MASKS: A HALLOWEEN STORY

A/N: Masks takes place about one month after the completion of the story told in When the Bough Breaks. It can be read as a standalone so long as you know Jack and Sam have been married about 7 years and have five-year-old twins, Grace and Jake, and a four-month-old infant, Jon.

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"Daddy, Daddy," Grace called excitedly. "I know what I want to be for Halloween!"

"Me too," Jake echoed. "I'm going to be a General!" the little boy announced as he and his sister made their way into the family room at top speed, just two weeks before their favorite holiday.

"Whoa! Hold on there!" Jack exclaimed with fake horror as the two munchkins skidded to a halt in front of their father. "Careful, I'm old. Watch the knees!"

"You're not old, Daddy. Mommy says you're 'maturely' gray," Grace replied knowingly.

"Okay. For the record, I think she meant 'prematurely' gray," Jack suggested, chuckling once more at his little girl's penchant for omitting important parts of words. "So what's this I hear about being a General?"

"I want to be a General, like you, Daddy. Can I have a uniform and medals, like yours? And a cool hat too?" Jake asked with great enthusiasm.

"Okay, Jake," Jack answered, feeling quite proud his son would make this choice. "I'll bet we can put together a pretty good looking officer's uniform."

"Not officer, Daddy," Jake protested, "I'm a General, like you."

That's my boy, Jack thought proudly, starting right at the top.

Sam walked into the family room at that moment, her hands full of liquid refreshments, juice and coffee, for her little family. "Sounds like some big decisions are being made here. Want to catch me up on everything?"

"I'm going to be a General for Halloween, Mommy," Jake supplied helpfully.

"And I'm going to be an 'astophisist'", Grace announced with great solemnity.

When she saw a puzzled look on her mother's face, the precocious little girl clarified her request. "You know, what you are, Mommy, an 'astophisist'", she repeated.

Smiling, Sam did her best to aid in the pronunciation of her professional designation. "Grace, Mommy is an astrophysicist," she explained.

"That's what I said, 'astophisist'," Grace repeated, somewhat indignantly. "I want to be an 'astophisist' for Halloween."

"Wow, that's a great idea, Grace," Sam said, giving up and puzzling over exactly how an 'astophisist' would dress.

OoOoOo

When it came to the twins' costumes, Mrs. Crusher had volunteered to help. An octogenarian and a wonderful neighbor, Mrs. Crusher had become an honorary grandmother for the O'Neill children. She was also a talented seamstress. For the past two years, the woman had volunteered to make or alter Halloween costumes for the twins, particularly once she realized Sam had little, if any, ability in this area. This year, Sam gratefully presented Mrs. Crusher with Janet's shortest white lab jacket, a pint-sized generic military uniform from a local costume shop and the twins' heart felt requests, confidently leaving the rest to her friend's imagination.

When completed, the lovingly constructed costumes would be worn to the kindergarten Halloween party at the twins' school. Both parents and students were expected at this annual after-school affair. And all were expected to appear in costume. Making it even more interesting was the school's tradition that kindergarteners could chose both their own costumes and, within reason of course, the costumes their parents would wear.

With ideas befitting their natural creativity and genius, the O'Neill twins had no trouble at all describing the costumes they wanted their parents to wear.

OoOoOo

By the time the twins had turned three years of age, Jack and Sam had instituted "date night". Once weekly, when they were both home, the couple would find a sitter (usually Janet, Daniel or even Teal'c) and go out for some special time together. This week, date night was spent at the local costume shop. Jack had prevailed upon an old friend who owned the small shop to grant him private, after-hours, shopping privileges.

"What do you think of this one?" Jack asked, holding up a mask that made him look like a Roswell gray, or better yet, his good friend, Thor.

"You're kidding, aren't you?" Sam asked, hoping he didn't intend to choose this particular mask for the twins' school Halloween party.

"No, I'm not kidding. I think it's me. Thor and I are almost family," Jack said indignantly. After all, it was their son who requested the Lieutenant General dress as an alien for the Halloween party.

"You…" Sam said, playfully swatting him on the arm. "I swear you're fifty-something, going on five. "

"What? Just because I want to wear a cool Halloween mask?" Jack asked, feigning great innocence. "You wouldn't want Jake and Grace to be embarrassed by an un-cool parent, now would you?"

"Now that would be a fate worse than death," she smirked.

"Okay, that comment deserves the terrible tickle torture," Jack said running after Sam and catching her without a great deal of resistance.

"Hey, we're in public Jack. Not here," Sam protested half-heartedly.

"We're the only ones here. Relax," he replied, continuing the tickle torture.

Once they'd both collapsed in a fit of laughter, they stopped and looked quietly at each other.

Sam began seriously, "Remember when we wore masks all the time?"

"What?" Jack queried, either missing the point or just trying to avoid discussion of less than happy times, Sam couldn't be sure.

"When we wore masks with each other… remember?"

"Yeah … bad idea, wasn't it?"

"Necessary for the time, though."

"I suppose … but a waste of time. I wish we could've had all that time together."

"We did, just not like this."

"This is a lot better," Sam said, kissing him soundly and pulling his body tight against her own. "I spent a long nine years trying to stop myself from doing this."

"That long, huh? It was only eight for me," Jack countered with a chuckle, certain he would get swatted for that one. Before Sam could take action, Jack turned around. When he turned back he had yet another mask held in front of his face. This time he wore the face of a clown.

"What's that," Sam asked, not following her husband's train of thought.

"When I wore this mask, those were the times I could flirt with you. And pretend it was all a joke. You can't imagine how much I loved the way you'd laugh at those corny jokes of mine," Jack confessed sadly.

"I just about choked half the time trying not to laugh. After all, you'd say the most outlandish things in the middle of serious situations or in front of four star generals," Sam said with a grin, recalling those days before so much had changed.

"Yeah, I did get carried away sometimes, didn't I? Worth it though, just for the look on your face."

By now, Sam had found a mask of her own. Try as he might, Jack couldn't figure out what the point of this particular mask was. It was the face of an older, very plain woman, with little if any expression.

"What's that, Sam?"

"Me, trying to ignore you, forget you, not react to you," Sam admitted.

"Wow, you're lucky we finally got together. That's a bad look for you," Jack quipped.

"Cute, Jack," she said, putting the mask down. To Jack's relief, Sam's face showed none of the irritation he expected. "I love you, Jack O'Neill," she said, accompanied by her glorious smile. "And I am so grateful I never have to wear that mask again."

"Me too, Sam," Jack said, giving her a quick peck on the cheek. "But if I'm correct, we still have work to do. A fairy godmother costume, I believe?"

"Oh… do we have to?" Sam groaned with dismay.

"You wouldn't want to disappoint our little princess, now would you?"

"Why can't Grace be the fairy princess?"

"Because she wants to be an 'astophisist', remember?"

Jack wasn't the only one sent with orders for a particular type of Halloween costume.

Grace was currently enamored of the Cinderella story and believed her mother would make a perfect fairy godmother. Of course, Sam was not the fairy godmother type and had spent most of her adult life trying to avoid feminine stereotypes. But for her little girl she'd do just about anything.

Before she knew it, her husband had spied what he deemed the perfect fairy godmother costume.

Much to Sam's chagrin and Jack's delight, the costume was uncannily similar to the horrendous dress she'd been forced to wear on the Shavadi planet. A lovely blue color that matched her eyes, this dress came with a hoop skirt, and gratefully, no matching headdress. In a last ditch attempt to avoid this humiliation, Sam suggested an alternative.

"You know, wouldn't it be better if I dress as an alien too. I could be Anise. What do you think?"

"I'd like it," Jack replied with the familiar twinkle in his eyes. "But, I'm afraid the kindergarten censors might have a problem with it. Anyway, this costume is pretty alien to you. Close enough, right?"

Oh, he is so lucky I love him, Sam thought to herself.

OoOoOo

October thirty-first was a cool, crisp fall day in Colorado Springs. The kindergarten class
had been dismissed early to go home and dress for the party.

In the O'Neill household, preparations were in full swing. Jack's costume was pretty straightforward: a gray, rubberized body suit and a full headpiece that looked like it was a plaster cast of a very real Asgard. Since he was ready first, he'd helped Jake into his 'uniform' and the two O'Neill men were now dressing little Jon who'd be accompanying the rest of his family for his very first Halloween celebration.

Not able to find an appropriate babysitter for such a momentous night, with the twins' permission, Jack decided to bring four-month-old Jon with them to the party. What's more, he decided no son of his would go to a Halloween party without a costume, even if he was only four-months-old.

Without Sam's knowledge, he'd found and purchased a hooded gray baby sleeper at a second hand store. Jon was now decked out as a baby Asgard, the color of his sleeper matching his father's body suit. Jack's only regret was that the child was too young to wear a mask; he'd decided Sam would justifiably draw the line on any attempt to put something over the baby's face.

OoOoOo

The O'Neill men sat waiting for Sam and Grace, while Jack fed Jon his evening bottle. Jack watched while Jake proudly paraded in front of the full length mirror examining his "dress uniform". The little General had begged his father to wear "just one" of his medals for the occasion. Jack had explained how the medals were not toys and could only be worn after grown up soldiers had earned them.

However, Mrs. Crusher had done an admirable job on the little boy's outfit. She'd fashioned stars for the epaulets and a name tag. In bold print, the official looking tag announced "General Jake O'Neill". Jack thought the label was a great idea the Air Force should adopt. After all, he'd always wanted it to say Colonel or General somewhere on his uniform.

Finally, the O'Neill women were ready and made their entrance. It was not a moment too soon for Jake who was really anxious to be going.

"Here they come, Daddy. Can we go now?" he asked.

And a vision they were. Grace came in first, wearing the altered lab coat and carrying a toy microscope. For effect she wore glasses, which gave her a very serious look. Her name tag, professionally embroidered on the top right hand side of the jacket, read "Dr. Grace O'Neill, astrophysicist". Jack couldn't help but think this was a sign of things to come. When Grace turned around, the back of her jacket sported an appliqué of the galaxy, ingeniously downloaded and incorporated by Mrs. Crusher. Needless to say, Grace was in her glory.

But as far as Jack O'Neill was concerned, the star of the show was his Samantha. Now Jack had seen the blue dress she'd agreed to wear for the occasion, but hadn't been treated to a modeling of the same. As Sam made her appearance, decked in long, flowing blond hair, courtesy of extensions, and the gorgeous full length royal blue gown, Jack stood gaping at her. He was instantly transported to that time nearly fifteen years ago when he'd been so struck by Captain Carter's beauty.

Sam caught the thinly disguised look of admiration and amusement in her husband's eye and quickly rebuked him, "Don't even think about the Shavadi. This is for Grace, not you." But even as she spoke to him in a stern tone, she was smiling and Jack knew she was getting into the playful spirit of the occasion despite herself.

Jack's relief was short lived. Taken aback by the sudden look of shocked surprise on Sam's face, Jack realized she was taking in her baby son's "costume" for the first time. Jack promptly flashed a proud fatherly smile as he gestured toward the little boy, even now babbling in his car seat and ready to go.

"Like father, like son," he announced to Sam.

"What is he supposed to be?" Sam asked, genuinely stumped.

"A baby Asgard of course," Jack announced indignantly. "What else?"

"Oh my…"

OoOoOo

By the time children and parents arrived at school for the Halloween festivities, the sky was beginning to darken and the winds were picking up. It was going to be an appropriately chilly and spooky Halloween night.

The large school gymnasium had been converted into a wonderland of fall decorations, pumpkins, corn stalks and colorfully decked out tables. A haunted house had been set up on the stage, courtesy of some of the school's older children. Parents were encouraged to accompany their young children for this adventure.

Cider, donuts and candies of many varieties were set out for the taking. As much as they loved sugary confections, the twins were distracted for the longest time by the wide variety of intriguing costumes at the party. As Jake and Grace happily circulated among their classmates, checking out different costume ideas and guessing who was behind the masks worn by about half of the children, Jack and Sam broke into the group a bit more tentatively. Before they knew it, they'd been greeted by other parents, eager to meet them and commiserate over the costume issue.

Though Sam thought Jack looked somewhat ridiculous for a grown man, she reconsidered once she met Batman, Spiderman, Superman and none other than King Kong. Seems there were lots of other men in this group who'd chosen pretty silly costumes for the sake of their children – or were just little boys at heart. Jack fit right in.

Sam, feeling equally silly herself in the fairy godmother costume, carried the 'baby alien', otherwise known as Jon. Seems Jon couldn't quite get used to his father in the alien mask and cried bloody murder whenever a masked Jack tried to hold him. Never being one for the costume party scene, Sam felt awkward, but could tell she had lots of company in the other parents. There was strength in numbers and after a short time, she began to relax and enjoy herself.

As they were settling in and getting acquainted, to their surprise, the O'Neills saw an identical Asgard clone across the room.

"Hey, who copied my idea?" Jack exclaimed through his plasticized mouthpiece. "Gotta meet this guy, Sam; he must be a pretty cool character. Besides, have to make sure he's not a security threat."

"Yeah, right," Sam said as her six-foot-two Asgard strode over to meet his somewhat shorter clone.

Within a minute the two 'aliens' stood face-to-face, the shorter version equally surprised to meet his nearly identical reflection.

"Had to meet the man who had the same good idea I did," Jack began by way of introduction. "I'm Jack O'Neill," he said, extending his webbed, three fingered hand.

"I don't believe it," the second fake Asgard said. "Colonel Paul Davis, Sir. It's great to see you again -- well, sort of see you – General."

"Davis? Haven't seen you in an age. What are you doing here? Thought you were still stationed in Washington."

"I am. I was visiting my brother and his family. Philip is in this class. Philip Davis. My brother and sister-in-law conveniently came down with the flu yesterday. Couldn't disappoint Phil. So here I am in this get up."

"And a fine one it is, Davis. Great minds think alike," Jack opined.

At that moment, Jake came over and stood by his father, looking just a bit confused. "Daddy, there's another alien," he said with wonder. Is he real?

"No more real than Daddy," Jack answered him. "This is Colonel Davis; Daddy worked with him for a long time. Davis, my son, 'General Jake O'Neill'."

"General Jake, huh? Sir, it's good to meet you," Paul Davis said, firing off a snappy salute while dressed as an overgrown Asgard. By then Jack could hear a smothered snicker from behind him. He turned to find a beautiful princess with long blond hair.

"Sam, you remember Major, now Colonel, Davis," Jack said matter-of-factly.

"You're kidding! Paul Davis, are you under there?" Sam asked with more than a little amusement.

"Yes, Ma'am. Surprising as it might be, here I am. I was drafted by my nephew Philip."

"Ah yes, the little pirate," Sam said, immediately recognizing the family resemblance between the five- foot ten-inch Asgard standing in front of her and the one-eyed pirate who in real life was a good friend of her son's.

"Gentleman, this is strange to say the least. What do you say we all sit down? I know I'm ready for a little refreshment before we tackle the pumpkin carving competition," Sam said, convinced this party was getting stranger by the minute.

OoOoOo

To the school's credit, it was a well planned party with lots of food, activities and entertainment, guaranteed to hold the interest of the five to six-year-old crowd. One of the highlights was a family pumpkin carving/decorating contest. For this event, in the interest of safety, parents were delegated the carving tasks, while the children were charged with decorating the carved Jack-o-Lanterns.

"Davis, why don't you and Phil join us for this?" Jack offered, feeling some sympathy for the bachelor, trying valiantly to play father tonight.

Paul Davis quickly accepted; his nephew thought it was a great idea to be part of the O'Neill family for the night. The three children took turns issuing cutting directions to the adults and sorting through a variety of decorative materials on the nearby tables.

Jack had taken charge of carving and sat with a rather large blade in his right hand, seriously considering his first cut.

"Jack, I'd be happy to do the cutting. I think my eyesight is less impaired than yours right now," Sam offered, considering the full head pieces both her husband and Colonel Davis were wearing.

"Thanks for the offer, but we've got it covered", the two erstwhile Asgards responded, nearly in unison. "After all," Jack added, "we're carving a pumpkin, not handling explosives. How bad can it be?"

Okay, don't say I didn't try, Sam thought, realizing these two macho military types would loose fingers before asking for help with this task.

Over the next fifteen minutes, Jack, assisted by Paul Davis, received lots of coaching from the sidelines as he carefully carved a very frightening face on the large pumpkin.

"You really enjoy this father stuff, don't you, General," Colonel Davis commented as he watched his superior officer, dressed as a large gray alien, work. "Have to admit it seems like a lot of effort to me. Don't think I'm cut out for it myself," he commented sadly.

Looking up from the pumpkin, Jack took the time to reply to what he heard as both a compliment and a request for advice.

"First of all, when they're yours, it's not hard, Davis. Secondly, I wouldn't give this up for the world, even wearing this outfit." Though Paul Davis couldn't see General O'Neill's face, he was certain the man was smiling.

OoOoOo

After coming in second in the pumpkin contest to a family whose father could see what he was carving, the O'Neill clan decided it was time to check out the haunted house.

Jack was all for sending the twins on their own, especially since "General Jake" insisted he could protect his sister. But Sam reminded him that the teacher had strongly encouraged parents to accompany their children as some of the pranks in the house might be more frightening than others.

Well, it sure is dark up here, Jack thought, as the four slowly made their way up the stairs. The stage had been draped with black curtains and made even more sinister with creepy music playing in the background. Sure enough there were the requisite ghosts and goblins positioned in all sorts of dark corners of the makeshift haunted house. At one point, a ghoulish skeleton literally popped out of the corner and into their path, causing "General Jake" to literally leap into his father's arms. Grace just looked at her brother, shook her head and squeezed her mother's hand harder, resolving not to be a fraidy-cat like her brother.

"Jake, Grace, look! There's an alien, just like your Dad in the haunted house," one of the twins' classmates announced as the O'Neills passed a particularly foreboding spider's web.

"Where is he?" Jake asked, having scampered down from his Dad's arms to stand on his own once again.

"Right up there," the little voice answered, pointing in the direction of the strange apparition.

Sure enough, holding perfectly still, less than five meters from where the Ambassador to the Asgard now stood, was a more lifelike representation of a little gray alien. Standing perfectly still and looking uncannily like the real thing, this creature was an unlikely addition to a run of the mill haunted house.

"You don't think …" Sam said softly.

"I wouldn't put it past him," Jack replied.

As Jack got up close and personal with the four foot figure, his fears were confirmed.

"O'Neill," the figure beckoned quietly. "I am glad to have found you. I have an important assignment for our Earth Ambassador."

For crying out loud! Jack thought, grateful his family seemed to be the only ones on the stage at the moment. And for once, Thor was being discrete, at least from his point of view.

"Thor, you may have noticed, this is not a good time," Jack suggested in his best diplomatic tone of voice.

"Perhaps I was mistaken. I believed I would, as you say, 'fit in' at this event," the Supreme Commander of the Asgard fleet replied. "In fact, your own manner of dress indicates I was correct. I believed this would be less conspicuous than beaming you out of the school."

"Okay, you've got me there," Jack said, quickly looking to see who else might be joining them. He caught Sam's eye and realized she was trying hard not to laugh at the image of her 'Asgard' husband talking to the real thing. And the kids, well, they were completely unimpressed. After all, Thor was the third gray alien they'd met that night. They were ready for Dad to say goodbye to the little fellow and take them for cider and donuts.

OoOoOo

By 2100 hours, the O'Neills were home and the twins were tucked in bed. All costumes were removed, including the gray sleeper baby Jon had worn. Sam came out of the twins' room holding Jon, now dressed in a cheerful, more appropriate sleeper, and joined her husband in front of the fireplace.

"Thanks for starting the fire," she said, reaching out to touch Jack softly on the arm. "It's a great night for a fire."

"Yes it is," he replied, smiling at the fact Sam hadn't yet removed her hair extensions. "You know, you look good with long hair. Any chance…"

"Glad you like it, Jack. But for now, it's just part of the costume. I haven't had the chance to remove it. I'm exhausted. How about you?"

"Yeah, it's hard being an alien. Not to mention, pretty warm in that suit. Don't know how Thor does it."

Smiling and shaking her head at the same time, Sam asked, "By the way, what did Thor want?"

"Seems there is a treaty he wants me to help negotiate."

"What does he want you to wear for the occasion?"

"What?"

"Are you going as Lieutenant General O'Neill or as an Asgard?"

"Very funny, Sam."

"Sorry, couldn't help myself," Sam replied, looking very not sorry.

"He did agree to a planned pick up time tomorrow afternoon."

"That's progress," Sam replied sincerely. Then changing the subject, she said, "I think the twins had a great time."

"I know they did," Jack replied. "They both looked so pleased with themselves. Hey, I had a great time too. After all, I had the prettiest escort in the room."

"It was a nice evening, Jack. I'm so glad we can do these things with the twins."

"Me too. This is what's really important, Sam -- family, you, the kids. I wish I'd known this before. Everything would have been so different."

"It's different now, Jack. We have what's most important, now. No more masks," Sam said with feeling, just before she placed their tiny son in his arms.

THE END

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A/N: Hope you enjoyed the story. Happy Halloween!