Scion By Kalimyre
Daniel frowns as he walks through the gate, leaving a trail of dust from BDU pants that are almost completely brown from the knees down. He’s got his jaw sticking out and his brow furrowed, and his whole sunburned face says ‘there better be a damn good reason for this.’
He looks at me, stopping to stand in front of me at the foot of the ramp. “Jack,” he says neutrally. Daniel doesn’t get as much time to be an archeologist as he would like, and he’s clearly not happy about being recalled early.
“Skip the infirmary for now,” I say, steering him toward the briefing room. “You’ll be going there soon enough.”
He raises his eyebrows but says nothing, traipsing obediently along behind me with a distinct air of ‘I’m humoring you but don’t expect that to last.’
“General,” he says, nodding once. “Hi Sam, Teal’c,” he greets the others. Carter smiles at him, but it’s a tight, nervous smile, and he eyes her warily. He rubs at his hair distractedly, sending a little sand flying. When Daniel digs, he really gets into it, and it really gets into him. I can see dust collected in little wells on the cuffs of his sleeves and in the creases around his hips, and a long smudge across one cheek. His ears, where he always forgets to put sun block, are red and peeling.
I sit down and he follows suit, absently gulping the water I put in front of him. Everyone stares at him and he keeps shifting his eyes to the side and fidgeting uncomfortably. More sand trickles onto the table as he ducks his head, obviously wondering why he’s the center of attention.
“Sorry to cut your mission with SG-11 short, Doctor,” the general begins. “Something came up that requires your... input.”
“Uh-huh,” he says slowly. “What’s that?”
I lean back in my chair and try for that ever so slight air of boredom that I usually wear in the briefing room. “You remember the fat, furry blue guys that looked like tie-dyed ewoks with all the bio tech that they wouldn’t share with us?”
Daniel blinks at me. “Ye-es... and Jack, the indigenous population of P2R-447 wasn’t exactly blue, at least most of them. And besides, they did share a little bit. They gave us those great anti-viral compounds that Janet was so excited about.”
“Well, now they want to give us something else.”
“Oh?” he asks. “What’s that?”
I pass the puck to Carter with a look, and she frowns but takes it up gamely. “They liked you, remember that, Daniel?”
He shrugs. “Only because I was the only one who could speak the language.”
Teal’c leans forward, his hands loosely clasped on the table in front of him. “That is not so, Daniel Jackson. They were, in fact, capable of English, but they chose not to speak it. We now believe this was a test.”
“Oh?” he asks. “How do you know that?”
“The...” The general hesitates, because the name these guys go by is unpronounceable, even by Daniel, and then he says, “The inhabitants of 447 paid us a visit while you were off-world. They spoke quite clearly, and they asked for you.”
Daniel brightens, the questions already whirling behind his eyes. “They did? What did they want? You said they wanted to give us something else, is it more medical technology? Janet said the anti-viral medications could lead to some amazing breakthroughs and from what we saw of their surgical techniques—“
He frowns at me. “What?”
I look at Carter again, and she grimaces. “Um, Daniel... they didn’t give us medicine or technology. They gave us a... person.”
“He is, in fact, a child,” Teal’c says. “A small boy.”
Daniel leans back in his chair, closing his arms in front of his chest. He knows we’re leading up to something here, and his fingers start to fiddle nervously with the material of his shirt. "I see...” he says slowly. “A human child?”
“Oh, yes,” I say. “As human as they come.”
“But they’re aliens.”
“Right,” I tell him. Daniel, smart man that he is, stares at me and shakes his head slightly. I get the feeling he doesn’t want to go where we’re taking him.
“So how did they...?”
“It appears that they made a clone of you without your knowledge, Doctor Jackson,” Hammond says gently. “Dr. Fraiser is running tests right now, but I must say that even without the proof offered by a blood test, the physical resemblance is quite obvious.”
“A clone. Of me.” Daniel swallows and starts cleaning his glasses on his shirt, staring down at his hands. “Uh... why me?”
He looks blown away, his mouth half open and his breathing taking off. Pretty much how I felt when they laid the kid on us yesterday. I mean, no matter what, this child will be a big part of Daniel’s life, and he’s a big part of my life, and this is too much and too fast to deal with. Better to laugh it off than try to face it all at once, so I grin at him. “They liked you.”
Carter gives me a slightly exasperated look. “It’s how they explore other races,” she says earnestly. “Kind of like the way Urgo was implanted into our brains so his parent race could understand us better. The people of 447 make clones of any visitors that catch their interest, and then study the clones until they gain a full understanding of the new species.”
“But... but...” Daniel swallows and runs a hand over his face. “But they would only learn physiological details by studying a human body. That wouldn’t be anywhere near understanding humanity as a whole.”
“Which is why they clone the mind as well as the body.”
He stares at Carter for a long moment. “What? I mean, um... what?”
“I don’t know how they did it, but it’s hardly unprecedented,” she says. “Harlan managed to make perfect copies of our minds for the robot doubles, and the Asgard made a copy of Colonel O’Neill’s mind for the teenage clone. Somehow, in the process of replicating your body, they’ve also managed to keep your mind.”
“Wait,” Daniel says. “You said the clone was a child. A small boy. You’re saying he has my mind, but in a child’s body?”
“Not according to the aliens,” Hammond tells him. “They said that the body and mind are at the same level of development, and we’re assuming that means that the clone has your memories and knowledge up to the age that he now appears, but nothing past that.”
“Have you asked the boy himself?”
We all exchange uncomfortable looks. “He will not speak to us,” Teal’c says simply.
“Oh.” Daniel raps his fingers against the tabletop in rapid succession, pursing his lips. “Oh. As in... not speaking at all?”
“Yep,” I say. “Not a word. He won’t even nod or shake his head for yes or no questions. Frankly, we’re not sure he speaks the language.”
“He should.” Daniel turns this over and over in his mind now, worrying at the problem like a dog with a bone. “Even if his knowledge only comes up to age seven or eight, he should speak English just fine. That, and a few others.”
“Well, technically he is only a few months old,” Carter interjects. “It’s obvious that they used some kind of accelerated growth technology on him, but they might have been wrong about his mental development. Although they said specifically that he had your memories—“
“Oh!” Daniel says suddenly. “My memories... and you said he was seven? And not talking? That could be... uh... not a language problem, per se, but more of a different… issue.”
I raise one eyebrow, trying to catch his eyes, which look everywhere but at me. “Issue?”
“Are they still here?” he dodges.
“No,” Hammond replies. “They came yesterday, right through the iris, I might add, brought the boy with a quick explanation, and left.”
“Oh.” He’s tugging his lower lip between his teeth again, his eyebrows low and tight together. I can practically see the wheels turning in his head, trying to rationalize this, to dissect it and break it into little, manageable pieces that aren’t so huge and overwhelming as suddenly being handed a child. “Is that normal?” he asks. “I mean... do they normally do this with their clones?”
Carter shakes her head, her mouth set in a grim line. “No, normally once they have learned all they need to know about a particular race, the clone is destroyed.” This, more than anything else about the situation, seems to upset Carter. That they would just throw away the lives they had created once they no longer held a practical value. She was really pissed with the aliens yesterday when they told us this, and after they left, she started off on a kick about scientists playing god and using sentient beings like lab rats and so forth. Carter couldn’t deliver her heated lecture about ethical research while the aliens were still here—wouldn’t do to piss of the potential allies with he hot technology, no matter how much she didn’t like their methods—but Teal’c made a point of standing between the kid and the aliens, and looking forbidding. He has this way of saying a lot without speaking at all.
Carter gives Daniel a moment to digest the fact that the kid was made to die, and then goes on. “However, apparently they learned from him how highly we value each individual life, and so they brought him here to give us the opportunity to save him. If we had turned him away, they would have followed normal procedure.”
“And killed him.”
“Yes,” she says. “Exactly.”
Daniel makes a not-quite-laugh and rubs a hand over his face. “Some choice.”
“Which is why he’s currently down in the infirmary, being poked and prodded by Fraiser,” I say. “Although I’m with the general on this one, Daniel. The kid looks exactly like you.”
“He’s actually very cute,” Carter says, coloring a bit under Daniel’s glare.
“So, um, now that we have him, what happens next?” he asks.
Nobody has an answer for that one. Luckily, the doc saves us from an uncomfortable silence by sweeping into the briefing room, a sheaf of papers in hand and her eyes firmly fixed on Daniel.
“Daniel,” she says.
“Janet. How is... um...”
“We’re calling him Danny for now,” she says gently. “I see the others have filled you in.”
“Yeah. Is he... me?”
“Genetically, yes. He’s a perfect match, right down to the fingerprints, the allergies, and the poor vision.” She smiles warmly at him as she sits down, riffling through her papers. She nods at the general, and he waves at her to continue. “Physically, he’s in perfect condition,” she tells us. “Absolutely perfect. He has no scars, no marks of any kind, and, interestingly enough, no appendix or tonsils. I find it odd that the aliens incorporated your physical ailments, like the high histamine levels and the nearsightedness, but left out the unnecessary organs. Also, his teeth are straight out of a dental textbook. He has all his adult teeth already except for the rear molars, which wouldn’t fit. They’re in perfect alignment and in pristine condition.”
“And the accelerated aging?” Daniel asks.
Fraiser shrugs and spreads her hands. “I’m not sure how they did it, but there are no signs of nano-technology or any foreign elements in his system. After the experience with the Asgaard and Colonel O’Neill’s clone, we were concerned that the boy might have some of the same problems, but he’s not showing any of the instability that the other clone had. Except for the odd thing with his teeth and the missing unneeded organs, he’s a perfectly healthy, normal human boy.”
The doc sweeps us all with a quick, interrogative look, and we shrug at her collectively. If she’s asking how Daniel is doing with all this, I don’t have the first clue. He’s clearly rattled, but he’s playing this one very close to the vest.
“Son, we called you back because we hoped you’d be able to speak to the boy,” Hammond says gently. “His behavior... well, frankly, he seems traumatized, and we thought you might know the right things to say.”
Daniel takes a long, slow breath and closes his eyes for a moment. “If he is me, mentally I mean, then the aliens picked a bad time to stop his growth. Seven was... not a good year.”
“How’s that?” I ask, trying for idle curiosity and failing miserably.
“Um... well, my parents died shortly before my seventh birthday. While I waited for the system to track Nick down and get him to come resolve my status, I was in this temporary facility with a lot of other kids who had been newly placed in the state’s custody. It took a year for Nick to come, and in the meantime, I couldn’t be placed in foster homes because I was considered... um... special needs.”
I narrow my eyes. “Which means...?”
He shrugs diffidently. “They thought I had some kind of mental problem. You know, because of seeing the accident, and then the whole... um...”
“The whole what?”
Daniel frowns at me. “Never mind. I’d really rather not get into it, and besides, it’s not relevant.”
“If this child is refusing to speak because of something that you know about, it is relevant,” Fraiser says. “If we know what’s wrong, we have a much better chance of helping him.”
Daniel’s mouth twists into something like a smile. “You’d think so, wouldn’t you?” He shakes his head and takes another deep breath. “Sorry. I’m sure you mean well, but nothing you say to him will work. You’re not speaking the right language.”
Carter immediately leans forward in her seat, her head cocked to one side. “But you said he should speak English.”
“He does, but he speaks a few others as well, and the one that will reach him isn’t English. Remember, at this age, America is very new to him. He’s spent his life in Egypt.”
“We tried Arabic,” I argue. I’m not going to tell him that I’m the one who tried it. Daniel seems to think I spent twenty years in covert military operations all over the world without picking up any other languages, and I don’t feel like disabusing him of the notion. If he knew how well I could actually speak, I’d never be able to steer him away from the foreign film section in the video store.
“Not Arabic,” Daniel says. “There’s another language. One that is guaranteed to get his attention.”
“So what is it?” the general asks.
Daniel cleans his glasses again, probably scratching the hell out of the lenses on his dusty shirt. “I, ah... I kind of made up a language when I was a kid.”
I feel my eyebrows head for the ceiling. “You made up a language? God, Daniel, were you ever not a genius?”
“It wasn’t like that,” he says defensively. “Kids make up secret codes all the time, for... you know, clubs and stuff.” He waves a hand vaguely, as if us normal people who had actual childhoods should understand what he means. “I just took it further. And really, it’s not entirely original, just adapted from Greek and Latin roots, like nearly all languages of western civilization today. I changed the pronunciation and added a few words of my own creation and devised a set of symbols for the letters and there you go. My own language. I still use it for my personal journals.”
“Daniel,” I say dryly, “when you said you spoke twenty-three different languages, I knew at least a few of them had to be made up.”
“I don’t include my personal language in that count,” he says primly. Then he blinks and smiles weakly as he realizes I was kidding.
Carter quickly warms to this idea. “So if you speak to the boy in your language, a language that he believes nobody else speaks, it should get his attention.”
“I’m hoping so,” Daniel replies. “I didn’t talk for nearly a year after the museum, but there were... extenuating circumstances that contributed to that. Hopefully we’ll be able to reach him much sooner.”
“Extenuating circumstances?” I ask. “Such as?”
He darts his eyes sideways to me and then ducks his head. “Nothing important.”
Uh-huh. I’ll let this go for now, in front of the others, but don’t you dare think this is over, Daniel. Didn’t talk for a year? Jesus. Knowing how Daniel loves to talk, I can’t imagine what would do that to him.
Daniel stands and dusts his hands together briskly. “So,” he says. “Shouldn’t I go try and talk to him?”
Hammond seems a little surprised, but goes with the flow easily enough, giving Daniel permission to leave. The rest of us trail after him, trading long looks back and forth. This is bound to be interesting.
I can see why Carter thought the kid was so cute. Doc hasn’t been able to get glasses that will fit his face yet, so the full effect of those ridiculously huge blue eyes hits you the second he looks at you. His hair is much lighter than Daniel’s, falling to brush his shoulders and perfectly trimmed, the kind of honey brown that looks like it would turn blond in the sun. He’s wearing the smallest scrubs we’ve got—he arrived naked but nobody wants to tell Daniel that—and they’re still hanging off him, the cuffs sliding past his hands and slopping over his feet.
He sits on the infirmary bed like he’s trying to take up the smallest amount of space possible, his knees tight against his chest and his skinny little arms wrapped around his shins. He watches us all warily, his eyes darting from one person to the next and his mouth a thin pink line in his pale face. I find myself sinking down onto a bed and lowering my head a little, trying to get onto the kid’s level. I tried the same thing yesterday but it didn’t work.
Daniel takes a dead stop when he sees the kid, an indefinable expression chasing across his face. I know it felt kind of weird to see my own teenage clone, and this one is a lot younger. With Jon it was like—I know you, but I can’t quite remember being you. The physical proof that you were once that small and vulnerable is damn unnerving.
When Daniel gathers his considerable courage and starts slowly approaching the boy, he is met with widening eyes and a frantic attempt to scoot further into the wall. He stops and casts about the room, looking for something.
He doesn’t spare me a glance. “Quiet, Jack,” he says absently. “I think... oh. Ohhhh...”
He crosses the room and reaches into a corner, tapping the security camera. Little Danny’s arms go very tight around his knees and he shrinks back even more, shaking visibly. Daniel winces, his jaw tight. “No, no,” he says softly. “It’s not like that. See? I’m taking it down. No cameras.” He disconnects the camera from its bracket and sets it on a table so the lens faces away. Danny breathes out slowly and unfolds a little, clearly more comfortable.
“Daniel?” Carter asks uncertainly. “What was that about?”
“Never mind,” he says. “Long story.”
I raise an eyebrow, watching the kid as he watches the disconnected camera with palpable relief. “Cameras are bad?”
“In the context of a place that looks like a hospital, yes, they’re bad.” Daniel shoots me a quick, haunted look, and then focuses on the kid again. He starts speaking a language I’ve never heard from him before, something soft and fluid and incomprehensible. I hear a word here and there that reminds me of the Latin I learned during the time loops, but I can’t recognize enough to understand what he’s saying. Whatever it is, though, it’s clearly getting through to Danny.
The boy stares at him, his jaw dropping, his arms forgetting to hold his legs in quite so tight. Daniel repeats the same phrase over and over again, and I can see the boy’s lips moving, following along silently. A lot of the fear goes out of his eyes, and that intrinsic Daniel-curiosity starts to take its place.
Daniel pauses in his rhythmic chanting and looks around again, grabbing a pillow off a nearby bed. He holds it out as he approaches slowly, his empty hand firmly down at his side and his eyes lowered. He bends his knees a little—there’s no way he can be smaller than the boy, but he tries his best to look that way.
After a long hesitation, Danny reaches out and snatches the pillow, holding it close to his chest and burying his face in it for a long moment. He sighs hugely and relaxes a little more, darting his eyes up at Daniel in what is almost a smile.
Then, Daniel asks what has to be a question, if the tone means anything, and after a moment he gets a cautious nod. It’s not talking, but it’s a response, which is more than any of us got out of him. With that, he sinks down on the bed beside the boy, still keeping that non-threatening body language. Danny looks at him for a while, and the older version sits still for it, letting him take his time. The rest of us watch this play out from the other side of the room, half holding our breaths for fear of disrupting something that looks as delicate as disarming a bomb.
Finally, the boy seems to come to a decision. He lets his legs slip down and scoots a little closer to Daniel, the pillow still tight against his chest but his face considerably more relaxed. As the tension drains from him, it becomes obvious that the day he spent awake while we waited for Daniel to get back to the gate has taken a toll on him. We couldn’t get him to calm down enough to sleep, and until Fraiser got back all her results, she wasn’t about to risk drugging him. Now, the boy weaves back a forth a little, great dark hollows under those unbelievable eyes.
Daniel asks him something else in that sliding, graceful language, and the boy nods again. He stares up into Daniel’s face, reaching a tentative hand to the hinge of his glasses, and swallows. Then, for the first time, he speaks.
Such hope in that voice. Whatever he just asked, he desperately wants the answer to be yes.
Something strange happens to Daniel’s face, his eyes sharpening and his jaw growing tight. He swallows once and puts a hand lightly on the boy’s shoulder. “Aio,” he says, nodding. “Kayel.”
Danny’s eyes go impossibly wide, and then he simply crumples, pouring himself into Daniel’s lap and dropping the pillow, wrapping his arms around Daniel instead. I can see his shoulders shaking, and hear his breathing hitch into sobs, but other than that the crying is eerily silent. Daniel has his eyes closed, his mouth set in a firm line, his jaw quivering in that determined-not-to-lose-it way he gets when he’s struggling for control. He strokes the boy’s back in long, sweeping moments and runs his fingers through that long, soft hair. His lips move, murmuring something quietly in god knows what language.
I sidle up next to him, watching Danny for any signs of the panic he showed last time I tried to get close, but he doesn’t seem to care now. He’s got his face buried in Daniel’s shoulder, and up close, the silent crying is even more unsettling. Daniel murmurs soft words to him, a jumble of that language he spoke before and Arabic.
“Hey,” I say quietly.
“Hey.” Daniel looks at me briefly, his mouth forced into a tight, wavering smile.
“You all right?”
Uh-huh. Tell me another one.
The others gather behind me, forming a loose semicircle around Daniel and the kid. He looks up at us and a muscle twitches in his jaw. He’s having trouble meeting anyone’s eyes. In his lap, Danny cries endlessly, his hands fisted in Daniel’s shirt, the knuckles white.
“So,” Daniel says, and then clears his throat when his voice cracks. “So. What now?”
“He’s finally asleep,” Carter whispers, leaning over the bed. We moved to one of the empty sleeping quarters on base, once the doc admitted that there was no medical reason for the boy to stay in the infirmary. We made an interesting procession down the hall, Daniel carrying the kid and us bracketing him on either side, radiating ‘mind your business’ to anyone who looked nosy.
Daniel nods and carefully slides off the bed, leaving the boy curled in the middle of the sheets, looking tiny on the big mattress. He cried for a long time, and then fought sleep even longer, clinging fiercely to Daniel and resisting any attempt to pull him away. Finally, Daniel lay down with him and waited for exhaustion to do the rest.
He’s been very unsettled about this whole thing, and sometimes it seems like it’s hard for him to look at the kid. I know it was strange for me to look at Jon, and he, at least, didn’t act like a child. Maybe Daniel is embarrassed at the child’s weakness, as if that would reflect badly on him as an adult.
“Hopefully, he’ll sleep through the night,” Daniel says, but he doesn’t look very optimistic.
“Do you believe that he has your memories as a child, Daniel Jackson?”
He shrugs. “It’s looking that way.”
Is it now. “So, you were... like that?”
Daniel gives me a quick, enigmatic look. “It was a long time ago, Jack.”
“What does ‘Kayel’ mean?” I ask.
Carter and Teal’c nod curiously—well, Carter does, anyway—and give Daniel expectant looks. He sighs and drops his eyes to the floor again, running a hand through his hair. His other hand drops back down to stroke the boy’s shoulder a little, and it’s startling to see how his palm swallows the fine bones. Strange to think that he was once that small. His shirt is still visibly damp, clinging to his chest and his right shoulder, where the kid had his face hidden. His pants are still dusty as hell, and his eyes are over-large with fatigue. I know how Daniel gets when he’s digging in the dirt and forgets to sleep, and it’s not fair to ask him to deal with this right now, but then, fair and Daniel parted ways a long time ago.
“It’s something I made up,” he admits grudgingly. “Like... you know.” He waves a hand at us and nods as if that explains everything.
“Like what?” Carter asks. “It seemed like a name, the way he said it.”
“Kind of a name. Kind of... more.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “Jack,” he echoes in the same impatient tone. “It’s complicated, all right?”
“It’s okay, Daniel,” Carter says. “You don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to.”
Ah, there we go. She’s giving him exactly the right ‘left-out’ look and it’s tripping all of Daniel’s inherent guilt switches. Teal’c, doing something by the door which can only be termed ‘standing guard,’ stares at Daniel levelly, his face impassive. For Teal’c, this is about as guilt trippy as it gets. I simply let my face soften ever so slightly, going from Jack the CO to Jack the concerned significant other, and Daniel folds like tissue paper.
“Okay, okay,” he grumbles. “Since you guys will pester it out of me anyway...”
Carter grins. I manage to refrain from following suit.
“So what does it mean?” Carter persists.
Daniel sighs again and shuffles his feet, and it finally dawns on me that he’s embarrassed about whatever it is. “It’s just... I had kind of a rough patch after my parents died, and I sort of... made someone up. Like, you know, an imaginary friend.”
“That’s not so unusual,” I tell him gently. “Lots of kids do that, particularly if they’re in a situation where they could really use a friend.”
“Yes, well, lots of kids make up little secret codes and words, but I made up a whole language. I can’t ever seem to do anything halfway, so this... this person that I made up was very... uh...”
His eyes snap up to mine. “I knew he wasn’t real,” Daniel corrects quickly. “I always knew that. But right now, for him,” he gestures toward the boy, “I’m fitting all the criteria. I speak the language that nobody else should be able to speak, and I know the right things to say, and I know about the camera thing, and I’m... exactly what Kayel is supposed to be. He knows that it’s only a fantasy, but he’s at a place where he very much wants to believe it could be real.”
“A protector,” Teal’c says solemnly. “This Kayel is a protector. That is what you envisioned?”
Daniel stares at the floor again. “Well, you know... yeah. I mean, lots of kids in foster care have that fantasy. Oh, my real parents will come and take me away, and everything will be all right. It’s relatively common. Only, I knew my real parents weren’t coming, and I really didn’t count on Nick very much, so I made up Kayel. This magic person who would know everything that had happened, and say all the right things, and he’d... uh... he’d do what I’ve been doing for... Danny.”
What he’s been doing for Danny is hugging the crap out of him and taking him away from the infirmary and into a small, quiet room with no camera. Don’t even think I’ve forgotten about that camera thing, Daniel. We’re going to discuss it as soon as we get some privacy.
Carter frowns again, and I’m sure she’s going to ask something that Daniel doesn’t want to answer, so I step in. “Hey, Daniel, while he’s sleeping why don’t you get some clean clothes and something to eat? We kind of ambushed you with this thing before you had a chance to clean up.”
He shoots me a grateful look and nods, carefully rising from his perch on the edge of the bed, so as to not disturb Danny. The boy mutters and rolls over, gathering the blankets to his chest and holding them tightly, his nose buried in the fabric. Daniel heads for the tiny bathroom attached to the bunkroom, and Carter volunteers to get him a clean uniform. Teal’c nods once at me and slips out as well, the slowly closing door giving me a view of him taking up a position just outside, in the hall. I could go tell him that he doesn’t need to protect us, but there’s no point. It’s what he does.
I sit in a chair and watch Danny sleep, looking up only briefly as Carter returns to drop off the clean uniform and leaves again, this time bent on retrieving dinner for our wayward archeologist. Daniel pops his head out, sees that the room is empty except for me and Danny, and comes out in a towel to get dressed. I watch him, idly tracing the long, clean lines of his body with my eyes and falling into the old habit of assessing him for injuries. He was off-world without me, after all.
“I’m fine, Jack.”
I smile. “Did I ask?”
“You didn’t need to.”
“Ah.” I go back to watching the child sleep. Seeing that little face on the pillow does a whole bunch of crap to me that I’d rather not think about, so I don’t. The last thing we need right now is me dredging up a lot of old frustrated paternal instincts that should stay buried.
“How about you?” Daniel asks. “Are you fine?”
“Sure,” I say. “Just as fine as you are.”
He laughs softly and comes to sit beside me, scooting his chair close. We stare at the boy for several long breaths.
Daniel’s hand fumbles for mine and finds it, lacing our fingers together and hanging on tight. I automatically scan the room for security cameras, until I remember that Daniel specifically chose this room for its lack of cameras, due to the kid’s... thing about them. He’s still not looking at me, but I can see the lines of tension around his eyes and a muscle twitching in his jaw. He swallows with an audible click, and then closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
“It’s hard to see this, isn’t it?”
He nods. “Reminds me of a time I’d rather forget.”
I don’t know what to say to that, so instead, I pull him close and slide an arm around his shoulders, pressing my lips to his temple. This, apparently, was the right response, because he turns and kisses me, gratitude in his touch. It’s lazy and pleasant, a low buzz of attraction, a banked fire. We can’t do anything right now and we both know it. We wouldn’t even let it go this far if Teal’c wasn’t standing guard right outside.
“Daniel,” I say when he releases my mouth and leans his head on my shoulder. “You know there’s something we need to talk about, don’t you.”
“You know I can’t just let something like this go.”
He smiles slightly. “Yes, Jack, I know. Because you have to fix everything, and you think that the boy’s issue with cameras means something happened that hurt me, and you can’t rest until you find out what it is and try to fix it.”
“Well.” I blink at him and then give the sleeping boy a nonplussed look. “I wouldn’t have put it quite that way.”
Daniel nods. That little smile still plays about his lips, but I consider that a hell of an improvement over the tight, tense line they were in before.
“Not now, Jack.”
So we sit quietly and watch Danny sleep, and if it reminds me of Sara and I leaning over Charlie’s crib at night, I try not to think about it.
“Did he sleep all right?” Fraiser asks quietly, eyes on the vague lump buried under blankets on the bed.
“Still at it,” I reply. Danny had a nightmare or two... or five, but who’s counting, and Daniel eventually climbed in the bed with him and stayed there. Carter, after bringing us dinner and lingering for a while, started to get antsy and made some noises about experiments in her lab and all that. She’s great on the tech side, don’t get me wrong, and a top-notch soldier, but the dealing-with-people’s-problems stuff kind of makes her nervous.
So I shooed her off and she went, looking guilty and promising to bring some real clothes for Danny in the morning. Teal’c, as far as I know, stayed by the door for most of the night. We certainly weren’t disturbed, and I chalk that up to the Jaffa intimidation factor. Once he was snug in the bed with the kid, Daniel did some catching up on his sleep, and I managed to grab some good rest myself in one of the other bunks.
Fraiser frowns at the quietly breathing Daniel-lump. “That child needs to eat,” she says. “He’s been without any food for at least a day, and more importantly, without water.”
“Stubborn kid, is he?”
She smiles wryly. “You know Daniel.”
There is a knock on the door, soft and rapid, and then Carter pokes her head in. “Colonel, I have some clothes, and...” She was holding out a candy bar, but she whips it behind her back when the doc gives her a steely look.
“I brought a nutritious breakfast for him,” Fraiser says pointedly.
Carter grins. “Of course you did. And hey, did you know that Teal’c is still standing out in the hall?”
That guy is pure patience. “Well, bring him in with you,” I say. “The more the merrier. We can all stand around and whisper so sleeping beauty over there isn’t disturbed.”
“Sleeping beauty?” That came from the bed, in Daniel’s ‘I can’t believe you just said that’ tone.
“Good morning to you, too,” I drawl. “Sleep well?”
“Not bad.” He shifts and drags himself out from beneath the covers, leaving a smaller lump firmly clinging to sleep in the center of the bed. He’s wearing rumpled BDU pants, which he wears a size too big so he has tons of room in the pockets for all his crap, and a tee-shirt, but his feet are bare and he took the BDU belt off for sleeping. He’s reminded of this when he stands and the pants start to slide down his hips.
“Um,” he says, quickly grabbing for the waistline. “Jack?”
“Here.” I toss him the belt, and he threads it, quick and businesslike. Daniel of the floppy hair and naïve belief that anyone could be reasoned with would have been embarrassed to do this in front of an audience, but that was a long time ago, and when it comes to Daniel, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage.
Carter puts a bag on the table, a blue sleeve poking out of the top. Good call on the blue, Major. Teal’c glides in behind her and stands with his hands clasped behind his back, observing Daniel’s bed-head and sleepy face with what can only be called fondness.
“Hi Sam, Teal’c, Janet,” Daniel says, still engaged in a huge stretch. The hem of his tee rises, exposing a band of taut skin. I put my hands in my pockets.
“I trust your rest was undisturbed, Daniel Jackson.”
He nods. “Yeah, thanks, Teal’c.” Then he pauses and gives Teal’c a piercing look. “Did you stand out there guarding the door all night?”
Daniel shakes his head. “You didn’t have to... oh, never mind. Thank you, Teal’c.”
The big guy inclines his head and allows a tiny smile to sneak out. Meanwhile, Fraiser hovers over the kid on the bed. “We should wake him up,” she says. “If nothing else, he really needs some fluids.”
“I got him to drink some water last night,” Daniel tells her.
He did? “When?”
He smiles at me. “You were asleep. And snoring like a bear, I might add.”
I refuse to dignify that comment with a response.
Fraiser relaxes a little. “Well, that’s good. He still needs to eat, though.”
“He’s a growing boy,” I add. Daniel gives me an odd look. What did I say?
That’s when Danny suddenly sits up in bed, his long hair flat on one side and frizzy on the other. The scrub shirt has slipped down during the night, exposing one small, thin shoulder. His skin is perfect and unmarked, as the doc said, but it’s also startlingly pale.
“Kayel?” he asks, casting about the room with unfocused eyes. It must be unsettling to wake up in a strange place with a handful of people you don’t know standing around.
“Praebeo,” Daniel says quickly. He sinks down onto the bed and the boy leaps at him, climbing into Daniel’s lap and getting comfortable. I get the feeling he plans on spending a lot of time there, which strikes me as odd. I remember Charlie at that age, and he considered himself to be much too old and grown-up to sit in my lap. Of course, that didn’t stop me from trying to get him there anyway, not that it did me much good. The only times he allowed cuddling were when he was sick or extremely upset about something.
“Hello,” Fraiser says gamely. “Do you feel like eating something this morning?”
Danny eyes her warily and says nothing. Daniel murmurs something in that language that they share and the boy looks up at him, frowning. They have a quick exchange of strange, fluid words, and then seem to come to an agreement.
“He’ll eat,” Daniel says. “If he doesn’t have to move.”
So we scramble to make that happen, Fraiser bringing the tray forward and Carter tugging a chair over to set it on and Daniel shifting on the bed so they’re closer to the edge. Already this kid has us all wrapped around his little finger. He’s Daniel, all right.
The boy wrinkles his nose at the infirmary food but eats obediently, watching us all between bites.
“Have you been able to find out where your shared memories stop?” Carter asks. “And does he remember being on P2R-447?”
Daniel shrugs. “We haven’t really discussed that.”
“Perhaps with your encouragement, the boy would be willing to speak with us,” Teal’c says. Which is a good point, because unless Daniel plans on protecting the kid from the whole world, he’s going to have to start speaking English again sometime.
“There’s also the concern of where he’s going to live and who will take care of him,” Fraiser adds.
Danny says something short and nervous, and pushes away the remainder of his food. He’s starting to speak more rapidly now, his face turned up toward Daniel and his hands gesturing wildly. Daniel catches the hands and talks back, low and soothing, his eyes steady on the child’s.
“What was that?” I ask when the kid calms down.
“You may not understand what he says right now, but he can understand all of you perfectly well,” Daniel says coolly. “And he doesn’t like the idea of a bunch of strangers deciding what happens to him.”
I get the feeling this hits a bit close to home for Daniel. “What did you tell him?”
He gives me a level look. “I told him that I’d take care of him and he doesn’t need to worry.”
Oh, really? “Daniel?”
The kid’s eyes go back and forth between us, and I can see his hands clenching on Daniel’s shirt again. We’re upsetting him, and that’s the last thing I want, but Daniel shouldn’t be making promises that he can’t keep.
“We can talk about this later,” I concede, and Daniel nods.
Teal’c glides forward and puts his face on a level with Danny’s, and he makes his eyes go soft. “Hello,” he says solemnly. “I am Teal’c. There is no reason to be afraid, as I will ensure that no harm comes to you.”
The kid stares at him and swallows, but then he nods and manages a slight smile. Teal’c beams, sort of, and pulls back, looking satisfied.
“Anyone else want to say hi?” I ask dryly.
Carter has that walleyed nervous look again but she steps up, holding out the bag of clothes as a kind of peace offering. “Hey, uh, Danny,” she says. “I brought you some clothes to wear. Oh, and I’m Major Carter, but you always... I mean, you could call me Sam.”
Danny nods and takes the clothes, peeking curiously into the bag. He pulls out a shirt that is a perfect miniature version of Daniel’s favorite blue-checked plaid, and grins broadly. Daniel laughs and shakes his head. “Go get dressed,” he says briskly, and we’re all surprised when the kid obeys without question.
Once Danny is in the bathroom getting dressed, and cleaned up, judging by the sound of running water, we all look pointedly at Daniel. He frowns and rises to his feet, beginning to pace.
“I know,” he says. “Before any of you say it, I know. What I do is dangerous and unpredictable and I’m in no position to care for a child. I know.”
“You could ask Hammond for some leave,” I offer.
Daniel smiles ruefully. “I promised him permanence. Stability. I know I shouldn’t have, but it’s what he needs to hear right now. He needs to live in a place where he knows that he’ll wake up in the same bed, the same room every day. Where he knows the rules and that they won’t change tomorrow. Where doing something wrong is met with discipline, but not with being sent away as ‘too much trouble.’ He needs to know that I won’t abandon him, and so I told him I wouldn’t.”
“Maybe, with time...” Carter says vaguely.
“You’re suggesting I take care of him temporarily, until he’s a little more... stable, and then send him somewhere else?”
Daniel’s tone leaves no question as to what he thinks of that idea.
“We could find a good place for him,” I say. “I’m not suggesting foster care. A real home, adoption, something like that. He could have that security you talked about.”
“Maybe,” Daniel sighs. “I don’t know. If I make promises that I don’t keep, that takes away the one thing he has. The Kayel. If he can’t trust that...”
“But you’re not the Kayel,” I point out. “There’s no such thing, and eventually, the kid is going to realize that.”
Carter nods. “Playing into his fantasy may not have been the best choice anyway, Daniel. Telling him that you’re somebody you’re not is hardly the basis for future trust.”
“It was what he needed to hear,” Daniel insists, lowering his head and setting his shoulders in a stubborn line.
“Daniel,” Fraiser warns, cutting her eyes sideways. We’ve been speaking in hushed tones, and the boy now emerging from the bathroom looks relatively calm, so it’s unlikely that he heard us.
Danny evidently took a shower, because his hair is still damp, hanging in uncombed clumps around his face. He’s put on a pair of jeans and the blue checked shirt, and in the normal clothes, the resemblance to adult Daniel is undeniable. It occurs to me that if Daniel did somehow adopt him, no one would ever question that he’s Daniel’s son.
He eyes Daniel on the other side of the room and then frowns, crossing his arms over his chest. Daniel smiles and turns to him, opening his arms, and the boy runs forward. His head almost reaches Daniel’s chest.
Daniel holds him for a long moment, neatening his hair with idle strokes of his fingers, and then he pulls back and crouches to meet the boy’s eyes.
“Listen,” he says seriously. “My friends here don’t speak our language. They would like to be able to talk with you. Do you think you can speak English for them?”
The kid frowns again, his lips pooching out slightly, and the little line that appears between his eyebrows is so very Daniel. He speaks more of that language, what sounds like a question.
Daniel nods. “Yes,” he says. “I trust them. They’re very safe.” Then he looks over his shoulder at me and says something rapidly in Daniel-speak. I hear my name and ‘Kayel’ but I’m not sure what he said. Whatever it was, it makes a hell of an impression on Danny, who looks up at me with huge, wondering eyes.
“Hi,” I say, resisting the urge to reach out and pat him on the head. Charlie used to be that height, where I could let my hand rest on his head as he walked beside me. Sometimes, if I did it enough, my palm would carry the scent of the Johnson’s baby shampoo that Sara liked to use on him, even when he was older.
Danny swallows and steps forward, his little chin lifted and his jaw set. It’s so easy to see Daniel in that face, so easy to see the stubbornness and the bright flash of intelligence in the eyes.
“Hi,” he says softly. “Hi, Jack.”
Behind him, Daniel grins proudly and pats his shoulder. “Very good,” he says. The kid soaks it up, standing a little straighter.
“Hi, Sam,” he says, turning to Carter. “Hi... Teal’c?” He draws the name out uncertainly, stumbling a bit on the pronunciation. Carter and Teal’c both nod at him, and Carter adds one of her wide smiles. Danny smiles back, ducking his head a little. Then he turns to the doc, who is the only one he doesn’t know yet.
“Hello, Danny,” she says. “I’m Doctor Fraiser, but you can call me Janet.”
He shrinks back, leaning into Daniel’s side and looking up at him worriedly. Fraiser’s smile falters.
“It’s okay,” Daniel says quickly. “She’s a real doctor.”
“As opposed to a fake doctor?” I ask. Daniel shoots me a ‘shut up’ look.
“Never mind, Jack.”
“Real?” Danny murmurs. “Not like Doctor Herbig?”
Daniel shakes his head firmly. “Not like that at all.”
I’m trying very hard to avoid jumping to some nasty conclusions here, but it looks like I’m the only one. Carter’s eyes grow very big, and Teal’c gets his disemboweling face again. Fraiser’s lips are pressed tightly together, her hands on her hips.
The kid considers this for a long moment, and then says, “Okay.” He turns toward Fraiser and takes a moment to steel himself. Speaking to her is obviously hard for him, but I’ve always known that Daniel is brave. Apparently it goes way back.
Fraiser forces herself to smile warmly at him, making the worry leave her eyes. “Hello,” she tries again.
“Hello,” he echoes. “Doctor... Janet.”
Well all right. Now we’re getting somewhere.
“So what’s the last thing you remember?” Carter asks. We’re back in the infirmary because Fraiser wants to be extra careful after our last experience with a clone, not to mention what almost happened with Cassie. In between being poked and prodded, he answers questions. He seems okay with the testing provided that Daniel stays close by and explains everything that’s happening.
Danny wrinkles his nose. “Remember? What do you mean?”
“Before you were here, where were you? And do you remember how you got here?”
The boy looks up at Daniel uncertainly, twisting his body so he can their eyes can meet despite his perch in Daniel’s lap. He seems to gravitate there every chance he gets. “Was I... gone?” he asks.
Daniel shakes his head quickly. “Not like that. But there might be some odd gaps in your memory.”
Not like that? Like what?
“I was at the Hanson Home,” Danny says. “I was there, and then I was here. I don’t remember how. I thought maybe I... went away a little bit.”
Carter’s eyebrows try for whole new altitudes. “Went away?”
The boy shrinks against Daniel’s chest and narrows his eyes at her. “Do they know?”
“No,” Daniel replies. “Not about that. But it wasn’t that. Some... people took you.”
“Oh.” Danny seems to ponder that for a long moment. “Bad people?”
Teal’c looms a little when he hears that. Daniel gives us a quick, placating look and then turns his attention back to the kid.
“Not bad people,” he says. “Just some people who liked you, and they wanted to talk with you. Maybe they looked a little funny—like they wore costumes, or makeup. Do you remember anything like that?”
Danny shakes his head. “No, only the Hanson Home. I was there, I remember it was lights out time and I was writing and I wanted to write some more, but they turned the lights out and Mister Joe came and told me I wasn’t supposed to have books in the sleeping ward. It was my journal, but he thought it was a library book and I was writing in it, and he yelled and took it away and then he said I couldn’t have pens anymore. Then he left and it was dark and the other kids laughed ‘cause Mister Joe yelled at me, and I got under the covers and tried to go to sleep, and then I was here. That’s all I remember.”
Daniel has a strange, set look on his face, and his arms have gone very tight around the boy, who doesn’t seem to mind having his ribs compressed. “I remember that,” he says softly. “I hadn’t thought about it for years, but I actually remember it. I wanted to tell him that it was a journal, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t talking then.”
“You remember? But... but... it was me.” The kid frowns up at him, his eyes worried. “Kayel? Are you okay?”
“Yeah.” Daniel shakes himself a little and takes a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m fine. Sorry, did I squeeze you too hard?”
Danny grins widely and shakes his head. “Nope,” he says. “It’s good.”
“Okay,” Daniel murmurs. “Okay, that’s good.”
He gives me a quick, tight smile. “It’s okay, Jack. And he just pinpointed the timeline for me. That happened after I’d been in that place for about eight months. Once they took the pens away and I didn’t have writing or talking... things got a little rough for a while.”
“Who is this Mister Joe?” Teal’c asks ominously.
Daniel flaps a hand at him. “Nobody. One of the... I don’t know exactly what his job was, actually. Just one of the people in charge.”
The kid has been listening intently to this whole exchange, his brows beetled together and a little frown of concentration on his face. “Wait,” he says, lifting a hand and tapping his fingers to his chin. “Wait, wait... he called you Daniel. He called you that before, and he just said it again. Your name is Daniel, too?”
“Yes.” Daniel has a rueful smile, like he knows where this is going.
“And you remember stuff that happened to me? You remember it like it happened to you... and you speak the language, and you know about Doctor Herbig and Mister Joe and the... the cameras... and you said you weren’t talking then and you were in that place and you know about Kayel,” the kid says. He’s ticking the points off on his fingertips like I’ve seen Daniel do a million times. “Kayel isn’t real. It was something I made up to make me feel better and it’s not real and I know that but you are real.” He gives Daniel a piercing look. “Who are you? Really?”
“You’ve already figured it out, haven’t you?”
Danny nods, his chin lifted, the quintessential kid showing off. “I think so. I think you’re me, except grown up. I think... did you come back and get me? Come back in time? Because I saw the phone that Sam has, it’s so little and the screen has colors and pictures like a TV and I’ve never seen that before, and the machines in this hospital are much better than the machines at the other hospital especially that one that Doctor Janet used to take pictures inside my head. Is this the future?”
Damn. Smart kid.
The rest of us gawp at him, but Daniel chuckles a little and nods. “I kind of thought you’d figure it out once you had some time to put the clues together. You always did love reading Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.”
“So it’s true?” Danny starts to actually bounce with excitement, his eyes going even wider than before. “You’re really me when I’m grown up, and this is really in the future?” He quiets for a moment and then his voice drops to a whisper. “Is it way, way in the future? You’re awfully old.”
Carter muffles a laugh in her hand, and behind her, Fraiser gets very red in the face. Daniel opens his mouth and then shuts it again, blinking several times, and then a slow smile spreads across his face. “Uh... I guess, to you, I probably am. It’s 2003 and I’m thirty-seven. So I’ve got thirty years on you.”
Danny blinks. “Wow. That’s even older than Dad was.”
“Yeah.” Daniel’s smile melts away, his eyes dimming.
“Does this mean you know what’s going to happen to me next? You know where I’m going to live and what I’m going to do when I grow up?”
“Not exactly,” Daniel says. “See, when I was your age, I never got taken away by people and sent here. I stayed at the Hanson House until... until things changed and then I was in foster care. You’re doing things different now, so I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.”
“How did things change?” the boy asks.
Daniel shrugs and avoids our eyes. “Long story. Never mind about that now.”
“Did I get big?” Danny guesses. “Is that what happened? You’re really big and if I was big like that then bad people wouldn’t bother me.”
“Something like that,” Daniel says vaguely.
“Okay.” Danny seems content to leave it at that, settling back again in Daniel’s lap and sighing happily.
“What did you mean before, when you talked about going away?” Fraiser asks. She’s nearly done testing the kid, but she’s got that considering, suspicious look in her eyes that always makes me want to back away.
Danny frowns at her and tilts his head to one side. “She’s not a head doctor, right?” he whispers to Daniel.
“No, not a head doctor.”
“Will she give me dizzy pills?”
Daniel hesitates. “No...”
Fraiser raises an eyebrow. “Dizzy pills? Head doctor?”
“He’s talking about a psychiatrist,” Daniel explains. “Because of the whole not talking thing, and because I saw what happened in the museum, they had me in therapy. They medicated me for a while—I called them dizzy pills. That’s about all they did for me, make me dizzy and tired a lot.”
“Uh-huh.” Fraiser purses her lips and exchanges a look with Carter. “And how is that related to this ‘going away’ thing?”
“I do that sometimes,” Danny says, already a born student, eager to give the right answers. “If something bad happens then I go away and I don’t remember for a while, and then when I start remembering I’m somewhere else.”
“Uh, Danny...” Daniel shakes his head, wincing slightly.
“What? Was I not supposed to tell?” Danny asks anxiously. “Is it a secret?”
“I’m sorry,” he says rapidly. “Sorry. You should tell people if things are secret cause how else am I supposed to know? It’s not fair if you don’t tell me—“
“Hey,” Daniel interrupts. “It’s not really a secret, it’s just... complicated. But you didn’t do anything wrong, so don’t worry.”
I’m sitting beside him on the bed and I shift a little closer, letting our shoulders brush. Daniel gives me a distracted, grateful look. He’s starting to get starey-eyed and tense, and I know that withdrawing and avoiding questions comes next.
“That sounds like fugues,” Fraiser says worriedly. “The mind dealing with stress by simply shutting down, blocking out unpleasantness.”
Danny stiffens. “You said she wasn’t a head doctor.”
“She isn’t,” Daniel assures him. “Don’t worry. She’s a good, real doctor, and she’s only trying to make sure you’re healthy. She won’t do anything bad.”
Fraiser tries to help by smiling at the boy, but he watches her silently, his back pressed into Daniel’s chest. They’re both starting to give off that ‘leave me alone’ vibe, their shoulders hunched and their arms crossed.
“Considering what you’ve told us... and what you haven’t told us,” Fraiser says pointedly, “it might be best if Danny did have a psychiatric evaluation.”
“No,” Daniel replies instantly. “Not an option.”
“I realize that it didn’t work well in your case, but—“
“I’m sorry, was I not clear enough?” Daniel inquires icily. “No. As in, no. You’re making a distinction where there is none. His case is my case. Therapy did nothing for me and it will do nothing for him.”
Fraiser narrows her eyes. “Therapy with a different doctor, one who has the time and resources to give Danny the attention he needs, is not the same as therapy with an overworked state employee who uses medication as a replacement for real psychiatric skills.”
Daniel sits straighter, using his height advantage to stare at the doc levelly, even though she is still standing. “There is a lot you don’t know about the situation. I’m telling you, any psychiatrist will cause more problems than he resolves.”
“Never mind why. Just trust me.”
Fraiser sighs and raps her pen against the edge of her clipboard a few times. “I want to trust you, Daniel, but the truth is, you’re far too close to the problem. You’re taking this very personally and you have no objectivity. What you want to do is not necessarily what is best for the boy.”
Daniel bristles and I clear my throat, catching his eye. “Daniel,” I say quietly. “Think for a minute before you say anything else.”
He glares but stays quiet, scowling at the floor. The boy looks at him nervously and Daniel tries to smile, but it falls flat. “All right,” he finally mutters. “I’m willing to consider the possibility of therapy.”
“Kayel?” the kid asks worriedly. “What?”
“But not right away,” Daniel says. “Let him settle in first, get his bearings. Believe me when I say that a psychiatrist is not what he needs right now. Maybe later, it could help, but right now is too soon.”
“Too soon after what?” Fraiser asks, her voice softer now that Daniel has acquiesced.
Daniel shrugs. “That’s hard to explain. Just too soon.”
“How long until it’s not too soon anymore?”
“Maybe that’s enough questions for now,” I suggest, sliding a hand over Daniel’s back.
She blinks at my tone and then looks at Daniel and the kid, really looks. “Ah,” she says. “You may be right, Colonel.”
“It was bound to happen someday,” I drawl, but I keep a steady eye on Daniel. The kid is obviously upset by everything we’ve talked about, but adult Daniel is good at hiding this kind of thing. He isn’t huddled in someone’s lap, but I can see the little lines around his eyes, the straight, taut set of his shoulders. They’ve both had enough.
The doc has a good eye for her patients, and she gets the message loud and clear. “Why don’t you two go for a walk? Maybe go play basketball or something at the gym? I’m sure some exercise would help you both work out a little tension.”
Daniel rolls his eyes slightly, well aware of what we’re trying to do, but he goes along amiably enough. “All right,” he says, sliding off the bed. Danny slides with him and stands close to his side, one hand still fisted in Daniel’s shirt. “But how about we go topside instead? Some air would be nice.”
Fraiser hesitates. “Um... I’m not sure Danny is cleared for that yet.”
“And why not?”
Oh, that’s not good. Daniel is enunciating his words very clearly, in that crisp, sharp voice.
“A perfectly healthy, normal human child. You said so yourself.”
“Daniel,” Fraiser warns. “You know there’s more to it than that. We’ve had bad experiences with new arrivals here before. Particularly young, new arrivals.”
“You checked him out thoroughly. No naquada bomb, no hidden poison capsules in his teeth, nothing.” Daniel isn’t budging on this one, but very few people butt heads with Fraiser in her own infirmary and end up winning.
Suddenly Danny pipes up, speaking a stream of that other language, high and anxious. I can’t tell what he’s saying, but even the fact that he’s lapsed back into Daniel-speak has to be a bad sign.
The stubborn determination is immediately wiped off Daniel’s face, and he drops into a crouch, one hand stroking Danny’s long hair. “No, no,” he says. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that stuff. There’s no bomb, no poison. You’re fine. Janet is only being careful.” Then he shoots the doc an apologetic look.
“It probably would be safe,” she concedes. “As long as you stay within the vicinity of the mountain.”
“Of course,” Daniel says quickly, standing up again. “I... look, Janet, I’m sorry. I know you’re only trying to do what’s best for him.”
She smiles and waves it off. “Not a problem. I would feel better if you took someone up there with you, though.”
“I will accompany you, Daniel Jackson.”
“I’ll go, Daniel,” Carter says at the same time.
I wave a hand and nod, adding, “Ditto.”
Daniel laughs. “See that?” he murmurs to Danny. “Didn’t I tell you?”
Danny grins up at him and nods, obviously more comfortable as the tension level in the room goes down.
“Hey,” I say. “Tell him what?”
“I believe he told the child that his friends were extremely protective of him,” Teal’c intones. “Particularly you, O’Neill.”
“Well.” At least he didn’t use the term ‘mother hen.’ “He needs a lot of looking after, that’s all. He’s the team trouble-magnet.”
Daniel raises an eyebrow and fixes me with a look that says I might want to get used to sleeping on the couch for a while.
“I meant that in a good way,” I say hastily.
“A good way? As in, I’m a constant pain in the ass and you’re always having to get me out of trouble, but in a good way?”
Danny laughs softly, muffling the sound behind his hand, and I want to pull his arm back so we can hear him clearly. Kids shouldn’t have to hide their laughter. I remember how Charlie would just throw his head back and let go, such a pure sound. Clean and simple and real.
I suddenly realize that they’re over by the door, Carter and Teal’c already heading down the hall. Daniel watches me with those eyes of his, the ones that always seem to see right through me, and I find it necessary to fix the buttons on my shirt right at that moment.
“Sure,” I mumble. “Right behind you.”
We walk down the hall, Danny between us, and I rest my hand on his head for a moment. He lets me do it, smiling shyly up at me with Daniel’s familiar, hopeful, ‘let’s be friends’ look. I smile back, but then I have to look away.
It’s good that we’re going topside. I could use some air myself.
“Oh, wow,” Danny breathes, staring at the sweeping view of the Rockies. “Is that snow?”
Daniel smiles indulgently. “You’ve seen snow before. It was winter in New York when you left, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, but that was... different. It was dirty and people walked in it a lot. It wasn’t like this, on mountains.” He blinks up at Daniel and takes a long, deep breath, tasting the air. “This isn’t New York, is it?”
“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto,” I tell him. “Welcome to Colorado.”
Danny squeezes his eyebrows together and gives me a puzzled look. “I wasn’t in Kansas before, either. Who is Toto?”
“Oh, for crying out loud, you’ve never seen the Wizard of Oz? Next you’re going to tell me you don’t know what ice cream is.”
“I know what it is,” Danny protests. “It’s what the big kids make you give them after dinner.”
“What kind of a place was this Hanson Home, Daniel?” Carter asks indignantly. “It sounds like they didn’t take very good care of you.”
“Indeed,” Teal’c growls.
“It was only ice cream,” Daniel says. “It’s not that big a deal.”
“And pens,” Carter adds. “And psychiatrists who peddled drugs rather than real treatment.”
“And whatever you’re not telling us about cameras,” I say. Daniel scowls at me and tugs the boy a little closer to his side. He’s being irritatingly stubborn about this one.
“You have to understand that it was meant to be a temporary place,” he sighs. “A transition between entering the custody of the state and going into foster care. The kids there all had problems. Some had just lost their parents, or been abandoned, or had the state take them away due to abuse or neglect. The place was under-funded and overcrowded. They had a lot of difficult kids and not enough time and people to deal with them. Someone like me, who didn’t make a lot of noise and stayed in the background...”
“You were easy to forget,” Carter says. She’s stroking Danny’s hair now, looking like she wants to hug him, but he’s not quite ready for that. Only Daniel is allowed to get that close. Although he did let me touch his hair in the hallway—and I could probably get away with more, judging by the tentative, hopeful looks he keeps giving me, but I don’t know that I want to get away with more. I don’t know if I want to let myself get too close to this kid. I know we can’t keep him. Rationally, realistically, I know that.
Daniel shrugs. “It wasn’t that bad,” he tells Carter. “I turned out all right, didn’t I?”
I bump my shoulder into Daniel’s, wiggling my eyebrows just to make the kid smile. “I wouldn’t go that far.”
“I prefer the term coffee connoisseur.”
“Reads too much.”
“Jack, according to you, anything more than Sports Illustrated and crossword puzzles is too much.”
“Basically a super geek.”
Danny has been watching this exchange with bright eyes, obviously struggling not to laugh. I don’t know why he thinks he has to hold it back—no, actually, I’m starting to get a good idea why. But I’m going to make him laugh whether he likes it or not, and it’s going swimmingly until that ‘super geek’ line. Then he scowls and looks daggers at me, reaching up to take Daniel’s hand.
“It’s not nice to call names,” he says. “I don’t like that name.”
Now I’ve got Carter and Teal’c glaring at me. I raise my hands and take a step back, going for my best charming smile. “Okay, sorry, didn’t know it would hit a nerve. Anything else that’s off limits? Plantboy? Spacemonkey?” I need something more to lighten the moment, which has become uncomfortably tense, so I wave goodbye to only watching movies in English and slip into Arabic, asking, “Baby? Hot stuff? Chocolate covered archeologist?”
Daniel cracks up, and the boy gawps at him for a moment and then follows suit, laughing with a palm pressed against his mouth to muffle the sounds. I can’t resist reaching out and pulling that hand away, wanting so much to hear that high, sweet sound. Although, now that I think of it, the kid probably understood what I said, and kids repeat things. Bit late to take it back, though.
Carter frowns, her hands on her hips, staring at me suspiciously. “What was that last one, Colonel?”
“Daniel Jackson has been teaching me some of the languages of this world,” Teal’c says. “I believe O’Neill spoke Arabic. And I believe I understood what he said.” Then he fixes me with a look that very much wants to be a smile.
“Um.” I swallow and make my face go still. “Never mind, Major. Nothing important.”
She opens her mouth to protest, but that’s when Hammond saves me by appearing through the trees. Carter immediately snaps to, and I straighten as well, nodding at the general. He acknowledges us with a wave, but his attention is mostly on Danny.
“Hello, young man,” he says softly. “I hear you’re doing a bit better than you were yesterday.”
The boy eyes him warily and presses close to Daniel’s side. He tries out a tentative smile, but doesn’t speak.
“This is General Hammond,” Daniel says. “He’s also a friend of mine. You can trust him.”
The general looks pleased to hear this, and he smiles warmly at Danny. “You know,” he says, “I have a couple granddaughters about your age. I bet they’d love to meet you.”
Danny raises his eyebrows dubiously. “I don’t know. All the kids I know don’t like me very much.”
Carter makes a rather suspicious sounding cough and looks away. Hammond’s smile becomes a tad forced. “Well, maybe those kids haven’t had a chance to get to know you. I’m sure my girls will be different.”
“Yes, sir,” Danny says dutifully.
Hammond raises his eyebrows. “You can call me George, son.”
“But everyone calls you sir. I heard them.”
He crouches down and takes Danny’s hand, shaking it gently. “You are not everyone. You’re special.”
For this he gets a huge, shining smile, and Danny nods rapidly. Hammond grins and pats him on the head, and then rises to face us. His smile slips away, and I feel my stomach do a little flip. Looks like the fun is over.
“I’ve had a few phone calls this morning,” Hammond says. “It appears that there are some people interested in our new arrival.”
“NID?” Carter guesses, her eyes narrowed.
“Yes. We can expect Colonel Simmons to arrive tomorrow.”
“He’s not taking him,” Daniel says firmly.
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Hammond replies. “So far, no mention has been made of taking the boy anywhere. The official line is that they are simply ‘taking an interest’ in him.”
“I will not permit this child to be harmed in any way,” Teal’c says gravely. “Your NID has no sense of honor, and should not be trusted with him.”
“Don’t worry about that,” I tell him. “I don’t plan on trusting those rats anywhere near Danny.”
“But what do they want?” Daniel asks. “I mean, granted, he’s a little unusual, but it’s not like he has any special knowledge or secret capabilities. He’s only a boy.”
“They have their own agenda,” Hammond sighs. “But rest assured, I will do everything in my power to ensure the child is safe. Have you made any decisions regarding his eventual status?”
Danny, who has been following all this with wide, worried eyes, suddenly grabs Daniel’s hand and looks up at him pleadingly. Daniel crouches and picks the boy up, holding his slight frame easily. “I’m going to take care of him,” he says. His face is hard, his eyes flashing. No arguing with him on this one.
“I’m sorry, sir, but this is not negotiable. I’ll do whatever I have to do as far as the SGC goes, up to and including resigning if that’s necessary, but I am going to take care of him.”
Hammond nods slowly. “I would hope it doesn’t come to resigning. We’ll figure out your duty status later, Doctor, but for the time being, I’ll draw up the paperwork to place him in your full custody. Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”
“I’m sure.” Daniel lifts his chin stubbornly, cutting his eyes to the side to direct his next words to me as well. “I will not be the next name on the long list of people who have let him down. I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.”
“Very well.” The general turns back toward the mountain, gesturing for us to follow. “Until the difficulty with the NID is resolved, it would be best to keep the child inside, where he’s more secure.”
“You think they’d actually try to snatch him?” Carter asks in disbelief.
“I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
None of us can argue with that, and by the way Danny hides his face against Daniel’s neck, it’s time to drop the subject.
“So, General, how did you know we were up here?” I ask, trying for a light tone.
“Doctor Fraiser told me.” He draws me back away from the others as they file into the mountain. “By the way, Jack,” he says, “If you’re going to use a term like chocolate covered archeologist, you should speak a language that your CO doesn’t understand.”
He claps me on the back and disappears through the main entrance, leaving me blinking stupidly in his wake. So far today it appears that I’ve been signed up for parenthood again, seeing as my partner has decided to adopt without discussing it with me, I’ve been outed to my CO, and gotten tacit approval, and I’ve been informed that my newest family member may be in danger of being kidnapped.
Maybe I should have stayed in bed.
“Now, this is for the birth certificate that we’re creating for you. We have to get you listed as your own person, separate from me, before I can legally adopt you. Although I think we’re going to list you as my biological son—we certainly have the resemblance down—and that will make gaining legal custody much smoother.”
Danny nods seriously, scanning the page in front of him. We’re in Hammond’s office surrounded by the myriad forms necessary to create a person out of thin air. Danny needs a social security number, a birth certificate, a place of birth, a full name, medical documents supporting his relationship to Daniel, and a birth mother, which hasn’t been mentioned yet. That’s before we can dive into the huge pile of custody and guardianship papers.
With each form, Daniel fills it out carefully and then passes it to the boy, explaining exactly what it is. He insisted on this. He absolutely refused to leave Danny out of this process, saying that it was his life they were messing with, and he had a right to be there and be heard. Yet another thing about this whole mess that Daniel takes very personally. I’m getting a lot of impressions on how he was handled as a child, and they’re all bad.
I’m helping out by filling in the easy information that I already know, names and addresses and all of Daniel’s basic stats. Much as I hate paperwork, this is a viable excuse to be here, and be a part of things. I can’t help feeling a little squeezed out. Daniel and the boy have a kind of understanding and closeness that I can’t possibly compete with. I know that Daniel has plenty of love to go around and it’s not a contest. I know it. But I’m here anyway, just... because.
“Okay, I’m listing your birth mother as the woman I was married to, all right?” Daniel tosses me a vague, apologetic look. Hey, it’s not like I expected to be the other parent or anything. Hammond might be willing to look the other way, but that would be pushing things a tad too far.
“You were married?”
Daniel nods slowly. “Yes. Sha’re. We were married for a while, but she died a few years ago.”
“Oh,” the boy says. “It’s sad when people die.” He tilts his head to one side and puts a hand on Daniel’s wrist. I see Daniel’s familiar compassion in him. “Were you sad? Do you still miss her? I still miss Mom and Dad a lot.”
“Yes,” Daniel says simply, “but that’s normal. I’ll probably always miss her.”
Danny nods, tugging thoughtfully at his lower lip with his teeth. “You’ll be okay,” he decides. “You’re very big and you have lots of friends.”
Daniel smiles and glances at me. “Yeah,” he says. “Having friends helps.” And that seems to close the discussion for them as Daniel goes back to his forms and the kid goes back to the hieroglyphics he’s doodling on the back of a spare piece of paper.
“Hmm?” He looks up at me, his hand finishing the word it was writing even as his eyes meet mine. “Jack?”
“What do you want me to write as his address?”
Daniel looks around the office quickly, as if his answer might be overheard. Hammond let us use the place for privacy but he skipped out after dumping the forms on us. Wise man.
“Well, he’s going to be living with me...”
“And you live with me,” I point out. And if this drives home the point that he took this on without even consulting me first, so much the better.
“So if you list his address as your house, where you don’t actually live, and two months down the road a caseworker comes by doing a surprise after adoption check and finds the place empty and obviously unused, what do you think will happen?”
Daniel blinks several times and lifts his chin a little, raising his eyebrows. “And what do you think will happen if I write your address and the caseworker finds him living with a gay couple, one of whom is in the military? Not to mention what will happen when we basically state blatantly to the chain of command that we’re living together?”
“Thank you, Daniel, for making my point for me.”
I sigh and rub the bridge of my nose. “I’m saying that you didn’t think this through very well. Not to mention you made a huge decision that will affect both of us without talking about it with me. At all.”
“So I should let him go? Break my promise and send him away?” Daniel bristles, folding his arms tightly across his chest. The boy looks back and forth at us like a spectator at a tennis match, chewing nervously on his lower lip. We shouldn’t be talking like this in front of him, but Daniel gets defensive every time I suggest talking about the kid without him being present. He doesn’t want to do anything behind Danny’s back, as he sees it.
“I didn’t say that,” I reply, and then take a deep breath. Steady. “Look, Daniel, I know this hits very close to home for you. I know you feel you need to do this, and I’m all for it.”
He blinks uncertainly at me. “You are?”
“Yes. I’ve always thought you’d make a great father, and frankly, no one else will understand what is clearly a very special kid the way you will. But I’ve done the fatherhood thing before, and I’m... I would have liked to have been asked. That’s all.”
Daniel’s mouth falls open and his eyes go wide. “Oh, Jack... god, of course, Charlie. I didn’t even think of that. You’re right, I’m sorry, I should have asked before making any decisions. This must be bringing up so many old memories for you—“
“It’s fine,” I interrupt. It’s fine. I’m fine. I can handle this. “That’s not a problem. I’m only thinking of how we’re going to work a child into our relationship.”
“It’s not a problem?” Daniel raises an eyebrow. “How can you just shrug this off so casually? Not only Charlie, but the whole idea of having a child...” He trails off and stares blankly at the forms for a long moment. “We’ve been moving very fast,” he says quietly. “I don’t think I fully appreciated what this means, to both of us. Jack, I am sorry. I should have talked to you first.”
“Yeah, you should have. But it’s a bit late now, isn’t it?”
Daniel’s mouth tightens and he dips his head a little. “I said I was sorry. What do you want me to do?”
“Crap, Daniel, I don’t know. I’m just saying that we’re flying blind here, rushing into something that we may not be ready for.” I’m picking absently at the wrinkled corner of one of the forms, trying to smooth it out. I can feel Daniel’s eyes on me, but I don’t look up.
“You’re not fine with it, are you?” he asks softly. “What, you don’t want to risk being a father again? Don’t want to risk losing another child?”
I snap my head up and glare at him for a long moment. That subject is off limits and he knows it. “That’s not it,” I say. “That’s not it at all. I’m thinking about what it’s going to mean for you, and for us.”
Danny has his hands in Daniel’s shirt again, clutching the material in his fists and tugging at it. Daniel drops a hand to his hair and strokes it absently, giving the boy a reassuring smile.
“We’ll figure it out,” he says.
“I have to do this, Jack.”
I sigh and run a hand through my hair. “Daniel, I know. I see, because it’s right in front of me, how lost you were. I see what happened to you, and I know you want to fix it in some way by making sure it doesn’t happen to him. You need to do this, and I get it, but I don’t think you’re facing the reality of it. Having a child changes everything. Trust me on this.”
“We’ll just advance our plans a little,” he says. “We were looking for the right time—looks like we found it.”
“Our plans? As in me taking Hammond’s place when he retires and you running the research and culture side of the SGC from on-world? You’re saying we do that now?”
Daniel shuffles his feet and looks down nervously. “I know it’s a lot to ask. It’s a lot sooner than we planned. If you want, I could move out, live in the house until the first year is up—“
“No. Not an option,” I say flatly. “I’d retire before I’d give you up.”
A slow smile spreads across his face. “I’m talking about moving out, Jack, not breaking up.”
“Still. I remember living alone, Daniel, and I didn’t like it. We need a different solution.”
“I’ll have to leave SG-1 either way,” he says. “I can’t be gone for days on end and still be responsible for a child. Not to mention the risks inherent to first contact. I’ll stay with the SGC, and maybe take the occasional trip through the gate to worlds that are known to be safe, but that’s all.”
Daniel leaving SG-1. Damn. “This is all so fast,” I mumble. “Hell, just yesterday you were off-world digging in the dirt and things were... normal. What are Carter and Teal’c going to say? What about the general? We’re talking about changes that will affect more than just us.”
“I know.” Daniel closes his eyes and massages his temples for a moment. “I know. This is all...” He shoves vaguely at the forms, sending a few skittering to the floor. “I’m a little overwhelmed here, Jack. This is too big to swallow all at once. I feel like going home and sitting for a while, watching TV and letting my brain atrophy.”
The boy laughs suddenly and we stare at him. “That’s what Mom used to say,” he says. “That TV would make my brain atrophy.”
Daniel chuckles softly. “Yeah, she did, didn’t she? She said ‘when I was your age, television was called books.’ Then she’d turn off that little black and white number we had that only got one local Arabic-speaking channel anyway, and put a book in my hands, or an artifact and a cleaning brush.”
“The Hanson House had a color TV,” Danny says in tones of great awe. “And a bunch of channels and something called PBS.”
Suddenly I feel very old.
“Well, the one we have at home is much better than that one. It’s this thin,” Daniel holds his fingers a couple inches apart, “and hangs on the wall like a painting. We get hundreds of satellite channels as well as the local stuff.”
“Daniel?” I raise an eyebrow. The big screen plasma TV is at my house.
“Jack,” he says levelly. “Put down your address for him. And for me, too. Whatever happens, happens.”
I blink at him, raising my eyebrows incredulously. “What? Are you nuts? I can’t believe you even suggested that. There are plenty of people who would love to knock both of us out of the program, and you’d be giving them the ammunition they need. You might as well walk up to a goa’uld and hand him a zat gun and say ‘hey, shoot me, will you?’”
Daniel narrows his eyes and shifts slightly in his chair, his jaw jutting out. “You’re exaggerating. Besides, even if we told everyone that we live together, so what? Straight men can’t live together? It’s not like we’re ever home anyway. It’s practical. Saves on rent money. Your house is too big for one person, and I keep losing residences when I die. Who wouldn’t believe us?”
“Uh, how about, everyone? There are already enough rumors going around about us as it is. Adding fuel to the fire is the last thing we need.”
Daniel rolls his eyes and shoves impatiently at the papers on the desk, sending a few fluttering to the floor. “Oh, hell, I bet these forms disappear into a black hole of paperwork somewhere. Do you think anyone has time to actually read all this crap?”
“I think that the chances of us getting into serious trouble for stating in writing that we live together are much greater than the chances of a random after adoption check on your house.”
He throws his hands up in the air. “So now you’re saying to put my address down for him and keep living together anyway? Isn’t that what I wanted to do in the first place?”
“Which means you won the argument. You should be happy.”
Daniel blinks, opens his mouth, and then closes it again with a snap. He leans down and tugs Danny close, ruffling his hair and whispering in his ear, “See what I put up with?”
“Don’t let him fool you, Danny,” I say. “I’m the nice one. Everyone thinks the great Doctor Jackson is the sweetest guy in the world, but they should give me a medal for putting up with him in his pre-caffeinated state. Not to mention the endless documentaries about people who died a long time ago...”
Daniel grins and then proceeds to blithely ignore my complaining as usual, picking up the next form. I sigh and shake my cramping hand, and then try to concentrate on fitting the information into the ridiculously tiny boxes on these forms. There are still a lot of problems that we haven’t dealt with yet, but I’d rather fill out paperwork than think about that.
“What?” Carter stares at us, the little science instrument she was holding slipping from her fingers, forgotten. “You’re leaving SG-1?”
“I have to, Sam,” Daniel sighs. “You know better than anyone that being a member of this team and caring for a child are not compatible.”
“Which is why Janet adopted Cassie,” she replies.
“Your priority was your work,” Daniel says. When Carter stiffens and opens her mouth, no doubt to correct him, Daniel holds up his hands and quickly keeps speaking. “And I’m not judging you for that. You’re still a big part of her life and it was the right decision for everyone involved. But Danny is not Cassie. This is different.”
Carter narrows her eyes. “How? I know he’s been through a lot, but so had Cassie. What we do here is important. Vital, even. And what you, specifically, do here, cannot be done by anyone else. Are you saying that you are the only person in the world who can take care of him?”
We really shouldn’t be dragging Danny around through all of these discussions, but Daniel seems bent on having him present for everything. He keeps telling me that it’s better that the kid knows everything that is going on, instead of sitting somewhere and waiting for us to work this out, which would give him time to make all kinds of assumptions and think things are much worse than they actually are. Of course, that means he’s right here to see Carter’s reaction to Daniel’s bombshell, and it doesn’t go over well. The boy shrinks against Daniel’s side, his face half hidden in Daniel’s shirt, and Carter softens when she sees this. She makes the effort to smile gently at him, and lowers her voice. “I’m just asking you to think about what you’re doing, Daniel.”
“I have thought about it,” he says firmly. “Sam, I was gone for a year and SG-1 carried on. Besides, I’m not talking about leaving the SGC completely. I can still do translation and diplomatic work here at the base. I hardly think that my presence on the team, or lack thereof, will cause the whole SGC to grind to a halt, thereby leaving the planet vulnerable to the fleet of goa’uld motherships which is hovering just outside the solar system, waiting to hear that I’ve done the unthinkable and left SG-1.”
Carter rolls her eyes. “I wasn’t suggesting that and you know it. You’re exaggerating the situation to the point of ridiculousness in order to lessen the impact of what you’re doing. How many times have you saved the team because of the unique way you think? Remember the Gadmeer, or the Tollan, or any number of other races that only you could get through to? We need you, Daniel.”
“You survived well enough without me when I was ascended.”
I raise an eyebrow at his tone, which was almost resentful.
“You were greatly missed, Daniel Jackson,” Teal’c says solemnly. “Jonas was a poor substitute.”
Daniel taps his fingers against his legs and smiles at the floor for a moment. “Well... okay, that’s nice to hear.” We all hear the unspoken “finally” on the end of that sentence. “But let’s face reality here, guys. The team was never going to last forever. Hammond is eventually going to retire, and Jack is the logical, and frankly, only choice to replace him. Sam, you’ll be promoted, take command of SG-1, and get a couple new team members under you. Maybe a whole new team depending on what Teal’c decides to do.”
“I will remain with the Tau’ri as long as they continue to fight the Goa’uld,” Teal’c says.
“You’ve always told me that you’ll go wherever you can do the most good in the battle against the Goa’uld,” Daniel shoots back. “For now, that’s here, but what if you’re tapped to lead the Jaffa resistance in Bra’tac’s place? You know you’re next in line for that if anything happens to him.”
Teal’c clasps his hands behind his back and nods regally. “This is true. Although Master Bra’tac is still very strong.”
“But you see my point,” Daniel presses. “Much as we want things to stay the way they are, with our own close little family, nothing lasts forever. This was bound to happen sooner or later, and it looks like it’s going to be sooner.”
Carter sinks onto her lab stool and stares blankly at the table in front of her. “God, Daniel,” she says. “It’s just so sudden.”
Daniel slings an arm around her shoulders and hugs her to his side for a moment. “I know, and I’m sorry to spring it on you like this. Believe me, my head is still spinning, too. It’s a lot to deal with in a short time, but I know I’m doing the right thing.” He pauses, sweeping us all with a strangely vulnerable look. “When you get right down to it, this is the only way I’m ever going to be a father. How can I refuse that chance?”
Well. When he puts it that way, what else is there to say?
“We’ve got a go,” I call out, sailing triumphantly into Daniel’s office.
“Hi Jack,” the kid calls from his usual perch on Daniel’s lap. Again with the lap thing. I don’t know if it’s a seeking comfort thing or more of a center of attention thing. Danny does seem happiest when everyone is focused on him, which I guess is kind of normal for a kid, especially one who hasn’t received much attention lately. Of course, that begs the question of what he’d be willing to do to get attention if we don’t give him as much as he wants.
They’re firmly ensconced in front of the desk, surrounded by several open books and what I recognize as one of Daniel’s favorite artifacts. I still remember how excited he got when he found it in what was essentially an alien garbage dump. Archeologists. Go figure.
“We do?” Daniel asks. “We can go home?”
I rock back on my heels and hook my thumbs into my hip pockets. “Yep. Fraiser’s tests came back squeaky clean, Hammond is busy losing memos from the NID and his phone has been on the blink all day. Darndest thing. They’re anxious to talk to him about something, but I guess they’ll have to wait.”
Daniel gives me a tight-lipped conspirator’s smile and squeezes the boy to his chest. “Hear that? We’re getting out of here.”
“Where are we going?”
“I think we need to go shopping first,” Daniel says.
I flop down on the small, battered couch in his office with a theatrical groan. “Shopping? Why?”
“Don’t whine, Jack,” Daniel reproves, and the kid laughs.
“I’m not whining. I’m merely curious as to why, after what has been an extremely long day, you would want to drag an old man with touchy knees around some big, crowded, over-bright mall. Not to mention the lines and the traffic and that irritating, non-specific music that they pipe in...” Okay, that might have been whining at the end.
Daniel rolls his eyes. “I hate shopping as much as you do, if not more, but Danny literally has nothing but the clothes on his back. The shoes that Sam picked out are too big and keep slipping off his heels, he’s got ketchup on this shirt from lunch and we don’t even have any pajamas or clean underwear for him. Not to mention he needs to get tested and fitted for glasses. Squinting all the time isn’t good for his eyes.”
“All right, all right,” I grump, waving a hand to stop him. “I get it. The kid has nothing, needs everything. I’d forgotten how much crap kids seem to require.”
“We’ll start with the basics. A few changes of clothes, a stop by the LensCrafters, some shoes that fit... let’s see, a toothbrush... we need to get Janet to prescribe some allergy medication in child doses, he can’t take mine... he needs a haircut too, the one he’s got was fine for 1973 but a bit out of place now...”
“Aah!” I wave a finger in Daniel’s general direction, tilting my head back and shutting my eyes. “That’s enough. It’s time for me to teach you one of the great skills of leadership—delegation.”
“You want me to call Sam.”
I touch my finger to the tip of my nose. “Got it in one.”
“You do realize that Danny has to actually be present in order to get his eyes tested and his hair cut and shoes fitted for him?”
Damn. Hadn’t thought of that. “Of course I realize it,” I bluff. “I wasn’t talking about her going instead of us. We could do more of a team effort.”
“Uh-huh,” Daniel says. “I’m sure that’s what you meant.”
He knows me entirely too well.
“So,” I say briskly. “Call up Carter and Teal’c... no, check that, just Teal’c. Carter actually likes shopping. We’ll never get out of there.”
“What makes you think she likes shopping?”
I wave a hand vaguely. “She’s a woman. Don’t all women like shopping?”
Daniel huffs out a little exasperated breath. “That’s a ridiculous generalization, and no more accurate than saying all men like sports. Sam is hardly a stereotypical female who only thinks about shoes and clothes and who the cutest guy on American Idol is.”
“I know,” I say. “But she was the one who volunteered to pick out a new wardrobe for you. Twice. And she’s the one who drags you to the barber every time your hair gets past your ears and wasn’t she the one who made you try on about fifty different frames the last time you got your prescription changed?”
“Well... yeah... but you know better than to suggest she likes shopping just because she’s a woman.”
“Fine,” I sigh. “She likes shopping because she’s Carter, okay? The point remains that she’ll want to look at everything and pick out just the right stuff and we’ll be there all night. Teal’c, on the other hand, cuts through crowds like a hot knife through butter and gets us discounts by sheer intimidation.”
“Teal’c thinks shopping is only slightly less boring than counting the dots in the ceiling,” Daniel points out.
“So much the better. He’ll be in a hurry to get us out of there.”
Daniel smiles. “Fine. You tell him he’s been recruited for a mission to the mall. I’ll stand back and watch him impale you on his eyebrow of doom.”
I tilt forward in my chair fast enough for my feet to hit the floor with a loud thump. I’m rather embarrassed to find myself sputtering wordlessly at Daniel, who is grinning in triumph, his arms folded and his chin high.
Suddenly, the kid, who has been very quietly listening to us, pipes up. “It’s okay,” he says. “You don’t have to get me stuff. I don’t mean to be so much trouble.”
“You’re not,” Daniel says firmly.
At the same time, I tell him, “It’s no trouble.”
Daniel shifts so he can look the boy in the face and still hold him. “We’re just playing around. We’re both a little... bowled over by everything that has happened, so we’re talking and joking to help us feel more relaxed. Jack might complain about shopping, but no matter what he says, he’d never decide you were too much trouble to bother with.”
“That’s right, kiddo,” I add. “You see, I actually have to complain about things. It’s a medical condition that requires me to gripe and grumble for a minimum of two hours a day.”
Danny frowns, his eyebrows lifting skeptically. “A medical condition. Really.”
“Yeah. It’s called getting old.”
Daniel snorts laughter, shaking his head. “Don’t even listen to him. Jack wants us all to think he’s old and slow, so we’ll bring him beer and not make him get up off the couch.”
I’m trying to think of a comeback to that when Teal’c appears in the doorway. “Daniel Jackson,” he says, speaking to Daniel but nodding a greeting to the kid, who looks up at him with a somewhat awestruck expression. “I had hoped to find you before you left the base.”
“Why is that?”
“General Hammond is using delaying and evasive tactics against the NID, but I am not certain that they will be fully effective. I believe it is best that you and the child be protected while you are outside the secure environment of Cheyenne Mountain.”
I see the light at the end of the tunnel. “My thoughts exactly, Teal’c,” I say cheerfully. “Why, I just told Daniel here that we shouldn’t risk going to the mall without you as backup.”
Teal’c winces subtly. It’s easy to miss, but it’s there. “The mall, O’Neill?”
Daniel’s lips twitch. “We need to pick up a few things for Danny,” he says. “Essential items.”
“I see,” Teal’c replies. “Very well. I will accompany you and ensure your safety at the... mall.” He says the word like it tastes bad in his mouth.
“Excellent,” I murmur, tapping my fingertips together and doing my best Mr. Burns.
“Is he a bodyguard?” the boy whispers, darting another quick glance at Teal’c.
“I will be, if that becomes necessary,” Teal’c says simply.
Danny beams. “Cool!”
I love it when a plan comes together.
The kid has progressed past the “wow” stage and has now entered silent amazement. I guess present day Colorado is a hell of a lot different than seventies Egypt. He thought the escalators in the mall were the greatest thing ever. They had escalators in ’73, didn’t they? Sure they did, and even before then. I remember them when I was a kid. Of course, they probably didn’t have them in Cairo.
The crowds make him a little nervous, though. Daniel explained that a crowded marketplace was nothing new to the kid, considering the street markets he’d seen in Cairo; it was the idea of getting separated from us and lost that made him jumpy. Teal’c does a brilliant job of cutting a swath through the general populace, though, and he stares down anyone who looks like they might bump into us. Danny thinks this is fantastic. His glances at Teal’c are fast approaching hero-worship.
“Oh!” the kid says suddenly, coming to an abrupt halt and pointing. “Look!”
The toy store, you ask? No, not this kid. He’s drooling over the Barnes and Noble.
Daniel lights up and starts steering us in that direction, until I cut him off at the pass. “Basics,” I tell him. “If we go in there, we’ll never have time to get everything else done.”
“But, Jack, we already have most of the stuff. We’ve got clothes and shoes and we’re due to pick up Danny’s glasses in half an hour—what else is there?”
“Haircut. Allergy medication. Toothbrush, comb, blankets and bedding...”
“Okay, okay,” Daniel sighs. “I get it.”
“You were the one who said we needed all of this.”
“Most of the stores will be closed in an hour.”
“I know Jack. I’m not arguing with you.”
Oh, but he is. He’s giving me the mutinous look, coupled with the slumped shoulders and the general air of disappointment. And if that expression is hard to take in an adult Daniel, it’s devastating when the kid directs it my way.
“You know,” Daniel says obliquely, “paper is hard to come by in Egypt. It’s a wood product, and forests don’t tend to happen in the desert, so all wood products have to be imported. Books are highly valued there, and rarely do you see so many all together. And, of course, the library at the Hanson Home was made up mostly of secondhand paperbacks with pages torn out and writing in them. Not to mention the age restrictions that said the nicer, higher quality books couldn’t be checked out by kids too young to ‘appreciate’ them.”
“Really,” I reply. “Is that so.”
“Yep.” Daniel casts another long look at the Barnes and Noble, and the kid follows his gaze, all but licking his lips with wanting. Then he looks up at me with a smile that doesn’t quite dare to be hopeful.
I’m so toast.
“Fine,” I sigh. “You take the kid to play with the books. Teal’c and I will pick up the rest, and come back to get Danny for the haircut.”
Daniel’s cheerful “Thanks Jack” coincides with Teal’c’s incredulous “We will?”
I clap him on the back and start steering him toward the drugstore. “Sure we will, big guy. Just you and me, on a mission. What do you say?”
Teal’c refuses to be steered. “My purpose here is to protect Daniel Jackson and the child. How can I do this if I do not remain with them?”
Damn. “Um... well... it’s a bookstore, Teal’c, not a dark alley. I think they’ll be fine.”
“This was not your attitude when you asked me to accompany you to the mall.”
Daniel, the bastard, bites his lips together to keep from laughing. The kid gazes up at Teal’c again, grinning hugely. I guess having someone so tough and intimidating sticking up for you is a big deal for a kid like him.
“But... but there’s a lot to carry.” Okay, that was whining. I’ll admit it.
“I feel confident that you will prevail, O’Neill.”
“You owe me, Daniel,” I growl as I turn away.
“I know,” he says. “I’ll pay you back tonight.”
I raise my eyebrows at him, and he gives me a positively filthy look. Hmm... this could be a good day after all.
The kid falls asleep in the car on the way home. Not surprising, considering the day we’ve had and how little sleep he got last night. With his hair cut and his glasses, it’s almost scary how much he looks like Daniel. His face still has some of that baby roundness, his chin soft and his cheeks pudgy, but the eyes—oh, the eyes. Vintage Daniel.
We dropped Teal’c off at the mountain with our thanks and a bunch of sandalwood candles from the Hallmark store, and with some convincing he allowed us to return home without his protection. I had to promise him that we’d lock up and set the security system. It’s times like these that make me glad the team knows about my relationship with Daniel. Saves so much explaining.
Every time I glance in the rearview mirror, I see a sleeping child face topped by short, shaggy brown hair, his lips slightly parted and the slim, vulnerable curve of his neck exposed as he tilts his head to one side. There’s something simple and real about that pose, about the trust implied. It’s not something I thought I’d ever see again.
“Hey,” Daniel says softly. “Where’d you go?”
“You’re about a million miles away.”
I shrug, keeping my eyes firmly on the road. “It’s nothing.”
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs.
“What?” I turn to look at him, and he’s giving me that Daniel face; big, understanding eyes, full of compassion. I can’t look at that face for very long. It sees too much.
“I know this has to be hard for you. I shouldn’t have made such a big decision without thinking of how it would affect you.”
“It was something you had to do,” I say dismissively. “I was a little surprised, yeah, but we’ll be okay. We’ll adapt.”
“Will we?” Daniel stares blankly out the windshield for a moment. “I don’t think you realize what’s going to happen, Jack.”
“Hey, I’m the one who knows about kids,” I reply. “I know it’s a big deal.”
“You know about kids in general, but I know about this kid. I know how he’s going to start behaving soon.” Daniel twists to check on the boy, making sure he’s still asleep. “He’s being nice now, because we’re new and he’s uncertain and he’s trying to make us like him. But once he settles in a bit, that will change.”
“Damn,” I mutter. “You mean he’ll turn into you?”
Daniel snorts and shakes his head. “Oh, worse. Imagine me on my worst day, stubborn and argumentative and opinionated, and then add in the emotional control of a child who can’t stop pushing his limits. If we tell him that we’re not going anywhere, he’s not just going to believe us. He’s going to test it. He’s going to act up and talk back and push until he’s sure, absolutely sure that we’re permanent.”
“All kids misbehave,” I say. “Charlie did it too. With consistent discipline and a good home, they outgrow it.”
“He isn’t Charlie,” Daniel tells me quietly. “I know you want to pick up where you left off, so to speak, but that isn’t going to happen. He hasn’t had the life that Charlie had with you, safe and stable and loved. God, Jack, you think I just had bad luck in foster homes and that’s why I was moved around so much? I got sent away time after time because I was a little pain in the ass.”
“They gave up too easily.”
Daniel shrugs. “Maybe. But it was a lot to ask of these people, most of them good people who only wanted to help kids that needed it. I don’t think you realize how bad I was, Jack. I was destructive. I broke things, I stole things, I disobeyed constantly, I ran away over and over, I lied all the time, I refused to accept help from anyone...”
“Whoa,” I interrupt, holding up a hand. “What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying that the easy, obedient kid you met yesterday is not going to stay around very long. Taking care of the real child underneath that false front will not be easy, it will not be fun, and there will probably be days that we both regret walking into this so fast. Except you won’t be the one regretting it, because I walked into it for both of us. And how long until you start resenting me for that?”
“I thought you were sure you wanted to do this.”
“I am,” he says. “I mean... I am. I have a better chance at helping him than anyone else. He’s never going to tell a stranger what’s going on in his head. Janet can push her ideas of therapy all she wants, but that won’t work. I have an advantage that none of those foster parents had—I understand him. But that’s not a magic wand that will make his problems go away. Knowing what is wrong doesn’t mean I know how to make it right.”
I give Daniel a sidelong glance and see that he’s curled slightly, his arms folded and his chin down, staring through the dashboard. “Seems like you turned out all right,” I say.
He laughs shortly. “Sure. I’m a wonderfully well adjusted human being. I’m sure that’s why I turned into a total sociopath in that vision Shifu gave me.”
I blow an exasperated breath through my teeth. “Crap, Daniel, not that again. I thought you’d accepted that it was the goa’uld knowledge making you act that way. And besides, it was only a dream, for crying out loud! I still don’t believe for a second that you would really behave like that.”
“You believe what you want to believe,” he says coolly.
He shakes his head quickly. “Never mind. This isn’t about me. Whatever happened in my past, it’s over and done with and nothing will change that. But the boy, we can change things for him. He has a chance.”
“What did happen in your past?” I ask. “It’s very clear that some bad things have happened to this kid, above and beyond witnessing the accident in the museum. Just how much haven’t you told me?”
“Probably a lot less than what you haven’t told me,” he shoots back. “I know you have nightmares about things that you never talk about, so don’t give me that ‘complete trust and openness’ bit. We both have a past, and you know it. We’ve never felt the need to dig up all that old crap before.”
“We’ve never had reason,” I argue. “Now we have a kid who is living proof of some of your ‘old crap,’ as you put it, and how do you expect me to ever be an equal parent with you if you know everything about him and I don’t?”
Daniel blinks and leans back slightly, twisting to look at the boy. “Parents? Is that what we are?”
“We’re a couple who has just adopted a child. I’d say that fits the description.”
“Oh,” he says softly. “I hadn’t thought of it like that. It’s so...”
“Huge? Overwhelming? Scary?”
“All of the above.”
I smile at him. “Welcome to parenthood. Constant worry, incredible responsibility... amazing rewards.”
“He could have children of his own someday,” Daniel says. “Janet said he was a normal human boy. He could have kids and we’d be grandparents.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” I tell him, holding up a hand. “Besides, if he’s just like you, he may end up with a man.”
“Sha’re and I would have had kids if things had been different,” he says stiffly. “If we’d had more time... we didn’t think there was any hurry.”
“I know,” I reply, patting his leg. “And besides, the way things are going, by the time he grows up he’ll be able to marry and legally adopt even if he is with another man.”
“Maybe,” Daniel says. “But like you said, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Maybe we should stick to what happens tomorrow.”
“Hammond gave us some time off.”
“Which means we can sleep in.” Daniel grins at me. “I’m looking forward to that.”
I laugh and shake my head. “Daniel, we have a kid now. Sleeping in is a thing of the past.”
“Making out on the couch?”
“Walking around the house naked?”
“I wouldn’t if I were you.”
“Damn,” he mumbles. “Maybe I didn’t think this through.”
Daniel punches me none-too-lightly on the shoulder. “Just remember that we’re in this together, ‘dad.’”
I feel my smile slide away and I nod at him, my eyes drifting up to the rear view mirror again. The boy is still sleeping, his new glasses barely hanging on to the tip of his nose.
“Was that the wrong thing to say?” Daniel asks quietly.
“Nah. It’s fine. Just haven’t been called that in a long time.”
“I won’t do it anymore if it bothers you.”
Daniel eyes me for a moment longer and then sighs and watches the streetlights go by for a while.
“So,” I say.
“The camera thing.”
Daniel scowls. “Funny how you forget planet designations, gate addresses, and when to tape my shows, but you remember that.”
“It’s called prioritizing. I remember what’s important.”
“So your hockey games are important but my show on Aztec imagery as relating to the creation of the calendar isn’t?”
“You’re dodging the question.”
“Yes,” he says simply. “I am.”
He sighs and twists to look at the boy again, his hands tight on the fabric of his seat. “Not now, Jack. This isn’t the kind of conversation you have in a moving car.”
Why does that not make me feel any better?
“Get him, would you Jack?” Daniel calls over his shoulder as he lugs our bags into the house. Danny is still conked out in the back seat, his glasses, finally having lost the battle, resting in his lap.
“Right,” I call back. Right. Hauling a sleepy and none-too-light seven year old out of a car. I remember this.
When I unhook the seatbelt, Danny slumps forward and I catch him, his limp arms pinned between us. “Come on, big guy,” I coax, tugging at him. “Need you to help me out a little.”
He shifts and mumbles, and then suddenly jerks away, staring up at me and squinting. “Wha...?”
“Just me, buddy, Jack. You remember? We’re home, but I need you to come in the house. Can’t stay in the car all night.”
He mutters something unintelligible but cooperates, slinging his arms around my shoulders and pushing off with his feet. It helps that my truck sits high off the ground, so I don’t have to lift him so much as pull him sideways. Once we clear the door, his legs hook themselves around my waist and he drops his head onto my shoulder with a heavy plunk.
Oh yeah. I remember this.
I lug him up the sidewalk and into the house, where Daniel is already busy digging through the bags and looking for the sheets and blankets that we bought. “Sit with him for a few minutes while I get the bed ready?” he asks without looking up.
“Sure.” I veer over to the recliner and drop into it with a distinct lack of grace. The kid shifts and grumbles again, and twists until he’s sitting in my lap, curled against my chest. I start to rock the chair back and forth. It seems like the thing to do.
Daniel still has his back to me, tossing shopping bags aside and muttering to himself, so I decide it’s okay to close my eyes for a moment and let my cheek rest on that fine, silky hair. I haven’t held anyone but Daniel for a long time, and the child is startlingly different. Light and fragile where Daniel is big and heavy, soft where Daniel is hard, with a smooth face and small hands. I can feel his heartbeat through my hands on his back, slow and steady in his sleep.
His hair doesn’t smell of Johnson’s baby shampoo. But of course it doesn’t, he used whatever generic stuff was in the VIP suite bathroom this morning. There’s no reason to expect him to smell the way Charlie did. Even if he does feel the same way. It’s been a long time... god, Charlie would be almost ready to move away from home by now. He’d be driving a car, working some part-time job to get money to take girls out on dates, he’d be graduating high school soon. So much that he’ll never get to do, but now... Daniel thinks I want to pick up where I left off with Charlie. He thinks I’m using this kid as a kind of substitute, but that can’t be true. I know he’s a different child. I know he’s going to have problems. I’m not expecting nonstop warm and fuzzies here.
But damn, it feels good to hold a kid again.
I take another peek from under heavy lids to see that Daniel finally found what he was looking for and is headed up the stairs with his arms full of bedding. I let my eyes slip shut again and keep rocking the chair. In my lap, the boy sighs and kneads sleepily at my shirt with one hand.
I could get used to this.
My king sized bed, which I bought when Daniel moved in, seems a bit crowded this morning. Daniel warned me last night that this might happen, and I’m glad we took the precaution of wearing pajama bottoms and tees instead of our usual nothing. The kid sleeps peacefully between us, arms and legs flung out in a sprawl that takes up much more space than a little kid should be able to occupy. Daniel has a foot in his back and is bent awkwardly around it, one arm hanging off the edge of the bed. I have a small, pointed elbow getting friendly with my ribs and I can feel the bedside table against my shoulder.
I can’t remember the number of times that I woke up to find Charlie had wiggled in between Sara and I. Maybe because of a bad dream, or a thunderstorm, or because he felt sick, or just because. I would prop myself up on one elbow and look at the two of them, Sara and Charlie, and feel so rich. Now, I can look at Daniel and the kid and be rich again, but it’s a little scary. I had it all once, and I lost it. I don’t know if I could handle losing it again.
If Daniel didn’t live with me, it might have been easier. I could deal with seeing him with the kid, and even with the kid being a part of my life by proxy, but it would be at a safe distance. I wouldn’t feel so much like... hell, like a father. I remember that shaky, flighty feeling I used to get in my guts when I looked at Charlie, love and pride, sure, but also worry and responsibility and the sinking feeling that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Am I really going to try this crazy thing again with another kid?
Crap, it’s too early to be thinking like this. I’m going to paint myself into some mental corner and get stuck there if I don’t knock it off. Better to lie back down and enjoy what I have right now.
I shift and nudge and the boy slowly gives ground until I can actually lie on the bed without falling off. Unfortunately, this means that Daniel gets nudged as well, and he catches himself with a startled grunt, waking up and clinging to the mattress a second before he would have gone tumbling to the floor.
“Wha...?” he mumbles. “Jack? Huh?”
I close my eyes and feign sleep, settling more comfortably into the blankets.
“You’re not fooling anyone, Jack.”
I keep my eyes shut. He could be bluffing. The quiet draws out and I begin to get an odd tingling sensation on my face and neck, like someone is not quite touching me. The prickles extend to the back of my neck and down my spine, coupled with the sensation of being watched. What is he doing? It’s a ploy, I’m sure, to make me admit I’m not actually asleep. No dice, Daniel.
There is a sound, a very small, indistinct sound. It could be nothing. It could be Daniel’s breathing. It could be the sound of a cap being removed from a permanent marker.
I open my eyes.
Daniel is sitting on his side of the bed, his arms folded and his hands empty, smiling sneakily at me. “Paranoid much?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Sure,” he says. “Sleep well?”
“Well, actually, I slept like there was a miniature bed hog stealing all the covers.”
Daniel’s smile ratchets up another notch. “What a coincidence. I think the same thing happened to me.”
“Remind me why we bought blankets for him if he’s just going to sneak into bed with us?” I ask, tilting my head to one side and rubbing at my neck muscles.
“He had a bad dream, Jack,” Daniel says. “What was I supposed to do, send him back to an unfamiliar room so he could sit there alone and not be able to sleep?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I know.” Daniel sighs and smiles ruefully down at his hands. “Sorry. I may be taking this all a little personally.”
“I would be surprised if you didn’t.”
We both look at the kid for a long moment, his face visible in profile, half hidden in my pillow. Which explains why my neck is sore. “So,” I say. “We never did have that discussion last night.”
Daniel tries for innocence. “What discussion?”
“Daniel, when I first met you and you had that long hair and that air of distracted academic flakiness and you blinked a lot, I might have believed that you didn’t know what discussion I’m referring to.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Not my fault you fell asleep in the recliner,” he says defensively. “By the time we got Danny in bed and you sleepwalked your way through getting changed for bed, all you wanted to do was go back to sleep. I was all set to talk about it.”
“Oh yes, I’m sure,” I drawl. He frowns at me and I sigh and sit up in the bed. “Look, Daniel, I’m aware that it’s not going to be pleasant. Something happened to you that made you scared of cameras as a kid, for whatever reason, and caused you to not speak for nearly a year. I realize it’s a bad memory, and not something you want to dig up.”
“But I have to,” he says. “You’re right about that. I know everything about this boy and you know very little, and we can’t be equals in his eyes if I don’t change that.”
“Do you think he realizes what our relationship is?” I ask. “I mean, we’re sharing a bed, that’s a clear sign, but does he get what that means?”
Daniel frowns down at the kid. “I don’t know. A country like Egypt, which is very patriarchal, doesn’t exactly welcome gay relationships. It’s not something that he’s seen before. He may be too young to read anything into it.”
“You didn’t think of this before you stuck him in the bed with us?”
“I was half asleep, Jack,” Daniel retorts. “I wasn’t exactly analyzing the impact on his perception of our relationship at the time. I was more concerned with carrying him down the hall without banging his head on the door frame.”
I pull back and redirect before Daniel can start one of his pre-coffee snarls. “We’ll have to tell him about us eventually, anyway. If he’s living with us, hiding our relationship from him isn’t exactly practical, and besides, I don’t want to have to hide in our own home.”
“We’ll tell him,” Daniel says. “I think he’s young enough to be open minded. Besides, while he’s not familiar with the concept of a same-sex couple, he’s never been introduced to homophobia, either. That’s a learned response, passed down through generations, like racism. If we behave as if what we have is normal, he should follow suit.”
“Except that what we have isn’t normal,” I point out. “It’s something we have to keep behind closed doors. Can he understand us acting like a couple at home and like we’re only friends when we’re out? Can he keep a secret?”
Daniel gives a brief, humorless laugh. “Oh, he’s good with secrets.”
“Never mind.” He shrugs and offers a small, stilted smile. “Camera stuff,” he says. “I’ll tell you later.”
“Ah,” I say, which seems to be enough. “So. You think he’ll be fine with us?”
“He should be. Even when I started fooling around in college and I realized that I wasn’t only attracted to women, it didn’t throw me that much. I was a little confused, but you know, college at Oxford in the eighties... a few bisexual tendencies were hardly unheard of.”
“Huh.” That actually explains a lot. Like why Daniel was so calm when we first got together, while I had my obligatory “I thought I was straight” freaking out episode. Luckily for both of us, he saw right through that and stopped my sputtering, stupid argument by opening my fly, yanking the waistband of my pants to my ankles, and going down on me before I could remember I wasn’t supposed to like it. He essentially led from there, and I found it was surprisingly easy to follow.
“You disappeared on me again.”
I offer him a vague smile. I think I’m starting to realize how much there is about Daniel that I don’t know, and it’s unsettling. I know he’s an adult and he had a lot of experiences before we ever met. I know I have a past too, that he knows very little about, but somehow I expected him to be a clean slate before me. It’s normal for me to be surly and silent because I’m a guy, but I didn’t apply that same standard to Daniel and I guess I should have.
“We probably shouldn’t talk about this now, anyway,” I say, waving at the kid still sleeping between us. “If he hears...”
“It would upset him,” Daniel finishes, nodding.
“So. Rain check?”
“Yeah.” He looks serious, thoughtful. “We will discuss it, Jack. I know I’ve been dodging and I’m sorry about that.”
I shake my head. “Nah, s’alright. Hell, there are plenty of things that I’d rather not talk about, so I know where you’re coming from.”
“Yes, about those things,” Daniel begins purposefully.
“What are we planning on doing today?” I interrupt. “I mean, we’ve got the day off, we should make the most of it.”
Daniel’s mouth curves into a wry smile. “Right, Jack,” he says. “Well, since you asked, I’d like to take Danny to the museum in town. He was quite interested in some of the artifacts I showed him in my office yesterday.”
I manfully refrain from wincing. “Um... aren’t museums bad? In the same way that cameras are bad?”
“Not really.” Daniel pauses, considering. “Well, yes, that one particular museum is bad, I wouldn’t take him in there right now, but the little one we have here is different.”
“Peachy,” I say dryly. “Did you ever go back to the one in New York?”
“Sure I did. It’s just a place, Jack, and considering what I do, it’s a place that I’d have a hard time staying away from.”
“How old were you when you went back?”
A line appears between his eyebrows and he draws in a little, hunching his shoulders. “I was ten. A class trip. That... that might have been a bit too soon, actually.”
“Oh?” I keep my voice quiet. If he’s going to tell me anything, it has to be his choice—trying to force him will only make him clam up.
“I was fine until we got to that room. They, uh...” He runs a hand through his hair and looks away, clearing his throat. “I guess they finished setting up the display after they got everything... cleaned. The temple was there, the cover stone in place, and you could actually walk underneath and see the carvings on the pillars. The class started to go in and I... ah... I kind of panicked a little.”
“I’ll bet,” I say. “Didn’t the teacher know about you? I mean, to expect you to just walk under there...”
He shrugs diffidently. “They didn’t know. It was in my file, I suppose, but those details are confidential.”
I reach across the bed and squeeze his shoulder, and for this I get a smile, small but genuine. “I did intend to go under it eventually,” he says. “When I was in college. I spent some time in New York and I went to the museum specifically so I could go stand under the temple display. I was all set for it, had talked myself around until I was certain I could do it, but when I got there, the temple was gone. They’d changed the displays to more recent discoveries.”
“So you never actually did it.”
He nods. “I was going to, though. I could have done it.”
“I know,” I say simply, and that seems to be what he needs. He smiles again, bigger this time, and shakes himself a little.
“We should get ready.”
“Hmm.” I consider that while I slide back down on the bed, lacing my fingers behind my head and stretching my legs.
“Aren’t you usually the one who drags me out of bed when I want to sleep in?” Daniel asks pointedly, hands on his hips.
“Yes, and you’re getting entirely too heavy for my back to handle,” I reply. “Maybe it’s time you stopped keeping the hours of a college student.”
Daniel bristles slightly. “Well, maybe you should stop keeping the hours of a drill sergeant.”
He blinks. “Okay?”
“Yes, okay. You win. I’ll start sleeping in later. Starting now.” And I shut my eyes.
He’s very quiet and I wish I’d kept my eyes open because I’d love to see the look on his face right now. It’s too late for me to go back to sleep anyway—the sun is too high and I’ve lost that heavy lethargy of just-woke-up, but it’s fun to screw with his head.
After a long stretch of straining my ears and hearing nothing, I’m starting to think he’s given up. Or maybe that’s what he wants me to think. But Daniel doesn’t give up, ever, so it must be something else. I’m considering cracking one eye open for a second to check on him when I hear a knock at the front door.
“Nice try, Daniel,” I mumble. He’s not going to get me out of bed that way.
“It isn’t me,” he says, from the bathroom.
I sit up and stare at him as he stands in the doorway, still in his thin pajama bottoms and tee shirt. “What were you doing?” I ask.
He grins. “I was considering whether I could get away with shaving off your right eyebrow.”
“You were not.”
He holds up the razor.
“Bastard.” I can’t help laughing at his smug grin as I slip out of the bed, exchanging the pajama bottoms for a pair of jeans before padding barefoot down the stairs and to the door. It’s most likely Carter or Fraiser, wanting to ask if we need anything and generally hover over the kid.
“Before you ask, the kid is fine, and—“ I stop short when I see Colonel Simmons standing on my doorstep. He’s in civilian clothes, as usual, smirking at me with those rubbery looking lips of his. He always reminds me of that smartass alien on Star Trek, for some reason.
“I’m pleased to hear that the child is doing well, Colonel,” he says silkily. “May I come in?”
I cross my arms and lean my shoulder against the doorframe. “Nope.”
He gives a small, condescending laugh. “Perhaps I should go back to Doctor Jackson’s house. I was surprised to find it empty, considering that he took the child home with him last night. You wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you?”
My palms itch and I press them close against my sides. I won’t hit him. No matter how tempting it is.
“Jack? Who’s at the... oh.”
“You have excellent timing, Daniel,” I growl, not taking my eyes off Simmons for a second.
“Doctor Jackson,” he purrs. “Fancy finding you here.”
“Uh... yeah,” Daniel says. I glance over my shoulder and wince when I see he’s still barefoot. So am I, for that matter. At least he put pants on and the tee shirt could be considered daywear, but his hair is still mussed and he’s not wearing his glasses. Yeah, this isn’t incriminating at all.
“Perhaps you gentlemen could invite me in and explain to me why Doctor Jackson appears to have brought the boy here last night? Or maybe I could ask General Hammond. Maybe he knows why.”
I can hear Daniel grinding his teeth. “Fine,” I hiss. “Come in.”
Simmons nods and oozes into the room, crossing to sit on the couch like he owns the place. Daniel casts an uncomfortable look down at his pajamas and tugs at the tee shirt, raising his eyebrows at me. I shrug and jerk my head toward the couch. No point in changing now that Simmons has already seen everything.
I let the oily bastard sit down, but I remain standing, borrowing a little from the Teal’c school of looming. Daniel grabs a chair and leans back, his chin lifted slightly, managing to radiate contempt despite his general dishabille.
“So what are you doing here?” I ask, going on the offensive.
“Perhaps I should ask Doctor Jackson the same thing.”
“It’s quite simple, actually,” Daniel says mildly. “You should be able to grasp it.” Simmons’ smile falters, and I fight the urge to slap Daniel on the back. “You see, I’ve never cared for a child before. As you might imagine, I was a bit at sea as to what to do. Fortunately, I have a good friend who is an experienced father, and he offered to let me bring the boy here and stay for a little while until I felt more confident.”
“I see,” Simmons says, his face pinched. “And where is the child?”
“Sleeping.” Daniel folds his hands together and nods once, clearly indicating that the subject is now closed.
“I would like to speak with him.”
“I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
Simmons glares at Daniel, who smiles back blandly. I drop into the recliner and sit back to enjoy the show. Should have known better than to think Daniel would need me protecting him from this asshole.
“I’m not sure you realize the gravity of the situation,” Simmons says.
Daniel’s smile sharpens a bit. “Oh? Perhaps you could explain it to me? Please, go slowly.”
Simmons shoots me a death glare when I laugh. “You’ve brought an unknown alien being out of the SGC—“
“Alien?” Daniel interrupts. “I’m sorry, but it appears you’ve been misinformed. The boy is a normal, healthy human being.”
“He’s a clone!”
“What’s a clone?”
Oh, hell. Danny is standing on the stairs, still dressed in the plain tan pajamas he picked out yesterday, eyeing Simmons nervously. Simmons looks up at him and immediately shows a lot of teeth, rising from his seat.
“Hello,” he says. “My name is Colonel Simmons. And you are?”
The kid stares at him and says nothing. Daniel calls something out in their language and the kid runs forward, bypassing Simmons with a wide margin and placing himself firmly in Daniel’s lap. I see that we’re not going to be leaving his lap fixation behind anytime soon. Simmons sits back down with a forced, saccharine smile.
“A clone,” he says deliberately, “is a living copy of another person. A duplicate. That is what you are.”
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” I inquire calmly. Daniel shoots me a quelling look. He knows what my calm voice means.
“The boy has a right to know what he is.”
Daniel smiles. “Yes. And you have a right to know what you are. Shall I tell you?”
“Daniel,” I warn. Not that I wouldn’t love to hear him tear Simmons up, but even with Daniel’s glib excuse, the fact that he slept here last night is enough to start the wrong kind of rumors if Simmons decides to push it. If Daniel pisses him off enough, he might try to get back at us that way out of spite.
Simmons ignores this byplay and focuses on the boy, leaning forward and speaking earnestly. “You see, Danny—may I call you Danny?—you see, we here on Earth are fighting against some very bad aliens. They would like to hurt us. They have, in fact, hurt Colonel O’Neill and Doctor Jackson more than once.”
The boy shrinks back and looks at us anxiously, his eyes wide. “That’s enough,” Daniel growls. “He’s only a child. There’s no point in frightening him.”
“That’s why we need your help,” Simmons says, disregarding Daniel’s words. “You see, some different aliens made you, copied you from Doctor Jackson. They have some very special tools and knowledge that we would like to have in order to fight the bad aliens. You were there, with them, for some time, and we hoped you could remember what you saw and tell us about it.”
Danny shakes his head, clutching at Daniel’s wrist. Daniel squeezes him and looks daggers at Simmons, who continues to take the path of least resistance and ignore him.
“He doesn’t remember any of that,” I say, rising to my feet. “And now, I think you should go.”
“Maybe he doesn’t remember consciously, but with some... persuasion, he may be able to access hidden memories.”
The only thing keeping Daniel from crossing the room and kicking Simmons’ ass is the fact that he’s still got the kid in his lap. However, I don’t have that problem. I’m in his face with two long strides, standing in front of his chair and effectively trapping him there, under me. I don’t know what my face looks like, but it makes Simmons swallow and look away.
“Jack,” Daniel cautions.
Right, right. Court-martial and all that, although I think Hammond would definitely try to give me some leeway on this one. Simmons so has a punch in the teeth coming to him. Or a zat... yeah, I could totally get behind zatting him. No need to find a place to hide the body. Zats are convenient that way.
“Maybe I should be going,” Simmons says.
I smile at him, coincidentally showing as many teeth as possible. “Yes. Maybe you should.”
“Ah... ahem... if you would excuse me, Colonel?”
I stay still long enough to make my point and then take a step back, meaning that Simmons has to stand very close to me as he rises. I’ve got a couple inches on him and I play them for all they’re worth, grinning into his eyes and trying to look as dangerous as I possibly can. Daniel laughs softly behind me and Simmons reddens a bit.
“I’m sure you can find the door,” I say smoothly. I refrain from adding the bit about not letting it hit him on the ass on the way out. Barely.
“Yes,” he says. “I’m sure I can.” Then he offers the boy another smarmy smile. “Maybe I can visit you again sometime?”
“Maybe not,” Danny says coolly. This time both Daniel and I laugh and Simmons’ smile falls right off his face.
“Well,” he says. “I’ll just be going.”
“Sometime today?” Daniel asks with a fuck-you kind of smile. He’s very good at those kinds of smiles.
Simmons gives a disdainful sniff and turns on his heel. “I couldn’t stay long anyway,” he says in a feeble attempt to recover his dignity. “I have a meeting with General Hammond later.”
“Tell him I said hi,” I say. If he thinks a reference to meeting with the general is supposed to be threatening, he doesn’t know Hammond very well. He’ll never let this rat bastard near the boy.
Simmons slams the door behind him and I can’t help laughing again. Daniel mumbles something in another language that sounds far from complimentary, and the kid covers his mouth and laughs.
“That was fun.” I flop down on the couch and smile at the kid.
“Who was that?”
Daniel and I exchange a look over his head. “He was a bad man,” Daniel says simply.
“Yes,” Danny nods. “I thought so. What was he talking about when he said there were aliens? And he said I’m a clone and I should remember stuff?”
That one is a bit tougher to answer. “It’s like this,” I begin. “You’re not like other kids. You’re very unusual.”
“Because I’m from the past?”
“Something like that,” Daniel hedges. “You see, it’s like you’re from the past, because that’s what you remember, but really, what happened was some aliens took a piece of me and made you from it. You’re a brand new person.”
He looks at me steadily. “I won’t lie to him.”
“And I’m sure that’s admirable, but is it a good idea to be so... specific?”
“Wait,” Danny says. “You can’t do that? You can’t make copies of people?”
“Nope,” I tell him. “And we wouldn’t if we could.” People would riot.
The kid wrinkles up his nose. “But you’ve got all that neat stuff. That really cool truck with the screen that was a moving map, like a map on TV except it knew where you were...”
“The On-Star system,” Daniel supplies.
“Yeah, that. You can do that and Sam has that phone that’s so small and she said it could take pictures too—how can a phone be a camera?—but you can’t make people like the aliens did?”
“No,” Daniel says patiently. “But Simmons wants to learn how the aliens did it.”
“He thinks I know how? I don’t know how. I don’t remember any aliens.”
“He thinks that maybe you remember something,” Daniel tells him.
“Oh.” The kid nods for a moment. “Like maybe I think I don’t know it, but I really do? Because I was there and they made me, so maybe I know it?”
Daniel smiles proudly and nods. “That’s about right. He also thinks you might know some other things.”
“You don’t miss much, do you?” I ask weakly. The kid is seven years old and he’s already making me feel like I’m playing catch up.
Danny ignores me, a frown creasing his face as he taps a finger against his lips. “But I thought you came back in time for me. I’m... what? Clones are copies, like... like the shops in the marketplace that sell artifacts to tourists except they’re not really artifacts. They’re copies. Does that mean I’m not real?”
“No, no, you’re real,” Daniel assures him. “You were just born differently.”
“From a piece of you.”
Daniel nods. “Yes.”
Daniel looks to me for help, and I shrug. “We don’t know,” I tell the kid. “Remember, that’s why Simmons wants to talk to you. He thinks you know.”
“Oh.” Danny ponders this for a minute, his head tilted to one side and that familiar line still persisting between his eyebrows. “I’m real, then? Even if I’m a clone, I’m still real?”
“Definitely,” Daniel answers.
The kid considers this, and then seems to accept it, nodding thoughtfully. “I think I get it,” he says, “but what about the other aliens? The bad aliens? He said they hurt you before and he wanted my help to fight them. Shouldn’t I help?”
“What he wants won’t help,” Daniel says firmly. “Even if you could remember something, and we could make some kind of weapon out of it, which is what he wants, there’s no guarantee that we’d know how to use it, or that it would be used on the right people. Those aliens chose not to share what they knew with us for a reason, so Simmons wants to steal what they wouldn’t give freely.”
The boy nods slowly, pondering this. “He is a bad man, isn’t he?”
“Youbetcha,” I tell him. “And if you ever see him and we’re not around, don’t believe anything he tells you, and absolutely don’t go anywhere with him.”
I expect the kid to have more questions about this—I mean, what seven year old understands kidnapping and the need to be guarded against it? But he simply accepts this as natural. Simmons is bad, therefore Simmons cannot be trusted and isn’t safe.
“He’s not going to go away, is he?” Daniel asks grimly. “He’s like a wart that you just can’t get rid of.”
I can’t help laughing at that, and the kid laughs too, looking relieved. I guess I looked a bit forbidding for a while there. “I thought we were toast when he showed up at the door and we were still in PJs,” I say, grinning at the boy for good measure. “Nice save, Daniel.”
“I was in college for a long time,” he says airily. “I got very good at coming up with rational sounding explanations on my feet.”
“I knew college had to be good for something.”
He rolls his eyes. “Yes, Jack, and since we both know you have a Masters degree, don’t bother giving me the ‘me Colonel, me dumb’ routine.”
I borrow from Daniel’s technique of smiling blandly and changing the subject. “So. I thought we’d go to the zoo today. How about it?”
“And the museum,” Daniel adds. I shoot him a dirty look. He smiles and ignores it.
“Really?” the kid asks. “We can do that?”
“Yep,” I tell him, reaching over to ruffle his hair. I have a hard time resisting doing that to adult Daniel. There’s no way I’m going to manage to avoid it with the kid.
“Do they have camels at the zoo?”
Daniel smiles. “Yeah, I think they do.”
“That’s good,” the boy muses. “I miss camels.”
I shake my head at Daniel. Camels. How did I even end up with someone so strange? But then he grins at me, hugging the kid to his chest and just... shining. Right. That’s how.
“He’ll be fine.”
Daniel frowns, folding his arms and digging in his heels. “Why can’t he stay in my office? He likes it there. I’ll be there.”
“You won’t be there all day,” I argue. “You’ve got a department to run, you’ll be called to the control room more than once to consult with teams off-world, you’ve got three briefings to give...”
“I’m amazed by your sudden grasp of my job, since you’ve always maintained that I do nothing but look at scribbles on old rocks,” Daniel growls. “And it’s not like he needs to be watched every second. He’s a resourceful, independent kid.”
“With the NID taking a none too healthy interest in him.”
“All the more reason he should stay with me.”
I close my eyes and take a deep breath. “Daniel, we just established that you wouldn’t be with him! The mountain’s childcare center is fully staffed with qualified professionals. It’s extremely secure. They’re accustomed to kids with high-profile parents, kids who may be at risk.”
“I don’t think he’s ready to be handed over to complete strangers,” Daniel says.
“Is that it? Or is it that you’re not ready?”
Daniel scowls at me and turns away, glaring out the window. I’m glad the kid is still upstairs, showering and getting dressed. He tends to get upset whenever Daniel does. We’ve enjoyed a peaceful long weekend of downtime, but it looks like the vacation is over. I think it was peaceful mostly because I didn’t push Daniel about telling me some of the nastier parts of his past. He’s promised that he’ll tell me when he’s ready, and for now, I’m letting it go. For now.
“It’s April,” Daniel says abruptly. “Kids his age will be in school. The childcare center will be full of toddlers and he’ll be out of place.”
I move up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder, keeping the pressure light. I’m not sure if he’ll shrug it off or not. He does tense up for a moment, but then he sighs and turns into me, letting himself lean against my chest. I sling an arm around him in a sideways hug and kiss his temple, and he sighs again.
“He’ll only be in the center until we can get him enrolled in school,” I say.
“That’s another thing. I remember school, especially right after I entered foster care. It was... not good. Maybe I could home-school him.”
I rub my hand slowly up and down his arm for a few seconds, thinking. “You could do that, actually. I’m sure that academically, what you could teach him is way above what the public school system could teach.”
Daniel brightens a bit, twisting to face me and nodding rapidly. “Yeah! And Sam could help with the science and math bits... I was never so hot at math. We’ve got Janet to teach him all kinds of medical stuff and of course, you’ve got so much experience. Leadership and logistics and piloting and astronomy...”
I cut him off with a quick kiss, smiling against his mouth. “Pleased as I am to hear that you think so much of my knowledge, all of us together could never teach him something important. Something that he can only learn at school.”
“Social skills. Fun. How to be a kid, not a miniature adult.”
“School is not fun,” Daniel says firmly.
“Not for you.”
“He is me!”
I shake my head, gripping Daniel’s shoulders. “No. He stopped being you the second he woke up in the infirmary. He is no longer a lost child bouncing around the foster system and generally trying to survive on his own. He’s a kid with a large extended family that would do anything for him. He is his own person, not a chance for you to fix your past.”
“I know that,” Daniel mumbles. “I know. I’m not trying to... I want things to be better for him than they were for me.”
“That’s what every parent wants,” I tell him gently. “So we learn from your experiences, but we don’t base his life around yours.”
Daniel nods slowly, a little frown lingering around his mouth. “Then we should ask him what he wants. I always hated that, people making decisions for me without even asking my opinion. Let him have a say in things.”
Daniel turns with a smile, opening his arms to the boy as he always does. So they do their hugging thing and Daniel deliberately leans closer to me, the kid between us, including me in what they’re doing. Danny sighs happily and beams up at us, leaning his head back and butting it against my chest. It’s nice, but I can’t help noticing that while the kid calls me Jack, he never calls Daniel by name. It’s always Kayel, which is probably a bad thing.
“Hiya, kid,” I say. “You ready to go?”
He nods and tugs self-consciously at the collar of his new shirt. “Where am I going?” he asks, his face tense and expectant.
Daniel and I exchange a look. “We have some choices about that,” Daniel says. “For now, there is a childcare facility where Jack and I work that you can stay in during the day. We’re going to try and enroll you in school soon, though, so you can be with kids your own age.”
“Oh.” The kid pulls back slightly, his arms going around himself in a very familiar posture. Daniel sees this and pulls him right back in, rubbing his shoulder.
“Where would you like to go?”
Danny blinks up at us. “What? I get to choose?”
“We can’t promise to do exactly what you want,” I say before Daniel can do just that, “but we will listen, and try to compromise.”
The kid smiles again, considerably more relaxed, and Daniel grins at me. I grin back and find myself ruffling the boy’s hair. It’s so conveniently placed at the right height. Makes it hard to resist.
“I guess school would be okay,” he says slowly. “I’ve never been in school.”
I raise my eyebrows and shoot Daniel a questioning look. “You haven’t? Who taught you to read and write and all that?”
“My parents, mostly. I learned some languages from the site workers and from Fatima.”
I mouth “Fatima?” at Daniel and he mouths back “Nanny.”
Of course. Kid’s parents didn’t even have time for him when they were alive. No wonder he insists on constant attention whenever he’s in the room.
“Well, we’ll probably keep teaching you stuff at home,” I tell him. “I know Daniel, especially, will be filling your head with all kinds of... stuff. Reading squiggles and identifying rocks and so forth.”
“Your high regard for my chosen profession is underwhelming, Jack,” Daniel says dryly. “And in turn, I’m sure you can teach Danny a great deal about how to tell people what to do and complain about missing your memos.”
The kid laughs again, both hands pressed against his mouth until I pull them away. I crouch down to meet his eyes and keep my hands loosely wrapped around his wrists. “Listen,” I say seriously. “I need you to do me a favor, okay?”
Danny blinks and nods gravely, his eyes big. “Okay, Jack. What is it?”
“I need you to not cover your mouth when you laugh. Can you do that for me?”
“Yes, Jack,” Daniel adds, smiling, a suspicious warmth in his eyes. “Why?”
I glance around and then lower my voice, leaning in to speak in a conspirator’s murmur. “It’s for my knees.”
The kid stares at me for a moment and then frowns, tilting his head to one side. “What?”
“The sound,” I say earnestly. “You see, when a kid laughs, the sound waves are different than when an adult does it. The higher frequency gets right into those little places where bones hook together—you know, the joints, and they help reduce swelling and heal damage. See, I’ve got bad knees, but every time you laugh around me, they get a little better.”
Daniel gets very red in the face, but so far, he manages to stay quiet. The kid leans back and fixes me with a steely look, one eyebrow raised. “Nuh-uh,” he says. “You’re making that up.”
“Would I do that?”
He glances up at Daniel, who immediately sells me out and nods vigorously. “He would. He absolutely would make something like that up.”
He cuts me off with an upraised hand. “Let me finish. He would make something like that up, but this time, he isn’t. I have it on good medical authority, straight from Doctor Janet herself, that Jack is required to hear a kid laugh every single day. Before you came along, he had to drive all the way down to the local park and follow kids around, telling them jokes and making faces.”
The boy’s eyes get very big. “He did? Really?”
“Yep,” I say. “And then their moms would get mad at me because here I was, some weird guy chasing their kids around and telling bad jokes. It was a real hassle. So do you think you could help me out?”
“Okay,” Danny says solemnly. “I promise not to cover my mouth when I laugh anymore.”
“Excellent,” I say in my Mr. Burns voice, and Daniel rolls his eyes.
“If we’re going to stop by the childcare center and still make the briefing, we better get going.”
“Right,” I say, following Daniel toward the door. The boy walks beside me, peering curiously at my knees and offering me a look of concern. My hand falls naturally to his head again, resting there lightly as we walk. The concern melts away into a smile, one of those Daniel smiles that shines out of him.
“I’ve been speaking with Colonel Simmons,” Hammond says, a slight twist of his mouth giving away his opinion of the Colonel.
“My condolences,” I reply. “Did he fill you in on his plan to ‘persuade’ the kid to remember the high tech aliens?”
Hammond raises an eyebrow. “Yes, actually. How did you know about it?”
Daniel and I exchange a look. When Hammond called us into his office this morning, I think we both assumed it was about Daniel’s not so subtle tendency to sleep at my house, but now it’s looking like Simmons didn’t mention it. Which leaves the question of whether we should fill the general in.
“He paid us a visit while we were on leave,” Daniel says vaguely. “He wanted to talk to Danny, ask him questions. He also seemed intent on scaring the boy as much as possible. He told him point-blank that he was a clone, and that his knowledge was needed to fight aliens who wanted to hurt us.”
The general’s eyes go all flinty. It’s the only word for it. “I see,” he says in tones that suggest Simmons is going to get his ass chewed.
“We asked him to leave,” Daniel adds.
I nod, sharing a quick smile with Daniel. “Yes. I’m afraid we may have been slightly impolite about it.”
Hammond says nothing, but I can see the corners of his eyes crinkling slightly. “Well, gentlemen, it appears you won’t be needing to worry about Colonel Simmons, anyway.”
“I made it very clear to him that Doctor Jackson will be retaining full custody of the child, and because the birth certificate we created for him lists his place of birth as Colorado, he’s automatically a citizen, with all the rights and protections included in that status.”
Daniel beams, but I lean back in my chair, tapping my fingertips together. “Quick work getting him a citizenship,” I say. “But you think Simmons will really give up that easily?”
Hammond shrugs, but he sees where I’m going with this. “It appears that he has.”
“Yeah.” I raise my eyebrows and nod. “It does appear that way, doesn’t it. What worries me is that if Simmons can’t get what he wants legally, he’ll try other methods. He sure doesn’t have any problem breaking the rules when it suits his agenda.”
“So what do you suggest?” Hammond asks.
“We can’t lock him in a room all his life just to keep him safe,” Daniel says. “If we let Simmons change the way we treat the boy, then we’re letting him win. It’s possible to be cautious without smothering him.”
The general smiles, tipping Daniel a short nod. “Couldn’t have put it better myself, son. So, we carry on as if the NID are not a concern, except for certain sensible precautions.”
“Yes.” Daniel claps his hands together once and takes a quick breath. “To that end, sir, I’d like to enroll Danny in school. Of course, I can’t do that until I have full guardianship. How is that coming?”
“Surprisingly well. It used to be hard for me to generate the paperwork necessary to create a person out of thin air, but after all the times I’ve dealt with you returning from the dead, I’m becoming quite the old hand.”
Daniel gets a look on his face like he’s just sucked a lemon. I snort into my palm and then blink at him innocently, my lips twitching. Hammond looks very pleased with himself.
“That’s good, sir,” Daniel says dryly. “I’m glad I could be so helpful.”
The general’s eyes draw up at the edges, betraying his smile, but his voice is steady. “It’s almost done. We’re waiting on a few things to be notarized, and there has been some difficulty coming up with an appropriate vaccination record for him. Apparently, his blood work shows the presence of antibodies as if he had received all the standard vaccinations for an American child his age, so now we have to falsify medical reports showing a history of those shots from birth. Doctor Fraiser is pushing that through, though, so you should have the necessary documentation to put him in school within a matter of days.”
“I guess we have to go shopping again,” I mutter. “School clothes.”
“And paper,” Daniel adds. “Oh, and pencils, and notebooks... mmm... divider tabs and three ring binders and do you know how a box of new pencils smells?”
I haven’t seen Daniel get like this since the last time I surprised him with a box of chocolate covered coffee beans. Who knew he could get high on school supplies?
“You seem to have the school situation well in hand,” Hammond says, manfully struggling not to laugh at Daniel’s blissed out expression. “If you haven’t chosen a school yet, I’d recommend the Cheyenne Mountain Charter Academy. It’s a private school, closed campus, very secure. Small classes, high standards, consistently rated as excellent by the independent reviews. Tessa and Kayla go there.”
I can’t help the bemused look that I can feel on my face. This is all falling into place remarkably fast. “Sounds good, sir,” I tell him. “I suppose a school like that has a waiting list, though?”
He smiles. “I may be able to help you out there.”
“Isn’t that favoritism?” Daniel inquires, raising an eyebrow.
“I believe the term is nepotism, son,” Hammond says gently, and Daniel is so floored by the implication that he’s family that he forgets to protest.
I glance at my watch before Daniel can start to stammer out some awkward thanks. “Ah, sir, unless there was something else, I’m due for a meeting with Supply. Something about the amazing number of MALPs that SG-1 seems to go through.”
“No, go ahead,” Hammond says, waving us off. Daniel is still blinking somewhat dazedly, and I steer him toward the door, my hand on his shoulder in what I hope looks like a strictly platonic friendly gesture. “One other thing, Jack,” he calls before we can leave. “I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up some additional documentation for you.”
I pause and half turn, giving him a sideways look. “Oh?”
“A secondary guardianship for the boy. It’s a position similar to godfather, in that if anything happened to Doctor Jackson, custody of the child would go to you.”
Daniel and I stare at each other uncertainly for a long moment. “Um...” Daniel begins hesitantly. “Why?”
Hammond favors us with a wise smile. “Perhaps it would be better for you to not ask that question, son.”
Daniel, who could no more stop being curious than I could stop being sarcastic, opens his mouth to ask anyway. I jump in before he can force the issue. “Right, sir. I appreciate the... foresight. Let me know what I should sign and I’m there.”
“Yes,” Daniel adds quickly. “Thank you. That’s, um... thank you.”
The general just smiles and turns his attention to the files on his desk, leaving us to accept the implied dismissal. I tug Daniel out the door before we end up on even thinner ice.
“Wow,” he says in the hall. “That was... nice of him.”
“It’s about as close as we can legally get to having joint custody,” I answer in a low voice, walking close by his side. “It’s perfectly innocent, too—lots of people name their friends as emergency guardians in case anything happens. Simmons can’t read anything into it.” Then, because Daniel still looks overwhelmed by everything that just happened in there, I fall into an extremely bad Godfather impression and croak out something about never going against the family.
Daniel laughs, one hand automatically coming up to cover his mouth. I catch it before it can get there and pull it away, giving him a stern look.
“Knees,” I say pointedly. “Remember? Sound waves?”
He blinks and then shakes his head. “But that was just—“
“Ah!” I hold up a finger and wave it at him admonishingly. “Don’t want to hear it, Daniel. No covering up when you laugh. It’s a rule.”
He rolls his eyes, but nods. “Yes, Jack,” he says, and I hear ‘I’m only doing this to humor you.’
Good enough for me.
“Kayel! Jack!” The kid comes running to greet us at the entrance to the mountain’s childcare facility. Daniel sweeps him up and hugs him, but I didn’t miss the slight wince when the kid called him Kayel. Danny knows that isn’t real, but he’s not letting go of it, and Daniel isn’t exactly doing anything to dissuade him.
“Colonel O’Neill, Doctor Jackson.” Hildie Carruthers, the woman who runs this place, steps up to greet us. I edge away from Daniel enough to look less like a parent picking up his kid and more like a friend hanging out with somebody else’s kid.
“How was he?” Daniel asks.
She smiles thinly. “Could I have a word with you?”
The kid is glaring at her and his hold around Daniel’s shoulders tightens. “Told you,” he mutters. “I told you.”
“Uh, Danny, can you stay with Jack for a while so I can talk to Ms. Carruthers?”
“No!” The boy suddenly lapses into Daniel-speak, low and earnest, his hands clutching at Daniel’s shirt.
“I see,” Daniel says when the kid stops talking for a moment. “Well, why don’t you let me talk to Ms. Carruthers, and we’ll see what she says, and then we’ll figure it out from there?”
“Don’t listen to her,” Danny insists. “She’s lying!”
“No! I told her! I told her I didn’t have to do what she said and that my Kayel was going to come and get me and make her stop telling me what to do. You’re going to do that, right?”
Daniel looks uncomfortable, as well he should. I knew playing into the kid’s fantasy would be a bad idea. Daniel can be his best friend and protector, this Kayel person, or he can be a parent, an authority figure. He can’t be both.
“Sorry,” Daniel says to Hildie. “He’s, ah... he’s had a rough time lately. He’s still adjusting to being here.”
“Yes, as you explained when you dropped him off this morning. And I did try to give him extra latitude and patience, but there are limits,” she replies.
“It’s not fair,” Danny grumbles, still glaring at her. “You’re not fair.”
“I’ll listen to your side of things, I promise,” Daniel tells him. “But right now I need you to wait with Jack so I can talk to—“
“No!” Danny interrupts sharply. “No no nonono...”
Jesus, he’s winding up for a real fit. Charlie stopped doing that when he was about four. Daniel shoots me a helpless look, wincing as the kid’s shouting begins rising in pitch.
“How about this,” I suggest, raising my voice over Danny’s noise. “You take him to the car and try to calm him down, and I’ll get the report from her,” I jerk a thumb over my shoulder at Hildie. “Does that work?”
Daniel nods and makes his escape, his cheeks reddened, obviously embarrassed at the screaming, struggling kid in his arms. I rub at my ears as I turn back to Hildie. “Damn,” I mutter. “Kid’s got some strong lungs.”
“Yes, we discovered that today,” Hildie says dryly. “He also seems to speak a number of languages. His first defense when I asked him to do something he didn’t want to do was to lapse into some other language and act like he couldn’t understand me.”
“Ah, yeah...” I rub at the back of my neck and offer a weak smile. “We kind of figured he’d have some problems.”
“Because of his parents dying?”
“He told you that?”
She nods. “It’s a pretty common childish ploy, actually. ‘My mom and dad are dead so you have to be nice to me and give me what I want.’ When that didn’t work, he became uncooperative and difficult.”
“Let me give you an example.” She takes a deep breath and stares up at the ceiling for a moment, her hands linked behind her back. “This afternoon, we had art time. Danny was quite pleased with the paint and easel we gave him, and spent the entire hour drawing Egyptian looking things. But when art time was over, he didn’t want to stop. I tried to explain that we had to clean up and put the paints away now, and spend some time outside, but he refused to hand over the brushes. Instead, he curled himself in a ball on the floor and clutched the brushes to his chest, refusing to move. He didn’t lash out, but short of dragging him out the door, there was no way to make him go outside with the rest of the group.”
“Great,” I mutter. “And this was only his first day.”
Hildie laughs quietly. “The first day is often the hardest, but I won’t lie to you, Colonel. He’s a very troubled child. I understand that Doctor Jackson will be adopting him?”
“Yeah, the paperwork is almost final now.”
“Then you should tell Doctor Jackson this boy needs a lot of love and attention. We here at the center will continue to do our best for him, but what he really needs will have to start at home.”
“I think Doctor Jackson knows that,” I tell her. “But I’ll be sure to relay the message. He’s looking into enrolling Danny in school anyway, so you shouldn’t have him much longer.”
“That’s good,” she says. “Not that we don’t want him—he’s a very sweet boy when he isn’t being difficult—but school would be a better environment for him. He seems very bright, and I think the lack of a mental challenge here was making him bored, and therefore leading to the misbehavior. A structured classroom with peers to interact with really would be an improvement.”
She nods and waves at me, already turning back into her office. “Tell Danny I’m sorry he had a bad day and that we look forward to seeing him tomorrow.”
“Will do,” I call over my shoulder. Then I head out to the car, where I find Daniel huddled in the passenger seat, the boy on his lap, heaving those long, shuddery sighs that come after crying.
“Sorry,” he mumbles. “Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be bad...”
“It’s okay,” Daniel tells him, rocking them a little. “You’re going to be all right now.”
When the kid sees me coming, he lifts his head and eyes me anxiously. “Jack? Did you tell Miss Hildie I was sorry? Is she mad?”
“She’s not mad. She says that you can come back tomorrow and start over.”
He nods and sighs heavily, wiping his face on Daniel’s shirt. “Okay. I’ll be good. I promise I’ll be good.”
Daniel and I exchange a long look over his head. I don’t doubt the kid’s intentions, but we aren’t going to fix his problems in a day.
Danny falls asleep on the couch after dinner, his face pillowed on my leg hard enough to leave fabric lines on his cheek. I am once again elected to cart his heavy ass upstairs to his room. I think Daniel knows that I like putting a sleepy child to bed, but I grumble anyway, just in case I still have him fooled.
“Hey,” Daniel says quietly when I get back downstairs. “Come here.”
So I settle beside him on the couch, our shoulders leaning together companionably and his head resting against mine. “Hell of a day,” I mutter, staring vaguely at the wall. I think I’d forgotten how draining a kid could be.
“Yeah. What happened at the childcare center?”
So I tell him what Hildie told me, and Daniel nods, not exactly surprised. “I did warn you,” he says.
“That you did,” I reply. “But he can only get better, right?”
Daniel laughs shortly. “It could take a while. I was a pain in the ass for a long time.”
“Yeah, let me know when you grow out of that, okay? I want to be there.”
He punches me on the shoulder, but he’s smiling. “It’ll be different for him,” Daniel says. “He has us.”
“Oh, joy,” I mutter. “That makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.”
“Like you’re not worried about this,” I nudge him. “You’re the one who told me it was going to be hard.”
“It will be,” he says simply. “But don’t you always tell me that I’m a pain in the ass, but well worth it?”
“I may have said something to that effect.”
Daniel shrugs and grins at me. “He’s worth it.”
End Book One
April 13 – 29, 2004
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