stringertheory: (Colonel O'Neill)
[personal profile] stringertheory
Title: Man's Best Friend
Rating: PG
Fandom: Stargate SG-1
Characters: Jack O'Neill, Janet Fraiser
Word Count: 3796
Categories: friendship, comedy, drama
Spoilers/Warnings: No spoilers. Spans series.
Beta: [personal profile] fignewton
Summary: For the [community profile] sg1friendathon: Jack and Janet. Misadventures with Cassie's dog.



Trepidation. That was the word Jack was looking for. Walking into the infirmary for the latest round of alien pox vaccines, he felt trepidation. Whatever kind of facade Janet put on for the outside world, Jack knew her for what she really was: a needle-wielding tyrant. And today she had free rein to stick him as she pleased.

“Good morning, Colonel,” she all but chirped when he skulked into her domain.

Jack eyed her as he warily returned the greeting. There was a diabolical glint in her eye and he noticed she was already gloved, as if she'd been waiting for him. Thankfully, he was spared the added indignation of having to drop trou and instead shrugged out of his jacket.

“I never did thank you properly for getting Cassie a dog,” Janet said conversationally, unnecessarily tidying the nearby tray.

Her tone was a little too casual and the smile she threw him a bit too bright. A cold chill went up Jack's spine and with mental reflexes honed through years of confrontations, he attempted to redirect the subject. “How is Cassie?”

“She's great. I think she's benefitting from having the playmate,” Janet continued, the bland look she leveled at Jack telling him she saw through his maneuver. “It's been odd hearing your name all over my house.”

“My name?” Jack paused in the act of rolling up his shirtsleeve to stare at her blankly.

“Cassie named the dog Jack.”

“She named the dog after me?” Jack, pleased and a little surprised by the gesture, felt the corner of his mouth curve in response.

“No.”

The smile fell from Jack's face. “But it's named Jack,” he protested.

“It's just a name she picked,” Janet briskly replied. She pushed aside Jack's still hand and finished pushing up his sleeve herself. “An Earth name she knew for an Earth animal she had just been given.”

“I guess that makes sense,” Jack mumbled, feeling somewhat put out.

“Personally, I wouldn't have burdened the poor dog with such a namesake.” Janet deftly swabbed Jack's exposed shoulder with alcohol, the scent sharp in the air before it quickly faded into the background radiation of antiseptics and ointments.

“Jack is a great name for a dog,” human Jack argued. “Simple, classic, easy to yell when you need to get their attention.”

“Yes, it is rather good for yelling. I've been getting a lot of practice with it,” Janet said with a wry smile. “For the first few weeks, every time Cassie called the dog, I would think for a moment she was talking about you.” Choosing one of the syringes from a nearby tray, she flicked off the cap. “I'd even glance around sometimes, startled, thinking you'd come in and I hadn't noticed.”

Jack's gaze flickered to the doorway, where another condemned airman had appeared, ready for his own jabbing. He was drawn back to his current predicament when Janet tightly pinched a few fingers full of his shoulder tissue. She met his eyes and grinned.

“Now the reverse is true,” she told him. “Whenever I hear your name on base, my first thought is, 'Oh, god, what's the dog done now?' Coincidentally, that's not far off from what I always thought whenever I heard your name.”

The nurse working at the next cot over let out a soft giggle. Jack looked her way and, while his back was proverbially turned, Janet stabbed him in the arm. By the time he fully registered what had happened and swiveled his head back around, Janet was already smoothing down the Band-aid. Jack gave it a frown as he slid from table.

“Well, if that's all, I'll just be--”

“Oh, no.” Janet stayed him with a hand on his arm. “While we were getting records together for this vaccination, I discovered that you were missing an inoculation. I can't let you back out in the field until you get it.”

“You did not.” Jack narrowed his eyes at the back of Janet's head as she turned back to the tray, suspecting foul play. He glanced toward the door again, but his momentary thought of escape was immediately cut short as she pivoted back, a larger syringe in one hand and an alcohol swab in the other.

“I most certainly did. And this one goes in the gluteus muscle.”

“Meaning?” Jack asked, his stomach dropping. Janet's sudden grin did nothing to ease his concern.

“Lose the pants, sir.”


-00000-


Jack woke to the sound of his phone ringing and 2:23 glowing green at him from the bedside table. He fumbled for the phone in the dark, bringing it to his ear without bothering to sit up.

“O'Neill.”

“The dog's sick.”

The voice on the other end of the line sounded equal parts frustrated and weary. Automatically, Jack heaved himself into a sitting position, swinging his legs around and reaching out to click on the lamp. Blinking in the sudden brightness, he suppressed a yawn.

“Janet?”

“The dog is sick,” she repeated through, from the sound of it, clenched teeth.

Jack straightened instinctively at her tone. He had only witnessed the full force of Janet's wrath a few times, but he had every intention of avoiding it if at all possible. A smart man, he weighed his words carefully before answering and chose to go with innocent interest: “The dog?”

“Jack,” Janet pushed the name through gritted teeth. “The dog you gave Cassandra.”

The human Jack flinched slightly at Janet's use of her (still relatively new) daughter's full name. In his experience, whenever a full name was employed, the situation had deteriorated far past placation.

“He's – he's sick? Is it bad?” Jack felt a twinge of concern, his thoughts immediately turning to Cassie, and he half rose from the bed. “Do you need me to come over?” As he started to tuck the phone against his shoulder to free up his hands, Janet answered.

No,” she sighed. “He's through the worst of it.”

Jack could picture her, squatting by a makeshift bed laid out in the corner of her tidy kitchen, the overhead light turning the windows into mirrors, running gentle, skilled hands over the dog's back. He lowered himself back onto the bed.

“What was it?”

“A stomach bug, I think. Or possibly the jumbo bag of potato chips he scarfed yesterday,” she added dryly. “He's been vomiting since eleven last night.”

Jack gave a soft laugh. “Puppies.”

“Puppies,” Janet agreed.

“You're sure you don't need anything?”

“No. There isn't anything you could have done anyway.”

“Then why did you call me?” Jack asked, giving into a yawn. The clock changed from 2:27 to 2:28.

“If I have to suffer, so do you. It's your fault.”

“Ah.”

“Expect more phone calls.”

“Yes, ma'am.”

There was the hint of a threat in Janet's “Goodnight, Jack” that gave him pause. As he hung up the phone and turned off the lamp, he contemplated that he would be paying for his spur-of-the-moment decision to buy Cassie a dog for the rest of its life.


-00000-


When Janet called to say the dog was missing, Jack hadn't hesitated. Breaking the speed limit and at least three other traffic codes, he made it to her house in record time and found her waiting on the front porch. He could spot the tension around her eyes even in the fading light.

“Teal'c and Daniel are searching the nearby park,” she called as she strode down her front walk to meet him at the curb. “Sam took Cassie and they're searching that way.” She pointed down the street to her left. “I told them we would look in the opposite direction.”

Jack nodded and he took the flashlight she offered. “Lead the way,” he said, clicking on the light.

They walked for a block or so, the silence broken only by Janet calling the dog's name. Jack marveled at the strange sensation of hearing his own name called with such urgency. Even knowing the call wasn't for him, his stomach clenched with unease and his hands twitched to provide aid.

“How long has he been missing?” he asked.

“We went out to dinner: about an hour, hour and a half,” Janet replied, pausing to call the dog's name again. “We'd left him out in the backyard since the weather was so nice and when we came home, he was gone. That was” – she glanced at her watch – “about fifteen minutes before I called you.”

“Is there anywhere in particular around here he likes to go? Any place you take him to a lot?”

Janet sighed and rubbed a hand across her forehead. “We try to take him to the park at least once a week, but that's really the only place we go regularly.”

Jack paused to crouch and shine his light under the porch of a large, dark house. He called the dog's name and listened for a moment or two. Hearing nothing, he straightened with a few creaks and pops and continued down the sidewalk.

“How's Cassie?”

Janet gave a half laugh. “Frantic. I think she's blaming herself, which makes it worse since it's my fault.”

“Dogs get out,” Jack said, giving a one-shouldered shrug. “Everyone loses their dog at least once.”

“I'm the adult and it's my responsibility to make sure we don't lose our dog.” Janet turned her light to illuminate the space behind a large, untrimmed bush. “I didn't latch the back gate properly,” she added in a smaller voice.

Jack shifted uneasily; he was terrible at comforting, but it seemed the situation called for it. “We'll find him,” he said firmly. He waited until Janet looked up and met his eyes. “I promise.”

Janet nodded. “I know.”

“Or I'll get her another one.”

Jack saw Janet's shoulders shake out of the corner of his eye and relaxed at her huff of laughter. “I'll kill you.”

Just then, a tinkling ring broke through the sound of the crickets, and Janet shoved a hand in her pocket. Pulling out her cell phone, she flipped it open and held it up to her ear. Jack half listened to the short conversation, scanning the surrounding yards for any sign of the dog. He turned back when he heard Janet hang up.

“That was Sam. They didn't find anything, so she and Cassie went back to the house. I—”

“Why don't you head on back?” Jack offered, knowing she was torn between finding the dog and being with her daughter. “I'll keep looking.”

Janet hesitated, then nodded and slipped the phone back in her pocket. “I'll call you if I hear from Daniel and Teal'c.”

Jack waved her off and watched as she trotted away and disappeared around the corner. It was nearly full dark, but the moon was out and bright, helping guide him down the quiet residential streets. He had been at it for almost an hour and had made his way into a small playground at the end of a cul-de-sac, when his own phone rang.

“O'Neill.”

“Jack, they found him.”

“Where?” Jack asked, already hurrying back toward Janet's house.

“He was hiding under a car on the far side of the park.”

“Is he okay?”

“Dirty, tired, and very hungry, but otherwise okay.”

“I'll be there in about twenty minutes.”

He made it in eighteen and pushed through the front door to find everyone piled into Janet's tiny living room. Teal'c was standing guard in the kitchen doorway and Daniel had taken up residence in the lone armchair. Cassie was sprawled on the floor, her lap full of dog, and Sam was sitting on the sofa with Janet, who looked up as Jack walked in. Everyone seemed to be basking in Cassie's relieved delight, and Jack paused to plant a kiss on the top of her head (and give one to the dog, too, at her insistence) before plopping down beside Janet.

She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thanks.”

“Any time.”


-00000-


Jack should have known from the way the universe was conspiring to keep him from getting to Janet's on time that it knew something he didn't.

First an SGC-hosted interplanetary meet-and-greet had run over by almost an hour thanks to bickering between the guests and the host's (well, Jack's) sarcasm. Then there was a minor crisis with SG-17's return involving a small fire in the Gate room that resulted in one completely melted control panel and a moderately singed engineer. By the time Jack screamed out of the base, opting not to delay his exit any further by calling ahead to warn of his impending lateness, he had fourteen minutes to get all the way to the other side of town. He was halfway there when he realized he still needed to buy the ice and drinks he'd promised to bring.

Deciding that groveling was the better part of valor, he picked out the freshest bunch of flowers the supermarket had as well. The long pods of blooms weren't Janet's favorite, but Jack suspected she would appreciate their deep purple shade. He paid for the lot and mentally congratulated himself when he managed to haul the bag full of two-liter bottles, the two bags of ice, and the flowers to his truck without dropping or crushing anything.

Ten minutes later he pulled up to the curb outside Janet's house, a little surprised not to spot any other familiar cars out front. Relief seeped through him at the thought that perhaps – against all logic and possibly the rules of physics itself (he'd have to ask Carter) – he had managed to beat everyone else to Janet's. Feeling slightly smug, he once again gathered up his contributions to the night's festivities and made his way to the front door.

There was a moment of acrobatic wiggling before he was able to press the doorbell with his elbow. A few seconds later, the door was wrenched open by Janet. Her smile was more sharp than warm, and Jack checked on the threshold.

“Sorry I'm late,” he began, but Janet cut him off.

“Oh, you're not late,” she said, her smile widening. Cassie appeared at her elbow.

“Are we leaving now? Hi, Jack,” she added, almost as an afterthought.

“Hi, Cass,” he returned. “You're going somewhere?” he asked, frowning at them both.

“Now that you're here, we are,” Janet replied. “Cassie, would you take the ice to the freezer? And bring the other stuff?”

Jack, bemused, handed over the ice without protest. “I thought we were having a party,” he said. “For Cassie making honor roll again, right? Did she not make honor roll? What other stuff?”

“No, she made it. I'm taking her to the mall as a reward.” Janet tugged the bag of drinks Jack was still holding out of his hand and set it beside the TV stand. “Thanks for the ice and the drinks. Cassie has some friends coming over tomorrow. Oh, and flowers, too!” she added as she spotted the blooms in Jack's other hand. She took those as well and gestured for him to follow her back to the kitchen.

They met Cassie in the kitchen doorway. She carried a broom in one hand, a mop in the other, and had a bucket full of cleaning products hanging from one arm. She gave Jack a look that was half sympathy, half amusement, and he suddenly had a bad feeling.

“Give those to Jack while I put these in water,” Janet instructed her. Cassie handed everything over and Jack was fairly certain she mumbled “sorry” as she hung the bucket over his right wrist. After some brief rummaging, Janet emerged from behind the kitchen island with a small vase, which she quickly filled with water and Jack's bouquet.

“Why am I holding cleaning tools?” Jack asked.

Janet threw him a look over her shoulder as she casually arranged the flowers. “I'll give you three guesses.”

Cassie giggled, and the sinking feel Jack had hit his toes. “Oh, no.”

“Oh, yes.” Setting the vase on the counter, Janet strode toward the den that doubled as her home office, crooking a finger at Jack as she did so. Reluctantly, he followed.

The sight – and smell – that met him wasn't the most unpleasant one he'd ever encountered, but it did make him check at the doorway. Janet caught his reaction and grinned.

“I saved it just for you.”

“My fault?”

“Always,” she replied with a smile. Shooing Cassie toward the front door with a flap of her hand, she called over her shoulder, “We'll be gone for a few hours at least. Lock up behind you when you're done.”

The door clicked shut behind her, but Jack was positive he could hear faint laughter fading down the front walk. He surveyed his tools with all the weight of a general assessing troops on the battlefield. With a deep sigh, he chose the roll of paper towels and the bleach spray to begin his attack. Grateful to find rubber gloves at the bottom of the bucket, he pulled them on and finally stepped into the den.

“Rule number one,” he said out loud to the empty room, “never buy anyone anything that's alive.”


-00000-


They buried the dog beneath the oak in the backyard, while the tire swing Jack put up on Cassie's twelfth birthday spun in the breeze.

Cassie was almost grown now, but the way she leaned into Janet made Jack think of the little girl Teal'c had coaxed out of the field all those years ago. Her eyes were tired, but dry, and she seemed more resigned than sad. Jack wasn't sure if that comforted him at all.

The ground was hard with cold, and it took him nearly an hour to dig the small grave. Janet and Cassie stood by the entire time, silent and dark-eyed, the cardboard casket at their feet. They remained that way as he planted the shovel in the mound of turned soil, retrieved the box, and lowered into the hole he'd made. The grave was halfway filled before they moved.

As Jack tossed in another shovelful of dirt, Cassie suddenly stepped away from Janet and walked briskly back toward the house. Jack glanced around at the motion. Janet met his gaze, her expression a mix of apology and concern and something else he couldn't name. She hurried after Cassie, leaving Jack to finish his task. He settled into a rhythm and his own thoughts, remembering the graves of other beloved dogs he had stood over. The final shovelful tamped down, he leaned the shovel against the tree. Brushing his hand off on his jeans, he pulled out his pocketknife and found a smooth spot on the trunk.

He had just finished carving the date when he sensed motion in his peripheral vision. He turned to find Janet watching him, a pained but grateful smile on her lips and two steaming mug of coffee in her hands.

“I did the same for my dogs,” he said by way of explanation, gesturing to the carving. He swiped the knife blade across his jeans to clean it, then folded it and tucked it back into his pocket.

“It's nice,” Janet replied, handing him one of the mugs.

Jack took a gulp of the coffee, black and strong the way he liked it. “How's Cassie?”

Janet sighed. “I don't know. She says she's all right, but she flat-out refuses to talk about it. She just got angry with me when I tried to comfort her. I can't tell if it's a teenager's bravado or something more.”

She stepped over to a bench and Jack followed. They sat in comfortable silence for a few minutes, sipping coffee and listening to autumn's remaining leaves rattle on their branches.

“I didn't want her to have to go through this again,” Janet finally said.

Jack frowned, confused. “Losing a dog?”

“Losing anyone. She's been through it enough.” She stared across the yard, eyes distant. “I tried to do everything I could to keep her out of situations where she might lose someone again. I didn't even think about that damn dog.”

Jack felt guilt bubble up inside him. “I'm the one who bought her the dog,” he said. “I didn't even think--”

“I'm not blaming you,” Janet said quickly, patting his knee. “By the time I even started worrying about that, Jack was already part of our lives; I didn't think of him that way. A dog's shorter lifespan didn't even cross my mind. He was just family.”

Jack nodded. After a few moments of silence, Janet gave a huff of laughter. Jack raised an eyebrow at her.

“We gave her the wrong family for not losing people.”

“You have a point.”

“The four of you go missing, get injured, or are reported dead on a regular basis.”

“Well, once you get a reputation...”

Janet grinned, but quickly sobered. Jack saw her gaze dart to the back door and he swallowed a sigh of his own.

“She'll be okay,” he said, and Janet nodded. “She's a tough kid. This isn't going to break her.”

“I know,” Janet replied. “It just hurts that she's hurting and I can't take it away.” She swirled the remains of her coffee in the mug, and Jack could almost sense her heavy thoughts. “Sometimes being a parent is the worst.”

“Yeah, it is.”

With a heavy sigh, she shoved herself to her feet. “Come on, then. Tonight is going to be a pizza and beer night, if you want to stay.”

There was a question to the last bit, something like a request, almost like a plea, and Jack nodded. Downing the rest of his now lukewarm coffee, he rose. “That depends on the beer,” he deadpanned.

Janet laughed then, restrained but genuine, and slid her free arm through his. “If I don't have anything you like, we'll make a beer run.”

She tipped her coffee into the empty flowerbed beside the bench, then walked arm in arm with Jack to the door. She paused at the bottom step and turned to him, eyes serious but a small smile on her face just the same.

“Thanks, Jack.”

“You're welcome.”

He pulled open the door and waved her in ahead of him.




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