Title: Tools of the Trade
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Category: Angst, Humor
Spoilers: Season 2, ‘Holidays’
Sequel/Series Info: N/A
Content Level: 13+
Content Warnings: Minor language
Summary: Jack and Siler discover that despite having worked together they have a lot to learn about walking in the others’ shoes.
Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only, and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without the consent of the author.
Archive: JackFic, Heliopolis
Author’s Notes: This story was written for someone as part of the 2004 Jack- Fic-A Thon. Who it is I have yet to discover, but it is my hope that person will have company in enjoying this fic. Many thanks to Charli for the beta, Dee for her excellent organizational skills, and Arnise for archiving. Enjoy!
Tools of the Trade
man is more than just himself; he also represents the unique, the very special
and always significant and remarkable point at which the world's phenomena
intersect, only once in this way and never again."
-- Herman Hesse
His kids were gone. Off to check on the Enkarans and attend their annual Valcuum Day. Even Daniel was a little iffy on the background of the celebration, but it was bound to be a great party. He knew from experience that the Enkarans could throw a hell of a bash. They were terrific people and he didn’t even try to mask the envy as Carter, Daniel, and Teal’c left to board the Prometheus, the Air Force’s version of a taxi, without him. They say that repetition makes things easier, but whoever ‘they’ were, he’d quickly discovered that ‘they’ were wrong in his case. It was never easy to see SG-1 mission-bound without him. Even on a milkrun assignment involving a suckling pig and plenty of Enkaran home brew.
But life moves on and things change. Like his Grandma O’Neill used to say, ‘You can choose to change lightbulbs if you don’t like sitting in the dark, but life is going to change whether you want it to, or not. Actually, Jack was looking forward to a few peaceful days. He was hoping he might actually get caught up with the never-ending paperwork growing like mold on his desk. The holidays were fast approaching and following in General Hammond’s footsteps, Jack had pared the duty roster to a minimum. He’d actually worked long hours to make sure as many of his people as possible would be home to greet Christmas morning with their kids. He was proud of the number of volunteers who had stepped forward to request holiday duty. It made his job a little easier, a fact he greatly appreciated.
He’d been working steadily for several hours on one of the interminable requisition forms, fighting the temptation to call the cafeteria to see if there was any pumpkin pie left, when the call came.
“Jack, it’s George Hammond. Everything going okay?”
Eyeing the stack of files awaiting their turn, Jack grimaced. Massaging his temple with his free hand he closed his eyes as he answered. “Just fine, General. In fact, it couldn’t be better, sir.”
“Glad to hear it. Everyone is extremely pleased with the job you’re doing there, son.”
He could hear it coming. The mother of all ‘buts’ was coming down the pike.
“Actually, Jack, I just got off the horn with the Appropriations Committee and . . .”
The proverbial other shoe was about to drop. He took a deep breath and jumped in with both bare feet. “And, but, therefore? What’s going on General? They aren’t trying to cut funds again, are they?”
Hammond chuckled. “No, nothing like that. They do have one request though.”
“Why am I not surprised? How bad is it, sir?”
“In the scheme of thing, not so bad.”
Oiy. This was sounding worse and worse. “General . . .”
“They’ve called for an inventory.”
Well, that didn’t sound too bad.
“Of the entire base.”
“And it needs to be done in three days.”
Double damn. “Three days! General, you do know how many boxes of toilet paper it takes to keep this place running, don’t you? Not to mention the non-vital stuff like the weapons and ammunition.”
Hammond sighed deeply. “Jack, I know
I’m asking you to do the impossible, but these orders come from higher up and it’s got to be done.”
The headache was forming, taking root like that damn plant of Dr. Lee’s. Fumbling through his desk drawer, Jack snagged the bottle of aspirin and palmed a couple, washing them down with the dregs of cold coffee. He basked for a moment in the feeble light of perverse satisfaction that at least there were two pain relievers he wouldn’t have to include in the count before reality of the task ahead slapped him across the face. “But General, . . .” Crap, was he whining? Did Generals actually whine? Apparently so.
“Jack, I’m sorry. It’s non-negotiable. Do it. You’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat before more times than I can count.”
“That may be true, sir, but now the rabbit has turned into a little gray hair.”
Hammond was chuckling again. “Good bye, Jack. And good luck.”
Jack hung up, his mind already racing. Three days. He had department heads spread out all over this world . . . and others, he revised silently, as he thought of Carter and Daniel.
* * *
It had been an exhausting three days. Jack would have been overwhelmingly proud of his staff if he hadn’t felt like an extra in ‘The Return of the Walking Dead.’ A few phone calls and the grapevine had spread the word of the gargantuan task. Once again, Jack was reminded that there was a reason the men and woman under his command were the best of the best. Staff members who hadn’t left for the holidays reported for duty. Leaves had been shortened voluntarily to lend a hand, duty hours were ignored, and slowly the figures began adding up as the number crunchers tallied the results. Through it all, Jack was left with a deep appreciation at the obvious level of commitment throughout each department.
Theoretically he supposed he could have sat in his office and awaited the results, but that had never been his style when he led his team through the ‘gate and now that he was piloting a desk, he saw no reason to change that fact. His duty still lay in the trenches side by side with his team. That said, Jack had found himself counting canned peas in the cafeteria storeroom until he wondered if his bladder would be subliminally affected, and he’d never be able to take a pea again. He recorded weapons, hoping his weary brain would know the difference between a P-90 and 90 peas. With many staff members already out of town before Hammond’s call, there were gaps which Jack did his best to fill.
And that was how he and Siler ended up together at the end of three days and nights of seemingly endless inventorying. They were down to Storage Room 19B4. Jack figured it might have a special name, but at this point he was too damn tired to think of anything clever to call it, so he’d dubbed it the egghead coop. It was, in fact, the locked storage area for alien technology brought in by the various teams and on temporary loan from Nellis for study and experiments by the science geeks. Security was tight for this particular area and rightfully so, given some of the near disasters suffered by the SGC because of technology gone asunder over the years. Carter, as department head should rightfully been making the count, but as she and the rest of SG-1 were out valcuuming with the Enkarans, the task fell to Jack.
Swiping his clearance card, Jack waited impatiently for the nanosecond it took to disengage the lock so they could get this done. He had a stack of Simpson tapes and a couch with his name on it.
“Siler, you look like hell. When was the last time you slept?”
“Probably about the same time you did, sir.” He gave a weary grin and added, “You probably haven’t looked in a mirror yourself lately have you, General?”
“Counted ‘em, yes. Look in ‘em, no,” Jack growled. “And watch it Sergeant. Don’t you know it’s dangerous to point out that your CO is less than stellar?” Siler gave a weary snort as he stepped aside to allow Jack to enter. “Let’s get this wrapped up ASAP, and get the hell out of Dodge. I want this report completed and safely on Level 3 for the accountants to crunch no later than,” he checked his watch and groaned, “0130.”
Clipboard in hand, Siler nodded and moved towards the nearest table to begin, as Jack began on the opposite side of the room.
“Who would have thought the eggheads would need all this stuff to play with? Don’t they have any Earth technology that they could use?” Jack grumbled.
“I wouldn’t know, sir, but it looks like we’re about done. If you could just give me a hand with this large piece of equipment, I can squeeze behind it and finish those few pieces against the back wall.”
Jack rubbed his eyes wearily. “You’re a good man, Siler. I really appreciate your help.” He shuffled over to where the other man stood holding the heavy piece of technology. “I want you to plan on taking a few extra days off now that we’re done with this.”
“Thank you, sir. I am looking forward to spending a few days off with my family for Christmas.”
“And that would be tomorrow?”
Siler laughed. “Yes, sir. As of 0000 hours we were into Christmas Eve.”
“This is the big night for the boys topside.”
“Yes, sir. My kids check in regularly with NORAD to track Santa.”
Jack smiled despite his utter exhaustion and reached for the other side of the equipment to slide the bulky thing out of the way.
There was a soft whirling sound, which registered as vaguely familiar in some distant part of his semi-functioning brain. It was the tingling in his palms that finally jumped the synapses in his brain. Dammit, Ma’chello’s return of the body snatchers machine! “Siler, let go,” he yelled, knowing it was already too late.
* * *
“Of all the boneheaded, idiotic, muddled-brain stupid things to do. When I find out whose brain-child it was to bring this damn thing back on base I’m going to kill them slowly. And then demote them and then . . . .” The muttering faded away into threatening guttural grunts.
“Yes, sir, “ Siler sighed wearily, if ever dutifully. A pissed off general would normally have him quivering in his boots, but O’Neill’s muttered threats had long since lost their potency as they sat on a couple of overturned crates.
“There should have been a memo. Next time there better be a memo before they bring this stuff on base. For that matter, there’d damn well better never be a next time. Siler, remind me to send that out in a memo.”
“Sir, how are we going to get back to normal? Not that it isn’t an honor being you, General.
But, . . .”
“Yeah, I got it, Siler.”
has to be a way to switch back.”
“Yeah, piece of cake. Let me see.” Siler watched as his face puckered up, frowning with concentration. “Daniel and Ma’chello switched places and then Teal’c switched with me, and by the way Siler, just for the record you are not to go anywhere near my hair with a razor while you’re in possession of my body. Is that clear?” Siler nodded slightly mystified by the order. “Then Daniel switched with . . . Dammit, why couldn’t you have switched with Carter, Siler, so you’d be able to figure this whole thing out?”
“Sorry, sir,” Siler muttered, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment at the thought.
Jack jumped up and began to pace the small room. Siler stood dutifully and pressed against a wall to give himself space. “Well, Carter’ll just have to fix this.”
“General, Colonel Carter won’t be back for another . . .”
“. . . couple of days. Damn.”
“Could SG-1 be recalled early, sir?”
“No,” Jack sighed heavily. “No ‘gate, so it’s old fashioned space travel.” Neither man found that concept amusing given the circumstances. “Well, the only thing we can do is dig in and weather the next couple of days.”
A duet of heavy sighs filled the room before Siler hesitantly muttered. “General, it’s Christmas Eve and well sir, my kids . . .” He left the statement hang there.
“Siler, I’m sorry, but we can’t break protocol. You can’t go home looking like, well, me, and explain it to your wife and kids.”
“No sir. But maybe you could go for me.” Jack’s eyes widened at the edge of hope that had crept into Siler’s . . . well, his voice. “My kids, sir. They want me to be home for Christmas.”
Ah man, the Jack O’Neill Achilles’ heel. Kids. Jack sighed deeply. “Merry Christmas, Siler.”
* * *
The Silers had a two story, country style farmhouse on the outskirts of the Springs. The house set off the road surrounded by soft snow banks, rolling hills and dark evergreens. It barely escaped becoming a Rockwell cliche, but the trampled, mega-used, child-churned snow saved it that fate. A large wreath graced the front door and the porch was lined with twinkling strings of white lights. Jack could see a large, decorated Christmas tree framed in a window, advertising its own brand of cheer. Smoke rose gently from the fireplace. Jack had to admit it presented a warm picture of welcome and seasonal happiness as he pulled Siler’s Bronco into the long drive.
He’d met Siler’s wife a couple of times at functions, but just the thought of trying to pretend to be her husband had his stomach knotted in a way it never did when facing down the Goa’uld. He remembered Gina as a friendly, easy-going woman a little younger than Sara. He had a dim notion that she’d seemed to enjoy the company of the other wives, but he honestly hadn’t paid enough attention to know one way, or the other. He vaguely remembered that she had shoulder length light brown hair and wore glasses, but not much else.
In fact, as the thought of what he had agreed to do had sunk in, he had suddenly been surprised at how little he actually knew about Siler, a man with whom he had worked with daily for nearly eight years and the doubts of what he was about to attempt peppered him like the falling snow. What if Gina asked him something he should know? That was highly probable. He’d been married long enough to know that most married couples engaged in this weird thing called ‘talking.’ Crap, what if she expected him to ask about her parents? He didn’t even know if his . . . Siler’s parents were still living, and if they were where they lived. A dozen scenarios bombarded him; none of them good. Daniel was better at this stuff than he was. The kid was a wiz at faking his way through a negotiation, picking up clues and information and feeding it back into the conversation with casual ease. This was Daniel’s forte.
His level of nervousness escalated exponentially when Siler’s three kids came charging out of the backdoor towards the truck, zipping coats, tugging on mittens, doing their best to out-shout each other as they welcomed him home. They were followed by a medium-sized, shaggy, black and white beast that definitely had terrier in its heritage, and which was now adding its own welcome to the chaos.
Jack stared at the kids through the truck window; their red-cheeked excitement twisted the knot tighter. This was wrong on so many levels. It ought to be Siler here with his kids on Christmas Eve. He wanted nothing more than to turn around, escape the vaguely nauseating smell of old MacDonald’s french fries that permeated the heated atmosphere of the truck, and head back to the Mountain. the The boys, Nathan and Steven, had started an impromptu snowball fight, while their little sister, Jenny pressed against the fender of the truck and watched. Siler had told him the boys were twelve and nine. Little Jenny had surprised them a few years later and had just turned six. A wild snowball hit the driver’s window and Jenny squealed. Slowly, Jack reached for the door handle. “Well, here goes nothing,” he muttered.
The fight was immediately suspended as little bodies launched themselves at him. Jack staggered back, grateful for the sturdy truck to steady him.
“Dad, you’re finally home. I didn’t think you’d ever get here.”
“I helped Mom bake Christmas cookies. I made one especially for you. It’s Santa’s sleigh and I made it the color of your truck.”
“I scored twice in hockey practice yesterday, Dad. Coach said it was the best I’d ever looked. Can you come to the next practice and watch?”
A bit overwhelmed by the onslaught, Jack wasn’t sure what to say. He recognized the problem, of course. He liked kids and got along great with them, but that was as himself. Now he was supposed to be acting within the confines of another man’s parameters. He wasn’t sure how Siler acted around his children. Was he demonstrative, or reserved? Firm or easy-going? He was pretty quiet at the SGC, but how did he react once he was home? A dozen questions suddenly cropped up as he stared, slightly wide-eyed at the children competing for his attention. Damn, why hadn’t he thought to ask those kinds of questions before he left Siler back at the mountain?
The backdoor opened suddenly and Jack could see a woman pull her cardigan tighter against the bite of the cold. If his vague recollection served him, it had to be Gina. “All right you wild monkeys, let your dad get in the house before you mob him. Stop that barking, Kitten. Supper’s almost ready, so you all get in here and wash up. And I want those coats hung on the hook. Got it?”
Apparently they did. Like a retreating tide on the beach, the yard was momentarily silent, the scarred surface of the battlefield on the snow the only sign that they’d been there. Even Kitten had retreated into the sanctity of the house with a last half-hearted wumf. Jack drew in a shaky breath relieved to have survived the first skirmish relatively unscathed. “Jerry, what’re doing? It’s cold. Come on in and I’ll put supper on the table while you change.”
While I change? She had no idea. Exhaling a white cloud, Jack pried himself away from the temporary sanctuary of the truck cab raising a hand in silent acquiescence as he closed the door against the temptation to flee, and walked slowly towards the house.
Siler had given him a basic rundown of the floor plan and so Jack managed to escape to the upstairs bedroom, after an obligatory, if somewhat embarrassing, welcoming home kiss, where he promptly locked the door and leaned against it with a sigh. Okay, Jack, plan this like any other battle. Strategy 101. You’ve spent most of your adult life slipping in and out of tight spots. You’re good at it. It’s what you do. Treat this as if it were just another mission where the fate of Earth rested on your actions. Go with what you know. Build on that. Get out of the uniform and into civvies. That much he could manage without too much difficulty, although it struck him as odd finding women’s clothing gracing half of the closet. It’d been a long time since he’d shared a closet with Sara’s things. But, all in all, it didn’t take him nearly long enough to change into jeans and a sweatshirt and find himself staring at the lock, wondering what he’d find behind door number one when he opened it.
“Supper’s on the table.”
As he slowly opened the door and walked down the hall to the landing at the top of the stairs, Jack could hear the excited chatter of the children and Gina’s softer voice answering and undoubtedly issuing orders. He stared at the smiling faces of the kids’ school pictures hanging on the walls. Cute kids. He had to keep it in mind that he was doing this for them. Mission objective: give the kids a good Christmas with their dad, or reasonable substitute. Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, he started down the stairs. Well, let’s disengage the autopilot and see if you can jockey this trip in for a smooth landing.
“Jerry, you coming down? Everything’s ready. We’re just waiting for you to pray so we can start.”
Jack rolled his eyes heavenward. “I am so gonna crash and burn for this.”
Supper was a noisy, surprisingly intriguing affair. Jack’s normal evening meal consisted of a lunchmeat sandwich slapped together hurriedly with mustard, and a few chips, or take-out if he was too tired to mess with even that simple fare. Apparently Gina had other ideas as to what constituted a meal. Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a couple of vegetables filled serving bowls to overflowing around the table. Swallowing down the fluttering panic as he watched all heads bow, awaiting him to offer grace, Jack finally reached back to his childhood and fumbled his way through a few simple words. “Dear God, thank you for this food and . . . we’d appreciate it if you’d watch our six.” Loud ‘amen’s’ echoed around the table, over-riding his sigh of relief. He ignored Gina’s obvious amusement and concentrated on distributing the plates as she filled them.
Used to his television’s company as a dining companion, Jack found the dinner conversation around the table a bit like a tennis match. Questions and answers, excited stories and teasing remarks, bounced back and forth without benefit of a net or referee. No one seemed too worried about his reluctance to add much to the gabfest. He did his best to nod at what seemed to be appropriate moments, hoping he wasn’t digging Siler into a promise he’d later regret. The food was delicious and slowly Jack felt himself begin to relax a tad and enjoy the kids’ chatter. It reminded him of times when Charlie would come home busting with news that had to be shared.
“Kid’s, your dad’s tired, so why don’t you all settle down a bit and let him enjoy his supper.”
Jack turned and found Gina looking at him, a look of concern shadowing her eyes. “Jerry, are you feeling okay? You’re awfully quiet tonight.”
He gave her a hesitant smile and nodded. “Fine. Just, you know, tired from the inventory and all. Supper’s great. Best I’ve had since I can’t tell you when.”
Gina gifted him with a smile brimming with understanding and sympathy. “I’m sorry. I hate that you’ve had to work so hard the past few days when you were supposed to be off. If you’re done, why don’t you go in the family room with the kids and relax a few minutes while I clean up the dishes.”
There wasn’t much choice. Objective number one was to make sure Siler’s kids enjoyed having their father home for Christmas, so he had his orders. “Let’s go gang. Maybe we can find a Christmas show on T.V.”
The fire crackled, the gas logs sending out cheer and warmth throughout the room. Jenny had claimed Jack’s lap the moment he’d eased himself into the plaid recliner. He hadn’t minded a bit. The boys had sprawled in front of the Blue Spruce decorated with an eclectic collection of homemade and store bought ornaments and were glued to ‘Rudolph, the Red-Nose Reindeer.’ Kitten, the terrier mix had plopped down by his feet and was sleeping soundly. Jack remembered watching the same show with Charlie, laughing over the antics of the misfit toys and the little elf who wanted to be a dentist. For a moment his throat tightened as he blinked away the memories and tightened his grip on the child snuggled in his arms. ‘Ready Rudolph?’ “Ready, Santa.” The kids and animated deer answered in unison and Jack laughed aloud as he listened to their off-key rendition of the holiday classic as the show drew to a close.
“Dad, did you ever watch Rudolph when you were a kid?”
Jack smiled at Steven. “Nope, too busy storming forts and building snowmen to watch much T.V.”
“Did you make snow angels?”
Jack looked down at the innocent face of the little girl nestled comfortably in his lap. Slowly, he reached out with one long finger and gently stroked her cheek. “Oh yeah,” he answered softly. “Ya gotta have snow angels.”
* * *
It was quiet. The lack of noise had struck him like a physical blow at first, as Siler unlocked the door and stepped tentatively inside. The room was neat which didn’t surprise him; the mail sorted and stacked, the lack of clutter a testimony to a career military man. It was odd being in General O’Neill’s home, especially alone. It felt a little like checking into a hotel room. Strange, and yet a little exciting as you explored your new habitat.
His stomach grumbled a complaint, reminding Siler that he and the General had skipped lunch as they exchanged pertinent information and firmed up plans. He’d already been warned that there wasn’t likely to be much worth eating in the fridge, but Siler couldn’t help himself when he pulled open the door for a look-see. After all, it wasn’t every day you got to take a peek in a general’s refrigerator. Used to Gina’s well-stocked fridge, primed with goodies to snack on, he was shocked by the barren shelves. General O’Neill hadn’t been kidding. There were a variety of condiments, including a jar of chutney graced with a half inch of fuzzy mold, a few beers, a couple of cans of diet cola, and something hard and brown which defied identification as it lay curled in the crisper. Well, the general had mentioned the number for his favorite pizza delivery was on a pad next to the phone, so supper wasn’t going to be a big deal.
Siler yawned his way around the rooms while he waited for the pizza to arrive. He was surprised at the wide selection of books and music General O’Neill had. Somehow he’d never figured him as the type to like opera, but then Siler had to admit over the years he’d really never given the General’s personal life much thought. Actually, he’d served under the man for eight years now and he knew very little about him. There was the obvious, of course, stuff that anyone who worked at the SGC could see inside a week. It was common knowledge that he was brave and never failed to put his own life on the line when necessary. Siler’d lost count of how many times SG-1 had saved the base and the planet. He knew O’Neill was witty and sarcastic bordering on irreverence was his trademark, and once or twice he’d even witnessed a gentler side of the man. When pinned to the concrete wall of the Gateroom like an insect, the alien probe having driven a spike through O’Neill’s shoulder, Siler had borne witness to the depth of feelings between Teal’c and the then Colonel O’Neill. It was something he’d never mentioned to anyone else, but knew without a shadow of a doubt it was there. More than teammates. Brothers.
As he gazed at the pictures hanging on the wall of people important in the General’s life, Siler looked into the smiling face of a tow-headed boy and a tall blond women standing beside a younger, beaming O’Neill. The relaxed smile was something Siler had rarely seen in all the years they’d worked together. He wondered about these missing pieces of the General’s life, the ones he’d never heard anyone, not even SG-1, talk about. Silence pressed in around him. Whoever these people were, it was obvious that they had no part of this home. He looked at the boy and realized how badly he missed being with his own sons and his little Jenny bird. He thought about his own home and suddenly realized he wouldn’t be there to read the Christmas story to the kids this year. Siler moved away from the photographs and walked toward the kitchen. He had a feeling the General was going to have a few less beers by the time he came home.
* * *
The kids were in bed. Jack had to admit he’d enjoyed the evening. Gina had joined them and rather than make him nervous, she seemed to complete the cozy setting. Carols played softly on the stereo and the whole setting had crept back into that Norman Rockwell surreal feeling, which Jack found strangely soothing. Gina had brought out a plate of Christmas cookies, which he greeted with almost as much enthusiasm as the kids. Munching contentedly the truck-colored sleigh, under Jenny’s watchful gaze, he realized he was relaxed and thoroughly enjoying himself.
When Gina had handed him the big family Bible, opened to the Book of Luke, rather than make him uncomfortable, Jack had found the family tradition touching. The boys wormed their way to sit comfortably by his feet, Gina relaxed on the couch near the fire, and even Kitten awoke and seemed to listen as he read the story of the birth of the baby in a manager. Jenny’s little finger rested lightly on his own, marking his place as he read aloud.
“Bedtime, gang. I just heard from NORAD that Santa was in Brazil. It won’t be long before he’s headed our way. So some kiddos in this house better be asleep by then.” Jenny gave her mother a look of concern, while the boys grinned good naturedly and played along, not willing to risk out-and-out doubt, now that it was getting down to zero hour. Gina took Jenny’s hand as she slid out of Jack’s lap, leaving him surprised by the void the warm little body left. She smiled at Jack as she led her little parade towards the stairs. “I’ll go get the kids to bed. Why don’t you go get your toolbox out of the basement? I have a couple of projects that need finishing up.” She gave him a secretive wink. “Be back in a few minutes.”
It didn’t take long for her to get the kids to sleep. Jack had found the toolkit without much trouble and was waiting when she returned. He helped her pull out a pink bike, complete with tasseled handlebars. While Gina sat crossed-legged, wrapping gifts, Jack struggled to make sense of the directions, which were only complicated by the fact that they came in four languages.
“Damn, I wish Carter was here. She’d have this figured out in no time.”
Gina looked up from the GameBoy cartridge she was struggling to camouflage. “Who’s Carter? Someone you work with?”
Jack gulped and stammered, “Ah, yeah, Major Carter. She works at the Mountain. She knows all about taking apart and putting stuff back together.”
Gina smiled. “Well, I have to tell you, personally I find it pretty funny that you can keep that whole Mountain running, but you can’t seem to figure out how to put together a little girl’s bike.” She smiled again, taking the sting out of her teasing and Jack found himself returning her grin with good-natured acknowledgment of his lack of toy assembling skills.
“Gina, I was wondering if you would mind having my CO, Jack O’Neill, over tomorrow?” he blurted out.
Her brow puckered, clearly as surprised as he was by his suggestion. It hadn’t been part of the plan for Siler to come over, but somehow it had suddenly become important for the man to get at least see his kids albeit in absentia on Christmas Day. “Isn’t he the man who broke your arm?
Jack cringed inwardly, shrugging an answer he hoped would pass. “Yeah, but, I just thought it would be a nice gesture to invite him over.”
“Doesn’t he have a family?”
Jack looked away and feigned concentration on locating nut ‘G.’ “No,” he finally admitted softly when it became obvious that she was awaiting an answer. “No family.”
“Then absolutely invite him over. There’s always more than enough. Hopefully the kids won’t get on his nerves. If he’s single, he might not be used to the noise.”
“Don’t worry, he won’t mind.”
“Why don’t you go call him while I see if I can make heads or tails of this mess?” She looked at the piles of parts and shook her head in mock despair.
“Good luck,” Jack snorted as he left to call Siler. “Unless you’re fluent in Chinese or French, Jenny may have more fun with the box tomorrow morning.”
A couple of hours later the last gift had been wrapped and carefully placed under the tree including the malcontent bicycle. The tools had been put away and the lights unplugged. He was tired, even in Siler’s younger, less war-weary body. Jack was halfway up the stairs when he stopped, causing Gina to bump into him from behind. “Jerry, what wrong?”
“We’re going to bed?” He gulped. It was one thing to play ‘Father Knows Best ‘in the safety of the family room surrounded by kids, but quite another to be going to bed with another man’s wife, even if you were borrowing his body unintentionally when you did it.
Gina looked up at him with a puzzled frown. “Yes, it’s about time. It’s after midnight.” She gave Jack’s butt a pinch, laughing wickedly when he yelped. “Let’s go see if you can use that big wrench of yours better than you used the little one on the bike.”
Jack’s cheeks flamed in the semi-dark. Siler’s big wrench? Oh crap, this was so not happening. As they entered the bedroom, Jack headed for the sanctity of the bathroom. Running the water he plunged Siler’s head into the cold spray. Staring at another man’s face in the mirror his thoughts raced. How was he going to get out of this one?
Actually, it proved much simpler than he imagined. He cowered in the bathroom until Gina once again asked if he was okay? Stumbling through the unfamiliar darkened room, Jack slipped under the quilt and sheet and lay rigid on the very edge of the bed, his back to Gina. He nearly fell out of bed when he felt her smooth hand edge under his t-shirt. “You got another headache?” she asked softly. He nodded, not trusting his vocal chords at the moment. “Slide over on your stomach and I’ll rub your back.” Leery, but not having much choice, Jack obeyed. Hands worked their way along his spine, kneading the taut muscles. The last thing Jack remembered were fingers diligently massaging stubborn kinks from his neck and shoulders.
“Feel better? Gina whispered softly. She smiled as a soft snore answered her. Bending over she placed a soft kiss on his head. “Good night, hun. Merry Christmas.”
* * *
Christmas morning arrived early in the Siler home. Jack was jarred awake by wild shouts of excitement as three kids and a dog pounced on the bed. Gina sat up, laughing as she reached for her glasses, while Jack wrestled the boys in a tumbled knot of bedclothing and terrier. Jack couldn’t help but laugh as he struggled to pin Nathan, while Steven took advantage and tackled him piggy-back. Jenny and Kitten added to the general chaos with squeals and excited yipping.
With Jenny nestled safely in one arm and Steven thrashing under the other, Jack gave Nathan the go ahead to lead the troops downstairs. Turning to Gina, who was clearly enjoying all the excitement, he grinned, “Let’s go see if Santa made it over the Divide, huh Mom?”
“Lead the way, Dad. I’m right behind you.”
It was a wild, fun time for Jack, one he had only relived through memories up to now, as he watched the kids tear into the pile of gifts. Their shouts of excitement even sweeter than the bites of Yule log he snitched from the plate on the table until Gina slapped his hand. He gave her a saucy grin before trying for another bite. He couldn’t help himself. His reserve melted away like the decorations on the cake and he suddenly realized that he had quit worrying how Siler might act and was simply allowing himself to enjoy the moment and be himself. It was apparent that no one minded, Jack least of all. Before long he was on the floor with the kids, a large glittery bow decorating his hair, silver tinsel dangling from his ears as Gina videoed the event.
When the last gift was unwrapped, Gina laid the camera aside and got up to go fix breakfast. Jack stretched out on the floor in the midst of discarded gift wrap and divided his time between Barbie’s Dreamhouse and building space ships out of Lego’s. He was digging around the box, hoping to find the right pieces he needed to build ‘The O’Neill’ when Gina called them to breakfast.
“Let’s go gang. Last one to the table is a smelly egg fart.”
“Mom, Dad said fart.”
Jack tossed Steven a smirk and snagged Nathan’s foot allowing Jenny to dart into the kitchen ahead of her brothers. “Did not,” he denied. “I said, smelly egg fart.”
Steven made a break for the door, just as Nathan shed his Spiderman slipper and wiggled free, leaving Jack sprawled on the floor as Gina glared at him around the corner. “Smelly egg fart? Jerry Siler. . .”
Jack grinned up at her and shrugged. “Guess that would be me.”
Breakfast was over. The kids had returned to their gifts and Gina was busy in the kitchen. He’d offered to help, but she’d shooed him away. “I don’t have time to clean up your messes, too. Go take a shower and get dressed.” And so like a good little cadet, he’d followed her orders and marched upstairs. The hot water felt good. Jack turned, bracing himself against the wall, allowing the pulsating stream to work its magic on neck and shoulder muscles. He leaned his forehead against the tile, tunelessly humming ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas.’
“Want me to come in and scrub your back?” Jack jumped, grabbing for the bar as he slipped. Gina peered around the shower curtain, her expression a perfect mixture of concerned amusement as he regained his balance. She raised an eyebrow and slowly raked over his frame making Jack squirm, even though he realized belatedly it was her husband’s body she was ogling.
His hands dropped self-consciously to cover his Christmas tinsel. “Ah, the General’s coming,” he stammered, cursing himself for not having brought at least a washcloth.
Gina laughed and withdrew her head as her glasses began to fog from the steam. “Chicken.”
He was still trying to untangle his thoughts when Nathan yelled up the stairs, “Mom, something’s burning.”
“Darn it, I forgot to turn off the burner on the stove!” Gina raced from the room leaving her vastly relieved faux-husband scrambling for a towel.
* * *
Siler overslept. For a moment he lay there quietly so he wouldn’t wake Gina. It was quiet, too quiet for Christmas morning. The kids should have been in by now, fussing to be allowed to go downstairs. He rolled over to wrap his arms around – nothing. There was no Gina, no childish laughter, nothing but the vast expanse of empty bed. His head fell heavily into the pillow as he closed his eyes against the weight of the depression pressing down around him and fell back asleep.
When he awoke for a second time Siler showered and shaved. He spent some time fighting the temptation to dress in General O’Neill’s dress uniform, but finally settled for tracing the stars with his finger. He’d discovered the observatory on the roof. He’d climbed up and spent some time searching the galaxies, wishing he could share it with the boys. Nathan had expressed an interest in astronomy after studying it in school. They’d gotten him a small telescope, but he’d have been really impressed with the General’s rooftop set-up. He wondered if Nathan and the General would have the little telescope out in the yard searching out a few of the brightest stars tonight. The little telescope really wasn’t capable of much more, but Nathan was inordinately proud of it. He only hoped that O’Neill would be sensitive to how much the telescope meant to his son and not dismiss it as a toy.
He missed Gina’s cooking more than he would have thought possible. Breakfast consisted of a box of holiday Fruit Loops he discovered in the cupboard. He ate the cold cereal with some questionable milk he found in the back of the fridge with only Santa Toucan Sam for company. He figured he shouldn’t complain. The cereal box was the only touch of holiday spirit in the entire house.
He was profoundly grateful to General O’Neill for inviting him to Christmas dinner. He was looking forward to seeing Gina and the kids, even if it was as another man. He was anxious to see if Jenny had liked her new bike. He wondered who had assembled it. Dinner was set for 1500 hours. It was only about a thirty-minute drive to his house, but by 1330 hours, he was pacing, willing time to go faster. He decided he might as well head out. He really didn’t want to explain to the General why his carpet was worn out if he kept this up.
It had stopped snowing sometime during the night. The hills surrounding his home were wearing their fresh blanket. The kids were out in the backyard, trying out their new sleds. He chuckled aloud as Steven ended up headfirst in a snowdrift. The General was there too, pulling him out and brushing off the snow. Even from a distance Siler could see that they were laughing. He sat watching his children play with another man until one of the boys pointed towards O’Neill’s big Ford and they all trooped towards him.
Dinner was a strained affair. He’d never been so uncomfortable in his own home. Everything felt off, from sitting in the ‘guest’ chair to watching someone else cut up his daughter’s meat. It was obvious that Gina was doing her best to make General O’Neill feel at home, but there was an undercurrent of tension which escalated every time one of the children asked a question he couldn’t answer.
‘Did he know the men in charge of tracking Santa at the mountain?’
‘If he was the general why didn’t he order the bad guys in Iraq to surrender so all the soldiers could come home?’
‘Why didn’t he promote their Dad and make him a general, too. He’d make a great general.’
Siler had a sneaky suspicion that General O’Neill was enjoying the kids’ interrogation since it wasn’t aimed in his direction. At least he looked vastly amused as Siler stumbled through the questions until Gina finally took pity on their guest and ordered a cease-fire. The meal was finished in relative peace and quiet, but he could feel the kids’ eyes on his every move and once he snuck a quick glance at the General only to discover O’Neill had chosen that exact moment to eyeball him. For the remainder of the meal his eyes were glued to his plate.
He had about decided it was a huge mistake to have come, when salvation came unexpectedly. Gina suggested firmly that the guys go play in the family room and get out of her way. Jenny was entertaining herself, dressing her new Barbie in GI Joe’s uniform. They were deep in a discussion concerning the fashion merit of military accessories when Doc Barbie suddenly realized that Joe had been wounded. Dropping her Beretta and canteen she ordered the soldier up on the exam table and pulled out her doctor’s kit.
Jack grimaced. “Doc Frasier would have been proud.”
“Tell me about it,” Siler groaned, rolling his eyes.
Steven yelled impatiently from the family room. “Dad, hurry up.”
“Kinda weird, huh, Siler?”
“Yes, sir. Very.”
Jack immediately took charge once the troops had settled on the floor, issuing orders like the commanding officer he was. “Nathan, you and the General grab that box of Lincoln Logs. You’re the Red squad. Steven and I are Blue Offence. You’ve got until 1715 hours to build your fort and prepare your defense. Hustle up men, we are gonna kick some serious butt.”
Siler drove home in the dark. It was hard leaving his family. Harder than he could possibly have thought. When they had first started thinking about this scheme, he’d figured a few days away from his family would be no big deal. They’d been apart before during his time in the service. But this was different. This time they’d been cut off from him, like they weren’t part of his life. It was almost as if he had died and they were going on without him.
That last glimpse of Gina and the General standing in the doorway, his wife’s arm wrapped around his CO’s waist, had about done him in. After the initial discomfort at dinner, they’d had a great time. He knew he should be happy. General O’Neill was simply doing what he’d been asked. The kids were obviously happy. They’d had a wonderful Christmas with their dad. Except it wasn’t their dad and therein lay the rub.
By the time he walked into the General’s house he’d given up fighting the depression which was nibbling at his heels. He headed towards the bedroom and allowed it to swallow him whole. He wanted his family back.
* * *
The day had started badly. It was a gray, sour day. The kind of day that simply pisses you off just because. Jack awoke stiff and still tired after the day of playing in the snowdrifts. He was just contemplating turning over for a few minutes of extra shut-eye when Gina poked him sharply in the ribs with her elbow.
She ignored his grunted protest. “Jerry, I have a headache. You need to get up and feed the kids. Make sure they let the dog out. Nathan has a game today, so you’ll need to take him.”
“A game?” Jack asked densely. He rubbed along his ribs. Damn, it felt like she’d left a bruise. That elbow of hers was one wicked alarm clock. He rolled over, taking in Gina’s tightly closed eyes and pinched expression. Without make-up and sporting bed head she looked like hell, he thought uncharitably.
“The Holiday Hockey Game,” she snapped. She glared balefully with one eye. “Jerry, you didn’t forget, did you? You’re going to have to take Steven and Jenny, too. And while you’re out take that Jersey that we got Nathan back to The Goal Post at the mall and exchange it for a medium. If they don’t have that one just get the money back and go over to The Finish Line and find one there.” She took a deep breath. “I told Coach Beyers I’d send snacks for the kids today, so make up a platter of cookies and take that, but use something disposable so I won’t lose a platter.”
Holding the lid on his irritation over her snippiness, he asked through clenched teeth, “Is that all?”
“Don’t forget it’s garbage day, so you need to gather up all the trash from yesterday and get it out, too.” Jack fled, fearing that she’d have him up on a ladder taking down all the decorations before it was over.
Carrying his boots and socks, Jack walked in the kitchen. He’d barely taken time to grab a quick shower and throw on some jeans and a sweatshirt. “Son of a bitch!” What the hell had he stepped on? It felt like he’d driven a nail clean through his heel. Hobbling painfully over to a chair, he dropped down to exam the wound. There was no blood, just a tiny dent in the offended heel. Glaring around, Jack spotted a rogue Lego lying innocently in his path. He picked up the tiny cube. “I’d like to kill the sadistic bastard who invented these things,” he muttered.
Still limping slightly he sat down long enough to put on his footwear in case the floor was littered with more Lego shrapnel. In the family room he found the boys bickering over which T.V. show to watch and Jenny banging out some unrecognizable Christmas tune over and over with more gusto than talent. “Knock it off, you two. Let Jenny decide.” Anything to get her away from that damn piano.
“But Dad, she’ll pick something lame.”
“Speaking of lame,” Jack glared, “I nearly crippled myself on somebody’s Lego a minute ago. Whoever it belongs to needs to get in there and make sure there aren’t any more while I fix something to eat. Your mom’s sick, so keep down the noise level.”
Punctuating the orders with a frown, Jack left them to carry out his orders while he searched the cabinets for something to feed the troops. To his delight he found a box of Poptarts. Tossing three packs on the table and pouring tumblers of milk, he began ransacking the pantry looking for the coffee. From the family room came the sounds of dissent. “Guys, I told you to quit arguing and get busy.” The nasal sound of high-pitched singing broke his concentration. “I love you, you love me. We’re a happy family.” What the hell? He poked his head around the corner. A smiling purple dinosaur wearing a Santa hat was prancing around on a stage with a king-size candy cane. “With a great big kiss and a hug from me to you. Won’t you say you love me too?” Holy crap. “Jenny, what is that?”
Her eyes glued to the set she answered, “Barney’s Christmas.”
“Dad,” Steven whined, “make her turn it off. I’m going to puke if I have to listen that stuff.”
Jack came close to agreeing, but decided to risk another glimpse at the dancing dinosaur in a chorus line with a green dinosaur clutching a blanket and a yellow one wearing a baseball cap. He dragged his eyes away from the macabre sight. He could feel his own headache beginning to blossom behind his temple. Wearily, he massaged it. “Come on guys, breakfast is on the table.”
Jack leaned against the counter, ignoring the kids’ complaints and nursing his mug of coffee. It was decaf. Geesh, was there no justice in the world? Decaf. He hadn’t noticed yesterday when distracted by Gina’s bacon and eggs. But this morning he needed the real McCoy to get the blood pumping. He was trying to remember the grocery list of assignments Gina had handed out. He didn’t want to risk asking her to repeat them. Threats of the decorations still hung in the back of his mind.
He was chewing slowly on his Poptart, slightly alarmed by the bright red filling and garish green icing. He wondered if it ought to be illegal to sell stuff that looked like this when suddenly he heard Kitten whining. Damn, he’d forgotten about the taking the dog out. Rushing towards the front door he skidded to a halt on the throw rug. “Oh crap.” Kitten looked up at him, wearing a slightly apologetic expression as he trotted off. “Nathan,” Jack yelled, “where’s your mom keep the rug cleaner?” Glaring at the pile, Jack realized with sudden clarity that Kitten had pretty much summed up his feelings. He’d had enough. Maybe he was missing out on some things Siler had. But he’d miss making crucial decisions. He’d miss that wave of adrenaline that washed through him every time the ‘gate powered up. Even now, when he wasn’t leading SG-1 off world, he was being challenged. There was a slew of good people looking to him for answers and a planet full of others he was ultimately charged with protecting. For better or worse he liked his life. He liked being master of his own domain in his home. Hell, he liked the parking place being a general afforded him. He wanted his own life back.
* * *
Siler found Jack sitting on an upturned crate, staring at the long row of enormous tools used to maintain the ‘gate. “Just got a call, sir. The Prometheus has docked. SG-1 is in route. They should arrive before 1200 hours.”
“That’s good, Siler.” Jack snorted softly. “Not that it hasn’t been a kick in the pants.” For a moment the smile died away behind shadows, before a humorous light chased the darkness away. “Hey Siler, before they get here and Carter straightens us out, there’s just one more thing I’d like to do while I’m still you.” He stood up and reached for the biggest wrench hanging on the rack.
As Carter and the rest of SG-1 strode into the Gateroom in search of the General, they could see Sergeant Siler working diligently near the Stargate. “Is there a problem with the ‘gate, Sergeant?” Sweat beaded on the man’s forehead and the muscles knotted beneath his shirt as he plied the huge wrench to a stubborn nut.
“Have fun, kids? How was Vacuum Day with the Enkarans? Don’t tell me it sucked.”
“Excuse me?” Sam’s jaw dropped and she blinked in surprise. “General? Is that you, sir?”
“Got it in one, Carter.” Satisfied with the nut’s submissive posture, Jack stepped back to admire his work. “Just releasing a little testosterone.”
“Yes, Daniel?” There was an undercurrent of repressed amusement in his voice.
“Do I dare ask you what happened?”
He eyed the ‘gate, searching for any signs of loose nuts with characteristic concentration once devoted to enemy Jaffa. “Daniel, you know that stuff I always told you about not touching?”
Daniel stared, still struggling to comprehend the conflict between his eyes and mind. “Not touching. Artifacts? Well yeah, of course. Why?”
Jack simply stared at him a sheepish grin on Siler’s face.
“Oh,” Daniel said with dawning comprehension. “You . . . oh.”
* * *
It felt good to get back to work. It felt right . . . well, as right as him sitting behind a desk would ever feel. Though he’d never admit it, even under the influence of that Blood of So’kar crap, he was even finding some satisfaction in completing the stack of paperwork. No doubt that would be a short-lived fascination. Three teams were off world and he had a meeting scheduled with the Brass this afternoon. He still had to track down the egg-head responsible for bringing that damn machine on base and the Avalanche were playing at home tonight. Carter, Daniel, and Teal’c were coming over later for pizza and poker. Life was good. There was a sharp knock on the door and Siler walked in. “Hey Siler, getting settled?”
“Yes, sir. Everything’s back to normal.”
“Good.” The man stood there shifting restlessly, obviously wanting to say more. “Something else on your mind?”
Swallowing nervously. Siler eyed the numerous pictures hanging on the wall. Jack knew without looking the moment Siler’s eyes fell on the picture of Charlie. He steeled himself for the curiosity, or worse the pity, that would come.
Slowly, Siler affixed his gaze back on Jack’s face. “General, I wanted to thank you for helping to make my family’s Christmas special under a difficult circumstance. I really appreciate it, sir.”
Warmth washed over Jack. “It was my pleasure, Sergeant. You’ve got a great family,” he smiled with sincerity.
“Thank you, sir. I think so too.” He hesitated. “I was wondering. If you aren’t busy Friday evening, would you’d like to join us? Steven has a basketball game at the school. I mean, I know you probably have other plans, sir, but . . .”
“I’d like that, Siler. Thanks. I’ll look forward to it.”
“If you can make it, we’d love to have you come to dinner after the game. Nothing fancy, sir. Some of Gina’s home cooking, playing with the kids, a chance to relax. You know, just family time.”
Siler swallowed hard, fearful he’d overstepped the line as Jack gave him a piercing glare. “I’m sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just thought . . .”
“I’ll be there on one condition, Siler. I get to be Red defense this time. Where the heck did you learn tactical battle strategy like that?”
“Fourteen years of marriage, sir. You know the old saying, ‘All’s fair in love and war.’”
“Siler, I have to ask you one question and understand you don’t have to answer it, if you don’t want to. But considering everything we just went through I have to know.”
“I’ve got a good handle on the whole love and war thing in marriage. But tell me where the heck does that big wrench of yours fits into the equation?”
*Fic-A-Thon Plot Bunny Assignment: Time Frame: Season 8; Pairing: Optional, but no slash. Summary: Jack and Siler swap bodies. Notes: Jack must use “The Wrench.”