Chapter Four: Four Phone Calls
The first thing Jack did when he got home after Friday's mission was make a bee line for the kitchen and the first beer he could lay his hands on. It had been one hell of a week. Three days of boredom listening to Daniel sweet talk the semi-civilized locals of some tree-infested planet followed by two days of sheer adrenaline when the non-Goa'uld priesthood decided to roast them for a barbecue. He hadn't slept since before the attack and was now under Janet's strict orders to get some rest. But he needed to unwind first, do something meaningless and mundane like watch TV.
So grabbing the mail that had accumulated over the past week, Jack stretched out on the couch with the remote and surfed through the channels till Trading Spaces caught his eye. Calm and domestic, it resonated in counterpoint to the noise, violence, and uncertainty of the mission and allowed his thoughts drift away.
Only when the ads came on did he look at his mail, separating the bills from the outright junk and finding one letter from the Munroe Health Clinic, Cleveland that brought him up short. The test results. Jack stared at the envelope for a second. He hadn't even thought about Xander for the past two days, life-threatening events taking precedent. Being reminded of it now made him smile. Quickly, he opened the letter and read the confirmation that he was Xander's father. He hadn't doubted it . . . well, maybe a little, but here it was. Father and son. It sent both chills and a wave of joy through him.
Trading Spaces came back on, but Jack muted it, instead glancing at the phone. He suddenly wanted to call everybody. But first . . . what the hell. He'd said he could call. Jack grabbed the phone and after rooting around for it, dialed Xander's number. It rang twice before unsurprisingly a girl answered.
"Uh, hi. It's Jack O'Neill. Can I speak to Xander?"
"Jack? Yeah, just a minute." She pulled away from the mouthpiece, but Jack still heard her shout for Xander. Noisy kids, he smiled, not bothered by it this time. At the moment, he didn't think anything could bother him.
"Hello? Jack?" Xander came on the line.
"Hey. How you doin'?" said Jack.
"Good, good." There was a pause. The superficial nature of the conversation suddenly made Jack nervous. "I hope you don't mind me calling," he began. "But I got the letter from the clinic today."
"Yeah, mine came yesterday."
"So I just thought I'd call," Jack repeated, feeling kind of silly now that he had nothing to say.
"Yeah, no it's cool!" Xander pulled himself out of whatever funk he'd been in. "I guess you weren't really surprised."
"Were you?" Jack asked.
"Well, no. Yeah. I don't know." Xander paused. "I guess yeah. Because, hey, how could this be happening? Suddenly I've got a parent out of nowhere."
"Yeah, well, I'm - "
"Hey." Xander cut him off. "It's no big. I mean, you called, right?"
"Right," Jack agreed though he wasn't sure what Xander meant. Just that it was good he had called. Right? God, he hoped so.
"So how's life out in Whoville?"
"Whoville?" Jack wasn't sure, but wasn't that Dr. Seuss? He grinned, the comment pleasing him for some reason, but maybe it was because Xander had asked.
"You know, Colorado," Xander clarified.
Well as far as he knew, Colorado was fine, it was the rest of the galaxy that was giving him a hard time. "It's good," he sighed.
"That bad, huh?" commented Xander, again both surprising and pleasing Jack that he had noticed.
"Yeah, well. The last couple of days have just reminded me why I hate organized religion," he said. "It's useless, manipulative, and annoying." Not to mention dangerous.
"Oh, I don't know," said Xander easily. "It's got some pretty good uses."
"Like what?" Jack challenged. He bet he could shoot down anything his son said, but what Xander did say surprised him.
"Crosses, holy water. I mean, come on, how can you not love a blessed refreshment?"
Jack chuckled. "Cool yes; useful no."
"It all in how you look at it," said Xander. "If you're dying of thirst . . ."
"So I take it you're not very religious?" asked Jack at this humorous sign of disrespect. He was even a little relieved in light of his own atheism.
"You mean, do I believe in the Christian God? Don't know, haven't met him." Jack could practically hear him shrug. "I don't believe there is anyone as powerful as they say he is."
"It's called faith, Xander," he smiled.
"Well there's faith and there's faith, and the kind I got in my friends is the only faith I need."
"That's . . ." Jack didn't know quite what to say to that, though he knew exactly what his son meant. Jack's own faith in his team and the SGC was all he needed to keep fighting. No all-powerful beings to help out or give them easy answers, just humans against the Goa'uld.
"Pretty lame? "Xander ventured, an unsure note in his voice.
"No," said Jack immediately. "Not lame." He paused searching for words. "As a soldier . . . well, what little faith I had when I started out, it became like you said. Your friends, your team, they're everything."
There was silence, neither one of them sure how to continue. Jack tried to think of another question to ask but couldn't think of anything that didn't feel like prying too deep, so instead he retreated back to more mundane things. "So how was your week?"
"Fine. Normal for around here," said Xander. "Mostly I've just been looking out for people."
Another an awkward pause.
"Listen," Xander broke the silence. "I've got to go. Dinner's soon. But thanks for calling." And he did seem glad which just made Jack grin again. His cheeks were starting to get sore.
"I'll call again, sometime?"
"Okay, talk to you then. Bye."
Jack hung up and turned back to the television. All in all, he thought, that went well. And he grinned wider.
One month later
"Willow!" Xander cheerfully snatched the phone from Dawn's fingers, grinning at the young woman's knowing smirk. "It's been ages. How are you? Where are you?"
On the other end, his best friend laughed at the string of questions, and Xander grinned. It felt so good to hear that familiar sound. "We're in Florida at the beach. Got in yesterday morning," said Willow. "Except not the beach beach right now because I'm talking to you."
"Ah. So are there really demons there or are you a Kennedy just snuggling under the covers?" he asked. He would bet even money that Florida's biggest crisis was a rainy day.
But Willow protested, "There's demons! Really. We saw some last night!"
"Okay, so they were just hanging out at a club," Willow caved. "And there might be more snuggling than working going on. But don't tell Giles."
"I knew it!" Xander crowed. "And I think Giles already knows." At the Scooby meeting after Willow had called to suggest that she and Kennedy check out Florida, they had all just looked at each other, knowing.
"Really? Is he mad?" Willow asked, all of a sudden anxious and nervous that she was in trouble.
"Nah," Xander waved a hand she couldn't see. "I think he's enjoying the vicarious smoochies with the rest of us."
"I know, but he's still significant other-less like the rest of us. And hey, who wouldn't want the think about two girls making out at the beach?"
"Xander!" Willow screeched again like he knew she would, but he could also tell that she wasn't really upset, but rather flattered. "Ooh, hey, guess what?" She bubbled happily.
"I got to intimidate these guys who were hitting on Kennedy!"
"Yeah. We were at the beach lying on our towels near their volleyball game when their ball rolled over cause someone hit it out, so this guy came over to get it. Kennedy was next to the ball and I didn't even notice he was there until he started talking. He said something like 'Hey, how's it going.' And then he took his ball and they kept playing. Then after the game, he and a couple of his friends came over to say hi and invited us to a party tonight. So then one guy started asking Kennedy where she was from and stuff and then if she had a boyfriend all the while being Mr. Obvious-I-Want-To-Jump-You. So then I started to get a little annoyed and when Kennedy said no boyfriend I told him that if he didn't stop hitting on my girlfriend I'd make him a boy soprano in my totally scary way - but not bad scary, just to him scary."
"And what did he do?"
"I think we weirded him out, and his friends were laughing at him. But he was cool in the end, and we're still going to the party."
Xander chuckled. He could just imagine Willow's resolve face squaring off against a six foot nothing beach boy. "So you're enjoying yourselves?"
"Yeah," Willow said. "You know, I just love doing the normal thing every once in a while."
"Yeah," Xander agreed. Normal was always a nice change from the bustle of their lives. On the other hand, too much normal would drive him crazy, he knew. Though it would help if he had another guy to hang out with.
"So how's life at Scooby Central?" asked Willow. "Everything's okay?"
"Just the usual. Vampires roam. Slayers slay. I feel like all I ever do anymore is fix schedules, go over grocery lists, and keep everyone from tearing each other's hair out. Were girls always like this in high school?"
"Yep. Welcome to Hormoneland. Cat fights and snarking every hour on the hour," Willow quipped.
"It's like Cordelia concentrate here. Except all of them are stronger than He-Man. If this is what parents go through, I'm never having kids."
Willow laughed. "That's why they invented summer camp, Xander," she said. "And speaking of parents, I finally finished the search."
"On Jack?" Xander perked up curiously. He still couldn't bring himself to call him 'dad,' even since the test results came back, both Cathy's and Fred's, the latter having come up one hundred percent human. Xander had in fact been greatly relieved and surprised by the feeling. But it was true. He liked Jack. The guy was just as new and unsure about how to do the whole father-son thing as he was, but he was trying, and that impressed Xander. His own dad had stopped trying by the time he was ten, and Giles, as much as Xander loved him, was more dad by default than effort to all of them.
"Yes." In the background, Xander heard Willow shuffling some papers around. "It took me a while to get to the Air Force database, especially since work and demon stuff kept interrupting. The military really have some tight systems . . ." she trailed off and Xander waited patiently. The research had been an unspoken unanimous decision by all of them. The Initiative had made them all gun-shy where the military was involved, and father or not, there was too much at risk.
"Here it is," Willow announced. "So he works at NORAD like we found out earlier on the Deep Space Telemetry project code name Project Blue Book, though where they got that name from I don't know."
"Riley was Lilac," Xander offered.
"Anyway," she went on, "he's got a really good service record with some impressive medals from the Persian Gulf War, though almost everything he's done has been erased. I think because it's top secret we're-gonna-destroy-terrorism-by-being-terrorists government stuff. Wherever the files for this stuff are, I don't know. I doubt they're on the same server, if they're in a computer at all."
"So he's Special Forces?" That was like the best of the best, especially if all his missions were so secret.
"Yeah. If you want I can do some . . . more refined searches for the top secret stuff, but I'd kinda rather not," Willow offered.
Magic. Xander knew she would do it for him in a second if he asked, but he also knew how much it would cost her. It had been a little over two years since Tara, one since she had activated all the slayers, and the magic still made her nervous. And rightly so - she was just too powerful to use it lightly. "No it's okay," Xander told her. "It's probably all stuff we don't want to know anyway."
"Yeah." Willow sounded relieved. "So has he called again?"
"Not yet." And that was not disappointment in his voice. Really. "We'll see what happens."
"I hope it works out," said Willow a little hesitantly. "I mean, if you want it to," she added hastily. "Cause if you don't, I'm all for the hating."
"Thanks," Xander grinned. There was no changing Willow. "I kinda hope it works out too." He paused. "How are your parents doing?"
"Fine, I guess."
"They're still in DC?" They had moved there before the collapse of Sunnydale. He remembered when Willow had gone to tell them to get out of town, and they had wanted her to come with them, the overwhelming evil of the First registering on some level that had remained untouched by all the other demonic activity of the hellmouth. When she had refused, they finally seemed to understand that the shy girl they had raised, and even the one who had brought a girl home to meet them, was long gone, replaced by a woman who was staying because she knew what was coming.
"Yep. We stopped by on our way south and went out to dinner. It was nice in a polite way. Dad still wants me to finish college since I've only got a year and a half left. He thinks I've been doing the 'backpacker' thing too long. And he wonders why the heck we decided on Cleveland."
"Who would have thought that you would be a college drop out?" Xander shook his head at the upheaval of the universe.
"Hey! Extenuating circumstances!" Willow said, indignant. "Besides," she continued in a normal voice, "I already talked to Giles. I might finish at Oxford. Since we're still trying to pull stuff together in England, I'd be like our liaison."
"Oxford?" Xander was surprised. She wasn't coming home? She couldn't do that!
"I'm not going now or anything," she reassured him. "And it would only be for two years when I did. And I'd visit every holiday."
"And you're gonna come home drinking tea, talking like Giles, and swearing soccer is a million times better than any pansy sport we've got here," Xander groused, not liking the idea. England was so far away.
"Xander," Willow giggled. "You said 'pansy.'"
Wait, he had, hadn't he. Damn. He really needed to get some guy friends that were not British, wimps, or vampires. "Just rescue me from all the junior slayers first," he begged.
"Promise," said Willow. "Kennedy and I will be home in a month, so just hang on until then."
"All right." Just a month to go.
"Xander," Buffy knocked on the doorframe. "Am I ever gonna get the phone?" the Slayer whined with her best pitiful look.
Grinning, he said, "Wills, I think Buffy's gonna kill me if I don't give you to her."
"All right, put her on," Willow laughed.
"All right, love you," he said to his best friend
"Love you, too."
Xander passed the phone on to Buffy who grinned in thanks before squealing, "Willow!" and disappearing into her room. He doubted she'd emerge anytime soon.
The ringing phone woke Jack from his doze on the couch. A little disoriented at first, he fumbled in the dim light for the cursed contraption. He was on stand-down, for crying out loud. "O'Neill," he answered.
"Sir, it's me," his second in command's voice greeted him.
Jack rubbed his forehead. Of course. "Carter, are you still on base?" he asked reprovingly.
There was a moment of incriminating silence before she answered, "Yes, sir," with a sigh that said I-know-but-tell-me-later.
"Carter," Jack ignored the unspoken words. "This is our first real break in almost a month."
"I should be at home sleeping, yes, I know," Carter finished for him. "I just had a few things to finish up here and one of the labs needed a consultation. I'll be out of here in an hour."
"I'll be calling your house," he told her. And he would. His eyes flickered to the clock noting the time. One hour. That reminded him to check up on Daniel and make sure he wasn't doing anything stupid like not sleeping either.
Carter sighed again, but Jack thought it sounded like a smile too. "All right," she said.
"So what's up?" Jack asked now that that was taken care of.
"Well, I had some free time while I was waiting for some results so I did that background check you asked me for about a month ago on Rupert Giles."
"Oh?" Jack only vaguely remembered asking. At the time he'd still been rattled by his visit to Cleveland. Thinking about it now, he felt a little like a . . . well, an overprotective parent. "So what did you find out?"
"Rupert Giles is a British citizen who's been living in the US for the last eight years, though according to immigration he went back to England for a year in 2002. He worked as a high school librarian in the '90s and then owned a shop, both in Sunnydale. His green card currently lists him as self-employed. His American record's clean: no arrests, no complaints."
"I got into his British record," Carter went on. "Two arrests when he was in his early twenties, once for assault and once for petty theft, but all the charges were dropped."
"Sounds like a case of stupid youth," Jack commented, feeling a little stupid himself at suspecting the man. The whole situation must have skewed his sense of danger about Mr. Giles, 'cause, really, a librarian? "Anything else?"
"No," Carter sighed. "That was all I had time to get into. Non-government records are harder to track down. I can still do it if you want," she offered.
"No, it's okay," Jack said. "I think I was just being paranoid. He doesn't sound like he's in any secret cults or anything."
"Well, I only have the federal database to work with but since he's an alien everything gets reported to them," said Carter. "And since he's not in the California system, I doubt he's done anything more serious than forget about a parking ticket."
"So you don't think it's weird that he runs a self-defense camp for girls with people half his age?" Jack asked. It still was a little funny to him.
"A little," said Carter. "But you did say that your son's other friends running it were young women. Maybe it was their project."
"And Mr. Giles?"
"I don't know. Maybe you should ask him and stop guessing."
"I'm just saying, sir. You only met them once, and you said yourself that it didn't look like anything illegal."
"Okay, okay, I'll stop," Jack ran a hand through his short hair. She was right, he was being paranoid. "So you're going home now, Carter?"
He swore he could hear her roll her eyes. "Yes, sir. I'll be home in half an hour."
Jack glanced at the clock. That still put her home under her promised hour. "Good. I'll call you then."
"Good night, sir," she said forcefully, telling him she didn't need a babysitter.
He hung up. Parking tickets, he shook his head. But now he knew where Xander had met Mr. Giles - the high school library. Xander who was a carpenter that had never gone to college was still friends with him. Once again Jack wondered just what had his son's home life been like.
"So we saw vamps here and here under the bridge," Rebecca pointed on the blown up map of a neighborhood in South Cleveland that was spread out over the dining room table. She and the other four members of Team Toesocks had run into a group of twenty eight-foot demons with a crew of vampires who were setting up shop in an abandoned building. The fight had been rough leaving them all with deep bruises and Amy, the youngest of the group, with a broken arm. Dawn had taken her to the ER to get it set, but the rest of the battered team sat around the table with Buffy, Xander, and Giles.
Xander's eye roamed over them while Rebecca told them what had happened. They were shaken up. This was their first big defeat and he could tell that it had shaken their confidence in their newfound skills. He knew that it was hitting them for the first time what a slayer's short life span really meant. Rachel and Leslie sat quietly with their hands in their laps, neither one quite looking at Rebecca. Beside Giles, Joanna fidgeted, her hands busy with a pencil and her eyes never leaving the table. She had a bright red scratch along her jaw. Xander hoped Buffy would talk to them later about it and let them know that getting beat was part of getting stronger.
For the moment though, they needed to figure out what was going on. This was the Toesocks's first big case so to speak and given the numbers and sheer size of the demons, they would need help with it.
Once Rebecca had finished, Buffy and Giles laid out the three R's of the Scooby standard operating procedure: Research, Reconnaissance, and more Research. There wasn't much to it really. Giles showed them how to find the most relevant books in the library then got them started flipping through the pages. Xander was on the computer with Leslie, showing her the demon sites and the database Willow had been compiling for the last year. They wouldn't do much tonight, just get a start. Tomorrow they'd check out the lair again with Buffy, do more research and then figure out where to go from there. And Rebecca and the Toesocks would ultimately be making the decisions because when they went home in the fall, they'd be on their own.
The phone rang somewhere in the background after they had been working for a while and a moment later someone was calling Xander's name. "You good?" he asked Leslie, standing when she nodded and making his way to the kitchen.
"It's Jack," Vi told him, handing him the phone.
Surprised and pleased, Xander said, "Jack? Hi."
"Hey," Jack replied. "How you doing?"
"Good," said Xander. "Tired. But good."
"All those kids running you ragged?"
Running him ragged by getting ragged was more like it, Xander thought of Amy. "Yeah," he said. "It's been pretty crazy here. So what's up?"
"Nothing," said Jack lightly. "I just thought I'd call, see how you were doing."
Xander felt warm suddenly and a little surprised. "I'm good," he repeated, not sure what to add. "How are you?"
"Oh, I'm fine," said Jack. "Stuff's been kinda hectic around here too. It's why I haven't called."
"That and a complete lack of anything else to say?" Xander asked wryly. To hell with this awkwardness. It was really starting to get annoying.
Jack left out a huff of a laugh. "Yeah, that too. Unless you like hockey?"
"Sorry," Xander grinned. "Not much of a sports person."
"You're kidding!" Jack sounded offended. "How can you not like sports? Didn't you play anything when you were younger?"
Did running for your life count? Xander wondered but didn't say. "Only videogames."
"Oh, well, I guess that's something," said Jack. "How do you like Super Mario?"
"Super Mario's cool," Xander responded really surprised that Jack the Colonel was asking about videogames. Wasn't he supposed to be like videogames-rot-your-mind? "You play?"
"Only on my GameBoy," Jack sounded a little defensive. "I get bored easily."
Xander laughed. "I'm sorry," he said. "It's just . . . I guess I'm having a hard time imagining you playing a GameBoy."
"Because I'm a colonel in the Air Force? You should hear what my CO says about me," said Jack, making Xander chuckle again.
"So how long have you been in the Air Force?" asked Xander.
"I did ROTC in college," said Jack. "Ended up deciding I wanted to fly planes and go career."
"Yeah." There was a pause as the conversation lost momentum. "So listen," said Jack. "I was wondering if you wanted to come for a visit sometime?"
"With you in Colorado?" asked Xander, surprised.
"For like a weekend or something," Jack added. "I understand if you don't - "
"No," Xander interrupted before he could finish. "I'd like that." It would be neat to see Jack in his own place. See what he was really like when he wasn't coping with a son from out of nowhere. It'd be really . . . neat. "I've got to be here for the rest of the summer, but maybe in September when things calm down?" he offered.
"September," Jack repeated, clearly pleased. "I'll get some leave."
"Okay." Xander smiled, pleased himself, and a little excited.
"I'll let you get back to your . . .stuff then," said Jack.
"Yeah. I guess I'll talk to you later."
"Bye." The phone clicked off. When Xander rejoined the others in the dining room, he was still smiling.
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