Mixing the Old and the New

Author:  Orrymain
Category:  Slash, Humor, Drama, Romance, Established Relationship
Pairing:  Jack/Daniel ... and it's all J/D
Rating:  PG-13
Season:  8 - July 23-29, 2004 (Flashbacks in October and November 2003)
Spoilers:  None
Size:  120kb
Written:  January 16-20, December 31, 2006, January 1, 2007, November 16-18,23, December 26, 2009, January 4,13,22, 2010
Summary:  It's the face-off of the husband and the ex-husband when Sara and Mark Wilson invite Jack and Daniel to dinner for the very first time.
Disclaimer:  Usual disclaimers -- not mine, wish they were, especially Daniel, and Jack, too, but they aren't.  A gal can dream though!
Notes:  
1) Sometimes, Jack and Daniel speak almost telepathically.  Their “silent” words to each other are indicated by asterisks instead of quotes, such as **Jack, we can't.**
2) Silent, unspoken thoughts by various characters are indicated with ~ in front and behind them, such as ~Where am I?~
3) This fic stands alone, but it does reference my past fic(s), “The Pact,” “Surprising Jack,” “Heart and Soul”
4) Thanks to my betas who always make my fics better:  Claudia, Navi, Mama Bear, Becca!

Mixing the Old and the New
by Orrymain

====
--July 23, 2004
====

Mark Wilson bounced his eleven-week-old baby daughter in his arms, causing little Angela to giggle.

“Mark, you're supposed to be rocking her to sleep,” Sara O'Neill Wilson said as she entered the nursery, a slight scowl on her face.

“Sorry, Sweetheart, but we wanted to play,” Mark replied lamely as he held the exuberant infant.

“Sometimes, Mark, you sound just like ...” Sara stopped her sentence and began to put away the towels and wash clothes she'd just brought in from the laundry area.  ~Dumb thing to say,~ she reprimanded herself.

“I sound like Jack O'Neill,” Mark completed for his wife.

“Mark, I am so sorry,” Sara sighed, spinning around quickly as she still held a few towels in her hands. “I am not comparing you to Jack; at least, I don't mean to.”

Mark smiled, leaning over to give his daughter a kiss on her forehead, and then stated with understanding, “You two had a child together, Sara.  It's natural for situations and events with Angela to remind you of that.”

“Jack kept Charlie awake at all times of the day and night.  I had a horrible time getting Charlie on a regular schedule.  His, Jack's schedule, was so erratic, and when he was home, he wanted to spend as much time as he could with the baby.  I'd tell him to put Charlie down for a nap, and the next thing I knew, they were playing 'pull the finger' or something,” the blonde chuckled.

Mark laughed, “It's a father's duty to entertain his children.”

Just to prove his point, Mark tickled little Angela's tummy, causing yet another round of giggles.

“I'll remember you said that,” Sara smirked.

“Sara, I'm glad you brought up Jack,” Mark surprised his wife in saying just as she finished putting the towels away.  “How would you feel about canceling our plans next Saturday and inviting Jack and Daniel over for dinner?”  Thinking about Sara's dad, he suggested quickly, “Maybe Mike can take Angela for a few hours.”

A week ago, Sara and Mark had been invited to the Jackson-O'Neill homestead for dinner.  It had been a fun visit, full of jokes and a lot of ribbing.  The two couples had been oddly at ease with one another, considering their histories.  In fact, two days later, Jack and Daniel had babysat Angela for a couple of hours, though in truth, Daniel had ended up doing most of the caregiving, a consequence of Jack having been tied up on the phone in his study as he dealt with some SGC business.

However, during that get-together at the Jackson-O'Neill home, the real excitement had come when the lovers had asked Sara and Mark to be a part of their backup plan for the children they planned to have in the future.  The Wilsons had been stunned at first by the unexpected proposal.

Samantha Carter would be the primary caregiver, but if something were to happen to her as well, Sara and Mark would have guardianship of Jack and Daniel's future children.  Though not knowing Mark that well, the same-sex couple had a tremendous trust in Sara, and they felt she would make a wonderful mom for their kids, if necessary.

At their wedding in November 2003, Jack and Daniel had sincerely enjoyed being around the Wilsons, who had surprised them by coming to their Canadian wedding.  In fact, it was Sara's sorority sister, Lisa Anderson Cassidy, who had performed the marriage ceremony.  Before Sara and Mark left, they'd promised to ask the newlyweds over for dinner once their baby was born.

When Jack and Daniel returned from their honeymoon, they'd kept in touch with the Wilsons through the phone and emails, and then Daniel invited them to a surprise party he was having for his husband in May.  Angela was born just a few days later, and Jack and Daniel had gone to visit the new family at the hospital.

Then came the surprise invitation last week to the Jackson-O'Neill home.  While Sara and Mark had always intended to invite the couple over for a regular dinner, one thing or another had always interfered.

For next weekend, the Wilsons had accepted an invitation to attend a concert with Mark's boss on Saturday evening.  Now, though, Mark felt it was more important for him to get to know Jack and Daniel than to spend a social evening with his employer.

“Mark, are you serious?” an astonished Sara inquired.  “Mister Granger doesn't invite us out everyday.”

Mark smiled down at Angela, nodding as he did so.

“Mark?” Sara prodded.

“Sara, we agreed to take care of their children if something happened to them and Samantha Carter,” Mark stated.

“Are you having second thoughts?” Sara queried a bit hesitantly, looking downward, almost afraid to read the answer in her husband's eyes.  ~I want to do this.~

“No, I'm not.  I would simply like to get to know these two men a little better.  I think it's important for Jack and myself to become comfortable with each other,” Mark admitted.

Sara smiled and responded, “You've been so understanding, Honey.”

“I'm not jealous,” Mark expressed calmly, his demeanor backing up his comment.  Seeing his wife smile, he expounded, “I just want to make sure the colonel and I understand each other.”

“I'm game, if you are,” Sara agreed.  “Lasagna?”

Mark laughed, “Your ex will be expecting it.  Make him drool,” he teased.

Laughing, Sara returned, “I love you, you devil ham you!”

====

That night, unable to sleep, Sara put on her robe and went downstairs, where she pulled out an old photo album.  She carried it with her to the sofa, tucking her feet under her as she got comfortable, and began slowly leafing through the pages, remembering a past life.  She stopped at a photo of Jack, taken about a month before they had gotten married.  He was so handsome; he still was.  Then again, so was her current husband.

The woman flipped through the pages, laughing, smiling, and sometimes crying at the events displayed in the photographs of the O'Neill family life.

~Charlie was so much like you, Jack.  He looked up to you.  All he wanted was for you to be proud of him.~  Sara smiled as she reflected back.  ~And you always were.~

There were so many memories, and it had been a long time since she'd last allowed herself to walk through them.  After all, she was quite happy as Mrs. Mark Wilson and didn't often have the urge to stroll down Memory Lane in the least.

Reaching the last page of the album, Sara glanced at a photo she'd put there the week after Jack and Daniel's wedding.  It wasn't incriminating in the least.  To anyone who might have found it, it was just Jack and his best friend, Daniel. Only a handful of people knew there was more to their smiles than being a pal for the other.

“Oh, Jack.  I was so surprised to find out about you and Daniel.  Who could have ever imagined we'd end up where we are today?”  Sara laughed in recollection.  “I could have killed you when I first saw you with him.  I felt so cheated,~ came the abrupt and emotional whisper as she gazed at the picture of the two men, now secretly husbands.

//Flashback -- October 1, 2003//
Sara Wilson walked into her home and sat down on the sofa.  Blankly, she stared into space, still feeling astonished and dumbfounded.  She'd just returned home from Pike's Peak, where she'd received the surprise of her life.  Her ex-husband, a colonel in the United States Air Force, had been making out with another man.  Sara'd gone into shock, unprepared for witnessing such a sight.

While at Pike's Peak, Sara had experienced a wide range of emotions.  Surprise at her observations had given way to shock, which was followed quickly by anger and disgust.  She'd been alarmed and dismayed while being jolted to a point of physical discomfort.

As Sara had talked with the two men, though, those negative emotions had strangely and unexpectedly given way to tolerance and understanding.  Then as she'd stood in the shadows, covertly watching Jack and Daniel leaving for their home, she'd found herself feeling genuinely happy for them.

~Part of me is glad you've found some happiness and peace, Jack,~ Sara thought.  She was painfully aware of the torment her ex-husband had gone through over their son's untimely death.  ~I just ...~

Sara frowned as she puzzled over her feelings, struggling to sort through them and be absolutely honest with herself.

~I feel cheated, Jack.  I tried so hard to get through to you.  For two agonizing years, I tried.~

The woman released a few tears.  She wondered if by crying she was betraying Mark, but she'd fought so hard with Jack.  Their house, once bright and full of springtime had turned cold, turning into a prolonged and bitter winter.  That was over now, and it was for the better.  Sara was sure of that.

As she wiped away the last of the tears, Sara vividly recalled the way Jack had looked at Daniel, his lover.  She could see every sparkle in his eyes and the crook of his lips when he smiled.  It prompted her to make a realization.

~I'm pretty sure you never looked at me like that.~

Filled with a sudden need to know, Sara stood and walked over to a cabinet that held the family photo albums.  She took out the one on the far left and returned to the sofa, slowly running her hands over the cover.

~This is stupid, Sara.  Let it go.  You're happily married, you love Mark, and you're expecting his baby.~

Despite her little mental pep talk, Sara found herself unable to put the album away.

~I just ... I need to know.~

The blonde braced herself for the onslaught of painful memories that she knew lay inside the album and, with a deep breath, opened the cover of the book.  Even as her eyes began to fill with tears, she smiled and traced the couple in the photograph.  The younger version of herself was looking up at her new husband with stars in her eyes.  She didn't even have to look closely at the photo to know her suspicions had been confirmed.

“Even on our wedding day, Jack,” the blonde brushed away a new tear, “I didn't make you light up the way he does.”

Sara continued to flip through the photo album vainly, hoping that one of the photos would show a starry-eyed Jack O'Neill looking at her as though she was his other half.  She broke into sobs as she came to the photos with Charlie, but ploughed ahead, still looking for that elusive proof that she wanted.  Finally, she reached the end of the album and slammed the book closed.

“Not once, Jack.  Not once.”

====

The sound of the front door opening pulled Sara from her thoughts.  She hastily wiped her eyes, but soon realized it was a fruitless effort.  Her husband would know instantly that she was upset.

“Sara?”

Hearing the concern in Mark's voice, Sara smiled wryly while lamenting, ~He doesn't even need to see me to know that something's wrong.  Sitting here in the dark is a dead give away.~

“Sara?” Mark repeated.  Switching on the lights, he flew to his wife's side and took her hand.  “What's wrong, Sweetheart?”

“I love you,” Sara returned, feeling the need to reassure her husband before she began telling him anything, which she was about to do.

Mark began to look even more worried, but replied quickly, “I love you too, Sara.  Is it the baby?” he asked with deep concern, unconsciously running a hand along Sara's growing belly.

Smiling and rubbing her abdomen while gently touching her husband's probing hand, Sara assured, “The baby's fine.”  She sighed and then told Mark about her husband's new lover.  ~Fiancé,~ she corrected herself.  “And I don't think he ever loved me the way he loves Daniel,” she sniffled, wiping away some more tears.

Mark pulled his wife closer and wrapped his arms around her.  His first impulse had been to pay Jack a visit and thump him good for upsetting Sara, despite the fact that he'd probably end up hospitalized.

~I know a few tricks myself, *Mister* O'Neill, just you wait,~ Mark raged internally.  However, as Sara continued her story, Mark decided that perhaps hitting Jack wasn't necessary or advisable.  He firmly squashed the jealousy that he felt at Sara's obvious love and affection for Jack.  ~They were married.  It's only natural that a part of her will always love him.~

Mark stroked Sara's cheek and couldn't help but feel relieved that her ex-husband seemed to have someone else, even if it was another man.

~Now *that* is a surprise,~ the man admitted.  Still, he was inwardly pleased since a tiny part of him had worried that one day Jack would try and win Sara back.  ~She loves me, and you know it, Wilson.~

“I guess I always figured that I was Jack's soulmate, even if he wasn't mine,” Sara confided.  “I found out today that I'm not his soulmate, and I never was.”

“Is that so bad?” Mark asked hesitantly.

Sara smiled and kissed her husband sweetly before answering, “No, Mark, it's not.  I'm happy for them ... really.  I guess it's a kind of readjustment for me, and, if I'm completely honest, it's a bit of a blow to my ego.  I never expected Jack to fall in love again, not with the way he was when we divorced.”

“People do remarry, Sara,” Mark pointed out, stating the obvious.”

“I know that,” the blonde chortled lightly.  “It's just that Jack was so unhappy for such a long time.  I couldn't reach him, no matter how hard I tried.  For over two years I tried, but he buried his heart and his soul somewhere deep where no one was able to touch them.”

“Forgive the question, Darling, but has he always been a homosexual?” Mark inquired.

Sara chuckled, shaking her head as she responded, “Mark, he never liked generalizations.  Even when we were married, he complained about news reports or neighbors who tried to categorize things.”  She walked over to the mantel, staring at the photos that rested on it.  “We didn't talk about that, but he said it was the first time.”

“Do you believe him?”

Sara twisted around to face Mark and responded harshly, “Jack's not a liar.”

“Sara ...”

“I'm sorry,” Sara interrupted, taking a cleansing breath .  “I'm not handling this very well yet.”  Regrouping, she answered her husband's question with sincerity.  “Yes, I believe him.  He's not homosexual, not in the way that most people use the term or think about it.  Mark, I think Jack just met someone who, somehow, finally tapped in and touched his heart and his soul again.  That person happened to be a man.  I don't know if that makes any sense or not.”

“Maybe that's how the world should be, Sara,” Mark pondered as he approached his wife.

“Mark, you do understand, don't you?” Sara questioned as she reached out and placed her hands on his upper arms.

“I think so, but I don't like anyone who makes you cry.”

With an air whimsy, Sara acknowledged, “He used to make me laugh all the time.  Let's focus on that, okay?”

“I'd rather focus on you,” Mark asserted, kissing his wife and gently leading her upstairs to their bedroom, where all thoughts of ex-husbands quickly disappeared.
//End of Flashback//

~That seems like another lifetime ago,~ Sara thought as she got up and returned the photo album to its place.  She picked up a copy of her wedding picture, grinning at Mark's loving expression as he looked at her.  ~That's the look.  I'm so lucky.~

Happy to have such a wonderful husband and feeling peaceful again, Sara returned to the bedroom and snuggled up close to the man who looked at her the way Jack looked at Daniel, they way one soulmate looks at the other.

====

The next morning, Sara picked up the phone and dialed the Jackson-O'Neill residence.

“Hello,” Jack answered, not sounding so happy.

“What's wrong, Jack -- spend the night on the sofa or something?” Sara quipped.

“Sara?” the colonel called out in surprise.  ~Whoa!  Am I awake?  Quick, I need someone to pinch me.~

“Well, it's not your mother,” the blonde replied in an amused tone.

“I wasn't expecting to hear from you.  Did you and Mark change your minds?” the military man asked, fearing the Wilsons had reconsidered being backup parents to the brood if a worse-case scenario occurred.

“No, of course not,” Sara assured quickly.

“I thought maybe Mark ...”

“Actually, Jack, Mark's why I'm calling,” Sara revealed.

“Okay,” Jack replied, not really sure what that meant.  ~Don't know this guy that well.  Hey!  He'd better not be treating Sara badly, current husband or not.~

Sara laughed at her ex-husband's tone and had to inquire, “Jack, tell me the truth.  Why are you so grumpy this morning?”

Jack growled and admitted, “Danny's ... out of town.  I miss him.”

“Oh, I see,” Sara expressed understandingly.  “He won't be gone long, will he?”

“No, it was just overnight.  Timing sucked,” Jack admitted.  ~Okay, so he's only been gone for ten hours; so he'll be back in an hour.  He's my husband, and I want him in my bed at night, not playing with toys on some alien hole in the ground.~

“Good,” Sara responded.  “Mark wondered if you two would like to come over for dinner on Saturday.”

“Dinner?”

“Dinner.”

“You, Mark, Danny, and me ... for dinner?” Jack asked, not sure what to make of the invitation.  “Dinner?”

Sara laughed, “Yes, Jack.  You know, four people get together, sit down, eat food, talk, maybe play a game or two -- dinner.  I know you know what it is, because as I recall you often ate us out of house and home.”

“I was hungry,” Jack explained, rubbing his abdomen.  ~Am I getting fat?~

“You usually were,” Sara mused.  “So, Saturday?”

Jack was finally getting his wits about him and remembered some intimate plans already scheduled for the time of the invitation.

“Sara, Daniel and I have some plans for the weekend.  Can we take a rain check or ...”

“Is another day better?”

“How's Thursday?”

Sara looked at her day planner, nodding as she responded, “I'll have to verify with Mark, but I think that's good.  So, good for you and Daniel?”

With a bit of a chuckle, Jack replied, “I'll check with Danny when he gets home. We'll give you a call to confirm.”  Somewhat concerned about the reason for the dinner invitation, he began, “Sara ...”

“Relax, Jack,” Sara interrupted, sensing the distress and concern going on within the man she had once loved to the ends of the earth.  ~Correction: still love, though now properly placed.~  Calmly, she explained, “Mark would like to get to know you better, that's all.  Is there a problem with that?”

“No, no problem,” Jack answered, not wanting to anger his ex.  “How's Angie?”

“Angela, and she's just fine.  I could tell you stories ...”

“Tell me,” Jack requested.

“Jack ...”

“Hey, Danny's not here, so I've got the time, unless you ...”

“Mark's gone to work, and Angela's taking a nap, so I have a few more free minutes,” Sara confirmed, smiling as she spoke.  ~He sounds more carefree than ever.~

“She smiling yet?” Jack inquired curiously as he settled into his chair.  ~This feels good.  I miss the sound of her voice.~

“All the time,” Sara answered and then proceeded to inundate her ex-husband with various tales about the infant's first months of life.  When the two finally hung up a half-hour later, she felt strangely refreshed.  ~We're truly becoming friends.  I know that's what Charlie wants.  It's what I want, too.~

Sara walked over to a photo of her firstborn as a baby and ran her hand gently across its surface.

“I bet you weren't sure we'd ever reach this place.  We tried to teach you patience and acceptance, Charlie.  You've definitely had to be patient waiting for your parents to grow up enough to be friends.”

Sara sighed, a smile on her face, as she began to recall how she got the nerve to reach out to her very private ex-husband.  It hadn't been easy, for either of them.

//Flashback -- October 10, 2003//
“Sara, you and Mark should come up and visit,” Lisa Anderson Cassidy invited jovially.

The two women had been sorority sisters in college and were still the best of friends, though Lisa lived in Canada.

“We'd love to, Lisa,” Sara replied.  “Of course, Mark has a lot of demands on him.  I'm not sure when we ...”

A full minute of silence occurred until finally Lisa called out in concern, “Sara, are you there?”

“Lisa, you remember Jack?” Sara suddenly asked.

“Handsome Air Force major, sparkling brown eyes, charming Irish smile -- the rogue who stole your heart back in college.  That Jack?” Lisa chuckled.

“He made colonel, you know,” Sara spoke with pride.

Lisa laughed, “But I met him when he was a major, although I'm not sure he ever really looked at me.”

“Lisa, I'd like to ask you about a ... a very delicate situation,” Sara spoke cautiously.

Sobering, Lisa inquired, “What is it, Sara?”

“You've said you officiate *all kinds* of weddings in Canada,” Sara began, unsure if she even had a right to be having this discussion.

“All kinds?” the marriage commissioner asked, picking up on her friend's unusual verbiage.

“Yes, well, in Canada, there are more options than there are in America,” the blonde pointed out cautiously.

“Sara, we're sorority sisters.  Why are you beating around the bush?” Lisa questioned as she sat in her office, staring at an old college photo of their sorority that was on the opposite wall.

“Because I have to,” Sara confided quietly.  “Because I can't take chances, not even now.”

Lisa sat up a little straighter in her chair as she attempted to process the conversation.

“Sara, are we talking about the major?” Lisa quizzed delicately.

“Colonel,” Sara softly corrected, which also answered the question.

“And we're talking about *all kinds* of wedding ceremonies?” Lisa queried delicately.

Sara nodded, her head going up and down quickly as she stated over the phone, “Yes, we are.”

“Oh, my,” came the stunned response.  “You're saying that he is involved with ...”

“He's a civilian, and he seems like a very nice man, and when they look at each other ...” Sara trailed off, bowing her head in thought and then wiping away a tear.

“I'm very surprised.  He never seemed ...” Lisa began.

“He's not,” Sara quickly interjected.  “Or maybe he is.  Lisa, he fell in love, and gender just didn't matter.”

“As it should be for the entire world,” Lisa opined strongly.  “Are they getting married?”

“Yes, and since it's illegal here, they want to go to Canada, and I was wondering how'd you feel about marrying them?” Sara inquired with just a hint of nervousness.

“Sara, it's not how I'd feel, it's how you'd feel,” Lisa corrected, still astonished by what she'd heard.  “I'm your friend first.”

“I know.”  Sara swallowed as she looked upwards, trying to stop more tears from falling.  “I'd like you to do it, if they agree.  I trust you, Lisa, and I have tremendous faith that you'd make it a very special day for them.”

Lisa flipped opened her desk calendar, scanning it for open dates as she queried, “Have they set a date?”

“Soon, but I don't think they've firmed up many details,” Sara answered.

“Sara, are you absolutely sure about this?” Lisa questioned, full of concern.  She had no qualms about conducting the marriage, but her friendship with Sara meant more to her than performing the rite.  “Absolutely sure?” she added for emphasis.

Sara took a huge breath, smiling when she just happened to glance over at a photo of Charlie.  She felt like he was talking to her.

~You want this, don't you, my sweet, little boy?~ Sara silently asked.

“Sara?” Lisa prompted after a long moment of silence.

“Yes, Lisa, I want this,” Sara affirmed.  “I want their wedding to be memorable.”

“Okay, then I have a suggestion, but only if you agree,” Lisa began.  “Just for you, Sara, I'd be willing to host the ceremony at my place.  I'd have to clear it with Carl first, but I'm pretty sure he'd be okay with it.  It beats doing it at the office.”

“That would be wonderful,” Sara replied enthusiastically.

“You're the wonderful one, Sara.  I don't know many ex-wives who would be willing to do this,” Lisa commented as she scribbled a note to herself to check with her husband about their cabin.

“He's worth it, Lisa,” Sara declared tenderly.

“Okay, girlfriend, tell me what you know,” Lisa requested as the two discussed the situation and possibilities for Jack and Daniel's wedding.

====

It was the nineteenth of October and over a week had passed since Sara had discussed the wedding with her friend, Lisa.  Time was running out, but making the call to Jack was proving to be surprisingly difficult.  Today alone, Sara had picked up the phone at least thirty times since breakfast to dial her ex-husband, but each and every time, she'd hung up, either before completing the number or just as it had begun to ring.  She'd gotten up and paced in between the attempts at making the call.

“Oh, for crying out loud!” Sara finally exclaimed as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.  She looked over at the phone and cursed silently, ~I shouldn't be this nervous.~

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Mark asked from the sofa.  He'd witnessed this unusual behavior in his wife for the past forty-five minutes, ever since he'd returned home from work.  Not only that, but she'd been restless all week, a result of her anxiety over the special invitation she wanted to offer her ex-spouse.  “You need to be sure, Honey.”

Sara gave her husband a rueful grin as she responded, “I am sure, Mark.  It's just that I still feel a little jealous of Daniel.”  Her eyes widened as she realized how that sounded.  “I don't mean it like that.  I just ... I guess I still wish I could help Jack.  I didn't have much luck when we were married.”

~I could kill that jerk.~  Mark didn't say anything aloud, but he stood and walked over and hugged his wife.  “You might not have been able to help him then, but you can now,” he commented quietly, wanting Sara's internal turmoil to end once and for all.

Sara nodded and admitted, “I just don't want them to think I'm trying to butt in.”

“I doubt they'd think that, Darling,” Mark refuted gently.  “But they will make other arrangements, if you don't contact them soon.  Maybe it's better to let it go.”

“No,” Sara negated, her tone firm and steady.  With a sigh, she both asked and stated, “I suppose I should just make the call?”

Mark nodded and returned to his seat on the sofa, glancing over at his still-nervous wife.

Taking a deep breath, Sara once again picked up the phone and dialed Jack's number.  She sighed when the answering machine clicked on.  Now she had to decide whether to leave a message or to call back later.

~Better leave a message.  Who knows when they'll be back.~  When the beep sounded, Sara began, “Jack, it's Sara.  And ... this is for Daniel, too.  I guess I should ... Jack, what we talked about recently, the event coming up?  I didn't know if you had things planned or not, but I have a friend there and I spoke with her and ...” she grinned, imagining the look on Jack's face when he heard that, “... Stop scowling, Jack, I did it ... in a manner in which you'd be proud.”

As his wife grinned at him, Mark shook his head and chuckled at her ability to deliver the message nonchalantly and even make it sound a bit lighthearted.

~My wife is so amazing to want to do this for someone who walked out on her.  Okay, she tells me not to judge the man too harshly, but Sara needed him when Charlie died, and the jerk was too self-absorbed to think of anyone but himself,~ Mark thought.  ~Smile, Wilson.  Sara wants to move forward, and she wants it to be peaceful.  I can do it for her.  I can do anything to make her smile.~

Sara continued, “Anyway, she'd be willing to ... um, officiate the event, if you need someone.  You might remember her, Jack.  Lisa Anderson?  Only it's not Anderson anymore. Anyway, if you're interested, give me a call and I'll put you in touch with her.  I'm ... serious, Jack.  I'd really like to help if I could.  Oh, you probably don't remember the new number, or it'd take you ages to find it.  It's 970-555-4232.  Bye.”

As his wife hung up the phone and grinned at him, Mark asked, “Now that wasn't so hard, was it, Sara?”

“I feel good,” Sara declared in response, happy in the knowledge that her ex-husband was in good hands.  Between Charlie watching over him from above and Daniel looking out for him on Earth, things were definitely looking good for Jack O'Neill.  ~It's kind of liberating in a way.  I guess I can stop feeling like I failed him.~  She flopped down beside Mark and cuddled up to him.  “I love you, Mark.”

“I love you, too, Baby.”

====

That night, the Wilsons were washing the last of their dinner dishes when the phone rang.

“I'll get it,” Mark volunteered, dropping his tea towel a little too eagerly in Sara's opinion.  He grinned devilishly as he exited the kitchen, a silent acknowledgement that he'd just gotten out of something, and picked up the phone in the living room.  “Hello.”  His grin faded as the caller identified himself.  “Just a moment.”  He was tempted to warn the caller not to upset Sara, but he could imagine his wife's reaction to that.  ~Just give her the phone.~  He took a calming breath, returned to the kitchen, and announced as dispassionately as he could, “Sara, it's Jack.”

“Mark?” Sara asked, giving her spouse a questioning eyebrow.

The six-foot-tall man rolled his eyes and assured, “I behaved.  I didn't say anything.”

After giving her husband a quick kiss, Sara acknowledged, “Thank you.  He really didn't mean to upset me at Pike's Peak.”  Walking into the living room, she picked up the phone.  “Jack?”

“Yes, it's me,” Jack confirmed, fidgeting with a paperweight as he spoke.

The once-married couple exchanged pleasantries for a minute, during which Sara heard herself saying, “Baby is kicking now; brings back memories.”  She cringed, thinking, ~Stupid, Sara.~  There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone, and she wondered what she could say to get back on track.  ~I wonder if ...~  Taking a breath, she asked, “How's Daniel?”

“Good.  He's here.  Tired, too.  We got your message.”

Even though Jack's response to the question only consisted of nine words, Sara could immediately hear the lift in Jack's voice.

~I never knew a simple 'good' could contain so much love.~  Sara's smile was more resigned than sad.  ~Daniel is definitely Jack's soulmate.  Okay, woman, get on with it.~  “I'm glad you called.  Do you remember Lisa?”

Sara elaborated on her previous message and, after reassuring Jack that Lisa didn't have a problem with same-sex unions, was pleased to hear the genuine appreciation in Jack's voice as he thanked her.

She smiled, reminding, “I told you, Jack.  Memories don't have to be painful, and I really am happy for you, both of you.”

After a few more exchanges and giving Jack the necessary information, the blonde hung up the phone and turned towards the kitchen, where Mark was hovering anxiously while trying to appear nonchalant.

Sara grinned as she assured, “I'm okay, Mark.”

“Just okay?” the man challenged skeptically.

Shaking her head, Sara enthused, “I'm better than okay.  I'm happy, content, and looking forward to meeting our baby.”
//End of Flashback//

“Charlie, I'd never been so nervous in my life,” Sara told the photograph, laughing at the memory of that daring phone call.  “Well, I did it, and, here we are.”

A knock on the door interrupted any further comments as Sara's day continued.

====

“Steaks?” Mark suggested early that evening as the couple discussed potential menus for the still-unconfirmed dinner with Jack and Daniel.  “We could barbecue.  It's great weather for it.”

“Jack considers steaks his personal domain, especially on the barbecue,” Sara replied.

“He's a good cook?”

Sara roared with laughter, saying, “He burns them every time.”  Fanning herself, she added, “I think he does it on purpose.  It was always a great conversation starter, or stopper, depending on the situation.”

“He's a smart guy,” Mark observed.

“Don't let him hear you say that,” Sara chuckled.  “He never liked to come off as too intelligent.  I'm not sure why, really.  He may not be a genius, Mark, but he's no slouch, either.”

“So the verdict on the steaks is ...”

“Meat loaf might be safer,” the female suggested, hoping to avoid a potential clash between the men.

Sitting back, Mark stated firmly, “I'd like to barbecue.”

“Mark ...”

“Steaks,” the man insisted.

Leaning forward, Sara asked, “Dear, is your goal to get to know Jack and Daniel better, or just to alienate my ex-husband?”

Smirking, Mark got up, answering, “Maybe a little of both.”

~Men!  They aren't all that different.  They all like to strut their stuff like peacocks.~

====

Meanwhile, at the country-style home that Jack and Daniel shared, the two men were enjoying a game of chess, which Daniel was naturally winning.

“Babe?” Daniel prodded, staring at the head of his silver-haired fox.

“Huh?” Jack mumbled as he studied the board.

“You've been staring at that pawn for about fifteen minutes now,” Daniel observed.

“No, I haven't.”

“Yes, you have,” the younger man stated with conviction.

“Daniel, I'm just trying to make the best move.  You don't mind, do you?  Or maybe you're just afraid I might beat you for once?” Jack asked snarkily.

“Okay, what's wrong?”

“Wrong?”

“Yes, wrong,” Daniel asserted.  He leaned forward from his position on the sofa and stated, “When I got home, you were pretty normal.  I mean, uh, we ... had a good time.”

“I'll take that as a seal of approval,” the older man remarked wryly about their lovemaking.

Daniel chuckled, “It was great, but since then you've been distracted.  So, are you going to tell me or make me guess?”

“You couldn't guess this,” Jack asserted, still staring at the board.

“Well, it can't be a bad thing, not really, not if we ... you know and then have pretty much lounged our way through the day,” the younger man opined.

Jack made his move on the board and challenged, “Beat that.”

“Uh, okay,” Daniel returned as he looked at the board for about ten seconds before making his next play.  With a tiny smile, he mused, “Checkmate.”

“No!” Jack exclaimed, jumping up from his favorite chair.

“Sorry, Babe.”

Jack growled and walked into the kitchen, retrieving a cold brew from the refrigerator.  Leaning just slightly against the appliance, he opened the drink and took a swig.

Daniel glanced up at his lover while he redressed the board.  Then he stood and walked over to the archway that divided the dining nook from the rest of the kitchen.  He leaned against the doorframe, his hands in his pockets, and watched his soulmate take yet another sip of the beer.

“So?” Daniel prodded.

“Want a beer?” Jack asked, tipping his bottle towards his husband.

“No, I want an answer to my question,” Daniel demanded, giving his a lover a brief nod of his head to reinforce his position.

“Nothing's wrong,” Jack admitted.  “I'm just not sure.  It seems a little ... odd.”

“I suppose some could say this is progress, but, uh, Jack, I still don't have any idea why you've been so distracted.  You never take more than five minutes to make a move, and even that's rare,” the chess winner noted.

The older man nodded and then walked by his lover, motioning for him to follow.  He reclaimed his spot in his chair and took another few sips from his drink, waiting for Daniel to settle in again on the sofa.

“So ...” Daniel prompted again, this time more leading than before.

“So,” Jack replied, leaning forward and letting out an anxious cough as he grasped the beer bottle in both of his hands.  “Sara called.”

“Oh, well, is she okay?” Daniel inquired with concern.  “Jack, they haven't change their minds?  If they did, what ...”

“No, you can relax, Danny.  They haven't changed their minds, ” Jack assured, shaking his head as he interrupted his Love's worried ramble.  “That's all set.”

“Okay, well, then ...”

“They invited us to dinner on Thursday,” the colonel revealed.

“Oh, okay, and the problem is ...?” Daniel cued.

“Daniel, don't you think this is pushing the line a little?”

The archaeologist leaned back, twisting his body a bit to bring his left leg to rest on the sofa.  He'd been nervous, but now he felt relaxed again.

“Babe, last week we asked your ex-wife and her husband to care for our children, who we don't have yet, in case we ... die.  We asked them to be willing to alter their lives, in a, a very big way, for you and me.  Now, I would assume Mark wants to learn a little more about us,” the archaeologist surmised.

“How'd you know that?” Jack asked, surprised that Daniel had made that connection.  “That's what Sara said.”

“Jack, he had a good time at the wedding, which I think surprised him.  I think Sara was surprised, too.  I think you were surprised.  I *know* I was surprised.”

“He was surprised, she was surprised, yadda, yadda,” Jack interjected.  “What's your point?”

Daniel laughed, “Remember how nervous you were about returning Sara's phone call, that first one, about Lisa?”  After Jack nodded, the younger man continued, “And do you recall how anxious you were when we decided to invite them to the wedding?  We ...”

As Daniel spoke, Jack's mind flashed back to that time, to the call he had made to Sara about the private wedding ceremony.

//Flashback -- October 30, 2003//
“Sara, it's Jack,” the colonel began when the Wilson's answering machine clicked on.  ~Crap!~  “Ah, Sara, I dropped by earlier and left something for you in your mailbox,” Jack spoke, hating that he had missed being able to personally explain the item and wasn't able to talk about it now, either.  “Sara, you're welcome to come to the wedding.  The invitation is real.  I know I ...”  He hesitated, remembering how he hadn't gone to her wedding to Mark, though he had been invited.  “I know I just sent some card when you and Mark got married.  Sara, I'm sorry about a lot of things.  Crap, I'm bad with words.  Some things never change, right?  All I'm saying is that it's not just a piece of heavy stock paper.  Okay, ah, later,” he sighed, hanging up his phone.

The colonel leaned back in his desk chair and groaned, hating the message he'd left, but words were something that were difficult for him.  It had always been that way.  He could jest and joke with ease, but speaking from the heart was another story.

“Well, it's the best I can do.  Right now, I need to go check on my workaholic husband-to-be,” Jack decided with a sigh, knowing what's done is done.

Daniel had been putting in a lot of overtime at the SGC and was pretty exhausted.  He had finally come home an hour earlier, though he had quickly retreated to his den to do yet more work.

“Angel,” Jack called out as he entered the den.

“Jack, I really need to finish this,” the archaeologist replied without looking up.

“I called her,” Jack revealed, slipping down into the recliner.

Daniel stopped writing and looked over at his lover, asking curiously, “What did she say?”

Shrugging, Jack explained, “She wasn't home.  I left a message.”

“Jack, we agreed that it doesn't matter whether or not Sara comes.  Our wedding is about us,” Daniel remarked.

“You're right,” the older man agreed.  “Don't work too hard,” he advised, getting up and placing a quick kiss on Daniel's alluring lips.  “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”
//End of Flashback//

“... My point is that we're all ... bonding, connecting, or in your and Sara's case, reconnecting,” Daniel asserted, unaware his husband had tuned out the last minute of his oration.

“What?”

“Jack, are you listening to me?” Daniel inquired, rightly guessing from his soulmate's faraway look that his thoughts had interfered with his ears processing what he'd just heard.

“Yes, we're forging ahead, bonding,” Jack replied.  “That doesn't seem odd to you?”

Daniel laughed, “Yes, it's odd, but ...”

“Don't say it, Daniel,” Jack interrupted.  He let out a chuckle as he acknowledged, “Okay, so nothing about us is normal, anyway.”

“Are you second-guessing our decision about Sara and Mark?” Daniel inquired.

“No.  I don't have a doubt in my mind about that.”

“Neither do I.  Now, if you were Mark, and your life had the potential to take a drastic change, wouldn't you want to get to know the people responsible for that change?  I mean, he just knows you as Sara's ex-husband, and I'm ... the other man,” Daniel mused lightly.  “Besides, I don't really know either of them, and I'd like to ... know them better.”

“You're amazing, Love,” Jack responded with a smile.  “I'm not even sure what I was worried about.”

“Oh, I know what you're worried about,” the younger man stated with a knowing smirk.

“What?” the older man asked.

“Mark.”

“Mark?”

“Mark,” Daniel repeated, getting up.  “I think I'll have that beer now.”

As his soulmate disappeared from his sight, Jack questioned, ~Why would I be worried about Mark?  He's just ... oh, yeah, well ... Cool it, O'Neill.  You're happily married, and Sara has the right to be happily married, too, even if it's not ... crap!~

Having just returned with his beer, Daniel laughed, seeing his husband's face, and said, “I see you figured it out.”

“Don't you get tired of being right?” Jack grouched at his soulmate.

“Want to play another game of chess?”

“Gin!” Jack insisted, getting up to find the deck of cards.

~It'll certainly be an interesting night,~ Daniel supposed about the upcoming dinner.  “Babe, you'd better call Sara and confirm.”

====

Sara glanced at the clock on the wall.  She was holding Angela, trying to get her to burp.  As she bounced the baby slightly, gently patting her back, her mind focused on her ex-husband.

~Maybe he doesn't want this.  He said Daniel would be home soon, but it's been all day.  Maybe I'm pushing it.~  Sara turned around, retracing her steps.  ~It wasn't like it was my idea.~

Suddenly, Angela burped.  Sara repositioned her infant in her arms and continued rocking her a bit as they walked the length of the nursery.

“You'd like Jack, Angela.  He really is a good man.  He just got lost for a while,” the new mother acknowledged.

As Sara pondered the pros and cons of the potential dinner date, her mind suddenly went back to the wedding.  It hadn't been the easiest trip in the world, but she wouldn't have missed it for anything.

With a new awareness, Sara looked at her daughter and suggested, “It's possible he hasn't even told Daniel about it, yet.”  After Angela cooed, the mother chuckled, “Yeah, that's Jack.  He's funny sometimes.  I wouldn't be surprised if he's still trying to decide if the invitation is for real or not, just like with the wedding.  We both went back and forth, trying to figure out the boundaries.

//Flashback -- October 30, 2003//
“What a day!” Sara exclaimed as she and Mark entered their home sometime after 9 p.m.

“You know Mister Granger, Darling,” Mark replied.  “He's a nice man and a good person to be working for, but he has a thing about social engagements.”

“You mean he loves to talk,” Sara chuckled.

“He does like to tell a story,” Mark acknowledged as he began to sort through their mail.

Sara went to the kitchen to get a glass of orange juice.  Drink in hand, she walked into the living room to check their phone messages.  They had five, three business calls for Mark, one from a friend of Sara's asking about their next Bunco game night, and the last one was from Jack O'Neill.

When the message finished, Sara turned around, surprised to see Mark staring at her.  He held out his hand, a fancy-looking envelope in it.

The couple exchanged a look, and, with a small smile, Sara took the envelope and opened it.

“They're getting married on the sixteenth of November,” Sara announced quietly.

“We'll buy them a toaster,” Mark quipped.

“Mark ...”

“Sara, don't tell me you want to go?” the man asked a bit incredulously.

“Yes, I do,” Sara confessed, inwardly a bit amazed herself.  ~But I do.  Goodness, woman, you really do want to go.~

“Why?” Mark questioned, closing the gap between the couple, his hands going around his wife's waist.

“Because it's time for all of us to get on with our lives.  Mark, this distance between Jack and I doesn't feel right.  It never did.  I want to know that he's happy, and I want him to see that we're happy, too,” Sara explained.

“You're pregnant, Sara,” Mark argued.  “I don't want you being upset by some jerk who ...”  Seeing his wife's distressed look, the brown-eyed man backed down.  “You're not going alone.”

“I didn't expect to,” Sara returned, her smile telling the entire story.  She had her lover wrapped around her little finger, and they both knew it.  “I'll RSVP tomorrow.”  She gave her husband a kiss and added, “Mark, this means a lot to me.  I know it doesn't make the least bit of sense, but Charlie wants his parents at peace with each other, and, no matter how nervous I am about it, I think this is our chance.”

“I don't like it, but if it's what you want,” Mark agreed reluctantly.

“If you're really against it, I won't go,” Sara declared firmly, placing her head on her husband's shoulder.  ~It'll feel wrong, but Mark has to matter the most.~

“Wrong pronoun, Darling,” Mark reminded, kissing Sara's hair as her head tucked neatly under his chin.  “It's 'we', not 'I', but we're both going,” Mark spoke definitively.  “I need to return that call to Mike, but you've had a long day.”

“You're a worrywart, Mister Wilson,” Sara mused.

“Just wait until our baby is born,” Mark warned as he picked up the phone to make his call.

Sara smiled as she walked upstairs, feeling lucky to have such a wonderful and understanding husband in Mark Stanford Wilson.

====

The next evening, the thirty-first of October, Sara phoned Jack's number, a bit surprised, though she wasn't sure why, when Daniel answered.

“Daniel, it's Sara ... Wilson ... ah, O'Neill ... I mean ...”

Daniel chuckled lightly and greeted, “Hello, Sara.”  Twirling his pen in his fingers, he thought, ~I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets tongue-tied in these situations.~

“I wanted to call about the wedding invitation,” Sara began.

“You're welcome to come,” Daniel responded politely.

“Are you sure you mean that?” Sara inquired.  ~My stomach is in knots.  Settle down, Sara.  You have a baby to think about.~

~Gawd, Jack's right.  She's wants to come.~  Daniel took a breath and replied, “Yes, Sara.  We talked about it, and we both agree.”

“Well, if you are sure, then I'd love to attend the wedding.  There is one thing.  The invitation doesn't say ...”

“Gawd, your husband,” Daniel interrupted, suddenly aware of their lapse.  “Uh, I'm sorry.  That didn't sound right.”

Sara chuckled, hearing the remorse in the archaeologist's voice and sensing an odd kinship starting to form between them.

“Sara, Jack and I have been so busy lately that we're lucky we were able to get any of the invitations out at all.  Please, of course your husband is welcome to come.  I sincerely apologize for our oversight.”

“Thank you, Daniel.  We'll look forward to seeing you on the sixteenth,” Sara stated as she prepared to hang up.

“Uh, Sara, I'm not exactly sure of how things are going to work out.  With our jobs, there's always the possibility of last minute changes.  Do you remember Sam?  Uh, Samantha Carter?” Daniel asked.

“The pretty blonde that was in the hospital that night,” Sara correctly recalled about the incident when the crystal entity took Jack's shape and pretended to be him.  ~That was one weird day.~

“Yes.  Is it okay if we give her your number?  She can keep you updated,” the archaeologist suggested.  ~I'm not sure Jack could handle all the phone calls to you; I'm not sure I can.  We want to, but ...~

“That would be fine,” Sara answered.  Wanting to end on a positive note, one that was less nerve-whacking, she inquired, “Are you ready for the trick-or-treaters?”

Daniel chuckled at reference to Halloween and responded, “You know Jack.  He likes the tricks.”

“Yes, I remember,” Sara chuckled.  A silence loomed, which she broke by saying, “Thank you for including us, Daniel.”

“You're welcome,” Daniel returned, waiting until he heard the click of the phone before hanging up.  ~Breathe, Jackson.  She's his ex-wife.  She just wants to prove a point, like Jack said; that's all.~

Shaking off his temporary insecurities, Daniel headed downstairs for a very unique Halloween evening with his lover.
//End of Flashback//

“I'll bet Daniel was just as nervous as me.  I could hear it in his voice, Angela.  We were all trying so hard.  We still are.  Oops, but you don't care about that, do you, Sweetcakes?”

Sara laughed and prepared to change her daughter and then put her down to bed.

====

“Is she asleep?” Mark inquired when his wife returned to the living room where he was watching ESPN.

“Yes, she is.  She ...”  Hearing the phone, Sara paused and looked over at the ringing apparatus.  “I'll get it.”

Moments later, Sara and Jack were engaged in conversation, a talk that started off a bit nervously with talk about the weather.

“Jack ...”

“You're right,” Jack chuckled.  “Daniel and I would be happy to come to dinner on Thursday, if you're sure you still want us.”

“Very sure.  Is six-thirty a good time?” Sara asked.

“It's a perfect time.  What would you like us to bring?”

“Yourselves,” Sara responded.

“I think we can handle that,” the colonel agreed jovially.

“Well ...” Sara began.

“Well ...” Jack agreed, neither knowing just quite how to finish their conversation.  “I feel like it's our first date.”

“Second,” the blonde corrected.  “You had us for dinner first.”

“Good point.”

There was a silence and then both said, “Well.”

Laughing, Sara spoke, “We'll call and confirm on Wednesday, just to make sure ...”

“That's a good idea,” Jack averred.  “In our business, we go out of town a lot.”

“Goodnight, Jack.”

“Goodnight, Sara.”

Jack let out a big breath and shook his head several times, as if to wake up from the conversation.  He truly wanted Sara to stay in his life, but it certainly was proving to be a nerve-wracking situation.

~Let me face the Goa'uld any day without going to pieces, but the thought of socializing with my ex-wife and her husband is about to send me up the river without a paddle.  Crap!~  Jack sighed, looking over at a photo he had in his study of Daniel.  His mind drifted back to when he found out Sara and Mark were actually going to come to the wedding.  ~I knew she would.~

//Flashback -- October 31, 2003//
~I love this day,~ Jack thought as he stood in the kitchen and emptied the last of the candy into a bowl.  He grinned, just thinking about the kids getting their candy.  “That should be enough to satisfy the trick-or-treaters.”  He opened the cupboard and pulled out a gold colored box.  “And these should satisfy a sexy, chocolate-addicted archaeologist.”

The colonel took the give-away candy and the box of Godiva chocolates into the living room.  He left the 'Daniel chocolate' on the table by the fireplace and deposited the bowl of candy on the table near the front door, helping himself to a handful of candy corn as he did so.

“Jack, I hope you aren't eating all the candy,” Daniel chastised, though he was grinning at his very guilty-looking future husband.

“Mnnot,” Jack mumbled as he swallowed his mouthful of goodies.  He was about to make a joke, but then he noticed that Daniel's smile looked just a little bit forced.  He closed the short distance between them, so that they were standing very close together.  “Danny, what's wrong?  Who was it on the phone?”

“Sara.”  With a rueful expression, he explained, “You were right.  She does want to come to the wedding.  In fact, she asked if Mark could come as well.  There's no way we could object to that.”

“No, no way,” Jack agreed, a bit shocked and yet not by the news.  ~Gotta hand it to Sara; she always had spunk.~

“I know we weren't really sure about this, but I didn't know what to say.  We want to polite, right?  And, uh, well, it was our fault.  We should have thought about Mark.  He is her husband, after all, and couples usually attend weddings together.  I hope she doesn't think ... Jack, what if she thinks it was intentional?  Does Mark coming bother you, because wemmmph...”

Jack stopped Daniel's nervous babbling by kissing him senseless.  When he felt his lover was suitably 'gone', he stepped back and gazed into Daniel's dreamy blue eyes.

“Danny, Sara can bring Mark or the guy from the gas station for all I care.  I'm not in love with Sara, not even a little bit.  I love her as a friend, and I love her for Charlie, but she isn't the person my heart beats for.”

~For someone who claims he isn't good with words, Jack, you do pretty darn well.~  Daniel leaned in and kissed Jack deeply.  “I love you, Jack, but it's okay to love her, a little, because I'm sure she still loves you, a little, too.  It's, uh, natural.”

Choosing to ignore that part of the conversation, Jack questioned, “Are you sure you're okay with Sara being at the wedding?  This is *our* special time, *our* wedding, and I don't want it spoiled by my ex-wife being there.  I can call her back and tell her not to come.”  Shaking his head as if to ward off an admonishment, he added quickly, “Don't worry.  I'll be diplomatic, and, yes, Daniel, I can be diplomatic when I want to be.”

The peaceful explorer chuckled, “So, that's the key?  Diplomacy if and only if you're in the mood?”

“Daniel!”

Still amused, Daniel advised, “I want her to come.”

“Really?”

“Really,” Daniel admitted.  He grinned and looked a little embarrassed when he admitted, “I just needed some reassurance, is all.”

“Reassurance I can do.  I love you, Danny.  No one else,” the older man proclaimed as he caressed his Love's cheek.  Just then, they heard two indignant barks and turned to see Bijou and Katie looking very miffed.  He chuckled, “Okay, I stand corrected, I love Danny and you, you two little ruffians.  Is that better?”

The two beagles gave Jack a doggy grin, causing Daniel to snigger, “Nice save, Babe.”

“They are way too smart for their own good,” Jack opined.  “Now, we have a little while before trick-or-treaters start showing up, so would you like some more reassurance that I love you and only you?  And you know what I mean, Girls,” he said, looking quickly at the beagles.  He turned back to Daniel, giving him a suggestive leer.  “Or we could watch TV.”

“I vote for reassurance,” Daniel told his soulmate as he dragged him upstairs to their bedroom.
//End of Flashback//

~He was nervous.  I was nervous, too.  Heck, we were all nervous,~ Jack recalled about the pre-wedding plans that included the Wilsons.

Jack got up and went in search of his soulmate, wanting to tell him about the latest conversation with Sara.

====

“Hey, Beautiful,” Jack greeted, slinking his arms around his half-naked lover.

Daniel was in the bathroom, getting ready to take a shower.  He'd removed his shirt, shoes, and socks, but hadn't yet taken off his jeans.

“Did you call her?” Daniel inquired, refusing to succumb to the tender kisses and caresses his husband was applying to his bare back and shoulders.  ~Gawd, he's hard to ignore.~

“We're going to dinner,” Jack replied.

Brown eyes connected with blue ones through the mirror in front of them.

“Okay,” Daniel responded.

“Okay,” Jack said.

“Okay,” the younger man repeated.

Jack laughed, “Now that we're okay ...”

Daniel began to laugh, leaning his head back against his lover as he looked at their reflection in the mirror.

“Jack, we'll have a good time,” Daniel stated confidently.

“I know.  It's just a little ...”

“Odd,” both men stated together and then broke out into laughter.

“Wanna ...” Daniel began, nodding towards the empty shower.

“Oh, yeah,” Jack agreed.

Thoughts of the Wilsons and the upcoming dinner party faded, replaced by Jack's and Daniel's need and hunger for each other.

====

“Mark, how about this one?” Sara asked, whipping a knee-length, sleeveless, v-neck black dress with criss-crossing straps in front of her body.

“I think I'd like you to wear that just so I can take it off of you,” Mark answered from his spot on their bed.  He was stretched out, leaning back on his elbows as he watched the fashion show.  “Scrumptious,” he observed with a leer.

“Oh, you!” Sara exclaimed, lowering the hanger that held the dress.  She shook her head as she put it back in the closet.  “Maybe this one,” she suggested, pulling out a much more conservative green jacket dress.

“We're having dinner, Honey, not going to a PTA meeting ... yet,” the man quipped.

“You're not helping,” Sara groused gently.  She reviewed her closet and pulled out another option.  Spinning around, she took the bottom of the dress in hand, spreading out the skirt half.  “A winner?”

“You could wear what you have on now and still be the belle of any ball,” Mark speculated lovingly while looking at his wife.

“Mark!” the woman scoffed, putting the dress she was holding aside and looking down at her simple outfit that consisted of jeans, a plain pink T-shirt, and white sneakers.  “Don't be silly,” she laughed.

“Sara, why is your outfit so important?” Mark questioned.

“I just want tomorrow night to go well,” Sara replied, staring down at the purple dress that had a black belt and a few speckles to highlight the rounded neck.

“Don't you think spending an hour deciding what to wear might be excessive?” Mark asked.

“No more excessive than you spending thirty minutes at the butcher's trying to find the perfect steak,” Sara retorted pointedly.

Mark smiled, though his lips never parted.

The blonde walked forward, stopping at the foot of the bed, and stated, “This isn't a competition, Mark.  You have nothing to prove to me, or to Jack.”

“I only wanted to make sure the steaks ...”

“Mark, please,” Sara chuckled.  “Be careful, Lover.  Jack's pretty good when it comes to the repartee.  Wit and humor kept him alive more than once.  He uses it well, like a sword,” she noted strongly.

“I'll consider myself warned,” Mark laughed.  Hearing Angela cry, he got up, offering, “I'll take care of her.  You still have to decide what outfit to wear.”  As he headed for the door, he pulled out a hanger and teased, “You could wear this.”

“Mark Wilson!” Sara called out, picking up one of her slippers and throwing it at him.

“Na na na.  Misssssed!” Mark called out as he disappeared.

Sara laughed at her silly husband.  Then she looked over at the old, raggy muumuu that had been kept in her closet for years.  It had belonged to an aunt and held sentimental value only.  Sara had, of course, never worn the item that was made for someone three times her size.

“Very funny,” Sara mused quietly before returning to her quest for the perfect outfit.

====

“What did you finally decide on?” Mark asked his wife as they sat up in bed that night, each reading, or trying to read, a favorite novel.  ~That's enough for me; I'm ready to give up the ghost,~ he thought, closing the book and putting it on the nightstand on his side of the bed.

“I'm thinking I might wear that red halter top with the draping neck, my black slacks, and the strap sandals,” Sara replied, leaning forward slightly, her chest touching the book that now rested on her bent-up legs..  “If it gets too cool, I can put on a blazer or just a sweater.”

“You'll still be the belle of the dinner ball,” Mark responded before leaning over and kissing his wife goodnight.

“Mark?” Sara called out after her husband had settled comfortably beneath the sheets and bedspread, resting on his left side, facing away from her.

“Yes, Dear?” the man responded just as he flipped off the light on his side of the bed.

“I'll be the *only* belle at the ball,” Sara reminded her husband.

“Oh, well, you'll be beautiful because you always are,” Mark praised, glancing over his shoulder at his wife and following that up with a big yawn.

“Night, Darling,” Sara said with a slight chuckle as she patted his butt for a minute.

The female closed her book, putting it on her nightstand.  Then she flipped off the light and slid down, getting snug under the sheets.  She looked to her left, smiling at her already-sleeping husband and then she stared up at the ceiling.

Sara's mind began to ponder what was about to happen.  Her past, her present, and her future were jumbled together.

~I do want tomorrow to go well, Mark.  I want to be friends with Jack and Daniel, no matter how crazy it sounds, and I know it does sound crazy.  Why is it important?  I don't know.  Maybe it's Charlie.  Maybe it's just me.  I thought Jack was out of my life until that day at Pike's Peak.  I'd accepted it, but that's just it.  It wasn't anything I wanted.  It was something life threw at me.  Here, Sara, meet the love of your life.  Marry him.  Have a child.  Plan on forever, only then have it ripped from your soul.  Dreams, hopes, plans -- all gone with the sound of a bullet.  We could have survived it, together, if he hadn't turned himself off.  Just like I just turned off the light, Jack turned off the switch to his soul.  Somehow, Daniel got him to flip that light back on.  I want to know that man again, and I want to find out why Daniel is so special.  How did he get Jack to live again?  What did he do that I didn't?~

Sara turned over to her side, facing her husband's backside.  Smiling, she ran her right hand along his back.

~I'm not looking to go back in time.  I thought Jack and I were that magic couple that would go on forever, but I was wrong, Mark.  You give me all I could ever ask for, and I'm so amazingly happy with you.~  Sara let out a quiet snort.  ~I guess I want my cake, with icing, and I want to eat it, every bite.  That's an homage to my ex-husband, Darling.  He has a love-hate relationship with clichés.~

Sara leaned forward, her arm going around her husband's chest.  She lifted herself upwards, giving Mark a kiss on the cheek before settling back down.

~I want you, Mark, and I want you to be friends with Jack.  I know.  It's ludicrous, but Jack is an extraordinary man, and Daniel seems to be just wonderful.  Lisa thought I had done something wonderful and charitable, asking her to officiate their wedding.  The truth was, is, that I'm just a little selfish.  I'd like to think that Charlie is proud of Jack and me, that even though it's taken years, we're finding a way to honor the family that we once were, by ... joining our two families now.~

A bit teary-eyed, Sara returned to a supine position, her eyes looking upward, beyond the ceiling and the physical boundaries of her home, up into the sky and heavens.

~It really was a beautiful wedding, Son.  Of course, getting there had its moments, and Mom was pretty scared sometimes.  Now and then it was awkward, but most of the time, it was ... good, very good.~  Sara smiled as her few tears dried.  ~The wedding.~  She let out a laugh, quickly covering her mouth, not wanting to wake Mark.  ~What an adventure,~ she thought to herself as she recalled Jack and Daniel's wedding and the days leading up to it.

//Flashback -- November 13, 2003//
“Hurry up, Mark!“ Sara yelled from the bottom of the stairs.  “We're supposed to be at the airport in less than an hour!”

Upstairs, Mark took one last look around before picking up their suitcases and heading for the stairwell.

~Maybe we'll miss the plane; have to stay home ...~  Mark's thoughts trailed off as he made a realization.  ~No, Sara would just book a new flight, and we'd miss our day in Victoria.~

The Wilsons had decided to travel to Vancouver Island a day early so they could spend a day wandering around Victoria before heading to Lisa's place in Sooke, where Jack and Daniel's wedding would be taking place.

“I wonder if there's any way we could get stuck in Victoria,” the man muttered to himself as he came down the stairs.  He really wasn't looking forward to meeting his wife's ex-husband.  Although he hated to admit it to himself, he felt a little intimidated by the prospect.  ~Why'd he have to be Special Forces, for cripe's sake.~  Almost to the bottom, with his head down, he muttered, “I don't care if he is ex-Special Forces, if he hurts Sara, I'll knock his block off.”

Unfortunately for Mark, Sara heard this last mutter.  When he reached the bottom of the stairs and looked up, Mark found himself looking into a pair of glaring eyes.

“Mark Wilson, there will be no knocking anyone's block off.  Jack is not the self-centered jerk you think he is, and I'm quite capable of standing up for myself.  Now, if you're determined to make a scene at this wedding, you can just stay here.  I, however, am going.”

“You can't blame me for wanting to protect you, Sara,” Mark protested, his eyes imploring his wife to see his point.

“I don't, but I do expect you to go with an open mind.  You don't even have to socialize with them, if you don't want to, but, Mark, I want this.  More than that, I need this,” Sara stated unwaveringly.

“Why?  Why, Sara?  Look, I understand you want to make peace with O'Neill.  I know it was Charlie's death that put that wedge between the two of you and broke up your marriage, but that was a long time ago, Honey.  Why is it suddenly so important to be friends with the man?” Mark questioned forcefully.

“I'm not sure, but it *is* important.  If you give Jack a chance, I'm certain that you'll like him.”  With a sigh, Sara put on her coat and picked up her purse.  Then she turned back to her husband and stated, “Something deep inside of me says we all need to have a common ground.  I don't exactly know why.  Our worlds are totally separate now, and I can't imagine what, if anything, could ever change that, but that common ground, Mark, I need it to be there, and I need it to be peaceful.  Please?  Give Jack and Daniel a chance.”

“For you, Sara, I'd do anything, including giving O'Neill a ... chance, as you call it, but if he slips up ...”

“Mark, Honey, he's getting married, to Daniel.  He's not going to be concerned with me in the least, so there's no need to go in expecting a fight,” Sara insisted.

“Common ground,” Mark sighed, nodding his head.  “You've got it.”

“Good.  We have to hurry,” Sara spoke anxiously as she opened the front door.

~Common ground,~ Mark echoed in his mind.  Locking the front door, he thought sarcastically, ~Common ground for a duel.  He can pick the location.  I'll pick the weapon.~

====

“Sara,” Sam greeted as the Wilsons came aboard the yacht in Canada a couple of days later.  “It's been a long time.”

“You look different,” Sara responded with a smile.  “I think it's the outfit.”

Sam looked down at her dress, knowing it was a far cry from the BDUs she'd been wearing the first time she'd met her commanding officer's then-wife.

“Oh, Sam, this is my husband, Mark.  Mark, this is Sam Carter.  She's on Jack's team in the Air Force.”

Shaking the major's hand, Mark greeted, “It's nice to meet you.  We've been wanting to get together with you.”

“I know,” Sam acknowledged.  “My schedule is rather ... unusual.”

“Jack told us,” Sara revealed.  “Um,” she looked around and saw there were other people on board and suggested, “maybe we should discuss that later.”

“Yes, of course,” Sam agreed.  “I've enjoyed our talks on the phone.”

“Me, too.”

“Jack and Daniel should be here in an hour or so.  Let me show you around,” Sam suggested, taking the couple on a tour of the yacht where the rehearsal dinner was taking place.

====

A bit later, Mark had become involved in a discussion with Evan Valissi, the son of Jack and Daniel's neighbor, Mrs. Sophia Valissi.  Both were there, as was Evan's partner, Robert.

While Mark talked with Evan, Sara helped Sam check on the food preparations, after which they took a stroll around the deck.  It was quiet at first; in fact, a little too quiet.

“Are you in love with Jack?” Sara finally asked, glancing at the blonde major.

Sam sputtered and mumbled her way through a stunned non-response.

“I'm sorry,” Sara stated.  “I'm getting a ... vibe as my students would call it.  I know you're on Jack's team, but there's something more.”

“No, I'm not in love with Ja...Colonel O'Neill,” Sam answered, though she still felt flustered.  “When you're on a team that works like we do, you get close, like a family.”

“Let me guess.  You love Jack like a brother,” Sara replied, a smile on her face.  “Is that what you want me to believe?”

“A brother?  No, it's ...”

“It's all right, Sam.”

“Sara, he loved you.  There was a time when I think he ...”

“He what?”

“It's not really my place,” Sam returned, rethinking what she'd been about to say.

“Please, tell me.”

“We were on a mission several years ago.  The colonel had been hurt pretty bad.  I was okay, but we were stranded and there was little hope we'd get out of it.  It was cold, very cold where we were.  Towards the end, the colonel was pretty much out of it.  He called your name.”

“He did?”

“Yes,” Sam affirmed.  “I think he thought I was you, so I pretended I was.  Nothing happened.  He just held me until we both fell unconscious.”

“Why didn't he ever call me?” Sara asked rhetorically.

Sara blinked, turning around and walking over to the edge of the deck.  She put her hands over the railing and looked out over the sea.

Sam took a deep breath, wondering if it would have been better not to have said anything at all.  She wanted to retreat, but she found herself standing just a foot or so away from Sara, looking out over the water herself.

“Jack's a proud man,” Sara sighed.  “We were so in love, Sam.  We had the world in our hands until Charlie pulled the trigger of that gun and then Jack retreated.  His heart just ... turned cold, just like his eyes were cold.  He lived in Charlie's room.  He'd go in there and sit for hours.  I didn't exist for him anymore.  When the Air Force showed up one day, I hated them for daring to be on my doorstep, and at the same time, it meant the torture was over.  I kept waiting for him to call.  He never did.”

Sam looked down, not knowing what to say.

“Then one day, there he was, standing by my car, only it wasn't him.”  Sara looked over at Sam and stated, “I still don't understand that.  He told me to trust him, that it was okay, and like a good Air Force wife whose husband was in Special Forces, I just said, 'yes, Jack'.”  She sighed, “Only that was the last time he was ever going to be my husband.”

A few tears escaped down Sara's face, and she quickly reached into her purse for a handkerchief to stop them.  Then she began to redo her makeup.

“If Mark sees me crying, he might greet Jack with a right hook.”

“That wouldn't be good,” Sam acknowledged with a smile, helping Sara as best she could.

“I love my husband, Sam, and our marriage is good; it's solid, and I have no regrets about it,” Sara declared firmly, looking the major in the eye.  “It's a good thing I don't like the 'what if' game, though, or I'd always wonder what might have happened if he'd called me.”

“I think it's like you said,” Sam began.  “The colonel is a proud man, and I also believe that, given what we do, he just didn't want to put you through any more pain.”

“Jack would think like that,” Sara conceded.  She turned ninety degrees, prompting Sam to do the same so that they were facing each other.  “I've just shared something I don't even talk to my best friends about, and I barely know you.  Tell me the truth about you and Jack.”

Sam looked down.  She really didn't like thinking or talking about her CO in any way other than being her CO.  Still, Sara deserved the truth, regardless of how inconsequential it was.

“Colonel O'Neill is a towering presence.  I respect and admire him, probably more than I do anyone else in the military.  We had a rough start until I managed to show him that I knew my job.  He's funny.  I don't think anyone makes me laugh like he does,” Sam confided.  “However, while I'll admit to having a crush on him from time to time, that's all it's ever been -- a crush, maybe a fantasy.  You should know, Sara, that my first crush was actually on Daniel.  I'd heard so much about him before we met, and I think when I finally came face to face with him, I looked and sounded like a schoolgirl; I certainly felt like one.  He was beyond cute.”

“He still is,” a smiling Sara agreed.

“He had long hair back then.”

“I remember.”

“He ... was married, so I quickly put away that crush.”  Growing more serious, Sam pointed out, “The colonel was married, too.  Sara, he's never thought of me as anyone other than a member of his team.  Like I said, we are a family, but I didn't even know about your son until shortly before we met in the hospital.  He doesn't talk to me or confide in me.  He's always done that with Daniel.  Everyone on base knew that.  They still know it.  If you have a question about the colonel, you go to Daniel, who won't say much in reply.”

Sara nodded, processing everything that Sam had said.

“There is one more thing that you should know.”

“What's that?” Sara inquired.

“There's a lot of gossip on a military base.”

“That I know.  Jack and I were married for a long time.  If you want good gossip, walk around a military installation for a couple of hours.  You'll hear plenty, if you know how to listen,” Sara stated with a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Yes, that's it,” Sam acknowledged.  “Years ago, when I found out about the colonel and Daniel, I didn't say anything at first.  I wasn't in favor of their relationship then, but I wasn't against it, either.  The only thing I knew for certain was that they were part of my team, and because they were, I had to protect them.”

Sara stared at Sam and then began to smile as she surmised, “You pretended to care about Jack.”

“Yes,” Sam confirmed.  “The closer that Colonel O'Neill and Daniel became, the more important it was to give the gossipers something else to talk about.  Eventually, I told them my suspicions ...”

“That they were a couple?”

“Correct,” Sam replied.  “And I offered to be a distraction, so for a number of years now, the colonel and I have played a game at the base.  When things get too hot or the gossip picks up about them, we ... create a scene.  There was a time we had to be more visible about it.  Nowadays, it's calmed down a lot.”

“That explains it,” Sara sighed, nodding as she turned back to look over the water.

“Explains what?”

“Jack and I may be divorced, Sam, but that doesn't stop the grapevine from making sure the gossip spreads.”

“You've heard something,” Sam surmised with a start.  ~Holy crap.~

“From time to time, but I've usually ignored it, until Daniel mentioned you were coordinating the events for the wedding.  I suppose it's been in the back of my mind for years, wondering who Jack would replace me with.”

“It's not me.  Sara, even though I may have fantasized about the colonel over the years, I know we'd kill each other if we ever even tried to have a romantic relationship.  He makes me laugh, but he annoys me at the same time.  He doesn't understand my scientific life.”  Smiling, the major added, “It's been fun sometimes, pretending on the base, but it's a game, and that's all it's ever been.  That's all it ever will be.”

“I hope you find someone who can turn your fantasies into a reality,” Sara responded from her heart.

“I ... like to think that's possible, but I'm pretty much married to my career.  I like what I do and it's hard for a man to understand that.”

“Thank you for your honesty, Sam.”  As Sam nodded, Sara added, “Why don't we keep this conversation where it belongs, between us.”

“Oh, believe me, Sara, I wouldn't know how to even bring this up with the colonel,” Sam mused nervously.

“He is a bit of a bear sometimes.”

“That's an understatement,” Sam responded lightly.

Chuckling, the women decided it was time to join the others.

====

At last, the moment arrived and Jack and Daniel boarded the yacht.  They were smiling brightly, eager and anxious to enjoy the dinner and the cruise down the Gorge Waterway.

Jack saw Sara and smiled.  For a moment, the two were back at their own wedding.  She nodded, and he mouthed, 'Hello'.

Then the colonel caught sight of the man at Sara's side.  It was Mark Wilson, his ex-wife's husband.  For just a moment, there was a look from both of them that said, 'You're just a pretender', but then Jack smiled and nodded.  Before he could lead Daniel over to talk to the Wilsons, Cassandra Fraiser drew their attention away.

“So far, so good,” Sara told her husband, her eyes still on the happy couple.

“So far,” Mark agreed cautiously.

====

Late that evening, Mark held his arm around his wife's waist as they disembarked from the yacht.

“That was a sweet toast you made, Darling,” Mark stated calmly.

“I hope so.  It was awfully quiet in there.”

“Sara, most of the people on this yacht are still surprised we're even here.  This isn't normal.”

“I don't care about normal, Mark.  I never have,” Sara averred, stepping off of the ramp and onto the cement ground.  “I'm glad we came.”  She laughed, “You're not going to agree?”

“Not yet,” Mark replied honestly, nodding towards the car approaching them.  “There's our ride.”

====

“What a wedding,” Mark sighed.

“I saw your eyes, Mark,” Sara replied.  “They were misty.”

“Just this Canadian breeze,” Mark rationalized, trying unsuccessfully to deflect the reason for watering eyes, though he was still grinning at his wife.

Sara smiled and kissed her husband.

“Well, it was a beautiful ceremony,” Mark admitted as his lover gazed into his eyes.

“Do you feel better now, about Jack?”

“I don't know the man, Sara, but he meant a lot to you once, and I can handle that.”

“Excuse me,” Jack interrupted, surprising the couple.  “Mark, thank you for coming.”

The two men shook hands, doing that man stare thing that often happened when Testosterone A evaluated Testosterone B, while B was doing the same thing to A.

“Would you mind if I danced with your wife?” Jack asked politely.

“Ah, Sara?” Mark questioned.

“I'd love to dance, Jack.”  As she began to walk away from her husband, she smiled and handed over her purse.  “I'll be right back.”

“I hope so,” Mark responded and then grimaced that he'd said that out loud.

“Wipe that smug expression off your face, Jack O'Neill,” Sara ordered.  “He's a good man.”

“So you've said,” Jack acknowledged, turning to dance a waltz with his ex-wife.

“Does your husband know we're dancing?”

“It was his idea,” Jack admitted.

“I think I believe you.”

Jack chuckled and pulled the blonde into his personal space.  It had been a long time since they'd danced, or had even stood this close together, even though there was a baby bump between them.  That was something they didn't discuss.  Talking about Charlie as a baby might be risky and neither wanted to chance ruining the wedding.

“Jack, you're enjoying Mark's misery,” Sara scolded, after catching another look Jack gave her husband.

“Like any ex would,” Jack agreed deviously.

“Sometimes I think you two are too much alike,” Sara confided, resting her head on Jack's shoulder.  “But you're only alike in some ways.”

“Are you happy, Sara?”

“Very.”

“I ... I'm sorry about ...”

Pulling her head back, Sara looked up into the eyes of the man who had once been her future and interrupted, “It's okay.  You had to do what you did, but tonight is about new beginnings.  Let the past go, Jack.  I have.”

Jack nodded and twirled Sara around the dance floor in silence while the music continued.  It felt good to hold her again, and as they danced, the more certain both were that this new friendship of theirs had to endure.  Neither knew just how to make that work, but both knew they'd find a way.

“Charlie would be proud of us, Jack,” Sara whispered as the music ended.

The newlywed backed away, took Sara's left hand, and, as he bowed down, kissed it tenderly.

As he raised up, Jack replied tenderly, “I'm proud of us.  Thank you for the dance.”

“Thank you.”

A few seconds passed as the one-time couple shared a contented moment and then Sara returned to her husband, kissing him and sharing the rest of her dances with him.

Jack returned to his husband, happier and more certain than ever that his soulmate was his archaeologist, the blue-eyed genius whose passion and compassion both confounded and astounded him.  That was obvious just from the glimpses that Sara and Mark witnessed throughout the rest of the evening.

====

“I was amazed you didn't hit him when he kissed me,” Sara told her husband as they rode away from the cabin where the wedding had taken place.

“Daniel's an amazing man,” Mark responded.

“I agree, but what does that have to do with Jack kissing me?”

“Daniel's secure in his relationship with Jack,” Mark answered.  “He was actually emotional when Jack became a little emotional, but not in a bad way.  He was feeling Jack's emotions.”

“Mark, what are you getting at?”

“They were glad we came, and Daniel's not jealous of you one bit,” the man pointed out.

“Of course, he's not.”

“Sara, it wouldn't be the first time someone was jealous of their significant other's ex-whatever, but Daniel's not.  I saw it in his eyes, the calm and certainty.”

Sara nodded, knowing what her husband meant.  She saw the same thing in Jack's eyes.

“I'm not worried anymore,” Mark confessed.

“Worried?”

“Sara, I just faced off with the legendary Jack O'Neill,” Mark stated.  “Even your dad loves the guy, when he doesn't hate him for turning away from you.”

“They were good friends, until ...”

Mark put his arm around Sara's shoulders and drew her close as he admitted, “A part of me has always wondered if you'd go back to him, if he asked.”

“Mark!”

“I have my answer now.”

“Well, that's good, but I've had my answer about that for years,” Sara put forth, somewhat annoyed and a whole lot amazed at her husband's confession.

“The great Jack O'Neill is just another guy who had issues,” Mark asserted quietly.  “He loves Daniel, and you love me.”

“Thank you for noticing,” Sara sighed, shaking her head against Mark's shoulder.

“Are you mad?”

Sara sighed thoughtfully and then answered, “No, but I hope you're over this competition thing.  I told you, Mark.  I want Jack and Daniel in our lives, for Charlie's sake, and I don't care what people think about that.”

Mark leaned in to give his wife a kiss and declared, “I love you, Sara Wilson, and if you want Jack and Daniel to be part of our social circle, I'm in.”

“Oh!”

“What?” Mark asked urgently, seeing Sara's hands go to her belly.

“He or she just kicked,” Sara chuckled.  “Feel.”

Taking Mark's hands, the couple enjoyed the newness of life that would soon be upon them.  Conversation about Jack and Daniel ceased, and the rest of their time in Canada was spent talking about their family and their future.
//End of Flashback//

~That was quite a trip, Charlie, and I wouldn't change a moment of it,~ Sara told the image of her dead son in her mind.  ~I'm not sure why this is so important, but whatever the reason, this dinner is going to be a success.~

Sara began to blink and finally fell asleep, her mind feeling hopeful and peaceful after replaying so much in her mind.

====
--July 29, 2004
====

“Mark, that's them,” Sara called out excitedly as she hurried to the mirror to check her hair and makeup.  She turned to her husband anxiously and asked, “How do I look?”

“Beautiful,” Mark replied honestly.  He went to the door, smiling as his smartly dressed wife followed, but remained a few steps behind him.  Opening the door, he greeted, “Jack, Daniel, welcome.  Come in, please.”

Jack nodded and walked in, smiling as he headed for his ex-wife.  He started to kiss her politely, but then wondered if he should just give her a peck on the cheek.  Sara went through the same uncertainty, resulting in the two of them making tiny lunges in the opposite places.

Finally, the one-time married couple laughed and shared a chaste kiss on the lips.

“Hello, Jack.”

“You look beautiful, Sara,” Jack responded.

“Daniel, I'm so glad you two could join us this evening,” Sara greeted warmly, walking over to hug the archaeologist.

“Thank you for the invitation,” Daniel acknowledged, returning the hug a bit tentatively, especially since he was a tad nervous.

“Where's Angie?”

“Jack, you know what her name is,” Sara rebuked.

“Where's Angie?” the colonel repeated, totally undeterred by the reprimand.

*Angela* is with Mike.”

“All night?” the disappointed dinner guest sighed.

“To be honest, Jack, I wasn't sure if you were ready to see Mike again.”

~She has a point; I don't think I'm his favorite person these days,~ Jack thought.  “So, what's for dinner?” he asked brightly, rubbing his hands together.  He sniffed the air, searching for the aroma of Italian and being disappointed.  “Not Italian?”

“I thought we'd have steak,” Mark interjected, immediately drawing Jack's curious stare.

“Steak?” the colonel questioned, his eyebrows raised with curiosity.  ~It's going to be like that, is it?~

“Barbecue steak,” Mark elaborated.

“Barbecue, huh?” Jack questioned, raising his shoulders and reaching over to tug on his blazer as he took a couple of steps towards his host.  “What kind of coals do you use?”

“Come see,” Mark invited, nodding towards the patio door and then leading Jack out.

“Daniel, how are you with salads?” Sara queried as she watched her current and ex-husbands walk out to the backyard.

“I've tossed a few.”

Tugging on his elbow, the blonde requested, “Help me out in the kitchen.”

Daniel followed Sara into the kitchen, looking around to take in the setup.

“Here you go,” the woman stated, reaching into the refrigerator for some of the ingredients.  “Everything else is there on the counter.”

The archaeologist nodded and began to work on the salad.

Glancing over at her guest for a minute, Sara mused, “How much testosterone do you figure is being exuded out there?”

“Oh, I'd say a lot,” Daniel chuckled, breaking off romaine lettuce into the bowl in front of him.
 
“I'm surprised Jack didn't wear his dress blues.”

“I hid them,” the archaeologist replied smugly.

Sara turned to face her guest and chuckled, “You didn't?”

“I did, along with all of his medals and decorations,” Daniel affirmed with a bob of his head.  “Not that it's a competition or anything.”

“Tell that to Mark,” Sara sighed, shaking her head.  “I wanted to make lasagna, but he insisted on steak.”

“Barbecued,” Daniel added with a smile.

“Maybe we should just let them punch each other a few times and get it over with.”

“That could happen,” Daniel stated lightly.

“Boys will be boys,” the woman retorted.

“I don't know about yours, but mine is ...” Daniel stopped, suddenly wondering if he was about to say something inappropriate or that would make Sara uncomfortable.

“Daniel, Jack is yours.  If there had ever been any doubt, that was erased at your wedding.  He only had eyes for you,” Sara asserted.  “Thank you for the dance, by the way.  It was healing.”

“The dance?” Daniel echoed.  His mind searched for the reference and made the connection back to the wedding, when he'd suggested to his husband that Jack dance with Sara.  “Oh, it ... seemed like a natural thing to do.”

“Most spouses wouldn't agree,” Sara opined.  She continued to peel the potatoes in preparation for boiling and subsequent mashing, but she paused for a moment to look at her kitchen helper.  “It's not normal.”

“Jack and I don't believe in normal.”

“Neither do I,” Sara replied.

“What about Mark?”

“He's learning.”  Sara's expression turned into a coy smile and in seconds, the two both chuckled.  “Daniel, I'm not sure why, but there's an urgent need inside of me for the four of us to be friends.”

“Charlie,” Daniel dared to assert.

“Yes, and I just know it's so.”  Sara sighed, “Jack was in so much pain when our son died.  It drove us apart until there just wasn't anything connecting us anymore.  I keep hearing my son's voice in my head, saying, 'Mom, come on.  It's Dad.  You're both okay now.  Be friends.'”

Daniel nodded, not discounting the woman's words in the least.  In his history with his lover, a couple of strange, unexplainable events had occurred with Charlie, or Charlie's memory.  He certainly wasn't about to say that he and Jack were sane and Sara wasn't just because she'd heard her son's voice.

“Do you think I'm crazy?”

“No, not at all,” Daniel returned without hesitation.  “In a way, Jack's heard the same thing.  It's just ... going to take some ... adjustment.”

“That's what tonight is about.”

Nodding, the archaeologist put forth, “If Jack and Mark don't kill each other, the rest of it should be a ... a ...”

Sara laughed and then both she and Daniel said together, “... piece of cake.”

====

“Very ... fancy,” Jack observed about Mark's professional barbecue setup.

“It gets the job done, Jack.”

“Where's the personal touch?”

“Right here,” Mark boasted while pointing to his chest.  “The chef.”

“Chef?” Jack questioned with a nod.  “I like the challenge of a Weber.”

“For the amateur,” Mark challenged with a nod, enjoying the scowl on Jack's face.

Quietly, Jack continued to examine the shiny cooking device, walking slowly around the standing appliance.  He noticed a space in the back that made him a little envious.

“Rotisserie?”

“Makes the best tasting chicken you've ever had in your life,” Mark proclaimed proudly.

“Yes, well, it's nice,” Jack praised.  ~Puts my little Weber to shame.~

Mark grinned, pleased with how the evening was going thus far.

====

“You like sauce,” Jack observed as Mark layered on the juicy, dark red liquid.

“Want yours dry?”

“No, no, but I tend to go a little lighter on my steaks; let the natural juices of the steak bubble and ...”

“According to Sara, your juices are more like the desert, arid and shriveled.”

“Sara talks too much,” Jack quipped.

A bit of tension filled the outdoor air as the two men stared at each other for a moment.

“You don't burn your steaks?” Mark challenged, daring his adversary to deny the truth.

“I make them well done.”

Mark nodded as he continued to apply the sauce liberally.  He looked over at Jack, seeing the grimace.  He didn't care.  Anything that was making the colonel squirm a little was worth it, even if it did mean the steaks were a little over saucy.

====

“Nice yard,” Jack praised as he looked around the spacious area.

“We like it,” Mark responded.

“Lots of room for a dog or two.”

“Maybe someday,” Mark replied nonchalantly.

Twisting around, Jack opined, “Every kid needs a dog.”

“Angela's a baby, Jack.  The only dog she needs right now is that stuffed one you gave her when she was born.”

“Don't you like dogs, Wilson?” Jack challenged, taking on a military stance and tone.

“I love dogs, O'Neill,” Mark responded in kind.  “But I'm a little too busy right now to clean up after one of them.”

“If you have time to mow the lawn, you have time for a little pooper scooping.”

“I'm sure you know what it costs to care for dogs properly -- food, shots, toys.  We just had a baby.  The budget is shot for a while.”

“Want a loan?” Jack quipped.  “I'm sure Sara will vouch for you.”

“We're doing nicely, thank you,” Mark bristled through the politeness of his words.

“Glad to hear it,” Jack returned.  “So about Angie's dogs ...”

“Snoopy and Doofus,” Mark chimed, referring to a smaller stuffed dog from the Peanuts comic strip and Doofus, his impromptu name for the beast of a stuffed dog that Jack had given to his daughter when she was born.  “They'll have to do for now.”

~Doofus?  This is war!~  Walking forward until the only distance between he and his adversary was the highfalutin barbecue set, Jack proclaimed, “Dogs are vital to the happiness of any good home.”

“They also bring fleas, and that's not good for babies.”

Jack glared at Mark, though his gut had conflicting emotions.  He really wasn't sure if Mark was being a hard case for real, or if he was just trying to yank Jack's chain.

“Sara loves dogs.”

“She loves me, too,” Mark smirked as he flipped over a steak, the sizzling sound loud and a bit grating, just as he intended for it to be.

“Even Sara isn't perfect,” Jack growled over the sizzling steaks.

====

Sara and Mark were giving Jack and Daniel a tour of their home while the food finished cooking.  Jack had paused numerous times to stare at the photos of Charlie, each one bringing back a flood of memories of his cherished son.

“This is just your average garage,” Sara chuckled.

“Still doing your own maintenance?” Jack asked his ex-wife.

“Quite a bit,” Sara acknowledged.

“I should bring the truck over; needs new brakes,” Jack teased.

“I have time.”

~What a woman.~  Jack smiled at Sara, amazed at her abilities and the comment.  “Maybe I'll do that.”  He walked over to admire some of the tools stored in the garage.  “Nice equipment.”

“Thank you,” Mark responded graciously.

“You play tennis?” Jack inquired, seeing some racquets and balls.

Unable to resist, the colonel opened a tube of three green balls and began to juggle them.  It had been a spontaneous action, one done without any forethought at all.

Sara and Daniel looked at each other and smiled, while Mark watched for several seconds and then remarked, “That's great; just like a real clown.”

The three balls fell to the ground as Jack forgot what he was doing and glared at his smirking host.

“Clowns are some of my favorite people; they know how to laugh.”

“Okay,” Daniel interjected.  “Sara, can I help you check on the food in the kitchen?”

“Thank you, Daniel,” Sara responded, agreeing that the tour of the house had just ended.  As the two walked inside, leaving the other two spouses alone, she queried, “You didn't happen to bring any smelling salts with you?”

“No, but Jack could use a good nap.”

The two chuckled as they entered the kitchen.

“That was a good idea, to get out of the garage.”

“Jack won't hit him unless you're watching,” a smiling Daniel quipped.

“You know, it's a little ... fun to be at the center of this.”

“Yeah.”  Daniel nodded while elaborating, “Guilty pleasure.”

“He can go overboard in the jealousy department,” Sara agreed.

“I always tell him not to waste his energy on jealousy.”

“But ...”

“It's caused a lot of problems,” Daniel confided, sighing as he remembered various jealousy incidences over the years, some of which had nearly caused the couple to split up.

“But?” Sara prodded knowingly.

“But,” Daniel sighed, “somewhere down deep inside, it feels good to know someone cares so much.”  He smiled at Sara and asserted, “He'll always love you, Sara.”

“I'll always love him, but you know what I know,” Sara responded.

“Yes.”

“We're lucky, Daniel,” the woman continued.  “We've both loved before, and been loved,  and now we have something we probably never knew we could.”

“A soulmate.”

With a nod, Sara expounded, “That's why we're making jokes and teasing, and I'm so happy about that.  I meant what I said earlier.  It's the four of us, Daniel.  I want us to be a family as much as we can be.”

“Me, too,” Daniel agreed sincerely, even though it was a fact that still confused him.  ~She's pretty terrific, Jack.  I understand why you fell in love with her.~

====

Finally, the two couples sat down for dinner at the circular table in the dining area, which was situated between the living room and the kitchen.  By chance, Jack and Mark ended up sitting opposite each other, leaving Sara and Daniel across from each other.  It had been a small battle over seats, and neither Sara nor Daniel chose to make an issue of the unusual sitting arrangement, although they did share some eye rolling at their husbands' antics.

With all the food on the table, including a platter full of hot steaks, Sara reached over and selected her steak first, as the gentlemen waited politely.  With the platter back on the table surface, Mark nodded to Jack to take his piece.

“After you,” Jack returned.

“You're our guest.”

“But the man who sweated so hard over the steaks should get the best one,” the colonel suggested.

The two men continued on like this until Sara finally ordered sternly, “Just take one.”

By habit, both men responded, “Yes, Dear,” and reached over with their forks to take their steak.

Daniel eyes went from Jack's to Mark's and back again.  As luck would have it, both had chosen the exact same piece of meat, and now the two were engaged in an intense face off.

“Oh, for crying out loud,” Sara groaned.  “Mark!”  Still, the two men who cared for the same woman continued their glares.  Both still had their hands on their forks.  “Jack, please.”

Finally, Daniel took his knife, leaned forward a bit, and cut the steak into two halves.

Jack and Mark broke out into laughter, each pulling their half of the steak to their plates.

“That's my husband, the skilled negotiator,” Jack stated with a huge smile.  “He's very talented.”

“I have to be with you around,” Daniel replied, rolling his eyes.

Then the couples began to eat.  Cautiously, Jack cut his first piece of steak.  He examined it, bringing it up to eye level and turning it all around so he could see every angle.  Slowly, he brought it towards his lips, pausing as if to sniff the final product.  Finally, he put the steak into his mouth and slowly began to chew, though he paused here and there.

Mark watched the ritualistic scouring with great curiosity.  He was confident in his steak, though he was sure Jack was about to punch a hole in his barbecue abilities.

“Well?” Mark questioned upon seeing Jack glower upon completing the first bite.

“It's a little underdone and more over-sauced than I like, but it's a good quality steak,” Jack critiqued.  “I'd give it a 'B'.”

“'B'?” Mark groused.

“Mark,” Sara called out, a stern expression of 'leave it alone' on her face.

“It gives you something to shoot for,” Jack told the man across from him.  “There's also hope for improvement.”

Sara shook her head, while Daniel smiled, his lips not parting.  He knew he shouldn't smile, but it was that or laugh.

“Now what I like to do is ...”

Daniel closed his eyes for a brief moment.  He felt a little sorry for Mark, who was trying, but was destined to lose the barbecue battle, especially now that Jack was going full tilt with his Barbecue 101 lesson plan.  All the archaeologist could hope for was that by the time his husband finished with his oration, Mark would be so bored that he'd let the topic die out.

Fortunately for everyone, that's exactly what happened.

====

Having survived dinner, the foursome was in the living room, enjoying coffee and some after dinner mints when there was a knock on the door.  Sara rose and went to the door, opening it.

“Mike.”

“Sorry, Honey, she's a bit fussy,” Mike announced, his arms full of baby Angela and a large shoulder bag hanging at his side.

“Aw, Angela,” Sara sighed lovingly, taking the baby into her arms.

The mother turned and walked into the living room, smiling and tending to her sweet baby.  Mike entered and was greeted by Mark, who took the shoulder bag full of baby things and placed them in the corner for the time being.

“Jack.”

Jack's eyes had been totally focused on Sara and the newborn.  His heart was fluttering with memories of her holding Charlie.  All of a sudden, he couldn't breathe.  He hadn't expected this.  He'd seen Angela before, but not in this type of environment, during a normal, family-style dinner, surrounded by pictures on the mantle and recollections of an old life.

“You're beautiful, Sara,” Jack whispered, unable to prevent the words from escaping his lips.  “Our son was very lucky to have you as his mother.”  He hadn't realized he'd said those comments out loud until he saw all the faces looking at him.  “Excuse me.”

Jack bolted by Mike and walked swiftly out the front door.

“Uh, I'll be right back,” Daniel spoke, getting up to follow his lover.  “Excuse me.”

“Daniel,” Mark called out.  “Would you mind?”

Feeling protective of his husband, Daniel hesitated in responding.  All evening, Jack and Mark had continued gently baiting each other and although Jack could normally take care of himself, this was a vulnerable moment for him.  However, there was something in Mark's request and a look in his eyes that spoke of compassion and maybe a need to make things right.  The archaeologist had to make a choice, to trust Mark Wilson or not to, and if he didn't trust Mark now, how could he agree to let the man raise his children?

“Um, no, okay, sure,” the archaeologist stammered.  Watching Mark head outside, Daniel sighed, ~I hope I made the right decision.~

“Is that an indication of how the evening has gone?” Mike asked.

“Mike,” Sara sighed.  She looked at Daniel and smiled softly.  “I'm sorry if I upset him.”

“Memories,” Daniel responded succinctly.

“I've had to deal with that, too.  I didn't think Jack would have that same reaction.  It's a deja vu and then you wonder what you could have done to change the unchangeable.”

Mike walked over to his daughter and put his arm around her shoulder.  Both looked at Angela, who was still fussing a bit.

“Maybe she's hungry?” Daniel questioned, having no clue about anything concerning babies.

“Maybe,” Sara agreed, staring tentatively at the front door.

====

Outside in the front yard, Jack was leaning over the passenger side of Daniel's silver sports car.  His head was bowed as he stared down at the ground.  His pain was obvious.

Slowly, Mark approached, stopping about a yard away and to Jack's right.

“In Angela's first month, Sara had a lot of sleepless nights,” Mark stated, not getting a response.  “She cried a lot, and she had a few nightmares.  She jumped at loud noises.  They reminded her of the shot.”

Jack's head abruptly turned to face Mark.  Raising the issue of how Charlie died was something he wasn't sure he was going to be able to deal with, not with Mark.

“I can't imagine what you feel, Jack, anymore than I know the torture Sara went through,” Mark stated, his voice soft and sincere.  “It's my worst fear.”

“You have a gun?” Jack questioned, his voice not as steady as Mark's.

“No.  I had one when Sara and I first met, but after hearing what happened, when things got serious, I got rid of it.  I wouldn't put her through that again.”

Jack nodded as he turned around and leaned against the car.  He covered his face with the palms of his hands and then slowly moved them downward, taking a huge breath as he did.

“When we brought Charlie home, I knew that's what life was about,” Jack stated in a near whisper.  “The joy of life, and Sara and I had made that life.  I promised him; I promised Sara that I'd always protect them.  I broke that promise.”

Mark saw Jack look away and from the sound of his voice and the expression he'd seen a second ago, he guessed Jack had at least one tear in his eye, if not more.

“Jack, I'm not going to say a lot of senseless platitudes.  What happened, happened.  I am going to take issue with what you said, though, because from what Sara tells me, you did take care of your family.”

The astonished colonel stared at the man in surprise, totally amazed by the comment.

“While Sara was pregnant with Angela, I considered that word -- protection -- a great deal.  What does it mean?”

“It means not leaving your gun around so your son can pick it up and blow his brains out,” Jack answered sarcastically.

“Okay, I'll give you that, but is that all it means?”

“What are you getting at, Wilson?” Jack asked gruffly, not in the mood for games, especially semantic ones.

“If you read the dictionary, it talks about defending against attacks, invasions, losses, and that kind of thing.  Economically, it deals with preventing foreign competition by imposing import duties.  In sports, its protecting your position.”

“Are you going to keep going with this reading of the dictionary?  I know what the word means.”

“Literally maybe,” Mark surprised Jack in replying.  “But the word is more than black and white, Jack.  It's full of color.  Protecting my family means more to me than making sure they don't hurt themselves and that we have money in the bank.  Yes, that's a big part of it, but you know what really matters?”  He waited, giving Jack a chance to respond, though that didn't happen.  “You saw it, in the living room.”

“Saw what?”

“Sara, holding our baby.  You saw her smile, that ... little twinkle in her eye, and you felt that in that moment, Sara had everything she needed.  She had love.  She *has* love.”

Blinking a couple of times, Jack was curious about the man's comments, but he still wasn't quite comprehending the message.

Walking to stand right beside the colonel, Mark elaborated, “Sara loved you, Jack.  She still does.  She has a lot of regrets, but she doesn't live in them.  I'm not going to talk about your split up, but you both got hurt.”  He looked down thoughtfully for a moment and put his hands in his pockets.  “I used to worry that she wanted you back.  Every time the phone rang, I wondered if it might be you.  I have to admit that even at your wedding to Daniel, I wasn't sure at first if maybe you wouldn't see Sara and ... run off with her.”

“If I were going to do that, I would have done it a long time ago,” Jack returned quietly.

“You have regrets, too.”

“I don't pretend to be the smartest man in the world,” Jack replied.

“That's obvious.”

Jack stared at the man, and then he saw Mark's smile.  It was a joke, and somehow, it eased the tension.

“Crossroads, Jack.  In another time and place, maybe you and Sara would have survived; maybe you would have gotten back together, but you didn't, and that's the reality.  Do you two still love each other?  Heck, yes, but it's okay because there's all kinds of love out there.  I can deal with your love, Jack, because Sara is mine, by choice, and the love we have isn't going to end.  It's eternal.”

Jack smiled and added, “That's how it is with Danny and me.  It's forever and always.”

“He knows.”

“He's been the aggressor in getting me talking to Sara again.  Yes, he knows, but he knows what you do, too,” Jack responded.

“That you're soulmates,” Mark stated.  With a broad smile, “Jack, that's my point.  We've been huffing and puffing around here all night in a silly game of male ego when the truth is that there isn't a game to be played.”

“That's why Daniel's been hanging out with Sara,” Jack mused.

“We talk about Charlie, Jack, and I want you to know that it's okay to have those memories here,” Mark pointed back to his house, “and around me.  We plan to tell Angela all about him; we already have, and telling Angela about Charlie, means telling her about Charlie's father.”

“I was gone a lot,” Jack confided.  “Seeing Sara in there, it just blew me out of the water.  I ... felt him.”

“Sara says she feels Charlie's presence all the time.”

“Yeah?” Jack asked, seeing Mark's nod.  “That's good to know.”

“You loved Sara and Charlie, Jack, and you gave them love.  Maybe that specific love wasn't forever, and maybe it wasn't perfect, but I don't know of a perfect love out there, not literally.  Love changes sometimes and sometimes it just shifts into another alignment.”

Mark paused for just a second, wanting his words to be of help and not misconstrued in any way.  What he was saying was coming from his heart.  He felt Jack's pain as much as any outsider could.  He realized now that more than ever before, he liked Jack O'Neill, and he thought they really could be friends, no matter how odd that may look to the world around them.

“In my book, you saw to it that your family was happy and living in love and that means you protected them.”  Mark blinked and then patted Jack on the arm supportively.  “I won't ever shortchange your nightmare, but now it's time to move forward.  You and Daniel want to have children.  I have a hunch those kids won't ever see the barrel of a gun, not in your home, and you can rest assured, they won't in our home, either.”

Jack let out a huge whiff of air.  He felt very drained, but all the fight was gone from his body.

“If you ever hurt her, I'll track you down, and it won't be pleasant.”

Mark grinned and responded, “And you're still standing, Colonel, because I promised my wife that I wouldn't ruin my new suit.”

“New?”

“Just like the barbecue.”

Suddenly, Jack laughed and then mused, “Geez, male testosterone is crazy.”

“Sara would agree.”

“Daniel would agree, too,” Jack added humorously.  “I'd have you down in one round.”

“You wouldn't make it through the round.”

“I happen to know a little boxing ring where we can put that to the test,” Jack challenged.  ~He doesn't have the nerve.~

“Name the day and time.”

~Oy,~ Jack thought.  “I'll check my calendar.”  As the men headed toward the front door, he opined, “You're okay, Wilson.”

“So are you, O'Neill.”  Mark stopped and reached out his hand, saying, “Welcome to the family.”

Shaking Mark's hand, Jack smiled and nodded.

====

“How's she doing?” Mark inquired, walking over to his wife and baby.

“Still fussy.”

“You okay?” Daniel asked his husband quietly.

“Yeah,” Jack answered convincingly.  “Uh, Danny, this is ...” he began, pointing over at Sara's father.

“We've met,” Mike stated, having been properly introduced to Daniel while Jack had been outside with Mark.

~If looks could kill,~ Jack observed about Mike's stare.  ~Moving on.~  With a smile, he walked over to Angela's parents and asked, “May I?”

“Of course,” Sara permitted, handing over her baby girl to her ex-husband.

“Hey, Angie.  This is your Uncle Jack,” Jack told the little girl who quieted and began to coo softly.  “I understand you've been hearing about your big brother, Charlie.  I have some stories for you, too.”

“Mark, she's not fussing anymore,” Sara whispered with a smile.  ~I should be shocked, but I'm not.  My daughter feels your goodness, Jack, and your love.~

“Love's a powerful thing, Darling,” Mark asserted, placing his arm around Sara's waist.

The two sat down, as did Daniel.  Mike was already seated as he watched Jack skeptically.

“So, he decided to reach into the big bowl of oatmeal and ...” Jack continued, telling his story to his captive audience and feeling an incredible power within him, one he couldn't quite define but was pleased to have.

====

“Jack, you need to talk to him,” Daniel stated quietly to his husband.

Sara was putting Angela to bed, and Mark had just stood to answer the phone, which left the lovers alone with Mike.  Feeling a bit at odds with his former son-in-law, the man had gone into the kitchen, ostensibly for coffee, though it was really just to be out of the room.

“He hates me.”

“Wouldn't you?” Daniel questioned pointedly, raising his eyebrows when his husband stared at him in surprise.

Letting out a sigh and patting his knees a couple of times, Jack stood.

====

“No coffee?” the general asked when he saw Mike staring out the kitchen window.  “She's happy now, Mike.”

“No thanks to you,” Mike pointed out as he turned to face off with the general. “I told you not to hurt her, but you did anyway.  Why?  Because of pride.”

“No,” Jack denied.  “It wasn't pride, Mike.  I wasn't any good for anyone, and I know that's a cliché, but when Charlie died, I checked out of this world.”

“And you came back.”

~Crap.  Wonder what Sara told him about that alien who pretended to be me?~ Jack wondered, having to decide how to handle this tricky situation.  “I was ... sick,” he explained off the top of his head.  ~Hope that works.~

“You looked healthy to me.”

~What did Sara tell me that I, he, did?~  Jack searched his brain for a convincing reply.  “You call ... walking around the house like a zombie healthy?”  He saw the pointed stare.  “Yeah, I guess that's what I did for a long time, anyway.  Okay, Mike, here's the deal.  I was scum.  I treated Sara like dirt after Charlie's death.  I wouldn't talk to her; crap, I barely acknowledged her existence.  Then I found life again, and it wasn't even my own idea.”

“Daniel, right?” Mike questioned.  “I know the story, Jack.  Sara's told me enough.”

Jack let out a sound, looking away for a moment, before looking straight into Mike's eyes and asked, “You were always a straight shooter, Mike.  You don't have a problem with ... Daniel and me, as a couple, do you?”

“He seems like a nice man.  Sara thinks he's a saint, but then she was married to you.”

“Ouch!” Jack quipped.  “Let's put it all on the table.  I screwed up.  I lost the best woman on this planet.  I love her, Mike.  I will always ... love Sara.  Our son,” he looked away, becoming choked up, “was the single best thing in my life.  It killed me when he died.  I should have been there for Sara, but I bailed, and I can't changed that.  Like it or not, we've moved on.  I've got Daniel, and she has an incredible guy who loves her and is better for her than I ever was.  You've got an upgrade in son-in-laws, so how about we play nice, if only for their sake?”

“Why did you come back here that time?  Why did you hurt her again?”

“It's complicated, but I didn't know what I was doing.  I swear to you, if I could have stopped ... myself from disrupting Sara's life, I would have, but I couldn't.  I ... was sick, and she helped get me through.  Just call me selfish.”

Mike evaluated the man in front of him for a moment and responded, “Actually, Jack, that set her free.  She hasn't told me the whole story.”  He let out a chortle and noted, “She lied for you; backed you up; claimed it was some military thing, but ... when it was done, she was ready to move on, not before a lot of tears, though.”

“She wasn't alone,” Jack interjected as a whisper.

“You're right about one thing,” Mike began.  “Mark's devoted to Sara.”  He let out a sigh and added, “Jack, I always liked you.  Maybe that's why I'm having a hard time with this.  You loved her as much as she loved you.  I just don't understand why you walked out on her.”

“I walked out on Jack, Mike,” Sara interrupted, entering the kitchen.  “Jack went on a mission and when he came back, it was over for us.”

“I checked out long before that, Sara,” Jack reminded.

“Yes, you did, but I was the one who made the separation happen.  The truth is, Jack, it doesn't matter anymore who left who.  Maybe we can just say that we left each other.”

“That works,” Jack agreed quietly.

Sara reached out and grabbed her father's hand, smiling as she stated, “Mike, I'm so happy now, and so is Jack, with Daniel.  We're friends now, and that's how Charlie wants it.  I'd really like it, if you'd not fight that.”

Mike groaned, but then he smiled as he nodded his assent to his daughter.  He laughed as she kissed him on the cheek, her hands around his arm as she then leaned up close to him.

“I think Daniel's probably feeling a little lonely in the living room, so ...”

“Yeah, I'm ready,” Jack mused, smiling at Sara and giving Mike one more look before leading the way back into the Wilson living room.

====

“Thank you so much for the dinner,” Daniel spoke appreciatively as he and his lover prepared to leave.

“It was a pleasure,” Sara responded.

“Next time, it's back to our place,” Jack interjected with a smile.

“Thank you for getting Angela to sleep.”

“You know me, Sara, just a lot of hot air.”

“Whatever it was, she loved it,” Sara stated, following up her remark with a kiss on Jack's cheek.

“Mark,” Jack stated, shaking the man's hand.  “Thank you.”

Mark nodded and reminded his new friend, “I'll call you about that boxing match.”

“You do that,” Jack responded.  He looked over at Sara's father and reached out his hand.  With sincerity showing in his brown eyes, he stated, “Mike, it was good to see you again.”

Mike stared at Jack's hand and then reached out, taking it slowly and then allowing the shake to happen.  His daughter had moved on, and she was happier than ever.  Life was too short to carry a grudge.

“Take care, Jack.”

“You, too, Mike.”

The good-byes continued for another minute or so and then Jack and Daniel left the Wilson home.

“Thanks for the coffee,” Mike told his daughter before leaving the house as well.

“Mark, you aren't really going to box Jack, are you?”

“Sure,” Mark affirmed.  “Relax, Honey.  It's all in fun.”

“Is it?”

Mark nodded thoughtfully and then asserted, “We have an understanding now.”

“And what is that exactly?”

“We both believe in love,” Mark answered cryptically.  “Let's lock up and go to bed.  I'm tired.”

Mark kissed his wife on the forehead and then proceeded to make sure the house was secure.

Sara smiled and headed for the stairs.  She stopped first to look at a picture of Charlie.

“Thank you, Son.  I'm not sure how you did it, but something tells me that you did.  We'll be okay now.”

Feeling a warmth inside and all around her, a serene Sara headed upstairs to prepare for bed.

====

“Are you going to tell me?” Daniel asked as he drove his Shelby-American vehicle.

“Tell you what?”

“What you and Mark talked about,” the younger man clarified.

“Family,” Jack answered.

“Oh, well, that tells me a lot.”

Jack chuckled, “He just pointed out what we had in common.”

“Sara?”

“Soulmates,” Jack corrected, reaching over to pat his Love's thigh.  “The past is a dangerous place to go, Danny.  I went there tonight for a while, but then I was blasted back to the present, and that's where I want to be.”  Looking at his lover, he left his hand on the thigh, squeezing gently one time as an emphasis.  “I love you, Angel.”

“I know that,” Daniel assured.  “And I love you, too.”

“When I saw Sara holding Angie, I flashbacked big time,” Jack sighed.  “Huge, honkin' guilt trip.”

“That's what I thought.”

“Mark's a good guy, Danny.  Sara's found herself a ...”

“Soulmate?”

“Yeah,” Jack chuckled, patting Daniel's thigh again and laughing.  “We made the right choice, asking them to take care of our kids, if that time comes.”

“I believe that, too.”

“What did you and Sara talk about tonight?” Jack inquired curiously.

With a smile, Daniel answered, “Soulmates.”

Jack leaned his head back and laughed out loud.  He felt good, very good, about renewing a relationship with his ex-wife.  The awkwardness was going away, and in between the challenge of the steaks and the emotion associated with Sara holding a newborn, had been a lot of stimulating conversation and shared humor.  There was promise in the future and that warmed his heart.

“I think Charlie was there.”

“I think so, too,” Daniel concurred.

“I love you, Angel, to the moon and back and beyond.”

“I love you, Babe, forever and always,” the younger man declared in response.

“Always and forever,” Jack returned from his soul.

Jack smiled as Daniel increased the speed they were traveling in the shiny sports car.  He knew what his Love was thinking.  It was time to get home and explore their nation of two to the heights of ecstasy and bliss.  It would be one very long and memorable night, and he couldn't wait for it to begin.

~~Finis - Finished - Done - The End - But is it ever Really?~~

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