A/N: I said I was going to write something short and fluffy, and I did! At least, I think I did… I'd like to know how you think it turned out (hint, hint). And now, on with the show. Enjoy! : )
Kids These Days
His practiced eyes scanned the area, ever watchful for signs of anything amiss, while his ears strained to pick up any hint of danger. There were no sights or sounds of trouble – yet – but years of experience had taught Jack that more often than not, the situation appeared to be fine right up until the moment when it most definitely wasn't fine anymore.
Every instinct he had was screaming that something was wrong, despite the calm of the late afternoon. Giving in, he finally listened to the instincts that had allowed him to avert disaster so many times in the past and called for the attention of the two most likely candidates for this afternoon's bout of troublemaking, whatever it turned out to be.
"Carter! Jackson!" he called loudly and sure enough, seconds later the subjects of his query emerged from the tree line. Between the two of them, they were making enough noise to raise the dead and Jack couldn't hide his flinch at the noise.
Two sets of big blue eyes met his darker ones, dancing with the excitement of a new discovery. The pair each drew a deep breath, preparing to launch into a highly detailed explanation of whatever it was they had found, but Jack knew all the warning signs. Well aware that he would never be able to stop them once they hit their stride, he held up a hand to forestall the flood of words threatening to sweep him away, making both mouths snap shut in unison.
The trio gazed at one another in silence for a full ten seconds while Jack attempted to ascertain their level of innocence simply by studying the two people standing before him. In the end, he gave up and asked the obvious question.
"Here," the reply came calmly, accompanied by the rattling of branches and the crunch of fallen leaves. First a head and then the rest of a mud splattered body emerged, quickly crossing the open ground to fall in line with the other two. Brown eyes joined the two sets of blue already watching Jack expectantly. After all, they assumed that he'd called them away from their… whatever for a reason.
Folding his arms across his chest, Jack studied his kids, looking for any hints of what they might have been up to, but there were no clues to give them away. There were none of the usual warning signs that whatever they'd been doing had landed them all in trouble – no blood, no broken bones, no shooting flames, no explosions, heck, not even any angry strangers – but he'd been doing this long enough to know that trouble was never far behind these three, so he didn't let his guard down. His eyes roved over the assembled group one more time, hoping one of them might give up the game, preferably in fifty words or less.
Carter was the picture of innocence, but he knew full well that she had a phenomenal poker face and therefore wasn't fooled for a second. Last summer, that same poker face had convinced Jack that she was up to nothing at all right up until she'd made his brand new barbeque explode, so he was understandably concerned to be seeing it again. Her big blue eyes and sweet smile took in many people, but Jack knew how quickly those angelic features could be swallowed up by a look of pure mischief, so he tried his hardest to stay on his toes whenever she was around.
Jackson, by her side as usual, looked for all the world like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. Like his blonde partner in crime, his face gave nothing away, but his jaw did twitch repeatedly, as if eager to let loose a slew of words and share the joy of discovery with him. Jack had wised up to that trick a long time ago; more often than not, Jackson's verbosity was used to divert attention away from whatever shenanigans he was up to. Fortunately words were inadequate cover for acrid smells, and six months ago, when an attempt at cooking had gone south, Jack had snapped out of his word-induced stupor in time to keep the shooting flames on the stovetop from spreading. He was getting better at telling when it was genuine interest and not experimentation gone awry that set Jackson's tongue wagging, but he wasn't perfect yet, so Jack made a point of sniffing the air periodically, just in case.
The third musketeer stood a few inches taller than the others and kept his eyes fixed on a point somewhere over Jack's left shoulder. To anyone else, he might seem to be standing at parade rest, but once again, Jack's years of experience were paying off. He detected the excitement that practically left the body before him vibrating with anticipation, and the twinkle in those familiar brown eyes that screamed 'danger!' to the trained observer. Jack used to think that twinkle meant 'trouble', but then a few weeks ago his lawnmower had gone up in flames and almost taken his eyebrows with it. Now he recognized the subtle differences between 'trouble' and 'danger!' and protected his eyebrows accordingly.
"What are you three up to?" Jack asked, finally conceding defeat. The trio before him was so creative that without help, he'd never be able to guess what they were doing in time to put out whatever fire they'd started now, be it literal or metaphorical.
Carter and Jackson started tripping over themselves, both trying to bring him up to speed on their latest… whatever it was. Hard as it could be to understand one of them when they were this excited, it became virtually impossible to comprehend them when they talked over one another.
"Ah!" Jack held up a hand for silence just in time. The pair stopped their excited jabbering and gasped breathlessly, paying for their earlier decisions to share information at the cost of everything else, including oxygen. "What are you three up to?" he repeated, brown eyes locking on brown as he waited for a comprehensible answer.
"It's the coolest thing ever, Dad! We built a frame so we can launch four-dozen fireworks at the same time! I don't think our release mechanism is working properly though…"
"Woah, hold on a second!" Jack demanded, cutting off his eldest son before the explanation could go much further. "Where did you get four-dozen fireworks?"
"Uncle Cam brought them over yesterday," Carter pitched in helpfully, a wide grin on her face.
"Those are supposed to be for the Fourth of July, and I distinctly recall today's newspaper being dated July first," Jack pointed out, making a mental note to maim Cameron Mitchell later. The man knew better than to leave flammable, let alone explosive, objects near the O'Neill children; they shared their father's love of blowing stuff up far too much for that to ever be a sound idea.
From the cluster of trees at the far end of the backyard, a low whine started to build, reminding Jack that there were more pressing matters to attend to than his children's apparent discovery of time travel. At the moment, anyway. Their mother could take up the whole time travel thing with them later. Cocking his head to one side, Jack regarded his three favorite troublemakers closely.
"Jacob Teal'c, Jackson George and Carter Catherine O'Neill, how far has testing of your firework launcher progressed?" he asked calmly, even though he was pretty confident he knew the answer. All three possessed their mother's engineering genius, but it had yet to be tempered by her cautious patience, a trait she always attributed to Jack's own impatience when it came to science.
"We started the live test right before you called us," Jackson informed him matter of factly, bouncing on the balls of his feet with excitement. Most kids would be at least a little concerned to have gotten the full name treatment, but being one of three trouble-making siblings had its advantages, namely that only one of them ever really got the full name treatment. He was quite happy that he'd managed to avoid being the unlucky one to hear first, middle and surname today. So far, anyway. The day was still far from over.
"Meaning there are four-dozen lit fireworks waiting to go off just a few feet away?" Jack clarified, already backing up in the direction of the garden hose. There were so many muddy misadventures and, unfortunately, incidents involving sparks if not full on flames, that the O'Neill family had made a habit of leaving the hose out until the first snowfall; it made it much easier to either rinse off the kids or douse the flames.
"Yep," Jake announced proudly, brown eyes dancing with delight as he treated his father to a toothy grin. "Think about how cool that many fireworks will look at night!"
"SAM!!" Jack hollered at the top of his lungs, frantically shooing the kids into the house. He didn't doubt that four-dozen fireworks would look very cool going off at night, but grouped close together and stuck on good old terra firma, 'bomb' sounded like a more appropriate descriptor than 'cool' did.
As he turned the hose in the direction of the growing whine, he could hear excited chatter through the screen door and Jack knew he would have a captive audience until the last of the fireworks were out. The three kids jabbered on for a while, trying to fill their mom in on their latest exploits. A few long moments later, the familiar sounds of Sam and Vala's near hysterical laughter reached his ears and he knew with absolute certainty that he would be getting no help from his wife this time around.
Directing the hose's spray towards a cluster of purple sparks peeking out from around the trunk of the nearest tree, Jack had to laugh himself. Yes, his children were a handful, but considering who they were named after, he'd expect nothing less. Despite their collective tendency towards pyromania and the thousands of dollars in property damage the three wracked up annually, he loved his kids to death.
Still, Jack vowed, once Carter was big enough to use a fire extinguisher, he'd make them start putting out their own fires. He was getting way too old for this.
A/N: Can anyone else picture Jack insisting that 'Carter' is a great name for a girl while Sam argues that saddling a little girl with a boy's name is a terrible idea, and then in the end, Jack just slinks off to a dark corner and fills out the birth certificate the way he wants and Sam has to learn to live with it? Cause Jack's stubborn (and sneaky!) like that! : P