know, you're as intelligent as you look," Jack replied.
"That's not funny, sir," Sam snapped, shrugging his hands off her and handing the bottles back roughly.
Jack looked shocked. "Carter. Carter! Hey, Sam, wait!" Urging his legs to move, he jogged after her, slowing only to put the bottles on the table as he passed. He caught her just before she reached the back door. "Come on, Sam, I was joking. This is me, remember?"
"I know, sir, I'm sorry. It's just…." Sam broke off.
Gently, Jack led her back to the small table and sat her down, hesitating only briefly before sitting next to her, their shoulders, arms and legs touching. He kept one hand on her back, rubbing it slightly.
"Okay, first up, no more 'sirs', 'Colonels', and definitely no 'Mr O'Neill'," Jack said. "Got it?" He was met with silence. "I could make it an order, Major."
"That won't be necessary."
"Good. For the time being, while we're out of the house, let's suspend reality. Will that make it easier for you?"
Sam flashed a smile at him. "Not in the slightest."
Jack raised an eyebrow. "O-kay."
"It's just…when we went to pick Cassie up today," Sam started, and soon she was telling Jack the whole story about the women behind her. She didn't look at him, and was grateful he kept his hand on her back, only freezing once or twice.
"Cart… Sam, look at me," Jack said quietly once she'd finished. Sam turned her head slowly and was surprised to see the intensity in his eyes. "Given the chance, you'll make a great mom one day, I know it. Hell, if the kid's half as smart as you, it's the dad who'll have to worry."
Sam gave a watery laugh. "Thank you."
"And no more of these, okay?" he said, wiping her cheek with his thumb.
"Can't promise anything there…Jack." Sam tilted her head a little and studied him. "They hurt you too, didn't they?"
Jack shrugged. "Sticks an' stones."
"Still. I can see it."
"Pisses me off sometimes, yeah," Jack admitted.
"You want to turn round and tell them what job you actually do, and how many times you've put your butt on the line so they can still have their cushy homes, boring jobs, and posh cars," Sam said with a smile.
"Damn right I do."
"And they've no idea that you…were a father, and probably a damn good one," Sam continued in a quieter voice.
"It's not just the…parenting thing," Jack said hesitantly.
Sam continued to stare at him. "Jack…we're suspending reality, right?"
She placed a shaky hand on his cheek. "You're not too old at all. Not too old…for me."
Jack grinned. "And you're not too young. Too smart is more like it."
"Well, you might be too young for me," Sam amended.
Sam grinned. "Thank you, Jack."
"You're welcome, Sam." He smiled back and then frowned as she shivered. "Cold?"
"Should've made a fire."
"Now why would you want to do that when…? Ah, never mind."
Just the sound of his name made him a little weak in the knee area; trying to be sensible, Jack put it down to the slight chill in the air and the fact that his knees were bad anyway.
"I was just going to say…why do you need a fire…when you've got a jacket?" he asked.
Sam looked disappointed. "Good point."
Sam grinned. "That's better." She shrugged her jacket on before snuggling - eagerly, Jack noted without complaint - into his arms. "You know there were a few others moms at the school who were…ah, looking at you differently."
"Really?" Jack asked. "How?"
"In a good way."
"Sweet," he murmured and Sam jabbed him in the ribs. "Ow! I'm a guy, what do you expect?"
"You should know I was jealous," Sam continued, concealing her grin in the darkness. "It was tempting to stride across the yard and…well, make them think otherwise."
"How long until we have to reinstate reality, Carter?" Jack asked, a slightly panicked tone to his voice.
Sam laughed. "It was your idea to suspend it, sir, so whenever you like."
"I'd like it to be never," he murmured. "Ah, crap. Where's the line?"
"No idea. Crossed it on day one, I think, and we've been running away from it ever since."
"Plenty, but being able to see you every day…it makes up for them, Jack," Sam said.
Jack lowered his head and placed a light kiss on her hair. "Ditto." Then he looked at his watch. "0700 okay for reality installation, Major?"
"Yes, sir." Sam gave a little salute before dissolving into the giggles that, in reality, were banned.
"Good to know I'm useful for some things," Jack murmured, smiling down at his second.