Scratching his head and planting his hands on his hips, Jack scanned his empty kitchen. "Okay, this is odd. Where have they gone?" Five minutes ago, the noise generating from this one small room forced him to stop what he was doing and investigate. The sounds of squeals and raucous laughter had echoed throughout the house, and wincing, he called out several times for the kids to settle down. Jack recognized the unmistakable sounds of rough and tumbles, and knew the boys were stalling, hoping he'd forget about their loathed chore.
Dan and Cam were happy but rambunctious kids, and occasionally their enthusiasm resulted in tears. Hearing a chair crash and Cameron's howls of recrimination, Jack knew it was time he intervened. "Oh, for cryin' out loud, what now?" Striding down the stairs three at a time and wondering what may have been broken, Jack felt his temper spike.
The family cat had earlier moved himself to safer ground and napped at the bottom of the stairs. Rolling onto his back, he wagged his tail in warning as Jack thundered down the stairs. Forced to jump over the fat-bellied pet, Jack shook his head and said, "Hey, Puss, give it to me straight. Does anyone listen to me in this house?"
The marmalade tomcat blinked slowly half-shutting his emerald eyes and rolled onto his feet. Stretching his spine, Puss padded silently away with an imperious flick of his tail. Watching the cat gracefully jump onto a windowsill, Jack mumbled, "Oh well, don't mind me Puss, I'll just take that as a no."
Reaching the kitchen door and giving it a bad tempered shove, Jack looked around at the cluttered table, upset chair, and arched an eyebrow. The instigators of chaos had magically disappeared. Turning off the dripping tap and shutting the fridge door, he muttered, "Smart kids: this way, they might just live to be six."
Screwing the lid back on the peanut butter jar, Jack knew the boys had scampered away somewhere. Watching as the screen door opened and then slowly shut in the summer breeze, the general peered into the backyard and smiled with satisfaction.
Daniel and Cameron were hard at work dragging paints tins from the garage and stacking them on the deck. Puffing, and pushing damp bangs from his eyes, Danny glowered at Cam, and seeing Jack standing by the backdoor, gulped and muttered, "This is all your fault, Cameron. I'll never listen to another stupid word you say."
Cameron glowered back and shoved Daniel roughly, causing him to stumble. He hissed back, "Hey, stop ya whinin' I'm in trouble too." Jumping at the sound of Jack's bark and seeing the crooked finger beckoning him, the little colonel heaved a great sigh, and trailed miserably to the backdoor.
Daniel watched Cam's shoulders slump, and with a nasty grin on his face, whispered, "Serves you right." Folding his arms, he whispered a little too loudly, "Hope it hurts."
Hearing the whispered taunt, Jack fixed Daniel with a steely look and turned his attention back to the miserable little boy standing in front of him.
"What did I say about your rough house play, young man?" Not expecting an answer and turning the little boy around, he swatted the small backside warning him to start behaving. Giving his head a quick shake and clicking his fingers at Daniel, Jack drawled, "Well, I glad something amuses you today, Daniel. How about you come up here and tell me what you said to your brother to make him push you?"
Jack watched as the two little boys hugged each other, promising not to be mean or rough to each other ever again. Sniffling and looking up at their arm-folded parent, Dan and Cam resumed the hated chore of cleaning out the garage.
"Hey, Danny, fink Sam knows we aren't going bike riding today?"
"Yeah, Dad would have called her already."
"Oh, so no pizza ee-ver?"
"Don't think so."
Turning back into the kitchen and clearing a space for himself, Jack made breakfast in comparative peace. Flicking out the paper and turning the page carefully, Jack drank his green tea and crunched hot buttered toast. Today, he decided, was already gearing up to be a better day.
On Wednesday morning, Cam had ignored Jack's warnings and scrambled up the shelving in the kitchen larder. He ended up falling heavily, giving himself a nasty fright and a goose egg bump on his forehead. Checking the bump with gentle fingers, Jack worried about a possible concussion and decided to call Carolyn Lam.
"Carolyn? Jack O'Neill. Good, thanks. Listen, Cam fell and hit his head. No, he's conscious, but has a nasty egg on his forehead. Yep, can do, be there in ten."
Backing out the truck and glancing at the subdued little boys' faces, he shook his head and said, "Well, this is going to take a lot of explaining. I won't even bother to ask whose brilliant idea this was, but tomorrow, boys, I may not be quite so obliging."
Clutching their stuffies, the small boys sighed and sat in their booster seats in silence, hoping Jack wouldn't think of anymore uncomfortable questions. Daring a quick look at each other, Cam rubbed his head and whimpered while Daniel rolled the little green stars in his hand and gulped.
Cameron loved to climb; he was just one of those fearless and agile little kids. Spying a challenge, he forgot all his promises and happily launched himself up, over, down, or whatever it was. Once, it had been the old apple tree in the backyard. The week before that, he'd tested his dad's patience by climbing up the drainpipe, a stunt which resulted in a nasty cut, antiseptic, and a bandage.
Keeping one eye on the road and the other on the boys, Jack looked at their sad faces and pulling into Carolyn's driveway, thought, "Nope, do the crime you do the time."
The little colonel wandered into the kitchen deliberately bumping into the fridge and watching the little magnets slowly slide. Craning his neck, he carefully read his and then Daniel's charts stamping his foot with frustration. Tracing the two green stars on his chart and sighing loudly, he wished he'd hadn't fought with Daniel so much. Chewing his lip, he wondered if hiding all his vegetables in the new couch had been such a good idea either.
Daniel already had seven stars and Cammie wondered if he'd notice if one or two went mysteriously missing and onto his. Deciding he would and probably run tales to Jack, Cameron went back to his bedroom, picked up his new yo-yo, and thought very carefully. "Rats! I hafta to fink of somethin' fast!" Drumming his tiny fingers, the young lieutenant colonel searched his brain for that foolproof plan.
Daniel wandered in and dropped onto the unmade bed. "Hey, you'd better make this before daddy sees or you won't get a star." Frowning and leaning across, Daniel warned his brother, "It's Wednesday, Cam, and you need another five stars!"
Cam was beginning to feel a little frantic. Saturday afternoon was around the corner, but his chart sadly lacked green stars. Daniel chortled at his brother's dilemma, and poking out his tongue, gloated that he already earned enough. Narrowing his eyes at the smirking face of his brother, Cam snapped, "Oh, right, that's cos you're a rock-dweeb!" Wrestling Danny to the ground and forcing him to say "uncle," Cameron stormed off to look at his chart again, hoping he misread it. Bouncing after him and rubbing his wrists, Danny reminded him that he needed more stars or he would be spending the day with Doctor Lam.
In their house, good behavior and poor behavior had their consequences. Poor behavior meant a time out, an early bedtime, or worse, a smacked bottom. Good behavior meant a green star on their charts. Jack promised if they got seven green stars then they could pick the family's treat for the weekend. The little colonel desperately wanted to go bike riding with everyone on Saturday, but his chart was sadly bare.
The boys usually spent all week discussing what they would choose. Pizza at Giuseppe's and then bike riding in the park were particular favorites. Sam or Sara often joined in with the little family and Daniel and Cameron couldn't wait. Jack's rules were absolute, however: if the stars weren't earned, then the Saturday treat wouldn't happen. No amount of crocodile tears or extravagant promises of good behavior changed his mind, and the boys had learnt this lesson very quickly.
Daniel was a well-behaved, loving child and tried to keep out of trouble and earn his reward.
Cameron was a loving, tactile, affectionate child also, but his idea of staying out of trouble needed fine-tuning.
Not playing favorites and taking care never to compare one child to the other, Jack would look at the chart and arch an eyebrow knowingly. "Mm, young Cameron, unless you change your ways, looks like you might need a sitter." Tears and heart-breaking sobs always accompanied the child dropped off at Carolyn's, and despite showing the upset little boy sympathy, Jack stuck to the house rules.
The green stars were tucked away in Jack's den drawer, and Cam was determined to get them. He loved pizza, he loved bike riding, but he didn't love pulling weeds with the good doctor. He might earn enough for the treat, but it was a risk he wasn't prepared to take. When Jack said he meant something, he meant it.
The idea of consequences of actions was a grey area for Cammie, and despite Daniel's warnings that Jack was no fool; the littlest colonel ignored his brother's good advice. Tapping his finger on the side of his face and walking around his bedroom, Colonel Mitchell decided he needed a covert operation. He needed a foolproof plan and that meant his 2IC, Daniel Nicholas Jackson, was required.
"Pssttt, Daniel, com' in here."
"Cos, I need you, com' on."
"No! You always get me into trouble, and I don't want to lose any of my stickers."
"Oh, you won't, Dad finks you're an angel! Com' on, Daniel, I've got cookies!"
"Cookies? Where did you get them? Okay, but if they're old and stinky, I'm leaving."
Daniel trailed into his brother's room, dropped onto his still unmade bed, and listened to Cam's preposterous plan. Shaking his head and glancing around the room, Daniel Jackson drew a hard bargain. "Okay, it's a dumb idea, and when Jack finds out he will kill you. Looking at his brother's most treasured possession, the little archeologist said, "If I do help, I want to borrow your Coca-Cola yo-yo."
Cameron stopped pacing. Eyes wide with shock. He stuttered, "M-my n-new yo-yo? D-Danny, you can't m-mean my Coco-Cola yo-yo. Choose something else! "
"What about my Ninja Turtle? Then you'd have a pair!"
"The yo-yo, Cam, for a whole week or the deal's off."
Sinking to the carpet, Cameron couldn't hear for the blood pounding in his ears. Saving his pocket money for weeks while Danny munched on candied popcorn, Cam had contented himself with the torn out picture of the yo-yo. Confiding to Sam that he was only three dollars short, she instantly offered to buy the toy. Listening to the blatant smooching, Jack shooed the little snake oil salesman out the door and warned her against manipulative flyboys. "Carter, it only costs six dollars and he's already halfway there. Now, that's why I give them their pocket money, so don't spoil 'em!"
Cameron couldn't bring himself to trade this prize and the boys negotiated for what seemed to them to be hours. Danny was no fool, and he knew if he was caught taking the stars, he would be the one in trouble. "Cam, if Jack catches me, I'll be in for it, so the prize has to be worth it." Folding his arms and looking down his nose, Daniel insisted it was the cool little yo-yo or nothing.
Throwing his hands in the air, furious with Danny for demanding his treasure, Cam pleaded and whined, but Daniel was a born negotiator. Any hope of changing Danny's mind lay in finding a better treat. A treat that he adored. Popcorn!
They had a popcorn maker in the shape of a dinosaur in the top cupboard in the kitchen pantry. When kernels were placed in its neck and the butter near its eyes, fluffy white popcorn dripping with butter spewed out its mouth. Teal'c had bought this and the boys adored it. It was a cheap treat, so anytime they watched a movie with Teal'c, he made mountains of it.
Jack had stashed it away, knowing that the temptation to use it without supervision would be too much for greedy, popcorn-addicted children. The element for the butter became red-hot, and he didn't fancy an emergency room visit.
Crossing his arms over his chest and nodding with finality, Cameron decided on a search-and-rescue mission. Grinning smugly, he convinced himself it would be easy to make Danny unlimited popcorn with hot butter. After his brother had gorged himself, he would distract Jack with something terrible--like a severed finger, maybe--and give Danny time to break into the den and borrow three green stars. Striding around the room with his hands clutched behind his butt, Cameron congratulated himself on a perfect plan.
Gingerly wiping his excitable brother's sprayed dribble from his face, Daniel thought it was worse than stupid. However, it had been awhile since he had buttered popcorn, and he really didn't want Cammie to stay with Carolyn all Saturday afternoon. It was always more fun when the whole family ate pizza and then went for the ride.
Spitting in the palm of their hands and agreeing to be partners, the little terrorists plotted and fine-tuned their ridiculous plan.
Before Danny would agree to smuggle himself into the lions' den and take the stars, he wanted the popcorn. Flexing his bandaged hand gingerly, the little colonel patiently explained the plan again. "Daniel, you hafta to reach up and then pass me the dinosaur, okay?" Seeing a look of alarm flash across Daniel's face, Cameron patted his back encouraging him, "its okay, Dan, I'll help you climb the shelves and then you can just knock the dinosaur down to me." His eyes darting back and forth and feeling very nervous, he added with false bravado, "It will work fine, Danny, trust me! Jack's outside washing the truck and thinks we are watching a DVD, so we have ages."
Nodding his head, his mouth watering at the thought of the hot buttered popcorn, Daniel agreed to trust his brother-in-arms. They dragged a chair over to the bench as quietly as possible, terrified Jack might hear and investigate. "Oh, Dan! What was that noise? Is that Dad?" Holding their breath, the kids froze, expecting to see Jack walk through the door and expose their brilliant plan. Breathing a sigh of relief and looking at each other, Cam counted, "One-two-three, now jump!" They clambered up onto the bench and stood side-by-side, holding hands for courage. Daniel turned around and whispered into Cam's ear, "This is a bad idea. Didn't Jack say you'd be in big trouble if you climbed anymore? I think this is a mistake. Just be good and then you can go riding next week."
Not interested in Danny's words of reason and shaking his shaggy little head, Cam craned his neck and gazed up at the high shelves, whispering, "Nah-huh, if you're going on Saturday, then so is I." Knuckling his brother on his arm, the little colonel warned, "Hey, don't forget, I can court mallow you."
Danny wasn't listening to Cameron anymore; the blood pumped too loudly in his ears and his heart thumped with fear. He'd never liked heights and worried Jack would catch them. Chewing at his lip, he watched the back door nervously. "Cam, listen to me. What if Daddy comes in and sees us on the bench? We will really get it."
Waving his hand in the air and dismissing Danny's fears, Colonel Mitchell counted the shelves expertly. "Huh? Don't be scared, Dad will take forever to clean his truck; remember; you split soda in it yesterday."
"Hey, you shoved me!"
Furious and feeling dizzy, Doctor Jackson had enough, and dropping to all fours, scooted to the edge of the bench. Narrowing his eyes, he hissed at his brother, "No I didn't! This is a stupid plan, and I'm not climbing any dumb shelf. Get your own stickers!" Backing up and carefully climbing back onto the chair, Danny jumped to the floor, sighed, looked up at his brother, scowled, and scampered away.
Watching Danny desert him and picking at the raggedy bandage on his sore hand, Cameron decided it was up to him to execute the daring plan. Grumbling about stinky brothers, he stood up and reached over to the cupboard. Stretching out his hand and wriggling his fingers, he forced himself to ignore the pinch of the healing scab. Jumping nimbly onto the first shelf, he steadily climbed shelf-by-shelf.
The little pink and grey dinosaur was stored up the top, and reaching out his arms, Cameron almost touched it. With his little face wrinkled in concentration, he batted at the popcorn maker and saw it topple towards him. "Ah, gotcha! Danny will have to get my stars now!"
Daniel had calmed down, and with his panic under control, experienced an uncomfortable pang of guilt. Grumbling under his breath, he reluctantly returned to the kitchen and to the scene of the crime.
He had been very busy himself. He figured Cam would somehow get the popcorn maker, and he wanted to have the swap ready. Creeping into Jack's den and turning on his bankers' lamp, Danny carefully opened the top drawer and fingered the pad of green and gold stamps. "Dad won't know. He's too busy doing the washing and making our beds to keep count of our stars. I'll just take three, and put the rest back." Peeling of the stickers and sticking them onto his hand, Daniel ran out the door, his face flushed pink.
Danny was normally a well-behaved little boy, and he knew the difference between right and wrong. Leaving his own crime scene, he agonized over what his dad would think about his theft. Running back to the kitchen and watching the back door, he hissed, "Come on, Cammie, Jack will be here any minute now!"
"I'm coming, I'm coming, don't rush me!"
"Well, come faster! Jack will see his drawers are open and he'll know I took something!"
"Why didn't you shut them?"
"Oh, right, good thinking."
Tucking the dinosaur under his arm and looking down at Daniel, Cam lost his footing and flailed for anything to slow his plummet. Letting go of the dinosaur and hearing it crash to the ground with a loud crack, the little colonel knew the mission was a bust.
His bare feet knocked the groceries, upsetting the various cans and boxes. Grocery item after grocery item tumbled to the floor, splitting and spilling. The spice jars bounced off the shelf and skittered across the kitchen floor, thyme and turmeric merging in an aromatic mess. A kitschy, plastic tomato Tupperware container lost its green hat and bled its red sauce into the rice flour.
Trying his best, Cam couldn't steady himself and fell heavily onto his bottom, jarring his tailbone. Jumping up and bouncing on the balls of his feet, his hands clutching his bottom, he burst into howls of pain. "Ow, I've broken my butt." Turning around to inspect the damage, he slipped in the spilt sauce and skidded, cracking his forehead on the table's turned leg.
Daniel looked at the mess, looked at the instigator of this disaster, and felt dizzy.
Knowing time was running out and seeing Cam was no longer capable of carrying out the mission, Daniel leapt into action. Desperately trying to clean the mess up before they were discovered, Danny stuck the little green stickers to his forehead and chased the rolling cans around the kitchen.
Hearing the crashing sounds of both child and cans, Jack came running into the kitchen. The two-star, combat-weary general looked around his kitchen with disbelief. General Jack O'Neill didn't know which catastrophe to address first, but he figured the child with green stickers all over his face could wait.
"There will be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this, won't there boys? Are those stickers all over your face, Daniel? Where did you get them? Not my den, I hope."
Scooping Cam off the floor and placing him carefully on the bench, Jack gently touched the livid bruise on his head. "Anything else hurt? Give me your hand, does this hurt?" Carefully testing the tiny hands and wrists eventually satisfied nothing was broken; he picked his way through the mess and opened the fridge for an ice pack. Spearing a look at the little archaeologist trying to edge his way out of the kitchen, Jack grabbed his collar, holding the wriggling little boy firmly.
"Daniel, where ya going? "
"Cameron? Other than the egg on your head, anything else hurting?"
"What? Tell daddy what else hurts."
"Mm. Good thing you won't need your bikes for a month, then, isn't it?"