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Family Reunion

 

Chapter 7

Jack watched through the small window in the door that led into the commissary. She had her head down, staring into her coffee mug. She looked...older. Hell, he did too, no doubt about that. Mirror reminded him of that fact every day. But he'd have recognized her anywhere. Had to wonder if she would be able to make the same observation...or if time and events had changed him to the point that she could pass him on the street and not know it was him.

When Sam squeezed his fingers encouragingly, he gave her a lopsided smile. Pushed the door open. He needed a cup of coffee first. Headed straight for the table that held the urn and the stacks of mugs. When he turned around, Rachel was watching him, a slight frown on her face. He settled into the chair across from her. Leaned back as far as possible, keeping as much physical distance between them as he could. Sam sat down in the chair beside him. "Rachel."

"Jack."

They stared at one another in tense silence for several moments. Sam cleared her throat softly.

"Oh, sorry, Carter. Major Samantha Carter, Rachel Ward. Rachel, Sam Carter."

The two women nodded at one another...sized one another up. One woman calculated the threat. The other pondered the amount of interference she should expect. Neither smiled.

He didn't know what to say...how to bridge the gap that had always seemed to exist between them. One that had widened so far at their last meeting that he didn't think it was possible to move past or over.

Now that she was here, all of the things she'd wanted to say, all of the clever lines she'd rehearsed, fled in the wake of his unwavering gaze. There was no warmth in his brown eyes. Nor was there any animosity. She might as well have been a stranger, for all the acknowledgment he'd given her. She bit back a sigh. He'd always seemed like a stranger, even when they'd been living under the same roof. How much of that attitude had been his defense against the things their father had said? She was certain that whatever their dad had said to him, it had been out of love...concern...frustration. Still...she shook her head slightly. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. You?"

Tears filled her eyes. "Um...not so good. Which is the reason I'm here."

In spite of himself, Jack leaned forward slightly. "Bob? The girls?"

Rachel smiled. "Bob is fine. He runs an online business now. He makes and sells pottery."

"Sounds...interesting."

Sam ducked her head to hide her smile. His tone of voice suggested that he thought it was a bit...crazy.

"Julie is married, she and her husband just moved to Chicago. Chris is a senior at Minnesota State. Toby-"

"Toby?"

"My son...he's fifteen."

Fifteen. Hmm. So...had she been pregnant that day?

"He's fine, too," she said softly. She hadn't known yet that she was pregnant when she'd confronted Jack. Frowned mentally. Were hormones partially to blame for her angry rant that day in the cemetery?

"You?"

She took a deep breath. "Two years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer."

Jack hissed a breath. "And?"

"I beat it. But..." She lowered her head. Willed herself not to cry. She would not break down here. Not in front of him. She didn't want his pity. Although at the moment she'd be damned if she knew exactly what she did want from him. A conversation with a very intriguing blonde woman had altered what her goal had been upon arrival.

"It's back," he said flatly.

Rachel nodded.

"I'm sorry."

"I didn't come here for your sympathy."

"What did you come here for?"

She gave him a watery smile. That's the question of the day. "I thought it was to get answers to my questions. A friend of yours made me realize I needed to apologize."

"Ah. That would be Casey."

"She's very fond of you," Rachel said.

"Yeah, well, she's a pain-in-the-ass sometimes. Just like her husband. He's my best friend," Jack clarified. He reached out and wrapped his fingers around Sam's.

The movement had been made casually...almost absently. It was also very...revealing. It explained the reason the blonde major was sitting with them, part of a private conversation. There was more than just friendship...there was a deep relationship between them. She was there, beside him, for moral support. It was a shame that he felt he needed it. Considering her reaction to him the last time, she certainly couldn't blame him. "She threatened to kick my ass if I hurt or upset you," Rachel continued.

Jack smiled. "Just so you know, she could do it."

Rachel nodded. "I was so angry at you. You didn't return my calls...there were no responses at all...I thought...I thought-" she turned her head, blinked away the tears.

"You thought I didn't care," Jack said bluntly.

She nodded. "That's what I thought."

"It's not the truth."

"I know that now."

Jack raised an eyebrow.

"Your friend...Casey...told me that you were...that you...she said that if you could have been there, you would have been."

"She said that, did she?"

"Don't get pissy, Jack. She kept all of your deep, dark secrets."

He'd heard the same complaint from Sara. The not knowing. The wanting to know. Needing to know. Things that he prayed they'd never know. "Good, or I'll kick her ass."

"She told me you had been married. That you had a son...named him after Pappy."

"Regular little chatterbox, wasn't she?"

"Not really. She told me enough to let me know that she thinks the world of you, that she thinks you and her husband are heroes, and that by not having all of the story, I was being too judgmental. And that there are secrets that are best left that way. I have the feeling that she believes that love should be taken on faith."

"She believes a lot of things," Jack replied.

"I don't know what happened. I know that you were hurt. That you were physically unable to be there for Dad."

It seemed that Casey had been one hell of a little chatterbox. He'd worry later about how she seemed to know so much about the situation. "If I could have been there, I would have been."

Rachel looked into his eyes. He was keeping the walls up around himself. Not willing to let her in. Not like that day in the cemetery, the cold wind whipping around them. The tears in his eyes...the desperation to make her understand...without telling her anything that would help her to do so. "You never said anything."

"Would it have mattered?" Jack asked, sighing softly.

"It might have," she replied.

Jack shook his head. "You wanted details. I couldn't tell you. No matter what I said, you wouldn't listen."

She sat back. "I always listened!"

Another sigh. "No, Rach. You didn't. You didn't hear me...you never heard me. I finally realized that no matter what I said, or how I said it, you'd never...hear...me."

She sat, memories racing through her mind. Not quite the same as they had looked for so many years, the light of what Jack's young friend had told her shining differently on event after event, changing them subtly. Enough for her to realize that she'd not bothered to try to understand what he'd been telling her. For the first time, Rachel was forced to admit that Jack was right. She'd listened to what he said. Listened to the words. But she'd never heard what he was trying to tell her. She would echo everything their father had said to him, believing that hearing it from her might make a difference. It never had. Because she'd never heard what he was trying to tell her. "I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Jack looked away, blinked rapidly. "Yeah, well, I am too."

"I...I don't know what to do...what to say. I don't know where to go from here," Rachel admitted.

Jack couldn't hide his surprise. "I figured you had this all planned out."

She gave a rueful smile. "Well, I did. Until your friend explained things to me."

He shifted uncomfortably. She had mentioned cancer. That she had beaten it once. And that it had returned, and that was why she had come here...Oh, crap. "The cancer...it's bad?"

Again she closed her eyes, tried to fight back the tears. "I have a few months."

"What about treatment?"

"I did radiation the last time...I just had a lumpectomy. I didn't..." she took a shuddering breath. "I didn't want to lose my breast."

"This time?" Jack asked.

"They want to do chemo. Except...this time the tumor is in my lung. The tip of the tumor...broke through...into my breast. That's how they found it. I have mammograms every three months. MRI's every four. It wasn't there...then suddenly it was. There are...I think the word the doctor used was 'granules'. Tiny tumors. My lung is full of them. I'm dying Jack. I'm not going to spend what time I have left losing my hair and being so sick I can't even crawl out of bed to throw up or shit. I'm not doing that!"

When she began to cry, it was just instinctive reaction to reach for her. He moved to the empty chair beside her. Put his arms around her, held her close, and let her cry on his shoulder. He looked over at Sam...her eyes were full of tears as well.

Sam reached across the table. Jack's fingers closed around hers. She could feel them trembling. For all of the technology that was available to them, Jack would be helpless to reach out to his sister, to use that technology to save her life. She wondered how deeply this wound would cut into his soul.

This was the first time he'd ever been called upon to comfort his sister. When their mother had died, his father had been the one to hold Rachel while she cried. He'd stood off to the side, wearing the uniform he was so proud of...and tried not to feel as if he'd been completely shut out. Had felt like a stranger the entire time...four days if he remembered correctly...that he'd been home. He wasn't entirely sure what to do. If it had been Sam...or Casey...no problem there. But he had no clue how to reach out to his own sister.

Jack knew that he hadn't been the easiest kid to raise. He understood...now...that he'd baffled his parents. He'd hated school. But loved to learn. He hadn't particularly wanted to go to college, but he had wanted to go into the Air Force, he had wanted to be a pilot. Which required a college education. To get into the Academy, he'd needed a recommendation from the Minnesota representative to the US Senate . His father had predicted that his low grades would prevent him from even getting an interview, let alone the letter that would be his ticket to the life he dreamed of. But Jack had managed to get that interview; driving to the capitol building in St. Paul, waiting for a meeting that he knew was scheduled to take place between the senator and several of the state politicians. Had managed a brief introduction, a handshake, and then he'd called to set up the appointment. The senator had been impressed with his determination. And had written a letter that had led him straight into the Air Force Academy as soon as he had his high school diploma in hand. Jets, women, and defending the American way of life. His reasons for being in the Air Force. And not necessarily in that order.

Everything he had, everything he'd accomplished, he'd earned on his own. There hadn't been any help from his parents. It wasn't that they wouldn't have helped him, he was certain they would have...he just hadn't ever asked. He'd felt as if he'd been on his own for so long; the day he'd left Minnesota he'd felt relief...and excitement. Finally he'd be doing what he wanted without the constant criticism. People would judge him for what he was, who he was, what he had accomplished for himself...he wouldn't be compared to someone else...someone who was so very different from him.

Sam watched Jack's eyes. Wondered just what he was thinking. The walls that he often erected around himself, walls meant to keep everyone out, so that they couldn't hurt him, and more important to him, so that he couldn't hurt them, were very much in evidence. She felt a moment of wonder to know that when they were alone, just the two of them, those walls came down. He was letting her get close to him in a way he'd never allowed anyone else to do. She suspected that not even Sara had been allowed so near him. Love washed over her, reflected in her eyes. She would never know that her love reached out to him, offered him the strength he needed in that moment.

Rachel sat up, dried her eyes. "Casey told me about Charlie."

He was going to have a talk with the slender seer. Explain to her that anything and everything about him was off limits when it came to conversations with anyone. And when he found out just how she'd come to know about things that she shouldn't know, like his physical condition at the time of his father's death, he'd have a talk with her about that, too!

"Don't be angry with her, Jack. She was defending you...vehemently. I got the impression that she'd said far more than she intended to say," Rachel said softly. "She cares about you. Views you as a older brother."

He remained silent. Reached for his coffee...which was lukewarm now...and took a sip. The temperature of the coffee didn't matter. Not with the warmth that was wrapping around him like a soft blanket. He had Sam's love...he could see that in her eyes. To know that Casey cared enough to risk his wrath...Family of the Heart, he thought. What a very special thing it was.

"I don't know what you've gone through. I suspect, from what Casey told me, that you've suffered a lot over the years. I don't want what happened between us..." she paused, took a deep breath, "what happened at home when you were growing up, to add to that burden."

"I don't think there's anything you can say or do to change the past," Jack said gruffly.

"Maybe not. I can tell you that Dad told everyone he knew when you were promoted to captain," Rachel said.

"How'd he find out?"

"Father Shanahan."

Jack nodded. A second cousin through marriage twice removed, or some such thing. The good Father had always encouraged him. Had a kind word for him. Kept him from running away from home and doing something stupid at a very young age.

"Dad was so proud of you, Jack. Even when he couldn't tell you, he was proud of you. He had your pictures lined up on his workbench. Two of them on his dresser. When you'd send a postcard, he'd sit in his chair and hold it, and read whatever you'd written again and again and again."

Jack swallowed the lump that had formed in his throat. "Would have been nice if he could have said something."

"That wasn't Dad's way," Rachel shrugged.

"He never seemed to have any trouble telling you how great you are...were...whatever," he retorted.

She could hear the bitterness in the words. "If you'll remember, he did tell you."

He shook his head. "I guess all I remember are the fights."

"Which didn't start until you were in high school," Rachel reminded him gently. "He was your biggest fan all the years you played hockey."

He couldn't help but smile. That was true...his father never missed any of his hockey games...no matter how far he had to drive to see them. No matter that sometimes he didn't come in until the third quarter of the game, having driven to whatever town as soon as he'd gotten off work. And his father's voice had always been one of the loudest, calling out...telling him he was doing a great job. Funny...it had been a very long time since he'd looked at those particular memories.

"I remember one night, after you'd stormed out of the house, Mom was upset that Dad had yelled at you. He said he saw too much of himself in you, and he didn't want you wasting time dreaming about things that would never come true."

Blake O'Neill had been a manager for one of the largest construction firms in Minneapolis. He'd provided a comfortable living for his family. He was a member of the local Lion's Club, and had been a volunteer for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Salvation Army for as long as Jack could remember. He'd accomplished a lot in his life. "Dad did okay for himself."

Rachel smiled. "Yes, he did. But he only saw that he was 'just' a manager. He never had the courage to step out and start his own business. He had the skills, the knowledge, he'd have done well. Seeing you stepping out, not afraid to reach for your dreams...you scared him, Jack. He was terrified that you'd be disappointed...that you wouldn't be able to achieve what you were dreaming of."

It was too much. Too much to take in. He didn't do emotions...not easily. Not with anyone who wasn't close to him. Not with anyone who wasn't his family of the heart. Right now, he was on overload. He needed space...and time...to come to grips with it all. To keep hold on the emotions that had been stirred up, that were raging inside him. Jack glanced at his watch. "I have a report I have to get finished. Give me thirty minutes, and we'll go grab something for dinner."

Rachel nodded. "I have a hotel reservation-"

"You can stay at my place," Jack replied gruffly. He glanced at Sam. Saw the approval shining in her eyes, reflected in her smile.

"I can take Rachel over there if you want me to," Sam offered.

Jack nodded. "I'll be there shortly." He stood to his feet. There were things he wanted to say. But had no clue how to say them. Instead, he nodded, and headed for the door.

"He's so much like Dad," Rachel said softly.

"He's a wonderful man, and I love him very much," Sam replied.

Rachel smiled. "I know. I can see it. He loves you, too."

"How can you tell?"

"Because when he looks at you, the walls come down," Rachel smiled.

Sam couldn't help but smile. She hadn't realized that anyone else could see that fact. She fell deeper in love with Colonel Jack O'Neill in that moment.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Janet had been more than willing to give Casey a ride home, the slender seer finding her and Teal'c in the commissary, laughing over some of the stupid things she'd done while attending medical school. Casey hadn't said anything, but the petite doctor knew she was bursting with questions. The problem, Janet decided, was what exactly to tell her best friend. The truth, obviously. But...given the circumstances...just how would Casey take knowing how close she and Teal'c had become?

And really, she asked herself, just how close are that Jaffa and I? A moment of panic filled her when she attempted to examine the question. Uncomfortable with what she saw...what she felt...too shocked at the internal revelation to deal with it at the moment, Janet firmly pushed all thoughts of Teal'c from her mind.

Casey had been taken aback when she had found Janet. A stop at the infirmary had led to being informed by one of the medics that the doctor was on a coffee break. When she'd walked into the commissary on level twenty-six, it had been to see Teal'c and Janet at a table in a corner of the room, deeply involved in a conversation that was punctuated by laughter. Not that there was anything wrong with that. The team and Janet were close. Family of the Heart. She'd just never known...nor expected...that Teal'c and Janet would be so...close.

It occurred to her that she could see the 'white' around Janet that she'd noticed the first time when her father and best friend had admitted that they were having an affair. Well, technically they had still been just 'dating' at the time. This time, that white seemed to envelope Teal'c as well. Just what the hell was that about, anyway? It wasn't like she saw auras. She was going to have to find Annika and ask. That little voice told her that the redhead would be able to help shed a bit of light on the whole thing.

"Thanks for the ride, Janet," Casey said, climbing out of the car. "I'll let you know tomorrow how everything goes."

"Can't wait to hear about it!" Janet smiled. At first she'd thought Casey was teasing her when the young seer explained why she needed a ride home. And the temptation to return to the base to find out just what was happening between Jack and his sister was almost overwhelming. She'd take Casey's advice, however, and tread lightly in that area.

She waved as Janet pulled away from the curb, then bounced up the sidewalk, checked the mail, and unlocked the front door. Sighed softly as she entered her home. Safe. It was safe here. No matter what happened out there, none of it could intrude here. Not even the totally unexpected arrival of never-before-heard of family members could intrude on the peace that filled her when she was within the walls of her home.

Coffee was the first order of business. A quick glance at the clock told her that it would be at least another thirty minutes before Daniel and his grandmother would be finished at the Olive Garden. She wished she'd thought to have him order something to bring home for her. She glanced at her cellphone. No, the conversation that he and his grandmother were no doubt having needed no interruptions. She grabbed the loaf of bread, the peanut butter, and the jelly.

 

 

 

She was transferring a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer when she heard Daniel's key in the lock. She hurried to the front door and opened it, accepting his hug and kiss as soon as he stepped into the house. She flashed a smile at his grandmother, welcomed her, and led them both into the living room.

"Have you eaten?" Daniel asked immediately.

She couldn't help but smile. "Yes, I've eaten. PB&J, and a banana."

He nodded. "Good."

Casey turned to the elderly woman who sat nervously at one end of the sofa. "Daniel worries about my eating habits."

"Because she's underweight, and struggles to put weight on and keep it on," Daniel retorted. He went into the kitchen, grabbed two mugs. "Babe, need more coffee."

"Would your grandmother rather have tea?"

"I'm a coffee drinker, dear," Muriel smiled. "Something that Melburn and Daniel inherited from me."

"Too cool!" Casey exclaimed. "So how was dinner?"

"Delicious!" Muriel declared immediately.

"It seems that Grandma likes their Chicken Giardino as much as you do," Daniel grinned.

She took note that Mrs. Jackson was now 'Grandma'. Obviously dinner, and the inevitable conversation, had been a success. She was so thrilled that Daniel had someone in his life, family who would love him almost as much as she did. She had her father, he had his grandmother. Family. Real family. "Isn't it wonderful?" Casey asked. Not necessarily speaking about the food or the restaurant.

"It certainly is!"

"Sorry I didn't call, Angel. We were so busy talking, time slipped away from us."

Casey smiled. "No apology necessary. I'm glad you had a good time. Are you ready for cookies and ice cream, or would you rather wait?"

Muriel put a hand to her stomach. "I'm going to have to wait, dear. I'm positively stuffed."

She raised an eyebrow when Daniel opened his mouth.

He sighed. "I'll wait too."

"You won't die between now and later."

"I might," he grumped. He turned to his grandmother. "Casey makes the best cookies I've ever tasted."

The elderly woman smiled. "Then by all means have your cookies, Daniel."

"See, Grandma said it was okay," Daniel said, giving Casey his best 'puppy dog' look.

She rolled her eyes. "You're impossible!"

He watched her carefully.

"Go sit down, I am not going to let you see where I hide them!"

"Spoilsport."

Muriel couldn't help but smile. The love between her grandson and his wife seemed to fill the very air around them. Their eyes said far more than their words. And everything those bright eyes said was full of love.

Daniel busied himself with locating and pulling out the photo album that had been packed away for so many years. Glanced over his shoulder twice. Okay...pantry cabinet. That was more than he'd known earlier.

Casey watched him. She wasn't a dumb blonde by any means...and she knew her Husband well. He'd be keeping one eye on her no matter what he was doing. She opened the pantry door. Because it would hide her while she pulled the cookies from her actual hiding place.

After filling a plate with cookies, she put the tin back where she kept it hidden, and then closed the pantry. "Let me get the coffee started, and I'll join you," she said, when Daniel sat down beside his grandmother.

"This is all I have," he said. "Well, a few letters that Mom and Dad exchanged, I'm assuming before they got married. There were a few Christmas tree ornaments, and an old teddy bear. Oh, and their journals. I haven't read them...yet," he admitted.

"So little, for an entire lifetime," Muriel sighed. Melburn had had so many books, she wondered what had happened to them. Her gaze moved to the heavy, wooden bookcases, the colors of the volumes within enhanced by the leaded-glass doors that protected them. No doubt they were there; cared for, used by his son.

Daniel gave the leather-bound album to his grandmother. Let her look at the pictures at her own pace. Watched as she traced a finger over his father's face in photo after photo.

"Your mother was a beautiful woman," Muriel said softly.

"Yes, she was. I have wonderful memories of her and Dad." He glanced at Casey, who'd settled onto the couch beside him. Winked at her. His silent acknowledgment that she'd helped him to reclaim those memories. "They were deeply in love. I remember all of the love, and the laughter."

"I'm glad," Muriel replied. She sighed again when she came to the first photographs of Daniel as a baby. "Just like your father! You look just like your father did at that age!"

His heart hammered against his chest. Such a simple thing...but to know, to hear that he was so like the man he had adored...there were no words for the feeling of belonging that settled over him. He'd first felt that warmth when he'd met Casey. This new feeling seemed to enhance that special bond he had with his Wife.

"So will the two of you be having a family?" Muriel asked. She was aware that most young couples put off having children...usually in an attempt to build up financial security. To establish their careers. Didn't miss the look that the two exchanged.

"Someday," Daniel replied quietly.

There was more to the matter, Muriel thought. But she wasn't going to pry. It wasn't her business. She'd found Daniel. And bless his heart, he'd been willing to meet her, talk with her. Had given her a shy smile and a nod when she'd asked him to call her 'Grandma'. She'd ask for no more than what he could give her. Because it was far more than she deserved.

"My Dad's aunt showed up right after you left," Casey informed them. "We'll all be having dinner together tomorrow evening."

After seeing the woman who looked just like Jack walk into the visitor's lounge, nothing would surprise him. So learning that Gary's aunt had arrived did little more than arouse mild interest. "Lasagna?" Daniel asked hopefully.

Casey smiled. "I think I can manage that."

He turned back to his grandmother. "Casey is a terrific cook. She makes up casseroles, and then freezes them. I get homemade meals every night of the week," he said, bragging on his wife's culinary talents.

"That's very smart," Muriel nodded.

"It's no big deal," Casey mumbled, her cheeks turning pink.

"It is to me," Daniel said softly. He reached for her hand. Automatically lifted her fingers to his lips.

"Daniel, if you'll fetch my bag, I'll show you pictures of your Uncle Ralph, and your grandfather," Muriel said, after coming to the end of the pictures in the album on her lap. There had been no need to explain the reason for the empty pages.

"Sure. Be right back."

Muriel took a cookie from the plate when Casey offered. Took a bite. "Very good. Nice and creamy."

"Thank you."

"He adores you. He just...lights up...when he talks about you," Muriel said, a smile on her face. "I can see you feel the same about him."

"He's my hero. My best friend. My guiding light. He's...he's everything to me," Casey replied.

The elder Jackson nodded. "That's as it should be."

Casey cocked her head sideways. "But not what you had," she said softly.

Well, this must be what Daniel had meant by his wife's 'gift'. He'd told her that Casey was a seer. She still wasn't certain she believed in that sort of thing. Seemed every 'seer' or 'psychic' she'd seen was a fraud. Some were just a bit better at hiding that fact than others. But this young woman...there was something about her...a strength...that flowed from her. And her intuitiveness was far too accurate to be a simple guess. "No, it wasn't," Muriel said, after several silent moments. "He was a good man."

She smiled. "You never would have married him, certainly wouldn't have stayed with him, if he hadn't been."

Muriel smiled. "I suppose not."

Daniel came through the back door. "I'll put this in the bedroom. Casey and I can sleep on the sofa."

"Does it pull out into a bed?" Muriel asked.

"Well, no," Daniel admitted.

"Then I'll sleep on the sofa. Or in a motel room. I will not put the two of you out of your bed." Her voice was firm.

"But-"

"No buts, Daniel. I've caused enough upset in your life without tossing you out of your bed."

"Meeting my grandmother isn't an upset. I think it's one of those wonderful surprises that life sometimes holds. I've been granted two."

"Two?" Casey asked.

He smiled. "The day I found you, and today. When Grandma found me."

Muriel felt tears fill her eyes. That her grandson...her beloved, handsome, talented grandson...would be as happy to meet her as she had been to meet him filled her heart with the type of joy she hadn't felt in a very long time. "That's a very kind thing to say."

"You have the heart and soul of a poet," Casey sighed, her eyes glistening with love.

He shrugged. "Not really."

"He does," Casey said to Muriel. "He's said some of the most beautiful things to me. Melts my heart every time he does."

"I have no doubt he's just letting his heart speak for him," Muriel smiled.

"He has a beautiful heart," Casey replied.

"Not as beautiful as yours," Daniel said softly. He put the small suitcase on the floor beside his grandmother. Watched with unabashed interested as she pulled a small photo album from its interior.

Muriel patted the sofa beside her. "Sit down, Daniel. It's time for you to 'meet' your grandfather and uncle." For over an hour they looked at the pictures. She told him stories of his father as a child. Stories that had him laughing, a few that brought tears to his eyes. He related more of his own memories, as much as he could remember.

Casey sat tucked into the corner of the sofa. Watching the two heads as they bent over the photo album. Listened as the words poured from both of them...questions and answers filling in the missing years as much as possible, for both of them. She could only hope that Jack's reunion with his sister was as beautiful, as much fun, as this one was. She smiled when Daniel absently reached for her, as if reassuring himself that she was there. Wrapped her fingers around his, held as tightly to him as he held to her. The more love that was given, the more love was received; true, unselfish love was a never-ending circle. How lucky she was to be in the middle of such a wonderful, warm circle of love.

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Jack pulled into the driveway of the cabin. Sam's Volvo was sitting there, proof that she was here. With Rachel. He rubbed his hand over his face. Dying. His sister flown here from St. Paul to tell him she was dying. To try and make right all the things that had been wrong...had gone wrong...between them. For years he'd understood her frustration, her anger. It didn't make her reactions, the words she had screamed at him, hurt any less. He'd tucked the memories, and the hurt, into the furthest reaches of his mind. He'd moved on, accepting that nothing would ever change.

Except...it had. Because of cancer. Because of a big-mouthed seer with a heart of gold, and a connection to the universe that he'd never understand. He had no idea what to do...what to say. There was far too much history between Rachel and himself. Far too many words spoken in anger. Far too many years of silence. He could forgive. He could move on...but he wasn't capable of becoming something he wasn't. What he was afraid that she wanted. He couldn't be the doting brother that he feared she was seeking. There just wasn't the time, if her doctors were right, to rebuild a relationship so badly damaged.

He saw Sam peeking out of the window. With a sigh, he opened the truck door. He'd lost so much over the years. Lost a lot of his own soul. Those empty places in his heart were filled now. With Sam. The only woman he'd ever known who accepted him as he was, warts and all. And loved him anyway. With Daniel. The best friend he'd ever had...a man who asked nothing from him, but gave everything. With Casey. So battered, heart and soul, yet so willing to trust and love. To include him in that special entity she'd dubbed 'family of the heart'. With Teal'c. Warrior...a soldier, like him. They had common ground, understood one another in ways that the others couldn't. His family, adopted as it were, who took what he could give them, and never asked for more. Gave back so very much. As selfish as it was, he was through giving...finished sacrificing for those who didn't understand, or didn't want to understand He had nothing left to offer to those who had already taken so much from him, intentionally or not. Nothing was going to change the status quo for him...he wouldn't let it. Not now. Not when he was finally able to face each day with...if not excitement...then at least a smidgen of anticipation. He didn't survive each night just to dread the sunrise, barely able to make it through another day. He was finally living again. He didn't want that peace to disappear.

Sighing as he walked to the back door, he reminded himself that Rachel had her family. Her husband. Her kids. No doubt dozens of friends she could turn to. Rely on. It wasn't like he could just pick up and go back to St. Paul for an undetermined amount of time. Just to...sit with her. Hold her hand. She didn't need that from him. Probably didn't want that from him, anyway. That thought reassured slightly.

He wouldn't find out what it was she did want, if he didn't ask her. He opened the door, stepped into the living room.

"This cabin is beautiful," Rachel said immediately. "Sam showed me to the guest room."

"Thanks," he mumbled. "It's not the biggest room-"

"It's fine," Rachel said, offering a weak smile.

"I'm going to go take a shower before we go eat," Sam said quietly. "I was working with one of the generators today. I have engine cleaner all over me."

Jack smiled. Was grateful that she hadn't tried to leave. She'd be nearby if he needed her. "I'll be in shortly, honey."

Sam nodded. Ducked her head to hide her pleased smile. Jack seemed determined to let Rachel know that he wasn't alone...he had someone who loved him. Someone who was more than just a friend. Someone who wouldn't stand by and let him be hurt. Not again.

"She's very...nice," Rachel said, watching Sam disappear down the hall to the master suite.

"She's brilliant. She's beautiful. She's...amazing," Jack replied.

"And she's very deeply in love with you."

"Yeah. How about that." That was a miracle he had no intention of examining too closely, lest he ruin the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him. He walked to the cabinet that stored his supply of liquor. "Drink?"

"Maybe a shot of bourbon, if you have it."

He nodded. Opened the bottle of Jack Daniel's that Ferretti had given him...to replace the bottle that had been smashed against the wall...when Daniel had been declared dead...again. Poured two generous shots. Handed one of the glasses to his sister.

"You're probably wondering why I came here just to tell you I'm dying," Rachel said, settling into the armchair beside the fireplace.

"The question had crossed my mind," he allowed, dropping onto the sofa.

"To be honest Jack, I came here to get the answers I was so certain I deserved."

"And now?"

She smiled. "Now, I think I'd just like to spend a quiet evening with my little brother. And know that-" She broke off. Downed her drink.

"Know what?"

"That you don't hate me."

"I never hated you, Rach," he said softly.

"I did. I hated you," she replied. "Dad was devastated when you didn't come to the hospital. Every day, he grew weaker and weaker, and every day he'd ask if I'd heard from you."

Regret, sharp and painful, jabbed at him. Like it did any time he thought about his father.

"From what I understand, you weren't doing much better."

How in the hell did Casey know? He rolled his eyes mentally. He was going to have to figure out how to have a talk with Miss Eloise. Information regarding him...unless it pertained to getting his ass out of a Goa'uld colored jam...was not to be spread around like the latest rumor, he grumped silently.

"Is it really such a secret that you were hurt? Or is it just that you'd rather forget it happened? As if not talking about it, not admitting to it, will make it all go away."

"It's worked so far," he snapped. Shook his head remorsefully. "Sorry."

"On the drive over here, listening to Sam tell me what an incredible man you are, I realized that what happened, the details, aren't important. You said you couldn't be there. I should have accepted that."

"It's not in the O'Neill make-up to accept anything we don't like," Jack said, giving a slightly crooked smile.

"No, not really," Rachel agreed, her own smile tugging at the corners of her lips. "We do tend to be a stubborn bunch."

"Ya know, I don't think Dad was afraid to start his own business. I think he was too smart to do it. Why take all the risks when he could get someone else to do it, and still reap at least part of the benefits."

Rachel started. The comment was unexpected. She thought about what he'd said. Her father had been stubborn and often a bit narrow-minded. He wasn't a bigot...but he held a world view he refused to change, regardless of what happened around him. "You might be right."

"Unless he told you that he only saw himself as a manager, unless he told you that he was afraid that I was going to be disappointed, all you have is what you've decided he felt," Jack said.

She blanched. "I had eyes and ears."

"And you saw and heard what you wanted to see and hear." He held up one hand when she opened her mouth to protest. "I'm not saying I did any differently. I'm just saying that there wasn't always a lot of...meaningful...communication in our house." Which, now that he thought about it, was probably the main contributor to his inability to communicate when it came to emotions. He'd never learned how to do that. He wasn't laying blame, he thought, memories of his parents and their love flashing through his brain. He was just making what seemed to be an accurate observation...enabled by the fact that he'd distanced himself so far from his family. That distance allowed him to be more objective than his sister.

"Jack, that's not true!"

"Isn't it?"

She wasn't having this conversation. She'd thought they'd reached a middle ground...a place from where they could move forward. Instead, they'd hit an impasse. They were stuck in the past, stymied by the hurts and the events that had happened while they were teenagers.

Jack sighed. "I guess it really doesn't matter, one way or another."

"I guess not," she said sadly. "So now what? I mean...is there any way to...move on?"

Jack shrugged. He'd already decided what he could do...would do. And what he couldn't, and wouldn't do.

"I'm not asking for anything, Jack. Well, that's not true," she sighed.

Here it comes, he thought, bracing himself for the request. Already trying to word his refusal as simply, and as kindly, as possible.

"I'd like to have your forgiveness."

He started. "Come again?"

"I was terrible to you...I said such horrible things to you that day. I...I pushed you away, when we needed each other. When you needed me. I'm so sorry," she whispered.

Tears filled his eyes. "You were upset."

"Yes, I was. But you're right, Jack. I never...listened...to what you were trying to tell me." Rachel took a deep breath. "Casey said something that's been ringing in my head all evening.

Knowing Casey, that could be anything, he thought.

"She said that she'd rather have you in her life on your terms, than not have you in her life at all."

Radar said that? Well, how about that. It was nice to know that the people closest to him really did understand that he gave them all that he could. Did the best that he was able.

"I'd like that too. To have you in my life. What's left of it," she added, the reason for her visit poking at her memory. "No demands. No strings. The door is open, Jack. Whenever you want to come in."

He ducked his head for a moment. Downed the rest of his drink. Stood to his feet, crossed the room and tugged her to hers. Hugged her tightly. "I'm not so good with words, Rach. That's Daniel's department. But I'll be there, when I can I promise I'll be there."

Rachel buried her face against his shoulder. "I'm so scared," she whispered.

"I know."

"I don't want to die."

"I know that, too."

"Jack, what am I going to do?"

"You're going to take one day at a time, Rach. And you're going to live it to the fullest," he replied. And wondered just what would happen if he took his sister to the SGC infirmary. Would Janet have something in her bag of tricks, some alien doohickey that could cure...eliminate...the disease that was running rampant in Rachel's body?

 

A  A  A  A  A  A

 

Gary paid the bill, escorted Janelle to his car. She'd surprised him...no, the old battleaxe had shocked him...with her request to know about Brenda. He'd been hesitant at first. He loved his aunt, but she was one of the most judgmental people he'd ever met. Certainly the fact that Brenda had been a prostitute, and a drug addict, would bring out the self-righteous observations that he had no intention of listening to. What had happened to Brenda had happened because he hadn't done what he should have...he had let down the young woman he had loved so deeply. Instead of searching for her until he found her, saving her from the bastard who had ultimately killed her, he'd run away...joined the Air Force. Pushed it all behind him in a fit of self-pity and frustrated anger.

Janelle had pressed, however, and he'd slowly told her what he knew...what he'd learned; what Casey had been able to discern. He did his best to explain that what Brenda had done, she'd done as the result of her fears, and her broken heart. And not once had the woman passed judgment. Her eyes had filled with tears, and twice during his recitation of events she'd whispered about that 'poor frightened little thing'.

"You know, it's a good thing her father has already passed on," Janelle said, settling into the leather seat of the Cadillac.

"Why's that?" he asked.

"Because I'd tell that bastard what an idiot he was!"

He couldn't help but grin. He closed the door, hurried around the front of the car. Slid into the driver's seat. Knew without a doubt that she would do exactly that, if she thought it necessary.

"Your Grandma Franklin, God rest her soul, said that nothing happened by chance. Some things happen because of decisions we make. Other things happen because of decisions made by others. She said some of those 'others' weren't in our realm of existence. Gary, I know that what happened to Brenda upsets you. I know you're downright pissed off about what happened to Casey. You have every right to be. But think about this...sometimes, things have to happen...even horrible things...so that something good will be the result."

"Casey said something similar," he replied. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."

Janelle chuckled. "No, you don't have to like it. Just accept it."

"If you don't mind a tiny apartment, I'll take you to my place. I can sleep on the couch."

"I don't want to put you out," the older woman protested.

"Bullshit. You don't care one way or other," Gary teased. He reached over and covered her hands with his own. "It's not putting me out, Aunt Janelle."

"All right. We'll sit and talk about this woman you're seeing."

"No, we won't."

She looked over at him. "Is there something wrong between the two of you?"

He sighed. "No. Yes. No."

"Well, that's just dandy. Do you love her?"

"I thought I did. I mean, I do love her." He frowned. "I care for Janet deeply."

"But it's not love."

"Not the forever kind of love, no."

"Does she know that?"

"I think so."

"Well, you'd better talk to her about it. Don't lead the woman on if you have no intention of staying. Let her decide whether she's ready to cut bait, or if she wants to keep fishing with you for awhile."

He couldn't help but laugh. "You'll like Jack. He likes to fish, too."

"I don't trust anyone who doesn't like to fish," she sniffed.

"Then why don't you ever go with Uncle John when he goes?"

"I do go with him! I just don't go when all of those old farts take it into their heads that they're going to 'sleep under the stars'. Damned old fools. Takes them half the next day to just get up!"

He snorted, tried to hold back his laughter.

"We have a perfectly good RV, which we purchased specifically to take to the lake. If he isn't taking the RV, then he's not taking me!"

"You're a tough old bird, Janelle," he grinned.

"Don't you forget it." She patted his hand. "Talk to your Janet, Gary. Don't make both of you miserable, just because you're afraid of hurting her feelings."

Damned if he didn't think Janelle had a bit of 'the gift'. She was hitting just too close to home for comfort. "I will. I'll get it all...worked out."

"Good."

 

 

 

Later that night, watching the designs the street lamp drew on the ceiling of the living room, Gary thought about just what he was going to say to Janet. And hoped that she'd eventually be able to forgive him.


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