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So life has been a wee bit hectic and fraught here at Maison Thothmes, and in the process of keeping my head above water, I've missed making any note here of the birthdays of many very lovely people, including (not necessarily in order) ansostuff, ziparumpazoo, julimond, kalquessa, draco_somnians, annerbhp, petite_stars, samantilles, and amenirdis. It will very soon be pepper_field's birthday too.

In an attempt to make up for my neglect, I offer this fic, which is a collection of ficlets, entitled "Bad Birthdays". They are offered now in the hopes that all of you aforementioned will be able to peruse them and find at least one ficlet that will appeal, and that being offered on none of your actual birthdays, they will not dampen anyone's birthday glee.

I originally intended to write a fic designed for each person, but I just couldn't make it work that way, so although there are enough ficlets for each of you to pick one and have one left over for each of the others, I ended up writing the lot of them for the lot of you. It doesn't mean that I don't treasure each of you as individuals, or that I didn't (or won't, Pepper!) think of each of you on your own day. It just means that my mind is an undisciplined and trackless place at times.

"Bad Birthdays" is a wee bit AU because some of the characters canon (generally prop canon) birthdays are inconveniently placed in the year to match up with the episodes and events I want to play with. "Ooops," she said unconvincingly. "I may have made some minor rearrangements."

I've posted the thing in two parts, because as a whole, it is too large.

Title: Bad Birthdays (1 of 2)
Season: Starting Pre-Series and running to Season 7
Spoilers: Now that it's a closed canon, do I really have to do this in detail? Ummm... through Season 7.
Warnings: Minor angst. I favor happy endings, so none of these is really bleak. For those inclined to be particular about sticking to canon, I fudged some dates, so this is probably AU.
Synopsis: Every life has a few birthdays that leave something to be desired. Still, it's always better than the alternative - not having birthdays.






Bad Birthdays




Either They Budge Or I Do

July 8th, 1975

There the boy was, in the blue jeans, white sneaks, and horizontal yellow and light blue striped t-shirt, as described. Even though the heat of the day had passed with the sun lowering to the horizon, his face was flushed and his medium brown hair darkened with sweat, no doubt due to the effort of lugging a suitcase that was at least half his own size, and appeared to be quite heavy, since he could only carry it some twenty feet at a time before he needed to stop and rest. He must have been working with a will, since he was only a carry or two away from what had apparently been his goal - a municipal bus stop.

Martin Brinkerman let out a sigh of relief and put on his right turn signal, waiting for the light to change. He would not have to notify his supervisor about this one tonight. This was the third runaway this week on his caseload, and it would not look good. Twelve years as a social worker had taught him that odd random clusters of that sort could occur by random chance, but still three in a single week! He made the turn and pulled his aging Dodge Dart over to the curb just beyond the space reserved for the bus. On a social worker's salary it was what he could afford, even with his brother-in-law helping him to do the routine maintenance and simple repairs himself.

By the time he'd put the car in park and gotten out, the boy had made it to the simple bench under the three-sided shelter, and was sitting on it, feet dangling, slumped with exhaustion. Perhaps near exhaustion would be closer to the mark. He still had enough reserves to be kicking what had clearly once been good quality leather luggage a generation ago with one sneakered foot. As Martin sat down by the boy he could see it even had worn half-worn off initials stamped into the leather above the handle. N.B. Not the boy's then. His grandfather's.

"Hello, Daniel" said Martin quietly, gently, so as not to startle the boy, who had not looked up as he sat down. Nevertheless the boy's head jerked up suddenly to turn a wide, wary blue-eyed gaze at him from behind the thick black plastic frames which were all that the foster care budget could rise to, painfully out of fashion in these modern days of aviators and wire rims.

"I'm not going back," said Daniel.

Martin chose not to rise to this particular bait. No sense in starting the conversation with confrontation. Instead he asked the question which was foremost in his own mind.

“Why did you leave?” he asked.

The boy was silent, and the drumming of his feet against the suitcase, which had stopped when he had noticed Martin's approach resumed. Thwock, thowock, thwock... Just as Martin was about to open his mouth to speak, the boy pulled off his glasses, and began to clean them with the bottom edge of his t-shirt.

“They baby me,” he said. “They're nice enough people. They're kind, but they treat me like a child.”

Martin moved a little way down the bench away from the boy so it would be a little easier to reach up and place his foot up next to one of Daniel's. It was a good four inches longer, if not more.

“I think they might have a point,” said Martin.

“I'm never claimed to be a grown-up,” Daniel said. “Obviously I'm a little short of eighteen. I turned nine today.” There was pride in the boy's voice. “Next year I'll be in double digits. But they treat me like I can't understand things that I know! I asked for Budge's Egyptian Language: Easy Lessons in Egyptian Hieroglyphics and they gave me a batting helmet, a fielder's mitt, and a baseball!” The tone was scathing.

“So what you are saying is that you ran away because you got a birthday present you didn't like,” offered Martin.

The boy put his glasses back on, and peered through them at Martin with an expression of some surprise. He blinked several times, and then looked at his drumming feet with some interest.

“Well, when you put it like that it sounds a little self-involved,” he finally offered. “but I wanted to improve my grasp of Ancient Egyptian. I don't care about baseball. Those other boys are stupid. They can't even speak one language. And then they ask me to speak some Arabic or some Dutch, and no matter what I say they think I'm making it up!”

This clearly was a very sore spot. Martin didn't think that pursuing this avenue of inquiry was going to help make his case without the input of the foster parents, so he took the conversation in another direction.

“Wanna tell me where you were planning to go?”

“Berkley. That's where Nick's University is.”

“I see.” Silence, so the boy wouldn't feel pushed. “By bus?”

“Was going to take the bus into the city, and then get on a train.” The tone was the one that all children saved for use on adults who persisted in viewing things in an irritatingly and unreasonably adult way.

“How were you planning on paying?”

“I have ten dollars,” the boy said with careful dignity. Then with an anxious glance from the slightly tip-tilted blue eyes, “Will that be enough?”

No use beating about the bush.

“No, Daniel. I’m afraid it won’t be. Especially since Nick’s in Belize until the Spring Semester starts in January. That’s 5 whole months away.”

The boy had courage. This was a clear blow, but he took it well. There were no tears. He looked down at his sneakers, and then his chin came up, and his arms crossed over his chest in a gesture that was half crossing them, half hugging himself.

“I guess I may have to return to the Darnleys’ then,” he said. A pause, then with infinite dignity for one so young, “For a while. Until I can figure out how to earn enough for a plane ride.”

“Daniel,” Martin said as gently as he could, “Nick says he can’t take you in.” Still more gently, but with firmness, “He says he won’t.”

This hurt, as Martin knew it would. The blue eyes sparkled with tears behind the large dark frames and the long lashes.

“Oh,” was all he said.

They sat quietly for a few minutes. The bus came, but when Martin shook his head and made shooing motions, it went on.

“Do you think you could give me a ride back?” Daniel asked finally. “The suitcase is kinda heavy.”

“Sure. I was planning on it.”

They stood up, and Martin took the suitcase by the handle. It really was heavy. It was a testament to the boy’s determination that he’d managed to get it all that way.

“What’s in here?” he asked.

“Mostly books. Nick gave me some of Mom and Dad’s.” More quietly “To remember them by. When I was little, Mom used to make me wash my hands before I could look at Art and Architecture of Ancient Egypt. Now when I open it up, close my eyes and smell it, it… well, it really reminds me of when I was little. Dad had a really good hieroglyphic dictionary. I couldn’t leave any of them behind.

Then there were clothes, and glasses cleaner, and a toothbrush and toothpaste, and my comb.

And my birthday gifts. At first I thought that might be a little bit like stealing, but then I thought that if I left them there the Darnleys might feel bad, and think I didn’t want them.

I don’t really, but I know they tried. I just don’t think I’m the right boy for them. They want a regular boy, and I’m a scholar.”

Martin had by that time lifted the heavy case into the trunk of the car, and buckled the seatbelt across Daniel’s lap in the passenger seat.

“Mr. Darnley’s a scholar too,” he offered. “I don’t think you are the wrong boy for them. The times I’ve talked to them, they’ve been very happy with you, how smart you are, how polite, how mature.”

He didn’t mention the way that they worried that he was a little too polite, a little two self-contained, the way they mentioned their concerns that he needed to spend time more time with kids his own age, getting to know other carefree, happy-go-lucky kids who knew nothing of loss and grieving, and worried about nothing more serious than getting picked on the right team and whether dinner would involve lima beans.

“Then Mr. Darnley should understand why I want Budge!”

This was clearly an issue that Daniel was not prepared to budge on.

“How about I help you talk with him about that when we get there?” offered Martin. “See if we can work something out that makes you both happy. You know that if you talk things through, you can often work out something that will be good for everybody.”

Daniel regarded him gravely for a moment. The big, dark frames on the fine-boned face made him look rather unfortunately like the egg-head chick in the Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.

“Okay,” was all he said.

By that time they were there, and Daniel hung back and waited for Martin to lift out the suitcase. He scuffed his sneakers on the concrete of the driveway, and hugged himself. Martin noticed that he kept him between himself and the house, so that he wouldn’t be visible to those inside, but when the door opened and Mrs. Darnley emerged, he ran and threw himself into her open arms.

Good. It was embarrassment, and not fear. There hadn’t been anything untoward going on to make the boy leave.

The foster parent’s reactions, when he finally wrestled the case up the front steps and in the door were all that he would hope for. Clearly they were swinging back and forth between joy and relief to see him unharmed, and anger at the fear and worry that they had so recently been feeling.

Mrs. Darnley was saying “Where were you?” and Mr. Darnley was talking over her to say “We were so worried!

“I’m sorry,” said Daniel.

Now the Darnleys were both on the same page.

“Why?” they said.

“Because it was rude,” offered Daniel, simply.

“No, why did you feel you needed to leave, son?” said Mr. Darnley, kneeling down to look the boy in the eye, careless of the crisply pressed creases in the front of his professorial linen trousers, and the way that the position caused his crimson bowtie to pull a little at his neck. He was a good parent. So was Mrs. Darnley. The fact that they could not have children of their own had been a good thing for the needy kids of this state.

Martin waited to see what Daniel would say. It was always best for children to express these things themselves if they could.

Daniel’s very fair skin glowed red with mingled embarrassment and indignation, but it took him a while to speak.

“I’m not a baby!” he said hotly. “I can learn from Budge. I wanna be able to read Ancient Egyptian.”

Mr. Darnley’s voice was gentle, and pleading. “Daniel, You know I’m a professor. A professor of Linguistics. The students I teach are at least ten years older than you, and they have trouble with Ancient Egyptian. Hieroglyphics are hard. They were hard for even the Egyptians. It took them years of schooling to learn to read and write it, and even then, when it was their own native tongue, they made mistakes. I didn’t want to use the money we had to buy you that book, only for you to find that it was too hard, and then be left without anything to enjoy for your birthday.

We got you the baseball gear so you could be able to go out and do things with the other boys your age. You were telling me about how the other boys were sometimes giving you a hard time on the playground. I’ve watched you Daniel. You aren’t clumsy. You may wear glasses, but it doesn’t affect how you move, and how well you can catch and throw.

I was clumsy. I couldn’t be good at sports, no matter how hard I tried. You have a chance to be good at sports and good at school. And if you are good at sports, the other boys will stand up for you and treat you nicely.”

“I know you meant well,” said Daniel. It was an olive branch. “And I can see what you’re saying. It might help if I got better at baseball and played some. But I don’t like baseball. It’s kind of…pointless. You just go around in circles, basically, and hit things with a big stick. I like languages, and anyway I bet those students of yours don’t already speak a Hamito-Semitic language fluently. And I speak Arabic, which is Semitic. I can read Ancient Egyptian. Particularly if you help me!”

Mr. Darnley’s eyes had widened at this, but now he regarded the boy fondly.

“Daniel,” he said. “How about a deal? You go play baseball for an hour a day while I’m at the office, and I’ll check out a copy of Budge from the University library, and you and I can work on it for an hour every night while the missus cooks dinner. If you really can master it, and we don’t end up in tears and grumps over it, then I’ll be sure to get you a copy of Budge for your tenth birthday. Deal?”

He stood up again, and stuck out his hand. Daniel brightened, took the proffered hand with his own and shook it. Then he looked at his toes for a minute.

“I told you I didn’t want to call you Mom and Dad,” he said, “because I already have a Mom and Dad, and even though they died, they will always be my Mom and Dad.” He looked up, first at Mr. Darnley, and then at Mrs. Darnley, a bit hesitantly, but apparently what he saw was enough, because he went on to say, “Could I maybe call you Father and Mother?”

The Darnleys had tears in their eyes. It was Mrs. Darnley who found her voice first.

“Oh, yes, Daniel! Yes!” she said, and then the tears began to flow.

Daniel’s mother must have been a weeper too, or perhaps one of the women who had minded him in Egypt, because he showed no signs of alarm, but went to her and threw his arms about her waist and buried his head in her stomach.

“We’d be honored,” said Mr. Darnley gruffly, and moved to pat the boy gently on the shoulder.

Martin saw that his service were no longer needed. Daniel and the Darnleys had worked things out, and Martin doubted that he’d ever have to worry about Daniel going A.W.O.L. again, although he’d have to make a note of the incident in the boy’s file just in case. He touched Mr. Darnley on the shoulder and gestured with his thumb toward the door to indicate he was leaving, and slipped out to his car.

Some days being a social worker was a real downer, but this time it left him feeling pretty good about what he did. He’d have to store that one up in his memory box to bring out and revisit the next time a really nasty case came up.



The Power of the Purse

December 29th, 1981

As all grieving families know, and the Carter family was in the painful process of finding out, the hardest days are the holidays and anniversaries. Christmas had been a very subdued occasion, and given that Jacob Carter's cooking skills were rudimentary, Mark's were limited to what could be produced in a toaster and scrambled eggs, and Sam had, under her mother's tutelage, mastered a variety of cookies, a basic white sauce, and three different varieties of soufflé, Chinese food had replaced the elaborate spread with roast beef, pan roasted potatoes, homemade dinner rolls, and an ever shifting and wide ranging variety of vegetables that had been their tradition in years past.

Now the Carter twins were confronting their birthday with pizza and Greek salads from the local pizza place, with chocolate milk, and a cake purchased from the supermarket, and hastily personalized with “Happy Birthday Mark & Sam!” on it in clear blue gel icing. While this was better than the boiled hotdogs and frozen peas that had been dinner the night before, it was a long way down from cheeseburgers made with cheddar cheese (for Mark) and Monterrey Jack (for Sam), candied yams, fresh green beans, and a homemade cake with pink icing on one side and blue on the other, with Mom's moist rich devil's food cake inside.

There had been the obligatory photos (every birthday and half-birthday!) but Dad had neglected to make sure that they were in their Sunday best, which would not have looked very good anyway, since it had been lying at the bottom of the laundry hamper for the better part of the month, and both Sam and Mark were aware of the fact that their expressions must have been uncomfortably stiff and awkward, because Mom had been the photographer in the family. It took Dad a good five minutes to figure out how to use the exposure meter and focus the camera correctly. He preferred to commemorate occasions with a quick Polaroid, but that would have looked out of place with all the 35 mm portraits from years past that were already carefully mounted in the leather bound album.

Now it was time for the presents, and this turned out to be fuel for the sibling rancor that was never far from the surface. Sam and Mark had always fought. It was Sam's question about why this was so, wondering why the Carter family could not live up to the earnest example of the Bobbsey Twins that had led to her earliest understanding of the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Mom had explained that there were studies that showed that the most bitter sibling rivalry was almost invariably between boy-girl twins, and reminded her that although she and Mark fought early and often at home, they stuck up for each other at school. Then she had explained what a study was. The idea of setting up a way to test an idea, with a number of different things and an untreated control sounded like fun, and both Sam and Mark had entered a frenzy of experimentation, with some help from Mom.

If there was one thing that both siblings reliably agreed on, it was that they were treated unfairly and misunderstood by the out of town relatives. Sam resented the way that Mark always seemed to receive all the interesting toys, the sporting equipment, the cars and trucks, and the G.I. Joe dolls, and the chemistry sets. Mark resented the way Sam got most of the books and the art kits. Didn't they know that Sam couldn't draw anything more advanced than a stick figure, and Mark loved to both paint and read? This year the out of town relatives had outdone themselves. Perhaps thinking that the motherless children would need extra bounty to create cheer, the packages were many and the choices disastrous. Under the best of circumstances it is difficult to find the right gift for a thirteen year old child, but these were pitiful and more ill-suited than usual.

Mark went first and opened a football and a Cowboys jersey from Grandma Bennet. Sam's present was a hopelessly old fashioned and conservative purse. One of those ones with the little metal balls that crossed past each other to keep it closed, and hard bakelite handles. Uncle Irving and Aunt Teresa sent Mark a pogo stick. Sam got a pink plastic purse with bright, stylized purple and yellow flowers. Grandma and Grandpa Carter sent Mark a tape player and a few tapes. Their understanding of musical tastes of the young had ended with the Beatles and the Beach Boys, so the tapes (Endless Summer, Rubber Soul, and a collection of love songs by someone that no one present had heard of, who rejoiced in the name of Leon Bibb) were more to the tastes of Jacob than his children, but the player itself was pretty cool. Sam got a simple brown purse in tooled leather with a gold-look chain strap that was long enough for Sam to wear it across her body and over one shoulder.

And so it went. Mark got a variety of gifts, and Sam got purses. Big purses, small purses, casual purses, dressy purses, but every single relative had gotten the brilliant idea that a young woman on the cusp of womanhood needed a purse. Sam had nothing against the trappings of womanhood. She liked dresses. She played with dolls when she was younger, and her favorite (after Major Matt Mason, who had been lost in the course of one of the Carter family's many moves) was even now sitting on her bed, with her fiery red corkscrew curls, and her pretty, frilly wedding dress and veil. Still, nothing but purses was a bit much.

Finally, there were only four presents left. Two were presents from Jacob. They were in the professionally neat style and paper of one of the downtown department stores. The other two were unknowns. Jacob looked, at least to his children who knew him well, a mite apprehensive. Sure enough, he had gotten Mark a pool cue, and Sam...a purse. In deep blue velvet with lace around the closing flap, and a cultured pearl to place through a loop to close it.

“I didn't know, Sammie,” he said.

Sam sighed. No. He couldn't have known. Like all the others, he had been trying.

“I know, Dad,” she said. “It's the thought that counts, right?”

If anything Jacob looked more ill at ease. He pushed forward the final two presents, one in blue Superman paper, the other in white Wonder Woman paper.

“I found these in your mom's present closet,” he said. “These are the last.”

Their mother had always claimed one closet in whatever place they lived for her present closet. All year long she kept her eye out for gifts that were the right item at the right price, and when she saw them, she bought them, brought them home, wrapped them and labeled them, and put them in the present closet, ready for the occasion when they would be needed. Some were for the usual occasions, birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day. Others were smaller “just because” presents that she brought out when someone needed a morale booster, or one of the kid's friends mailed the birthday party invitations a little close to the event. These were labeled “Mark, 13th” and “Samantha 13th”.

Both kids held the presents in their laps unopened for a long time. Their mother's last gift. They didn't want the moment to end, but they wanted to see what she had left them too. Finally Mark, always the more hot blooded and impatient of the two, made a move, ripping off the paper with determination and speed. He smiled. It was the weighty and expensive encyclopedia of chess puzzles that had intrigued him in Bailey's Bookstore. Inside it she had written “To Mark. Happy 13th Birthday, Mom and Dad.

Sam opened hers slowly, carefully easing off the tape so that she could save the paper. Inside was a white card stock box, and when she lifted off the top half, inside, under the silver-toned tissue paper was, inevitably, unavoidably, predictably, a purse. Sam pulled it out and held it in her hands. It was small, just big enough to hold a few necessities. It came with matching leather strap that could be clipped into small eyelet-ed holes on either side. It was made of a soft, smooth, supple black leather, and on the outside, marking where the male part of the clasp lay on the inside of the front flap, was a filigree disk in genuine gold that spelled out an ornate letter “S” surrounded by delicate golden leaves. When Sam opened this up, lifted the flap and unzipped the zipper that she found inside, she found a little rectangular pillow-like pink packet with Kotex stamped over the surface, a small compact mirror, a little black comb, a Cover Girl lipstick in a pale pink, and a five dollar bill. And there was a note on a 3x5 card in her mother's neat round hand.

Sam took the note, and ran her hand slowly across the letters that were a bit blurry to Sam's swimming eyes. Words. From her mother. The last ones ever. When she could read it, she read it aloud, so she could share, in a voice that was pitched too low, and trembled.

Samantha, A woman always needs to have a few necessities. Never go anywhere without enough money to make your own way home. Always buy quality, not quantity. I hope you will enjoy this purse for many years to come. Love, Mom

For most formal occasions for many, many years after that, Sam carried that little black purse, sometimes with its leather strap affixed, sometimes without. Inside would be her keys, her driver's license, a credit card, a comb, a compact, a small assortment of makeup items, a few tampons in a small velvet pouch, and an old, battered, much handled five dollar bill.



New Planet, New Challenge


The Full Phase of the Small Moon, Harvest Moon, Year of Apophis 4729.


Teal'c rose from his position sitting cross-legged on a pillow in his sparsely decorated quarters, and began to make the rounds of the room, extinguishing the candles that had burned around him during kel'no'reem. Outside his room the hallways were still quiet, the hour early, but his meditation had been sufficient, and it was time for his day to begin. When the last of the candles was out, he headed into the spartan facilities provided, to take care of his morning routines.

This completed, he took a look at the electric timekeeping device that the Air Force had provided with its superfluous alarm, to discover that it was (as his inner time sense had already told him) 5:23 a.m., and some hours before it would be time to join his teammates in the commissary for the morning meal. He knew from experience that at this hour the television offerings would be dominated with what were called infomercials. While infomercials had provided a fascinating window into the insecurities and possession-obsession of the Tau'ri culture, by now Teal'c felt that he had gleaned just about as much information as he could from this one source.

He considered reading one of the books that his teammates had provided for him, but in spite of his post-meditation refreshment and re-energization, he found that the idea did not hold much appeal. While his ability to decipher and make sense of the writings of the Tau'ri were improving, it was still a slow and laborious procedure, and often the story would be lost in the process of decoding the strange letter symbols and dealing with the odd and seemingly irrational choices of letter combinations that they made. Fluency would come with time and practice, but Teal'c found that he had little desire to do the practice just now.

He could, he knew, avail himself of the weight room and exercise machines in the gym, which were available at all hours, but SG-1 was not scheduled for a mission that day, so a visit to the gym would be much more entertaining and informative later in the day when there were more people to watch. Teal'c contented himself with performing a few simple stretches and then moved to the gray metal desk and sat down in the matching gray metal chair, and turned on his computer. The first thing he did after the machine had booted up was to bring up the calendar program that Captain Carter had created for him, synching the calendars of Chulak and Earth. It grounded him to know what day this was in a calendar he understood intuitively. The Tau'ri calendar was bizarrely untethered from the phases of Earth's moon. On Chulak it was the full phase of the small moon in the Moon of Harvest. His natal day, which Captain Carter had explained fall every 14 months on the Tau'ri calendar.

Most Jaffa did not celebrate their birthdays once they had reached the age of majority and become chal'til. But Teal'c was not of the rank and file. He was a First Prime, and as such, the day of his birth had a place in the calendar for all of Apophis' Jaffa. It would have been the Test of Strength. The rank and file would have engaged in a series of contests throughout the year, culminating in a series of battles in the month leading up to Teal'c’s special day that would sort out the strongest, the quickest, and the wiliest of all of the Jaffa under his command. Then on Teal'c's birthday, under the appreciative eye of his god, he would do battle with this best of the best. These battles were not inevitably to the death, but the stakes were nevertheless high. If Teal'c lost, his fate was in the hands of his god. If he had given long and honorable service, and he had fought well, his god would grant him honorable retirement, as he had granted Bra'tac when Teal'c had bested him. If he fought badly, then his challenger would be allowed the honor of the kill. The challenger need only fear death if he fought poorly. Otherwise the worst outcome would be to return to the ranks having gained some notice by Apophis. If he won, and Apophis favored him, he could become First Prime, and if Teal'c still pleased his master, and he capriciously still preferred him to the challenger, then his challenger would be given the position of Teal'c's first lieutenant, with a chance to earn favorable notice, and the right to battle the strongest of the other contestants for the right to battle Teal'c in the following year.

The Tau'ri valued different things. Although their warriors were valiant and their tactics showed the finesse and original thinking that were necessary for beings that were not endowed with the strength or the long life of Jaffa with their prim'ta, they placed equal value on the scholar, the merchant, the athlete, the healer, the priest, or any of a host of other occupations. Their leaders and politicians had often never even fought in a single battle! They would not understand the significance of this day to Teal'c, the anticipation tinged with the necessary edge of apprehension, the pride, the rush of the moment, the joy in the concentration and focus so deep that even the hardest of blows barely registered, the glory of the victory, the heady feeling of gaining the approval of one's god. He had observed Tau'ri birthday rituals. They were empty, with their material gifts and their cake and ice cream.

All the same, when the rest of SG-1 joined him at the table he had chosen in the commissary, he did recognize the effort that his team was making to bring him joy on this day, and that it was their way to recognize his importance to them as an individual. Each of them came bearing a tray bearing what he himself considered to be an insufficiency of sustenance, a large mug of coffee, doctored to their individual tastes, and a small gift, wrapped in brightly colored paper.

“I thought we could get together at the end of the day at my place for cake and ice cream.” said O'Neill. “Doc 'll come by with Cassie, and the General said he'll try to stop by on his way home if he can get out in time. I thought you might want to see your loot now, though.”

“You mean you couldn't wait to see what he got,” said Daniel Jackson. “You're such a little kid, sometimes, Jack!”

O'Neill proved his point by his response, sticking his tongue out at the archaeologist.

Captain Carter smiled, and then in her role as peacemaker, changed the subject.

“Open mine, Teal'c”

She pushed a package across the table to him, wrapped in deep metallic blue paper, dotted with shiny gold stars. The ribbon around it was also gold, tied with infinite care, the ends carefully cut and made into a forked shape, like the tongue of a snake. The paper was carefully and crisply folded, and the securing tape was precisely placed and the pieces were small. Inside was a book, profusely illustrated, showing the techniques of doing battle hand-to-hand that Colonel Carter explained were the province of another country's military, the Russians.

“The Colonel probably knows most of this, and could practice it with you,” she said. “I Thought you might want to learn some of the martial arts that you don't get to see much of in our gym.

O'Neill nodded, and Teal'c thanked the Captain. This was indeed interesting, and the many illustrations make the material quite accessible.

Daniel Jackson's gift, less carefully wrapped, but in paper covered with the image of the great instructor of Jedi warriors, Yoda, with thin, ribbed gold ribbon with curled ends, proved to be a book also, by an individual known as Miss Manners. Teal'c was puzzled.

“Have my manners offended, Daniel Jackson?”

He had made every effort to do as he had seen others do, and had made note of which utensils were used and how. There had been that instance when Doctor Fraiser had pointed out that O'Neill was out of the norm with his practice of using a fork to eat Jell-O and ice cream, but Teal'c had quickly changed to the use of a spoon, and in any case he rarely consumed bovine lactose of any sort, unless it was manufactured by Ben and Jerry, and thus worth braving the wrath of his symbiote at having to perform extra work to break down the indigestible sugars in order to avoid flatulence.

“No! No! Not at all!” Daniel Jackson was shocked. “Your manners are excellent, Teal'c. This book just provides a guide not only to the manners of the dominant culture of North America, written in a formal style that is close to the way you speak, so I thought it might be easier for you to absorb, but it also explains the origins of and reasons for the customs. I thought you might find it interesting. And it has details of the kind of picky things like wedding customs, that don't come up much on a military base. I thought it might make it easier to understand what people do beyond the base.”

“Ah,” said Teal'c. “Indeed. I shall make a study of this.”

It was a thoughtful gift.

O'Neill's package proved to be the largest, and most carelessly wrapped, in paper covered with the sporting warriors of a game that he had introduced Teal'c to – hockey. The warriors of Teal'c favorite team, the Canucks of Vancouver featured prominently. Teal'c mentioned this, and O'Neill smiled.

“I almost felt badly wrapping it in Canuck paper, when everyone knows the Wild are the real threat, but anything for you, buddy.”

The gibe was delivered with a smile.

“Where do you get paper for an out-of -town team like that, sir?” asked Captain Carter. “All I've ever seen was Avalanche paper.”

O'Neill winced a bit and then smiled a bit mechanically, apparently a bit embarrassed to be discovered going to such lengths.

“There's a specialty hockey store not far from the rink in Denver, or Ferretti says you can get stuff like that from NHL dot com if you're a computer geek like... I mean if you prefer to do it online,” he said.

By this time Teal'c had opened the wrapping and the box within, to discover that the box was almost empty, except for some pieces of paper that Teal'c recognized as tickets and a small white envelope. Printed on the tickets in letters larger and more easily read than the rest of writing, which was small, were the words “Ponderosa Pine Mini-Golf. Admit One.” There were four tickets. The envelope held a generous gift card for a large local sporting goods store.

“I thought since we don't have anything pressing on tap for today, we should knock off a bit early and go play some mini-golf, and if you like it, then we can get you outfitted in the proper duds and go try the real thing. There are no funny obstacles in real golf, but it requires much more skill and patience.”

“And you play this?” asked Teal'c

“Yes!” said O'Neill, and perhaps thinking that clarification was required, he added “Well, not too well. That requires putting in a lot of time and effort, and I've put much more time into hockey and baseball.”

“But it is a contest of warriors?” Teal'c asked.

“Ye-es.” O'Neill replied, not entirely sure where this was headed. “I guess so.”

“Good,” said Teal'c. “You will compete. I will take on the winner.”

It was a pale imitation. The stakes were vanishingly small, but in a strange culture on a strange planet, it was enough.


Tranquility Base

October 20th, 1997

Jack O’Neill tossed the cap from his longneck in the general direction of the wastebasket, neither noting nor caring when it did not make it to the goal. It was over in a corner where he seldom went, so chances were good that he’d get around to picking it up before he stepped on it in his stocking feet. He took a long pull at the cold one in his right hand, and listlessly considered turning on the television and looking for a game, but made no move. His living room was dimly lit by the one lamp he had turned on just so he wouldn’t end up barking his shins on the coffee table, but he wanted no further light, in spite of the gathering dark outside.

Another year gone by. Another year older. Nothing to show for it.

If Sara had been there she would have pointed out all the work he had done on this house. It was a real fixer-upper when he took it on, and with the exception of the built-ins he was planning for that closet in the guest bedroom, and the shelving for his tools in the garage, it was all done and decorated. Really decorated, with plants, and pictures on the wall, and rugs, and drapes. No more sitting on the bare floor with only a tv and a mattress.

But that was the point, wasn’t it. Sara wasn’t there. Nobody was, except Jack O’Neill, Colonel U.S.A.F. (ret.), who had worked day after day, immersing himself in the search for the right house to work on, laboring intensively day after day, gutting, rebuilding, hammering, sheetrocking, painting, papering, searching out furnishings, planning, measuring, decorating, and landscaping, all to avoid the ugly truth that he could no longer avoid seeing. He was alone.

Oh, he had his poker buddies. Andy, Bart, Digger, and the others. And now that he had his place all looking so nice, all uncontaminated by any disapproving feminine presence that might nag about coasters or worry about where the bottle caps ended up, mostly they gathered here for the games. And when they were over they told Jack what a lucky guy he was to be living free and in control of his own time and space, and then they went home to their wives, and their kids, and their lives.

Freedom wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

He’d had such high hopes when he’d said farewell to Daniel Jackson on Abydos. Daniel had made him see that he had someone here on Earth who worried about him, that he owed it to her to come back and rebuild what they had. He’d give up smoking, leave the Air Force (again) and find a new path with Sara at his side. They’d help each other along, and now that Daniel and the kids on Abydos had given him hope, and the will to go on living, and find new challenges, he’d be able to do what he should have done before and couldn’t, and reach out to Sara and offer his strength.

Turned out that Sara – he’d always known she was the stronger one! – had plenty of steel in her. She didn’t need him, although when she’d finally agreed to see him, she’d admitted that she’d rather keep the house, if he wouldn’t mind her paying him his share over time.

So he’d found a new place, a crappy house in a nice neighborhood, and spent over a year turning it into a nice house in a nice neighborhood. It was a house, though, not a home. Never a home.

Forty-five years. If his grandparents were any indication, now that he was no longer getting shot at on a regular basis and he’d given up the cancer sticks, he could look forward (and what an inaccurate phrase that is, Jack!) to at least that, and more to come. An ocean of meaningless time.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time…

Jack took a pull on his beer, and then peered at it in the dim light in mild consternation. Empty. When had that happened? He thought about fetching another, but discarded the idea. He tried to limit himself to one a day, occasionally two, well aware that it would be all too easy to replace cigarettes with alcohol as a slow but effective method of suicide. He was done with that crap.

Okay, so living hurt. He could take it. He’d promised Daniel he wouldn’t take the easy way out ever again. Jack O’Neill kept his promises, even if the person he gave his word to was living on another planet, and would never know if he broke it. Time to stop dwelling.

Jack rose, and placed the empty bottle in the sink, to be rinsed out and recycled when he got around to dealing with the whole dinner issue. There might not be anyone there but him, but there was a small vanilla cake with vanilla icing from his favorite bakery sitting in his almost empty fridge for later. For now he needed to get outside, up to his new deck where his telescope was. So many worlds out there. Now he knew that at least one of them had people. Maybe there were more like that. Now that it was full dark, he’d go and take a look at the Andromeda galaxy, and think of all those worlds, and remind himself of how meaningless his personal troubles were in the grand scheme of things, of how full of wonder the universe was. He’d find some tranquility there.

Of all the people of Earth, he was one of the few who had ever been out there, and seen what lay in the stars. Surely that had to count for something.

He found his black leather jacket, and shrugging it on, headed out to his observatory. He could hear a car coming down the street, and as he sat down in his chair, he heard the slamming of its doors. He had scarcely managed to focus on his target when he heard someone mounting the ladder to where he sat, and a voice he didn’t know.

“Colonel Jack O’Neill?” it asked.

“Retired,” Jack replied.

Bad Birthdays Part 2, here

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
ansostuff
Apr. 25th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
And Happy Belated Birthday to you too! I think it was recently, yes? I remember I thought I should post but then I wasn't home at the time and I'm afraid it slipped my mind again. I hope it was lovely. :)

Oooh! These are lovely. I especially loved Teal'c's ficlet. It was great. i haven't thought much about how he'd celebrate his birthday but this is a great explanation.

Wee!Daniel is also cute, and now you of course geve me a couple more boooks to check out once I finish with what I have to read now. I think you got him right in character and the foster parents seems like great people too.
thothmes
Apr. 27th, 2011 07:51 am (UTC)
Thank you. I had a lovely birthday. Mine is on the 17th, and my husband's aunt (someone I've enjoyed immensely since I met her) turned 80 on the 18th. Her kids threw her a big birthday party on my birthday. We traveled up for that and spent time visiting with far-flung family and friends that we seldom get to see except in the summer, which was delightful. As we were saying our goodbyes, I made a point of thanking his aunt for throwing me such a wonderful birthday party! ;)

The Jaffa strike me as very practical. I have a feeling that they would find one of our birthday celebrations to be rather decadent and bourgeois.

I figure that Daniel (in contrast to the fics I've come across that give him abusive or neglectful foster parents) must have had pretty good parenting, or he wouldn't have turned out as basically optimistic or as trusting in the good faith and intentions of the people he meets as he is depicted. Daniel is generous and giving. That is seldom true of those who have been abused or neglected. They are wary, and hold themselves back.

Glad you enjoyed.
aurora_novarum
Apr. 29th, 2011 08:28 pm (UTC)
Awwww! I think I love Teal'c's the best, but awwwwww!
thothmes
Apr. 30th, 2011 05:22 am (UTC)
It's one of the fun things about writing a character like Teal'c who says so little. One has to find the depths that lie under the smooth surface of the lake.

Glad you enjoyed!
sallymn
May. 1st, 2011 12:48 am (UTC)
The Teal'c was is wonderful... but I think Jack's got to me even more :)
thothmes
May. 1st, 2011 07:45 am (UTC)
I am having trouble typing because your icon makes me giggle so.

I'm glad you enjoyed these. Teal'c is always fun to write because it's so nice to get to explore underneath the calm surface to the... calm inside (in spite of what Jack has to say about Teal'c being excited on the inside!), and Jack is always the one whose head is the easiest for me to get inside. Considering that Jack is rather (as Walter says in Zero Hour) "not like other people", I should probably find this scarier than I actually do!
sallymn
May. 1st, 2011 11:00 am (UTC)
Jack is not like other people, but he is like all too many of us wish we could get away with being...

thothmes
May. 1st, 2011 08:45 pm (UTC)
Good point!
rdamel
May. 1st, 2011 03:29 am (UTC)
Good ones! I feel sad for Jack (and vanilla cake--ick, when you could have chocolate! but I recall, as you no doubt did, his saying in Heroes "I prefer vanilla to chocolate and my favorite color is peridot". Of course, personally I've decided it was all a front, as Jack must love chocolate (I do) and I think peridot is an incredibly ugly color!)

Long digression there, sorry. I also particularly loved the Teal'c story.

Melissa M.
thothmes
May. 1st, 2011 07:55 am (UTC)
I feel exactly the way you do about vanilla cake! Ickkkkkk!!!! The only thing better than chocolate cake is chocolate espresso cake. Jack is so wrong about this issue, but every hero must have some evidence of feet of clay and this is Jack's.

Besides, my own beloved father, who had the misfortune of working as a teen in a chocolate factory, where the unavoidable smell of all that chocolate put him off of chocolate for life, hates chocolate, and loves vanilla cake, so I know that there are fellow sufferers of this hideous delusion. I'm sure that for Jack, though, some cake is always better than no cake, and when he settles down with Carter, until she catches on and insists on a vanilla one for his birthday, Jack will be sure to always provide a chocolate cake for every occasion, because he knows she prefers it.

Give him chocolate cake, if it will make you feel better. He says he prefers vanilla. He doesn't say he hates chocolate.

I'm glad you enjoyed Teal'c's story.
traycer_
Jun. 22nd, 2011 06:44 pm (UTC)
Oh wow! This is just fantastic! Sorry I didn't see it earlier, but am I glad that I finally did!!

Sam's birthday made my cry! All those disappointing presents, then the most precious one of all. *sniffles* Just fantastic. And Teal'c fitting in with our cultural traditions, yet ready to share some of his own with his teammates, was a wonderful touch to an already great story! I loved all four fics!!
thothmes
Jun. 23rd, 2011 03:52 am (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed these. I was stuck on the Daniel one (it just wasn't moving, and I couldn't figure out why) when you and I discussed writer's block over on DW, and something you said made me decide to go ahead and work on one of the others. When I came back to Daniel's it just flowed. So you can definitely take some credit for how this all turned out.

Sam's birthday is based on The Birthday of the Five Purses, which was my own 13th birthday. All my relatives were trying to tell me with their gifts that it was time to stop being a tomboy and face my womanhood. My reaction was less graceful than Sam's, and much more akin to the moment when Jack does not want to hear what Sam is telling him so he stuffs his fingers in his ears and starts singing. Forty years, marriage, and four kids later, I've accepted that I'm not a boy after all, and there are some compensations for that, but I still don't carry a purse on any but the most formal occasions!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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Speak to him, for there is none born wise.

-The Maxims of Ptahotep

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In mourning or rejoicing, be not far from me.

- an Ancient Egyptian Love Song

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alone give life to my heart
may Amun give me what I have found
for all eternity.


-Love Songs of the New Kingdom, Song #2

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To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.


-Wendell Berry

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Up in the morning's no for me,
Up in the morning early;
When a' the hills are covered wi' snaw,
I'm sure it's winter fairly.

-Robert Burns

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Visit to the Hermit Ts'ui


Moss covered paths between scarlet peonies,
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I envy you, drunk with flowers,
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