Slats: Moments in Time
Snapshots from the Bridges universe
See Chapter 1 for story notes.
Thanks again to Kei for the beta.
When Jack told his team that their layover in Cleveland was actually three days instead of three hours he’d gotten three stares and five quirked eyebrows.
“We are visiting Xander Harris,” said Teal’c after a beat.
“Yep.” Jack grinned at them. Daniel was about three seconds from rolling his eyes and going back to his book, but Carter looked less certain.
“Sir, does he know we’re coming?” she asked.
“Yep.” Although Jack decided against telling her that while Xander knew he was coming, he didn’t know about the rest of them. But Xander wouldn’t care and the house was more than big enough.
Carter sighed and gave him a half-hearted smile, clearly not as enthused about the idea as Jack was.
“It will be good to see him again,” said Teal’c, nodding his approval with a tiny smile.
Jack actually surprised himself with both how much he was looking forward to it and how much he wanted his team to be there, too. The trip to the cabin had been wonderful, a badly needed vacation from a rough year for all of them. Nothing but hanging out and getting away from the Mountain for a week. Jack had even caught a couple fish and fried them up. It had been a lot like camping off-world back when they were still one team except without the stress, and it had given them all a chance to wind down and decompress.
While he had no doubt that Carter was ready to get back to her lab, and Daniel ready to get back to jockeying for a spot in Atlantis, and Teal’c probably had something he wanted to do too, Jack wasn’t ready to get back to business as usual. He wanted to see his son. Hell, he wanted to see all the kids. There’d nearly been an apocalypse for Christ’s sake, and while Jack had talked to Xander since its aversion – and Andrew, Verne, and Ana for that matter – he still needed to see them and make sure they were all right in person.
“Dad!” Xander greeted them at the airport, surprising the hell out of Jack by wrapping him into a hug. Xander was solid, warm, and whole, and like that, Jack felt the worry and tension that had filled the quiet spaces over the last few months bleed away as he hugged him back. Tangible proof that Xander was safe. He looked good, his shirt no doubt hiding his most recent scars but he moved easily and his glass eye was even better to see in person. Xander was grinning when he let go of Jack and said, “You brought friends!” Jack shrugged innocently at Carter’s pointed look, feeling a little smug because he had the most important people in his life right here.
The house, Xander informed them, was a wreck, “But not literally,” he hastened to add as he grabbed Jack’s bag from him. “Just the normal six people and a dog under one roof chaos. The stuff from the Threshold has mostly been cleared away and we can almost eat off the dining room table again.”
“Threshold?” asked Daniel. They stepped out into the warm spring afternoon, the bustle of airport traffic and travelers all around them as they crossed to the parking garage.
“Latest attempt at opening the hellmouth and bringing about the end of the world,” said Xander, launching into an abbreviated version of Gargoyles and minions and the three demons that had conspired to bring the Threshold of Dem Eil within ritual distance of the Cleveland hellmouth as they drove to the house. He skipped over his hospital visit and the subsequent meltdown between Diana, Verne, and Ana. He left out the near misses, the boyfriend that had nearly gotten everyone killed, and the boyfriend that had ended up saving their asses. He talked about the counter ritual but not about the woman who gave up her life to stop it. She had been kidnapped to be the final sacrifice to open the hellmouth and was the only one who could stop it by reversing the steps of the original ritual. Humans couldn’t pass through the Threshold twice and survive.
“She told me to tell her family that she loved them,” Xander had said hoarsely into the phone when he’d told Jack, exhausted but dry-eyed. It was the first time Jack had experienced the end of the world in weekly installments, piecing it together like a crossword from what each kid had been willing to tell him. Thankfully he’d had his own problems to keep him occupied. Little things like Replicators and stopping a nuclear strike and apparently time travel somewhere in there.
The house was indeed a wreck, but it was still standing. There was even a greeting party that swamped Jack with hugs while in between Xander introduced Ana and Verne to Daniel, Carter and Teal’c. Courtney hung back on the stairs at first until Carter smiled her megawatt smile, delighted to see her. Andrew showed up last out of the kitchen, a tall gangly kid at his side.
“You must be Tim,” said Jack offering his hand. Tim wore glasses and earrings and hadn’t yet filled out to match his height, but he had a strong handshake. Beside him, Andrew was visibly relieved that Jack liked him, and Jack couldn’t help but throw him a wink that made both boys blush.
But it wasn’t till after dinner that Jack finally, completely relaxed. The kitchen was a mess of noise where the girls were cleaning up with Carter making coffee and talking science with Diana, and Daniel speaking in Spanish with Verne and Ana who kept giggling madly. Andrew and Tim were already playing video games in the den, having cooked, and Courtney had shyly asked Teal’c if he had ever seen the damage a crossbow could do and then promptly dragged him outside. After that, Xander had come over and handed Jack his jacket.
“Come on,” he said quietly. “I want to show you the house.”
Xander’s house was still unfinished, all raw boards and plastic sheets dancing in the early evening breeze. They’d brought Ace with them and he shot out of the backseat like a rocket to run around the property like a wild thing. It was a good place, set back from the road with plenty of space on either side within a perimeter of trees that separated them from their neighbors. The house itself was huge, about three times the size of the current one in suburbia. Xander took him on the dime tour, pointing out where the offices would go and Andrew’s kitchen. A real library once the dividing wall was knocked out, rooms on the third floor for the girls, training space in the basement as well as the yard where they had real distance for the long range weapons.
“I’ve even have two people coming for Watcher training this summer,” said Xander when they had meandered onto the back porch. “No commitments yet, but two people willing to give me the benefit of the doubt. It’s better than nothing.”
Jack turned so he could get a better look at Xander, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
“What?” Xander smiled back reflexively, and there it was, that look that was pure O’Neill around the edges.
“You talked two academics into considering vampires are real,” said Jack shaking his head at the audacity. He knew how hard that was; he talked people into believing in aliens and they had actual science and the United States Government to back that up. “I’m wondering how much I’d have to pay Giles to let you to come work for me.”
“No chance,” Xander said lightly. “But if you want a couple of slayers to join the Marines, you can have Diana and Verne,” he offered, making Jack laugh at the image that brought to mind.
“I do not envy you them,” he said. He’d had two months of long-distance bitching about the two from just about everybody.
“Hey, you’re just lucky you missed my awkward post-adolescence years,” said Xander. “Also known as the barely-graduating-high-school-and-then-going-through-a-job-a-week-while-I-lived-in-my-parents’-basement years. It wasn’t pretty.” He leaned down to scratch behind Ace’s ears, the happy dog’s tongue lolling in a grin that matched his master’s. “Although that was the year that Anya discovered orgasms.”
How he just threw that out there surprised a laugh out of Jack although he really didn’t need to know the details, or you know, anything about Xander’s sex life. Still, “That must have been a hell of a year,” he said.
“Yeah,” Xander smiled fondly in remembrance, and Jack wished again that he could have met Anya. “Hey, you still seeing that CIA woman type person?” Xander asked before either of them could dwell.
Jack shook his head, looking back over the dark yard. “We called it off,” he said, still unsure of how he felt about breaking up with Kerry and what she’d said about retiring. He thought Xander would have liked her.
“It’s all right,” Jack brushed off the sympathy. “It happens, and it was good while it lasted.”
Xander nodded but leaned close enough to bump his shoulder anyway. Jack couldn’t help but smile, warmth easing through him. “You don’t need me to give you the you’re-still-special-somebody-will-love-you-for-who-you-are speech do you?” asked Xander a second later.
The slap upside the head was met with laughter. “Smartass.” Ace barked in agreement, jumping up, and wagging his tail excitedly, happy that Xander was happy and ready to run around in celebration. Xander obliged and went to find him a stick to chase. Jack stood too, stretched his legs, knee popping, and looked back at the half-finished house. “It’s a hell of a thing you’re doing here,” he said when Xander wandered over to join him, Ace trailing with the stick in his mouth, ready to go again.
Jack watched him look over the house with his hands jammed into his pockets and his one eye no doubt seeing what it would look like when it was finished. It would be no small feat. Xander was building his Council from the ground up with practically no resources, nothing but determination and whatever spare time he had in between crises.
“Yeah,” Xander breathed, turning to smile at him. “It’s pretty cool, isn’t it?” Everything was in that smile: hope, strength, courage, and the simple joy of Jack being there to share it with.
“Yeah,” Jack smiled back, taking in his son, this house, and the future he was forging. “It’s pretty cool.”