Christmas Countdown: December 17
As a general rule, Jack O’Neill wasn’t fond of Christmas parties or, really, any party that didn’t involve kicking back on a dock with a beer and a fishing rod. The Trouble Magnet Christmas party was an exception, however. The TMs and their defenders got together on a regular basis, but usually for more formal sessions. The party didn’t involve any support groups or conversations about pesky emotional issues; it was just a chance to hang out with the people who truly understood the TM situation.
“GeneralO’Neill, I do believe the ‘fresh meat’ have arrived.”
Technically, Teal’c wasn’t a member of their group, but that was the whole reason that Jack O’Neill had invited him to the party. Since he wasn’t a Trouble Magnet or a primary defender of same, Teal’c was objective, something that came in handy from time to time. Get a room full of defenders mixed in with a room full of Trouble Magnets and trouble was likely to ensue. Teal’c was implacable and big enough to give the most rabid of defenders second thoughts. It was too bad that Teal’c didn’t have his green card, because he really could have made big bucks as a bouncer.
Jack had asked his colleague to keep an eye out for the newcomers, so as soon as Teal’c said something, Jack looked at the door. Sure enough, there were two sets of men, one couple and one trio.
“Thanks, pal” he slapped Teal’c on the arm and went to greet the newbies.
The pair of men were a classic Trouble Magnet couple. The bigger of the two was a hulking, handsome man and the way he hovered over his slighter companion clearly identified him as the defender of the pair. His partner was younger and was relatively tall for a TM, but skinny. He had all the hallmark markings of the highly intelligent, but socially inept. The kid would fit right in with the geek TM crowd.
The trio were a bit harder to categorize. There was another skinny guy who was a bit on the dorky side and he was accompanied by not one, but two bigger men. One of those was about Daniel’s age and had a lot of dark broodingness going on. The other one was shorter, but older and Jack could almost physically feel that man’s piercing gaze as he was expertly assessed. There was no doubt in Jack’s mind about who the leader was in that particular grouping.
“Hey, glad you could make it,” Jack extended a hand as he greeted the newcomers. He was sure to address the defenders first and was careful not to offer a hand to either of the Trouble Magnets. “We don’t have any formal meetings during the holiday season, but the party’s a great introduction to the group.”
“You came highly recommended,” the older man from the trio said.
Jack caught a movement out of the corner of his eye and turned to investigate.
“Hey, DiNozzo!” He called out. “The orange carrot is for Pin-the-Nose-on-the Snowman.” Jack listened for the other man’s response, but was shaking his head even before Tony had stopped speaking. “I don’t care how much it looks like a dildo, aim higher, buddy.”
Sheepish, O’Neill turned back to his guests. “Sorry about that. Gibbs must be in the head or something, because he wouldn’t put up with that for a minute.” Jack considered. “In public, anyway.” He glanced around the crowded room and gestured for the others to follow him. “I’ve reserved us this table in the corner, where it’ll be a little bit quieter. I imagine you’ll have some questions.”
They followed him, Jack calling out greetings here or there as they walked. Finally, they were settled at the table.
“My name’s Jack O’Neill, Air Force,” Jack started the introductions.
“Jason Gideon,” the older man in the trio replied. “FBI Behavior Analysis Unit. My partners are Special Agent Aaron Hotchner,” he nodded at the brooding man, “and Dr. Spencer Reid, also of the BAU.”
Jack bit back a smile as he noticed Gideon’s emphasis of Reid’s title. “Nice to meet you.” He turned to the couple.
“Seeley Booth, FBI,” the hulking one said. “And this is Zach, Zach Addy. Boy genius and consultant to the FBI.”
“I’m still a student,” the young man clarified in a quiet voice.
“Really?” Dr Reid asked. “Where do you study?”
“The Jeffersonian,” Zach answered.
“Interesting, my degrees were from. . . .”
Reid started off on what Jack was sure was going to be an enthusiastic tangent. Giving Gideon a significant glance, Jack cleared his throat. Gideon placed a hand on Reid’s arm and the younger man stopped mid-babble.
“There’ll be time for that later, Spencer,” Gideon said kindly.
“Okay, you’re all here because there’s a Trouble Magnet in your relationship,” Jack launched into the familiar explanation. “We’re all in the same boat and we banded together years ago to offer moral support and exchange advice on coping mechanisms.”
“Could you go over the characteristics of a Trouble Magnet again?” Aaron Hotchner spoke for the first time.
“Sure. A Trouble Magnet tends to act before he thinks, attract the wrong sort of woman and has things happen to him that boggle the imagination,” Jack ticked off each point. He saw both Zach and Spencer squirming and smiled at each of them. “Don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Trouble Magnets just naturally attract, well, trouble.”
“That’s kind of the problem,” Seeley Booth rubbed at the back of his neck in a nervous gesture. “Zach’s got all the classic signs, he’s freaky smart, younger than everyone he works with and has no clue about how to act as a normal human being.”
Jack raised one eyebrow. “And the problem with that is. . . ?”
“He’s not getting into trouble!” Booth exclaimed. “Look at him, he’s cute as a bug’s ear and twice as helpless. He should have been kidnapped or had his heart broken by a femme fatale by now, but he’s pretty much been ignored.”
“There was that contamination scare last Christmas,” Zach pointed out in a monotone. “That was pretty scary.”
“Yeah, but everyone was caught up in that, Zach,” Booth wrapped an arm around him. “It’s not that I want you in danger or anything, but I hate to see you getting shoved to the side that way.”
Jack rubbed his chin. “That happens sometimes, sad to say. How long has it been going on?”
“Mostly just this year,” Booth explained. “Last year, everything was so new, but this year these other two squints are getting more attention because of an inner office romance.”
“Ah, that’s the way it is,” Jack replied. “Sometimes that happens. At least you’re already on your second year. What’s really sad is when a relationship is cut down in its prime.” He put a comforting hand on Booth’s shoulder. “I’ll have you talk to Gil Grissom while you’re here. He had the same problem with Greg, one of his boys, but was able to get him more into the spotlight. I’m sure he’ll have some pointers for you.”
Jack turned to the other FBI group. “You, Agent Gideon, have an entirely different problem.”
“Really?” Gideon seemed calm enough, but Jack could see a sharpening in that already disconcerting gaze. “And what do you mean by that?”
“Most Trouble Magnets are just like your Dr. Reid and Booth’s Mr. Addy. Cute, young and prone to be trusting.” Jack gestured at Hotchner with his chin. “But there is another, more rare type and I think you’ve got one of those on your hands too.”
“Me?” Hotchner challenged him, lips thinning with annoyance. “I assure you that I’m not a Trouble Magnet.”
“Let’s hear him out, Aaron,” Gideon mollified the younger man. “Go on, Jack.”
“There’s the brooding type of Trouble Magnet,” Jack explained. “One who internalizes everything, not letting even those who’re close to him know what he’s feeling. These tend to be more careful and don’t attract the traditional types of physical trouble, but they’re especially prone to emotional trauma.”
Jack could tell by the way the other man nodded that the idea had already occurred to him. “And the characteristics of this type of Trouble Magnet are?”
“They’re quiet and tend to take on more personal responsibility than is good for them,” Jack described. “They have high expectations of themselves and tend to go overboard on the guilt when they can’t meet them. The thing you have to watch out for with brooders is that they don’t beat up on themselves emotionally or. . . worse.”
“Does that sound like someone you know, Aaron?” Gideon asked softly.
The younger man shook his head. “I’m not some sort of Trouble Magnet,” Hotchner protested. “We’re here solely for Spencer’s benefit, remember?”
“They’re also stubborn and refuse to see that they have a problem,” Jack pointed out. “I tell you what, Jonathan Archer’s here with his Malcolm Reed. I’ll make sure you have a chance to talk with them.”
The Winchester brothers were another pair that had a brooder TM as part of the relationship, but Dean Winchester was atypical for even that rare variety. He covered his brooding with bluster and even a few moments with Aaron Hotchner was enough to convince Jack that bluster just wasn’t in the man’s vocabulary. Talking to the Winchesters would likely just muddy the waters as far as convincing Hotchner that he was truly a TM.
“That would be most appreciated.” Gideon replied, preventing a further outburst from Hotchner with a firm grip on his hand. Spencer Reid watched the disagreement between the other two men with wide-eyed apprehension.
“Excuse me, Jack?”
Jack swiveled in his chair at the sound of Daniel’s voice. “What’s up, Danny?”
Daniel Jackson was standing nearby, Blair Sandburg at his elbow. Jack stifled a wince. Those two together were nicknamed the “Terror Twins” and not because of the horror they inspired, but rather the level of trouble they managed to find.
“We were wondering if we could borrow the new guys?” Daniel asked. “You know, introduce them to the other TMs; the best way to assimilate into a culture is to experience it.”
Jack rolled his eyes. “You do know that the kid’s a forensic anthropologist, right? He works with bones, not cultures.”
“I know that, Jack,” Daniel replied with long-suffering patience. “I do like to interact with all the TMs, not just those in my field of study.”
“I know,” Jack relented. “But it’s really not up to me, now, is it?”
Daniel turned his baby blue eyes onto Booth and Gideon. He hadn’t heard the conversation about Hotchner, but neither did he appeal to the man as a TM defender either. Daniel could be perceptive when it came to TMs and the men that protected them, even if he was entirely too trusting when it came to other people.
The FBI agents turned out to have as little resistance to Daniel’s beseeching gaze as Jack did. Before too long, the four young men were preparing to head off into the party. Aaron Hotchner held back.
“Danny, could you take Aaron here to go meet Jonathan and Malcolm?” Jack asked.
“Sure,” Daniel shrugged. “Come on, I think I saw them over by Mal and Simon, debating on whether explosions make any noise in space.”
With some prodding by Gideon, Hotchner allowed himself to be lead away. The look on his face, though, said that he was still far from convinced.
“They’re going to launch an indoor snowball fight,” Jack said with a sigh as he leaned back in his chair. “Not that we’re supposed to know that, so act surprised when it gets started.”
“How did you find out, if you’re not supposed to know?” Booth asked.
Jack smiled. “Blair’s partner, Jim Ellison, has ears like you wouldn’t believe and he’s nosy to boot.” He grimaced. “He’s not half bad, even if he’s ex-Army.”
“An indoor snowball fight?” Gideon questioned. “Isn’t that the kind of thing we’re supposed to prevent?”
”We can’t take all the fun out of their lives,” Jack shrugged. “The key is to minimize the damage. Did you notice all the anti-slip rugs on the floor?”
Booth grinned. “Sneaky.”
Jack tilted his head at him. “We try.” He abruptly got up. “Come on, let’s go mingle.”
He took the other two men around the room, pointing out people as he went. “That’s Jack Malone and Walter Skinner, they’re also FBI. At the moment, they’re guarding the eggnog and making sure it doesn’t get spiked.” He nodded at another corner. “Over there, supervising the Christmas tree decorating are the CSI guys, Gil Grissom and Mac Taylor.” Jack got a grim expression on his face. “Danny’s not allowed anywhere near the tree, not since he sprained a wrist working on another one. My Danny anyway. Taylor can do what he wants with his Danny.” Jack smirked. “And I bet he does too.”
“So, do the members of the group tend to congregate by occupation?” Gideon asked.
Jack shrugged. “Not always, but we do tend to have a lot of members from the military or law enforcement communities.” He spotted someone and waved the man over. “Gibbs, come here a minute.”
“Okay, just for a minute,” Gibbs begrudgingly walked over. “I have to keep an eye on DiNozzo. You won’t believe what he was doing with that carrot.”
“Gibbs is one of our newer members,” Jack introduced the other man. “He’s from NCIS. Gibbs, Gideon and Booth are both from the FBI.”
“Oh, you’re that Gibbs,” Booth murmured. “I’ve heard of you.”
Gibbs gave him the hairy eye. “I take it you know Fornell?”
“He’s an ass,” Gideon stated, causing Gibbs to chuckle.
“Look, since this is your first Christmas with Tony, I just thought I’d take this opportunity to tell all three of you about the danger signs of the season,” Jack stated.
“Danger signs?” Booth asked, his forehead wrinkled with concern. “But this is a happy time of year, isn’t it?”
Jack scratched his chin. “For the most part, yes, but TMs do have some issues.”
“Like what?” Gideon asked.
“Family,” Gibbs guessed. “Tony’s family are old money and they cut him off when he didn’t fit into their mold of a perfect son. He gets a little out of control this time of year, especially with the present buying.”
”Exactly,” Jack nodded. “TMs sometimes are more sensitive to issues they’d normally shrug off or go overboard with preparations, becoming more vulnerable than normal.” He looked seriously at Gideon. “You better keep a sharp eye on Aaron, brooders are particularly susceptible to the holiday blues.”
Gideon nodded solemnly and Jack was relieved. With those eyes watching him, he knew that Hotchner was in good hands.
“And you especially don’t want to get distracted by your own holiday crap,” Jack warned them. “I guarantee you that you’d regret it later.”
A tall man with blue eyes and thinning hair let out a whistle. Jack grinned. “Hang on, boys, it’s about to start.”
The door burst open and a group of young men stormed in, Daniel and Blair in the front. Snowballs were lobbed at the other men, who were doing their best to pretend to be surprised. Jack laughed and ducked. The fun lasted several minutes, until Jack noticed Danny slip and fall onto his ass.
Sighing, Jack went to collect his TM and make sure he was okay. Christmas or not, some things never changed.
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