Kids and Kittens
Twas the night before Christmas, and the entire household, mice and all, was stirring.
The Christmas tree so lovingly decorated swayed dangerously back and forth, while the boys ran around it, screeching, "Daddy! Daddeeee, do something! Tiggah is gonna fall!"
Daddy clenched his fists, and forced a very thin smile onto his handsome face. Hair spiky, eyes narrowed, he presented a trapped, slightly demented look of desperation. Unaware that his left eye was beginning to twitch, he lunged for and missed the kamikaze kitten, but made the tree rock and sway like a drunken sailor. With decorations crashing to the ground, Mogliana pounced, and spirited the expensive gold star away to be shredded at her leisure.
"Why didn't I think of that, Daniel? I thought I'd just let the damn tree collapse into the fireplace! Please, Danny, get the star away from the other maniac." Agilely swooping and catching Cam midair, the general swung the little boy expertly onto his hip, and waving a warning finger under his nose, said," Cameron, if you even think about climbing that tree, so help me "
Despite Jack's best intentions, the O'Neill house had descended into its customary chaos. The combination of fluffy kittens and decorated Christmas trees in most households were considered cute, endearing, but in the O'Neill house, it morphed into a blood sport.
Cameron stopped flapping his arms about and squeaked, "No! Daddy! Please! Don't let our tree burn down! How will Santa Clause know where to put my new bike?" Folding his arms across his tummy and looking very stern, he added," Sam said you're not allowed to be cranky on Christmas Eve! I'm so telling!"
"Oh, please! The Christmas tree is not going to burn! -- I hope. That lunatic kitten of yours is so looking at a cart mellow. Dumping Cam onto to already shifting feet, Jack growled with menace, "I'll conduct hers and Carter's on the same day."
Puss, the pet no one remembered buying, had disappeared. He was taken to late night wandering, chatting up the local ladies, and Jack feared he might have danced to the left instead of leaping to the right when crossing the road. The boys were desolate and Jack had put up fliers, albeit begrudgingly. "Opens us to paternity suits!" he grumbled as he walked around the neighborhood in the freezing rain.
Coming back home and stamping his frozen feet, Jack threw his saturated cap onto the chair nearest the fire. Poking at the embers, he muttered, "Cie la vie!" Desperately trying to insinuate himself in front of the dying fire, he looked at Carter's stony expression, and arching an eyebrow, mouthed, "What?"
Sam glowered, and moving aside, wisely said nothing. Cam burst into noisy, theatrical tears, but Daniel blinked sadly, morosely trailing out of the room. Finding his littlest archeologist sitting by the never used kitty litter tray, Jack decided that another kitten wouldn't really hurt.
That was mistake number one
Arriving bright and early the next morning armed with a tiny wicker basket stuffed with toy mice, Sam grinned, and pointedly pushed past a horrified Jack. Gently scooping each kitten under its belly and carefully placing it into the folded arms of its new owner, Carter smiled at the boys' awed little faces. "Oh, Sam, wow! A kitten each?"
Jack rolled his eyes and muttered a curse under his breath. "Gee, Carter, you shouldn't have. I mean, you really shouldn't have. At Carter's genuinely puzzled expression, Jack looked at the green-eyed kittens and sighed greatly. "Carter, don't you have anything better to do than to irritate your superior officer? Is there not a sun that needs blowing up? A naquada generator turning critical as we speak? A galaxy to infest?"
"Infest? No, pretty much got the save the world infestation thing under control this morning. So, sir, are you going to invite me in for breakfast?" Carter grinned cheekily, looking more than a little pleased with herself.
"Wasn't planning to."
Oh Well, I thought I could give the boys some instructions on how to care for the kittens, but if you'd rather "
"Eggs, okay?" Jack asked hurriedly. "And tea, right? Black."
Sam nodded, not bothering to hide her smile. "Thank you, sir. That would be great."
Dan christened his kitten Mogliana, but minus several milk teeth, Cam shortened it to Mogs.
Cam christened his tabby kitten Tiggah.
Jack christened his anticipated headache with Tylenol.
The pretty bundles of teeth and claws were direct descendants of the saber tooth tiger, and Tiggah took an instant dislike to the Christmas tree. Shiny colored ball-balls were hooked by tiny claws, and dragged into its lair. Tinsel was stalked, attacked, and left a shredded shadow of its former glory. However, it became abundantly clear; the kitten considered the twinkling lights her mortal enemy.
Skittering into the family room, tail fat and twitching wildly, she spied the tree, jumped in the air sideways, and pounced. Hopelessly tangled in its branches, Tigs cried piteously until Jack strode in, oozing irritation. "Cameron Francis, and how many times do I have to say to keep this door shut! Tiggah is going to be on the menu one of these days!" Plucking her from the tree, carefully untangling the fairy lights, Tigs O'Neill repaid her daddy's kindness by hissing, and scratching his hands.
"Ow, damn animal!"
Running into the room, eager to rescue the little pet, Cammie danced around Jack's legs, tripping him up, and reminding him piously, that damn was a naughty word. "Daddy, you are looking at having to go to Carolyn's for family day if you continue to cuss. Don't make me though! I know how much you love it."
Watching the kitten dumped onto her white socks, and then bolt under the sofa, tail wagging and ears flat, Cam threw himself onto the rug. Flattening himself and reaching out to snag the kitten, he snatched back his instantly scratched fingers. "Ouch! Hey, Daddy, she's destroying another ball-ball!"
"Cameron, just leave the creature be. If she destroying the decorations, she's not trying to eat one of us."
Mistake number two for the normally canny general.
If Jack struggled to maintain dominance over Tiggah, he admitted total defeat when it came to controlling Mogliana. "Like owner, like pet," he complained to Teal'c, "neither listens to a blind word I say."
Mogliana was a determined little hunter, and covert in her attacks. Tail swishing, she ruled the O'Neill household with a paw of iron, and the general was fast losing patience. Tinsel, decorations, anything small enough to be captured were strewn around the house making it more untidy that usual. A force of nature, Mogliana couldn't stop hunting and then destroying. Flicking her tail, her little bell jingling, Mogs eyed the curtains like the predator she was. Scooping her up and tipping her outside, Jack muttered, "Go, hunt a wildebeest."
The kittens and the kids chased each other around the house causing havoc while Jack, tripping over them, valiantly tried to organize Christmas. Sara dropped in and taking pity on him, bundled the little boys into her car and took them for the day. Looking at her grinning face and rolling his eyes to the heavens, Jack warned he could easily change the locks, just for the holidays. "Yeah, sure thing, flyboy! Like I don't know how to pick a lock!"
Christmas Eve finally dawned, and the little boys bounced out of bed at dawn, wide-eyed and bushy tailed. Sliding down the hallway in their sock clad feet, Dan and Cam arrived at Jack's door. "Um, Dan, you go first." Looking at each other carefully, Cammie wondered about the 'Waking up daddy early' rule. Clutching a squirming kitten under their armpits, they also thought about 'Leaving the kittens in the laundry 'rule "Um, fink Daddy is awake yet?"
"Well, we are, Cam, so yes!"
Also forgetting the 'Knock on daddy's door' rule, they barged in, expertly catapulting onto the bed. Grinning, the little terrors proceeded to shake Jack awake. Tiggah and Mogliana, eager to escape their owners clumsy little fingers, dived for pillows, and wriggled successfully under the covers.
"Daddy? Are you awake yet? It's Christmas Eve and Santa is almost here, isn't he?"
"Daddy, come on! You can't sleep through Christmas! "
Prising open a sleepy eye and groaning under the assault of kittens and kids, Jack attempted to sit up and dislodge a furry ball of single mindedness from his left kidney area.
Growling at the hissing kitten and dumping her onto the floor, he rummaged around and dislodged the second free loader. Glaring at his children, he asked with icy politeness, "Cameron, mind getting off my stomach? Daniel, I'm losing circulation in that leg!" Groaning and rolling his eyes, he felt the kittens ricochet straight back up and under his covers.
Bouncing Cam up and down, he tipped the giggling little boy off onto the bed, and snaking a hand out, attempted to capture Daniel as he disappeared under the covers in pursuit of the kittens. Finding only squirming bundles of fur, he pulled the wriggling kittens out and deposited them at the foot of the bed before snuggling back down under the bedclothes. "Take the hint, Tiggah."
Wriggling and taking the kittens' places under the warm covers, the boys chattered excitedly about Christmas turkey, candy, and their presents. Nodding and reaching for his watch, Jack ordered everyone back to sleep. "Okay, that's it. It's not even five thirty, everyone back to sleep until seven."
To be allowed to stay in Jack's bed was a great treat. Normally, he would return the small boys to their beds brooking no arguments. To be invited to stay was a rare treat, and squirming comfortably, the little boys stretched out as far as they could. His mouth curved into a smile, hands laced behind his head, the general listened to the adenoid buzz of his snoring boys. "Oy, this is going to be a long day."
Struggling for a piece of the covers, he rolled his eyes as the pair of kamikaze kittens jumped up, and purring like a sewing machine, kneaded and clawed at the pillows. "Do you mind?" Sighing, he swung his legs out of the bed, and getting dressed, padded downstairs for coffee and a slice of buttered peace.
The sleep in was a huge success, and the kittens and kids didn't wake until after eight o'clock. "Good," he told himself, and let out a small sigh of relief that the sleep-in had worked. It was going to be a long day, and cranky, over tired children were not on the menu. Hearing the trace of childish voices, followed by an echo of laughter, Jack put down his cup and loped up the stairs. Leaning down and scooping up the nearest child, he tickled Danny's tummy and smiled his good mornings.
Sitting on the side of the bed, he wriggled his fingers invitingly at the kittens, snatching them back intermittently, smiling as tiny claws jabbed and miniature fangs attempted to nip. "Well, who's for Fruit Loops? Who's for pancakes? And who's for making daddy all of the afore mentioned?"
Whooping with delight, the little boys jumped on Jack, laughing and drooling on the covers. Valiantly dodging the flailing arms, he looked at the trail of snot across his t-shirt and said, "Ew, that's it, out of my room, you lot! Even the kittens look disgusted."
Dan and Cam seated themselves at the table and watched with childish greed as Jack flipped golden pancakes. "Here you go, kids, who wants some honey?" Cam put a hand to his mouth, whispering through honey-smeared fingers, "Fink Santa likes pancakes? Fink we should leave some?" Eyeing the remaining pancake ruefully and licking his lips, Cam shook his head, "Nah, he's too fat."
Expecting ten adults for lunch, Jack needed to organize the table and cart chairs from the garage. Extending the table to seat everyone comfortably, Jack sighed, and removed Mogs' and Tigs' food bowls. Grabbing the collar of the nearest skulking child, he lifted Cam and tossing him in the air casually, said, "I'm gonna only say this once, the critters are not invited for lunch. If I see these bowls at the table again, the child responsible will trade places with his pet. Kitty cats love turkey I'm told."
Struggling to maintain his stern facade at the jaw dropping looks of horror crossing his children's faces, Jack mentally stroked a one in the air. "He shoots, he scores." When he returned from the kitchen, laden down with glasses and plates, the bowls had mysteriously disappeared and never mentioned again.
To keep the little fingers busy and out of candy bowls, Jack knew he needed to assign tasks. Long, repetitive tasks. "Mm," he pondered to himself," A limited window of opportunity exists; don't blow it. The holidays are for the survivalists or the mentally challenged." Making extravagant promises to the smiling photo of his kids, he picked up the frame and whispered, "I just want this day to be perfect for you little knuckleheads."
Spying Cameron wandering by with a pair of Christmas underpants over his head, Jack grabbed him and barked in his best general voice, "Okay, Airman, front and center! I need these Christmas cards written in, and these Santa Stockings hung over that mantle piece. Here are some pegs, and some extra Christmas stars. Make sure each stocking has a name on it so Santa can see. There are five, three for the humans and two for the critters. Okay? Do you understand the order, soldier?" Looking at Cammie's furrowed brow, Jack smiled, and tilted his head to the side in a questioning manner. "Cameron?"
Little butt pushed out, Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell saluted his commanding officer sharply and recited the orders. 'Hang up the pegs on the stars! Yes, sir! Daddy? Why are there three for the kittens? Has Sam brunged you a kitten too? How many humans, Daddy? Are you a human or a critter?"
Shooing Cam into the family room, the general rolled his eyes, and called his next soldier.
"One space cadet down, one little elf to go. Danny? I have an important job for you." Handing over the little place cards, Jack ordered them decorated and placed around the table. Smiling at the serious little face nodding at him, he patted the honey blonde head and said, "Good man."
Everyone had their assigned tasks, and even Mogliana and Tiggah behaved for Jack. Sara dropped in with more gifts and her famous, boozy, Christmas pudding. Barely surviving the enthusiastic mugging from the children and the cats, she walked into the kitchen, and smiled, her eyes soft. "Who wants to help me get the gifts from the car?" Throwing her head back and laughing, she chose the child who waved both arms in the air, jumping on her foot for added impact, assuring the other that he'd get the honor of placing them under the Christmas tree.
The table looked beautiful. Standing around it and admiring their handiwork, Jack bunched his hands on his hips, and winked at Santa's little helpers. Decorated with a definite Egyptian theme, camels holding Frosty the Snowman's hand, the names tags were magnificent. The Christmas cards ended up strung between the chairs, painstakingly spruced up with silver and gold glitter. Everyone had a tiny wrapped present by his or her wine glass, and inviting silver bon-bons sat on pristine china plates. Napkins folded with Santa napkin rings matched the slightly crooked, homemade paper mache tree leaning precariously in the centre of the table.
Child attached tightly to either leg, nursing a baby saber tooth, Jack wondered about all the amazing things that can happen in one year. People unrepentantly marry, people bitterly divorce, and people become fathers again. Not all those years of feeling he was trapped, running madly on some galactic mouse wheel mattered anymore.
All those years of wondering whether the Jack Daniels or Kentucky bourbon tasted better with Christmas beer.
All those years of pretending he didn't care that he walked around with a hole punched through his heart.
His world was different now. Now, his biggest concern was convincing his kids that Bing really did sing better the Alvin the Chipmunk.