The Unexpected Turns of Life and Death 


Jack sighed as he checked his reflection in the mirror of his bedroom. His dark suit was as immaculate as his dress uniform was when he wore it, and a part of his brain acknowledged that he looked pretty good in the rarely-worn outfit. The rest of him, however, worried over how the sad day was going to go. One of his neighbors, Harold Pierce, had died a few days ago, and the funeral was later that morning. The grieving widow had tearfully requested his presence; there had been no way to turn her down and still feel good about himself. Besides, he’d liked the old man. The two of them had shared fishing stories on Jack’s rare days off.

But the more important reasons for attending the funeral were currently running around their bedroom, if Jack was correctly interpreting the different thumps coming from that direction. The Air Force colonel sighed as he gave his black tie one last adjustment. He’d gladly taken in his two teammates when they’d been “chronologically reversed” - Bill Lee had looked proud of coming up with that particular terminology when he’d said it for the first time - and didn’t really regret the past six months of being Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson’s daddy. He wanted their adult selves back more than anything, however, and it was that thought and that thought alone that kept him from retiring. He needed to be on site to keep the fire under people’s butts, and to be on top of any advances as they were developed.

Over the time that the kids had been with him, Jack had become increasingly indebted to the Pierces. They insisted on watching the “twins” - Sam and Daniel were now both three years old, and they looked strikingly similar - to free up Jack to take care of little tasks around the house or quick little shopping trips. “We know how much faster and easier these things are without little ones getting caught underfoot,” Maggie Pierce had said the second time she and her husband had volunteered for babysitting duty. As for Sam and Daniel, they loved the Pierces. They called them “Grandma” and “Grandpa”, and yelled to them every time they saw the older couple outside. And they both cried when Jack explained that Grandpa Harold had gone away and wouldn’t be coming back. In fact, Jack had been surprised by the ease at which both children had come to an understanding about it all. Like all the scientists in the mountain had said, their adult memories were probably underneath it all somewhere. They just weren’t accessing them right now.

One loud thump brought Jack back to himself, and he hurried down the hall to the bedroom the kids shared. He’d offered early on to make his downstairs den into another bedroom so they could both have their own, but Sam and Daniel had panicked at the suggestion. Ever since the accident that had left them so young, they had become extremely attached to each other, not liking to do anything alone unless absolutely necessary. Every time they had cried at the SGC before Lee and the rest of the scientists had figured out a way to do their tests with both kids in the room had both Jack and Teal’c seething with anger and a fierce desire to do great bodily harm to those people on P9C-483 that were the cause of the whole mess. The Jaffa hid it better, of course. Thankfully, just being in the same room, or within sight of one another was enough to keep them calm.

Two sunlight-haired imps stopped mid-jump when Jack threw open the door, giggles quickly following their flop onto their beds. “Mornin’, Daddy Jack,” Sam said sweetly, batting her eyes innocently.

“Mornin’, Jack,” Daniel echoed softly, smiling widely.

“What have I told you about jumping on your beds?” Jack asked wearily.

“It’s a no-no,” Daniel replied immediately, nodding knowingly.

Sam nodded, too. “If we fall we get owies.”

Jack’s eyebrows rose. “Then why were you doing it?”

The children looked at each other for a moment. “We forgotted,” Sam said solemnly.

“We watched-ed out, like you always say to,” Daniel offered in what Jack was sure was supposed to be a reassuring tone.

“I can see that, since neither of you are in pieces. But I’m thinking you both need to try a little harder to remember in the future.” The silver-haired man fought hard to keep from laughing as he received two utterly serious expressions on rounded, tiny faces in return to his gentle admonishment. “Okay,” he continued once he was sure a snicker wouldn’t escape upon opening his mouth, “now you both know what we have to do today?”

There was a long moment of silence Jack had difficulty interpreting before Daniel met his gaze. “We hafta say goodbye to Grandpa Harold,” the boy whispered sadly. Sam sighed and nodded her agreement.

Jack inwardly flinched at the children’s obvious sorrow. He wished he could have let them keep the happy mood he’d walked in on, but Daniel’s wording told why they all needed to go. They needed to say goodbye.

“Will Teal’c come with us?” Sam asked, cocking her head to the side.

“No, he’s staying at the mountain. He didn’t really know Harold, and he wouldn’t feel comfortable.” Not that Jack didn’t want the big guy there. Having another set of eyes where the kiddies were concerned was invaluable. But he’d spoken the truth. Teal’c had said he didn’t feel comfortable attending the funeral of a man he didn’t know. He’d also said he’d come along anyway if Jack thought he’d be needed. The colonel had appreciated the offer but let the Jaffa off the hook, saying that he figured it should be easy enough to keep an eye on both kids with the mood and circumstances being what they would be at the funeral home. He hoped he wouldn’t regret the statement.

“Can we tell him about it later?” Daniel asked.

Jack smiled. “If you want to. He’ll probably be interested. Now, let’s go eat breakfast then get you guys ready. We need to be at the funeral home by ten o’clock.”

Matching grins blossomed on the two young faces. “Breakfast!” they shouted in unison as they jumped off their beds.

Sam ran over and tugged on Jack’s pant leg. “Can we have Fruit Loops?” she asked eagerly.

“Yeah, yeah, Fruit Loops,” Daniel agreed, coming over and hugging the man’s other leg. “And no oatmeal.”

“Fruit Loops it is,” Jack said, ruffling both heads of light-colored hair. The kids giggled and ran for the stairs, a smug guardian following. He’d never let those two live this down once they were adults again. Never.

* * * * * * * *

Jack gratefully managed to get his little family to the funeral home on time, even with the struggles to get Sam and Daniel into their tiny dark outfits. Sam had insisted that her black dress have flowers on it when they’d gone shopping the day before, and Daniel had asked to wear a blue tie with such wide, pleading eyes that Jack hadn’t had the heart to say anything but yes. Luckily the kids had proven themselves to have taste, and he’d been complimented on their appearance a number of times.

Maggie Pierce stood past the half-open casket, talking with people once they’d viewed her late husband. Jack sighed when he saw her, her eyes wet with tears she was obviously trying very hard to hold back. Maggie was carrying on bravely, and Jack’s esteem for her rose even higher. The colonel figured it was time to take Sam and Daniel over to see her - he was sure the kids would make her feel a little better, at least for a little while - but there was an awfully long line of mourners. Harold Pierce had been a well-known and well-liked man.

Deciding there was nothing else for it, Jack took Sam and Daniel by the hand and got in line to view the body. They’d get to say goodbye, at least. He only hoped they’d be okay afterward.

“Is everybody here to say goodbye to Grandpa Harold?” Daniel asked quietly as the three of them waited as patiently as possible.

“That’s right,” Jack confirmed. “His family and friends are all here to say goodbye.”

“There’re lots of people,” Daniel said.

“Grandpa Harold was prob’ly nice to everybody like he was nice to us,” Sam said.

Daniel nodded. “That’s why they all like him like we do, and need to say goodbye.”

Jack smiled. Tiny though they may be, his miniaturized teammates were still incredibly intelligent. His heart filled with pride.

“Colonel O’Neill,” a tall, blond man said as he approached the trio. He smiled. “I’m glad to see you here. And with the twins.” He smiled down on Sam and Daniel.

“They needed to say goodbye. They were pretty close to Harold. So, how is the ol’ bar and grill going to go on without your best customer?”

“Nelson’s will be all right, but Harold is going to be sorely missed. We’re going to have a memorial party this weekend; you should come.”

Jack shrugged. “I just might, Don. It’ll all depend on work,” he replied noncommittally.

Don nodded. “Understandable, understandable. The military can be a harsh master. Just remember you’ll be more than welcome.”

“Thanks, Don. It means a lot.”

Don reached out and patted Jack on the shoulder. “No problem. I’m going to go talk to some more people before the service starts.” He knelt down briefly and looked the kids in the eyes. “You two keep an eye on this guy, okay?” He winked and returned to his full height. “I’ll talk to you three later.” He gave one last nod and walked away.

Sam and Daniel looked up at Jack wearing matching expressions of confusion. “Why do we need to watch you, Daddy Jack?” Sam asked.

Jack sighed. “He was teasing, Sam. He thought he was being funny.”

“Can you be funny when someone dies?” Daniel asked sincerely.

“Oh, Daniel,” Jack whispered, floored by the question. He knelt down in front of his small charges and took some time to come up with a suitable response. “When… when someone dies,” he began, “someone you loved, you feel sad. But sometimes things make you feel happy, like you did before. Think of this morning,” Jack said quickly when the children’s expressions didn’t change. “This morning you two were jumping on your bed and smiling and laughing. But I know you both feel sad that Grandpa Harold‘s gone away.”

Daniel’s head dropped. “When I put on my clothes before, I felt bad ‘cause I was laughing when Grandpa Harold was gone. I still feel bad. I’m sorry.” Next to him, Sam nodded and her eyes filled with tears.

Jack reached out and lifted the boy’s chin with a gentle finger, including the blonde girl with a glance. “Don’t feel bad, Danny, Sam. When Harold was here he liked to hear you laugh, right? Both of you?”

The kids shared a look out of the corners of their eyes. “He said he felt young again when we laughed,” Sam whispered with a sniff.

“There you go. And now even though he’s gone, I bet Harold would still want to hear you laugh. It took me a long time to really learn this, but you get to be happy again even after you lose someone you love. And that’s exactly how the person you love would want it.” Jack looked from one child to the other, willing them to understand and preparing himself in case they didn’t.

“So… so… Grandpa Harold would say it’s okay?” Sam asked tentatively, digging the toe of a black patent leather Mary Jane into the carpet nervously.

Jack nodded, relieved. “You bet he would. I bet Maggie would like you to feel happy again, too. I know I would, whenever you’re ready.”

Wordlessly, Daniel and Sam sprang forward into Jack’s arms, squeezing him tightly. The grey-haired man returned the embrace heartily. The kids would be all right. Now it was time to have them say goodbye. After a long moment, the three separated and returned to the viewing line.

When they finally reached the half-open casket, Jack picked them both up so they could see inside. The man stared at the peaceful corpse, feeling a jumble of emotions dealing with the amount of death he’d seen and caused over the years and the fact that he was looking at a friend. At least the mortician had done an exceptional job with Harold, Jack conceded to himself. That was something.

“He looks like he’s sleeping,” Sam commented, sounding a little confused.

“His hair is neater than when we’d visit,” Daniel added, shifting his weight so that he could rest his head against Jack’s shoulder.

Sam leaned forward. “Where’s the remote control?”

Daniel sighed and shifted again. Jack, tired of playing juggle the toddlers, firmed up his stance. “It’s time to say goodbye now, so other people can, too,” he told the little ones gently.

Sam gave a little wave as she bit her lower lip, her brows slightly furrowed, while Daniel straightened in Jack’s arm. “Bye, Grandpa Harold. We’ll miss you,” the boy whispered sadly. Jack gave them a moment more, then moved on toward Maggie.

* * * * * * * *

“Thank you so much for coming, Jack. It means so much to me, especially that you brought the twins,” the grieving widow said when Jack and company finally reached her. “He loved them so much. When we spoke last, we could hardly believe they’d only been in our lives for less than six months.” Maggie gave them a shaky smile.

“I can hardly believe it either,” Jack agreed, meaning it wholeheartedly. He briefly rested a hand on each of the kids’ heads, having put them down in deference to his back and knees.

“And Harold always loved his talks with you, Jack. I’ve never been interested in fishing, and he had finally found someone who shared his passion. You brightened his days from the moment you moved in next door.”

Jack nodded. “I loved our talks, too. My best friends don’t understand that passion either.”

Daniel took a small step forward. “Grandma Maggie, I’m sorry Grandpa Harold is gone. I’m gonna miss him very much. I loved him.”

Maggie knelt down and pulled the boy into an embrace. “Thank you, sweetheart. I think we’ll all miss him. He loved you, too.” She pulled back slightly and looked him in the eye. “And so do I.”

“I love you, too,” Daniel whispered.

“Harold loved you, too, Sam,” Maggie said to the blonde girl on Jack’s other side as Daniel stepped back.

Sam quickly turned her head around, having been staring at the casket most of the time since she’d left it. “And I love Grandpa Harold,” she said softly.

Maggie opened her arms to her. “Come here, sweetheart. Thank you so much for being here.” The little girl stepped into the embrace and returned it.

“Were all of your kids able to make it?” Jack asked after he’d helped the older lady back to her feet.

“Thankfully, yes,” Maggie replied. “Actually, let me introduce you to my son, Gilbert. Gil,” she called to a man a little younger than Jack. “Come here for a minute.”

“What is it, Mom? Do you need something?” Gil asked as he joined them. He was a few inches shorter than the colonel, with thick red hair and dark green eyes.

Maggie shook her head. “No, dear, I’m fine. I just wanted you to meet a neighbor of your father and I, Colonel Jack O’Neill. He’s lived next door to us for seven years now.”

Gil turned to Jack and smiled as he offered his hand. “A pleasure to meet you, Colonel. What branch are you in?”

Jack shook the offered appendage. “Air Force. I’m stationed at Cheyenne Mountain.”

“My Gil here was in the army for four years. Took advantage of the GI Bill,” Maggie said.

“Definitely a big help. I’m not sure I could have afforded to go to college without it. Two brothers and a sister were in when I wanted to go, and Mom and Dad’s purse strings were already stretched to their limit, even with the scholarships. It was a good way to go for me.” Gil smiled down on his mother fondly.

“Harold and I were always so proud.”

“Sounds like you had every reason to be,” Jack said. “Did you see any action?”

Gil shook his head. “I did a year in Korea, then spent most of the rest of my time in Germany.”

Jack nodded. “You’re lucky.”

The younger man grinned. “Don’t I know it.”

“I may regret this later,” Maggie interjected, “but Gil was always the son Harold took with him to go fishing. You two have that hobby in common.”

Green and brown eyes flashed with interest as they met after that announcement. Two kindred spirits had been introduced, and they jumped into the ensuing conversation with gusto. Maggie just smiled and turned to another guest.

* * * * * * * *

Sam had wandered away soon after she’d finished her hug with Maggie, confused by everything. She thought she had understood when Daddy Jack had told her that Grandpa Harold had gone away and that people would be getting together to say goodbye. But then she’d seen Grandpa Harold in that strange box-like bed with the lid that had two halves and only one of them open, looking like he was taking a nap. She’d didn’t get why Daniel had said goodbye at that point. Grandpa Harold was right there, wasn’t he?

In fact, the man looked like he did when he would take naps on the couch while she and Daniel were staying with him and Grandma Maggie. She hadn’t seen the remote control that normally lay next to him on one of the cushions, but maybe someone had put it away like Grandma Maggie always tried to do. He was gonna be real grouchy when he woke up. It was gonna take at least three cookies to make him laugh again.

Sam looked around and saw Daniel sitting by a big water cooler. Her “brother” looked so very sad, swinging his legs and staring at the floor the way he was. Maybe he still thought Grandpa Harold had gone away, and it was just a big doll in the bed. That would make Sam sad, too. But she could see that Grandpa Harold was just sleeping. She’d tell Daniel that later, when she wouldn’t have to worry about talking to any strangers. There were just too many people in the room that she didn’t know.

Thinking of Daniel, she still didn’t understand why she had to say he was her brother. Sam already had a brother, a bigger brother named Mark. But Daddy Jack - she couldn’t just call him Daddy; she already had one of those, too - said that people wouldn’t understand all that, and it would be easier to just say Daniel was her brother and let Daddy Jack take care of all the rest. That was easy to do. She loved Daddy Jack. She loved Daniel, too, and Teal’c, and General George, and Doctor Janet, and everybody else in the mountain. Well, everybody but Doctor Jay. He was weird and stared at her all the time, looking like he wished she was different or something.

Sam went over to the box-bed and looked it over. It was on top of a long, wide table, with lots of flowers on both ends. There were more flowers on stands past the ends of the table, and lined up behind everything around a big picture of Grandpa Harold smiling. People had stopped walking by in a line and were now gathered in groups of varying size talking amongst themselves. Grandpa Harold was sleeping by himself now. It was probably better that way; no one would wake him up early by accident.

She missed him. She hadn’t seen him or been over to his house in over a week, since Grandma Maggie had told them Grandpa Harold was sick. She took her naps alone in her bed, or in a cot in the mountain, instead of on Grandpa Harold’s chest like she did when she and Daniel visited. The rumble of his breathing was always so soothing, and calmed a voice in the back of her mind that always felt like there was something wrong, something that needed to be fixed and fixed now. She could really use that comfort. She wanted that comfort - right now. She hadn’t had lunch yet, and she was tired, and Daddy Jack and Daniel and Grandma Maggie were so sad, and there were so many strangers, and the whole room felt dark and depressing, even with the sunlight coming through the frosted windows…

* * * * * * * *

It was a woman’s loud gasp that tore Jack’s attention away from the fascinating discussion of favorite fishing holes he was sharing with Gil and toward the casket at the front of the room. He nearly did a double take. Was that Sam lying on top of the deceased man? The mop of long, light blonde hair and flash of a black poofy sleeve with colorful flowers on it certainly suggested that were so. Crap, Jack thought as he abruptly started to make his way through the stunned crowd and empty chairs set up for the upcoming funeral service. Why didn’t I take Teal’c up on his offer?

A quick glance as he slipped between people as gently as he could told him Daniel was over by the water cooler, standing on a bench next to it trying to see what was going on over the heads of all the adults. Well, that was one munchkin he didn’t have to worry about. The other one, on the other hand…

Oh, he couldn’t even completely blame her for this, at least not until he heard what she had to say for herself. He’d been the one who let himself get distracted. He’d been so caught up in talking with Gil that he hadn’t noticed when either of his kids had wandered away. He knew he’d be kicking his own ass for this one for a long time to come.

The shocked and horrified mutterings that reached Jack’s ears as he rushed to the spectacle in the spotlight at the moment had the colonel snatching at Sam the moment he got within reach. His firm grip was amplified by his embarrassed shame, and he yanked at his girl and tried to spin away from the coffin and toward the water cooler. His intention was to snatch his other kid on his way out of the building, where he could lose it without a lot of witnesses.

But fate didn’t seem to want to cooperate with him. What Jack failed to see in his rush to end the humiliating scene was that Sam had wrapped both her arms and legs around Harold’s torso. Next, Sam was so startled to be yanked away so suddenly that she kicked for a moment and grabbed onto the suit jacket Harold was wearing, not sure who had grabbed her. Her thrashing sent a foot into the dress shirt between two buttons, and got it well twisted in the fabric. When Jack tried to spin away, taking Sam with him, he ended up bringing everything Sam was attached to as well. People gasped and screamed, the casket crashed to the floor, and Harold’s body was dumped into the front row of empty chairs.

A second set of gasps and screams came after a few beats of silence. Now that Harold was free from the confines of his coffin, it was plain to see that the mortician who had dressed him hadn’t finished the job. There were no pants to match the suit jacket, and no socks and shoes to complete the outfit. The dress shirt hung low enough that no one had to try to answer the question of whether or not the lower half of the man’s birthday suit had been fully bared for the world to see. Luckily, the folding chairs that were in place were sturdy, and hadn’t given way to dump the man of honor unceremoniously on the floor.

“Daddy Jack, you’re gonna wake Grandpa Harold up!” Sam protested over the mutterings and grumbles of the crowd.

“Not now, Samantha!” Jack snapped back, wishing the ground would simply open up and swallow him whole. He turned his head to look at Maggie, who wore a strange, twisted expression on her face. “I am so sorry, Maggie. I had no idea something like this would happen. I’ll just take the kids and leave.”

“That’s the least of what you should do!” a portly woman in a black silk dress half a size too small for her said from her position next to the silent widow. “I don’t know what you’re teaching that child, disrespecting the dead and his family in such a way! Disgraceful!”

“Aunt Daisy,” Gil moaned, rolling his eyes.

A moment or two later, an unexpected sound silenced all the protests and whispering. Maggie Pierce, elegantly dressed in black charmeuse and black pearl jewelry, was loudly laughing, tears streaming from her eyes, and arms wrapped firmly around her middle. As if the widow had given her permission, other people started snickering, still others grinning or hiding wide smiles. The atmosphere lightened considerably.

Aunt Daisy harrumphed at the woman next to her. “Really, Magnolia. Have you completely lost your senses? Don’t you understand what’s happened here?”

Maggie took deep breaths to get herself under control, although her smile wouldn’t quit. “Lighten up, Daisy. If Harold had been watching this, he’d have been laughing so hard he would have needed to change his pants.” On the other side of her, Gil snorted at her choice of words.

“This is disrespectful! Whatever happened to respect for the dead!”

“I have plenty of respect for my husband,” Maggie snapped back, suddenly quite serious. “I don’t need my sister, the woman who has always been jealous because he picked me instead of her, to tell me how to remember him and honor his memory! Harold loved to laugh at life, to enjoy everything around him. This was an accident. An accident caused by a little girl’s love for my Harold. There’s no disrespect here.” She took a deep breath and glanced toward where her husband lay, a new smile threatening to appear. “Well, except maybe on the part of the mortician. I believe I gave him a complete suit, not just a jacket and shirt.”

The statement seemed to bring people back to reality. Gil hurried forward, his two brothers joining him from the other side of the room, and met the funeral home staff who all worked together to clean up the mess and get the body back where it belonged. People cleared the room and gathered outside as per the priest’s instructions. The service would begin a little later than expected, they were told, but it would proceed.

Jack kept Sam firmly in the crook of his arm and Daniel in the grasp of his other hand as he made his way over to Maggie once the crowd had settled into its new routine a little later. “Maggie, I really am sorry this all happened. I shouldn’t have let Sam get away from me like that.”

Maggie shook her head. “You couldn’t have guessed in a million years this would have happened, Jack. Don’t worry so much about it. Accidents happen.”

“I don’t think I could have kept my head like that,” Jack said with a touch of awe in his tone.

Maggie grinned. “Oh, I think you’d be surprised at what you’re capable of in situations like this. And I must admit it helped that my sister got so outraged. That was the deciding factor for me. Up to that point I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Once she started her blustering I knew I had to laugh, if only to get her goat.”

Daniel reached out and tugged on her dress. “Grandma Maggie, what does that mean? I didn’t see a goat with the stuffy lady.”

The older woman choked back another burst of laughter. “No, Daisy doesn’t have a goat. That’s just a saying that means to do something to spite someone else. Do you know what that means?”

Daniel considered it for a moment. “Does that mean you do something because you know another person won’t like it?”

“That’s it exactly,” Maggie enthused. “You are so smart.”

“Why would you want to do something because someone else wouldn’t like it?” Sam asked, subdued. Jack had told her in a low voice that trying to take a nap with Grandpa Harold had been wrong, and that they were going to be having a talk about it when they got home. She was dreading her upcoming punishment.

Maggie looked at her speculatively, then looked at Jack who looked like the expected explanation was going to be a death sentence for him. She decided to take pity on the man. “I think that’s something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself when you’re older,” she said. “In the meantime, you should probably stick to not doing things if other people won’t like it.” She nearly laughed when she saw the utter relief that crossed Jack’s features.

Gil walked up to the little group just then. “I’m sorry to interrupt, but everything’s back in order inside, and the priest would like to start the service.”

Maggie nodded. “Of course, dear.” She turned her attention back to Jack and the kids. “I need to go back inside.”

“We’re going to head for home,” Jack said. “I think we’ve caused enough excitement around here for one day. Heck, for one year.”

“I suppose you have. Just remember, everyone’s forgiven, and I’m looking forward to seeing all of you back at home.” Maggie kissed Sam and Daniel on their foreheads, and Jack on the cheek. “Thank you for making me laugh. It’ll be easier to remember how in the months and years to come, for me and my children. Bless you all.” She turned and started up the steps to the front doors of the building.

“Bye, Grandma Maggie!” Daniel and Sam called as Jack led them toward his truck. “We love you!”

“I love you, too!” Maggie called back, then disappeared inside.

Jack shook his head as his little family reached his truck and loaded up. This could only have happened to them. Sam was going to hear an earful when they got home. A smile escaped him once he started driving, though. It had been funny, if thoroughly embarrassing. And the teasing once the two munchkins were back to normal…

Maybe it had all been worth it in the end. Grief had been balanced by laughter, children had learned a lesson or fifty, and they’d all gotten to say goodbye to a beloved friend in a most unique way. Life, with all its twists and turns, wasn’t too bad after all.

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