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Happy birthday to kalquessa! You have made me smile ever since I met you and the cheese obliterator. I come bearing (gasp!) baby fic. And if I post really quickly, I just might make it while it's still your birthday. Considering that I set out to write a comic piece, it turned out surprisingly sappy. Babies do that. Even fictional ones.

Oh and draco_somnians I know it's your birthday already there, and I have a fic idea, and I'm working on it, but it isn't done yet. Happy birthday too!

Title: Sara Smile
Season: Pre-series
Warnings: Non-explicit reference to (shhhh!) s-e-x.
Spoilers: None, unless you didn't know Jack had a wife and kid once.
Synopsis: Jack adjusts to his new role in life

Sara Smile

He had a son! A son! Jack could let himself dwell on it now that he was in the air and on the way home. He’d been in country when the news first came in, and hadn’t even found out that he was a father until two weeks after it happened. Then he hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on it. If he wanted the whole team to make it back to base safe and sound, he needed his mind on the job, not at home. So they’d set off on the next mission and things had gone south fast. They had spent five grueling weeks playing hide and seek with the Russians and Afghan regulars before they’d literally stumbled on the Mujaheddin and a route out. Then there had been a lot of missed sleep and skipped calories, not to mention a few debriefings (including the kind that happened before a shower) to get through before they could all ship out for some well earned leave.

Before sleep, before food, before showers, and before packing (but not before the more boring kind of debriefing, unfortunately) there had been mail call, and Jack’s heart had seized and his breath had caught with hope and joy when he had seen that his slim stack had included three letters in Sara’s familiar hand. Two of them Jack ripped open and read quickly, with no great attention, a break from the usual pattern where he would try to savor every precious moment and delay as long as possible the empty moment when there was nothing more to open. The first two letters were dated before his son’s birthday, and although the picture of Sara, heavily pregnant but more beautiful than ever, with “All your fault!: written on the back in her rounded feminine handwriting had given him a chuckle, he’d moved quickly on to the last letter, now wrinkled, creased, and dog-eared, with its precious picture.

His son! Red-faced and wrinkled, with beady little eyes and a fuzz of hair standing straight up, and a solemn, puzzled expression. Right by either side of his head were two tiny, fisted hands, with eight slender, pink little fingers clutching two tucked-in thumbs. The picture the wispy hair looked brown, but Sara’s letter said it was still blond. By now he’d looked at the picture so many times that he could probably have sketched it accurately from memory, but he drew it out of his jacket pocket again to see if there was some detail he’d missed. Not long now, and they’d be touching down Stateside, and he’d get to see the real thing. His son!

An eternity later (more objectively measured as two hours and forty-six minutes) Jack and his team had touched down, been checked over, and finally dismissed, and were proceeding to the area where their loved ones were waiting. Jack had never been more grateful for the height that allowed him to see over the heads of most of the other men massed around him. As soon as they rounded the final corner he was scanning to pick out Sara’s long, burnished gold hair and concerned blue eyes. And there she was, with a blue-blanketed bundle! Knowing they were there, just yards away, it was all Jack could do to keep from pushing the five men in front of him out of the way, but he managed it, and then suddenly there he was, and there she was. She threw her free hand around his waist as he threw one of his over her shoulder, the other gently around his newly enlarged little family, and gazed on the sweet little face in the bundle as he sucked in great lungfuls of the scent of Sara’s hair.

The baby in the blanket was, Jack realized with a pang, unrecognizable. A few short weeks, and he no longer matched the well-memorized baby in the photograph. How many times would that happen before he was grown?

“He’s gotten fat!” Jack said.

The little cheeks were rounded. The skin was more pink and white and less red. The face was longer, but still very round, and the hair was not standing up as aggressively any more. Jack couldn’t see the eyes, which were hidden under lids that looked to be sealed shut, not just closed, under lids slightly shadowed with blue where a few veins ran close to the surface. The mouth was moving, even in his sleep, and occasionally the tiny red tongue thrust out a bit. Looks like the kid came with an O’Neill appetite.

“He’s so little!”

Sara, when he tore his eyes away and looked down at her for a response, was gazing at him with fond amusement through watery eyes. She shook her head.

“Oh no, he’s not! 9 lbs 2 oz. at birth, 98th percentile for head size, he’s never been little, and he eats like you do! He’s big, and he’s heavy! If I didn’t know better, I’d say he’s doubled in size since he came!”

Then she stepped out of his arms, and turning so she was face on, she held up the bundle in her arms.

“Hold your son,” she said.

Panic. Sheer panic! But this was a familiar feeling, and Jack had learned how to manage it, how to mask it, but Sara knew.

“He won’t bite,” she said. “I’ll show you how. Now put your left arm under mine, yeah, like that, and use your right hand to support his little head.”

She slipped her own arms away, and Jack was flying on his own, somewhere up near cloud nine. He was warm, and light, and right there in his arms. Jack could see his perfect little fingers, and hear his breathing, and when he lifted his elbow to bring him near and place a first kiss on his innocent forehead, he could smell his sweet, musky, baby scent. With his right thumb he obsessively smoothed the soft baby hair. Jack had to sniff and blink and clear his throat several times to keep from making a fool of himself right there in public.

“Hello, Charlie!” he said softly. “I’m your Daddy, and I’m here to love you and watch over you. We’re going to be buddies, you and I.”

“Oh…I named him Tyler. Tyler Ryan.”

“Ryan? As in Ryan O’Neal? Eeewww!”

Sara said nothing, but a slight flush across her cheeks gave her away. Love Story, oddly enough, was tough, mechanically-minded, practical Sara’s favorite movie. She’d made Jack watch it. Once. He had announced right then and there that he’d fulfilled a lifetime quota on weepy movies.

“Oh, how can you hate it?” she’d cried, blotting up her tears with another tissue and blowing her nose. “It’s so romantic!”

“Yeah, we’ll see how you feel about that when they hand you my folded flag!” he’d retorted, and Sara had been so horrified by that, that she’d given up on the attempt to change his mind in favor of telling him just how low a blow that had been. Jack still thought it was a fair comparison. He’d seen a lot of death in his lifetime. It just wasn’t romantic.

By the time the small family had made it home, Sara had resigned herself to Charles, and Jack hadn’t even had to explain about how close little Charlie had come to growing up fatherless, and how it was Kawalsky that had saved him. Given Sara’s reaction to the new pink scar across his ribs, he thought the whole issue was soonest forgotten, soonest mended.

Besides, Jack intended to keep calling the kid Charlie regardless.

It took a few days, as it always did, for Jack to settle back in to family life. There were the usual troubles letting go of the hyper-awareness that meant survival in the field. There was the usual hurried, fumbling, and over-too-soon sex, for the first time ever delayed until they were in the bedroom, and after Jack had haltingly enquired whether it was enough time since [hand wave in the direction of the small port-a-crib on Sara’s side of the bed] to [more hand waving with the addition of raised brows]? It had been, they did, and Charlie politely slept through it with the bomb-proof sleep of the very young. Then there was the better sex that followed (which Charlie politely slept through too, which Sara said was a miracle, because he never slept that long, usually), followed by getting used to the luxury of a king-sized bed, and in the days that followed, the revelation-that-shouldn’t-have-been that back home there was peace and plenty, and innumerable goods were available to choose from on every side.

All these things were familiar, and both Sara and Jack knew by now to be patient with the process, and that it could not be rushed, but this time there were new revelations. Sara’s body had changed subtly, and Jack was not sure how many of those changes were permanent, and how many would fade. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out a way to ask without running the risk of implying that he valued what was or might value what was transitory, and rather than hurt Sara or offend her, he elected to just wait and see. He certainly hoped that this tendency to be a little weary of being touched by the end of the day, which Sara explained was probably the result of holding the baby for so much of the day would pass off soon, especially if he took his turns with the holding.

There was one change he was pretty sure was temporary, but he knew he liked it. He’d always checked out the legs and breasts of every woman to enter his sphere, automatically, even the ones he knew were not for him, and he’d noticed immediately that nursing breasts were magnificent. He’d soon learned that on occasion they sent out fountains of enthusiastic excess if Sara’s milk let down when the baby was not yet attached. Sara had been mortified at this basic betrayal by her own body, but Jack found it rather endearing and privately, rather funny. He simply could not get enough of watching his wife suckle his son, and said as much. She gave him her indulgent smile.

“You know, Jack, along about the time he turns 15, I imagine you’d start getting jealous.”

“Oh, I am already, but I’m handling it. But it’s… [a hand wave of frustration for his inability to ever find the right words]… beautiful. You’re beautiful.”

Gradually through the days, Jack got to know his son and his needs. He learned that diapers came in sizes, and that you also needed wipes. He learned that baby food wouldn’t start for another four months, unless the pediatrician felt he wasn’t getting enough with just breast milk, given his high birth weight and rapid growth. He was surprised to find that baby crap wasn’t nearly as offensive (to the nose at least) if the baby was breastfed. He learned about burping, and found out the hard way why it was that Sara always had a cloth across one shoulder. He mastered the art of picking his son up, without fear that he would do it wrong. In fact, he could, and did, do it while half-asleep in the dark, to spare Sara the trip when the baby cried in the middle of the night, now that the port-a-crib had been moved to the other end of the room to give the new parents a small measure of privacy. Not that it really mattered, given how deeply Charlie slept, but it made Jack more comfortable.

He learned all about the amazing things young babies can do. He proudly offered his pinky for the small hands to grasp in a surprisingly strong grip. He discovered the rooting reflex when his finger grazed Charlie’s cheek, and his tiny mouth turned, seeking a nipple. He discovered how strongly the boy could suck when he held his face just a little too close, and Charlie tried to suck on his nose. He saw how his young eyes, now that muddy blue that the pediatrician said might mean brown eyes to come, would work to focus and to track, and father and son found hours of amusement playing a game Jack called “Here comes Audrey Jr.!” after the plant in the old black and white Roger Corman film The Little Shop of Horrors that he’d loved as a kid. He would hold his hand away from Charlie, and call “Look out! Here comes Audrey Jr.!” as he opened and closed the hand, moving it ever closer to Charlie’s face, until the bunched fingers of the hand landed right on his little button nose. Charlie always paid rapt attention the whole time.

There was one thing about the boy that bothered Jack. He was beginning to worry that something might be wrong with him. Expressions washed over the kid’s face constantly, waking or sleeping. There were frowns and grimaces, an odd pursed-lipped expression that Sara called his “O-face”, there was disgust, dismay, surprise, and there was often red-faced anger if Sara wasn’t fast enough with the catch on her nursing bra, and an expression of Zen-worthy contemplation that heralded a major poop, but never a smile. After four days the nagging doubt was killing Jack, and he just had to ask.

“What’s wrong with him? Why doesn’t he smile?”

Sara had laughed at his concern, and explained that this was normal.

“They don’t at this age. Or if they do, it’s not intentional. He’ll probably learn to do that pretty soon though. Definitely before your leave is over.”

All was right with Jack’s world. Charlie was perfect.

Just when Jack thought that life was going to continue on with wonderful and predictable serenity until his leave ended, Sara got it into his head that he needed to learn to stop relying on her when it came to caring for their son. Not that she told him so, in so many words. She just presented him with a fait accompli. She made plans with friends, sterilized a bottle and expressed some extra milk, and at the end of the next feeding, told Jack that she would be going over to Marie’s for a Girl’s afternoon in, and Jack would be watching Charlie. When Jack pled incompetence, she turned a deaf ear, went over the instructions for how to warm up the breast milk if it were needed, pointed out where the written form of the instructions she’d made for him were, pointed out the list of emergency numbers on the fridge, reminded him of baby triage (“Yes, ma’am. Pick him up, check the dipe, feed and burp, hold with rocking, and if that doesn’t work, start from the top. Got it.”) and heartlessly abandoned him, saying cheerily “If Janey can make it, she’s gonna cut my hair.”

Jack was left literally holding the baby, hoping against hope that Janey would be far too busy. He loved Sara’s long glossy blonde hair in its pony tail, but she was finding it impractical as it increasingly became a handle for Charlie’s flailing hands when it was loose.

His assumption that he was the only one upset by the current state of affairs would have ended abruptly if he had paid any attention to what was going on beyond the front door. Sara had made it as far as the driver’s seat before she slumped over the steering wheel and cried. She missed Tyler – no Charlie – already. Her arms felt achingly empty, and she was certain that Jack would never get all the little details right. What if he used up all the milk and tried to feed him water, unsterilized water, from the tap? Did he know not to let him sleep on the soft cushions of the couch tummy down? Oh, God! Charlie was too little! She needed to go back to him! She had her left hand on the door handle, when she pulled herself together, and straightened up, using the hand to wipe at her eyes instead. Jack was his father. He loved Charlie, and Jack took very, very good care of those he loved. If anything he would be overprotective. Charlie would always be safe in Jack’s care. She was just being silly. This had to happen sometime. No time like the present. Besides, how could she explain to the girls that she’d chickened out? She took a few deep breaths, wiped her eyes again for good measure (thanking the unknown inventor of waterproof mascara), started the car, shifted into reverse, and set off, determined to at least fake enjoyment, if she couldn’t feel it.

Back on the home front, things went well for the first hour. There was a poop, which was entirely expected after the recent big feed, and Jack’s quick reflexes had saved him when Charlie had sent out a golden arch of pee just as Jack was drawing up the new diaper. This necessitated reaching down for a new diaper to replace the one he’d used to clean Charlie’s belly, the changing mat and part of the wall, and if Charlie had almost rolled himself off the table with a wild kick just as Jack was leaning for the diaper, Sara didn’t need to know. All had ended well, and Jack had just learned two new things. Get a boy’s bits covered with the diaper as fast as humanly possible, and one hand on the tummy at all times.

After the excitement of a poop, a new diaper, and a new sleeper, since the old one had been lost to diaper leakage in the pooping, Charlie was ready for a nap, so Jack settled down on the couch with Charlie on his left arm and a bag of pretzels on the couch to his right, with a cold one (on a coaster so Sara couldn’t complain that he’d left a ring) on the end table and the third game of the American League Championships on TV.

It was when Charlie woke up that things took a turn for the worse. He began to cry, and since he was already being held, Jack went right to the next step, and checked his diaper, which was fine. Okay, so feeding it was. Jack read the written directions three times to make sure he knew what to do, then set to work. What should have taken a couple of minutes, ten at the outside, seemed to take twice as long done one handed with a screaming, arching, squalling thing on the other arm, but eventually it was ready. Jack tested the temperature on his wrist a few times to be extra sure (Sara had underlined that portion of the instructions multiple times) and then was finally rewarded by a few minutes of blessed silence, broken only by snuffling and sucking sounds. After half the bottle, Jack burped him, fed him the rest, and then burped him again, and declared the emergency over.

That was all well and good, but only a half an hour later Charlie started to cry again, and this time it was pretty clearly not hunger, since he had just eaten, and changing his diaper, further burping, and plenty of holding and rocking and walking around did nothing to stop the noise. The very upsetting noise. Jack was failing his son. He had some need, and Jack couldn’t find out what it was. He tried begging, pleading, and even singing some dimly remembered songs his mother had sung him, but apparently Charlie liked his singing as much as Sara did, because he just wailed louder. Just when Jack was ready to sit right down on the hall floor and begin bawling himself, Charlie let out a huge belch, and enough spit-up to necessitate a change of burp cloth, and stopped his howling. Jack put Charlie down carefully into his baby bucket while he found a new cloth in the diaper bag, and then, shielded once more, picked him up. Charlie smiled.

He smiled! Jack broke out into a delighted chuckle himself, and Charlie did it again. For the next half hour Jack tried to get him to do it again, but although there were gurgles, and a few odd little bubbles, and the odd O-face, there were no more smiles before exhaustion and a full tummy lured him back into the deep sleep of the innocent.

Charlie was still fast asleep when Sara came home, with her glorious mane reduced to some sort of short layered arrangement, and her over-full breasts leaving round wet headlights of milk on her shirt even through the nursing pads. She seized Charlie from Jack, and pulling out a breast, began to tease the corner of his mouth with a nipple until he sleepily and reflexively latched on. He suckled for only a short time before letting off suction and letting the nipple slip out of his mouth, so Sara repeated the process on the other side, before burping him, although he remained asleep throughout.

“Oh, thank God!” she breathed. “I felt like they were going to pop! It’s a little better now, but I hope he wakes up and takes in a full meal pretty soon. Do you like the new hair?”

Jack hated it, and missed the long swinging hair already, so silky, so thick, but Sara was looking at him with such eager hope that he could not say so. Besides, it was her head. If she wanted it short, then she had the right. He changed the subject.

“While you were gone, Charlie smiled! Twice! I tried to get him to do it a third time, but that was it for now.”

Sara surprised the hell out of him. She burst into tears.

A bewildered Jack tried to gently lift Charlie out of her arms so he could put him into his bucket and take her fully into his arms, but she refused to let go, so he encircled them both, instead. At his size his arms were plenty long enough. Gently he rubbed circles on her back, and asked her what was wrong.

“His first smile, and I missed it!” she sniffed. “I’ll never get that back. Ever.”

Jack was silent for a moment and then he tilted her chin up with one hand, cradling the nape of her neck with the other. He gazed intently into her swimming blue eyes.

“I missed his first breath, his first cry, his whole first seven weeks. You don’t begrudge me a couple of smiles, do you?”

Her smile, if a little watery and wobbly, was soft and genuine.

“When you put it that way, I guess not,” she said. “I’m sorry. I know you hate it when I cry. It’s just that I missed him so, and then there’s all these damn hormones still floating around.”

“Shhhh,” Jack whispered, and he used his thumb to gently wipe around her eyes, before drawing her close again with the other arm, now resting on her shoulder by the crook of her neck. He did hate it when she cried, because it made him so sad he felt as if he would cry too, though he never quite could. They stood there for a moment, and then as one they looked down on their sleeping son.

Still sleeping, Charlie smiled.

“Oh!” said Sara in wonder. For a moment she gazed down at the baby, waiting to see if it would happen again, and then she looked up at Jack. Their eyes met, and Sara smiled.

He had a son, a family, and Sara smiled. Life didn’t get any better than that.

Edited because I was typing to meet a deadline, and I'm a pretty lousy typist. *sheepish smile*


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 1st, 2010 08:26 pm (UTC)
This was so damn sweet and lovely and AW! :D It just makes me sad to know how it all ends. :( *sniffs*
Mar. 2nd, 2010 06:15 am (UTC)
Yeah, me too, although in this view I think the seeds of the future are there. There's an awful lot of not-talking going on already, not that Jack needs anything different, but Sara will...
Mar. 1st, 2010 08:47 pm (UTC)
What I loved the most about this was that it was honest, not cutesy. That'll get me to read babyfic every time. :)
Mar. 2nd, 2010 06:21 am (UTC)
Well, by now, having been a big sister (5 siblings, 7 to 27 years younger than me), a busy babysitter, and a mom, not to mention auntie 7 times over, I do kinda know my way around babies! Glad you enjoyed.

Truly lovely icon, btw. Serene and magical. Is that one of your own photos?
Mar. 2nd, 2010 09:20 pm (UTC)
I do kinda know my way around babies!

Well, it shows! lol. Nothing turns me off faster from a potentially good story than over-the-top-cute babies, especially since I got back into reading fic while nursing one of my own and needing something quick and easy to keep away from grabby hands. :)

Not my picture, sadly. It looks like a lovely place to visit though. Icon was from hsapiens, I believe.

Mar. 5th, 2010 02:37 am (UTC)
This is great. Somewhat bittersweet, knowing how the story will end, but lovely in the moment.

And I feel like I've learned a little more about babies from reading this :)
Mar. 5th, 2010 03:02 am (UTC)
Thank you. I like to think that by now I know my way around a baby, but then I realize that as much as I know now, I've probably forgotten twice as much, because there is so much that looms so large when you are actually in the moment, and that you think will be a significant memory forever, that quietly just slips away.

And they grow up so shockingly fast, especially considering how slowly the seconds pass in the wee hours of the morning when you want to sleep, and they don't!

It has to be sweet for Jack in the moment, or it would not have devastated him so when he lost it all.
Mar. 15th, 2010 05:13 pm (UTC)
That was so sweet! And involved so many moments that I recently had myself. *grin* Poor Sara, missing the first smile. Bear's first smiles were all for the bottle we gave him my breastmilk in before he was big enough to nurse on his own. *snerk* Thank you for my birthday present, I'm sorry it took me so long to read!
Mar. 16th, 2010 02:57 am (UTC)
No apology necessary. I've been there, disorganized that! Bear (rightly) is your first priority, and sleep your second. Poor Mr. Bill will move up the ranks as Bear learns to sleep through the night.

When our youngest who - being adopted - was a formula-fed baby, was finally being weaned off the formula, but was having one bottle at the end of her day, it so clearly brought her pleasure (she made little mmmm-ing noises of contentment throughout) that that time was referred to by the whole family as the High Point of the Baby Day. So now when I slip into bed (I'm the night owl in our relationship) and my husband throws a sleepy arm over me, and draws me in to a hug, I often contentedly say "High Point of the Thothmes Day".

Babies (and Thothmesses) are all about the comfort!
Jan. 16th, 2011 11:08 pm (UTC)
I am NOT a babyfic person, but love Jack/Sara, so I read this anyway and enjoyed it. And I love your icon of RDA and Wylie--such an adorable pic, one of my favorites of him and his baby. Though I'm also partial to one when she's maybe 4 and they're at a Malibu fun fair thing, both with such similar expressions, appearing to be yelling in delight--definitely one where you can see how much she looks like him!
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )



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