It had been a long, exhausting week, and Jack left the boys to their own devices while he busied himself with the ever-increasing household chores.
Finishing their breakfast and reluctantly tiding the toy room, the two boys trailed outside for some sun and fresh air. Awakened far too early by blackbirds squabbling in the trees outside his window, Dan and Cam were beginning to grate on the yawning general's nerves. Briefly thinking but deciding shelling the local wildlife might upset his elderly neighbors; he gazed out of the window, wondering if he needed firewood. Lots and lots of firewood.
Sitting at the table and drinking his coffee, Jack winced as the boys grew rowdier and rowdier, taking childish delight in needling each other. Putting up with the squeals and yips and deciding they needed to run off some pent-up energy, Jack ordered them to finish up and then leave the table. "Oh, for cryin' out loud! Enough already! That's it. Get those little butts of yours outside, if you want to torment someone, torment those soon to be evicted, birds!"
Looks of confusion crossed the warring children's' faces and they looked suspiciously at their fed up parent.
"Huh?" Daniel narrowed his eyes, suspecting a ruse to have them play outside.
"Huh?" Cam wasn't sure if the word torment was a good or bad thing. Lurching forward, he kicked at Daniel's shin. "Danny, wotshemean?"
"Aht-aht," Jack added crossly, leaning across the table and grabbing Cam's sticky hand in his. "Hey! What did I just say? Kick Danny again and there will be trouble, understand me airman? "Watching the smug look flick across Daniel's face, Jack raised his head slightly, and waving his teaspoon under the boy's nose, added, "and you eat faster."
Bored children meant mischief, and Jack O'Neill was far too canny to fall for any of their time wasting tricks. Hustling them outside as soon as possible, Daniel and Cameron looked around the back yard and then at each other huffing with exasperation. With a gaze at the old apple tree, a plan began to emerge.
Jack watched the little boys trail out of the kitchen with an amused shake of his head, and rose from the kitchen table. Checking his watch, he wondered where the morning had gone. Hearing peals of childish laughter followed by the slamming of the screen door, he smiled and picked up the empty cereal bowls. Leaning down and peering under the table, he made a mental note to sweep the floor." How is it possible", he thought," to cram so much in their mouths but still spill all this?" Plopping the dishes into the dishwasher and turning it on, Jack grabbed the broom with a sigh. "Hi-ho-hi-ho, it's off to work I go."
It hadn't taken long before the lure of the television and the sofa became too much for the couch potatoes. A plaintive cry came from the backyard, and re-filling the coffee pot, Jack snorted softly. "Oh, please! It's been what? Five minutes?"
"J-ja-ckk? Can we come in now? We've been outsides for ages and Captain Fantastic is on! Can we? Dad-de-eee?" The boys were most insistent and in perfect tandem, managed to have whining down to an art form.
With eyebrows waggling with disbelief, Jack busied himself while pointedly ignoring the pathetic cries of his children. Stashing cereal packets and sugar back into the larder, he called out reminding them they had better start to straighten up and fly straight. Flicking the cupboard door shut with his elbow, the general grabbed a chair and gave the morning paper a good shake. Crossing his long legs, Jack sighed, and read the worlds news in relative peace and quiet.
Hearing the decidedly negative response, the little boys huffed and looked around, surveying their yard. Grabbing each other's hands and scampering off, Dan and Cam grumbled at life's many injustices.
Their idea of Saturday morning fun meant watching cartoons until noon.
Jack's idea of Saturday morning fun meant small, freckled faced children outside and playing. For as long as he could swing it.
Wandering down to the basement with a full laundry basket, Jack hummed tunelessly, already thinking of his next chore. Picking up a pair of ripped shorts, he grunted with exasperation. "Oh, for crying out loud, these are brand new!" The boys were incredibly careless with their clothes, and every day the pile of washing and mending grew higher. Snorting, he wondered how Sara had coped alone. He had never been much of a househusband, but then, he acknowledged, he was rarely home. With a guilty shrug, he knew he'd been more a hunter and gatherer type of man. Looking around his over-flowing utility room, he mentally saluted her.
Sorting the colored from the whites, Jack was shaken from his daydreams when he heard the sound of a high-pitched squeal, followed by a loud crash. His attention diverted to what may have caused the latest drama; he gave his head a rueful shake and climbed up the basement stairs. Giving the back door an impatient shove, he scanned his backyard, looking for any hint.
It didn't take him long to zero in on the problem: His wayward, fair-haired boys had found a way to occupy themselves. Huffing and panting, their little faces flushed with exertion, Daniel and Cameron struggled to drag an oversized deck chair closer to the forbidden apple tree. "Oh, for crying out loud, what are those little maniacs doing now?" Seeing a precariously built tower consisting of toys and deck chairs, Jack slapped at his face, his mouth slightly ajar with bewilderment.
Muttering under his breath," Why me? Why not Carter? Teal'c lives in this galaxy. Why not him? Jack grumbled and cursed as he navigated his way down the ancient backyard steps two at a time." Calling out a warning, the general took his eyes off the rickety timber steps, stubbing his toe and losing his flip-flop on the way. His arms whirling through the air windmill style, and to the delight of his kids, Jack took an undignified tumble. As a stab of pain shot up his leg, he struggled to regain his balance and called out loudly," A-ten-shun! Airman .freeze!"
The shaggy haired boys froze and blinked with surprise. Their mouths opening to perfect zeroes, they looked at each other and waited for further instructions.
Jack stumbled again on his remaining flip-flop, grabbed at his foot, and cursed through gritted teeth.
Daniel and Cameron heard his salty curses and slapping hands across their mouths were delighted to be privy to such grownup cussing. Seeing Jack wander into their playground, and then falling down the stairs was hilarious. Nudging the Tonka Truck out of his way, Daniel chortled happily and kept his eyes fixed on Jack. Not wanting to be left out, and thrilled the morning was turning into such great fun; Cameron jumped up and down and heckled his daddy cheekily. "Hey, Jack watch'cha doing there? Did'cha enjoy the trip?" Giggling and throwing sly looks at his partner in crime, he added, "Nuh-nuh, you said a naughty word!"
Cameron pranced around and pulled faces, doing a passable imitation of his scowling parent. "'S'okay, you're funny, Jack!" Sidling up to Danny and whispering, "Whaddya 'spose all those words mean? Cam was highly entertained. Deciding they sounded very naughty, Cammie giggled, "Again, Jack, fall down the steps again!"
Nudging his brother with his hip, Cameron grinned widely showing his half-grown teeth. Not expecting the shove, Daniel squeaked and waved his hands, "No, trip from the top of the stairs. That's way funnier!" Not completely clueless and sensing they had gone too far; the boys ducked their heads. Deciding to sing loudly and pretend not to notice their daddy's glare, the little boys danced several steps backward.
A look of uncertainty crossed their freckled faces, and the boys wisely turned their attention to their masterpiece. Cam twirled his finger into Danny's t-shirt and tugging, dragged him back, pointing to another obvious design fault .His forehead wrinkled with concentration, the littlest colonel demanded Danny pay attention and fix the ungainly fort. With an anxious nod of his head, young Doctor Jackson gave the lopsided structure a quizzical look, and decided another truck shoved in the middle would fix the problem nicely.
"There! See, Cam! Nothing a little stuffing won't help!"
"Oh, brilliant! Danny, you're the bestest archi-teck."
That morning, Jack had taken great pains to explain the old apple tree was strictly off limits. Hustling the small boys outside and pointing to the elderly tree, he rapped their heads gently with his knuckle. "Okay, airmen, listen up. You can play outside, but if you go near that apple tree there will be trouble, okay?" Watching them nod their head with beatific smile on their faces, he thought, "Ah-huh." Wagging a paternal finger in front of the nearest child's nose, he figured stressing it a little more couldn't hurt. "I mean it, do not play under it. It's old and the branches are rotten."
Seeing how monumentally useless his chat had been and throwing his hands in the air, he muttered, "Oh, for crying out loud, I turn my back for five seconds and the beavers of Colorado Springs build the Taj Mahal"
The ancient tree had borne its last fruit years ago and now presented a dangerous problem. Its branches were rotten and crashed to the ground every time the strong winds blew. Even the bickering blackbirds understood the grand old dame had passed her time. The general knew he should have the tree removed, but always sentimental, he didn't like the idea of such a grand old tree ending up in someone's fireplace.
Besides, he admitted softly to Sara one afternoon, it was achingly similar to the old tree Charlie had loved. With a ghost of a smile, he remembered the hot summer they'd built a pirates' fort. The same tree his little boy climbed and then fallen out of more times than his parents cared to remember. He looked at his hands and felt them shake, the old days always so bittersweet. Running his hands through his short, spiky hair and taking a deep breath, Jack knew this old tree had to go. Looking at the rats nest of toys and chairs, all draped with a new bed sheet, he was amazed at the boys' ingenuity. These kids couldn't work out how to hang up wet bath towels, but could manage to build this extravagant fort.
Danny and Cam watched as their dad inspected their fort, and wondered if they were in trouble. Eyes downcast and kicking at the grass, they knew they had disobeyed him. They didn't mean to, but that old tree lured them like bees to honeycomb.
Jack narrowed his eyes, placed his hands on his hips, and demanded an explanation. He didn't really need one, though; he knew exactly what the attraction was: danger, height, and parental disapproval made the tree an irresistible challenge. To be fair, he thought, Charlie never listened to his warnings. Shaking his head, he watched Daniel and Cameron's boyish vitality and knew with a certainty that neither would they.
Deciding to talk at once, anxious to explain that the tree tricked them into playing near it, they little boys saw the amused twinkle in Jack's eyes. Crashing into his legs and looking up into his face, they talked about how hard they had been working. "It was real tricky, Jack," Daniel breathed excitedly. "We nearly had to call out to you for help."
"That a fact?"
"Yep, but Cam said you were busy doing nothing, so we left you alone."
"Thank you, Cameron, what a thoughtful little boy you are."
Me, too, Jack, I said you weren't doing anything either."
Cameron darted back and hauled himself up, expertly scaling the lopsided chairs. "Look it, Jack," he breathed," its real solid."
Seeing the hideous structure sway back and forth like a drunken sailor complete with groans and moans, Jack choked. "Cameron, do not even think about climbing that thing! " Reaching the jean clad little butt in three long strides; Jack expertly swung the small boy onto his hip. "What did I just say? Do you think I talk just to hear my own voice?" Shaking his head at his shrugging child, he waggled his finger at the impudent little face.
Grinning back at him and impulsively throwing his arms around his neck, Cameron chortled, "I dun' no? Do you, Jack?"
Poking the giggling boy in his potbelly, the general growled with mock sternness, "Do not make me court martial you, peanut. Do something that does not include climbing or falling out of old apple trees. If you can't think of anything, then I will find you a chore, okay?"
Wriggling his bottom to get more comfortable and patting Jack's face, the unrepentant little colonel cupped his hand and whispered that he might find something to do I only he wasn't so darn hungry. "Cookies will proba'lee help my brain fink."
Jack grinned at the cunning little boy. "Is that so? A cookie, huh? Well, that could be arranged, I guess." Looking down his nose at his other child, he added pleasantly, "How about you then Danny-boy? Think a chocolate chip will help?"
A mutinous scowl crossed Danny's face, and he toed the ground in annoyance. He wasn't so sure about cookies; he felt his brother had caved far too easily. Folding his arms across his chest, he refused to sanction any thoughts of such blatant bribery. Throwing an irritated glare at his brother, Daniel looked at Jack and with bravado said boldly, "I don't need cookies! Even if they are chocolate chip! Cam can eat but I'm too busy. Is it okay if I just get on with it?" With a huff, Daniel blinked hopefully. Barreling past Jack and his shocked brother, Danny picked up another truck to help prop up the leaning tower of O'Neill.
Jack plucked the toy from the little boy's hand and swiftly put a stop to the rebellion. "I'll take that! Have you listened to a word I said? Now, we discussed the tree this morning, didn't we? Remember what I told you? No? Okay then, how about if I sit you quietly in the kitchen facing the corner for ten minutes... think that might jog your memory?"
Daniel hung his head, looking at an ant trail with interest, gave his head a tiny shake, and mumbled he might have remembered something about an apple tree.
Throwing himself onto the ground, Daniel lay on his on his belly, hands propping up his chin, and swinging his legs back and forth. Chewing his lip thoughtfully, his face was a mask of concentration. Muttering under his breath, he was determined not to have his glorious morning ruined by any unpleasant timeouts. Twisting around at Jack's gentle reminder, "Ahem, Daniel Jackson? Use your words, please!" the little archeologist come construction worker, replied in a small voice, "Okay, Jack. No apple tree, I get it." Seeing Cam still comfortably perched, Danny's face crinkled into a mischievous grin. With the vision of the young, he'd forgotten his annoyance and grabbed at a new opportunity. Waggling an eyebrow and grabbing at his brothers grubby foot, he urged, "Come on; let's find another tree for our fort."
"Yeah! This'll be even betta!" Cam grinned, excitement shining on his face.
"Course! " Matching smile for smile, Daniel beamed.
Dumping the instantly squirming little boy onto to his feet, the general threw his hands in the air, and making a quick decision, walked over to the dripping tap to fill up a bucket. After the boys' last construction attempt, he decided it might be prudent to watch the would-be mountaineers with more diligence. Looking at his dusty truck, and sighing, he figured he could supervise the kids and wash it. Muttering to the lazy, fat-bellied cat sunning itself on the ground, he leant down and tickled its ear, lecturing, "Multi tasking Puss, multi tasking."
Hearing another round of boisterous laughs, he turned around and pointed a dripping sponge in the direction of the miscreants. Accidentally holding the soapy mess over Puss, he warned, "Remember, ice-cream is a privilege that can be taken away if little boys continue to ignore their daddy." Splashing the sponge onto the bonnet, Jack laughed silently at the look of shock crossing Dan and Cam's freckled faces. Muttering an apology to the drenched family pet he never remembered buying, he winked, and said, "Game, set, and match."