Jackfic Fiction Archive Story

 

This Nest of Sparrows Series - Part 1 : Spirits

by Charli Booker

 


Author's Note: Thanks to Jude, my buddy and my beta. This story was inspired by a friend who cleans houses for a living. Listening to her discuss some of her more interesting clientele, I couldn't help but wonder just what it would be like to clean Jack's house. This particular scenario takes place around Spirits. Who knows, maybe there'll be more to come....

THIS NEST OF SPARROWS

Spirits -
I watch, and am become like a sparrow that is alone upon the house-top. Psalms 102:7

The best measure of a man's honesty isn't his income tax return. It's the zero adjust on his bathroom scale. Arthur C. Clarke


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Millie Guthro was a little too short, a little too thin, and a lot too opinionated. She was also a sucker for a man in a uniform. Oh, and she needed a job. She was down to her last five hundred dollars in savings, the ink in her checking account was seriously leaning towards the red, and her rent was due in just over two weeks.

If Millie had believed in luck, she would have thought it was her lucky day. But she didn't . . . believe in luck, that is. Luck was for those who had it in spades - whether it be good or bad. Millie fell somewhere in the middle of Luck Road. In all her years, and despite becoming recently unemployed, she really didn't have a lot to complain about. Then again, so far life hadn't been anything to write home about either. And after thirty-seven years, a person really should have something to write home about.

So, while she couldn't say for sure what it was that made her drop in at the Rocky Top Pit Stop, Millie knew it wasn't luck. Mostly, she supposed it was a craving for salt and vinegar potato chips. That, and a deep-rooted desire to watch Connie Blankenship bag her groceries. Millie and Connie had grown up together, and while Millie had lived her average, nothing-to-write-home-about teenage life, Connie had been the girl that all the other girls wished they were: cheerleader, homecoming queen candidate for three years running, and dater of quarterbacks. Now, Connie had three ex-husbands, drank like a fish, bagged groceries for a living, and picked her nose when she thought no one was looking. It gave Millie a feeling of satisfaction to be asked by the `popular girl' if she wanted paper or plastic. It didn't even matter that Connie didn't remember her, or that Millie was compelled to wipe down all her fresh fruit and canned goods because of Ms. Booger Fingers.

Having made her purchases, and having decided to go with plastic, Millie pocketed her change. Reminding herself to wash up before touching any part of her own anatomy, she almost missed the index card tacked to the bulletin board next to the exit. In fact, she would have missed it entirely if she hadn't stopped to read a bright green sheet of paper proclaiming that next week was `All Things Soy At Rocky Top Pit Stop.' Wondering what exactly management thought to gain by hawking soy products for a week, Millie's gaze drifted over the small corkboard. Nearly hidden under a layer of business cards and photographs of lost pets, she saw it: an innocuous, unlined, three-by-five card covered with handwriting that wouldn't pass muster with any grade school teacher worth her salt:

Needed: Housekeeper. Light cooking,
laundry, and cleaning. Nothing kinky.
Neat-freaks and wacko's need not apply.

It was signed simply `J. O'Neill,' followed by a local telephone number. Laughing softly, Millie slipped the card into the same pocket as her change.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Two days later, she was standing on the front step ringing the doorbell on a neat house sitting at the end of a neat street just two miles from the Pit Stop and a little less than that from her apartment. She glanced at the flowers lining the front walk and stared at the large pick-up parked in the driveway. Truth be told, the place wasn't what she'd expected. Millie had never been a `housekeeper' in her life - not officially anyway - but she'd always assumed they were hired by rich folks who lived in houses that were much too large to be practical. She'd never thought about someone needing a housekeeper for a place that looked so . . . well, average. In fact, she couldn't help feeling a bit disappointed.

That is, until the door opened and Millie found herself face to face - well, more like face to pecs, with a full-blown, too-handsome-for-words, long, lean military machine. Her dream date . . . complete with all the bells and whistles in the form of neatly pressed dress blues and a chest full of ribbons and medals.

There was a God. And, apparently, He'd decided to make up for lost time.

J. O'Neill smiled. He might as well have kicked her in the stomach. In fact, a kick would have been less painful.

"Are you Millie?"

Was she? She had been when she'd left her apartment. She had I.D. Maybe she should check. Maybe her little trip down Twilight Zone Lane had miraculously transformed her into Popular Girl and this was Officer Quarterback. Actually, she did feel the urge to do a bit of cheerleading. And a handspring wasn't completely out of the question.

"Um," J. O'Neill frowned and a long-fingered hand came up to briefly touch his thin lips in what looked like a nervous gesture.

Suddenly seized with the fear of a door slamming in her mute face, she smiled. "Millie Guthro. And you are . . . J. O'Neill?" She wasn't sure why she glanced at the crumpled index card when she said it, and she was as surprised as he was that her words were delivered with a distinctly British accent. For God's sake, she was born and raised here in the Springs; her folks had immigrated from Hutchinson, Kansas.

He held out the same hand that had touched those thin lips. "Nice to meet you, Millie. I'm Jack." His large hand engulfed her own before motioning her inside. "Come on in."

She did, glancing around the tidy home as she followed him down into a small, airy living room.

"Have a seat. Would you like something to drink? Water, beer. I think I saw a soda in the fridge, although I wouldn't swear to its expiration date."

"No, thank you." Despite being dressed in jeans and an Hawaiian shirt, British Millie sat on the sofa with picture-perfect posture.

"Sorry. I don't have tea," he smiled again as he sat down across from her. "I've been . . . out of town. Haven't had a chance to shop for a while."

"Really. I'm fine."

"Okay." Jack picked up a beer from a small side table, started to swig it, then glanced at her and set it back down. "Um, well, I'm not really sure how all this works. Maybe I should . . .," he glanced at her and grimaced slightly as if extremely uncomfortable.

"Well," Millie set her purse on the floor beside the sofa and smiled, "you should probably ask me for references, job history, things like that."

"Oh, yeah. Good idea. Sorry, it's just . . . this whole thing was Daniel's doing."

"Daniel?"

"My . . . co-worker. The guy you spoke to on the phone yesterday. He thinks I need help around here. And Carter agrees. What can I say?" He shrugged. "Anyway, uh, you want to tell me about your last job?"

"Well, up until three weeks ago, I was employed by one of the largest legal firms in town."

"You cleaned their offices?"

"No. Legal secretary."

"Oh." He looked slightly taken aback. "What? You decided to make a career change?"

"Yes, at the moment that I finally realized working for an ass is not all it's cracked up to be." Millie smiled at the sound of her own voice. For some reason smart-ass just sounded so much more . . . indisputable when delivered with a British accent. She should have done this years ago.

Jack laughed pleasantly and took a small swallow of beer. "So, have you ever been a housekeeper before?"

"Just for myself." Remembering the job requirements he'd listed, Millie added, "I'm not a slob, but I'm no neat freak."

He smiled at the reference. "Wack-o?"

"A little bit . . . up until three weeks ago. I seem to have made a miraculous recovery and am feeling much better now."

He laughed again.

"May I be perfectly honest with you, Jack?" Well, maybe not perfectly. She was still doing the British thing, after all.

"I'd prefer it, actually."

"Well, I'm no Martha Stewart, but I can cook a decent pot roast and I make a coconut cream pie that's guaranteed to curl your toes. Grocery shopping, cleaning house, doing the laundry, taking out the trash . . . I think I can handle it. It's not exactly rocket science. And I need the money."

He quietly studied her and Millie, who prided herself on reading people, had absolutely no idea what was going through his mind.

"I'm gone a lot. Usually without any advance notice. I'd like to have someone come in a couple of days a week. When I'm in town, a home-cooked meal or two and some clean underwear would be nice. When I'm gone, then it'd just be tidying up and making the place look lived in. Do you do yard work?"

Millie glanced out the large windows at the backyard. The fence row was lined with rose bushes . . . the only flower she knew of that she actually hated. "I don't like thorns." She looked back at the handsome officer. "Or bees."

"Meaning . . ."

"Meaning, it will cost you."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Millie quickly settled into a routine. Saturdays were spent doing her own chores and errands. Sundays, Mondays and Wednesdays she worked at the downtown library, shelving books. Thursdays were her day off. She spent Thursdays lounging on the couch until mid-morning, then she drifted down to the local bookstore where she stuck her nose in a book and glued her lips to a tall cup of white chocolate mocha - skinny, no whip. She ended the day with a long walk, followed by an evening of old movies. Tuesdays and Fridays were spent at Jack's. It was a mostly solitary existence, but Millie found she enjoyed the company. After all, no one listened to her quite like she did.

Since their initial meeting nearly six weeks previous, Millie had not seen Jack. But the proof of his existence was scattered on the floor of his master bath and was strewn across his kitchen counter. She'd come close to seeing him once. She knew because the towel she swept off the side of the tub was still wet and the heady scent of aftershave and coffee left her weak in the knees.

Cleaning up after Jack wasn't a hard job. In fact, it was mostly easy money. The guy might have advertised that he didn't want a neat-freak, but Millie suspected it was because he leaned that way himself. Either that or he straightened up before she got there. In any event, the bed was always made to perfection and picking up usually consisted of nothing more than throwing into the laundry any damp towels and dirty clothes that had missed the hamper. He was even tidy in the bathroom. Good grief, the man even left the toilet seat down.

In fact, to date, the only flaw she'd detected in his otherwise meticulous housekeeping skills seemed to lie with the kitchen. In the kitchen, the man was an absolute pig. Her first day on the job, she'd spent an hour or so picking up and starting the laundry, then she'd found the cleaning supplies and had dusted, mopped and run the vacuum. Three hours after she'd arrived, she'd patted herself on the back for a job well done and had moved off to the kitchen to cook up a few meals to stash in the fridge.

On the kitchen's surface, nothing untoward had caught her eye. But the moment she'd opened the refrigerator, Millie had realized that life as she knew it was officially over. Holy Toledo, the stuff in there could have put an eye out. In fact, she would have sworn that the slight rash that appeared on her wrist two days later was some kind of weird chemical burn from the contents of one swollen, leaking bowl of Tupperware. It probably hadn't helped that she'd watched Silkwood the week before.

Gagging and coughing, feeling a bit like Meryl Streep, Millie had run to the sink and leaned over it, trying to recall the last time she'd actually hurled. She couldn't remember. But she had a feeling this moment would stick in her mind for many years to come. The next time she was haunted with a vision of stripping Jack naked and throwing him down on his neatly made bed, all it would take to clear her head would be one refrigerated flashback. There wasn't a cold shower in the world that could beat it.

Regaining control of herself, Millie had stumbled into the garage and returned with a roll of heavy duty garbage bags and an over-sized pair of work gloves. Restoring the kitchen to a reasonable facsimile of the room it was meant to be took just under four hours. Exhausted and slightly disturbed at the images replaying through her mind, Millie had left a note telling Jack that if he left money she'd restock the fridge on her next scheduled day.

When she'd returned three days later, on the dining room table was an envelope with her pay, plus a hundred dollars cash and a note:

M: I like Dos Equis and Fruit Loops.
Thanks...J
P.S.: Sorry about the fridge. Been meaning to get to it.

At the end of the day, Jack had a refrigerator stocked with Dos Equis, milk, eggs, bacon and a large bowl of homemade stew. Millie shoved a box of Fruit Loops on the shelf with a post-it note stuck to the front:

J: There are bagels, butter and juice in the fridge. Please eat them. You're too skinny....M P.S.: Guess you found your change. I kept $5 - consider it hazard pay.

And so the tone of their relationship was set, and Millie often found herself humming as she organized the house that Jack sometimes lived in. Actually, a house he lived in way too seldom as far as she was concerned, because he'd been right about his absences . . . he was gone a lot.

There were some weeks where she could tell he hadn't been there at all. The last time it happened, he was gone for over eleven days. As the due date on her rent approached, Millie had fussed and worried over what to do. She liked Jack. Well, she never saw him, but she liked keeping house for him. Unfortunately, she worked for a reason: she needed the money. For over a week, she struggled to reach a decision. But when the final figures were tallied, she needed the money more than she needed to work for a man who was in absentia. So, she made one final trip to his house. She'd dust and toss out the meal she'd left on Tuesday, then leave him a note on where to mail the money he owed her.

As soon as she arrived she knew he'd been there. On the table was a small box of Rocky Mountain Chocolates, an envelope with all her pay plus a fifty dollar tip, and a note:

M: I am SO sorry. Something came up.
I've made arrangements so it won't happen again. But if it does, call this number and ask for Janet...J P.S.: Hope you like chocolate.

That had been last Friday, a week ago today. Smiling to herself at the thought of anyone not liking chocolate, Millie slipped the key in the lock and let herself in. She took the bag of groceries straight to the kitchen and set them on the counter. Today's special: meatloaf and twice baked potatoes that he could warm in the oven. It was one of Jack's favorites. Anyway, she assumed it was. Last time she'd made it, he'd eaten all of it and left her a bottle of expensive wine as a tip. Yeah, she was liking this guy more all the time. Her former employer never tipped, let alone in the form of chocolate and booze.

"Hello."

"Shit!" Her heart leaping into her throat, Millie swung around, wielding an Idaho spud like a short, blunt dagger. Another potato rolled off the counter, dropped onto the floor and wobbled across the kitchen, stopping when it hit the toe of a worn leather hiking boot.

"Oh my God. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you."

The young man standing just inside the kitchen doorway looked more like a geeky archaeologist than a criminal, although Millie knew for a fact that criminals came in all shapes and sizes. Maybe this long-haired, blue-eyed, kinda-cute-in-a-dweebish-sort-of-way guy was here to steal Jack's collection of National Geographics . . . the ones she'd found stashed in the back of his closet. Not quite as tall as she remembered Jack being, this guy was fair skinned. He obviously didn't get out much.

Smiling shyly, the man stooped to pick up the potato, then took three steps towards her and stretched out his arm, tentatively depositing the spud on the kitchen counter.

"I'm Daniel. Daniel Jackson. You must be Jack's housekeeper. I've forgotten your name."

"Mil-," she swallowed, and tried to hide her trembling. "Millie."

"It's a pleasure to meet you, Millie. We spoke on the phone."

"Oh." So this was the Daniel who'd thought Jack needed a housekeeper? Well, as far as she was concerned, any debt she owed him for that had just been cancelled out by scaring the crap out of her.

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah . . . no. Well . . . maybe. I think I may have wet myself."

Daniel barked a laugh and shook his head. "I see now why Jack likes you."

Jack likes me? Millie's heart, still racing over the threat of imminent death or rape, picked up the pace. Down girl!

"He's upstairs, by the way. He'll be down in a minute." Daniel frowned slightly. "I thought Jack said you were from England."

"She is."

Millie jumped again as Jack suddenly stepped into the kitchen.

"Hello." He smiled, waved, then frowned, his gaze moving to her hands.

Millie looked down to find she was still in Idaho defense mode. "Oh. Uh . . .," looking around, she finally placed the potato on the counter next to its siblings.

"Daniel, what are you doing to my housekeeper?"

"Nothing. Just introducing myself."

His right arm in a sling, Jack held his bad arm with his good and frowned at Daniel. "Then why does she look like she's seen a ghost?"

"Because he scared the pee-waddin' out of me."

Both men turned to stare at her.

What?

Jack's left arm dropped to his side and one eyebrow rose. "The pee-waddin'?"

Wondering just what she'd done wrong, Millie nodded.

"Just whereabouts in England are you from?"

Oh, good grief. She'd forgotten all about being British. Millie laughed softly. "Uh, yeah, Jack, about that . . ."

He sighed softly. "Yes?"

"Well, see, I was . . . I was a bit nervous."


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Millie watched as Jack scooted his chair back and stretched out his long legs. On the table in front of him was an empty plate. He patted his stomach with his one good hand and belched softly.

His cheeks reddening, he glanced at her. "Sorry. Compliments to the chef."

"Does that mean I'm forgiven?"

"For not being from England?"

"No. For lying about being from England."

He shrugged, then smiled. "Question is, do you always resort to a British accent when you're nervous? And if so," he glanced at Daniel, "what, is that some kind of primordial defense mechanism? Dr. Jackson?"

Daniel froze in the midst of taking his last bite of coconut cream pie. "Hmm?" He looked at both of them, shoved the last forkful into his mouth, and spoke around the confection. "This is the . . . besht pie . . . I've ever had." He laid down his fork and groaned as he swallowed the final bite. "Oh my God. Teal-uh, Murray has got to try this."

Jack shook his head at his colleague and turned back to Millie. "So, why were you so nervous anyway?"

"Um," Millie felt her own cheeks reddening as she tried not to look at the long, jean-clad legs and the form-fitting, black t-shirt. "More pie, Daniel?" She jumped up from the table before either of them could respond and headed for the kitchen.

"What?" Jack yelled after her.

She began wrapping up the leftover meatloaf and potatoes.

"What?"

She jumped and spun at the sound of Jack's voice, coming from not more than three feet away.

He grinned, an evil little smirk that seemed to transform him into an overgrown, ten-year old brat. "Millie . . . do I make you nervous?"

"No. No." She turned back around and began wrestling with a sheet of plastic wrap. "You certainly do not make me nervous. Not at all." Refrigerator. Refrigerator. She glanced at him over her shoulder. He was still standing there. Still smirking. Still wearing that damnable tshirt and those ass-grabbing jeans. "That's absurd."

"Yes. It is."

She glanced at him again. Refrigerator. Swollen Tupperware. "So . . . what happened to your arm, Jack?"

He immediately stopped smiling and sauntered over to the aforesaid appliance and peered inside. "Training accident."

"Training accident? What do you do anyway? I mean, I know you're Air Force . . ."

"Deepspace Radar Telemetry."

"Yecht." Millie made a face and stuck out her tongue. Jack snagged a beer from the fridge and turned back to her, smiling again. "Sorry, but with the exception of training accidents, that sounds very boring."

He laughed softly. "You'd be surprised. Progress can be extremely . . . well, not boring."

"Oh, speaking of progress . . .," Millie opened the junk drawer and handed Jack a slip of paper. "When I threw in a load of clothes earlier, I came across this in one of your pockets. I thought it might be important."

Jack glanced down at the piece of paper that contained his scrawling handwriting: `Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things. Russell Baker.'

He frowned and slid the paper into the pocket of his jeans. "Yeah. It is. Thanks."

"Too true, huh?"

He looked up as if surprised to see her there. "What?"

Millie nodded towards his pocket. "You know, about how when you boil it down, terrible things are really nothing more than just terrible things."

Jack stared at her, through her, then blinked and rubbed his injured arm with his good hand. "Yeah. Progress."

She frowned over at him. He suddenly looked pale and worn out. "You okay?"

Jack flinched. A few seconds later, his gaze re-focused on her. "I'm fine. All those . . . training exercises wear me out. Think I'll hit the sack."

"Sure." Millie turned back to cleaning up the kitchen. "I'm about finished. Then I'll head out."

"Okay." He walked away then stopped and looked back at her. "Hey, Brit." When she glanced at him, he smiled tiredly. "You were right." At her blank look, he continued. "About the pie. My toes did curl."

He disappeared into the other room, leaving Millie staring after him.

Refrigerator . . . leaky Tupperware . . . Silkwood . . .

<fin>