"Today is a birthday
They're smoking cigars"
- The Sugarcubes, "Birthday"
"You hear something?" Jack said. Carter and Jonas were a couple of steps ahead but they stopped when they noticed the Colonel and Teal'c weren't following. Carter looked at him expectantly, one hand instinctively reaching for her weapon
"I can hear something," Jonas said. "A sort of humming."
They stood still, each one of them listening intently. The humming got louder.
Jack looked at the sky, his ears straining to distinguish the sound. It sounded familiar. It sounded like.
Bugs. Thousands and millions of them. A swarm. They appeared out of nowhere - a big, black cloud with a mind of its own, a solid wall of insects. It was impossible to move without catching them in their clothes and hair.
Jack coughed a bug out of his throat. "Get down!" he yelled.
They threw themselves at the ground, not needing to be told twice. Jack lay on his stomach, face down with his arms covering his head. He couldn't see his teammates and he sure as hell couldn't hear them so he hoped they had the good sense to do the same.
It was soon over. He'd barely begun to contemplate waking up in a man-sized cocoon when he realised the buzzing had stopped. He lifted his head and peeked over his arms. Three bodies on the ground next to him did the same.
"I think they've gone," he said.
They got to their feet, looking around cautiously. The ground was wet and muddy and they were streaked in patches of black dirt and sand.
Jonas flicked a bug from underneath his collar. "What were they?"
"Bugs," Jack said. He noticed Sam rolling her eyes.
"They look like locusts," she said, inspecting the bug Jonas had flicked to the ground. She pulled a specimen jar from her pack and placed the offender inside. "Anyone got any bites?"
Jack suddenly realised he'd been scratching his neck. It was itchy. Really itchy.
"Aw shoot," he said.
He noticed Jonas scratching his wrist and Teal'c rubbing his face. They started slowly, almost absent mindedly, but their movements were getting more and more frantic. Carter scratched her face, and put her hands to her head to scratch her scalp.
It felt like his skin was crawling. He scratched behind his ears, under his sleeves, under his chin, between his fingers. The next mission was going to include industrial strength pesticide in the First Aid Kit.
All in all, the mission was going well. He scratched his head causing two dead bugs to fall to the ground.
"Son of a bitch," he said, rolling his eyes.
He looked up to see Carter staring at him. She was still caked in mud and still scratching, but she was also smiling.
In fact, she was doing more than smiling, she was laughing.
"Something amusing Carter?"
She laughed even harder at that. He caught Jonas smiling nervously, catching her mood.
"I'm sorry, Sir," she said, and she held her arms out to the sides. "But just look at us!"
He had to admit, they were a mess. Even Teal'c (who didn't have any hair to lose bugs in) was a disarray in his mud streaked and bug dishevelled uniform.
And then Jonas started to laugh and it was all over - he couldn't help himself. He laughed. He laughed, scratched his neck, groaned as he discovered more bugs in his boots, and then laughed some more. He noticed even Teal'c smiled as Jonas and Carter bent over double, laughing.
Carter was almost in tears. Eventually she stopped, wiped her eyes and shook her head. "Heck of a way to spend your birthday, huh Sir?"
He stopped laughing. They all did. His birthday? "*My* birthday?"
"Yes, Sir." She grinned. "All day, Sir"
Jonas looked puzzled "It's your birthday Colonel O'Neill?"
Jack tried to remember the date. If Wednesday was the 15th then that would make today. "I'll be damned, " he said.
"I recall you did not remember your birthday last year, O'Neill," Teal'c said.
Sam frowned. "We had pizza at Riccio's last year - wasn't that for the Colonel's birthday?"
He remembered that. Daniel showed up on his doorstep and dragged him away from a night in of beer and football. He still wasn't sure he forgave him.
"Daniel remembered," he said. Funny how someone always remembers when he doesn't. He should consider himself lucky.
"Well - happy birthday, Sir," Carter said, earnestly.
"Yeah - um - happy birthday," Jonas said.
"May you continue to strike fear into the hearts of your enemies for many years to come, " Teal'c said.
Jack raised his eyebrows. Nothing like a Jaffa blessing to really make an occasion. "Thanks," he said.
His birthday. Again. He rubbed a hand against his head. Damn, he had a bite there as well. "We'd better get back to the gate and let the Doc take a look at these lumps."
The irritation subsided a little on the way back to the gate making the walk more comfortable than it could have been. It was also comforting to note that none of them seemed to be suffering from the effects of poisons or allergies.
He took some solace from that as Jonas, fascinated as usual by all things Terran, quizzed him about birthday custom.
"So do you have a cake?" he asked.
"I hear it's customary to serve cake on birthdays."
He frowned. Trust Jonas to be thinking of his stomach. "No cake."
Jonas was undeterred. "Hats?"
Hats? He gave Jonas a look.
"It was on the television. There was a cake and everyone was wearing these strange, pointy hats."
"Do I look like a pointy hat kind of guy to you, Jonas?"
"Uh - no." Jonas gave him an apologetic smile. "So - Colonel O'Neill - how old are you?"
He stopped walking. Ahead of him, Carter and Teal'c stopped too. They turned around to stare at Jonas.
Jonas was confused. "What? What did I say?"
"It's considered impolite to ask an Earth person how old he is," Teal'c said.
"Really?" Jonas looked even more confused. "Because Sam said that it was custom."
"Ahem!" Sam coughed into her hand. "I think you misunderstood what I said Jonas." She took his arm and they began walking again.
"I distinctly recall you said 'ask the Colonel'.'"
"Jonas Quinn," Teal'c said, taking Jonas by the shoulder. "Is that not the third moon rising over that summit?"
Teal'c lead Jonas away, leaving Jack with a trying-hard-not-to-smile, Carter.
He looked at her sideways and she bit her lip. "Give it up, Carter," he said.
She grinned. "I'm sorry, Sir. We were just having a little fun with you both."
He grinned. Teal'c and Carter could play dirty at times. They were quite a pair. "You're evil, Carter," he said. "You both are."
"Yes, Sir," she said.
"And it's not nice to play jokes on the new guy."
"Even if it's something I would have done."
Carter laughed. "Yes, Sir."
The walk to the gate wasn't far but he noticed they weren't exactly in a hurry to get there. In fact they seemed to have settled into a leisurely pace, as if they had all the time in the world.
Teal'c and Jonas were chatting amiably and Carter was still grinning underneath the mud and the red welts on her face and neck.
Funny how she still looked cute.
"Hey Carter," he said. "Thanks for remembering my birthday."
She shrugged. "I wish I'd remembered last year. Thank god one of us was keeping track."
"Yeah," he said. "Good ol' Danny boy - always was better at the people thing than us, wasn't he?"
"Yeah," she said, and they were silent.
It was true. They really weren't good at the people thing.
"Well - seeing as it's your birthday, I was thinking we could do something when we get back. You know, take Jonas out, show him what people really do to celebrate birthdays."
"Sure," he said. "Whatever."
"Well - is there something you want to do? Something special?"
He looked ahead at Teal'c and Jonas. Jonas was animated, his hands indicating something exciting was taking place in his story. Teal'c looked amused and it was easy to understand because even he had started to find Jonas amusing.
Beside him Carter had big eyes trained on him expecting an answer and so long as she was looking at him like that he wasn't sure he wanted to give her one.
But he knew what it was.
"Carter - I'm doing it."