FIND OF A LIFETIME BY DARCY & SAMI-J


Gen: Story Portraying the Strong Friendship between Jack O'Neill and Daniel Jackson.
Rating: PG
Category: AU, kid fic, angst, drama, etc.
Season/Spoilers: The Gameskeeper
Synopsis: In this AU Jack is working as a security guard in the New York Museum of Art in an effort to avoid dealing with the death of his son. His quiet world is disrupted when two archaeologists come into town to set up a new exhibit.
Warnings: None
Length: 455 Kb

Darcy Notes: I’ve had this story in my head for years so even though it’s satisfying to write ‘finis’ I’m going to miss working on it. If you write, you understand what I mean. A sincere thank you to Cathe for helping me resurrect the story, for encouraging me to finish it, for feeding and watering the muse, and for writing a few very intense scenes. Without her this project was dead in the water. Thank you, girlfriend!

 

Also, a big, huge thank you to Shazz for the sterling beta.  It is much appreciated.

 

Cathe (aka sami-j) notes: When Darcy first mentioned this story she was working on (how many years ago?!) I was intrigued. When she sent me what she had written, I was hooked. I don’t think I did as much as she thinks I did but I’m delighted if I was able to help her finish it. Thanks for letting me play (once again) in your sandbox, kiddo. It was a wonderful, angsty ride!

Link to an accompanying Vid “Find of A Lifetime”.






Find of A Lifetime Part One

“Often the test of courage is not to die but to live.”

Vittorio Alfieri


African masks,
Etruscan jewelry, marble, bronze, and terracotta sculptures, European helmets, limestone statues, Asian art, Medieval art, Greek art, Roman art, American art, swords, arms and armor including the shield of King Henry II, Islamic manuscripts, Eighteenth century furniture, everything from fragile artifacts and priceless paintings to ancient Egyptian tombs, the New York City Museum housed it all. Visitors came from all over the world to marvel at its treasures.

 

Studying the past ensured the future.

 

Those who forgot history were doomed to repeat it.

 

Yadda, yadda, yadda. Jack O'Neill's motives for patrolling the halls of the great museum had nothing to do with tired clichés or glorious mysteries of the past. His reasons were far simpler. The objects, and the people who had once handled them, were dead. Long dead. They didn't talk or bitch or encourage or complain. They were quiet and lifeless. No longer relevant. Viewed only by thoughtful patrons as odd curiosities.

 

He could relate.  

 

His own past had been somewhat glorious. Before he became a security guard at the museum he’d given ten years to the United States Air Force, followed by nine years as a New York City police officer, five of those working homicide as a detective. He’d also been a husband. And for ten short, precious years he'd been someone's dad.

 

The glory ended two years ago when his son, Charlie, found his personal handgun and accidentally blew his brains out. Now he was no longer a detective or a husband or a father. He guarded the priceless dead. They didn't pity or comfort or condemn him, and more importantly, he couldn't screw anything up since everything here had already been screwed hundreds of years prior.

 

As hard as he tried to bury the past, these thoughtless, lifeless objects occasionally had the opposite effect. Jack often imagined the museum dedicating a display case to Charlie. There was enough memorabilia. His ratty baby blanket, Doobie, his trusted childhood fuzzy teddy, his Yankees jacket, his model jet collection, his baby shoes, the list was endless.  

 

In the present, Charlie wasn't important enough to warrant a display. In a couple of hundred years the stuff would be as priceless to the world as it was to Jack today. He closed his eyes and imagined visitors checking out the Charlie O'Neill exhibit.

 

Who was he?

 

Nobody, just some kid who never grew up. Who knows who he might have been?

 

And that was the real kicker.

 

"Hi!"

 

The loud voice in the silent, closed museum startled him. What the hell?  He glanced around but didn’t see anyone.

 

"Hi!" the determined, energetic voice repeated.

 

Ah, he'd forgotten to look down. It was a blonde haired kid with blue eyes, round glasses and a radiant smile to boot. Jack came out from behind the security desk and tried his best to look cranky. It wasn't difficult.

 

He rarely sat still during his job; he patrolled the entire main wing as well as certain galleries that contained especially valuable exhibits. He was one of the few security guards in the museum licensed to carry a weapon and his superiors liked him to keep moving.

 

It was just his luck that a kid showed up while he was manning the desk during Grady's break.

 

"Hello." It was more of a grumble than a greeting. He was expected to be polite to any museum visitor who approached him regardless of age or height. It was his least favorite aspect of the job.

 

This must be the archaeologists' kid. He’d been briefed, along with the rest of the museum staff, about the archaeologists and their eight year old son. They were setting up a new display in the Egyptian wing in his patrol sector. Naturally. The last thing he wanted to do was watch someone else's kid. He was a security guard not a babysitter. And what kind of parents let an eight year old run wild in a museum?  The dark side within wished the kid would break something to prove him right. Maybe crack a few Ming dynasty vases. That would teach them about young children left alone among fragile old crap.

 

Undeterred by his unenthusiastic response, the little guy stuck out his hand and Jack grimaced as he shook it. It had been awhile since he'd touched a hand that small. Why couldn't the kid take the hint and beat it?

 

"Hi," the kid said for the third time. "I'm Daniel Jackson. My mom and dad are setting up a replica of the tomb and some of the other artifacts we found in Egypt. It's going to be huge! We even brought the stone with the writings that was outside the tomb. And Mom brought a stele and pieces of the funerary equipment from inside the tomb. It’s amazing we found so much intact because the ancient tomb robbers usually stole everything. Well, the stele was already broken away from the wall, but that was okay because otherwise my mom wouldn’t have taken it. It's going to be so exciting. I can't wait to see it!"

 

"Isn't that exciting?" The munchkin paused for a breath of air and then looked up for a nod or a few words of encouragement.

 

"That's nice." If the kid was looking for some enthusiasm he was barking up the wrong tree. Jack curled his lips in a sarcastic grin. It was all he'd been able to manage in substitute of a smile for the past couple of years.

 

"Do you want to come see it? I could explain the significance of all the pieces if you have any questions. If I don't know something, I'm sure my mom or dad will know."

 

Who the hell was this kid?

 

Jack guessed he wouldn't get any satisfaction out of the youngster breaking something. Given the kid's knowledge and interest in old junk, that scenario seemed unlikely.  

 

Jack spotted Grady coming toward them and glanced at his watch. Break-time was over, he needed to get moving.

 

"Not right now. I'm busy. I have to patrol."  Hopefully, the less than encouraging response would dampen the boy's enthusiasm.

 

"I'll go with you!"  

 

No such luck. To Jack's surprise the kid nodded and fell in step beside him.

 

Grady flashed an amused grin before taking his place behind the desk. Jack would have growled at him but he was too distracted by his unwelcome shadow.

 

"What's your name?" the tyke asked as they headed down the corridor.

 

None of your business. He had half a mind to say it out loud when Corky, one of the maintenance men, came around the corner pushing his cleaning cart and whistling tunes from the fifties. "Hi, Jack," he innocently greeted.

 

Damn. "Corky." He acknowledged the man with a nod.

 

The kid didn't waste any time latching on to the new found information.

 

"Jack. Your name is Jack. Jack, are you excited about the new exhibit?"

 

"Oh, yeah, can't ya tell?"

 

"Good! Come on, follow me. I'll show you where it is. We can patrol down there."

 

It was obvious the kid didn’t do sarcasm. Jack refrained from pointing out he'd been working at the museum for well over a year and he certainly knew where all the exhibits were and the location of the Egyptian wing. He bit his tongue and followed the happy, oblivious youngster.

 

Daniel chattered on about some of the displays as they walked through the galleries. Most of the collections were old and worn and held no appeal. The only pieces interesting to Jack were the suits of armor, the warrior helmets and the weapons housed in the "Armor through the Ages" exhibit.

 

Charlie had loved those.

 

"Jack, look at this!"

 

They had turned into the Ancient Near Eastern wing and Daniel stopped short in front of an odd wooden statue that appeared to be half man and half beast.

 

"Did you know this is a depiction of Anubis?"  The kid pushed up his glasses and waited.

 

Jack leaned over the display case for a better look at the statue that had the body of a human with the head of an animal, an animal with very large ears, similar to Max, a German Shepherd he’d had as a boy.  

 

"Yep."

 

"Did you know it's from the Ptolemaic Period, 304-30 B.C?" The kid barely paused between questions.

 

"Yeah, I can see that." It didn't take a genius to read the plaque describing the item.

 

"Did you know that Anubis is the god of embalming?"

 

He didn't know that but the kid didn't wait for a response.

 

"Anubis was supposed to protect the mummies in their transition between death and their rebirth in the afterlife. See how he has the head of a jackal? That's because there were lots of jackals roaming around Egyptian burial grounds. That's why Anubis was the guardian of the dead. Did you know that, Jack?"

 

"No." Okay, that was impressive. "How do you know all that?"

 

"My mom and dad told me. And I read lots of books. I know about a lot of ancient Egyptian gods. I can tell you about all of them." Daniel looked up with a hopeful expression.

 

God help us all.

 

"And, Jack, sometimes Anubis is portrayed as a jackal, in this one his body is a man but if you ever see one where he's a jackal, it's still Anubis. I don’t want you to get mixed up. I used to get mixed up when my dad first told me that."

 

"Thank you." Yes, if that ever came up in casual conversation he wouldn't want to look like a fool. Amusement flickered briefly only to fade under the weight of his all-encompassing apathy.

 

"Look at this one! Do you know what this is?"

 

Jack moved to another display and leaned in to read the inscription. "A canopic jar?"

 

"That's right!" Daniel seemed impressed despite the fact the name was right there on the card. "Do you know what they were used for?"

 

"No, but I'm sure you're going to tell me." The kid was an endless fountain of knowledge. 

 

"Canopic jars were used to store internal organs like liver and lungs and intestines and stuff."

 

"Really?" He hadn't seen that one coming. That couldn't be right. It sounded disgusting. "Are you sure? Why would they jam a liver into a jar like that?"

 

The child chuckled at his ignorance. "They had to remove it during mummification. They had to remove all the organs so that's where they put them. The stomach, the lungs, everything."

 

"And you don't find that the least bit disturbing?" How could this kid only be eight years old?

 

"Every culture is different. Things that seem strange to us are normal to other people and things that seem normal to us might seem strange to someone else."

 

"Did your mom tell you that?" It sounded like a mom type of thing to say.

 

Daniel nodded, confirming Jack's suspicions.  And speaking of Daniel's mom, the boy had left him to wander further down the gallery and was now yammering on to a woman sporting a pair of round glasses and wearing work clothes and a head scarf to keep the sweat from dripping into her eyes.  

 

Jack walked up in time to catch the last half of Daniel's conversation with his mom. "This is my new friend, Jack." 

 

New friend? That was a stretch. Hopefully Dr. Jackson would have the good sense to tell her kid to leave the poor, tired looking security guard alone.

 

She stretched out her hand and smiled the same open smile that mirrored her son’s. "Hello, I'm Claire." She tilted her head slightly and whispered, "Is Daniel bothering you?"

 

Yes! Yes, he's bothering me. He opened his mouth to agree but a quick glance at the kid's shocked expression was more than he could bear. "No, he's fine. He's been enlightening me on the a... artifacts."

 

"I'm not bothering him, Mom." Daniel was indignant at the suggestion. "Jack's my new friend."

 

Jack smirked his fake smile. The mom, Claire would never buy that. How could they be friends? They'd just met.

 

"He does make friends easily." She smiled indulgently at her son. "Wherever we go Daniel seems to make friends, young and old."

 

Young and old?  He had no illusions which of those categories he fell into.

 

"Yes, he does," a voice behind them agreed.  

 

Jack turned to see a dark haired man with glasses approaching.

 

"Hi, I'm Mel Jackson, Daniel's father." They shook hands and then Mel made a sweeping gesture toward the soon-to-be exhibit in the next room. "As you can see, we’re still in the early stages of setting up. What do you think of it so far?"


In the center of the room a pillar had been erected, about twice the height of a man and almost half that around.  Beside the near wall some kind of stone or pottery pieces had been perched on what looked like an ancient end table. A large, oblong piece of stone that had clearly been broken and put back together hung on the wall. It was covered with indecipherable characters.

 

From the rumors he'd heard it was going to be one impressive display when all was said and done, but so what?  Who cared what he thought? He knew nothing about Egypt and tombs and coverstones. Still, it was nice to be asked.

 

"It's very, big."

 

"It is, isn't it?" Mel chuckled and then turned serious. "It's the find of a lifetime." He winked, sneaking a glance at his wife who was chatting with Daniel.

 

He leaned in and whispered, "Is Daniel bothering you? He can be quite a handful."

 

It was the exact question Claire Jackson had asked. Daniel must be renowned on two continents for bothering people. "No, I wouldn't say bothering exactly."

 

Mel snorted at that. "If he's a problem I'll tell him it's the museum's policy not to distract the guards, or that his mother and I aren't comfortable with him wandering around without us. I would never tell him he's a bother."

 

Daniel's dad was a good man and this was probably his best chance to dump the little rugrat.  Still, Daniel Jackson was an interesting distraction from the drudgery that was his life. Best of all, the kid was only going to be in town for two or three weeks.  

 

"I'll let you know if he gets to be a handful." Jack surprised himself with his decision.


Mel clapped him on the shoulder. "Please do. Daniel's such a people lover; he's too young to understand people's need for privacy."

 

Jack nodded dumbly. It seemed the entire Jackson clan was quite astute.


Daniel finished up the conversation with his mom and promptly attached himself to Jack's side. "See ya later, Mom. Jack and I have to patrol."


"Stay out of trouble, young man." Mel tousled his son's hair.


"How can I get in trouble?"  Daniel wrinkled his nose at that. "I'm patrolling."


Oh hell, it was going to be a long couple of weeks.

 

 

 

All Jack could figure was that Daniel Jackson was some kind of wonder kid. The child was an endless source of information on a variety of subjects, but Egypt stood out as his specialty. He was extraordinarily well versed in hieroglyphics, pictographs, and glyphs, plus the languages and customs of the ancient civilizations. Daniel weighed in on all these topics and more.

 

His enthusiasm brought the inanimate objects to life and gave them a much needed sense of relevancy. In the boy's eyes the museum wasn't a building housing meaningless pieces of the past; it was a super playground of the present with treasures waiting to be discovered at every turn.   

 

As fascinating as it was to listen to the kid ramble on about all things Egypt and more, it was break time and Jack's stomach was growling.

 

He keyed the radio and informed Mitch, his supervisor, who looked a few years older than Daniel, that he was taking his lunch break. It was the same routine every evening which was the appeal of the job. It was the exact opposite of his previous occupation. In the museum he didn't need to think. He did the same repetitive things night after night. Nothing ever changed; its mindless monotony was its greatest appeal.

 

"Look, Daniel, it's been swell talking to ya but I'm off the clock for forty-five minutes and I'm going to the atrium to eat."

 

"Oh. Okay!" To Jack's surprise, Daniel took off at a gallop then had second thoughts and slowed down to walk as swiftly as possible without being accused of running in a museum. Someone, probably his parents, had obviously read him the riot act about that particular no-no.

 

Jack shook his head in amusement and headed over to the atrium where food and drinks were allowed. He took his usual seat by the huge window and had barely taken his first sip of coffee and opened up his lunch bag when he heard a small but determined voice in the distance.

 

“Jack!”

 

No, it couldn't be.

 

"Jack, I'm coming!"

 

It was.

 

"Here I am, Jack!" Daniel was breathless as he came around the corner.

 

Jack had to smile as he envisioned the boy's unique, fast-paced walk, which was not quite running, that had enabled him to pick up whatever was in the bag he was carrying and make it back to the atrium in record time. Daniel Jackson was nearly impossible to resist, the kid couldn't imagine anyone being anything but thrilled to see him and Jack didn't have the heart to disillusion him.

 

Daniel pulled out a chair and sat down beside him.

 

"So, what's the big rush?"  

 

The boy pushed up his pesky glasses and gave him a look that clearly expressed surprise at the silliness of the question. "I had to get my dinner, Jack, so I can eat with you."

Funny, he didn’t remember mentioning he'd enjoy company for dinner. And what was up with the 'Jack?' He should correct the kid and insist on being called Mr. O'Neill. He and Sara had always insisted Charlie address adults as Mr. or Mrs. so and so.  It was more respectful.

 

Another question occurred to him. "Shouldn't you be in bed?"

 

“Uh-huh,” Daniel nodded happily. “But our schedule's all mixed up when we're working on the exhibit."

 

“Great,” Jack muttered.

 

"Guess what’s in here?"  Daniel held the bag in the air and shook it.

 

The blue eyes were shining brightly. It was obvious Daniel meant no disrespect and Jack didn't have the energy to play the grumpy old man role he'd perfected around kids to protect himself from painful memories. Besides, this kid didn't take hints.

 

"Don't have a clue."

 

Daniel slowly opened the bag and stuck his hand inside, sneaking a peek to be sure he was being watched before pulling a white Styrofoam box out of the bag.  "It's kabobs from the Kabob Café! It's an Egyptian restaurant I went to with my parents last night. Isn't that funny, Jack?  Kabobs from Kabobs!  Did you ever go there?"

 

"No." He hadn't been out to dinner in years, assuming Taco Bell and Burger King didn't count as dining out.

 

"Do you like Egyptian food?" Daniel demanded.

 

Actually, he did like Middle Eastern food. "Yes, I do.  But I haven't had any in a while."

 

"Why not?" Daniel kept one eye on him and the other on the bag as he rummaged around for more goodies.

 

"I don't get out much." Truer words were never spoken. Damn, that kabob smelled good.  

 

"Do you have a wife?"

 

Danger, danger, Will Robinson.

 

"No, I don't."  He'd leave it at that. Kids were dangerous not only because they were reminders of what he'd lost but also because they didn't take hints or understand personal boundaries.  

 

"Oh. People don't like to eat out alone." Daniel must have decided that was the problem and he'd fix it. "I'll ask my mom and dad if you can come to Kabobs. We'll go for lunch before you have to be at the museum. You could come with us!" Excitement danced in the sparkling eyes.

 

"No, that's okay. I won't be able to make it."

 

"Why not?"

 

"I have a very busy schedule." And he did. Laundry, dishes, napping, watching the crap he'd recorded the night before on the DVR, and reading the sports pages. Very busy.

 

"Oh, okay." It deflated the little guy for all of five seconds. "I know! You can taste my dinner and I'll taste yours. Then you can try the kabobs and I can try what you have. What do you have, Jack?"

 

Daniel Jackson didn't give up easily, that much was obvious. Jack let out a sigh. Had he really just met this kid, he checked his watch, three hours ago?  Arguing had already proved fruitless so he decided to go with the flow.

 

"Okay, let's see what you got." He couldn't lose, the kabobs from Kabobs smelled delicious.

 

Opening the Styrofoam box, Daniel let out an exaggerated "ta da" and pulled out what must be the kabob. He took his time unwrapping it and revealed a skewer of beef and grilled vegetables. Jack's mouth watered in anticipation.

 

"You could pick chicken, beef or lamb but I picked beef. I never pick lamb because I don't want to eat a baby lamb. But lamb is very popular in Egyptian food.  See this? This is zucchini, and these are carrots and peppers. And see these nuggets, they're called kafta nuggets, they're made from ground beef and lamb. I eat the kafta nuggets even though they have a little tiny bit of lamb in them. They're so good.  Taste it, Jack!"

 

He would as soon as his head stopped spinning.

 

"Wow that is good." After chewing slowly and savoring the rich flavor, Jack popped another one of the nuggets into his mouth. Most kids would be feasting on chicken McNuggets. Daniel Jackson was nothing like most kids.  

 

"What do you have?" The kid was eyeing his brown bag with no small amount of skepticism.

 

No need for Jack to open the bag and look. He had what he always had. "Peanut butter, bananas and Fluff on wheat."

 

"Fluff?" Daniel's eyes scrunched in confusion.

 

"Don't tell me you've never had Fluff. And you consider yourself a connoisseur of international cuisine?"

 

"I never did."

 

Jack decided to lay it on thick. Strange as it was, he was beginning to enjoy himself. "Fluff is part of American culture. It's what our country was built on. The Fluffernutter is an American tradition that will never be equaled. It's hard for me to believe you've never heard of it."  Kabobs from Kabobs, hah, he could do better than that.

 

While Jack spoke he opened his lunch bag with a flourish and offered half of the great American classic to the odd young boy sitting across the table. It crossed his mind to wonder if the Drs. Jackson would be happy with their son trading in a beef and vegetable kabob for a Fluffernutter. The smile on the youngster's face chased the thought away. Daniel was completely sold on the idea.

 

The kid took a huge bite and declared, "This is the best sandwich ever!"

 

Jack couldn't help smiling at the proclamation. Charlie had loved Fluff. Sara, not so much.

 

 

 

The middle of the night was not a good time to be walking around the city but Jack didn’t care.  The museum was two blocks from the subway line while the apartment he’d been renting for the last two years was just four blocks from another subway stop. 

 

It worked out well. Since narrowing his life down to his apartment and work, he'd given up his beloved truck. Some people thought riding the subway after midnight was a guarantee of trouble, but he’d never had a problem. The bad guys tended to prey on the weak and he always looked tough. If they only knew.

 

He reached his stop a little after two-thirty a.m. and walked the four blocks to his apartment. 

 

It was almost three in the morning by the time he arrived home and stuck his key in the lock, nothing unusual there, same as most work days. Except, this one felt different. For the first time in a long time he didn't automatically turn on every light in the place and crank up the TV to chase away the gloomy silence. Tonight he stood in the dark, paralyzed in the middle of his kitchen trying to make sense of what had happened at the museum.

 

What the hell was wrong with him? He'd let this kid, Daniel Jackson, get to him. How that happened he'd never know, but it had to stop. Thinking of Daniel led him to thinking of Charlie, and thinking of Charlie led him into debilitating places he couldn't afford to go. Places that reminded him he hadn't always come home to a dark, lonely apartment. In his past life, he'd been greeted with a hero's welcome on a daily basis. 

 

He'd been fine at work. If he was being honest, he'd actually had fun with the kid. He wouldn't have believed that possible, but it was true. It was only on the way home that the fun had turned into depression. Jack opened the fridge and grabbed a beer. He needed a drink and then tomorrow he'd take Mel Jackson up on his offer to tell his son that the cranky security guard was off limits. That decision, along with a couple more beers and a replay of the Mets game on the DVR, made it easier to fall asleep. It was settled, he'd put an end to this nonsense tomorrow.

 

When Jack opened his eyes and checked the time, he was thrilled to see it was one in the afternoon, late even by his standards. If sleep was the great escape then Jack O'Neill was a gifted escape artist. The less time he had to kill before heading off to work the better. He turned on the TV for background noise before going through his daily routine of taking a shower then sitting down to a bowl of Captain Crunch and mindlessly flipping through the sports channels for scores and updates.  

 

The shortened afternoon flew by with no bleak thoughts of Charlie and the past, or of Daniel Jackson and the present.

 

On his way to work late that afternoon he stopped off at his favorite convenience store to buy the paper and a cup of coffee. Nothing new there. What was new was the can of gummy worms he added to the routine purchases. Gummy worms were gross and disgusting and loved by kids everywhere.

 

Daniel might like them.

 

The random thought startled him before he decided the gummy worms would make a great 'good bye' gift when Daniel's dad informed him the dynamic patrolling duo from last night was being disbanded. 

 

Tootsie Pops. Daniel probably never had gummy worms or a tootsie pop. Jack grappled between the two ideas before buying a grape tootsie pop and the can of gummy worms. He had no doubt Daniel would not only love them but would find them fascinating.

 

Charlie had loved them.

 

Charlie.

 

Shit. Why did every road lead to Charlie?  No, he wasn't going down that path today. For the first time in forever he was looking forward to going to work and he wasn't going to ruin the feeling. Admittedly, 'looking forward to' was a bit strong. 'Not dreading' was probably more accurate. 

 

American candy. Yep, Daniel would get a kick out of it. He shouldn't do this. He knew better. Yet here he was, Jack O'Neill, a shadow of his former self, buying tootsie pops and gummy worms for a little boy. It was beyond ridiculous.  

 

He turned to get out of line and stop his foolishness and put everything back when the clerk gave him a bored, "Next." What the hell. It was getting late and if he left now he'd have to wait in line all over again, not to mention his coffee was getting cold.

 

Damn, he’d lingered too long in the store and now he was going to have to hurry to get to the subway to be on time for work. He hated being late.


Forty minutes later a rushed Jack O'Neill reported for duty. By the time he went down to the security desk to relieve Macklin it was 6:01.

 

"It's about time," his colleague razzed him. "I gotta run. I'm taking the wife out to dinner."

 

"Have fun," Jack mumbled as Macklin disappeared. Was he that predictable and punctual that Macklin had made a joke about the one minute? Before Jack had time to properly mull it over he heard light footsteps on the floor.

 

"Jack, you're here!" Daniel rushed up to greet him with shining eyes and an excited smile.

 

A hero's welcome.

 

The idea of a little boy this excited to see him was painful. Jack set the coffee and the bag of goodies down behind the desk and tried to ignore his slightly elevated heartbeat.

 

"Yep, I work here and my shift starts at six o'clock, so I'm here. Where else would I be?"

 

"I have a surprise for you for dinner." Daniel answered, ignoring the sarcastic question.

 

Get a grip, O'Neill. It wasn't Daniel Jackson's fault he was an enthusiastic little boy. "That's funny because I have a surprise for you, too."

 

"You do?" Daniel stopped dead in his tracks and squinted up at him in amazement. "What is it, Jack? Is it something to eat?"

 

"I'm not saying. That would ruin the surprise."

 

"Do you want to give me a hint?" Daniel clapped his hands together barely able to contain his excitement.

 

"No hints." There was no denying the kid was cute.

 

"Just a little, tiny one?" Daniel held his thumb and forefinger a few inches apart for emphasis.

 

Something about the kid made Jack grin against his will. He didn’t want to get close but Daniel was making it difficult. Jack couldn't decide if it was the boy's persistence or his intelligence, or maybe it was his kind heart. He chose not to consider the possibility it was the blonde hair, the innocent eyes and the disconcerting hero worship thing.

 

"Nope." Jack was beginning to relax and enjoy himself when Claire Jackson turned the corner and walked up behind her son. 

 

"Mom! Guess what? Jack has a surprise for me. I think it's something to eat for dinner but he's not going to tell me because that would ruin the surprise."

 

"Nice to see you again, Mr. O'Neill." Claire grinned and offered her hand and Jack shook it. "We heard so much about you last night."

 

"Jack. Call me Jack." He cringed at the thought of Daniel yammering on about him then tried to remember if he he’d made any inappropriate, sarcastic comments Daniel may have repeated.  Nothing came to mind. Of course, that didn't mean he hadn't made any. What the hell did Daniel find so fascinating that caused the kid to chat him up to his parents?

 

Jack decided he'd tell one of the adult Jacksons his decision to go back to patrolling alone later on, after he had the fun of giving Daniel the American candy classics during his break.

 

"Well, I think Daniel will be disappointed if it isn't one of those peanut banana flutters," Claire winked.

 

"Fluffernutters," Jack mumbled.

 

Claire's smile widened and Jack was relieved yesterday's food exchange didn't seem to bother her.

 

"Daniel also insisted I invite you to brunch with us tomorrow. We're going to Kabob's Café and we'd love to have you join us. Daniel says you're a big fan of Kafta nuggets."

 

"You remember, Jack? You really, really liked those!" Daniel's smile lit up the room. And it was a big room.

 

"Yeah, I remember them." Of course he remembered. It was yesterday for crying out loud. He wasn't that old and feeble. "I'm sorry, Dr. Jackson, I won't be able to make it."

 

"Please, call me Claire."

 

"Okay, Claire. I, um, I have things to do tomorrow."

 

"I understand completely." Claire gave him an apologetic smile. "Daniel insisted we invite you and I want you to know you'd be welcome any time."

 

"Can you make it Friday, Jack? We could go Friday instead of tomorrow," Daniel chimed in.

 

The kid seemed mighty disappointed and Jack wasn't sure how to bow out gracefully, He lifted his hands and shrugged. "I'm sorry."

 

"Daniel, he can't come. I'm the one who's sorry. When Daniel gets an idea in his head he's quite persistent."

 

"It's no problem." I just..." He wasn't sure what to say and was grateful when Daniel interrupted again.  

 

"I don't understand. You like Egyptian food. You can't come on any day?"

 

"No, not really." He wouldn't have thought it possible but he felt faint heat creep up his neck. He couldn't remember the last time, post Charlie, he’d cared enough about something to blush.

 

It was a relief when Claire came to the rescue. "Daniel, Mr... Jack can't come. It was an invitation, when you invite someone somewhere they have the option of saying yes or no. It's rude to badger them about their decision and reasons."

 

"Cause you're so busy, Jack?" Daniel was crestfallen at the rejection.  

 

"Right, busy." Jack forced a smile Claire's way and announced he needed to get back to his duties.

 

"Me, too, Mom. We better get going, huh, Jack?"  

 

Just like that the shine was back in the blue eyes. The idea of patrolling perked the kid up considerably and reminded Jack of how little it took to distract a child, even one as brilliant as Daniel Jackson.

 

After a few tours around the museum Daniel had all but forgotten about the brunch invitation and was content to yak away about gods and goddesses and temples and tombs. 

 

The kid disappeared for a while after his dad tracked him down and dragged him off to check out a new, apparently thrilling piece of the exhibit that was being set in place. Daniel had invited him along but the peace and quiet beckoned more than what probably looked like a bunch of big rocks so Jack had politely declined.

 

That was the last he'd seen of the youngster for the past few hours.

 

Sitting at his usual table near the window, Jack took a few more bites of his sandwich, shocked by feelings of disappointment at not being able to share the 'kid treats' he had purchased for Daniel. It was just as well. He finished his lunch and was about to toss the gummy worms and tootsie pop in the trash when the blonde head appeared in the entryway.

 

"Jack, I'm here!" Daniel hurried toward him swinging a white bag in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. "And I have your surprise!" Breathless, the kid pulled out a chair and plopped down beside him. He pushed up his glasses and checked out the remains of what had been Jack's lunch. "Oh, you already ate." His face fell with disappointment.

 

"Are you still a tiny bit hungry?" The optimistic tone was impossible to ignore.

 

Oh hell. "I'm sure I could squeeze in a little more." Jack patted his stomach and then balled up his napkin and plastic baggie and stuffed them into his brown bag.

 

"Oh good!  We went to The Village Bakery on 18th street and they had all kinds of treats so I picked one for me and one for you."

 

How thoughtful. Jack didn't get a chance to voice that out loud. Daniel was off and running.  

 

"I picked them because they had animal names but they're not really animals." Daniel explained, just like he had with the statues and artifacts. "They just have the shape of an animal. Or part of an animal. You want to see?"

 

"Can't wait," Jack smirked. The build up reminded him of last night's kabob performance.

 

Finally, Daniel quit talking and opened the white bag. "It's bear claws! That's what they're called, Jack. Bear claws. Isn't that funny?"  Daniel removed two delicious looking pastries. "They're supposed to look like a bear's claw. This one is almond and raisin and this one is butter pecan and dates. We could try a little of each one to see which we like the best. Want to?" 

 

The kid was such a unique character that Jack laughed in spite of himself. 

 

"The pecan and dates are really good," Daniel declared after going ahead with his plan and taking a huge bite. "Try it," he encouraged around a mouthful of bear claw. 

 

Jack obliged and declared both of them delicious. "Hey, save some room. Remember I have a surprise for you, too." He pulled out the small plastic bag from the convenient store and took out the can of worms and the tootsie pop. They looked meager compared to the bear claws.  

 

"What is it?"  The kid slugged down a huge gulp of water to wash down the pastry and then fixed his gaze on the plastic bag.

 

Jack pulled the purple tootsie pop out of the bag and wondered whether Daniel had ever had a lollipop. Then he set the garbage can of gummy worms beside it. "What do you think?"

 

"A sucker. Thank you, Jack." That answered that question.

 

"What's in here?" Daniel picked up the can and shook it.

 

"Open it and see." Jack glanced at his watch. He needed to sign in and get back to work.

 

"Oh." Daniel peered into the can.

 

"It's worms." Jack needed to hurry this along. "Worms you can eat. They're called gummy worms. It's candy." He gulped down the last of his cold coffee and picked up his garbage.

 

The blue eyes went wide with excitement. "Worms I can eat," he repeated with childish delight. "I have to go show my mom and dad." He took off toward the exit. Jack wrapped the remains of the bear claws in a napkin to eat later, tossed the trash and headed in the opposite direction. 

 

"Wait!" Daniel ran back toward him.

 

Before Jack had time to flinch, Daniel threw his arms around his waist and hugged. Then the boy looked up and smiled. "Thank you for the surprise, Jack. I really, really like it." 

 

Before he could answer, Daniel let go and galloped off in a flash.

 

 

 

Hours later Jack arrived home exhausted and perplexed. He cracked open a beer and slumped down on the couch. What the hell was wrong with him?

 

The job at the museum had been a fluke. He’d been wandering around that day looking for something he’d lost, searching for a piece of his son, when Ted Macklin, one of the guards from the dayshift, had spotted him sitting on a bench in one of the corridors. They knew each other slightly from his visits with Charlie.

 

“Things must be busy at the station.” Macklin knew he was a cop. “I haven’t seen you around in a while.”

 

“I don’t work there anymore.” A simple, flat statement, as many words as Jack had uttered in weeks.  


“No?” Macklin’s eyes were suddenly bright with interest. “The museum is looking for a new security guard, with your background you’d be a shoe-in. For you the job would be a no-brainer.”


It was the last line that had caught Jack’s attention. A no-brainer was exactly what he was looking for in a new line of work. The job had lived up, or rather, down, to his expectations. It had proven itself again and again to be the perfect place to shut down inwardly without any obvious outward change.

 

The problem this week was Daniel Jackson. The kid had a way of slipping in under his radar and sneaking past his formidable defenses. Maybe he was making too much of it. It wasn't permanent. As soon as the exhibit was set up the Jackson's would pack up and be gone and things would get back to normal.

 

That comforting thought allowed Jack to sleep well into the afternoon which would have made it a perfect day except for the fact that it was Friday and the museum was opened until nine on Fridays and Saturdays. It closed at five-thirty on weekdays. His shift started at six which meant Fridays and Saturdays were the only possible days of the week he had to deal with the public. For three full hours. Normally he hated working either one of those days. On a positive note, he was fairly certain Mel and Claire Jackson wouldn't allow Daniel to run wild in a museum full of strangers. Avoidance was his best defense against the blond hair and the innocent blue eyes.

 

He was right.

 

Although the museum was fairly crowded with patrons and tourists, Jack was relieved there were no signs of the chattering munchkin from the last few nights. Surprisingly, it was preferable to face the masses than to face one little boy. He signed in and went to the desk to relieve Macklin.

 

"Anything exciting I should know about?" Jack shuffled paperwork and stuck with the routine questions that allowed him to get through life in a constant state of numb indifference. 

 

"Some unruly teens, a couple of lost kids, lost keys, lost souvenirs, the usual."

 

Jack rolled his eyes and nodded. The list of problems rarely changed and usually involved the word 'lost'. 

 

"Oh and some school kid threw up in the Asian gallery," Macklin added. 

 

"Great," Jack winced. "Sorry I missed it."

 

"I'm out." His counterpart flashed him a smile and left Jack to get organized and start his tour around their shared sector to help find lost things and direct lost people. Sadly, the lost part was actually the best aspect of working with the public. The questions people asked him and the things they expected never failed to amaze and irritate him. The worst was when they'd ask him to baby-sit, just for a few minutes, so a mom could enjoy an exhibit in peace. Or they'd ask if he'd mind running over to the gift shop to pick up a last minute souvenir. Then they'd have the nerve to be annoyed when he explained he wasn't allowed to run errands while on duty. God he hated weekends.

 

The first few hours went smoothly enough. As Jack walked through the corridors, he automatically watched for people who seemed nervous, people carrying bundles or bags that should have been checked at the entrance and people who might turn into a problem. So far he'd found a purse for a grateful, harried mom and had directed at least ten people to the restrooms. Another exciting day in the life of top notch security guard, Jack O'Neill.

 

It was past eight when he spotted two young teens horsing around in the hallway that housed a few large paintings from the Renaissance period. The paintings that hung on the walls here were unprotected and the boys were dangerously close to accidentally knocking into one. Last year in this same hallway they'd found a piece of gum stuck to one of the frames. People could be so disrespectful, then again, he had to remember it was the actions of the few and not the many that drew the criticism.

 

Jack approached the youngsters and hoped they were the type of kids who would be properly ashamed that a security guard had to speak to them about their behavior.

 

"Hey, guys, there's no wrestling or fooling around inside the museum." 

 

"We weren't doing anything," they both turned around and spoke in unison.  One was tall, redheaded and husky and looked like he belonged on his school’s football team. The other was shorter with shaggy brown hair seriously in need of cutting. He was so skinny Jack suspected a brisk wind would blow him away. Though they were very different in appearance, they wore the same annoyed expression.

 

"You should mind your own business," the taller one added.

 

Okay, not the shameful types.

 

"This is my business." Thanks to a year of practice Jack was able to force a smile and take a polite tone. After countless, mind numbing training sessions he'd accepted the fact that his job was twofold. Yes, he was here to protect the exhibits, but he was also here as a public relations ambassador for the museum. That's what they called it, a public relations ambassador. The first time he'd heard the term he'd nearly fallen off his chair with hysterical, inappropriate laughter. He'd been hired to work the nightshift and his supervisors were aware he didn't possess the best people skills so he usually worked either Friday or Saturday limiting his 'ambassador' work to approximately three hours a week. 

 

"You're going to need to keep moving. And like I said, there's no running, wrestling or yelling in the museum."

 

"We weren't yelling," the kid argued. "And we paid to get in here so we should be able to do whatever we want."

 

"Just keep moving." Jack smiled his fake smile.

 

"Why don't you get a real job and leave us alone," the shorter one said as the two moved slowly down the corridor.

 

Jack watched them until they headed up the stairs. Great, no longer his problem. He radioed the upstairs guard to keep an eye out.

 

At eight forty-five Jack watched George Grady, who’d been working the third floor, escort the same two brats down the escalator towards the front desk. Two women who looked to be their moms were waiting with Mr. Michaels, the manager on duty whose job was too smooze over any problems. Now that must be a fun job.

 

Jack walked over to listen in and back up Grady if necessary.

 

The story was similar to what had happened downstairs except this time the boys had told Grady to fuck off. The moms, of course, decided if the guards hadn't badgered the poor kids nothing would have happened. One of them went on to mention they were museum members and expected to be treated with the utmost respect. Everyone was treating her and the brats with the utmost respect. The only ones not being respected were the guards.

 

"I had to speak to them earlier when they were horsing around in the Renaissance gallery," Jack offered in support of his coworker.

 

"Thank you for your input Mr. O'Neill. I think I have a clear picture of what happened. I'll take it from here."  Michaels was excellent at his job and apparently didn't need any help. Jack had to admit the man seemed to have the situation well under control as he walked the two women and the boys toward the exit.

 

Jack turned to Grady. "Did I say something wrong?" He was sure he had maintained a polite tone and followed protocol.

 

"No, Jack," Grady laughed. "You just look mean."

 

"I do?" What the hell?

 

"Don't worry about it. The place is closed for another night. Let's go find all the crap the hordes left behind and then we can enjoy the peace and quiet."

 

Easy for him to say, he didn't have a persistent eight year old trailing him, tracking his every move. Speaking of which...

 

"Jack!" the kid rushed up to greet him. "I was looking for you."

 

"Of course you were," Jack acknowledged with slightly less enthusiasm.

 

"I can't stay and patrol with you tonight but I want to ask you something."

 

The kid couldn't stay tonight? Happy days were here again.

 

As was often the case, Daniel didn't wait for an answer but charged full steam ahead with his question. "Are you working on Sunday?"

 

"Yep." Where could this possibly be heading? He could only hope it wasn't another dinner invitation.

 

"Oh good!" The child clapped his hands in delight. "Me and Mom and Dad are going to have a picnic at eight o'clock on Sunday evening and you can come, too. We're going to have lots of Middle Eastern food so I know you'll love it. Can you come?"

 

"Uh, maybe." There was no point in arguing.

 

"Good! I have to go. Dad's going to work some more on the exhibit but me and mom are going back to the hotel to relax and maybe go swimming!"

 

"Sounds like fun," Jack grimaced.

 

"And I won't be here tomorrow. Are you working tomorrow?"

 

"Nope."

 

"We have the same day off!" Daniel seemed amazed at the revelation.

 

"Looks like it." It was impossible not to smile at the kid's thought processes. "Hey, Daniel, do I look mean to you?"

 

Daniel pushed up his glasses. What, the kid needed to get a better look?

 

"Nope, not right now, Jack. I'll see you on Sunday! Don't forget. Eight o'clock."  He babbled a few more directions and then disappeared down the main hall.

 

Swimming at nine o'clock at night?  The Jackson's were peculiar people. Nice, but peculiar.

 

The museum was closed for the night. Daniel Jackson had left the building and it was quiet. Deathly quiet. Just the way Jack liked it.

 

 

 

It was quiet at home, too, until a loud thud banged on his bedroom wall and woke him up. Damn it! Jack sat straight up in bed and checked the clock on his nightstand. It was after twelve noon but he definitely could have slept in later if not for the neighbor hammering next door. He had half a mind to go over there and ream them out for their lack of consideration. After a few more bangs the noise stopped and Jack settled down. He scrubbed a hand over his face and rubbed his eyes, deciding against knocking on his neighbor's door to complain about hammering at twelve thirty on a Saturday afternoon.

 

He threw on his sweats and dragged himself to the kitchen to pour out a bowl of breakfast. God damn it, he was out of milk. And bread and bananas and all his other favorite staples. If he was out of beer a trip to the market was in his immediate future. One bottle left. He flicked on the TV in disgust and decided to wait until later in the afternoon to shop in hopes the grocery store would be a little less hectic than it tended to be earlier in the day on weekends.

 

At three o'clock Jack went into his bedroom to throw on pair of jeans and a shirt. He wasn't sure why he made the effort. Who cared?  It was probably only a matter of time before he started wandering down the few blocks to the grocery store wearing his sweats and slippers. That would prove to the world he'd given up completely. He laughed at how the old Jack O'Neill would have cringed at the thought. At least for now, he still felt the need to dress.

 

Before leaving he donned his baseball cap and pulled it down low, just above his eyes so he could see people but they'd have a hard time seeing him. It was bad luck that it was a beautiful day with blue skies, moderate temperatures and plenty of sunshine. Everyone would be out. If not for the beer problem he'd wait until it rained, or at least until the weekend was over. 

 

Avoiding eye contact, Jack made it to the store and shopped as quickly and methodically as possible without drawing any unwanted attention. He'd been smart to come later, the market wasn't nearly as crowded as it would have been in the morning. He made it to the checkout line with his 'in and out no one gets hurt' mantra playing in his head when the worst happened.

 

"Jack!" 

 

He didn't turn around. There were plenty of Jacks in New York City. With any luck this had nothing to do with him.

 

"Jack O'Neill is that you?"

 

Fuck. He turned toward the voice. "Hi." He knew her but the name wouldn't come.

 

"Sharon," she offered with a confused look of her own.

 

Sharon Holmes, the secretary who had been with Homicide for the entire five years he'd worked there. How could he have forgotten her name?  "Sharon, how've ya been?  Are you still at the 23rd?"  He added the second question to prove he remembered her.

 

Her face relaxed and he could tell she was relieved he'd recognized her, proving he wasn't completely wacko.

 

"I'm fine, Jack. How are you doing?" She touched his arm when she asked and it was all he could not to push her hand away, drop his basket and run from the store.

 

"Good. I'm good."

 

"I'm not at Homicide anymore. I transferred to Robbery in the 60th to be closer to home and the kids," she offered.

 

"That's nice." And it was. It made him feel better knowing she wouldn't be going into his old precinct tomorrow, asking everyone to guess who she ran into in the grocery store. It was too easy to envision his former colleagues and friends shaking their heads and murmuring about the sad fate of the once great Jack O'Neill.

 

"If you ever need anything or want to talk I don't live very far from here. Tony and I are divorced now. Not that it matters," she added. "Never mind."

 

He ignored her blush and loaded his groceries on to the counter, relieved she appeared uncomfortable, too. 

 

"I'm fine," he reiterated, forcing the confident O'Neill bluster of days gone by.

 

"Okay, Jack. It was good seeing you again," she smiled.

 

It was impossible to agree with that statement so he nodded back with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. If he caught any hints of pity from her it could send him spiraling into a depression that could last for weeks. Sharon waved and went back to shopping while Jack paid for his groceries and made a bee line for the door.

 

He rushed out into the sunlight carrying his bags and walking with long purposeful strides down the sidewalk, desperate to get back home. So much for great ideas. He'd never go into that market on a Saturday afternoon again. Hell, he'd never go there on a Saturday period. Why take any chances? At least he hadn't been wearing sweats and slippers.

 

It wasn’t a far walk, but the beer was heavy and Jack was sweating by the time he made it back to his apartment. He put the food away and then took a shower in an effort to forget the look on Sharon's face when he'd stumbled over her name like a bumbling old fool.

 

Hiding out had been easy for the past couple of years. Not so lately. He told himself today was nothing more than an unavoidable, unfortunate accident. As much as he hated seeing people from his old life, it was bound to happen on occasion. He slapped together a peanut butter sandwich which reminded him of Daniel Jackson. For once focusing on the Jacksons and the present seemed preferable than the alternatives. He took a bite of his sandwich and flicked on the TV. He had no intention of dwelling on ex-coworkers like Sharon Holmes or the irresistible Daniel Jackson and family. He didn't need any of them. Saturday afternoon meant baseball, beer and peanut butter; he had everything he needed right here. 

 

He'd only watched two innings when the phone rang. Oh for crying out loud. The answering machine clicked on.

 

"Hi, Jack. It's me. Just a... checking in to say hi and see how you're doing. If you ever want to get together for a beer or something give me a call. You know the number. I'll just sit by the phone and wait." Then a faint sarcastic chuckle followed by, "Okay, I'll a... talk to ya soon."

 

It was Charlie Kawalsky, his ex-partner from homicide. Was the bastard ever going to get the hint and give it up?  Probably not. At least it was a phone call and not a visit. The last time Kawalsky had stopped over unannounced had been awkward. They’d sat on the couch and drank beer and watched a football game with only a few stiff comments exchanged between them and those strictly confined to talk of the game.

 

Extremely awkward.

 

Too bad. Jack didn't care. He hadn't invited Kawalsky, the man had shown up at the door with a six pack and invited himself in over Jack's protests. Now his ex-partner stuck to calling on the phone a couple times a month even though Jack had yet to pick up. He only picked up for two people. Work and Sara. And sadly, Sara called far less than Kawalsky did.

 

 

 

On Sunday evening Jack patrolled the museum grateful the weekend was almost over. He checked his watch and was surprised to find it was already past eight. Daniel had invited him to eat dinner with his family. Invited, by Daniel Jackson standards, translated to 'insisted.' The way Daniel had talked up the meal Jack was sure Mel and Claire were expecting him. He had no intention of barging in on their family time together but the polite thing to do would be to let the Jacksons know he wasn't going to be able to make it. Eight o'clock was too early for him to take a break and eat his sandwich so he was well-armed with a handy excuse. Apparently it wasn't the first time the Jackson clan had dined out on the museum grounds because Daniel had explained, in detail, how Jack should exit through the door just past the gallery containing the exhibit of armor to find their favorite spot.

 

Jack hummed as he passed by that gallery to avoid looking in at the displays. He needed to stay focused on his mission, say hi, apologize for not being able to stay, and leave gracefully. In and out, no one gets hurt. Hopefully the mantra would work better here than it had in the grocery store.

 

He opened the heavy door and blinked against the light from the setting sun reflecting off the windows on the high rise down the street. For a moment he stood still, waiting for his eyes to adjust, and while he waited he noticed the light seemed to be bouncing off everything it touched, highlighting every leaf on the maple tree a few yards away and bringing the roses blooming along the walkway into sharp focus. The colors of the blooms startled him with their intensity, crimson red, shining gold and soft pink, and along with their colors the warm summer sun had brought out the scents of the flowers until the garden was filled with their fragrance.

 

Jack turned his head slowly, taking in the amazing sights and smells. When he looked up again he had to narrow his eyes to cut down on the brilliance of the setting sun.  High rises blocked the full glory but they couldn’t hide the radiant changing of light or the clouds overhead that reflected the sunset in luminous washes of sapphire, scarlet and amber.

 

He took a deep breath and rubbed his temple. Was this an exceptional evening or had he become such an expert at not paying attention that he no longer noticed things like sunsets and the smell of fresh cut grass? No matter, he needed to make his apologies and get back inside where the past remained in the past and the remnants of the dead stayed dead. 

 

Damn it. A quick sweep of the area revealed no archaeologists or genius kids in sight. Maybe the exhibit demanded a change in plans and the Jacksons had been forced to cancel their evening picnic. Jack was about to leave when he heard voices coming from around the corner of the building. They must be on the back lawn, in which case he could have exited through the folk art paintings and avoided the armor altogether. The evening air and the melody of cheerful voices spurred him on to get this over and done with as quickly as politeness allowed.

 

After giving careful thought on how to best give his regrets as succinctly as humanly possible and get the hell out of there, Jack covered the distance with a few long strides and rounded the corner. His planned excuse evaporated in the instant it took to reach the end of the concrete sidewalk. He froze at the sight before him, his chest suddenly heavy with the familiar burn as he leaned against the side of the building for support. More than once he'd assumed from the intensity of the pain that he was experiencing a welcomed heart attack. So far, he hadn't been that lucky. He forced himself to breathe deeply and after a few seconds the severity lessened to a more bearable level. 

 

The Jacksons had thrown a blanket on a patch of available green grass and were making the best of the limited space. The sight of a mom and dad picnicking and playing with their son on a perfect summer evening wasn't the worst of it. It was Daniel. Jack had never seen the boy outside the context of the museum. Out here Daniel wasn't softly giggling or forcibly restraining himself from the joys of running and shouting and being a kid. The normally refined Mel Jackson was chasing after his son and then they'd roll around in the grass, Daniel roaring as his dad tickled his belly. 

 

The tickle monster. Had it only been two years since Jack had been Charlie's tickle monster? Now he could only relate to half of that moniker. His post Charlie life was built around avoiding witnessing moments exactly like this one, families playing together and laughing.

 

God, how he missed the laughter.  

 

During the summer months he and Sara would take Charlie down to the park. Sara would pack a picnic basket and Charlie would run and sing and play much like Daniel was playing tonight.

 

The memories washed over him in drowning, suffocating waves.The thrill and admiration in Charlie's eyes when Jack would cast his son's fishing line and reel in a ten-pounder from the lake, or when he'd take hold of Charlie's kite string and magically coax the homemade box  kite to new heights. That adoring look is what Jack hid from during his nights working at the museum and longed to escape from during his days of dreamless sleep.

 

A father never feels entirely worthy of the worship in his child's eyes.

 

An old saying Jack had thought he understood until that black day when their world crumbled and his son's treasured look became the stuff of his nightmares, haunting his every waking moment and accusing him in his dreams. The museum job had changed all that. He’d discovered that sleeping in the daytime wasn’t the same as facing down the night.  

 

The Jacksons hadn't spotted him. If they had Daniel would have called out his name and been all over him. He needed to get back inside to the quiet of the museum. The abundance of life outside was crushing him.

 

It turned out to be no better inside. It was still stifling. He headed for an employee exit where he might be able to get some air without anyone bothering him.

 

Jack sat down on the top step of the stairs leading into the museum from the rear parking lot and took full deep breaths and tried to pull himself together. He noticed a crumpled brown paper bag someone had left just outside the door and picked it up. It contained a torn sandwich bag and an empty Styrofoam cup that smelled of coffee. Someone had either forgotten or not cared about throwing away their lunch bag. He played with it for a few minutes, resisting the urge to empty it and breathe into it. It wasn't necessary, he was already calming down and breathing easier.

 

He shoved it aside and rubbed his temples. This entry was for staff only. He'd be safe here. His throat was tight and achy from watching the Jackson family at play. His heart was beating rapidly, heavy and sore in his chest.

 

People had assured him this would get better. The grief would never go away entirely but time would lessen the sharpness. It had been two years and that clearly wasn't happening for him. Of course they assumed he'd get help, maybe attend a support group with Sara or something similar. She'd asked but he'd flatly refused. He hated touchy feely groups. They would never understand what he couldn't explain, the exhaustion that dragged him down no matter how much he slept. They had no clue about the moment by moment battle he waged against a soul-deep inertia, or his horror of laughter, or the bouts of panic that would strike when he least expected it. Like now. No thank you. No one could help him or change the facts of what had happened that day. 

 

If anything it was getting worse. Daniel Jackson was forcing him to think about Charlie and pushing his dormant feelings to the surface. How did Sara deal with it? She was a nurse, she saw kids on a regular basis. He'd never had the heart to ask her. It was possible that despite his war medals and accommodations, she was stronger and braver than he could ever imagine being. Then again, Charlie's death wasn't her fault, it was his, and maybe that made all the difference.

 

Whatever it was, it wasn't Daniel's fault but Jack would do anything to get back to his existence before the arrival of Jackson family. He missed the blur of days melding nondescriptly, one into another, the comforting dullness of it all. What would happen when they left? Would it be so easy to slip back into the mind numbing life he’d embraced to avoid confronting the elephant in the room?

 

It was never far from his thoughts that there was only one sure fire way to stop the hurt.  

 

“God, Charlie,” he whispered.

 

Why couldn’t it have been him? Why couldn’t he have died? Not his son. Not Charlie. Never Charlie.

 

Jack’s eyes burned and he rubbed them before letting his hand fall to his side and close automatically over the pistol in his holster. It was another reason he'd taken this job. At least one guard per shift had to be licensed to carry a firearm. He was licensed. He knew all about firearms. He didn't carry it to protect and serve. He carried it because knowing there was always a way out was a macabre kind of comfort.

 

Escape. It was simple, quick. So easy.

 

His fingers tightened around the butt of the weapon and his forefinger slipped beneath the trigger guard.

 

How many times had he thought about this since he'd found his son bleeding on the floor?

 

It would be so easy. Draw the gun, put it in position, pull the trigger.

 

The pain, the grief, and the endless guilt would be over.

 

Darkness beckoned, tempting.

 

It always came down to this moment and he always chickened out at the last minute. His fingers flexed against the cold steel. Maybe the parking lot of a museum would be the final, perfect irony.

 

“Hi, Jack!”

 

He jerked upright and his hand fell away from his weapon. Twisting around, he saw Daniel standing in the half open doorway beaming down at him.

 

“Da- ” Jack coughed to clear his throat. “Daniel. What are you doing here?”

 

Daniel let the door close behind him as he advanced, swinging a brown bag in one hand. "I guess you couldn't make it to our picnic so Mom said I should bring you this."

 

Daniel held out the bag, his sincere little boy smile so sweet and those clear blue eyes so incredibly innocent.

 

What the hell had he been thinking?  "Thank you." The last thing Jack wanted to do was eat. "I'll save it for later when I get my dinner break. I just came out for a few minutes to get some air. How did you know I was out here?"

 

"Corky, told me. He said he thought he saw you go out this door."

 

"Ah, well." That explained it. "I need to get back to work."  He held up the bag.  "Tell your mom and dad thank you for this."

 

"Guess what it is?"

 

He wasn't in the guessing mood. When he didn't immediately respond Daniel answered his own question. "It's koshary."

 

"What?" Jack was having a hard time concentrating.

 

"It has macaroni and rice and chickpeas and..." the boy paused for a brief moment. "And lots of other stuff. It's really good. Do you think you'll like it?"

 

"I'm sure I will. But first I’m going to toss this." He picked up the crumpled brown bag that had been left behind and headed for the dumpster across the parking lot. What he really needed was to give himself a few more minutes to regain his equilibrium. He was dismayed, though not surprised, when Daniel trotted beside him still chattering.

 

"And there's a honey cake in there? Did you ever have a honey cake, Jack? You can buy them in Egypt but my mom made these and they're really good." 

 

“I’m sure,” Jack answered for something to say. He opened the lid of the dumpster enough to toss in the bag and let it slam shut, then turned and headed back with Daniel still trailing him, prattling on about Egyptian food.

 

Just then the big semi that had been backed up to the loading dock at the end of the parking lot revved it's incredibly loud engine. The squeal startled Daniel and he grabbed Jack’s free hand and held on tight. Jack stopped walking and stood paralyzed, staring down at the child sized hand locked into his own.

 

"What's the matter?" Daniel asked after a few motionless seconds passed. "I'm holding your hand because of the truck." He spoke the words as if holding hands was the most natural thing in the world. And in his world it was. Adults protected kids. That's what parents did. That's what dads did.

 

Daniel held on as the truck driver honked and waved them to cross in front of the big rig. The blast of the horn startled Jack out of his trance and with Daniel's hand firmly clasped in his own they crossed the parking lot and headed for the door.

 

He'd give anything to be numb again. Divorcing Sara and confronting Charlie's death were the two things he strove to avoid at all costs. He'd taken great pains to accommodate his desire to forget. Working at the museum had been near perfection, the night hours, the lack of people, and the option of carrying a gun. Despite being ridiculously overqualified, this job had been his ticket to sweet oblivion. To eat and sleep and work until one day he'd simply fade away like the museum pieces had hundreds of years ago.

 

His military background had taught him it was impossible to account for every variable but he'd tried to cover all the bases, and he had. For awhile. What he hadn't counted on was Daniel Jackson's small hand gripping his own, cracking the fragile shell of his isolated world.

 

That night Jack ran up the stairs to his apartment with the energy of a man being chased by a gang of thugs or a pack of wolves.  He fumbled with the key until it finally turned in the lock and opened his front door. He slammed the door behind him and closed his eyes, relieved he was home. When he could breathe again he turned on a few lights and the television before collapsing on the couch and inhaling deep gulps of air to regulate his breathing. No one had ever actually chased him. He arrived home in the wee hours of the morning and had never seen so much as a suspicious character lurking nearby so it wasn't a someone giving chase tonight, it was more of a something.

 

Whatever it was it was getting worse. It was to the point where he only felt comfortable at work or here in the apartment, which was weird. It couldn't be the thought of being around people because he hadn't encountered anyone on the streets tonight and work was often jammed with people, especially on the weekends.  He probably needed to see a shrink but that wasn't going to happen. Aside from picking up the occasional groceries, he didn't need to go anywhere else so what did it matter?

 

He decided to pull the day old Chinese take-out from of the fridge for dinner and ate it cold out of the carton while flipping through the channels and settling on Baseball Tonight. He tried to focus on the scores but it was impossible. His mind kept wandering back to the parking lot of the museum and the feel of the hard metal of the gun beneath his fingertips. It had been a while since he'd felt the urge to calm himself by fingering the trigger.


Fuck it. Why worry about it? He hadn't even taken the damn thing out of the holster. It had been well over a year since he'd seriously contemplated using it. Now it was merely a crutch, an unused prop. The anxiety caused by the unsettling break in his day to day routine had a name. Daniel Jackson. The boy's presence had him involuntarily digging up bones that were better left dead and buried.

 

He'd have to go into work like he always did and fake it. Smile and nod and crack jokes when necessary but his mind and his emotions needed to be sealed off, locked far away in a safe place. The Jacksons weren't going to be here forever. He could hold on and do this. He just needed to be more careful.

 

 

 

The museum had closed over an hour ago and the silence was golden as Jack made his usual rounds, stopping occasionally to pick up a few remnants the crowd had inadvertently left behind. He dropped off a stuffed bunny and a make-up bag at the lost and found before returning to finish the first tour around his sector. He walked in peace with no blue-eyed, blonde haired chattering geniuses in sight. Thank, god. A night or two was one thing, everyday was something else entirely. He could always take Daniel's parents up on their offer to call off the persistent youngster. Why he had let it go on this long was one of life's great mysteries.

 

Eventually he ended up outside the gallery containing the armor exhibit. The huge room was always the last one on his rounds. He avoided this section as much as possible and when he did do a mandatory walk through, he did it with blinders on, determined not to focus or key in on any particular piece. 

 

Whistling past the graveyard.

 

Tonight he stood against the wall so he couldn’t see inside the room even as the voice in the back of his mind mocked his effort. He didn’t need to look to know what was inside.

 

Some nights were more difficult than others.

 

Of all the exhibits in the New York Museum of Art, this one had been Charlie’s favorite.  It had changed over the years with new additions and occasionally the entire exhibit had been re-staged, but overall it remained much the same as it had been the first time Jack stumbled across it with his then seven year old son.

 

Charlie had been fascinated and had insisted Jack read every line on every information card from every exhibit in the room. Not content with that, Charlie had pestered him to look up more information on the internet and together they had discovered the history and development of armor down through the ages.  No matter how much they learned, Charlie never grew tired of it and Jack had lost count of how many times he and his son had visited this particular gallery, or, as Charlie liked to call it, “the armory”.

 

Avoidance was Jack's way of muddling through, a neat trick considering he worked here and the gallery was included in his usual night patrol pattern. Although he rarely toured the actual exhibits, all too often he found himself standing outside this gallery and remembering, despite his Herculean effort to forget.

 

He stared at the wall and took a few deep breaths. He knew all the exhibits, he knew how they'd been laid out, and tonight he knew he wouldn’t be able to take a step inside without being swamped by memories of previous visits with his son.

 

In the real world Jack worked hard to suppress the emotions. Inside this gallery all his defense mechanisms failed.  Charlie still lived in this room full of ancient weapons and armor and horses, lived in all his youthful exuberance, all his joy of living.

 

Jack wasn’t going inside tonight, so why in the hell was he standing here? This was stupid.

 

He turned away and almost walked into a small figure standing behind him. For an instant, caught between the past and the present, he saw Charlie grinning up at him. The delusion quickly gave way to reality and Jack recognized Daniel Jackson.

 

“Hi, Jack!” the kid exclaimed. “I wasn’t sure at first if that was you because you weren't moving, but when I came out of the men’s room I saw you, well, I wasn’t sure it was you but it was someone who looked like you so I thought in case it might be you I should come over and say hi. Why are you standing so still, Jack?”

 

The boy stopped talking, probably because he’d run out of air. Jack stared at him, stunned at the cascade of words in the middle of what had been a quiet evening. This wasn’t the first time Daniel had ambushed him in the museum and it wasn’t the first time the kid’s gushing monologues left him groping for a comeback.

 

“Why?” Daniel repeated eagerly.

 

Jack shook his head and tried to re-group.  What was the kid asking about?  Oh, right.

 

“I was just thinking.”

 

Daniel nodded knowingly. “Oh, sometimes I'm quiet when I'm thinking, too.”  He peered around Jack’s tall form. “I haven’t been down here before.  What’s inside there?”

 

Imagination failed and Jack caught his breath as Daniel darted around him and stood in the entry way.

 

“Ohhh.” The boy turned around wide-eyed. “This looks neat.  Have you been in here before?”

 

Jack opened his mouth only to close it again, unable to formulate a reply. Just as well since Daniel came up with his own.

 

“Of course you have.” He bopped himself on the head and chuckled. “You work here so you’ve seen all the exhibits hundreds of times. You're lucky that you have such a great job, Jack.” 

 

Yeah, lucky.

 

Daniel walked forward into the gallery and Jack was left staring at the empty entryway.  His mind didn’t seem to work. A part of him wanted to retreat, to walk away as quickly as possible, but he couldn’t seem to move.

 

“Jack?” The high young voice came from inside the room.  “Come on in!”

 

No. He couldn't go in there with a little boy. He wasn't that brave.

 

"Come on, Jack," Daniel encouraged.

 

Numb, Jack took a few steps into the gallery and found Daniel standing in front of a display case.

 

The displays were set up in chronological fashion, with the earliest example of armor being the first exhibit, and the other exhibits following one after another around the large empty room. Empty except for Daniel and Jack and whatever ghosts still lingered.

 

Jack kept his gaze fixed firmly on the boy studying the exhibit. Daniel looked over his shoulder, frowning.

 

“I thought this was an exhibit of armor.”

 

Jack licked dry lips. “It is.” What kind of question was that?  They were surrounded by various kinds of armor.

 

“But this isn’t armor.” Daniel pointed at the first exhibit.

 

“Yeah, it is.  Or it was.” Jack cleared his throat to dispel the hoarseness. “The earliest body armor was made of hides or quilted fabric.” He gestured. “That’s what’s on display here.”

 

Daniel pushed his slipping glasses back up his nose and peered more closely. “Wow, just think of someone trying to protect himself wearing that.”

 

Jack stood behind him, his attention torn between the boy and the display. He shouldn’t have answered Daniel’s question. He shouldn’t have come in here at all.

 

Daniel moved slowly around the room. “Is this what came next?” he asked with another look over his shoulder at Jack.

 

“Read the card.” Jack winced at the stab of the memory of saying those very words in this same room once upon a time.

 

The boy obeyed. “This is from the fifth century? Wow. It looks heavy.”

 

Once again Jack found himself responding. “Mail was a critical development in armor. You can see all the small iron rings linked together. Sometimes the rings were made of steel. And that,” he indicated the display beside the mail, “is the quilted undergarment that was worn under the mail to protect the skin.”

 

“Was mail good armor?”

 

For a second Jack couldn’t speak.  In Daniel’s questions he heard the echoes of identical questions from another little boy.  He cleared his throat and answered as he had answered so long ago.

 

“Mail was a pretty good defense against someone with a sword, but it didn’t work so well against axes or maces, and the point of an arrow or spear could burst the rings altogether.”

 

“No wonder they kept trying to improve it.” Daniel wrinkled his nose. 

 

That didn’t seem to require an answer, for which Jack was grateful.  He felt like an insect caught on a web, struggling fruitlessly between what was in the past and what was now.  His effort to focus only on Daniel had failed but not in the way he expected. Oddly, he was beginning to see double, the faint image of a boy who had once stood before these displays, superseded by another boy who now stood before these same exhibits, wearing the same expression of wide-eyed fascination.

 

The realization hurt, but not as much as he would have expected.

 

“And what about – ” Daniel started, standing before another display. This time Jack interrupted.

 

“Sorry, buddy, but it’s time for me to get back to work.”

 

“Oh.” Daniel looked at him, his eyes wide, the disappointment quickly replaced with anticipation. “Is it time to patrol?”

 

Crap, the kid was going to invite himself along again. “Yeah, but, uh, I think I heard your folks calling you.”

 

Okay, that was lame, not to mention a lie.  But it might get the kid out of his hair for a few minutes, maybe long enough for Jack to escape Daniel’s attention tonight.  He could hope.

 

“I don’t hear anything.” Daniel hurried back to the entry and cocked his head.

 

“You better go see, just in case.” 

 

“Yeah.” The boy sighed before flashing Jack a bright smile. “I’ll see you in a little bit.”

 

Not if I see you first, Jack thought but only nodded.  He watched as Daniel hurried down the hall, then sighed as the kid abruptly spun around and raced back, slowing mid-way to a fast walk, smiling apologetically.

 

“I wasn’t running,” he said earnestly.

 

Not quite. “Why’d you come back?”

 

“I wanted to ask you if we could look at the rest of the exhibit later.”

 

Damn.

 

Jack opened his mouth to say, no then changed his mind to avoid a lengthy discussion. “Maybe some other time. Tonight's not a good night. I have a lot of paperwork to do.”

 

“Great, maybe tomorrow!” Daniel beamed, before turning toward the Egyptian wing and hurrying away, again.

 

Jack stared after the kid.  What exactly had happened here?

 

Glancing back at the gallery, Jack wondered if he'd have the guts to go inside again and look around. Really look.  It hadn’t hurt as much as he’d feared, probably in large part because of one friendly, brainy, inquisitive little kid who seemed to be fascinated by everything.

 

Jack shook his head in amusement. It was a little unnerving to realize Daniel Jackson affected him in ways no one else had in a long time.

 

It made sense. Daniel was a kid, a young boy, and in light of the circumstances it was only natural for Jack to feel something. He might be numb and indifferent, but apparently he was still a human being.  He glanced at his watch. Enough with distractions, it was time to get back to work.


On to Part Two



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