Jack lounged in the doorway of the Hammond residence's family room and surveyed the scene in front of him with a certain amount of satisfaction. It had been a scramble to relocate the SGC family Christmas party at such short notice when the road up to the complex had been rendered impassable by a sudden heavy fall of snow with only two hours to go, but they'd managed it somehow, and fairly seamlessly at that. Teamwork, that was the key. Teamwork and efficient command, which of course went without saying.
And it looked lovely: an imposing Christmas tree twinkled in one corner, an impressive display of finger foods and drinks was laid out in another, and everywhere knots of people were laughing and chatting under the hastily put up decorations and balloons while the kids, whose party it really was, generally raced around having fun. It was lucky that George's house was so big: the family room and interconnected TV room took up most of the ground floor, and the conservatory off to the side had been an added bonus, giving a much-needed 'quiet area' for temporary seclusion and recovery if needed. It was actually better than it would have been at the original choice of venue, if anybody asked him, even if a little more crowded.
So what if he was feeling a touch smug? Damn, this time he had reason.
Daniel materialised at his side out of the crowd, a beer for Jack in one hand and a glass of Christmas Punch in the other.
"Here. Took the chance to snag you this when I fought my way through to the drinks."
"Thanks. Is the beer holding out okay?"
Daniel snorted, mock exasperation clear in his voice. "Jack, will you relax? You got in about enough assorted alcohol to float a battleship, way more than we could ever hope to drink given the guest list."
"Sale or return, Daniel," Jack said, a touch defensively.
"Whatever. So yes, the beer and everything else is more than holding out. Of course," he added thoughtfully, "it helps a lot that the Marines aren't here in any numbers. But then they're not noticeably family guys."
Jack chuckled. "Good point. How about the food? And the punch?"
"Ja-ack. Relax! There's plenty of food and the punch is good - especially with a shot of brandy in it - and before you even think of asking, there's plenty of that too, and it's well out of reach of the youngsters. You've got everything covered here, trust me: the party's going fine."
Jack looked around again with satisfaction. "Yeah, everyone seems to be enjoying themselves all right."
Daniel had been scanning the room too, and suddenly gave Jack a nudge in the ribs with his elbow. "Well, maybe not quite everybody."
Jack followed the gesture Daniel made with his glass of punch. In one corner of the conservatory, huddled dejectedly into the corner of a large armchair, there was a small figure just discernible in the lowered light when the crowd parted for a moment.
Jack pushed himself away from the wall as he said, "Well, we'll just have to see about that. Here, hang onto this for a while, will ya?" He pushed his beer into Daniel's free hand and was off, threading himself expertly through the crowd.
Daniel grinned to himself as he watched him go: slithering between trees, slithering between knots of people, it made no difference. Damn, the guy could move when he needed to. A fact that he fully intended to put to the test to destruction when the party was finally over and they got home.
"Hey bambina! Mind if I join you?"
"Sure, if you want." Tessa scrunched herself a bit further into the corner of the large, squashy armchair to make some room and Jack obligingly wriggled himself into the space she'd made, eventually managing to fit by dint of sitting, not very comfortably, on one hip. The leather-look vinyl upholstery creaked as they squirmed around and got settled.
"I haven't had much of a chance to chat with you yet. You havin' fun?"
Tessa moodily hunched one shoulder. "Yeah, I guess."
"Only, you seem to be a bit out of things here, sitting in the corner. Kinda out of the loop, ya know?"
He got no answer to that, just another lopsided shrug as she continued watching the party. Jack's lips twitched in a sympathetic grimace. It was hell being nearly twelve going on sixteen, he remembered it well. Betwixt and between, stuck in no-man's land, struggling to grow up but never quite getting it right. Too self-conscious to hang with the youngsters, not old enough to hang with the teens, not interested in hanging with the adults. He looked across to where Hammond was surrounded by a gang of smaller children, Kayla included, all clamouring for attention, and noted the twinkle in George's eye. He made a good Santa, Jack thought - not tall enough to be intimidating and just the right degree of rotundity to be convincing without any padding. Damn stuff always slipped under the onslaught of small bodies if you were doing it right, in his experience anyway, and you ended up looking eleven months pregnant no matter what you did.
His eyes swept round the room to the far corner, where the teens were congregating round the snacks, watching the smaller ones' antics with the amused detachment of burgeoning 'cool'. Cassie was there, flirting outrageously with Ferretti's eldest - Jack made a mental note to keep an eye on that one as he passed Cassie another glass of what Jack devoutly hoped was the Christmas Punch, pure and undiluted: if Lou Jr. was shaping up anything like his father had been... Then his eye was caught by Janet glancing over and nudging Sam in the ribs as they stood amongst the adults, laughing and clapping at 'Santa's' entrance, whipping up the little ones' enthusiasm, and he relaxed a little. Okay, that base was covered for now.
He switched his attention back to Tessa.
"Aren't you gonna come and join the fun? Santa's here, and there're pre-sents," he sing-songed.
She looked him in the eye and said with the full weight of all her eleven years, "Honestly, Uncle Jack, I'm not a baby any more. I grew out of Santa about the same time as I grew out of having a rubber duckie in my bath. And it's obvious that it's Gramps anyway."
Jack drew his head back in exaggerated amazement. "Ya don't have a duck?" he drawled. "What do you play with in the bath then?"
Tessa rolled her eyes and said in a tone of wounded dignity, "Oh, puh-lease. I don't take a bath to play. I take a bath to unwind and get clean."
Jack grinned internally at the 'unwind' bit, clearly hearing Tessa's Mom, but outwardly shook his head sorrowfully. "Sheesh, no duck. You're missing out there, kiddo."
"That's just silly," she said scornfully. "Rubber duckies are for little kids."
"Nuh-uh. Rubber duckies are fun."
She looked askance at Jack, still shaking his head, a look of surprised sympathy on his face.
"Yeah, like you've got one in your bathroom."
"Sure I do. One of those squirty ones for taking people by surprise. Not that there's anybody in my bath to take by surprise," he added hurriedly, flagging up a quick mental warning not to get distracted by thoughts of Daniel in his bathroom and what they got up to there, "It's one of those 'just in case' things, ya know?"
Tessa snorted, unconvinced, as she ran over her Mom's reasons for keeping things 'just in case' in her head. "How can you need a rubber duck 'just in case'? Like just in case you have visitors or an intruder or something?"
"Yeah, something like that. For intruders they're good." He mimed pointing a gun at an imaginary intruder and growled in his best mock-hardass voice, "'Hands up where I can see them. This duck is loaded and I'm not scared to use it.' Gets them every time."
Tessa started to giggle as she allowed herself to be drawn into the game. She put her hands in the air and said in the gruffest voice she could manage, "Okay, okay. You've got me - just don't point that thing at me. I'll come quietly."
Jack jerked his imaginary duck at her in a 'move it!' gesture. "Over there, against the wall. No tricks now, I've got you covered."
Tessa gave him a sideways look from under her lashes. "I'm goin', I'm goin'. No need to get in a lather."
Jack guffawed at the sheer unexpectedness of the deliberate pun, and Tessa started giggling in earnest. One fuelled the other and soon they were both wiping tears of laughter from their cheeks. Eventually though they both ran out of steam and gradually sobered up, before Tessa flung herself at Jack and gave him a hug.
"Uncle Jack, you're tooo silly. For a grown up, I mean."
Jack hugged her back as he said, "Yeah, well, that's kinda the point of a shindig like this, honey. Gives everyone a chance to act silly with their best friends without looking stupid. Everyone needs to cut loose once in a while. Even forty-some year old colonels."
Tessa's face fell. "My best friend isn't here yet. I was just waiting for her - maybe she isn't coming after all, with the snow and all."
Jack wracked his brains to come up with a name. "Amy Griff?" he said tentatively.
"No, I haven't seen her yet. I guess she'll be here soon. Laura Kovacek's here though. How 'bout we go find her until Amy arrives?"
"Laura's no fun any more. Not since she got a boyfriend." Tessa sketched air quotes around the last word as she whined it in a singsong.
Jack rolled his eyes. Sheesh! A boyfriend at eleven? He had to be getting older than he thought. But all he said was, "Sometimes that happens, honey. You'll "
He was abruptly cut off by a piercing squeal, unfortunately straight in his left ear.
"There she is! She made it! Sorry, Uncle Jack, gotta go catch you later." A quick kiss on the cheek and she was gone, leaving him sitting grinning in the chair and rubbing his ear.
He was still grinning as he made his way back to Daniel's side to retrieve his beer.
"You're looking pleased with yourself. Mission accomplished, I take it?"
"Oh yeah. Nothing to do with me though, the cavalry arrived."
He assumed his former position, lounging in the doorway, taking a long pull at his beer, surveying the room once again.
Daniel smiled into his punch glass before taking another sip.
"Oh, nothing. I was just thinking how cute it was to see you in Mother Hen mode."
Jack's grin faded a little just as Daniel's cranked up a notch. "'Cute', Daniel?"
"Uh huh. Sweet."
Jack looked at him suspiciously as Daniel's grin broadened even more.
"Okay, what's the punch line?"
Daniel waved his glass at him and chuckled. "'Punch line'. Good one, Jack."
"Daaan-iel. Waiting for the other shoe here."
"No punch line, it's Christmas. I like seeing your softer side occasionally, okay?"
"Not what you were saying last night, as I recall."
Daniel looked at him consideringly. "'Occasionally' was what I said. Meaning social occasions, not private affairs. I prefer those to have a harder edge."
Jack looked him in the eye and Daniel saw the glint there.
"Just as well - I don't do 'cute' often. I can't keep it up for long."
He took another pull at his beer and spluttered as Daniel replied innocently, a matching glint in his own, "Also not what I was saying last night, as I recall."
After a couple of hefty thumps between his shoulder blades, Jack recovered sufficiently to wheeze, "Geeze, Daniel, not when it's on the way down, d'ya mind?"
Daniel grinned. "Now that I do recall from last night."
Daniel watched him, his face alight with laughter, and shifted uncomfortably as the tingling in his groin reminded him just how much he loved Jack O'Neill, and just how much he loved to love him. "Shouldn't we change the subject? I'm not sure we should be going there at this stage of the party."
"You're right. We'll save it for later. Better split up and socialise - safer for all concerned." Jack's gaze suddenly sharpened again and he straightened up, focussing on a point somewhere over Daniel's left shoulder. "Or maybe not - Cassie and Lou Jr. have just disappeared outside. I think I might just go check up on that young man. Ah!" he continued, as Daniel drew breath to object, "I know what you're gonna say. They won't see me, unless, of course, Lou Jr. needs to know I'm there - Special Ops, remember?"
He drained his beer and pushed the now empty bottle back into Daniel's hand as he moved away from the doorway. Daniel grinned again, muttered 'cluck, cluck,' not quite under his breath, and caught the "I heard that!" tossed over Jack's shoulder. He deliberately didn't watch Jack's ass this time as it disappeared into the crowd.
"Geeze, am I ever glad to be home, I'm bushed! Who'd'a thought having fun was such hard work?"
Jack flopped on the couch, legs straight out in front of him and arms lying lax at his sides. He tipped his head back and was treated to the intriguing sight of an inverted Daniel smiling down at him, lit only by the lights of the Christmas tree by the fireplace.
"Me too. It was a good party. Everyone enjoyed themselves, and that always takes someone working hard: in this case, it was us. Want a nightcap?"
"Nah, I'm fine, but you go ahead." Jack chuckled suddenly. "It'll take me a while to forget George doing his 'ho-ho-ho' act. You ever see anyone so much in their element with a bunch of excited kids?"
"Oh, like you weren't?"
"You know me, Daniel - I love kids. But I couldn't eat a whole one."
"Idiot." Daniel grinned as he walked round to flop down on the couch in his turn. Jack lifted one arm and Daniel slid under it, his available hand automatically coming to rest on Jack's belly and stroking flat-palmed circles there over the fabric of his shirt.
"I thought you were getting yourself a nightcap?"
"I am. You're it." The words were mumbled against Jack's throat as Daniel stretched his neck, his mouth getting busy as his hand drifted downwards to knead and stroke Jack's thigh with gentle fingers. Jack's arm tightened across Daniel's shoulders as a soft surge of desire washed through him - nothing urgent, nothing raw, but comfortable. That was the word. Like snuggling under a comforter on a cold night, or He groped for another image, but was distracted when Daniel's hand pulled his head round, his lips capturing his in a long, slow, nibbling kiss; he settled down to concentrate on returning it with interest, slow and gentle to fit the mood that was holding them both.
When at length they broke off, Daniel burrowed back down into the crook of Jack's neck and they sat for a while in silence, each lost in his own thoughts, before Daniel said suddenly, "I love this. All of it. This never gets old. I love you. And no apologies for being sappy, not this time."
"Hey, it's Christmas. It's a sappy time of year. I love you too." Jack's hand stroked up and down Daniel's back as he added softly, "What's more, I think I always will. Yours always, Daniel. For ever." He had a sudden vision of them thirty years down the line, pottering and screwing their way through their retirement for however long they had left, and smiled. "C'mon, let's go to bed."
The mood held as they went to the bathroom together, taking turn about as they completed their nightly routine, before heading for the bedroom, turning out lights as they went. They undressed themselves unhurriedly, for once taking the time to futz and fold before sliding under the sheets, for no reason other than there was no rush and they both knew it. When they finally lay down, Daniel sliding between Jack's open legs, they both sighed sighs of pure contentment. With deliberate concentration, Daniel rolled onto his side, pulling Jack with him, and fitted his penis to Jack's before taking them both in one of his hands and pulling gently, slowly, making them both shiver at the warmth and the friction and the depth of the tenderness they each felt. Jack dropped one of his hands to cover Daniel's, smiling into his eyes, and together they masturbated themselves and each other, finding the perfect rhythm, totally at one. And when they came, virtually at the same moment, it wasn't the Fourth of July, but it was Christmas.
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